Negativity in Bellydance
Katie Sahar When we start bellydancing, most of us are lucky to have a honeymoon period of a few months, or even years, where our journey is positive and uplifting: we’re making new friends, learning how to move our bodies, buying sparkly things that make us feel beautiful, and our teachers are proud of us when we do our first showcases.
There eventually comes a time when this bubble is burst and we are on the receiving end of nasty, catty, comments, either from our peers or teachers (which is a topic for another article), or possibly from our friends or family not involved in the dance. The instances of this happening increase the more involved we get, and the more we put ourselves ‘out there’, regardless of if we turn professional or not. The likelihood of receiving negative comments exponentially increases once you start putting yourself online, which is a main factor of many dancers not having a strong social media presence.
However, I think that our current culture of trying to avoid negativity by not talking about it, sweeping it under the rug, or attributing it to someone just being ‘toxic’ is not helpful, and
harmful to our community at large. Instead, I hope to show that we can control our own internal responses to negativity and move beyond them with our self esteem intact.
Practical Advice for Handling Negativity
Consider the source of the comment. If you’re online, is it an anonymous account or
someone you don’t know? If so, there are just some people who are miserable trolls hiding
behind their keyboard. There is absolutely no reason for you to waste a second of your time
pondering their thoughts: by doing so you are allowing them to live in your brain rent-free, and you don’t even know who they are. Delete, block, and move on!
If it’s another dancer, or someone you do know, think about WHY they would have something negative say about you. Remember when our parents told us that ‘when you point a finger, there’s three pointing back at you’? That adage works here, because truly, comments are always a reflection of the speaker, not the receiver. Can you imagine being so miserable that you would take time out of your day to say nasty things to people? If you’re reading this, I’m sure you can’t.
Think About Their Motivation. Let’s pretend another dancer comes and tells you that your costume is ugly the night you are performing. Think: What are they trying to gain from giving you their unsolicited opinion? Do they want to ruin your mood before you do go on stage or after you did a crowd pleasing piece? If this is the case, they are either jealous that you have the confidence to do what you do OR they are afraid that you are outshining THEM. If it’s not a dancer has a nasty comment for you (for example, I receive occasional comments about being ’too fat to bellydance’ from other women not in the dance community). Comments like these are likely just the commenter saying something about what they, themselves, are insecure about. In my case, it’s usually women struggling with their own body image that make this comment to me! I purposefully decide to have empathy for them that they are choosing not to accept themselves the way they are in this moment, and move on with my life.
Is the Comment a Subjectively Constructive Critique? When you ask 10 different people what makes a good belly dancer, you will get 11 different answers. At some point, less than glowing feedback of this nature will come up, especially when performing for the general public and for those of the cultures bellydance comes from. While they can be jarring when unsolicited, it is an essential skill to handle these moments with grace and understanding.
If a comment is about your costume, stylization, or music selection, simply thank them for their feedback and move on. Be confident in your decisions to know that you simply aren’t going to please all the people all of the time. If a comment is about your technique or choreography, again, thank them for their feedback in the moment, but do take a moment to consider if that is something you would like to work on in your dancing. This is when having a dance coach or mentor is useful, because they can let you know if in fact, there is a weakness that should be addressed, or if it’s not an issue worth considering.
Is the Comment an Objectively Constructive Critique? Sometimes, we just get things wrong. AND THAT’S OK! As most of us reading this are guests in the cultures of origin of bellydance, there are sometimes nuances we miss, or things our teachers didn’t tell us. Luckily our audiences are generally forgiving, but comments like these should be taken under serious consideration, such as but not limited to:
-not knowing your audience, e.g. dancing a tarab piece about loss at a wedding or using an 8 minute Om Khalthoum song at a hookah bar with a young crowd
-using religious music
-cultural faux pas such as using a dabke song for Egytpian saidi
-costume malfunctions or defects
While moments like these can be embarrassing, we do need to make sure that we don’t repeat them in the future, and if you’re a teacher, use those moments to educate your students. Before I close, I want to address that that all of these situations refer to comments and feedback that are not racist or homophobic in nature. I don’t advocate for anyone to accept discrimination in any part of their life, and comments as such should not be tolerated.
As for everything else, the stronger self esteem we can build within ourselves, and in turn in our students, peers and communities, the easier it will be for us to perform with confidence and accept all the peaks and valleys that come our way. It is disingenuous to believe or advocate that bellydance is always positive, because that is true for nothing in the human experience.
However, we can learn how to not let negativity strongly affect us, and in doing so, become the best dancers we are meant to be by not holding ourselves back.
An effusive and ebullient performer from Minneapolis, Katie Sahar is a life time lover of culture and traveling. She has spent the last decade training with masters of raks sharqi in order to bring the best of what bellydance can offer to her students and audiences. She is a fierce advocate for body positivity and empowers women to show up joyfully and confidently in all areas of their lives. A social media maven, she is the creator of the #SocialShimmy challenge, she encourages dancers to up their game on online so they can reach a wider audience and show the world how diverse and amazing this community can be. Follow her at @katie.sahar