The Hypocrisy of Learning Belly Dance For Free & Wanting to Make a Living With It
Surfing the web can do many things, especially if you are a business entrepreneur. It’s amazing what we can learn, by reading comments and articles based on what appears to be a general consensus trend. Because of this, I have to ask, what creates a mindset in specific genres and even more so what rules the successful blue print for fortune and fame? Interestingly enough, for the past 15 years I have noticed a specific trend that has turned into a mainstay concept for some students and dancers studying belly dance. I have to say, it’s not a good one because it is sending the awkward message to patrons that says;
“I’m a bargain belly dancer”
I’m not talking about costuming, camaraderie or work ethics. It’s something that starts before any of this; it’s a discount mentality that wants to turn around and resell free instruction for money. How many students in today’s community want to learn belly dance, fast and for FREE?
To understand where I’m getting at, I suggest anyone already in this business, Google themselves because no one ever knows where their name or image might be found. Every so often I do this and I found it has saved me from unwanted publicity especially in the wrong entertainment fields. It has also helped me observe the opinions and attitudes of dancers regarding belly dance classes and trends. Just last week, I saw a commentary regarding my membership site and I was immediately taken aback with the reviewer’s obvious lack of information about BellyDanceVillage. But ultimately what caught my eye more then anything else was her mentioning that she liked free belly dance classes basing her mindset on being frugal. I put the misnomers regarding the membership site on my backburners for awhile because I felt belly dance was being placed in a second hand market and it just felt wrong.
Studio prices have always been economical for students especially the great value packages offered for monthly classes. This is just a good business practice and it’s a good way to keep students walking through the doors. I’m wondering if this dancer’s views on good bargains, include studio prices. Does her desire for free belly dance classes include her also teaching for free down the line? I doubt it, but then I remembered a dance instructor who I taught a workshop with years ago, do the unthinkable.
Every so often I would get emails from her advertising belly dance classes in Roswell, NM. The classes were only a dollar…yes, that’s right, a dollar. Why on earth would a professional dancer/teacher provide instruction for only a dollar? I was flabbergasted because the obvious consequence of such a sharp drop in price, inevitably puts into question her monetary worth as a performer and teacher. It’s not even feasibly economical to do this unless a person is independently wealthy. How many, may I ask you, independently wealthy belly dancers do you know of? Zilch, zip, nada comes to my mind. In showbiz terms, she shot herself in the foot while trying to break a leg.
What does, next to nothing or “free” do to a student’s mindset? Frugality has it’s place in the grocery store or along the coupon isle. Since when did learning a dance form become a negotiable bartering practice? It places price ahead and above the important elements of quality and experience. It also does something else, it creates a community of dancers who have no idea what their worth is because they are being taught early on, to look for the cheapest deals instead of looking for the best classes. There has to be worth in any said action or interest especially if it requires time and effort. How can a community expect to reimburse itself, if there is no established value to begin with.
How low is too low for dance classes? Remember one major rule of thumb, you can never go up from free because the worth of free is never established in a price.
When it comes to finding the right belly dance classes, the first question that should go through a student’s mind, is how qualified the teacher is. Secondly, how well known is her curriculum and the success of other dancers who have taken from her. A bio is always a good thing to ask for with credentials because a dance teacher should have night club, restaurant and theater production under her belt. After all is said and done, accessibility of scheduled classes and lastly…the price.
Marketing is a great tool to use in order to get students to either walk through studio doors or to take on-line classes. How marketing is utilized is key here. Giving a special rate for a taste of what a dance teacher has to offer allows for students to see the teacher’s style, ability to teach, curriculum, and how she puts it all together. I have always based this way of marketing as an introduction into my on-line classes. Go further into my videos and it’s not about the price but about my curriculum. Dance instruction is like a dress that has to fit a student’s individual form and taste. If student’s only look for what is free without looking for qualifications, then they are in danger of learning from someone who is uniformed, unqualified and inadequate. The type of hypocrisy this misnomer creates is like a pertinacious tale of fiction that through out time and based on word of mouth, ultimately becomes a distorted fact, but one that no one will know to question because they are uneducated to begin with.
Let me take us down the rabbit hole a little further because if I don’t, I fear that some of the new generation of belly dancers will be You Tube groupies who can merely imitate the shadow of what they crave and yet never know the difference. To be authentically trained takes time which means that the continual pursuit for private instruction, group classes and workshops is a mainstay for the duration of a dancer’s career. Credible on-line classes are intended to add another dimension to this study for students and professional belly dancers alike. The common element, all of the above has, is time and money. It takes a lot of both to be a professional dancer.
It never occurred to me to skimp out on my training through out my dance career. I searched for the best instructors I could find here and abroad and many of them charged me, $100 dollars per hour to study with them. My mindset has always been that what I have spent in my dance career reflects back in my attitude, knowledge and ability as a dancer. I paid for what I am therefore I invested in myself. Either a performer will feel she’s worth investing in herself or she will become a bargain dancer, asking where the coupon isle is.
I hear an argument coming my way but I’m sticking to my guns on this one. At various times in my dance tutelage, I didn’t have the money to continue my training. I practiced what I knew and eventually saved up enough money for one or two workshops a year or private instruction. I know, family life plays a huge part in finances but never the less, I always put money aside for dance even if it was only 20 dollars. That was a starting point and I knew I could keep adding a little here and there, building up my reserve. Again I will say, I always looked at it as an investment in myself. One day I knew, I could pay myself back or at least hold my own financially.
If there is no investment, where will asking for monetary compensation come in to play? If I dance at a restaurant, I expect to be paid for my performance. If I ask for a donation, what am I really saying about my dance ability? If I dance for free, how will any business establishment view my worth? Frugality and worth in belly dance are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The way to bridge the two is to understand that investing in your dance doesn’t have to mean, finding instruction for free or cheap. It just means, you save up for the instructors or workshops that appeal to you. Quality instruction depending on your level of training can be anything from on-line classes to studio classes. It just depends on what your dance is worth to you.
The Price of Free
I had a dance student who came to me after studying with a local dance friend of mine. She had a good, solid foundation and understanding of the fundamentals. I knew she would be a pleasure to work with because she was well trained. A few weeks after coming to class, she told me about finding free belly dance classes on-line and asked if it would be a problem if she did both. I told her, I didn’t think so but to focus on what I was teaching her while in class and during practice time at home.
As time went by, I noticed a change in her attitude. She was becoming lackadaisical and sloppy with dance moves so I would have to interrupt class to correct her posture, articulation and arm positioning. She would put in a move here and there that she learned from the free, on-line classes that looked awkward and I would have to say almost cartoonish. This led to a huge problem in class because I had to tell her to focus on class and my instruction, not her free class. Naively, she assumed that the dance instructors she was taking the free classes from, were qualified teachers. I asked her if she looked up their credentials and she said, it never crossed her mind.
To make a long story short, the on-line classes she was taking, started to interfere with her ability to take instruction outside of her free classes. May I remind you all, she had accessibility to my on-line classes for free, because she was paying me for private classes. So here is a prime example of how the word free, can have two different meanings.
Her free belly dance classes turned into the pink elephant in the room. I was getting to my wits end, correcting bad habits, so I finally asked my student to show me the free on-line classes she was taking. When I saw the instruction on two separate classes, I just about flipped my wig. The so called Free classes, were glaring at me from my computer screen and flipping me the bird. What I was watching was sloppy, inconsistent instruction that was all over the place. I looked at my student and realized that the free belly dance classes, literally took over and re-placed me and her former instructors with an idealized and garbled view of belly dance.
I ended her private classes shortly thereafter because I was tired of correcting the inconsistencies she was bringing into class every week. On one of her final classes, she even argued with me, that the move I was correcting her on … was done correctly. I asked her how she knew it was correct and she said, she was doing it exactly like the dance teacher demonstrated. All I could think of saying was, “Oy vey!”
I wished her well and said good bye, not only to her, but to the pink elephant that made itself very comfortable in my living room.
Free or next to nothing, can be packaged in a way that makes them look like a treasure map of possibilities. The only problem is, like most treasure maps, they typically lead one aspiring aficionado after another astray, because what seems too good to be true, usually is. In this case, free was disguised as a buccaneer, bootlegging belly dance classes. Once my student became mesmerized with what I call, the fabricated charade, she became lost in a private façade that threw her training and potential out with the bath water.
I prefer my bathwater full of bubbles, inhaling the scented aroma of flowers and herbs. If I flailed and floundered, throwing out my hard work, why would I even bother to take a bath? The reasons for dancing, can be endless, but nevertheless, there has to be some discipline along with the desire or it becomes misguided, resulting in an arduous effort. As a dance instructor, it can be heartbreaking to watch certain students follow their own impulsive whims.
The full packaged deal, whether she is a well trained dancer or a simulated likeness, will eventually stand face to face with each other. The question is, who can stand the test of time and who can hold her own within the belly dance community?
A friend of mine, who is an owner of a Middle Eastern restaurant in Fort Worth, told me after many years, he hired belly dancers based on a system that he felt was surefire. He said that when a dancer auditioned for him, he first looked at her presentation and then the refinement of her costume. If a dancer was wearing a homemade costume, he looked at how she designed it. If it looked plain, he usually knew the dancer wouldn’t work out. (On a side note, he also said he did not like curtain tassels for fringe.) If a dancer came to an audition and had an Egyptian or well made costume on, he knew right away that if she spent money on her costume and appearance, she was usually well trained and would give a good performance. An expensive costume obviously didn’t always guarantee for a great audition, but he always appreciated the effort in making a good appearance. The point here is, that students learn by example. If they have a good teacher educating them from experience, then they will understand that most establishments want a well trained dancer who looks professional.
Let me be clear on one thing, an expensive costume can’t overcompensate for inexperience in a dancer or conceal inferior dancing. Auditions pretty much cut the wheat from the chaff because training and skill exposes an untrained student.
The hypocrisy of learning from free dance classes isn’t that they are free, it’s the ideology behind the women who are offering them for free. Dance needs to be accessible to everyone but if there isn’t a price put on any of the lessons to begin with, the student will never see their worth. In order to be a professional in this business, it takes training and knowledgeable guidance from experienced professionals just like it would be in any other career field. If free comes before credentials, then it’s obvious where the mindset of some students are.
Remember that there are no short cuts to any dreams worth having. If you want to make a living with belly dance or any other kind of dance, training paves the way to success. How you dance your way towards your goals, says so much about what kind of performer you are.
Leave the bargains for the grocery store.