An “Interesting” Experience

November 10, 2010 6 Comments

Last weekend my student troupe and I performed our newest choreography, a multi-part Saidi, at our MECDA chapter’s annual festival. They were very excited about it and deserved to be – they worked on it diligently for months, aligning cane angles and synchronizing their spins. Their post-show glow took a rude hit in the dressing room unfortunately when another dancer approached them and said, “Your piece was…. interesting.”  When she told me later my student did a look-down-the-nose, raised eyebrow imitation of the person who delivered the comment. Wow.

As much as I’d like to believe the best of people, I doubt this was meant as a compliment. “Interesting”? I did my homework and the piece was traditional from the music selections, to the costuming, to the movement vocabulary. We used some ingenuity in the multi -person cane tricks but even those were inspired by formations done by the Reda folkloric troupe in their choreographies. Even our addition of a Raks Balas segment didn’t venture too far out there.

Keeping that in mind, what do I think about that comment? I think the problem here is not only a shortage of politeness but narrow knowledge base. Before I go on, let me say that I wasn’t able to identify the speaker from what my students told me – and I’m glad I can’t.  Really, I don’t want to know. I probably know the person and I’d rather just skip the whole forgive and forget thing.

We had a similar experience last year at the same festival, but thankfully it was handled a lot better. My dance partner (yes, the crazy one) and I did a traditional Khaleegy piece. We did not include any cultural information in the introduction. Later a good friend of ours, a tribal dancer, told us she didn’t “get” what we were doing with the dresses or our hair so we explained the basic Khaleegy facts. With this cultural frame of reference she “got” it and recommended we include an introduction next time we perform it so the audience could better appreciate it.

We took her advice when we next performed it. In speaking to the show organizer, a very well-known dancer with a lifetime of experience, I requested it be introduced with some background information. I told her about our friend’s reaction and she agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, she told me years ago she saw a dancer wearing a short trashy dress, doing sloppy veil work and chewing gum on stage! She couldn’t believe it and thought she was a hot mess. Years later, she learned it was  – you guessed it – a Melaya Leff. I’m certain she was far too gracious to ever walk up to that dancer and tell her it was…. interesting.

I felt really bad that my students had to weather this little rain cloud on their parade. Being relatively new to performing, they haven’t yet developed the necessary thick skin and selective hearing we sometimes need in the bellydance world. If they wanted a comeback for an uninformed – and unsolicited – comment like that in the future, I suggested they reply with “You’re not familiar with that style?” and fill them in on the background.

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If a dancer keeps her world small by studying one style with one teacher and not exposing herself to other styles, regional dances and folkloric elements, she’s bound to think odd things when something new comes into view. If  we choose to specialize in one style, we should keep our minds open to being familiar with other styles – even if we choose never to dance them. At the very least, a dancer should be willing to consider that she may be looking at something she knows nothing about.  If all else fails, remember what your Mom told you… if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.  Then go home and Google it.

If you’re on Facebook, you can see our “interesting” performance.




Mahin (121 Posts)

Professional instructor and performer of Middle Eastern belly dance, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and author or the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”. Belly Dance Artrepreneur, Workshop instructor, performer, event producer, and bellydance writer.

  1. Leslie Bruner Bradford/Kessa
    November 10, 2010 at 6:44 am

    I liked your performance. I thought it was a great piece with lots of good cultural notes and a whole lot of glowing pride. The critic must have a painful case of cranial/rectal insertion to have said that to a student dancer. This is not how you encourage people to continue in the art form. Feel free to give them all a high five from me.

  2. Rajani
    November 10, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    In the past 25 some odd years, I cannot think of how many times I have been approached by other “dancers” offering snide comments, or double edge compliments. One comment that sticks out in my mind is that I needed to show more skin, (yes even in my younger days I was totally covered) or even as recently as last year, when a student and I did a skirt dance, and were approached by other dancers, and the comment “matchy matchy” was thrown, as a challenge at our direction, and this was BEFORE our skirt dance. We had intentionally made it about the skirt, intending not to distract from the flow and dance of the skirt, and yes, we did dress alike.

    After our performance a teacher from that troupe came up to us and said, You are exactly what I keep trying to tell my students, all the “bling”, and make-up does not make one a dancer.

    We are artists, and we all interpret the dance differently, it touches us in unique ways, it’s supposed to. Some creations are from our hearts; some of us try to adhere strictly to the historic disciplines of the dance. I don’t believe either is right or wrong. I do believe in learning the rules before you break them. Do your research, understand and learn your craft!

    Having said that, as seasoned dancers, we should remember the hard work students put in to the dance; it takes a good deal of nerves to stand up in front of an audience and perform, which alone deserves respect and applause. If you don’t understand the “feeling” of the dance, pull that dancer aside and ask, do not belittle, don’t rain on their parade, don’t argue about it, give praise and support. In turn you may be surprised to learn something new.

    Most of all, listen to yourself, as you give compliments, or criticisms, is what your saying something you want to hear after you poured your heart and soul in public?

    Your students are very lucky Mahin to have you as the rest of the dance community is.

  3. erinlausten
    November 10, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    I saw the performance as well, it was incredible and the girls did an excellent job representing the style. It is tough for any dancer to get out there and perform and it is ridiculous to respond that way. Dancing is a way to share our love for expression and the way the music moves us. If you are willing to go out there, then you deserve respect and admiration. Keep up the good work! And I am sure your dancers are very happy to have such a wonderfully supportive teacher. Never give up!

  4. Mariah
    November 11, 2010 at 4:17 am

    I think your student troupe danced beautifully! Events like these should be for all dancers to get together and celebrate their craft, and i’m sad to hear that this happened. Keep up the good work, ladies.

  5. Leilani
    November 12, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Mahin, I’m enjoying the Quickies and your blog–thanks for helping me become a better dancer.

    Would you have any advice for someone who doesn’t know much about the different styles of belly dance you mention in your post? I live in a isolated rural area where I have no teacher and very little exposure to live dance. Could you recommend any books or videos that might expand my horizons further than just cabaret/tribal? I would love something that authoritatively explained the styles I could expect to see as I travel to see live shows. Thanks!

    1. mahinbellydance
      November 12, 2010 at 9:19 pm

      Hi Leilani, thanks for commenting! I think that would be a great topic for a Quickie so watch for the answer there 🙂


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