Promotion and hyperbole – inextricably linked?

This is a subject that has been bothering me for several years because it appears that the two have become inextricably bound together and I think this is wrong.

It is not a crime to pad things with a little bit of hype, I think we all do that – trying extract the most we can from any experience, talent or qualification. However some people take this too far and we owe it not just to ourselves and our dance community but also the general public not to cross the boundary into fantasy. Dancers who indulge in excessive hyperbole tend to end up believing their own hype and this leads to problems all of their own, which I will talk more about later on.

Truth in advertising and getting the balance right.

When you are writing copy for your website about what you can do and how well you can do it, it is very hard to resist the temptation to turn ‘I teach workshops in baladi’ into ‘I am an expert in baladi.’ The second just sounds so much nicer doesn’t it? What happens then, when you are booked to teach a workshop in baladi and the students discover that you don’t in fact know a great deal more about baladi than they do? They maybe too polite to complain at the time but they will most likely not invite you back to teach anything else and will be uncomplimentary when asked about you by others in the dance community. Didn’t really work to your advantage did it?

A trend that has been around for a long time and really annoys me is the over-enthusiastic and dishonest use of the phrase ‘I have studied with.’ Studying with someone is something you do over a prolonged period, it is most definitely NOT applicable if you have only done one or two workshops with a teacher! It’s much more honest to say ‘I have taken several workshops with. . .’ Dancers who are coached by me, take regular private classes with me as well as attending my workshops are entitled to say that they have studied with me. One workshop on dancing with wings does not an expert make and certainly doesn’t qualify you to go off and start teaching your own workshops on the subject! I have seen that happen far too many times in recent years!

My fantasy is now my reality.

There are a growing number of dancers who I have observed change from being modest and honest about their achievements into strange beings that I find hard to recognise. These are the dancers who are either very ambitious, self-absorbed, have an inflated view of their place in the community or a combination of all three. Commercial considerations are high on their agenda as promoting their ‘brand’ and therefore themselves, becomes the be-all and end-all of everything and they often stoop to marketing practices that do neither their reputation or our dance in general any favours. Mud sticks which means it also sticks to the rest of us simply by association.

These are dancers who make for divas backstage and they have a habit of trampling over everything and everyone to get to where they want to be. I don’t think any of these dancers realise just how obnoxious they become, so intent are they on promoting themselves to the detriment of both honesty and standards. In recent years I have seen this as an ever-increasing phenomenon  and there are several dancers who I no longer have much to do with because they have gone down this route. To be honest I find it quite sad because most of them started out as very nice people.  I’ve also noticed that many of these dancers try to distance themselves from those who gave them their start, either by being their teacher or someone who helped them along the way. For some reason many of them expunge a great deal of their early dance experience and training so that they can say ‘look at me,  I got here with no help from anyone.’  Which is silly really because no one springs into being as a fully fledged, trained and experienced dancer. Just because you want to forget your more humble beginnings as a dancer doesn’t mean that your teachers and fellow students will do the same.

Dancers of this ilk really do annoy me and there are far too many of them around now. Oh how I wish I could prick the bubble of their fantasy, especially when I can see that they are living it at the expense of those around them. There are several around at  the moment that I have been watching from the side-lines, observing as they use methods of promoting and conducting themselves and/or their business that is disingenuous at best but sadly is usually just plain ruthless and calculating. There are a few who are prepared to be deliberately controversial or provocative in order to gain publicity for themselves in complete disregard for the consequences this brings with it. It may provide them with the instant results they want but in the long term this is not good for them and it most certainly isn’t good for the reputation of our dance as a whole. There is a very fine line between famous and infamous!

The old adage of being careful who you piss off on the way up because they will be waiting for you on the way back down, is a true one where the entertainment industry is concerned! Some dancers would do very well to remember this. . .

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17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. joyousdancer
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 20:00:40

    The best compliment is students returning to your workshops time and time again or asking when you are running any more, and consistent work shines through in the end. Humility is a wonderful trait. I find that being a good teacher is something one must work at, not just being an ‘expert’ on the subject! – Well, one must endeavor to aim for expertise anyway! x

    Reply

    • afradancer
      Sep 16, 2012 @ 13:21:13

      I could not agree more and I wish more dancers saw it this way. Humility is good for the soul, hubris will always trip you up at the moment you least expect it, especially when you think you are nice and comfortable at the ‘top!’ 🙂

      Reply

  2. Shiraz Smith
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 12:42:19

    Fully agree with the points raised. Gr8 blog Afra.

    Reply

  3. Lena Helt
    Sep 27, 2012 @ 00:53:21

    This was the best I read for a long time. So true and I been fighting this problem for years In my hometown. Thanx for posting ❤

    Reply

    • afradancer
      Sep 27, 2012 @ 19:29:02

      You are very welcome Lena! Sadly I do think it is becoming a universal issue now but talking about it both online and in person in our dance communities generally may go at least some way towards slowing the advance of this trend. x

      Reply

  4. zoraidagitana1965
    Sep 27, 2012 @ 02:35:40

    A timely article. Well observed! The trend, now, is for some dancers in the community, to try to race to the top of their game, even though they’re still “baby dancers”. Popularity doesn’t necessarily mean “expert”- it just means people like the day you dance, or at times, like you, visually and what you may or may not represent: glamour, excitement, intrigue, etc. The rise of Youtube and Facebook can create “monsters”, too, of this ilk, as for it panders to those who are prone to the above mentioned in the article: the culture of famous for fifteen minutes/ public confession . The problem with the visual, is that you can make yourself even better than you may be( via photos) rather than letting your performance, reputation, words and professional conduct speak for you, over time.

    There are a lot of extremely talented dancers out there, and my favourites are the humble ones, who don’t hype themselves up and have been very serious students for a number of years, even decades.

    I’m starting to see a lot of what you’ve described, and it is scary. I’ve been dancing belly dance, since 1998, and I hardly think I have even reached the stage, where I want to be, and wonder if I will ever get there, especially when you see dancers who have started a lot later, but have acquired a lot of success, which makes you question yourself, question abilities and potential.

    Yes, studying one workshop or two, with a teacher, doesn’t mean you are a long-term student of that teacher or style, or give you the right to start teaching that style- part of the problem is that the old master-student apprenticeship/mentorship is being lost, within this dance.
    There are many teachers, with whom I’ve studied with, consistently, over the years, as in having regular private lessons/workshops with, where a deep, personal teacher/student relationship, trust and working towards accomplishing learning objectives are built up, over a time frame, that could last for a very long time. And you know you are working towards being a real technician, artist or craftswoman in your own right, which has nothing to do with hype, promotion or dance domination. So dancers who try to distance themselves from teachers who have genuinely set them on their way, are very foolish, indeed. The old adage, be careful whom you tread on, as you go up the ladder, as you may meet them as you fall down is probably the best piece of advice ever. It’s not a competition, yet I have seen some pretty nasty incidents and huge egos evolve, hurting others in the process. It’s not worth it! It just makes for a not very pleasant person….. Besides, when I look at dancers/teachers like yourself, Afra, Morocco, Vashti, Dalia Carella, Carolena Nericcio, Artemis Mouat, Jamila Salimpour ( for starters!) I think, “You know what, I’d love to be some one like one in 20 -30 years like that, with a solid reputation, skill and knowledge, than a dancer who’s achieved success/notoriety and is actually displaying what has been described in the article.`’ And even 20 years is not enough, to scratch at the surface!!!!!!

    It is about keeping a perspective, a healthy ego and a respect for other dancers/artists who want to keep an integrity within this art form. This article is a warning 🙂

    Reply

    • afradancer
      Sep 27, 2012 @ 19:59:13

      It is quite scary just how bad all of this has got in recent years, so the more we talk about it the better. There are times when I really do despair but then I read some of the comments both here and on Facebook and realise that the end is not upon us just yet!

      I agree with everything you said and personally I think social media most definitely has a lot to answer for. I really do think that this issue wasn’t anything like as bad before everyone became addicted to things like Facebook and Twitter. This has led to us becoming enamoured and ensnared by the shallow world of instant celebrity with everyone wanting their share of the limelight. What they don’t realise is that the spotlight of fame is a harsh one and it does eventually highlight things we would and perhaps should keep private. I fear that there are some hard lessons coming to parts of our dance community in the future!

      Integrity – worth the hard work and effort it takes to earn it and it doesn’t tarnish with age!

      Reply

      • luvstodance
        Sep 27, 2012 @ 21:19:22

        My mother was a professional bellydancer and I have to say that, in my experience, it has always been this bad. Social media just gives us heightened awareness of what is going on. As a child, I saw the same lying to make people believe you were something that you are not and the same kind of competitive, ego-centered behavior. Its just now everyone can see it, its not isolated within a small community. Its on a grand scale. I think we can learn from everyone. Competition and ego-centered behavior is one of the main reasons our world is so imbalanced. We could all probably stand to take a look deep within ourselves and work on that, rather than blaming these imbalanced women we see all over the internet. That is my opinion. I believe working on ourselves brings more change than talking about our reflection in others.

  5. drummeranddancer
    Sep 27, 2012 @ 18:11:53

    I do not know you personally but this is an excellent article. Thank you for writing it. I have felt the same way for years. On moving to CA I found it was all about hype and nothing t do with what you really are or what you know. Now it seems the whole world has gone this way. You hit the nail on the head. Sometimes I have to be careful waht I say but you said it beautifully. Thank you!

    Reply

  6. luvstodance
    Sep 27, 2012 @ 18:36:47

    Excellent topic, thank you! I have to add that I see too much of this behavior go unnoticed because many in the bellydance community are heavily swayed by social pressure. I have distanced myself from my local bellydance community, and the larger bellydance community, simply because I have seen, too many times, dancers acting without integrity and everyone around just accepting this behavior as if it is a message from the ‘goddess’ or something. This lack of integrity is too easily accepted by the whole of the community. I also think it keeps the bellydance community separated from alot of women who would otherwise strengthen it.

    Reply

    • afradancer
      Sep 27, 2012 @ 19:54:25

      You are very welcome and yes, I totally understand what you mean about people turning a blind eye to things. I think we need to talk more openly about all of this generally so that dancers can start to realise that not everything that sparkles is a Swarovski crystal. Sometimes there’s just a plastic bead staring you in the face!

      Reply

  7. judeetee
    Sep 27, 2012 @ 18:58:09

    Goodness Afra this is such a well timed article. I love social network sites and all the connecting up with dancers far and wide and indeed keeping in touch with dancers and friends like yourself. It does seem recently that the “believe in your own hype” has been whirling out of control! I see and read it not just from well known dancers but also from folk more close to home.
    It seems that on the internet with hype, words and a photoshopped picture you can be whoever you want to be! However if you then appear in “real world” and you do not live up to the advertising surely this does indeed ruin the reputation of the dance community as well as your own?
    I think it is about integrity and luvstodance you are right that it goes unnoticed or indeed unchallenged as one does not want to be seen as unsisterly and not one of the gang of godesses?
    Seems there are lots who are fed up as this is now being posted out and about in fb with plenty of debate!
    Thanks Afra x

    Reply

    • zoraidagitana1965
      Sep 27, 2012 @ 19:04:06

      Hear, hear, all, and especially to judeetee. Yep, my point, exactly ” you can be who ever you want to be” on FB or any other social network avenue, but would it stack up in” the real world” ? M’ mmm. Fantasy is one thing, but never ever lie to yourself….. And oh yes, the “i” word: “Integrity”.

      Reply

      • afradancer
        Sep 27, 2012 @ 19:38:23

        Yes, integrity seems to be an ever-diminishing commodity these days and not just within our dance community either. We live in an age where ‘celebrity’ has become more important than achievement. I hope that some of that will change after this year’s Olympics/Paralympics were people had the opportunity to see that the type of fame you achieve through hard work, dedication and personal sacrifice is worth far more than any ‘five minutes of fame’ as a so-called ‘celebrity’ has to offer.

    • afradancer
      Sep 27, 2012 @ 19:33:27

      Thanks Judeetee, I think the more we talk about this sort of thing the better. We are never going to see an end to it but I do hope that by making it a topic for discussion we can do something towards making a halt to this trend. It bothers me a lot to see just how bad this has got in the last 5 years or so which is why I wrote the article in the first place. This is a topic that needs to be debated at length if we are to do anything about it, so I’m glad that this article has helped a little on that score! Afra x

      Reply

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