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 I 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)