Once in a while I feel like it’s important to talk about the real reasons most of our students walk in the door — what they really want from us.
Most students signed up for a bellydance class because they thought it would be fun! They want to get some exercise and learn some dance moves. Leave behind their jobs, kids, responsibilities, maybe dress up in something sparkly or jingly and express themselves. Make friends, that’s a biggie. Many of my students have confided in me that most of their circle of friends has come from the studio.
Those are incredibly lofty and important goals — perhaps more important, on a human level, than competing for restaurant gigs or trophies.
A handful of my students have become very serious about the dance and go on to join my pro troupe.
But 95% of them never will. They want to dance to the best of their own personal ability, of course. But some of them will never do a hip drop without bouncing, shimmy their hips without their arms moving, or create a rounded, full maya with their heels on the ground. They’re just not put together in that way, or they came to the dance too late in life. Does that mean they should be made to feel inadequate and shamed out of my class? Absolutely not. My job is to offer instruction AND model acceptance of your body as it is (while training it to better, if possible).
These students are dancing for each other, and their friends and family, at student recitals, studio parties, and haflas. They know they don’t want to work hard enough to be professional dancers, or maybe they long to but it’s not realistic in the body they’ve been given or with the amount of time they’re able to devote to practicing. But my students care about each other & are supportive. They are creating costumes, creating dances, clapping for each other. They’re enjoying the music, the expression, the comeraderie. At my studio, they find expression, laughter, friendship, and a place where they can be themselves.
In Egypt and the Arab world, this is still a dance for non-professionals. They may not costume, choreograph or rehearse like we would for a hafla — they don’t need to, they’ve been dancing casually among family since childhood. But they certainly perform for each other, support each other, express themselves, and share joy and friendship by dancing together. There is a real authenticity in this nonprofessional dance environment.
Let’s never get so serious about the dance that we start overlooking its purest expression. Of course, some teachers will focus on training professionals and that’s a whole different ballgame…. And even recreational students deserve to learn good technique, musicality, and cultural background. But they’re also deserving of our respect and celebration just as they are.
What are your thoughts? Can we offer this kind of joyous experience to our students without jeapardizing our efforts to earn a serious place for Raqs Sharqi alongside other dance forms?