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.

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