I’ve taken time out from the bellydance world, more or less, since New Years.   It’s given me some time and space to think about my experiences both as a professional performer and teacher, but also as a member of a diverse and vibrant community.

In March last year I had a very unpleasant interaction both with a friend in the community (someone I had met when we were both studying bellydance) and her partner.  The partner contacted me by text, phone and facebook to insult, shout and swear at me while accusing me of plagiarism.  He threatened me and threatened to hack my website and “permanently destroy it” (as if you could do such a thing).  The friend was unaware of his actions, but didn’t speak up to distance herself from them, instead she publicly defended and supported his accusation.  (She and I have since met, before Christmas, and are now back on speaking terms).

In becoming a professional bellydancer I never expected to be threatened or called a cockroach.  Perhaps that was naive of me.  I never expected to have a friendship ruined either, and perhaps that was naive too, for when we are both working in the same field there is the very real possibility of having to compete for work and it takes a special kind of relationship to survive that kind of pressure.

Around ten months ago I was blamed, behind my back, as being one of a number of local teachers who did not support a charitable bellydance event that was cancelled due to lack of early bookings.  I both blogged about it and handed fliers for it out to my students.  But, I believe, in making clear what portion of the event fees were going to charity I was perceived as not supporting the event (and the event organisers removed me as a ‘friend’ on Facebook).

My relationships matter to me.  People matter to me.  It’s been a pretty big deal to have had a friendship destroyed.  And being bad-mouthed isn’t that great either.

But on the up-side I’ve also made friends with people I’ve met in the community both in the UK and the USA.  These are people I am proud to call friends and to spend time with.

So this ‘scene’ seems quite dichotomous to me.  On the one hand there are groups and places where we have communities and sometimes even communes, mainly of women, learning to use and enjoy their bodies. Competitive behaviour, where it exists, is usually channeled into self-improvement in these spaces.  The ‘business’ side of the scene takes a back-seat to the community aspects.

On the other hand there is the part of the scene that is dominated by the struggle to make money.  Competitive behaviour is usually channeled away from self and towards others (though sometimes this is masked, I suspect due to how ‘unladylike’ and ‘improper’ competition is typically considered for women).  I’ve found most of the diva-like attitudes and behaviour I’ve encountered are in this part of the scene.

And I get it – it’s incredibly difficult to make a career out of being a bellydancer. In general the supply of performers and teachers far exceeds the demand.  There’s not much of a career progression either.  There is a huge gap between the local teacher and performer and those who are able to make their living at it like Jillina or Suhaila.

‘Getting it’ doesn’t mean I’m okay with it.  I’ve been burned twice by this part of the scene and on reflection that’s two times too many.