I should be on a high. I just got back from 2 fun filled weeks of dance, but dancing is the last thing I want to do now.
I love to travel and I love to dance and when the opportunity presented itself to travel to the Miami Belly Dance Convention (MBC) I jumped at it. The event was in a destination city that I have wanted to visit for some time, it was near a beach (another bonus) and they were bringing in teachers from around the world that I wouldn’t have had a chance to study with back home. There was also a competition.
I have mixed feelings about competitions because there is no such thing as the “best” dancer out there. Competitions can build and breakdown a dancer. I’ve done plenty of competitions and the feedback usually has a wide range. I’ve learned to throw out the one or two judges that just don’t like me and focus on the judges that give me meaningful advice. But for some reason, this round of feedback was overall negative with the exception of one judge that was very specific on things I should work on. Despite having a couple of really fun workshops, I left feeling less than worthy of the years of practice I’ve dedicated to this dance. I came home, packed my bags and headed to the desert for a retreat. It was the perfect place to be. Surrounded by friends, but the seeds of doubt were now firmly planted in my mind and it’s been two weeks home and I’ve not danced since.
I often get asked by family and friends, “why do you belly dance”? It's usually in a tone that makes me embarrassed when they use the words “belly dance” because I know that in their minds they are thinking of characters that I don't represent me. I cringe at the thought of being associated to the image of the belly dancer being the seductress, the exotic woman dancing to seduce men away from their wives. I also don’t want to be thought of in the same category as dancers out there that promote themselves by posting endless pictures of their cleavage and blowing kisses at the camera, as if there is nothing more to their characters than their sexiness and bosoms! That does not represent me nor why I do this dance.
In mid-July I attended a conference held at a little dance studio called, Zamani World Dance. There, on a hot summer Friday afternoon about 15 people gathered to listen to the advice of a panel of dancers that have been dancing longer than some of us have been alive. Helena Vlahos, Leila Hadad, Saqra, Zaphra, Mish Mish and Maria Morca were all gathered there to share their life lessons, stories and wisdom. Women of all ages, size, race, education gathered together as a community to listen to the lessons these dancers had to share. It's this community of women that keeps me wanting to belly dance.
There are many ups and downs in the life of a dancer. You think you have it tough, these women have had it tough and tougher. They’ve made lifelong careers of dancing and thinking back to the stories and advice these women shared reminds me, that maybe I’m overreacting to the feedback I got.
The advice shared during the forum was to say something with your dance. Use dancing as your voice. If I let the negative feedback shut me down, then I’ve allowed my critics take my voice. We all have something to say, I have something to say. It may not be the message that everyone wants to hear, but it is mine to say. The other piece of advice I heard was to be memorable. Have something meaningful to say, because it is what sets you apart.
At MBC I competed in the “tribal fusion” category and I was reamed. The criteria for what defines “tribal fusion” wasn’t clearly defined to me as a contestant (not sure if the judges were given any guidelines), but my guess is no. I took a big risk at taking a very open interpretation and I paid a huge price, I got the lowest scores possible. As I sit here writing and analyzing the experience, taking in the advice of the dancers on the panel I realize, so what! Their words of advice resonate strongly with me now. I came off the stage knowing that I was definately in the wrong category and that maybe next time I would do better not dancing in a "tribal fusion" category ever again! But I had something to say and I’m grateful for the people who were “listening” and came up to me afterwards to tell me that they loved what I did (Indian/Caberet fusion) and that I was the most memorable.
The feedback I received for the cabaret portion of the competition wasn’t any better. My technique and transitions can definately use improving, but the feedback was still crushing. I need time to get over the experience and to think about where I want to go next with belly dancing. However, one thing I’m sure of is that I’m not going to stop. All of the ladies on the panel advised, “never stop dancing” and “don’t take long breaks”. I haven't had the urge to dance since the competition, but as I reflect back on the lessons learned this summer I realize two weeks off is long enough. It's now time for me to get up and dance!