At this time of year I take a short break from belly dance. Its been two weeks since my last class, three since I performed, and I'm starting to miss my true dance love. I have been belly dancing for 25 years, full time for the last 17. I write about belly dance every day. I teach three times a week, and practice each week day. Most weekends I attend or perform at events. If you are reading this, you are probably the same. Belly dance is addictive and it attracts the most wonderful, caring, loving and interesting people to its world.
You may have noticed a little wave of negativity washing through these last few weeks. You can blame the stars, or the internet, Gen X or boredom, but its not how I see belly dance. Belly dance has been a huge blessing in my life and I would like to take a moment to count them. Feel free to join me, either in the comments below, or in your own blog or posting. Lets make the last few days of 2016 a wonderful moment of giving thanks to the dance that brought us together. In no particular order....
1, - Friends. I have thousands of "Friends" on FB, and many of them have turned into real friends. Every time I attend an event, I look out for people I know through FB and connect with them, so I can meet them in person. I never walk into a workshop without a familiar face, even if its on the other side of the world. I can have coffee, or a meal, with fascinating people, no matter where I am in the world. We always have something to talk about. Belly dance has also introduced me to people that I consider family. Half of my Christmas cards were sent, with love, to families that I would never have met if not for belly dance. As someone who lost her mother way too young, I am lucky to have a place to spend time with older ladies. I love to chat and spend time with ladies of my Mum's generation. Without belly dance I wouldn't have so many wise women in my life. Finally, having a wide range of friends has made me open to new ides and taught me about the world. Belly dancers cover the whole range of political views, the gender spectrum, all ages, classes, ethnicity and religions. I have belly dance friends who can share incites into their lives, and others who are simply happy to dance by my side. thank you belly dance friends, you are a blessing.
3, - Income. It might be taboo, but I am hugely grateful that belly dance has been my main form of income for 17 years. At first I taught multiple classes, and more recently, I make a living through selling my belly dance books. I feel hugely blessed that so many people value my time, energy and thoughts enough to spend their hard earned cash. Perhaps their class time is the best hour of their week, or snuggling up with one of my books is the highlight of their day. People also pay me for the on line lessons, workshops and mentoring. If you ever paid me for anything, I am truely thankful, and I hope you felt it was worth every penny!
4, - Family. Not many people know, but my Mum used to belly dance. Unfortunately she was very ill for a long time, but it gave us a common topic to discuss. When she could no longer dance she acted at MC at my events. My daughter is also a professional belly dance performer. When my children were younger, they attended lots of events, helped out with loading and unloading the venue, lighting, sound and hosting. I think it has influenced them all in different ways. Now they are older they help with tech support and marketing advice. I am very thankful that my job is a family business and that they can all get involved.
5, - Performances. I am not one of those people who only goes to shows if I have a performance slot. I love to see belly dance performances of all levels at any venue. If I have an evening at home you may well find me surfing YouTube to feed my addiction. I dont care what your style is, I just want to see good dancing, a pretty costume, some stage craft and an interpretation of the music. I flip between the golden age classics to art that scares or upsets me, I enjoy the folk dances, Tribal Fusion, and glamorous theater productions. I am lucky enough to live in the SF bay area, which means I can see a show (or five) every Saturday night. I am lucky that I get to pick and choose, dress up, meet friends, and see wonderful performances whenever I want.
6, - Music. Just as I love every kind of belly dance, so I love all the music that comes with it. I enjoy a great live band, or a single drummer. I am lucky enough that my music collection is now so big that I can play anything, anytime, to suit my mood, my dancing or my surounding. I would like to take a moment to thank those of you who have taken the time to record music for belly dancers, or to play at an event, or to teach a workshop about the depths and meanings of the classic tunes. Belly dance has given me the soundtrack to my life.
7, Confidence. For me, this goes beyond the confidence to walk onto a stage and present a dance that I have spent 10 months working on. There is a confidence that comes from being surounded by brave, bold, beautiful, strong and intelligent people. When you take part in a show and see others project the pain and upset of a recent break up into a performance, or see the lady who just lost her job suck it up and spread joy to the very back row, it emboldens you to put your shoulders back and believe that anything is possible. Knowing that others may like your work, also gives you the confidence to truely assess the critisims that always come with presenting art. When I see one of my books in the hands of a new reader, I still hope that they like it - we all want to be liked. But belly dance gave me the confidence to write those books, because I love it so much that I have studied it in depth, talked to experts and drawn my own conclusions. I am an expert. How is that for confidence !!
8, - Beauty. Without belly dance I would never had said that I was beautiful. That is really sad. I still have days when I dont like parts of my body, but they are very few and far between. When did it become acceptable for woman to be modest about their beauty? Belly dance has given me a body with lots of curves. It can shimmy and strut, slide and glide and sometimes it can even do some really complex foot patterns ! I have also learnt what colors suit me, how to wear my hair, I have some pro make up technique and, just in the last few years, I have learnt how to pose for the camera. I can turn heads just from excellent posture. Surrounding yourself with beautiful people, not only gives you the tools, it also helps you to see your inner beauty. The belly dance world is full of people who give unconditionally, love and share without expectation. Every week we set up in the changing room and see a dozen "normal" people blossom into stunningly beautiful creatures. Knowing you are beautiful is a powerful thing.
9, - Knowledge. I am lucky that I have had the time, energy and money to travel in order to take workshops from some of the greatest minds in belly dance. I am also very privileged to have met many wonderful belly dancers who have taken the time to talk to me, share their ideas, send me books, write me essays or simply ask me questions. I am not the scholarly type. I struggle to take notes and to find my references. Dance is a physical medium, we share our history, stories, hopes and desires through movement. I have collected that knowledge too.
10, - Students. I have been abundantly blessed with students. Back when I lived in the UK, I had a different class on every day of the week, and each of them had a totally different vibe. They were all filled with wonderful people, who chose to spend their precious spare time with me. Even when I had to move away, many of them chose to keep in touch, and they still share their videos, photos and dance journey with me. Now I live in the US, I have less classes, but more time to spend in preparing each of them. My US students have taught me all about America, and never laugh at my funny accent. I have been blessed with a troupe of ridiculously talented dancers, who let me challenge them with choreography that is way beyond my ability. They are committed, engaged and ambitious - which means they drive me to be the same.
When we love something as much as we all love belly dance, its easy to get passionate. Passion can build bridges, or it can tear them down. The world of belly dance is very small. We are not a rich, sucessful and popular industry. I think we are in a growing stage, and most of us would agree that we have to build our student bases, or audiences and our standards in order to make belly dance accessable to more people and keep dancers and teachers employed. We do that best by being welcoming, sharing knowledge, sharing students, sharing performance opportunties and praising the skills we see in others. I contributed to our last book "Becoming a Belly Dancer" for a very selfish reason - I want to see great belly dance in my retirement!
If you would like to add to my list of belly dance blessings, please feel free to add to the comments below, post on FB or write a blog of your own. - Sara x
If you like this blog, go back to my blog page and check out some others like:
Teacher Knows Best
Dealing with Difficult Students
I'm Perfect for Belly Dance (and so are you)
Why Belly Dancers need to Walk the Line
Teaching Belly Dance: Making Corrections
Being Part of the Solution
Or check out my Hub Blogs including:
"Your First Belly Dance Workshop"
The Top Ten Belly Dance Tunes for Performance"
"Finding a Great Belly Dance Teacher"
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance writer, teacher and performer.
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