In the early 2000s, I was living in an unfamiliar town, without a lot of friends or family, and was profoundly lonely. I stepped into a group improv bellydance class and found — community. Joy. Support. It was life-changing. And so when I moved across the country to Maine, one of the first things I did was find a bellydance class; I knew exactly how to find community.

As I matured in my dance, and as I grew closer to the the source of ATS®, that focus changed, little by little. Distractions began to pile up.

First it was the obsession with the costume: not just a belt, but the right belt. Not just a skirt, but the right skirt. Ten yards or more, please. And then the makeup: not that lipstick, it’s too neutral. Your bindi isn’t big enough. You need to fix your eyeshadow. Paint your nails. Your eyebrows aren’t right. And the jewelry, oh, the endless jewelry.

(A confession: I despise wearing so much jewelry.)

And then it was the technique, even beyond the quest for perfection: am I doing this right? Is my elbow at exactly the right angle? Is her elbow at exactly the right angle? Should I dance with someone who doesn’t have great technique? Will someone tell me if don’t have great technique? Will someone tell me directly if I’m doing something wrong?

And finally, and most pernicious, the obsession with hierarchy. What are the guidelines for advancing to the next level? Who’s in the troupe, and who’s out?  What are the rules for getting in? Who’s good enough? Who has the wrong attitude? Who has the certifications, who’s approved to teach? Who can successfully intuit the ever-changing unspoken rules?

I’m ashamed and sad to say that I got caught up in this culture, because I thought it was necessary to support the ATS® brand. No more.

All of these distractions from the reason I started dancing have built up to this:

I’m no longer part of the FatChanceBellyDance® teaching collective. This was not by my choice, and I’ll save the story for in-person conversations. This heartbreaking shift has caused me to re-evaluate my relationship with dance, what I want out of it, and whether I will choose to continue.

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: I want to remember why I started doing this in the first place. I want to go back to the beginning.

The most important thing for me in dance — beyond technique, beyond spectacle, beyond performativity — is connection. I cherish my connections with the worldwide ATS® community. That is the root of why I do this, and that is where I will focus as I move forward.

Speaking of roots: “community” and “communication” share the same linguistic root. We can’t build community if we are hesitant or afraid to communicate freely, honestly, and authentically. With open, compassionate hearts. Fearlessly.

I want to dance with people who are fearless communicators, on and off the dance floor.

I want to dance with people who are bighearted, generous, and kind.

I want to dance with people who only expect mind-reading when we’re dancing together.

I want dance partners who find the good in their fellow dancers. I want dance partners who open up communication instead of shutting it down.

I want to dance with people who don’t care about hierarchy. I want dance partners who prioritize joyful connection. I want dance partners who know that our art form isn’t a sorority, it’s a method of communication.

I want to work with community builders.

So, what does this mean in practice?

I’m still devoted to American Tribal Style® bellydance, as created by Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman and FatChanceBellyDance®. I love the strength, the beauty, and especially the connection that having a clear shared dance language enables. I respect Carolena and her brand, and will continue to support her artistic vision to the best of my ability, as I have for many years.

And I will still be teaching at ATS® Homecoming in January 2017, and offering SSCE at least at that event and perhaps beyond.

I will not be teaching regular classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are enough excellent teachers here, and I respect the local teachers who rely on dance for their income.

However, I will happily travel to teach workshops. I love working with the global community. It’s also important to me to keep the workshops affordable for the communities in which I offer them; reach out to me if you’d like to talk logistics.

Additionally, I don’t want to run my dance career as a business any more; I only want to support the worldwide ATS® community. To that end, any funds I earn will go to charity, or to support your local dance community.

And if you live in the Bay Area — or are visiting — and you share my goals, consider this an invitation to come dance with me. In my living room, in yours, in a studio, or in the street. Come back to the roots with me, and let’s focus on connection and communication.

Come dance with me in joyful community.

 

(Photo credit: Don Labit Design)

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16 thoughts on “A new chapter: returning to my roots.

  1. Good luck in your new dance adventures!… I had a very similar experience some time ago and decided my path led in a different direction. I have so many fond memories but in the end you have to do what is right for yoU and huge respect to you for following your heart…💕

  2. Thank you for sharing with us. Love everithing you said I feel the same way I dance for the joy of it. I want you to come to Puerto Rico, and we will dance our heart out. See you at Homecoming.

  3. Janet, I loved your story and I appreciate your sharing it. I was fortunate to have taken several classes with you in SF and was inspired by your teaching style. Would love to dance with you again sometime.

  4. Janet, you are the reason I am now challenging myself with ITS, the style of Amy Sigil. I have missed dancing while getting my Master’s degree and it was connection with Pia Capaldi and other nurturing dancers in Maine recently which has guided me back to that connecting you eloquently describe. I remain grateful to you for patiently mentoring at Bright Star and I wish you continued joy in your journey!

  5. Thank you Janet for being a wonderful person and encouraging me to dance! I met you in San Luis Obisbo a few years ago at a workshop. You ask me what level was I dancing at and I replied, “.5”! Janet, you didn’t say to sit and watch,but dance and join in with the group! I hope to see you again. Much Peace and Love to you 🌴

  6. Hi, Janet — I’m sad to hear about your departure from the teaching collective; you are such a source of strength, kindness, openness, and largeness of vision for our community. Your comments here suggest a voluntary (and understandable) reason for your departure — a need to escape the distractions from what’s vital to you in the dance. So I’m perplexed by the comment “This was not by my choice.” I’ll have to buy you a Margarita to hear the backstory, which I’m certain will knit all this together. Meanwhile, all my best wishes to you.

  7. Hi Nancy, thanks for your note and your kind words!

    It was absolutely not my choice to leave the collective. When I was fired (or technically, “had my membership suspended” with no realistic chance of being reinstated) I was so heartbroken that I almost stopped dancing.

    Rather than retire, however, I did some soul-searching to determine what in this art form brings me joy. If I’m going to keep dancing, I need to focus on the things that feed me, and not on the things that don’t. I’m glad that other aspects (like costuming, makeup, and so on) bring other people joy, but it’s not something I really want to spend my time and energy on.

    And, that said – I’d rather focus on the positive aspects of what comes next, rather than my split with FatChance. But I’m always up for some catchup time with you!

    There’s definitely lots more to say – I look forward to catching up with you soon.

  8. Hi, Janet — Omg, you must have been horribly heartbroken. Hurts like that go deep. But I’m delighted that you got your heart and your dance back, thank goodness! I look forward to seeing you at Homecoming if not sooner. Be well and stay strong.

  9. You are a powerful inspiration, from the positivity of your attitude, to your strength in following your own path. I greatly respect the philosophies you stand for and your love for the simple joy of dance. I sincerely hope to dance with you someday.

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