Belly Dance Sustainability

Sustainability and Community
Written by Mellilah

With so many shows which ones should I attend?

My greatest hope is that we will support high-quality shows that showcase high-quality dancing, from dancers who have “earned the right to dance,” as Hadia says. I think this is how we can elevate our dance form, including all it’s variations (tribal, etc.), and attract and sustain the general public.

So, what’s the problem? The current trend is for non-professional shows to pack the house, while some of the more professional shows go under from lack of attendance. In my opinion, this is a travesty. It creates less work for professional dancers, often lowers public perception of the dance, and novice dancers get fewer opportunities to observe excellent examples. Why does this happen? Can we avoid it? There may be many reasons why this happens. Dancers may not want to pay the cover fee, as professional shows usually have to charge more to pay the performers and many non-professional shows are free. Dancers may feel less intimidated watching those at their same level. Also, dancers may put a higher priority on the shows that may offer them a chance to be on stage “next time,” maybe without even realizing it, or maybe it’s simply that the non-professional shows are more fun for them and give them more opportunities to socialize with their peers. Furthermore, restaurant owners, especially those not prospering, are more likely to choose the free entertainment that offers to bring in its own crowd over the professional entertainment that will cost. Whatever the reason, how can we help sustain existing professional shows and generate more, while supporting students and up and coming dancers, too?

Of course we need to support beginning and intermediate dancers by providing them with adequate opportunities to perform and learn. Haflas, student recitals and other venues designed specifically for the belly dance community rather than the general public, provide dancers with lots stage experience and a chance to share with family, friends and fellow dancers. Also, more important than performing is that dancers practice and take as many classes as possible from qualified teachers. And don’t forget that a huge part of a dancer’s education is seeing and hearing dancers and musicians who excel at their craft perform live.

How do you grow to appreciate fine wine?…through education and sampling the best…not by drinking boxed wine. Appreciation of dance is no different.

As teachers, we can and should help our students focus primarily on skill, knowledge and appreciation of the dance and secondly on performance. As students, we should fine tune our palettes and become responsible consumers when it comes to choosing which shows to attend, which classes to take, and which products to buy. Remember, that your money is a vote for the future.

Also noteworthy is the fact that we, in the US, HAVE many musicians who are from the Middle East and Middle Eastern bands. Everyone, whether or not you wish to perform Egyptian cabaret style, can learn from seeing a live Middle Eastern show.

You can only learn so much from classes, DVDs and CDs, and nothing beats seeing the real thing or as close to it as possible. For those who appreciate Egyptian style dancing, “come sip some fine wine” and see some of the best. Experience how to dance to a “real’ band and not just a CD by getting up and dancing with the band during the open dancing. For other styles, wouldn’t it be awesome to hear the rhythms that are being used in your dance come to life? Wouldn’t it be awesome to keep connected to the roots of the dance so you can experiment and fuse with intention? Additionally, most communities have a plethora of professional dancers with regular performances. Keep your eyes open for quality shows in your area.

Stand by your principals when deciding which shows to attend. We wouldn’t have the problem of choosing which shows to attend if we stopped attending shows that represent our community poorly. Shows that deserve the attention would be sold out. Other shows would go under. The tides would turn. We aren’t overly saturated with high quality shows. I also recommend supporting the shows that pay their dancers well, a minimum fee that most professional dancers uphold as the current standard. It should be noted that there are a few professionals out there who will dance for less, deliberately undercutting their colleagues in order to get more gigs. We can’t stop progress…stop growth, just because we don’t have everyone on our side. Be brave and step up for what you believe and if it’s right, more will follow, leaving the minority behind.

If you are looking for a teacher, do your homework. Learn about the teacher’s credentials but also research the facility where he/she is teaching. Is it an organization that upholds your standards and one that you want to support? Is it a school that is selective about who they hire? Remember, that your money is a vote for the future.

Furthermore, ask questions and don’t assume that just because someone calls themselves a professional belly dancer, wears expensive costumes, and has even managed to find a way to perform for pay, that this person is worthy of your patronage and/or worthy of teaching you. There are imposters in every field who injure people and poorly represent their field. Be weary of those self-proclaimed professionals, those hiding behind that next prop that gets attention, those focusing on being seen without honing in on the skill and knowledge, those who really don’t have the knowledge and skill to be performing, let alone teaching.

Keep talking, write, and most importantly vote with your money!

Belly dancer, Mellilah performs professionally throughout Seattle and lives in Redmond, WA. For more info about the author, please visit


About Mellilah Jamal

Mellilah teaches belly dance classes in Redmond and Bothell and performs for private parties and restaurants throughout Seattle.

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