This is an old tune, but one that is worth re-visiting. Every so often I sit down to read my email and receive something like this: “I’m interested in taking bellydance classes. So, how long until I am good enough to perform?” Or, my personal favorite, “I’ve taken 6 months of classes so I need something really advanced.” Let me be clear, I don’t fault anybody for thinking this way. It is the norm in our culture to assume there is a fast-track method for becoming this or that. There are even a few restaurants that prey on the 6 month wonders, offering them exciting performance opportunities at half the rate. What’s the harm, right? Wrong. Because the rewards matter less when they are earned too easily.
Last night, I had dinner with my father and he asked me what, in my opinion, makes someone a professional. I answered, “sacrifice.” He answered, “knowledge.” Of course, both of these are correct, but, my answer surprised me because it was knee-jerk. Sacrifice means driving 3 hours to take a workshop, staying up late reading articles or researching the history of a particular style, having to decline invitations to family and social events because of classes or performances. Sacrifice is dancing with 103 fever or an injury. It’s spending 5 months rehearsing for a 5 minute performance. It means having an unwavering love and appreciation for this dance, even when it isn’t convenient or “rewarding” us with something other than satisfaction. And the work never stops. We can’t suddenly stop learning just because we are paid to teach or perform.
It really isn’t possible to put a time frame on how long it takes to be a professional because this is different for everyone. Some people immerse themselves right away, train in Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, etc. and have a natural feel for the movements. Others are only interested in the technique and may be considered “skilled” but not necessarily knowledgeable. And many dancers are here for the ride without needing to have the label of professional dancer. These men and women understand the value of lifelong learning and have no goals other than to be their best. Does someone come and strip me of my title if I stop teaching and performing but continue to train just for the love of it? Some of the most rewarding moments of my entire dance career have occurred in the past 6 months. The insta-bellydancers will never cry with gratitude reading beautiful words from their mentor. They will never go deeper into a movement in a way they never thought possible after 14 years. And lastly, they will not appreciate or explore subtlety and nuance which is a whole world of potential joy.
If we can stop looking for short-cuts and instant fixes, we can enjoy the meaningful rewards along the way. Dedication is a virtue that makes everything better. I’d like to share a recent example of a student of mine who was explaining why she was nervous to perform a solo. She said, “I have so much respect and appreciation for this dance and I just want to do it justice. I want to be sure I’m worthy enough.” Oh Lucille, this is music to every teacher’s ears. When we dance from a place of respect and admiration for the long history, the nuance of the music, the cultural connection, and the heart & soul, we bring our humility alog with our confidence. This makes for a much better experience for both the dancer and the audience. Sometimes there is no audience, and it’s just as meaningful. I think Dr. Seuss put it best:
“Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don’t
Because, sometimes they won’t.
Tava is a professional bellydancer based in CT and NY. She is available for instruction, performances (solo and group) and lectures. To learn more, visit: BellydancebyTava.com