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Have You Failed Lately? Thoughts on Growth and Challenge in Belly Dance

February 12, 2013 11 Comments

When was the last time you failed at one of your belly dance pursuits? You haven’t lately? That’s too bad. If you have, good for you. Last week I was listening to an episode of The Accidental Creative and this topic really hit home.

Failure is good – and it’s good for you. Not only does it keep your feet on the ground, failing means you are stretching the borders of what you are willing to try in expanding the range of your skills. If we take challenging new workshops, we can find ourselves struggling through unfamiliar drills or long choreography. A lot of experienced dancers shy away from this kind of situation because they’re afraid of being seen by their peers doing anything less than perfectly.

There is so much to learn in belly dance and the associated regional folkloric styles; we could live and dance a full lifetime and still have new ground to cover. One dancer who I’ve always admired in this area is Helena Vlahos. When she still lived here in Phoenix, she would regularly show up at the workshops of dancers who weren’t even born yet when she was already a star on the ethnic club circuit. Not only did she show up with a gracious attitude, she was never afraid to try things someone else’s way and say with good humor “that’s hard, I’ll have to practice that.” A great example for us all.

There’s another up side to this kind of failure – one that is especially  important for belly dance instructors. I firmly believe that it is essential for teachers to consistently challenge themselves. Not only does it grow your dance skills, it reminds you of how your students feel when they are learning new material from you. New skills may feel awkward or require new levels of coordination they haven’t yet mastered. As teachers, we should never lose touch with what that feels like.

Personally, I relish this kind of failure, which is only temporary if we persevere.I try to follow Helena’s excellent example and laugh at myself, then get back to work.  I find that things  just beyond my immediate reach don’t discourage me – they fire me up. It’s why I keep going back to aerial yoga and knitting, even though I’m not particularly good at them.

Some failures are a little harder to take. I’ve produced some truly innovative belly dance shows with quality dancers and musicians… that were all but ignored by my dance community. The financial hit is just as tough as the emotional hit, but hey – this isn’t a business for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. Do I regret these risks? Not at all. It was awesome – too bad you missed it!  I may have lost enough to buy a Bella, but I know that I pushed my creative and production experience to new ground and even more importantly I learned a ton along the way – that will never be lost.

When belly dance opportunities present themselves in the form of a visiting instructor, a new style or the inspiration for a show, maybe we shouldn’t ask ourselves “why should I?” but rather “why not?”.  No, it might not work. Or it might. Either way, there is a “win” in there somewhere if you’re willing to look for it. We need to step away from the idea that failure to fully reach the goal line is a badge of shame. It’s a badge of courage that you try with all you’ve got.

What belly dance challenge (large or small) have tried and failed? What good things did you learn from it? Tell us in the comments below…

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. Pat Way
    February 12, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Thanks, Mahin, I needed to hear this not just in my belly dance journey but in many other areas of my life. Not a new lesson but one that needs to be refreshed from time to time.

  2. rashabellydance
    February 12, 2013 at 7:31 am

    I’ve entered a couple of competitions where I’ve not done well, but have been pushed to work hard on my dancing, create new choreography, and face up to the things I needed to work on that I might otherwise have continued avoiding. I viewed these as failures at the time, and took a while to recover my confidence afterwards, but they both gave me a much-needed kick up the arse and stopped me becoming complacent about my skills. And with hindsight, I danced respectably for someone at the level I was at, just not at the level I want to be one day!

  3. jo
    February 12, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Perfect timing. Really been struggling with zills and a few other projects that had left me demoralized and depressed. It’s really taken a toll and even affected my relationships at the studio. I feel like its good to struggle with new things but sometimesrit feels like its to much. Least I know I am TRYING to grow even if I am just stuck in the mud spinning my wheels lol.

  4. Jessika Cruz
    February 12, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Great article. Failure is good for professional and personal growth,to remind us to stay humble no matter what. After all we are humans and we will always make a mistake here and there. The best is just to face it. That’s all I have at The moment since I became speechless!
    Big hugs!

  5. AJ
    February 12, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Great post!

    I fail at things all the time, because my teacher is always throwing new stuff at us. Sometimes I get something right away, which feels good (it shows me how far I’ve come), but last week we did something that was SO awkward that it reminded me of how it felt to be a brand new baby dancer! It’s good to be challenged, otherwise I would get bored 😉

  6. cathie
    February 12, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    HA! That struck a chord. After 26 years of dancing Raqs Sharqi and 14 of those also learning ATS, I tried my first Tribal Fusion workshop with Deb Rubin last weekend. Just had to keep laughing at myself trying to do all those poppy/locky thingies. I was also the oldest in the class by far! Helena will be in my mind as I drill….

  7. Terri Robson
    February 12, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you so much and I agree completely. I am glad I am not alone and now I will take that workshop I was so afraid of!

  8. Julia
    March 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Great article! There is so much you said that I agree with! Like when you said, “A lot of experienced dancers shy away from this kind of situation because they’re afraid of being seen by their peers doing anything less than perfectly.” Absolutely! It takes courage and humility for a professional dancer to gracefully acknowledge to her community and professional peers that she is not perfect and all-knowing. I agree that it is important for teachers to always remember that feeling of being a newbie. I take this a step further and actually take beginner courses with local teachers that I respect for reviewing basic technique (of which I think we can never have enough). In a way, it helps to humble me when I take beginner courses because I ALWAYS learn something new in class, some new way of visualizing a move that can completely change forever the way that I think about executing it, etc. It reminds me that all though I’m an experienced dancer in a beginning class, in many ways I am always and forever “a beginner” – that we ALL are, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of 🙂

    1. Mahin
      March 11, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      So true – we are never past drilling and revisiting our basics! As an instructor I often see intermediate level students go through a phase of being bored with basic drills and thinking they are somehow wasting their time. If I know they’ve had ballet at some point, I remind them that every ballerina, from tiny to pro, does barre exercises at the beginning of class.

  9. Margie Sejbl
    January 13, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    First, I want to mention that Helena Vlahos is sone of my idols. Last time I checked, she was still dancing! I guess my biggest risk I’ve taken in bellydance was to go to my first class at the age of 55. Two years later I did my first solo performance at a hafla. I’ve had a bunch of surgeries since I started dancing and I’ve managed to get back to dancing each time. I am always amazed that people allow me to dance in public, but I am always grateful for the opportunity. I’m 65 now and seven months past my second knee replacement and happy to still be able to take classes from some great teachers.


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