So far, I’ve lived in 4 countries, have had the wonderful opportunity to teach & perform across 3 continents and the honor of meeting & sharing the stage with fantastic dancers at all sorts of belly dance events around the world. It’s fascinating to see how cultural differences and geography affect the local dance communities & their resources.
Here are the 5 things I think the US and European dance scene can learn from one another:
1. Professionalism & Business Knowledge Matter
Knowing how to self-manage your career, market yourself, network, and behave appropriately are crucial to your success as a professional dancer. In the U.S., there are many more such resources and I often see marketing as an afterthought in Europe. Whether we like it or not, the dancers that get the most gigs, students, workshops, etc. are the ones that know how to market themselves. You shouldn’t feel bad for networking, as long as you do it right. And never forget: you can easily ruin your dance career if you act inappropriately on social media. You never know who is reading!
2. Culture & History > Choreography
If there is a language barrier, organizers will often choose to host choreography workshops so it’s easier on the instructor and on the students. But students crave more! With the wonderful use of the internet, it’s very easy to find all sorts of important cultural and historical information online. There are many more cultural, historical and theoretical intensives & workshops held in the US while they’re harder to come by in Europe. However, some in Europe are starting to take note and try to provide more for their students: Shereen from the Czech Republic is planning an intensive theoretical dance program in Prague December 2014 where she will invite some of Europe’s top ethnologists and ethnomusicologists, including “A Trade Like Any Other” Author, Karin van Nieuwkerk.
3. Social Dancing Is Necessary
Before I ever had the chance to take a proper class or workshop, I learned the basics of most Middle Eastern folklore by attending or dancing at parties in London where the majority were Arab. I had a solid & authentic foundation of Lebanese Debke, Khaleegy, and Iraqi Qawleeya before ever stepping foot inside a studio. Immersing yourself in that setting is a great way to learn authentic movements. Also, being able to let go of choreography and just dance helps you let go of constantly being in ‘stage’ mode. You learn to incorporate that same ease & audience connection on stage, creating a more pleasant and natural performance.
4. Travel Is Essential to Dance Training
Dancers in Europe have the benefit of cheap flights & hotels and shorter distances to travel to when it comes to attending festivals and workshops. Cairo is only a 5 hour flight away from London. Istanbul is only 4 hours away and sometimes for only around £150 roundtrip (roughly $240). Traveling to Europe & the Middle East from the U.S. can definitely drain your wallet, and with some dancers being completely reliant on earning from their local classes & gigs, it’s very hard to save up enough. Even for those that have full-time “day” jobs, the 2 week vacation time permitted in the U.S. (compared to about 2 months in most of Europe) isn’t nearly enough to get over the jet lag, let alone enough to explore & learn. But it is so very important to leave your comfort zone & bubble. If not abroad, at least to a different city. Not just for your dance training, but for your cultural understanding, life experience, and heck, even your networking with other dancers. I know it’s hard, but it’s not impossible! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
5. The Community Is Only As Strong As the Pros In it
Unprofessional behavior is everywhere; in every city, and every dance community, it’s unavoidable. But it’s the professionals that matter more. It’s how pros handle unethical behavior, how they talk about it, how they conduct themselves, how they treat each other, other students, teachers, and aspiring pros. Learning how to voice your concerns in an open & reasonable manner will go a long way to keep the flow of communication open and to avoid any unprofessionalism. You don’t want to discourage aspiring pros from asking important questions!