Belly Dancers Make a Difference. by Halyma [aka Tracey]
Since 1994, I have been a member of Ottawa’s Belly Dance community, and I have participated in what seems like hundreds of fundraising and volunteer dance performances. Do we ever take a look and realize how much of a difference we are actually making? This thought occurred to me after reading a friend’s blog announcing that she and some of her dance mates had danced in the rain during this years’ marathon races.
She, and many of her group joined me and my own students and friends at the Weekend to End Breast Cancer, under the Belly Dancing For Fun Dancers!!! umbrella – a name I use when I invite other dancers to support a worthy cause, get some publicity, and have some fun.
Middle eastern dancers have been cheering on the Ottawa Race Weekend runners and walkers for years. They have also supported the Art in the Park weekend, Lumiere Festival, and many other local events that bring out lots of creative and active residents of Ottawa as well as tourists visiting our city.
Belly dancers in our community, and other communities all over the world, are doing so much when they give their time to these events.
There are some wonderfully selfish reasons to volunteer at these events. Not all of the dancers are at a professional level – many are students. These students need opportunities to practice dancing before an audience, and there is a lot less pressure if the audience is transient.
Gaining confidence and self-esteem as a growing dancer is very important and these opportunities usually provide very positive results. The students want to dance more, improve, are encouraged to take classes and workshops and play a larger role in the community. They may work on their own choreographies and test them out, or try new combinations or improvising, and often feel a foundation growing in their repertoire.
So, what difference are we making to our own belly dance community?We are lucky to have many wonderful dancers in Ottawa-Gatineau and beyond. It has been said that the Ottawa based community is different from other cities in that we strive to maintain that community feeling. With OMEDA, Catharine Crerar’s Fundraiser parties, and my own efforts of the Dancers’ Bazaar, along with many other unsung heroines, we have created an atmosphere of support and encouragement for everyone in belly dance from the upcoming dancers through to those who have seen it all!There are politics, there are cliques, there are subsets and mini-tribes within our larger community – this is natural. I really think that every time we have an opportunity to bring together these subsets and work together, it benefits the whole.
Teachers get crossover students – something I strongly believe in. Dancers get exposure to similar, or totally different styles from themselves and get to know dancers they may never meet otherwise. Awareness of various events that may get missed is generated, again bringing more of us together to share our experiences and knowledge.
What about the benefit of dancing at these events for society in general?
We all benefit from the general public seeing us perform in safe, family oriented atmospheres. This helps differentiate our dance from other dance forms about which there has long been some confusion. When we bring publicity to the fact that all ages of women do this, from young girls to great grandmas, society gets that little tweak of renewed respect for the strength of the feminine. There will always be some people who think belly dancers must be thin, in their early 20s and sexy, but there are more people out there who just don’t know. Those people are open to receive the education of seeing a group of women dancing and having fun!
Why dance for free?
There are important discussions about dancers being paid for their work, performing before their skills are deemed good enough, etc. These ideas need to be considered and recognized as valid, but there needs to be a growth encouraged in any skill set and how can we do this in a positive way?It is a very personal decision to decide to volunteer at all, and I have never seen myself as the type to go feed people at the soup kitchen, or visit seniors in a home to sit with them. It is not who I am, nor what I can comfortably give back to society. Therefore, for years, I did not do any volunteer work. Then I began to dance, and felt that this is something I can give, and it is appreciated. The smiles on the faces of those who happily accept our offering is great. The funny looks on the faces of those who don’t know what to think – that’s great too for my own need to be quirky sometimes 🙂
Yes, these events often have budgets to pay for bands, technical help, their space etc., but much of the efforts put out is by volunteers and the money raised is intended to go to a cause.
My own experience was one of what I call apprenticeship. I was fortunate to connect with a teacher who asked me to accompany her on many events, parties etc. where I would join her and dance for free, as I grew into my dance persona, Halyma. When I was first paid $20 after dancing at the Museum of Civilization, I was blown away !! it was so amazing that I was being paid for my efforts! I was still a student dancer with lots to learn, and really benefited from these chances to get out there and push myself.
OMEDA was also responsible for providing dance opportunities while i was growing up in dance. Parties began to happen fairly regularily with hard work done by a small group , mainly Julia Watson at that time, and we were able to go out and dance – and many times get our supper for free.
There can be an exchange provided in many situations that is minimal, and honourarium, or simply that great feeling of knowing that you gave of yourself and gained another positive notch in your experience hip belt.And sometimes there are experiences that are more of the “character building” type – an unpleasant comment by a passer-by, weather issues be it rain or sun, and sometimes not all dancers are as welcoming as they can be. But these are also part of the learning process and how we choose to react to them puts us on our own path in belly dance and life in general.
Many thanks to those ladies who are always willing to come out and join me in the events for which I organize volunteer dancers. Your smiles and your exuberance keep it fun and exciting – the way it should be in my opinion!
Halyma’s PS: I reposted this as I felt it was a valid article to bump up within my new Blog. We are approaching a new season of fundraising events and I look forward to working with many fabulous dancers over the next months at a variety of Fundraising activities!