Ending the Bellydance Style Wars: Your Style Isn’t my Style and Your Style is OK

Human beings are a comparative lot. To know exactly where we are in relationship to our beliefs/values/tastes and those of others, we compare. It’s how we make decisions in all aspects of life. In other words, it’s normal behavior and very useful for understanding ourselves. That is, until we get bogged down in deciding “the other” is something negative. Then the divide becomes, well, divisive and damaging.

In the context of bellydance, this shows up in the comparing of the myriad of styles that are branches of the family tree. At one point or another we’ve heard statements that are made to illustrate a difference in a style that isn’t ours. Perhaps we tried it and it didn’t resonate, or we don’t have any experience with it at all. To make our story shorter this often gets converted into a binary statement of, “my thing vs. that thing”. This then creates a push toward coloring the “other” in a negative light.

In my opinion, professionals need to try and do better at avoiding the negativity. For your sake with networking in the dance community and for your students’ sakes. As a professional dancer/instructor part of your job is being a role model for how your students present themselves and represent you. With a little practice and mindfulness this can be achieved.

Here are some steps to developing awareness about your bellydance style preference(s):

1. Check yourself – Change begins with you. Take an honest look at your prejudices and judgements (positive, neutral, or negative) about your style of bellydance and other styles of bellydance. Is there something that triggers a reaction? What is your preference? What do you feel?

2. Own your observations – You get to have your beliefs, feelings, observations, bias, etc. Give yourself permission to understand what it is you like and don’t like. Practice saying them using an “I” voice. For example, “I prefer Oum Koulthoum to Dubstep”. Notice how this statement isn’t saying that one is better than the other, you are demonstrating your preference and taking ownership of it. I’m a fan of both Oum K and Dubstep, but not at the same time. lol

3. Making your statement(s) – Assuming your intention isn’t about alienating other dancers/styles then take opportunities to share your statements about your observations. Demonstrate to your students how to discuss the style you are teaching them and other styles of bellydance. Have practice conversations in class before heading out to the next community event so your students understand how to discuss what they see/hear in a way that doesn’t create drama.

4. Dealing with missteps – Old habits die hard. Sometimes something slips out and it sounds so much worse than we intended. Acknowledge it, take ownership of it, make amends (if needed), and move forward. Mentor your students in how to do this. Roleplay as necessary.

5. Inclusion instead of tolerance – Tolerating means you put up with something that you don’t like. It’s not a pleasant experience. Instead think of it as inclusion. Your style/tastes/preferences can exist and be yours even when other people like or do something different. Allowing for other experiences to exist without yours being threatened or diminished. Think about the Dr. Seuss story of The Grinch. He tolerated Whoville and Christmas for a long time and it really annoyed the heck out of him. Then in his misguided effort to destroy it, he wound up including it in his life and his heart grew three sizes!

6. Stay in your lane – Sometimes you run across another dancer or teacher who just can’t be civil. There isn’t anything you can do to change anyone else. A conversation could be had and may be worth having, I have a few good experiences come out of discussing this with a person who was talking down about a dancer. However, if that doesn’t help, carry on doing your own thing. Keep being a good role model to whoever steps in the door of your class and to whoever you encounter in your dance experiences.

Whatever your style(s) I hope this was useful for you. I’m sure there are more things that could be added to this and I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Dancing!!!