Losing Your Bellydance Mojo
Is there something in the air? There seems to be an avalanche of belly dancers feeling stressed, burned out and otherwise losing their mojo. I noticed it first in the September issue of Bellydance Oasis (an article by Samantha Moore). She referenced a post by Kalikah Jade about "Belly-Burnout". Then just a week later, Keti Sharif was posting on Facebook on the same topic. What's going on?
Googling, I found that belly dance fatigue is startlingly common - or at least, so it seems, judging by the number of dancers who feel driven to blog about it. How can our beautiful dance form cause this reaction?
I notice that it's mainly professionals who suffer this malaise, and I have a theory. Think back to when you started belly dancing in the first place. Why did you do it? Was it because you dreamed of spending your evenings teaching other women, or rushing from gig to gig? Or was it because it enriched you, gave you freedom to truly express yourself, made you feel part of a sisterhood?
Our society is all about making progress, having goals, moving forward: so if you have any talent as a belly dancer, it's assumed you're going to want to perform, or teach, or both. Before you know it you're being encouraged on to the conveyer belt towards becoming a professional - and you're probably excited and positive about it, because you love belly dance, so what could go wrong, huh?
Years ago, I read a fascinating article in my local newspaper. It was by a man who had dreamed of being a photographer. For years, he was stuck in a boring job, and spent all his free time taking photographs and learning his craft. Then he came into a small inheritance and decided to use it to open his own photography studio.
At first, he revelled in his new career. After all, don't they say that if you do what you love, it doesn't feel like work? But gradually, he found he wasn't enjoying himself as much. It puzzled him, until he worked out why:
As an amateur photographer, photography was his escape and his respite, a special time where he could do exactly as he pleased. As a professional photographer, he was obliged to photograph what other people wanted, on a timetable that suited them. Photography was no longer an escape and a respite, it was a job - he was no longer free to enjoy it on his own terms.
I think this is what is happening to our belly dance teachers. We've been told to "do what you love", without realising that turning a passion into a job can kill the passion. Perhaps more of us need to think about why we're so avidly climbing the belly dance ladder?
I read another interesting quote by Alia Thabit in Bellydance Oasis recently, talking about the pressure to perform:
Something that puzzles Easterners about the way this dance is taught in the West is...there is this expectation that everyone will become a performer. In the East...it's a playful, fun, social dance; only a tiny percentage are performers. Think about people who do yoga: they don't go to yoga class expecting to become a teacher...they go because yoga enriches their life. We could stand a lot more social dance in the bellydance world.
I love to perform (though I started too late to turn professional), but I do observe the pressure to perform. Some teachers are more pushy than others - but even if the teacher is sensitive, fellow students often aren't. Everyone is convinced a reluctance to perform is just shyness, that the person will discover they love it if only they'll try - and then of course there's that feeling of being left out when everyone else in the class is doing it. It can be the same with workshops and courses - if you're not "advancing your knowledge" of the dance, you're failing, it's not enough to just enjoy doing it.
Of course, there are those dancers who are inspired by teaching others, or who (like me) are energised by performing. But I suspect there are many dancers like our photographer, who didn't realise that the freedom of photographing just for himself was a bit part of what made it special - and when they turn their focus outwards to their audience or their students, eventually they forget why they loved their hobby in the first place.
Here's Helen Santa Maria's take on the subject. This post from BellydanceAtAnySize expresses much the same emotions. Or you can check out Carmelita's post (I like the way she talks about recharging your shimmy batteries!). I also found an article on Gilded Serpent on how to go about recovering from burnout.
The way to recover seems to be to go back to the beginning, and dance for yourself, not for others. For some, that will refresh them enough to go back to belly dancing as a business - but I wonder if for some, it would be better to say "It's OK to just dance."