I have been bellydancing for almost eight years. I have been blessed with many instructors, each of whom has a different forte and dance style. I feel extremely lucky to have had all of this vast knowledge at my fingertips for so many years, and I know I have grown from knowing every belly dancer who has been in my life, teachers and classmates alike. But…I can also have a big ego, and I’m not afraid of waving around my street cred. Sometimes I get in my Belly-Dancer-in-a-Box mode, where I am the be-all end-all of amateur belly dancers and everything I say should be gold. Sounds familiar, right? Needing (or faking) being the perfect [insert your noun here, in this case it’s “belly dancer”] in every way? Can we PUHLEASE just excommunicate the word perfect already??
When I began Claudia’s class last year, everyone else in it was a beginner. Why would I join a beginner’s class when I’ve been dancing for eight years? Let me explain. A while ago I had a mini burn-out. Belly dance was still a part of my daily life, but I was no longer interested in studying intensively. I flitted around from teacher to teacher, occasionally signing up for a workshop here and there, but not dancing at haflas (belly dance parties) or looking for the next stage performance opportunity. It was almost a year ago when my good friend Claudia started her beginner’s class. She invited me to attend, and I jumped at it. I had taken classes with her in the past and loved her teaching style. In this class, I thought, I could brush up on my basics and get a great workout while not worrying about the pressure of a performance prep class.
Oh, the irony. The class had been together for about six months when Claudia announced we were going to perform the choreography we had been working on at one of the restaurants where she danced. At first I was nervous…but there was no pressure, as it was a student show, the choreography was super simple, and we didn’t have to put much effort into our costumes – basically just black clothes with red hip scarves. I was lucky; I had just purchased a slinky top that was black with red seams and had mesh arms. It was perfect for the performance. The costume was taken care of, the choreography was seamless…everything was set! The night went fantastically and we were very well-received. It was really fun!
A short time later we started a new choreography, and Claudia asked us if we were interested in performing it at Saqra’s Showcase in November. This is a great venue for all levels of dancers to show off their skills. We excitedly agreed. I had danced in the showcase before, and knew the ropes. I began giving the other girls advice and hosted extra practices at my house. If they had questions I answered them, sometimes inwardly rolling my eyes and thinking DUH, they should know this stuff already! In class I was the first one to memorize all the choreography, which made me feel great…and slightly superior. After all, I was the seasoned pro, wasn’t I? In class, while I was dancing with the troupe, I wasn’t particularly thinking about anyone other than me. I have always performed as a solo dancer in the past, so thinking about my fellow dancers was a pretty big adjustment…and one that my ego did not particularly find comforting. I think Claudia could tell, because the one big critique she kept giving me was that I needed to be conscious of where I was dancing in relation to the other women. “You have to mark me, Becca!!” She would say. I honestly had no idea what she was talking about for the longest time. The practices felt tense to me; I could feel my internal pressure rising every week. I knew the choreography perfectly, but I was feeling like a total loser because I couldn’t find my place among the other women.
The showcase came horrifically fast for me. We ordered our tops and skirts just a week and a half before the performance. Then we began the process of sewing our belts. This is a laborious process, and it takes a lot of attention to detail (which I have) and some basic sewing skills (which I have…but they aren’t great). I started feeling way less superior when it took me twice as long to sew the fabric and coins onto my belt. I started feeling panicky when I realized exactly how much work was involved. In addition to the belt and all of its bells and whistles, I needed to reinforce the hook and eye on the skirt, hem the skirt, create some sort of accessory with the fabric (Head band? Arm band? Choker?), redo the hook and eye on the belt because it was too big the first time, find my flare pants to go under the skirt, buy a shrug to go over the coin top, paint my toenails…you get the picture. Plus, I live alone with no one to help me. On the Saturday before the performance I attempted to enlist help from every person I could think of. I just needed an extra set of hands. Many of my friends were out of town for some reason or had plans for the day. A large set of others were preparing their own costumes for the Swashbucklers Ball that evening. I posted on Twitter and Facebook trying to find someone to help me. Not one bite. I felt my big superior ego shrinking by the minute. I was quickly learning that even though I had learned the technical skills of belly dancing long ago, there was still a ton to learn. It made me realize I should drop all the superior crap and just live the experience, piece by piece, because clearly my whole Belly-Dancer-in-a-Box routine was just not working.
I finally suckered my new friend Rich into coming over for a few hours. Poor guy…he barely knows me, and I didn’t even tell him that he would be at risk of losing his Man Card by helping me with a sewing project. But he didn’t ask, so when I told him, I was relieved to hear that he was pretty sure his Man Card would remain intact. He kept me focused on my project and lent me a kind ear while I babbled about all the stress I was feeling over this crazy sewing project.
The showcase was last night. Our group did a great job. We all looked lovely and the audience clapped and cheered for us. It was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. No one cared that it was not perfect. Afterward what I felt most was relief that it was over. I’m a little sad that I could not let myself enjoy it as much as I could have. I was still feeling so much pressure and stress that I really wasn’t in the moment. Now that I’ve had time to let the experience marinate, I have a couple of realizations.
*I’m not ready to start performing solo again, nor do I particularly want to perform in the troupe more than a few times a year.
*I am not the be-all, end-all Belly-Dancer-in-a-Box. I am one unique person in a huge community of dancers with all kinds of the skills it takes to create a great show.
*Memorizing choreography isn’t the only measure of a good performance.
*My ego needs to chill. I need to give myself time to breathe, no matter how rushed I am. Stress for me brings on denial, which brings on a fake superiority so that I don’t have to think about what my flaws are.
*Most importantly, and one that I have to hear daily: No one is perfect.