The Belly Dancer and the Five-Year Itch


The Belly Dancer and the Five-Year Itch


I can see it coming almost every time. A dancer enters the studio with a long face and a lost look that says it all. Although the timing happens differently for everyone, it usually begins around year five of dance.

You see, years one through three are usually full of aha moments, your first hip drop, the joy when you finally figure out how to get over the flat tire shimmy (where one leg works harder than the other), and the costumes! OMG the costumes! And glitter! Glitter and coin paraphernalia by now has your vacuum malfunctioning. You have an amazing group of fellow baby bellies who you have grown to love and adore. Your weekends include filling a car full of dancers and snacks to drive 3 hours to go see a show or attend a workshop.

Years four and five bring something different. You’ve realize that now you have to learn to travel around, strengthen musicality skills, five part routines, and those arms, gah! All at once even. And props! (&^#*# Zills! To grow as a dancer you may begin to take harder workshops with different teachers who have a different teaching method or style new to you. You hold your weight differently than the featured instructor and you find yourself tripping over your feet at the back of the workshop. You look to the dancers in the front of the room and they are executing perfectly, making you want to tear up and feel like you will never get it. And styles! So many styles of Belly Dance. Which one do you choose to focus on? Do I have to pick just one? Many of the people within your original Belly Dance Circle who grew up with you in dance may have moved on to a new hobby, gone to school, gotten married, or had a baby.

Year five comes. You probably have over a dozen hip scarves, at least 3 pairs of zills, and 50 DVDs. False eyelashes may be mistaken for critters crawling in your bathroom.  At this point, classes for progress and growth are harder for you to find, are further away, and even more expensive. You have to work harder not only physically to get to the next level, but emotionally, financially, etc. Dedication-wise, you are trying to determine if you fell in love with the experience or the dance (or maybe both).You are at the point of deciding whether you are hungry enough to continue on.

This. Is. Normal. This is your five year itch.

You are no longer just a student enjoying and experience. You are becoming your own Artist. Artists, continuously go through phases that run between, “OMG, this is junk!” and, “I’ve got this.” I’m going to say it again, this is totally normal. In order to survive burnout, you have to learn to accept the valleys and the peaks. Your very first itch is going to make you question everything and anything you know, what you want to be when you grow up, and why you even dance at all. You may even swear off glitter.

This is good.

Dance takes serious commitment, in more than one way. Taking a step back is important in any part of your life. It allows you to analyze what is important to you and how you want to spend your time. Dance is art, and you aren’t always going to like what you create and the process. What you have to learn is (please really let this sink in) that it’s ok to go through this. You will have more than one five year itch if you chose to go on. It may make you feel unsteady as to whether to quit or to go on. Please know though, usually after hitting a rut, an artist finds the “aha!” moment when creative juices flow again. Usually the harder the rut, the better the art.

Here’s some tips to get over your five-year itch:

1. Take a break. This may sound contradictory, but in reality, if you take a break, and you miss something in your life, you know it’s worth continuing.

2. Just dance for fun. Grab a few folks and just dance social, with no pressure to be perfect like performing creates. Sometimes we forget there is so much more to this dance than just performing, and it’s not the only measure of success in this dance. Being happy while dancing *for you* is the measure of success and promises a long term “career” as a dancer.

3. Work on soft skills. Read about history, do research, create a favorite dancer list on YouTube, learn to play an instrument. Create a vision board, a dream board, whatever you prefer. Travel and experience different cultures and environments.

4. Take private lessons and/or talk to a mentor. A one on one with a teacher will help you set new goals and priorities, or will give you accountability should you want it to continue. For example, I take 2 hours of private lessons a month, each month with a different teacher. This gives me prospective and forces me out of habits on an ongoing basis. It also gives me consistency and more flexibility. One thing I also love to do is to sit with retired dancers and listen to their stories. Usually they are pretty crazy stories, actually. Many dancers have stories to tell that show just how much dedication and love for the dance they have, and this will wear off on you!

5. Do something totally different. Sometimes we have to reset our creative juices. Usually when I hit a rut, I turn on other styles of music and just free dance until my frustration is gone. Or I color, or go to shows that are not Belly Dance. Sometimes we are too close to the problem, and feeding off other’s creative juices is just what we need to reset ours. I remember going to a comedy show once and enjoying myself so much. I realized I was taking dance way too seriously and needed to make myself and the audience laugh to get through my own personal rut. I ended up performing a piece out of character for me at that time as Dance Diva whose music kept getting cut mid performance. The DJ kept trying everything on their playlist to make her happy. I performed this in front of small and large audiences. Hearing people laugh warmed my dance soul and re-inspired me.  This isn’t a very good clip, but you can hear audience’s response:

6. Watch audiences. Go to as many shows as you can and watch the audience’s response to dancers. Most audiences don’t respond to perfection; they respond to dancers who invite them into the conversation while they dance. Audiences come to feel things, they really don’t care about a regular shimmy vs the dreaded (harder) ¾ shimmy, but they do care that the dancer is enjoying whatever movement they are doing and sharing it with them. Remember dancing doesn’t have to be complicated to be enjoyable. As baby bellies, we tend to throw in the entire kitchen sink because we’re excited to share what we’ve learned. More advanced dancers breathe more and use less movements to make their statement.  

It’s a simple-a giggle or a smile that tends to create a larger audience reaction than the most complicated of movements. Here’s some examples I've experience:

Playing with Sagat player Sayed in Egypt at 3:20:

Or creating breaks and pauses in longer performances starting at 3:05 here:

7. Create a personal mission or vision statement. What is your mission as a dancer? Is it to be technically perfect? Do you want the audience to feel something? Do you want to feel fulfillment, and what does that mean to you? Here’s a youtube clip of a Tedex talk that I absolutely adore-How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes:

Remember: Mission and vision statements change and are constantly updated when you are ready to change them. You don’t have to tackle everything at once!

8. Breathe. It’s ok to not go 100 miles per hour. It’s ok to not be a professional. It’s ok to never want to perform. It's also ok to want these things. Remember why you started to dance, most likely because you wanted something that made you feel good. Dance can still do that. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself and don’t put a timeline or measure your journey compared to others. Part of Sufisim is that when you want to spin, you spin. Apply this concept to your own dance. When you feel the urge to dance, dance.









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