Friday, June 27, 2008 - Separating the Grist from the Chaff

I'm sure many of you are familiar with and are perhaps members of, an online social networking website that is just chock full of bellydancers. can be a great resource if you just know which tribes to join, however there are a lot of fan tribes that don't offer much substance, and personal/troupe tribes that mostly offer performance and class information for a particular city or area.

To save you some of the hassle of finding the tribes worth paying attention to (in my not so humble opinion), here are the ones that I find the most useful and informative.

  • The Biz of Belly Dance
    • This tribe is a fantastic resource for dancers who are either dancing professionally or who are seeking to do so in the near future. Moderated by Samira Shuruk--who has been an activist for professional ethics and standards in the bellydance community for several years--this tribe and its members provide quality discussion that rarely becomes uncivil or destructive.

  • Bellydance Health, Fitness, and Anatomy
    • I've turned to this tribe several times seeking advice and input from other dancers in regard to anatomy and health. While this tribe, of course, is hardly a substitute for seeing a physician, moderator Aubre and its members are chock full of knowledge on the human body and how bellydance affects it.

  • Bellydance Feedback
    • This tribe, unfortunately, is greatly underutilized. I'd like to see it grow a little bit more. This tribe offers dancers the opportunity to post their own performance videos and solicit constructive feedback from other dancers. Sometimes responses can be confusion, as each dancer might have a different opinion of what would improve a performance, most of the time the responses are honest, helpful, and--as far as I've seen--never hurtful.

  • Belly Dance Legacy
    • Know your history! This tribe is another great untapped resource. This tribe mostly focuses on the history of bellydance from the 1970s and earlier. I highly suggest you check it out, if only for the amazing photos in the gallery.

  • DCTribal
    • Created by community maven Mab, just Mab, this tribe serves the DC-area tribal and fusion bellydance scene, but its members span from all over the country. If you're not in DC, then you might not find this tribe as helpful as I do, but if you're ever in the area, this would be the first place to check for upcoming community events, performances, and workshops. This tribe really helped bring together disparate dancers from the area to launch a community in the true sense of the word.

  • Suhaila Method Resource Group
    • This tribe is limited to those who are at least Level I certified in the Suhaila Salimpour format. If you are Level I certified and haven't joined yet, let moderator Kitiera know that you're interested. It's a fantastic resource for anyone involved in the format.
There are many other tribes out there, but these are the ones that I check the most often and the ones that consistently have some of the best discussions and content.

Are there tribes that you frequent that you feel have helped your dance? Leave a comment. :)

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I've been trying to express gratitude more often in my daily life. I think it lifts the spirits.

I'd like to say thank you to all the people who've been reading this blog since its inception in February. I appreciate that you take the time to read my ramblings and to leave comments. I read and think about every comment you post.

So... thank you.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On Mentoring

I performed in a pretty big show last weekend, involving some pretty reputable dancers (why they invited me, I have no idea!)... and one very respected local instructor asked me as I was about to leave the dressing room for a moment, "Do you have a cover-up? And do tribal dancers wear cover ups? I see a lot of tribal dancers just walking around in their costumes... and I wondered why."

Now, I admit to forgetting a "formal" cover-up on several occasions, but I at least have something to cover myself so that I'm not walking around in full costume.

And I replied to her, "Well, technically, yes, we do wear cover-ups... and I think the dancers you see without them haven't had anyone to tell them otherwise." You see, I think (and I worry) that there is a whole generation of tribal-oriented dancers out there whose primary instruction comes from instructional videos and YouTube... and I worry about these dancers. This is not to say that a dancer can't learn from these media, but it is a rare dancer who can do so. I can think of two.

One reason I worry for these dancers is that if they are learning primarily from videos, then they probably don't have a mentor or a primary instructor to guide them, not only physically to ensure proper technique and body awareness, but also professionally.

I was lucky enough to have a very respected instructor as my professional mentor: Artemis Mourat, from Washington, DC. She took me in after I moved to this area after graduating from college, and taught me nearly everything I needed to know about being not only a dancer, but a professional entertainer. If I had learned only from videos, I probably wouldn't have any idea about asking for a fare wage, always wearing a cover-up, how to conduct oneself when confronted with threatening restaurant owners, and how to dance with a live band. If I had to sum it up, she taught me professional ethics. And I continue to seek her guidance in professional matters to this day. She is a mentor in the true sense of the word. I am grateful that I have such an amazing woman as a resource in my life.

I understand that not all aspiring dancers have such instructors in their areas... and I wonder if it might be worth setting up some sort of mentoring program for dancers... if we could pair up new dancers with experienced ones, and have them establish a relationship either online or over the phone or both. My day job has a program like this, and every new employee is assigned a mentor to help them learn the ropes of the profession. Why don't we have something like this in belly dance?

As we who have been in the dance for a while complain about undercutters who don't know better than to dance for free (*cringe*) or that they should wear a cover-up unless performing, we do very little to combat it. We've been relatively passive, offering guidance to those who seek it, but only after they've sought it, unless those seeking the guidance are our own students. What if we actively sought out "mentees" to coach? Of course, there will always be those dancers who disregard the community at large and will perform and teach before they're ready, but I think we can do more to combat this, particularly as more dancers don't have primary instructors and look to videos for their dance training.

I think I'm going to post about this on the Biz of Belly Dance tribe and see what people say. I'm not sure anyone has thought of this before...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Community Service

In the tribal bellydance world (for some reason this subject doesn't seem to come up as often amongst oriental/cabaret dancers) dancers often bring up the subject of "community". What is community? What happens in your community? How did you find each other? How often do you see each other? Are you friends or just fellow dancers who happen to live in the same area?

For me, community is a lot more than just the dancers who live, perform, teach, and study in your area. There are plenty of areas in the United States where many dancers live in the same region, but hardly ever see each other, and there might even be a sense of animosity that separates them more than physical distance ever could.

There's something bigger at work than just physical proximity that makes a community.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers several definitions for "community", and this one is probably the one most suited to what I'm getting at:

II. A body of individuals.
c. Often applied to those members of a civil community, who have certain circumstances of nativity, religion, or pursuit, common to them, but not shared by those among whom they live. [Emphasis mine.]
That definition, while close, isn't quite what I'm getting at...

In the Washington, DC, area, I feel incredibly lucky to be part of a true community. What that means for us is that most of us are friends, we hang out with each other outside of bellydance and similar events, we call on each other for assistance when we need it, and we support each others' endeavors and successes. For the most part we do not see our fellow dancers as competitors, but as colleagues. I feel like we have something very special in this area; I'm not sure other regions or metro areas in the United States can boast such a claim.

That is not to say we don't have intra-community tension sometimes, but it's rare. As we are more like an extended family than a group of people with similar interests, we can take on the characteristics of a classic family with all of its ups and downs.

How did we get here? I think the most important factors in creating community are:
  • Leaving your ego and insecurities at home. I think the paramount factors that can ruin a community are insecurity and arrogance. Both trigger responses to others' dancing skill such as, "She's not that good; I can do better", or "Wow, she's really good and I have to compete with her for gigs and attention!" These emotions can also trigger harmful gossip, backbiting, and verbal sabotage. A true community is not about competition against others. (Competition against yourself, however, is perfectly acceptable.)
  • Holding and attending events that get everyone in the same space. Sharing your art with others in the same physical space as other dancers and artists in your region is essential to building trust and camaraderie. These events absolutely must be open to anyone who is interested in the artform (in this case, tribal belly dance). Allowing anyone to attend helps emphasize the openness of the individuals who compose the community. When you are at an event where others are present, you must be present as well. It is your chance not only to experience their art, but also to talk to fellow dancers and artists. The more you talk to and associate with others in your region, the less likely you are to succumb to the dangers of insecurity and arrogance.

Of course, there are other variables, but I think these two factors are the key to a really strong community, vice disparate dancers who happen to live in the same general area.

Just as I was to post about community...


So, if you don't know Mab, just Mab, you really should. She's a cornerstone of the DC dance and performance community, and without her efforts, I'm not sure the DC tribal and related art scenes would be as tight as we are.

She has created a new blog about arts in DC, and I'm pretty sure she's gonna post about every upcoming event related (but not limited) to: Sideshow, Burlesque, Vaudeville, Tribal Bellydance, Fire Artistry, Circus Arts, Unusual Music and Theater... and more! I have a feeling this will be an indespensible resource for events in the area.

The blog: DC Variety. I strongly encourage you to check it out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


This is really only tangentially related to the overall subject of the blog, but...

I got new ink!

I've been thinking about this design for over a year. It's an adaptation of the Rush Starman (see below), which first appeared on the back of their album 2112.

The original Starman symbolizes "the abstract man against the masses. The red star symbolizes any collectivist mentality" [Neil Peart, Creem, 1982]. I identified so much with that symbolism and the sentiment behind it. I have felt like an individual fighting the masses... My experiences in elementary school and junior high (see the section on the "No Demon")--particularly being told that I shouldn't try to be the best in school because it was threatening the other students--have been a fundamental building block in my worldview and personal philosophies.

I became really enamored with the image, but I wanted to change it a bit if I were to put it on my body. I took the man out of the original because I feel like the abstract man. The placement of the star on my upper back (vice any other part of my body) is to remind me that the pressure is always there, behind me, and that I must stay true to my convictions regardless of what pressures I face, particularly in my art. I also chose to have it on my upper back because the muscles there are the source of strong dance posture, particularly in tribal style. I feel powerful when I contract my back muscles and stand tall, and that posture conveys a sense of control and confidence.

My entire life I've striven to remain an individual, to not compromise myself in the face of peer pressure, trends, and conformity.

And to give credit where credit is very much due... my tattoo artist is Susan Behney-Doyle at Jinx Proof in Washington, DC. She's amazing, and she made my star a reality.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A call for integrity in belly dance periodicals.

Why is it that belly dance periodicals don't seem to pride themselves on well-crafted, objective, and thought-provoking writing, and instead publish poorly-written, subjective, insulting, and inflammatory articles? Are we belly dancers as a community that nasty, ill-educated, catty, and insecure?

I would like to say that on the whole, most of us are well-educated, nice, and generally good people. If an outsider read the most popular of our online periodicals and message boards, she would not get that impression.

This dancer is tired of the poorly written articles that value style over substance and controversy over content.

Here's what I wish for:

  • Articles written by dancers who are experts on the subject matters on which they are writing.
  • Articles that focus on the art and history of this dance, rather than the gimmicks and controversies.
  • Authors who can proofread their own writing, or have the foresight to have a colleague proofread for them.
  • Authors who check their facts.
  • Authors who can identify and check their assumptions about other styles and dancers.
  • Authors who can take the time to spell other dancers' names correctly.
  • Authors who, if presented with a DVD or CD to review, have the honesty to tell the periodical, "I am not qualified to review this, so please ask someone else who knows more about this style/subject/dancer."
  • Performance and product reviews that are neither hate-fests nor love-fests, but are objective and analytical dissections of the performance or product in question.
  • Authors who, if they are offended by a particular style or dancer, do not immediately write an emotionally charged article for the sake of stirring up controversy. We are all passionate about something in this dance, yes, but we don't need to go insulting others to show others how passionate we are.
  • In relation to the previous point, authors who, when faced with something that offends them, take the time to understand and conduct some research on the offending style/dancer.
  • Authors and articles who don't resort to commenting on the appearance or costuming of a dancer. (Please comment on the quality of the dancing; frankly I don't care if someone was dancing in a baggy sweatshirt and sweatpants or if she's in a $1000 Eman.)
  • Publications who seek out quality authors, rather than just allowing their friends and favorite dancers to write articles.
I find it ironic (explained below) that one of the only surviving popular and prolific periodicals is the Gilded Serpent. Most of the Gilded Serpent's articles are either insipid "reviews" of recent events which merely describe a dancer's lovely new Bella bedlah or who performed at a recent stage show, or the articles are ignorant attempts that insult fusion styles of dance. The Gilded Serpent's core authors appear to have an agenda: one that praises the old school and degrades those of us experimenting and pushing this dance forward for a new generation of dancers. To its credit, the Gilded Serpent does accept articles by guest authors; however, I feel that these articles are lost in the cacophany of criticism and nearly substance-free articles. I feel that the Gilded Serpent has become the tabloid of belly dance news, and yet so many people continue to read it... because there are so few other options.

I assume (yes, I could be wrong) that most of the Gilded Serpent's readership is the same population of dancers that lament the passing of the more scholarly paper publications of Habibi and Arabesque, both of which developed a well-earned reputation for well-crafted, well-researched, and honest reporting on our dance. Where are all of those dancers who read these periodicals? Wouldn't you want to see our dance's publications rise up to the high standards that these now defunct periodicals set? Or did these publications perish because we as a community don't really have an appetite for academic research and writing on our dance? I would hope that isn't the case, but I fear that the passing of these magazines indicates that our community would rather wallow in insults and subjective ass-kissing and back-biting than to take the high road of objectivity, research, and integrity in our written products.