Friday, December 16, 2011
If you saw someone drowning in a pool, would you think “I’m not a lifeguard. I’m not qualified to help”? Of course not! You’d do whatever you could to help: throw them a life preserver, jump in and drag them to safety, or at least call 911.
And yet we belly dancers routinely let our fear of being “unqualified” prevent us from jumping in to serve those who need us.
The "Big Name" Syndrome
Most dancers assume that only “big name” dancers should give workshops, write articles, and make videos. On the surface, this seems to make sense: after all, the most famous dancers have a whole lot to share, right?
But this is a terrible thing! There are plenty of "small name" dancers who have something to contribute. If we continue to believe that only experts are qualified to participate, then these people spend years waiting, when they could step up and be of service.
Why Do We Assume that Only Experts Can Make a Contribution?
I think this assumption comes from the very real danger of the one-year wonder. Throughout our dance education, we’re told not to be “that girl”, who takes a couple of lessons, buys a costume and puts herself out there as a professional.
Now, I'm not saying that we should tolerate that kind of behavior. Our community needs to uphold standards and make sure that we what we present to the general public is up to par.
But a lot of dancers get so afraid of overstepping our bounds that we hold ourselves back. And it's usually the most conscientious among us - the ones who should be putting themselves out there. The conscientious ones are the most aware of how much there is to learn in this dance, and so they never feel “ready” - even when they have the skills and means to make a difference.
So How Do I Know When I’m Ready?
The best way to know when you’re ready is to shift your focus away from yourself. Stop thinking about what YOU know, and focus on what OTHERS need.
Ask yourself: what unmet needs are out there? What are people asking for or asking about? Do you have anything to share that would help fill those needs?
- Maybe you have information that’s hard to find.
- Maybe your style or material could help others expand their repertoire.
- Maybe you have a teaching method or training approach that might help other dancers meet their goals.
- Or maybe your unique personality makes a common topic more accessible and approachable.
If you can say yes to any of these, you have something worthwhile to share, and you are ready to make a video.
To put it another way: if you choose NOT to share, you’re withholding your gifts and your contribution from people who need them.
Feels different, doesn’t it?
Case in Point: Me
This is exactly how I felt when I started my DVD series, The Improvisation Toolkit.
I’m not a top-tier dancer. I’m not the first person to think about improv and dance composition. I’m certainly not the only fan of improvisation.
But I saw that a big chunk of the dance community was terrified of improv. And, being a geeky analytical type, I knew that I could make sense out of all this scary, mysterious stuff, and make it approachable and manageable.
I didn’t think I was “ready”. Sometimes I still don’t. And if it hadn’t been for a timely kick in the bum from my marketing coach Julie Eason, I wouldn’t have even considered this project for another 5 or 10 years.
In short: I would have let everybody continue to struggle with improv while I indulged my inadequacy issues.
This is not to say that you should pretend to be something that you’re not. You should always be honest about where you are in your dance journey. But if you have something to contribute, you don’t have to apologize for not having arrived yet.
What I Want You to Take Away From This
It is important to maintain standards, but dancers needs to stop assuming that only big names have something to contribute.
If you see a need that you can fill, step up and serve! Don’t pretend to be something you’re not, but if you have something to contribute, set your issues aside, and step up! There are dancers out there who need you right now.
What You Can Do Right Now
As yourself what needs are going unmet in the dance community. What questions are your students asking you? What questions and discussions are you seeing on belly dance forums, facebook, etc.?
If you're not ready to meet those needs right now, that’s okay. Just put them on your "someday, maybe" list and keep your eyes open.
And when you hear that splash in the deep end of the pool, you'll be ready to dive in and save the day.
Has "but I'm not a big name" or "who am I to make a video?" been holding you back? What else is holding you back?