Meanderings on the State of the Dance Economy: Rhinestones and Steroid-Induced Marketing


Meanderings on the State of the Dance Economy: Rhinestones and Steroid-Induced Marketing

I think we’ve successfully replaced the misguided orientalist  titles like, “Lady Desert Nile Princesses” and “Harem Nights with Lady Blinky Butt of the East!” Yahoo! However, I think we’ve missed the boat by replacing them with poor superlatives that misdirect the soul of this dance:  “#1 International Champion of Champions”; “The instructor of the decade! If you don’t study with this person you’ll never be a true professional,” or “”Most rhinestone studded in the area to dazzle all!”

Why, is the dance business taking this direction in marketing?  Perhaps this logic is driven by show promoters trying to differentiate themselves from other talent. I’ve heard Event Promoters say people won’t come to events without a performance opportunity or a competition to participate in. Perhaps dancers trying to “make it” feel the need to add kitsch to their name to propel ticket sales and dance resumes. Must have more flair! Fellow dancers, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and limiting our own personal growth!

The Belly Dance market is pretty big. There’s a lot pulling dancers in various directions-styles; in person classes, events, festivals, online classes, DVD’s, private lessons, and more. But let’s remember one fact: 90% of dancers who LOVE this dance, are hobbyists. They are going to enjoy events that provide an environment that allows them to absorb the atmosphere and have fun. Everyone wants to be the best for themselves, but not necessarily at the same level of a professional (which in itself is a very broad term). We need serious students and hobbyists in order to survive, and to create a healthy dance economy. Just the same as we need professionals to share their knowledge for all of us to grow.

Let’s  step out of the dance world for a minute, and look at this situation in by comparing it to another art form-painting. Think of the Sip and Paint phenomenon and the revival of interest in painting. These sip-n-paint events are  supporting and allowing painters to do what they love, while inspiring a whole new generation of painters. Painters are not advertising, “Paint with the Picasso of USA!”, “Sip-n-Paint Competition!” “Best Sip and Paint: The Only One You Need  to become a Rembrandt!” People attend these sip-n-paint sessions because it provides the opportunity to try a new skillset – or enhance and one that hasn’t been touched for years.  Painters are  advertising a safe place to explore all talent with a knowledgeable person (not to mention while partaking in a glass of vino!), Artists are selling the experience, not just the outcome, and students are enjoying the creation of their own successes – in a non-judgmental atmosphere. Some may become famous painters from their newly found hobby, but most just want an escape from daily chores and life for a few hours. They still find value and personal fulfillment in painting. If the teacher is good and provides the right environment, participants will bring friends and the teacher’s success happens naturally through their skill, and not marketing.  

Advertising that focuses on objective superlatives can hinder, rather than help a dance instructor.  I recently had a conversation with a well-known, successful, dancer who tours internationally. She was attacked because an event promoter billed her as  “the best.”  Other dancers instantly attacked her; how dare she consider herself the best? Who does she think she is? She was blasted for something outside of her control, embarrassed and shamed publicly. Eventually she had to ask the promoter to change the marketing to avoid further damaging harassment. We – as promoters and show organizers, shouldn’t treat our mentors, those who have put in the time and effort and sacrifice and are willing to share their knowledge, like this.

Situations like this can easily be avoided by honoring a dancer’s skillset in other ways.  Let’s refer to our beloved dance as something that is precious, in order to show new generations that we respect our professionals for their knowledge and skills. We have much to gain in replacing  words such as “top,” “champion,” “winner,” “the best,” in our marketing. Let’s replace these words with “internationally loved,” “national treasure,” “acclaimed,” “taught by the famous,” “highly regarded”, or “respected.”   

I frequently hear from my students and dance colleagues of different levels, how some events are scary, overwhelming, competitive, and not the environment they need to grow.  Most are scared away by a simple overproduced event flyer. Flyers with 20 dancers on them, perfectly photo shopped, in intimidated-albeit beautiful-costume bling. The same thing that happens in magazines geared toward perpetuating the “idea of the perfect…” is happening to dance event promotions. People are instantly intimidated, scared that they don’t fit the mold, aren’t  good enough, and give up before even reaching out to try.  Dancers are the most interesting and accomplished people I know. Why not market your dancers and events to sell what they have to offer, versus just telling someone that they need to be there for the event of the year? 

I hear often too that in order for belly dance to survive, we need to take it to the same level as western dances, that to  be respected, we need to “elevate” the dance. We can elevate it in many ways; by taking a more academic approach,  preserving the culture, preserving a moment in time or capturing a historical moment, etc. We can also change our marketing to focus on the benefits and outcomes of the dance vs. selling it as something that we can conquer or win. We can welcome people to be a part of the belly dance or MENA dance experience; just like its own folkloric roots of dancing together in a living room or at a social event.  We can be the best ambassadors of this dance, by sharing it with others through performance and education – on a big stage or in a small studio. It’s the act of inclusiveness, sharing one’s love of the dance that will naturally lift it in the eyes of the world; not by stating it is the best.

Year in Review: 2016
Life as a Raq-ette: Lisa

Comments 2

Guest - Kirah on Thursday, 11 May 2017 11:33

I really love this post. thank you for putting it into words

I really love this post. thank you for putting it into words
Guest - Alaina on Friday, 12 May 2017 11:21

Well written Amity. You leave with much food for thought for students, instructors and promoters

Well written Amity. You leave with much food for thought for students, instructors and promoters
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