Is Belly Dancing Teaching a Sisterhood?
As someone who has danced in many other genres, when I (finally) discovered belly dancing, one thing struck me very forcibly.
Belly dance teachers talk to each other!
Some belly dancers will be reading that sentence and thinking, "Yeah, so?", but let me tell you - in the rest of the dance world, that's a rare thing.
In ballet or flamenco, many teachers barely acknowledge each other's existence. If their paths cross, (which is usually at dance contests or exams, because other dance genres don't "do" shared concerts), they may seem friendly on the surface, but underneath they're gleefully noting every little mistake made by the other teachers' students.
And woe betide any student who dares try another teacher's classes! I remember, when I was dancing flamenco, feeling I needed more intensive drilling of zapateado on the run-up to a big show. I knew one of the other schools was very into drilling - almost to the cost of everything else! - so for a term, I went along to one of their technique classes. But I had to keep it a deathly secret that I was "two-timing", because if I'd been found out, I would never have been forgiven. I'm not sure if I would've been banished, but I'm certain I would have lost my spot as a regular performer, and I'm sure the atmosphere in class would've been very uncomfortable!
If you're a belly dance student and you're thinking how childish that sounds - believe me, I thought it was childish, too, but it happened. I saw exactly the same phenomenon when I was studying ballet. Teachers are in such fierce competition with each other to attract students and win gigs, they think of other teachers as threats, not colleagues.
So I was amazed, when I started belly dancing, to see students from several schools performing at the same hafla. It's so refreshing and so sensible. Of course, I'm not naive - I'm sure there's an undercurrent of competition still lurking at times, especially with belly dance teachers who learned that behaviour in other genres. But it's so great to see students able to study with various teachers without feeling guilty. For instance, I know one student who used to attend classes with Jane Jardines, Terezka Drznik and Rachel Bond every week. Not surprisingly, her progress was simply stunning. Even with her natural ability, she wouldn't have been able to develop so quickly if she'd been forced to stick with one teacher. As for me, I've taken classes and workshops with many of Sydney's instructors (and several interstate ones, too), and my belly dance journey has been all the richer for that opportunity.
I'd love to know - is this a worldwide phenomenon, or just an Australian one?
P.S. Apologies to our male belly dance colleagues for using the word "sisterhood" - I am including you in spirit!
Photo by Alaskan Dude