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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Five Signs You May Be Relying too Heavily on Belly Dance to Solve Your Problems



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Sometimes we belly dancers say and do certain things to bypass our personal responsibility for our dance-related choices. We're drawn to the dance because it fills a need. Perhaps it:

  • Gives us a place to fit in for the first time in our lives.
  • Makes us feel less lonely.
  • Gives us a place to explore a side of ourselves that our normal lives don't allow.
  • Allows people who feel invisible to enjoy receiving some attention.
  • Provides income that we rely on.

These human needs are important. And yes, belly dance can play a role in filling them. It's one of the things I have always appreciated about our corner of society.

However, when we rely on the dance to be our sole/primary source of helping us fix these problems, we'll inevitably feel betrayed when it doesn't work out. We may compromise our personal integrity and go along with other people's bad behavior because our desire to belong overrides our discomfort with what we're seeing.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by PixieVision, Glendale, California.




Do These Apply to You?

Here are five signs that you may be relying too heavily on belly dance to solve your problems.

1. Do you use "art" to justify your choices?

If you use "art" as an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for your dance-related choices, it might be advisable to reflect on that.

Do these sound familiar?

  • Art evolves.
  • Art pushes boundaries.
  • Artists take risks.
  • You can't contain art.
  • Art belongs to everybody.
  • You don't understand my art.

People often say these things to claim they shouldn't be held responsible for doing something offensive, poorly conceived, or thrown together without much effort. They say these things to mean, "Art made me do it," as if they had no choice in the matter.

Although some of the above statements may be true of legitimate artistic endeavors, they're also frequently something people hide behind to avoid accepting responsibility for their choices.

Criticism might make us uncomfortable at the time we hear it, but it can teach us. Using the broom of "art" to sweep it away will make us likely to repeat the same mistakes again next time. Instead of invoking the "art" defense, we should try to learn from negative feedback and aim to do better in the future. Use it as a stepping stone to become a better dancer and a better member of society!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixivision, Glendale, California.

2. Do you work hard to fit in with the "cool" people?

You might have some issues to work through if:

  • You want to be "cool" like the dancers you admire.
  • You spend large amounts of money to study with the "A List" dancers and obtain their certifications.
  • You imitate the way the "popular girls" dance, and you dress like them.
  • You spend all your dance-related time with other people who admire the same people you do.

Is it really "belly dance" itself that you care about, or are you hoping that by imitating the "cool club" you too can be seen as "cool"?

Trying to be accepted by the "in crowd" allows toxic people to exploit and manipulate us. It gives them power over us and can lead to deep hurt and betrayal. It can also make us afraid to speak out when those "cool" people do something that is racist, Orientalist, or otherwise offensive.

Are you so worried about being part of the "in crowd" that you conform to everything they teach and stay silent about their questionable choices?


3. Do you idolize certain dancers and fiercely defend them against criticism?

Do you become angry when other people dare to say something negative about the choices your dance idols have made? Do you jump up to defend your idol when others object to something about her performance, her class content, or her backstage behavior?

Why do you treat it as a personal insult to you when someone suggests that your idol made a poor choice? Is it because your desire to fit in with your idol's fan club has caused you to do the same problematic things she did? Are you too desperate for her approval?

Is it because you were hoping that using her as your role model would solve your own insecurities about yourself?

It's great to appreciate someone's work. But if another person criticizes her, it can be a good idea to listen to the criticism, ponder it, and determine whether it might be valid. Sometimes it is. You may gain new insight into yourself and your place in society by allowing yourself to consider an uncomfortable point of view.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixivision, Glendale, California.

4. Do you use "sisterhood" as a way to silence people who question the status quo?

Do you invoke the words "sisterhood" or "tribe" to silence people who raise concerns about things that trouble them within "the belly dance community"? Are you proclaiming the "sisterhood" to be more important than holding performers, teachers, or event promoters accountable for racism, Orientalism, or other ethical issues in their approach to belly dance?

It's great to feel a sense of belonging with the many wonderful people you have met through the dance. I know I do. The idea of sisterhood can be very positive, and it's what attracts many of us to the dance.

However, in the belly dance world, certain dancers use the word "sisterhood" as a weapon to manipulate and bully others. They will say, "You shouldn't criticize that performance because we are a sisterhood and should be supporting each other." The implied threat is that the person who raised concerns is no longer welcome in the "tribe". It's a powerful way to control people who were drawn to belly dancing for the sense of community they believed it offered.

Before you invoke "sisterhood" to shut down people who raise concerns about the dance scene, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are my concerns arising from an aversion to conflict? If so, can I learn to deal with conflict more constructively?
  2. Am I upset because my friend or idol is being criticized? Am I afraid that a criticism of her is by extension a criticism of me because I admire her? If I take a step back, is it possible that the criticism is justified?
  3. Do I have the right to censor those who feel moved to speak out regarding their concerns?
  4. Am I earning a lot of money from the "sisterhood"? Am I afraid that the points raised by the criticism could hurt my income? Am I selling out my ethics in exchange for money?

It's legitimate to appreciate the positive qualities of the belly dance community. However, I find it troubling when the word "sisterhood" is misused as an excuse to avoid self-examination and personal responsibility.

5. Do you become defensive when others critique something you want to do, or have done?

Do you become angry or feel bullied when others challenge something you want to do (or have done)?

Do their questions make you feel as though either your qualifications, your performance choices, or your ethics are being attacked?

Yes, it stings to have someone suggest that you aren't yet experienced enough as a dancer to start teaching, or that your fusion concept is a bad idea because you haven't actually studied the other dance form that you want to fuse into belly dance. It stings when someone tells you unfavorable comments they overheard in the audience that in your heart you realize are justified. I've had it happen, too.

Often, we become defensive because of our deep-seated insecurities, and often these have nothing to do with belly dance. We may have grown up with a parent that damaged our self esteem, or we may have been bullied at school when we were children, or we may have been in a romantic relationship in which the partner was always cutting us down. When we pursue our belly dance journeys, we carry that history with us, and even gentle questions asking us to think twice about our dance choices can open up old wounds.

Instead of becoming angry, why not sit with the criticism, think it over, and ask whether they made a valid point?

Allow yourself to learn from the criticism, and ponder why such questions got asked, and why the questions upset you. Maybe you can explore some of this through journaling. Can you grow as both a dance artist and as a human being by digesting the feedback and shfiting your direction?




Closing Thoughts

Belly dancing has been very rewarding for many of us, and that's one of the reasons so many of us love it. It's easy to get swept away with the affirmation we find through our dance journeys.

However, it's dangerous to give the belly dance environment too much power over us, and it's dangerous to use it as an excuse to avoid confronting our inner issues, or the issues of others around us. It's not fair to burden the dance with the expectation that it will fix things for you.

Instead of pretending that belly dance is the answer to all the problems and insecurities that you carry from your life history, it's better to keep it in perspective. It's a fun thing to do, it can allow you to explore a culture (the Middle East) that you otherwise might not have been exposed to, and you can create enduring friendships.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by PixieVision, Glendale, California.




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