What makes a dancer?

So, I got in a little bit of heat for posting a quote from an interview with Samantha Emanuel on our Facebook page today. While I thought it was a really productive quote, a couple people thought it came as harsh, so I figured... why not turn this into an opportunity for a (possibly ranting) blog post?

For starters, this was the quote:

“Belly dance is not really respected like other dance forms are so I work really hard to raise the bar and show that this is not easy. It’s not about taking a couple of classes and putting a costume on and getting on stage, which is a big problem with belly dance. So study as much as you can before you even consider getting on stage. A ballerina would never take a couple classes, put a tutu on, and get on stage. It wouldn’t happen. So respect the art form and know your stuff. And cross train, be fit, is so important…. It opens up a whole world of necessary things for belly dance.” (Samantha Emanuel)

Harsh? Maybe. True? Absolutely.

Granted, I come from a long line of psychotic and demanding dance styles (rrr, I mean dance styles that push you to be your best), so maybe agreeing with these kinds of statements comes naurally to me. I wasn't taught to believe that we're all special fairies but that we have to be diligent to become one.

I guess that's one of the reason I came to love and respect my once (and brief) Tribal Fusion teacher, Abigail Keyes. She took the time to really tell you how it is on over on her blog, Bellydance Paladin. In one of my favourite post of hers on props and the need to use "gimmicks" in your performance, she wrote:

"If you think your dance alone isn’t memorable, maybe you should work on finding your voice as a dancer. [...] Don’t bring a sword, veil, water pot, snake, basket, fire, or anything else on stage with you unless you really know how to use it. Frankly, I’m not impressed by the mere presence of the prop on stage with the dancer. [...] And for the sake of the future of our dance form, learn your craft."

Again, harsh? Maybe. But true? Absolutely.

(I do want to say that I posted this in mind with those who are seeking to move closer to professional "dancer" status in mind, not students. I absolutely encourage students to get up on stage at haflas, student parties, and capitalize on those types of performance opportunities as much as possible. Of course, I say that with the caveat of "you better have practiced" ;) I also want to put out there that I absolutely think all this applies to me as much as anyone out there trying to make it in the dance world.)

BUT, if you want to be a dancer, really *be* a dancer beyond student status, it's going to require sweat, soreness, and yep, maybe even a few tears. Unfortunately, it's true that belly dance gets a lot of flak for being [insert something about being less professional here], so it's particularly important for us to take ourselves seriously before we throw around words like "I'm a dancer" and certainly "I'm a Tribal Fusion dancer."

Dance is hard. Whether you started when you were 5, 25, or 45. The important thing is that you constantly work at it. In her interview, Samantha mentions practicing a least 4 hours a day. Granted, that is her primary profession. I myself am not nearly at that level of professionalism, but I still stick to some form of a daily dance practice, whether its conditioning, choreography, or something because of the goals I aspire to multiple times a week. When we led up for our first big show and we hadn't worked together much yet, Miranda and I putting in a least a couple hours (and sometimes more) every day for weeks. It doesn't mean what I think we did changed the course of dance history, but I knew we tried our hardest and did our best when performance time came.

I've said something similar before, but in the article "15 Truths about being a Professional Dancer", the author writes: "Natural ability and talent will only get us so far. Dancers must work hard and persevere." In a similar article by Dance Advantage, their author makes the great comparison that you don't become a doctor just because you dream about it or because you played doctor as a child, and certainly not because you went out and bought a stethscope. Instead, they say that "there are no shortcuts. Like it or not, your dreams to dance won't happen without getting serious and setting some serious goals."

Similarly, about "being fit", the same "15 Truths" article reminds its readers that dancers are also athletes. We workout both in the studio, but also outside of it, whether it's cross-training other dance styles or other forms of exercise. Now before you get worked up, YES, athletes do come in all shapes and sizes, but the commonality is that "dancers" should be strong, capable, and constantly seeking self-improvement. I appreciate that Samantha mentions this in her interview, because it's something that can easily fall by the wayside when we get into artistic or creative pursuits. After all, as dancers, our body are our intruments. The more you know, love, and take care of your body, the more you will be able to do with it. Like the often used analogy goes, when you want to maintain a race car, you don't treat it like crap and put cheap gas in it, you honor it, take care of it, and the bonus is you can soup it up with lots of bling ;) (costumes and jewelry, anyone??)

So, lesson of the day: A dancer works hard both body and mind.

Now, if you are just dancing for physical, emotional, and/or spiritual reasons, I totally get that. That's part of why we all we do it, but it's not the end game if you want to keep going with your dancing career. Don't *just* think you're a dancer because you think you're an artist/dance at some summer Festival/retreat in Bali/your living room. That's only the beginning of your journey.

What kind of crappy motivation is this? Again, I told you I come from a background of tough love. Maybe it'll push you. Maybe it'll make you realize that you're good and just enjoy dancing for fun and that's where you want to keep it. Otherwise, if you try to dance without working for it, you'll come accross like these guys:

Don't be these guys.

Rant over. I promise.

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