Sometimes I feel a little upset when people imply that because I dance as my vocation, that somehow I don’t do it for the love of it. My personal take on it is that I love it SO MUCH that I rearranged my entire life, gave up a sizable income I used to make in more lucrative jobs, and passionately commit my energies to being a more knowledgeable dancer, a better teacher, and a professional and polished performer. That isn’t to say that those who don’t follow my same path don’t love it as much as I do–the stars aligned such that I could devote my life to it as I do–but conversely it doesn’t mean I only do this for the money or for what it “gets” me.
So I think it is unfair for either side to accuse the other of lack of love driving their decisions in what is or is not appropriate to be termed bellydance. But I strongly believe that lack of experience, a lack of empathy, and/or a dose of ignorance can combine to create a dancer who is unable to appreciate why people fight so hard to define bellydance, tribal bellydance, etc; and why these same dancers eschew the idea of boundaries and responsibilities which the name “bellydancer” encompasses.
I feel blessed to get to have dance be my primary focus in my life. I thank Paulette throughout the year for “giving me my life”, because she is the one who so inspired me to pursue dance as a profession through teaching. It was by taking workshops with her, and watching her example of integrity and community-building, that I found what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to build up a community through the dance as she did. I wanted to help other dancers with a call to tribal bellydance find their place in the dance more easily than I did (there was no tribal teachers in Seattle when I started learning, and I wanted to change that for my city). I have spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours over the years traveling, studying, researching, practicing, and developing into the dancer and teacher I am today. And I have soooo much more yet to do. I will never stop learning. But all of these efforts paint the picture of someone who does it for the love. Because God knows I have spent more on the dance than I have gotten back monetarily, but what I have gotten spiritually, mentally, and physically from it is immeasurable. It is for that often intangible reward that I press on day after day, year after year, to be the best I can be; for both myself and for the students who put their trust in me.
I never got into bellydance for the money, I didn’t make a career of it for the money, and I still don’t make a livable wage off of it, at least not the life that I live right now (my hubby pays the mortgage, my friends). I fell in love with it, just like so many others who pursue it, whether they be hobbyist or pro. And my love affair grew and become more and more consuming of my being, just like so many others. Just because I was motivated and empowered to make it my career doesn’t mean any of that has diminished. And in many ways, I think we who do it for a living have to fight the hardest to keep the love alive–when all you have is fun in the dance, it’s easy to love it. It’s harder to stay in love when it’s real *work*! When it is your career, it’s easy to become exhausted, throw up your hands, and give up when you have so many business details that can muddy the simple joy of it. The fact that we pros stick around, participate in the community, give our opinions, listen to others, share our knowledge, and continue to be passionate about what we do, rather than become jaded and blase about all the details of the art, speaks to our love for it.
So the next time you hear someone imply that pros don’t do it for the love, send them over here. Let them have a chance to reconsider what they are saying, and appreciate what it means to make your avocation your vocation.