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What's missing from Belly Dance today

You might have noticed I've been a bit withdrawn from the dance world lately. I've stepped back trying to understand why I just don't feel right in this more modern Belly Dance world. I still absolutely love this dance, but it is harder to be part of the greater community. Granted, I'm naturally a little more introverted and shy away often to recharge. This time it's different. I guess I should consider myself "old" in Belly Dance years, because I've now watched the dance scene change for nearly 20 years. I know like any artform, dance, culture, or economy, things chang based on consumers. Am I becoming one of those, "back in the day" types, or is there a reason why I'm feeling a bit unfulfilled?

We've gone from a dance scene that used to perform for families of the cultures of which we borrow the dance (and western audiences who appreciated it too), to Eastern music, to movements associated with enunciating the Eastern ear...all the way to performing for mainstream audiences that don't have the same ear, who don't understand the cultural aspect, who expect circus-style and extreme entertainment (maybe we can blame the various TV shows), and just see us as commercialized things to look at and take photos with. 

Other dance styles aren't treated like this. So how did we get thrown into this bucket?


My theory:

We've gone from dancers who danced WITH our audiences versus today, where we are dancers who dance AT our audience.


We've lost our audience connection and the social part of the dance. We're all in our heads instead of our hearts, worried about how not to be boring, making sure we're balancing things nonstop on our heads, playing with fire, and moving at such a fast pace. We are so afraid to be accepted as ourselves that we put on more layers. As dancers, we used to take off the layers of daily life- the bleh- and just take time to enjoy the music and movement. We used to help, or guide our audiences to do the same. We no longer savor the music as if it was a piece of really rich chocolate, taking the time to let melt in our mouths. 

We're eating chocolate so fast behind closed doors so people don't even know we had chocolate...just so we can get back to eating salad in public. Everyone wants kale instead of chocolate, right?

So I struggle with this: who is really driving the belly bus? Are we as dancers, truly happier dancing AT audiences versus WITH? Does dancing AT our audiences truly make our audiences happier, or is this change the reason why audiences are smaller, the demographic changes in who is watching, and our attendees not as engaged (or missing altogether), and a million other changes we're experiencing? Could this be why dancers are burning out and feeling unfulfilled?

I think we're missing "it." I believe the "it" is interchangeable with, well, "with."

I'm going to try to explain "it." I try to explain this concept in my online class, More from your Core. Imagine having a stove as your belly. It's maintains this nice, warm, fire. you can keep it closed and keep it to yourself, and enjoy the heat. You can crack it open juuuust enough so that you are warm and the audience can see you are warm. In return, they are breathing better and taking in more oxygen. In return, their fires burn more and are warm too.

You can open up your stove wiiiiiidde open and share the flames with everyone. When you add oxygen to fire, it grows bigger. Sometimes your flame will get so big when you open the door and share too much, it will get too hot and overheat the audience. You too will have nothing for yourself. Your flame will eventually have no fuel and will burnout. 

Audiences want different things. They may expect they want the whole fire, but maybe that day, what they really need is to see someone enjoying their own fire to feel warm. Maybe that will inspire them to grown their own or share a bit of theirs.

Audiences need breaks too. They love seeing human. When we feed audiences non-stop entertainment and movement, we lose the human connection. We overfeed the AT, folks get burned. When we feed the WITH, we all feel warm.

The role of a dancer is different in every country. But this one experience (that is not isolated, I've seen this over and over again) back in 2007 was an ah-ha moment for me. The first time in Egypt I realized how many women want to dance. But for various social, economic, and family roles, they cannot. They sit at home and watch dancers on the TV and daydream. They dance with joy in their kitchens and with friends. When around dancers, depending on the situation, they still have to keep their fire to themselves, but it's burning bright. Their joy and love of music still warms the room even though the flame is theirs. Sometimes they too get to dance, but sometimes they may have to sit in the audience and live vicariously through the dancer. If the dancer is dancing AT them, versus WITH them, these women don't get to share in the dance. Who would want to sit and watch someone else's flame burn them while theirs is being put out? Woa. This was big for me in my own understanding. I'm a white chick who gets to do whatever she wants, dance whenever I want. I have never experienced NOT being able to dance when I want to.

When these Egyptian women dance, they give me oxygen. When they get the chance to dance, their faces are full of joy and their souls are shared with those who are lucky enough to experience it. They don't need costumes, props, or fast. They feed my flame when I watch them. I realized part of the dance that we're missing is holding back, enjoying my own warmth. And theirs too. And the people who we are lucky enough to share our fire with in the audience. Only once I understood this, I understood why I love dance so much. It's not a movement, it's not technique. It's the WITH. So simple. Yet so hard to not let all the other crap in the dance world force you to be the AT.

How everyone shares their own fire is up to them to decide. But I realized that keeping some fire to yourself and dancing WITH the audience is the esthetic that I love and miss about the dance. It's becoming more rare. And I need more of this oxygen for my own fire.

We love dancing with each other in kitchens, the connections made in classes, and keeping each other warm by sharing our stoves on our own terms. A room full of stoves still keeps us warm without catching the place on fire in competition of who's flame is the largest.

Now, I take breaks and intentionally and don't take jobs because I need to miss the dance in order to keep that flame going. I am enjoying not having to be the entertainer again. I am enjoying being WITH people who love the dance and music. I go to more events and shows I'm not part of to feed my own fire. I sit in the audience and enjoy the warmth of other dancers.

But I need more dancers I watch to feed their own own stove too.

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