If advices were useful, people would sell them instead of giving them away – this is how a popular Portuguese saying goes. I beg to disagree.
I´m at a point in my professional, and personal, path when I can see the big picture clear enough to talk about it. I´ve been through the Egyptian Dance market for almost a decade – no intermediaries to soften the blows or mask reality; I´ve been in the international market for the last 5 years. I´ve studied and worked with the best and I´ve seen it all, including the unimaginable.
This has been a fabulous, often hard, kamikaze ride. In 15 years of career, I´ve done, and seen, what most dancers won´t do, or see, in a life time. Part of the landscape is gorgeous; the other part can be dark but, hey, we need the night in order to appreciate the day.
Here are some of the things I´ve learnt, along the way, about being a (long term) successful Oriental Dancer:
- External success doesn´t always equal quality. Don´t get cocky when you receive praise or assume you´re a failure when you don´t. The appreciation of art, as everything else in life, is relative.
- There are no perfect professions or work environments. Just because Oriental Dance is a the Sacred Language of the Soul – and it is, in my opinion -, it doesn´t mean the ones who work with it are in touch with their soul.
- Build your own path instead of trying to copy other dancers´ trajectories. Each person is unique – so is her/his creative destiny.
- Not everybody will like you, even if you´re the best at what you do and act impeccably with everyone. You can be the most professional, talented, skillful, efficient, kind person in the world and there will be people – a lot of them, in fact – that will dislike you because…well…just because. You can be hated for being good. Too good. Too good for your own good. Envy and jealousy – do they ring a bell?
- Arrogance and “diva” attitudes don´t prove your worth, just your insecurities and lack of education. Your worth shines through the quality of the work you deliver – consistently, year after year – and the way you treat people around you.
- Praise professionals whose work and attitude you admire. Recognize their value, speak about them to your students, co-workers, audiences. If you use their choreographies, original concepts or any other creative products they have come up with, acknowledge their name. Respecting authorship is not only elegant and ethically correct but a sign of self-assurance and professionalism.
- Treat yourself, your students, audiences, sponsors and colleagues with respect. We´re part of the same net, sharing the same passion. And, flash news!, we need each other.
- As an Oriental Dancer, or one of Lilith sisters, you will be a target of prejudices by men and women alike. Jokes, sexual harassment and pre-conceived ideas about who you are, what you do and how many men you eat for breakfast will be in the order of the day. Therefore, not giving a damn about what others think is a MUST if you want to lead a peaceful, mentally healthy life. It´s also a way to avoid throwing yourself at someone´s throat.
- Be aware that actions, not words, make mentalities. Oriental Dancers have been seen and treated as vamps, prostitutes, exotic strippers for way too long. It´s in your – our – hands to change it. Which image would you like to leave on people´s minds after they see you perform or teach? Behave according to your answer.
- Don´t discourage, or forbid (!), your students from checking other dancers´work or participating in events where you´re not included. That´s tacky and amateur, in the worst sense of the word. People are free to study, and learn from, whoever they wish. If you´re sure about yourself, you´ll know this.
- There will be fashions, lobbies and world events that limit, or expand, your work. Some times, the market requests Kardashians & Company, even if they have nothing of value to offer. You musn´t let yourself – your root – be shaken to the point of breaking by such circumstances. Let the tides flow through you, remain true to yourself and your work (the reason why you started) and keep going in the direction you believe in.
- Don´t fall into the trap of doing what you presume the public expects you to do. Exterior expectations are usually low and misguided, especially in this area. Allowing yourself to be guided through them is madness. Or commercial success but to the expense of your artistic and personal integrity.
- Reinvent yourself, your art and the way you relate to the world. Inner and exterior worlds.
- If you´re consistently growing due to your qualities, and not to favours´exchange, you will find people who do their best to put you down. Or destroy you, to say it bluntly. But you´ll find others, much more empowering, that will lift you up. Starting with you. YOU, before anyone else, SHOULD LIFT YOURSELF UP.
- Build a thick skin and a strong, healthy self-esteem. If you´re an artist, not a business man/woman, and you dare being original, things aren´t always going to go your way. Dealing with NO must be as natural as dealing with YES. None of them defines you or your work.
- Just because you are the best in what you do (or you believe you are), it doesn´t mean the world is always going to fall at your feet. In fact, and in general, it´s not the best – most talented, skilful, professional – people who get the bigger slice of the cake but the ones who are better connected – hello, lobbies and mafias! – and smart in the diplomacy/connections game.
- Choose between creating your stuff or criticizing other people. It´s impossible to do both. If you use your productive time to point fingers, when are you going to do your work? My day should have 100 hours, at least. Time is short for everything I want to accomplish in dance, choreography, teaching, performance and writing – just to name my professional areas. There are others I´d love to explore. How, when and why, would I judge my neighbor?
- Brace yourself: being in a long term successful career will attract admiration and respect from your peers, and public, but also envy, distress, rage and projected frustrations. People like a hero who falls; heroes who keep going – up, up, up – without drama, tragedy and major bumps in the road – don´t deserve sympathy. Envy is what they usually get and they have to deal with it.
- Understand the difference between passion and love. A long term career is like a long term marriage – your feelings towards it will evolve, change, go through different phases, ups and downs. Your relation with your craft, and its environment, won´t always be the same. Prepare for eventual lack of enthusiasm; understand boredom and frustration; face the temptation to quit. It can happen. Your LOVE and COMMITMENT to your art will be tested, time and time again.
- Build a protective wall in relation to the dark side of the business. Attention: it´s a bussiness (I have to remind myself of this every single day). Participating in gossip, backstabbing, bad mouthing and harming colleagues is shameful and it doesn´t add anything to your work or dignity. Behave with others the way you wish they´d behave with you – there´s no better way to build your reputation, or public persona, and peace of mind.
- Accept ignorance. Not everyone agrees with your vision of the craft; not everyone has the same level of knowledge, experience and Vision. Not everybody has had access to the same education, references and experiences you have. They, too, deserve to participate in the field and offer their contribution. Even if, in your opinion, their contribution goes against everything you´ve ever believed in and worked for. It´s a free world – everybody, including you, is free to build or destroy.
- Understand life cycles and use them in your favour. Before being artists, we are people and people have high, and lower, creative points. Knowing when, how, and for how long, to rest/retreat is as important as keeping yourself in the worldwind. Accept that what goes up has to come down – make the best out of it.
- The world doesn´t owe you approval, applause or enthusiasm. You OWE them to yourself and your work. Some times, the world claps, claiming you´re the best while you´re feeling miserable for presenting something you´re not particularly proud of. Other times, the world isn´t interested while you believe you´re presenting a master piece. Conclusion: you are your basic, most reliable, support system. You´re the one who has to keep the flame alive, believing in yourself and applauding, even when nobody else does. Especially when nobody else does.
- Not every artist is good at business. In fact, every exceptional artist I´ve met along the way was not a business person. Those are two different channels – the creative and the business, money making one. Nonetheless, and even if you don´t like it (guilty as charged), you have to think, sooner or later, in business terms. You may never be good at it but you have to try, unless you´re rich and you don´t need your craft to earn a living.
- With time, you´ll notice the changes in your body, mind, heart and soul and adapt to them. Basically, you´ll keep growing up – into different phases of adulthood – and your dance will have to flow with it.
- Independence and integrity have high costs. The Oriental Dance business, in Egypt as in the international circuit – major, average and minor events – is mostly composed by lobbies and groups of “friends” who support and promote each other. Many will only hire elements of their “group”; others will boycott certain dancers, harming them directly on their faces or on their backs, because they betrayed their “loyalty” or played according to their own rules. If you wish to be part of the gang, any gang, you´ll probably be promoted and protected by the ones who
own youbelong to your group. If, like me, you are free and you dislike lobbies of any sort, you have to work twice as hard than the rest, search for alternative partnerships (yes, they exist) and excell in every little thing you do so, despite your independence, you get hired for your quality. There are a lot of AMAZING independent organizers who choose artists and teachers by the quality of their work, not through personal alliances and interests. Once you find them, make sure you honour them and the opportunities they provide.
- Unless you have an entourage – and I hope you do -, which is rare, you have to be your own manager. That means dealing with logistics, people with different backgrounds, ego sizes, educational standards, perspectives and ideas of what professionalism means. Be ready to set limits – what´s acceptable and what´s not – while being flexible. Most people are doing the best they can according to what they know. Be compassionate towards other people failings as you are towards yours.
- An Oriental Dancer is a mirror where people project phantasies, frustrations and unconfessed desires. Don´t take every comment, and opinion, to heart. Let people be; accept their ignorance while informing/educating them, if you wish to do so and if they´re willing to learn.
- Work with EXCELLENCE in sight or don´t work at all. There are way too many mediocre things in the world – dance, as love, shouldn´t be one of them.
- Help your colleagues, students and whoever asks for your support. No need to make it a public matter. Support for the sake of supporting, knowing what goes around comes around. The world is smaller than you think and we all need a hand, once in a while. Today you help – tomorrow you´re helped. Believe in the invisible net that connects us all.
- Ask yourself, occasionaly, why you´re in this profession. For what? With which purpose? What is your contribution to the world? Do you have a Vision, a Dream besides “being famous”? I´m secretely hoping you do. That is, in my opinion, what keeps you going, and growing, up the mountain. I´ve seen many so called stars rise and fall into oblivion, since I´ve started my career. The ones who stay, and thrive, are the ones who know their job is bigger than themselves; their art bigger than their ego.
- Accept, and embrace, the fact that you will change. Personally, professionaly, creatively. This is connected to the REINVENTION issue.
- Acknowledge the teachers, organizers/sponsors, students and audiences who taught you, supported and promoted you. No matter how great you may be in your work, nobody has the obligation to support you. So, when they do, appreciate them. Publicly, if possible. And it´s always possible.
- Above everything, love what you do and love people. No man is an island, someone once said. Like it or not, this is the truth. I´ve seen teachers mistreating students – and students liking being mistreated; I´ve seen “divas” being rude to the organizers who hire and promote them; I´ve also seen organizers being dishonest and total creeps towards the artists/teachers they hire. Education, kindness, professionalism and honesty may not be valued in our societies but they go along way where long term successful careers are concerned. Watch out for karma – it exists!
- Take responsibility for yourself and your work. When you succeed, say it out loud: I succeeded due to my talent, skills, professionalism, whatever you feel it´s applicable. When you fail, make a mistake, or take a wrong step, be brave and assume it: I´ve screwed up. I´m sorry. And correct it, if possible.
- If you´re attacked by mediocrity or evilness – probably both -, don´t lower your level in order to pay them with the same coin. Smile, nod, make yourself stupid, wave like the queen of England and send them love. Beat them at their game by rising above it. Sooner or later they will reap what they sow. We all do. Elegance and level are priceless and non-negotiable. Keep your standards up, especially when people seem to deal in dirt. Remember: you´re above the game.
- There are remarkable people in the field of Egyptian Oriental and Folkloric Dance. They compensate for the ones who aren´t…errr… that remarkable. You should gather the best berries in your basket and throw away the ones who are not worth keeping.
- There´s no important and unimportant work – every work is important. May that be a workshop at a major festival with 1000 students in it (hola,Argentina!); a private class with one student; a show for a 3000 sits theatre or a private gathering for 30 people. Read it well: THERE ARE NO SMALL GIGS – ONLY SMALL DANCERS.
- Do your best within the provided conditions. If you´re given more, you can do more. That´s obvious. I´m not at my best when I´m not performing with my own musicians or teaching in a healthy, positive environment. But those are not excuses to do a lame job. Greatness is an attitude, not a circumstance.
- Never stop learning. No matter how much knowledge and experience you´ve gathered, there´s always more. Watch, listen, read, study with teachers you like – of your area or/and others – and look at yourself as the eternal student who happens to know more, a bit more, than the rest.
- Be kind towards The Tools that allow you to do your job: your body, mind, heart and soul. They are your companions and deserve to be well treated, listened to, nurtured. Draw yourself a bubble bath; go for a massage; eat the best you can; sleep and exercise. Pamper yourself, once in a while. And, most importantly, whisper words of love in your own ears. Your creative tool will thank you with health, stamina and a fountain of infinite creativity.
- Respect, support and empower older dancers who are doing quality work. Because quality, not age, should be the criteria. Plus: remind yourself that, if you´re lucky, you will be one of those older dancers. One day, you will be in their place. By supporting them, you´re supporting your own future.
- When requested, you may guide, advise and support students who wish to become professionals, but be honest with them: nobody, but them, can walk (build) their path.
- Serve the Art instead of serving yourself through the Art. This Art form is older, wider and more important than any of us. We can only aim at serving it well, contributing to its dignification and evolution. The rest is a kindergarten game.
- Remember why you´ve started, the reason(s) that made you fall in love with this dance. When things get tough – and they will, sooner or later -, grab that beginning and give it a spin. Everything, including love, can be reborn and reinvented.
One of my Messages from The Womb: Why do you dance?
Made in Paradise ❤