Why I Bellydance – The Jennifer and Susan Edition

I asked my students a series of questions hoping to get some insight about why people come to bellydance class vs. why they stay in class. I have noticed that when people commit to pushing through the initial hurdle of understanding the basic moves, they become hungry for more. Others say it’s “too hard” and don’t go beyond a class or two. The idea of committing to an art form or a hobby for several years seems to be increasingly rare. It requires an intrinsic motivation, humility (to accept that there is always more to learn) and, in today’s world, there are a lot of demands on our time. While many may be drawn to the latest fitness craze or need the thrill of variety, I’m thankful there are some who understand that “bellydance” has enough challenges to keep us all eternal students.

Jennifer has been my port in the storm during my biannual events. Her project management and stage manager experience have been exceptionally valuable. She’s even volunteered to be a gig roadie on a few occasions (including a marathon gig night in NYC for New Year’s Eve…whew)!


Jennifer performing with The Manipura Dance Collective at JeBon, NYC


Susan on her way to perform Assaya dance at the NICE festival in Norwalk, CT

Susan brings her artistic mind to the dance and she is a very dedicated learner. She is often in class 3x per week and the first to request private lessons to work on specific concepts or combos. In addition, she designed the layout and cover for my book, for which I am eternally grateful.

How long have you taken bellydance classes?

Jennifer: I started in 2000 with another teacher in Fairfeld, but took time off for a few years before finding Tava.

Susan: Almost 6 years with Tava.

Why were you first inclined to take a bellydance class?

Jennifer: I took my first bellydance class through continuing ed as a way to meet others in a new town. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for that.

Susan: It was a complete whim, but I was def attracted to the Workit studio look, and I was feeling starved for something exotic, something way out of my comfort range. I also missed dancing like I did when I was a small child. I did it in defiance of my age in other words.

How long did it take for you to feel like you grasped the basic movements?

Jennifer: I don’t recall exactly how long it took to feel like I had a clue about this new-to-me form of dance. Truthfully, there are still times I question my abilities! Strong supportive teaching, provided by both my primary teachers, helped my confidence to keep going. 

Susan: 3 years of weekly instruction but my body felt marvelous all over, and my mind started to feel more confident.

If you stopped attending classes at any point, what did you (or what would you) miss about it the most? What keeps you coming back now that you’re past the initial hurdles?

Jennifer: I have taken breaks of various amounts of time (from a few months to a few years) over the course of my study and I always miss the fluidity in my joints that comes from practicing bellydance on a regular basis. I also tend to feel less sure of myself and body image when not dancing regularly. Since finding Tava’s classes, I find I miss the camaraderie of the other students and Tava when I’ve taken time off. The support of smart, funny women is inherent in this community that I don’t find elsewhere. 

Susan: I would miss two things, the people and the fact that I feel I have made some progress. I keep coming back because I’m curious how far I can go.  

What particular benefits does this dance, or dance class(es) offer you that you cannot get from other exercise, community events or dance form?

Jennifer: As I mentioned earlier, the support of smart, funny and caring women does not translate into other aspects of society as much as it does in Tava’s bellydance classes. I love the music and watching the wide variety of dance genres that fall under the umbrella of bellydance. It’s wonderful and inspiring to watch women from all backgrounds, faiths, educational levels and countries perform, and that includes the seasoned pros and the novices! I think that because bellydance is difficult to “master,” the feeling of accomplishment after a performance is palpable.

Susan: An all in one body-mind-spirit integration and super fun. Yoga has mindbodyspirit but is not fun for me like this dance is

What would you say to someone who is curious to try bellydance but is hesitant?

Jennifer: Just try it. Bring a friend or don’t; purchase some bling or use scarves you have; maybe visit a few teachers to find one who makes you feel comfortable and JUMP IN. As someone who could never figure out an aerobics class and feels out of place lifting weights in a gym, I love the exercise and confidence this dance brings me. It’s fun to have that little shimmy secret your co-workers or friends don’t know!

Susan: You will grow in ways that you cannot possibly imagine until you try it for at least a year. Plus, you’ll get some non-judgmental buddies you can’t get anywhere else!


Susan and Jennifer joined by their sisters in dance performing a Turkish piece at a Dance Conference in Ossining, NY


For Tava’s class schedule, please visit:


Why I Bellydance – The Debra Edition

I asked my students a series of questions hoping to get some insight about why people come to bellydance class vs. why they stay in class. I have noticed that when people commit to pushing through the initial hurdle of understanding the basic moves, they become hungry for more. Others say it’s “too hard” and don’t go beyond a class or two. The truth is, it’s difficult. And it’s not the sort of difficult that immediately impresses an audience because it looks so easy. Therein lies the frustration for new students. Trained dancers merely become “in on the secret” that moving your body in serpentine waves or percussive isolations takes a great deal of coordination.

Debra joined my classes in 2016 and I could immediately tell that she had a solid foundation with the ability to perform complex movements with ease. She is a quick learner when it comes to choreography and, having just seen her perform a solo, she’s dynamic and captivating on stage. 15515811_10102226942581092_911954376_o

Q: How long have you taken bellydance classes?

A: It’ll be 4 years in Jan.

Q: Why were you first inclined to take a bellydance class?

A: I’d taken many dance classes over the years starting with ballet and jazz as a kid. Kelli Hornachek actually invited me to one of her classes at Serena’s back when we worked together. I really loved it, but couldn’t consistently go to that class. I’ve always loved the movement you see in bellydancers, the grace and the passion – and the sparkly costumes and amazing makeup were just a bonus!

Q: How long did it take for you to feel like you grasped the basic movements? What kept you coming even if you may have felt awkward trying to do serpentine movements or had limited range of motion in the hips.

A: The weirdest part for me was that I felt many of the movements were ones that my body was always meant to do – like maya or undulations. It was always the movements that others seemed to pick up easily that I had the most trouble with (like a shimmy that I still struggle with). What always keeps me coming back is knowing how much more there is to go. There is always another challenge, another level, another prop, a way to make your movements more crisp or more smooth. When your teachers still take classes to better themselves, you know there is so much more to do. I love that I know I’ll never stop learning.

Q: If you stopped attending classes at any point, what did you (or what would you) miss about it the most? What keeps you coming back now that you’re past the initial hurdles?

A: On the occasion that I have to miss a few classes (for whatever reason) my body actually misses it. And no matter how tired I am at night, or how little I slept, I always feel better after being in class. The minute I step on the dance floor, the troubles of my day are no longer an issue. The tiredness I felt has been replaced and I feel energized. The other thing i love about this community, is that you can walk into a brand new class without knowing anyone and you’re welcomed with open arms. When I went in search of classes after moving to CT, I knew there was nothing to worry about and Tava (and the studio) made me feel right at home.


Q: What particular benefits does this dance, or dance class(es) offer you that you cannot get from other exercise, community events or dance form?

A: I was in the ballroom dance community for quite a few years, and while I never competed, I never quite felt like I fit in or that I could compete. This dance community is so much more open and judgement free. I’ve seen women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes looking stunning while bellydancing. While so many people in the outside world think of it as just sexy (which it absolutely can be) it above all, celebrates femininity and the female body – well every body for that matter. It makes you feel good from the inside out for yourself and for those around you. When you see a dancer being taken over by her passion for the dance and the music it’s really something to behold – whether just in class or in a performance – that speaks to the audience and it’s something you don’t always get in other forms of dance. You can really let yourself be free.


Q: What would you say to someone who is curious to try bellydance but is hesitant?


A: I usually use my answer for #4 when trying to convince people to come with me actually:) I always tell them the movements will start out feeling strange, your body won’t be used to it, but even after just 2-3 weeks you’ll get to understand how your body moves in a totally different way.

Thank you Debra, for taking the time to answer these questions. Thank YOU for taking the time to read. I hope it’s shed some light on what attracts people to this dance vs what keeps them coming back year after year.


For Tava’s class schedule, please visit:


To read Why I Bellydance – The Mary Edition (aka Tava’s Mom), click here!

Dance Students: Results-Driven vs. Just Here for an Hour of Fun

As a dance teacher, nothing thrills me more than a motivated student. I’m not just talking about motivation to learn a particular movement, but a general desire to learn and see progress/expansion of knowledge. With “bellydance,” this can take one of many forms: cultural/historical research, hunger for context, deliberate home practice, devoted to attending multiple classes per week, supporting fellow dancers, attending performances, performing at haflas/showcases, etc. But, sometimes people are not interested in measured progress. Sometimes, people want to escape the clutter of their lives for one hour a week and dance without pressure. Who am I to judge?

lucy-ballet1Sometimes I fantasize about tailoring my approach and expectations by forming separate classes for each category. You see, these various mindsets exist at every level. There’s a hungry beginner who takes 3 classes a week and studies the legends on YouTube in his/her spare time. There are also advanced dancers who only attend rehearsals or classes that lead to performance opportunities, but never demonstrate a curiosity to expand their knowledge. It would be nice to have the results-driven at every level and the “eh, I just want to sway to this beautiful song” types in separate classes. But, of course, it doesn’t work that way.

Tava's bellydance class at Work It Dance & Fitness

Tava’s bellydance class at Work It Dance & Fitness

In a perfect world, a dancer’s ability would be directly related to their hunger for progress and learning. When there is a disconnect, we have a dilemma. Dance teachers, of course it isn’t fair to impose an expectation on a student, and some of us rely on income from our students, but how to we rectify these discrepancies? To some extent, it is a service industry. On the other hand, we have to make difficult choices such as opting not to advance a student when all of her friends have moved up a level. I’ve had to call students and have heart to heart conversations about their motivation and commitment. I’ve had to protect my reputation and my standards by uninviting men/women from my classes. I don’t enjoy this but the greater good won’t let me compromise.

I crave learning. I videotape my practicing and critique myself. I seek private lessons, take workshops, read books, research, watch other dancers for inspiration. When I see these qualities in a student, it thrills me to no end. There is always more to learn. Isn’t that the beauty of cultural dance? And yet, I put myself in the position of a student who recently had a baby and wants to do something for herself, or a working professional who faces unbelievable demands at work. Giving them a safe space to explore serpentine and percussive movements for an hour is a beautiful thing. I know there are instances when someone may be resistant to hearing my corrections because they just want to feel good for the duration of the class.

I have learned that I am not the kind of instructor that can go without correcting technique. I am tactful, use humor, focus on anatomical explanations but — even still — some people are there to get lost in the music and move. . .for years! Part of my role is to make people comfortable and sense when they are committed enough to respond well to challenges, feedback and opportunities that require a dedicated presence. For a student, I suppose it’s important to remain cognizant of your goals and expectations. Approach your dance training from a realistic standpoint. Communicate with your instructor so we can work together on meeting your goals (or no goals).

For people who like prizes, medals, the promise of a lucrative career in bellydance. . .well. . .this is not impossible. You can enter competitions, get some expensive costumes, build a website and hope for the best. But this, I can tell you, often leads to burnout. Dedication to a rich dance for the sake of learning and personal growth leads to a lifelong relationship. A love that keeps feeding you. And if you just want to have fun for an hour in class, well, that’s ok too. I just can’t promise I won’t push you a bit. It’s all part of my job.


Tava is a professional bellydancer, instructor and author in NYC and CT.  She performs regularly for all family friendly events, galas, weddings and corporate events. Tava also performs in creative/theatrical endeavors and enjoys her balance of commercial and artistic fulfillment.  To learn more about classes in Fairfield County, CT or to inquire about hosting Tava for a workshop, please visit: BellydancebyTava.com

Tava’s Book: “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals”

Tava’s new book “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals” is available on Amazon.com.

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals is an essential read for dancers who may be considering a transformation from hobbyist to professional. Tava Naiyin, author and highly-accomplished bellydancer in NYC and CT, writes candidly about her experiences as an artist who has relied exclusively on dance-generated income for 10+ years. After receiving countless questions from budding dance professionals across the U.S., she compiled her answers and wrote this book to address what she perceived as possible gaps in training. This book cannot take the place of a mentor, however, it aims to promote industry standards and help bellydance artists determine if they have the right skills and circumstances to turn their passion into a career.

Readers can expect information about costume purchasing and care, performance etiquette, general do’s and don’ts, how to get the most out of practice, staying inspired, juggling art vs. commerce and more. Ms. Naiyin’s bellydance colleagues and mentors weigh in to share their thoughts and resources on topics ranging from: how to find your own dance voice, keeping the dance flame lit and effective marketing strategies. Readers can expect inspiring and practical tidbits from top bellydancers Andrea (NY), Angelica Jordan (Quebec), Maria (CA), Riskallah Riyad (CT), Sira (NY) and Zaina (Globetrotter). Anyone who is considering a career in dance or the performing arts will come away with useful information to help them make informed choices and avoid costly mistakes. To learn more about Tava, visit BellydancebyTava.com

What people are saying about Tava’s book:

Whether you have a burgeoning curiosity about belly dance as an art form, or are already a seasoned student ready to take the next step, this book is a must! Tava’s advice and insights come only from years of studying, training, performing and evolving as a dancer and as an artist in general.

Tava does not preach from a pen and ink pulpit; She is with you through this book, sharing her own experiences, “aha! moments”, mistakes, stumbles and triumphs as a dancer, artist, teacher and mentor. Her writing style is inviting and smooth, and this book is hard to put down once you start reading! She includes anecdotes and input from her mentors, peers, and students. Her love for this dance and her unyielding devotion to keeping this dance elevated and held to high standards is readily evident. Once you finish reading, you will understand what a gift this is to the world of belly dance!- Christine R.

An insightful book from the artist’s perspective. This book is not just about dance. It’s about passion, perception and practicality. Valuable advice in this age of “do what you love.” Anyone considering doing so would gain important insight into balancing one’s art and inspiration with the realities of life.

The interviews convey the deep respect these women share for the culture and dance they represent and the accompanying photos are beautiful. Bellydance is lucky to have such passionate and articulate advocates. – Mary

A Bellydancer’s New Year’s Eve

Tava bellydancing at a restaurant in NY on New Year's Eve

Tava bellydancing at a restaurant in NY on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is one of the most exciting nights for bellydancers.  I have had years when I’ve packed in 7 shows and other years when I’ve accepted only a few local jobs. On a handful of occasions, I’ve taken the night off to be with my husband.  Typically, I fit in as many shows as my schedule (and stamina) will allow.  There is no adrenaline high quite like being a bellydancer on New Year’s Eve.  The planning starts months in advance and it goes something like this:

– The inquiries come in and you say yes to the jobs that confirm.

– More inquiries come in and some work better for your schedule so you have to make choices while honoring your commitments to the people who specifically want you.  (These are special clients so we are always good to them).

– The day before NYE, there are always last minute changes and additions so you call your network of dancers and offer some work, accept some work or just plan strategy with each other because sometimes you’re performing duets.

The day arrives and you let yourself sleep as long as your body will allow.  You have a huge breakfast because it might be your last big meal for a while.  Then, it’s time to pack the bag.  Here’s what I like to pack for a long night:

– Snacks and coconut water (I also take a B vitamin as I hop in the car).

– All props and back-up props.  I pack a separate (lightweight) costume in case there is any damage to the one I’m wearing and I have no time to repair it.  I also bring extra shoes.

– Warm cover-up or caftan.  In many cases, it’s running from venue to venue so you need something warm that is easy to get on/off.  I have a floor-length sweater that I use on these occasions.

– Advil and Tiger Balm (or something like it).  There is no time to feel the pain of something pulled so it’s best to take precautions.

– Extra lash glue.  Lashes were just not meant to stand up to the rigors of 7:30PM to 2AM sweating.  Around midnight, I find it’s time to re-touch.

Tava (filling in for the lovely Sira), Layla Isis and Mariyah dancing at a restaurant on New Year's Eve.

Tava (filling in for the lovely Sira), Layla Isis and Mariyah dancing at a restaurant on New Year’s Eve.

– A gig roadie.  This is key if you’re going to be driving all over the place!  If you can find someone to help you park, check traffic/find alternate routes, help sort your money to be sure it all comes with you, hand out business cards while you’re performing, etc.  It’s hard to find someone who is willing to give up a New Year’s Eve full of fun but they a friend, husband or loved one (who is reliable) just might enjoy being with you.  I have paid people in the past – mainly students who wanted to know what the night was like.

When it’s all over, you are beyond hungry and it’s time to make a choice.  Hit the diner and feast at 3AM or have a light snack and get to bed.  Personally, I say go for the 3AM diner experience.  Enjoy a celebratory cocktail while you’re at it.  I may have indulged in a mini bottle of Fireball last year. It’s hard to calm down after all of that adrenaline surging through you so you may as well enjoy yourself.  Take a satisfying shower, and hit the pillow.  In the morning, some gentle Yoga always helps me and then I treat myself to reflexology.  Congratulate yourself on a job well done!  Be safe, have fun and spread some shimmy!

Tava and Layla Isis in Times Square for New Year's Eve

Tava and Layla Isis after performing in Times Square for New Year’s Eve

Tava is a professional bellydancer based in NY and CT.  She is available for bachelorette parties, weddings, corporate events, galas or any family-friendly occasion (no all-male events).  Solo, duet and group performances available. To learn more, visit: www.BellydancebyTava.com

8 Realizations You will Likely Have as a Professional Bellydancer

1. You’re Never “Good Enough” – At least, according to yourself.  Chances are you will watch your videos and be blinded by that thing you wish you did differently, by your pacing (or lack thereof), by that moment your arms lost their integrity of movement because you opted for a bit of complicated hip work.  I have these conversations with newbie students and my friends who are 20+ year veterans, it’s just the way it is for most of us. 2. You Will Get Hurt – Even if it’s a relatively mild injury, there is no way to be a professional dancer and not experience repetitive strain or fatigue-related injuries of some sort.  Learn what your body can handle, seek out the best ways for your body and your budget to experience self-care. Maybe it’s a $20 pedicure….or a 90 minute deep tissue massage.  When your body is your main source of income, it’s sometime unavoidable to overdo it. images-1 3. You’ll Wonder About Certain Costume Trends – I started in the era of “there’s no such thing as too much fringe.”  Then the look became a little softer and more refined.  Then it became acceptable to have visible “boy shorts” in our costumes and even short skirts.  Some trends you will love and some will baffle you. PS – The same may go for prop trends! 4. Your “Ah Ha Moments” Keep Coming – Recently, during a private lesson with Tamalyn Dallal, I had an “ah ha moment” about something so basic!  I have them all the time when I study with my mentors or even when I hear myself describing something in class.  Yes, sometimes you have to dig for them, but they are always lurking — if you’re humble enough to notice 😉 5. Your Place in the Community is Earned …Continuously – If you should happen to be that dancer (even student dancer) who shows up only when asked to perform but never attend a performance as an audience member, the invitations will stop.  It’s just bad etiquette.  We can’t do everything, and we must say no to far more events we say yes to.  But even the events I cannot attend, I’ll share on my student page or offer a note of support. 6. Your Wallet is a Revolving Door – To do this right…to carve out the appropriate balance of money in vs. money out, it is extremely difficult to earn a living this way.  You will spend money on workshops/training, costuming, books, music, transportation and (possibly) a website, promotional materials, SEO, photo shoots.  Dancers notice the ones who do not – and they are often the ones who resort to undercutting to give themselves an advantage. 7. You Won’t Be Liked by Everybody – Whether it’s the picky club owner, a fellow dancer who feels competitive towards you, a YouTube troll who fancies him/herself an expert, the bottom line is – some people just won’t like you.  My skin is still not as thick as it should be and I’ve worked hard not to make waves but even still…I find myself dealing with the occasional dirty looks or hearing that I’ve been the subject of a conversation what was not kind.  Thankfully, this is very rare but it still happens.  You are also likely to meet some of your best friends this way.

Erica Joan, Tava, Sira and Yasmine

Erica Joan, Tava, Sira and Yasmine

8. You Will Have an Inordinate Amount of Friends With Names that end in “A” – Funny, but true 🙂 ************************************************************************************************ Tava is a professional bellydancer, instructor, and choreographer based in NY & CT.  She is available for family-friendly and corporate events (solo or group), as well as workshops on a variety of topics.  To learn more, visit BellydancebyTava.com

How to Get the Most Out of Workshops

If you’re anything like me, you plunk down a ton of money every year to learn from a variety of instructors that roll through town offering concentrated information about a particular topic. Workshops are where we peel off the layers and get to the core. We explore deeper nuance and expand our knowledge. I like to think about it in the following terms: Classes + workshops + reading + DVD’s or online tutorials + watching performances + self-critique + private lessons = a well balanced diet of the serious student. But, let me ask you this….have you ever left a workshop full of inspiration and by the time you arrive at home you’ve forgotten a significant portion of what you learned? I have. This is particularly true when it comes to choreography workshops. I learn a routine. I forget a routine. I have developed a few strategies for maximizing what I’ll get from a workshop and, who knows, maybe they’ll help you too.

Sira's workshop "Up in Arms" (sponsored by Tava)

Sira’s workshop “Up in Arms” (sponsored by Tava)

1. Sit down!
I injured myself 30 minutes into a workshop with Madame Raqia Hassan and I got more out of that experience that I would have if I danced the entire time. It was a great reminder to absorb what I could with my eyes and ears without the pressure of having to keep up. I suggest watching at least once or twice and take a few notes about something that strikes you. A pause, an angle of the head, which aspects of the routine you can see yourself adapting and which are just not for you. Sit and watch – but watch actively.

2. Get the Music!
The workshops are not cheap! Spending money on the CD or digital file might seem like an unnecessary expense but, trust me on this one, it’s worth the cost. Even something as simple as playing the music in your car on the way home (or iPod on the subway) will help to reinforce what you’ve learned.

3. Record Yourself.
Whether it’s technique-based, choreography or musicality, record your practice with it while it’s fresh. Even if you record the instructor doing the movements, it’s not the same thing as recording your take on it.  You can also compare it to the instructor’s version.

4. Talk About It.
Grab a coffee or a tea with a friend as close to the workshop as possible and have a critical discussion about it. Discuss what you learned, insights, what you would have liked more of, etc… Getting another perspective will reinforce the topic and may even fill in some of the gaps that you missed during a water break.  Sometimes I pile in as many students as my car will fit and we chat about it the whole way home. These are the best discussions!


One of my most favorite recent workshops – Iraqi dance with Assala Ibrahim (hosted by Uza of NYC).

5. Be Selective.
Just because an instructor is from Egypt doesn’t mean you HAVE to go. Just because an instructor is someone you really enjoy watching doesn’t mean you can’t miss it. Read the workshop description and watch some performance clips. Talk to some friends who may have studied with that person. Just the other day I wrote to my friend Angelica and I said, “Help! I am over-committed to workshops and learning opportunities but this other one just came up and I need to know if it’s worth it.” Over time, you will learn whose style of teaching is a good match to your style of learning.  Of course, there can be surprises.  Maybe you develop a new favorite that you never would have imagined so an open mind is also a good thing.

Bollywood Fusion with Adrea (sponsored by Tava)

Bollywood Fusion with Adrea (sponsored by Tava)

6. Modify Your Learning Format.
Sometimes when an instructor is visiting they have time to do private lessons. I have done this with several dancers lately because it is worth everything to me to have their undivided attention so I can get the most out of my time with them. In my one hour with Luna (of Cairo) or Tamalyn Dallal, I got more amazing feedback that I ever would have in a large crowded room.

Tava's veil workshop at The Dragon's Egg, sponsored by NBDA

Tava’s veil workshop at The Dragon’s Egg, sponsored by NBDA

Investing in your dance training is part of the job. It fuels your love and deepens your understanding. But I think everyone needs to learn how to make it work for them.

….and speaking of workshops
Big thanks to Nahara and Josie’s International School of Dance for having me teach “A Taste of Turkish” on Monday. I had a fantastic time with all of the women.

Saturday December 13th, stay tuned for details about Rosa Noreen (of Maine) who will come to CT to teach a workshop.

The Trouble with Instant Gratification

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.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

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

A Bellydancer’s Reflections on 2013 and Riding that Art vs. Commerce Rollercoaster

January is my “belly-versary” month so I always get a bit nostalgic around this time.  Maybe it’s the introvert in me (which, for some reason, very few people believe about me unless they know me really well), but I am very content to sit with my thoughts and assimilate all that happened this past year pertaining to dance.  I noticed a theme swirling around in my brain on this cozy snow day about my year and my gig habits.  That old awkward dance between art and commerce rears its head when we rely on our dance jobs.  Here are my thoughts:

1. The problem with gigs

This seems obvious but, in truth, it creeps up on us when we’re too busy to notice.  It’s like feeling so relaxed on a train ride that you fall asleep and then wake up in a place you hadn’t intended to be.  You can get back on track, but it takes a little bit of effort.  Gigs are fun.  They are exciting.  They pay money…cash in most cases.  They can have elements of glamor and allow us the chance to share what we train so hard to learn.  But sometimes, they take control of our dance lives and there is not so much art in gig collection.  They lead to unfair comparisons and envy when reading about the 20 gigs one dancer has in a week-end while someone else may have 4.  Somewhere, another dancer has zero and wonders what she’s doing wrong.

Secondly, gigs deal with being an entertainer as opposed to an artist.  Some of my favorite performances to watch are not ones that cause me to smile and clap.  They move me and take me somewhere to a dream state that I can’t describe.  Only getting to access the happy joyful state of entertaining birthday guests and celebrations is incredibly fun but over time (several years), it can lack the depth that true art produces.  I love making people happy but there is something equally magical about moving an audience to tears ; NOT at a birthday party or at a Saturday night restaurant of course!

And lastly, they often follow a formula which allows little room for deviation.  Every now and then I “rebel” and skip a drum solo one night or don’t use a balance prop just to keep it fresh and give me a chance to miss something.  But, typically, we know what is expected at our performances and it’s an opener, a balance prop, a drum solo and pop songs.  Thankfully, we love this dance so much that it is always fun to share it with a good audience and I love seeing their faces light up when they watch what we do.

In 2013 I was jarred out of the lull from my regular work due to restaurants closing or cutting costs to try and remain open.  Suddenly without that guarantee of work, I noticed how comfortable I had become.  How many dancers had popped up hungry for opportunity and utilizing more props that were taller, shinier and had more fire…yikes!  I took advantage of more free time to take on creative projects, join a dance company, take every workshop/class I could attend (more than usual).  It was expensive, humbling and exhausting but I have never felt more inspired or had more to share with my students.  I am performing a bit less, but I’m enjoying every show so much more.  To my pleasant surprise, I am getting nicer jobs and dancing better than I did when I was “gigging” like a crazy thing.

2. A big ol’ slice of humble pie

As I flexed my artistry, I noticed my artistry muscles were on the weak side.  How can you strengthen them without regular opportunities to explore them?  You can’t take those muscles to the gym.  I was so used to relying on interaction from an audience/crowd that I disappointed myself as a soloist on stage.  Nah, it wasn’t horrible.  It wasn’t my best by a long shot.  I had to take a good look at my weaknesses that would never have been revealed in “gig land.”  I’ve written several posts about the differences between staged shows for dancer-filled audiences vs. restaurants and parties so…nothing new there, but, magnify those differences times 100 when you’re a soloist and not just trying to fill a choreographer’s vision.  Humbling.

3. As a recovering gig-chaser, I can say that in certain periods of 2013 my main drive was financial.  I was truly relying on money from my dance jobs to pay my bills.  Creativity can start to feel like some sort of optional luxury when you’re counting tips.  I cultivated other income streams to take some of the pressure off so I could enjoy the love more.  What a difference!

A little distance from everything gave me some good perspective and I’m still looking for that perfect balance (aren’t we all).  In the end, I’m more in love with this dance than I ever have been.  After a lengthy night of dancing on New Year’s Eve, I was drenched in sweat catching my breath after my final show when a woman came up to me and paid me the best compliment of my dance life.  It was as if she heard every rant, every internal thought I had about dance and hand-crafted the most perfect thing to say.  I felt so validated and grateful.  Bring on 2014 and fill it with equal parts performing and learning.


Tava is a professional bellydancer in NYC and CT.  She teaches regular classes and is also available for Skype lessons and workshops.

Tava’s 2013 highlight reel:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq0YRvTv4zM