Monday, August 15, 2011

Be a good belly dance citizen

As I’ve travelled extensively over the last few years, I’ve seen all kinds of behaviors from dancers. I’ve even seen or heard of dancers behaving so badly that they ended up being banned from participating in certain events. I was trying to think of what makes the difference between a pleasant dancer that you love having at your event vs. the not so pleasant one that you hope won’t ask to be part of your event ever again. What it boils down to is ethics and common courtesies! Here are a few things that help (in random order):

Be there on time! Oftentimes, an arrival time or check in time will be requested out of performers. Please try to respect that as much as possible. This helps considerably lower the blood pressure of whoever is hosting. Plus, that ensures that you’ll indeed be there for your performance. I’ve seen countless dancers arrive late and then the line up needs to be re-shuffled. Most hosts/hostesses are nice enough that they will accommodate you but try not to abuse their good grace. There was one event that I went to years ago when the MC was going down the list: “Next up we have XX.”… crickets and no dancer… “Is XX here? Not yet? Okay… is YY here?”… crickets… “Okay… Is ZZ here?” Seriously, I think that it took like 5 times of the MC saying that before she got to “Is Celeste here?” and I got to reply with a sultry “I am.” that got me a cheap pop of applause if only for actually being there.

It’s okay to say no. Women often have a hard time saying no but, believe me, you’re better off saying no than cancelling at the last minute. It is okay to look at your schedule and reply to an offer with a polite decline. Seriously, the person on the receiving end will appreciate this reply much more than you cancelling at the last minute because of whatever reason. It’s a tricky thing, though, of course. First off, when you get the offers, it seems like it’s all doable. So it does take a few times of overdoing it to realize what is your maximum amount of dancing that you can do (in a day, a week, a month…) and accept that that’s what it is. Secondly, it inevitably feels like you’re prioritizing someone’s event over someone else’s… and it feels wrong on so many levels. But, at some point, you have to do just that. Thing is: you can’t do it all! And giving a subpar performance or having to cancel on someone will look much much worse than having said no at the start.

Honor your commitments. If you’ve agreed to an event, please do show up! I’ve seen many flaky people who just don’t show up. Even in the situation above, if you can muster it, even while being exhausted, try to show up to the event. It will say volumes about you. Not showing up on a regular basis will definitely give you the reputation for being flaky… and then you either will be banned or a last-minute addition to a show (which sounds cool on paper but is far from cool) or just plainly people won’t believe that you’ll be there. It’s really hurting your reputation.

Don’t take too much space. When you’re getting ready, try to minimize the space that you are using backstage. If you look around, you’ll notice that, frequently, the level and fame of the dancer is inversely proportionate to the amount of space that a dancer is using backstage. It’s almost like some dancers believe that there’s status or something in having their stuff all over the backstage area. I’ve had to fight for my tiny spot countless times. Thanks to working in a restaurant where I have a tiny office room to get changed in, I’m now very much used to only needing a small amount of space to get ready in. Essentially, you want to try to use about the size of your bag and not too much more. And try not to monopolize the mirror(s)! Seriously, there are steps that you can do without being in front of the mirror, you know… ;)

Try not to (unknowingly) sabotage another dancer. This is tricky because it can happen without you realizing what you are doing and different people will react differently to things being said around them. However, I’ve seen countless shows where dancers get so frantic backstage that they will say things that are really baffling… off hand remarks that really originate from nerves but, given that the other person is nervous too, it may ruffle their feathers. And I’ve been to shows where the backstage area feels like a slaughterhouse. I know that I’m goth and all but, lemme tell you, it ain’t a fun feeling… and it ain’t the “good” spooky kind. If you do feel like the atmosphere backstage is very bad/poisonous, you may need to remove yourself from it… but then again sometimes you need to get ready in that darn room. Sometimes even putting on the iPod is not enough so you gotta learn to make do. Now, what you can do to help is try to keep a positive state of mind. It’s sometimes easier said than done but, seriously, try to be as positive as you can and it should help.

Assume that others have good intentions. Until proven wrong, I try to assume that others have good intentions or rather don’t have bad intentions. Even in the event of someone who is casting off bad vibes backstage that feel like sabotage, I will typically assume that it’s just her nerves getting the better of her. I think that a lot of drama and hurt could be avoided by this mindset. I won’t add too much about this as Tempest had two great blogs about it that you should go read ( and )

Sometimes, you should just shut up. As we get nervous, we sometimes will say the darndest things (see above). So sometimes, you should just refrain from saying what you want to say. And just in general, try to keep your filter VERY tight. You never know who is listening.

In line with the title here, if you are in someone’s workshop or class, don’t make it all about you. You can (and should) ask questions about moves and all. But it shouldn’t detract from the progression of the workshop or class. Unless you have a private or semi-private class with someone, don’t behave like you’re having a private moment with the teacher. We’ve all been in workshops where it seems like this one dancer is having a private lesson with the instructor because she wants to converse as if that was the case… but there’s really 50 other dancers who are trying to move forward with what the workshop is teaching. So, again, do ask questions but be careful not to monopolize the teacher’s attention.

Remember who you are representing. This is taking it a step further but, really, when you behave badly or weirdly, you gotta remember who you are representing…

  • You are representing your teacher, from whom you’ve taken regular classes. Chances are that you will divulge who said teacher is so what you do will potentially reflect on her as well.
  • You are representing your town/area where you are from. Taken to the extreme, some could say “oh, the girl from XX town is like (insert negative remark).” Next time they see someone from your same town/area, they may think that she is like you… until she proves them wrong maybe but you’ve set the stage for a rough start for someone else.
  • You are representing YOU! Above all else, though, you are representing yourself. So if you behave like a bitch, chances are you’ll be seen as a bitch… and bad reputation travels FAST! You don’t want people saying “Oh, you don’t want XX at your event because she’s a total bitch (or insert other negative comment).”

Be as gracious and as flexible as you can be. Performances and events are seldom easy and smooth sailing. There will be shifts in timing, schedule, the stage may not be what you were expecting, the crowd may not be what you were expecting, all kinds of things can go wrong. I’ve seen dancers throw near temper tantrums over shifts whereas the big name of an event is just rolling with the punches. The more you do this, the easier it gets to do, of course. But you can still be gracious about it. Now, I don’t mean to be a “welcome mat” and let people abuse you. Of course not!

Do cite your source. I’ve seen it too many times when a dancer is inspired by someone or blatantly stole something from someone else (be it a costuming element, dance move, whatever) and try to pass it as their own (i.e., as if they have created it themselves). There is no shame in saying “I was inspired by XX for this” or “I learned XX from YY.” It actually makes you appear savvy! And it gives back to whoever you drew inspiration from or who you learned something from. And it’s just plain good karma! :p

Treat others as you would like to be treated. This is an old adage that we all know, right? It totally applies in all things in life, including belly dance, of course. It requires somewhat of a taking a step back and assessing whether the behavior we are about to do or did would be something that would be okay if we are on the receiving end. Also, if you’ve seen behavior that annoys the hell out of you, try not to repeat it.


Amy said...

Fantastic tips!

Akasha said...

Thank you, Celeste, for pointing out the obvious, but much needed reminders for our community. I shared it on my FB account too. :)


Celeste said...

Thanks for spreading the post, Akasha!

Lilith Noor said...

very wise advice, and definitely something all dancers should abide by!

atisheh said...

I found this post valuable, but I do have a quick question: in the part on citing sources, are you referring to dancers who will actually claim to have invented dance elements they didn't in conversation, or just to a dance performance that adopts dance elements from other dancers without, well, footnoting them?