Losing it, in part

The dancer slows her frantic pace
In pain and desperation,
Her aching limbs and downcast face
Aglow with perspiration

Stiff as wire, her lungs on fire,
With just the briefest pause —
The flooding through her memory,
The echoes of old applause.

She limps across the floor
And closes her bedroom door…

it is always sad when we’ve lost a dancer.
(with a nod to neil peart)

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Regarding Yasmin’s Music Copyright Law Piece in the Gilded Serpent.

I don’t have time to do Yasmin’s article justice; there’s just so much that the best I can hope for is to find someone else to pick up the baton where I leave it. What follows is a brain-dump with some hopefully helpful links and resources to help you dance your own path through copyright. Quick though this may be, I know it will never fit in the Gilded Serpent’s editorial limits (3 pages?) or letters (500 words) limits.

Be very, very, very careful with any free legal advice, especially from someone that is not a lawyer in the field they are discussing.

I’m not a lawyer, so THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. You are responsible for what you do with this information and commentary, not me. This is commentary and discussion prompted by a troublesome article published on the Internet. I’ve been working in and around copyright for a while, but that doesn’t make me an expert – it just makes me interested. I’m sure I’m going to make some mistakes in this rush-to-write, but the important thing is to get the questions out there, even if I don’t have the answers at the top of my head.

Yes. You do need to obey the copyright laws as they apply to your performances. You also need to obey the laws relevant to driving if you drive to your performances and the laws relevant to pedestrians if you walk from your car to the show. All told, there are thousands of laws you need to obey. But Yasmin wrote about copyright and fear, so let’s get to some of the misinformation.

The first thing you need to know is that copyright law is relevant to belly dancing. Just how relevant depends a lot on specifically what you do. It is a legitimate issue, but Yasmin did not present it fairly, completely or even accurately. Copyright is not something that can be addressed in 2000 words. Actually, maybe it can. You can address copyright in three words: Hire A Lawyer. I imagine that’s not a practical solution for many belly dancers, so let me see what I can do to bring up a bunch of uncomfortable questions.

The second thing you need to know is that copyright (importantly, that’s copyRIGHT, as in “the right to copy” not copyWRITE, as often seen) in the United States is Title 17 of the United States Code. Cornell University provides a very handy reference here.

Now, some specific issues with Yasmin’s piece.

On Permission

If you did not compose a piece of music, write the lyrics to it and pay for it to be recorded you can not play that music publicly without asking the people who did these things for their permission.

This is not correct. If you did not compose the piece of music, write the lyrics and pay for it to be recorded, then that means you are not the original copyright owner for the given piece of music. Often, some or all rights are assigned to a publisher or record company, in which case asking the original copyright owner for permission will be quite useless, even dangerous – If the publisher has acquired exclusive rights, you may be sued by the publisher for violating their copyright, even if you “got permission” from the original owner.

Public performance of music for which you are not the copyright owner is legal and (in many circumstances) encouraged, provided you play by the rules set forth in Title 17. Of course, one way to play by the rules is to get in touch with the [current] copyright owner, if that’s possible, and ask for permission. Because copyright exists at the moment of creation, there is no universal registry of who owns which rights to which works, so finding the right person to ask can be extremely expensive or even impossible. You can find out more about copyright investigation in the US Copyright Office’s Circular 22. Copyright investigation gets even more complicated when you consider the potential variations in spelling when translating non-English names to English (are those lyrics by Mohammed, Mohamed, Muhamed, Muhammed, Mohammad, Mohamad, Muhamed, or Muhammad.. or Mo?), and that music may be registered (if it’s registered at all) as part of an album or collection in a foreign country under a different title. Even if you find the appropriate copyright owner, you may need a translator to negotiate.

Copyright law also provides several circumstances under which you can publicly perform music for which you do not own the copyrights. These exceptions include:

1) You work in a nation which includes “compulsory” and/or “blanket” licenses, which cover your specific use of the copyright-protected material. For belly dance performers, the most common right you need (and one discussed by Yasmin) is the public performance right. One way to acquire such a right is to perform in a venue that is licensed by one or more Performing Rights Organizations (more on those in a bit). If the venue has the appropriate license, you don’t have to ask for permission, and you are allowed to play the music where the public can hear it.
2) You use music that has specific rights waived or specific licensing terms applied. Some musicians actually encourage the use of their music. One way a copyright owner might do this is to apply a specific license (such as Creative Commons license – http://creativecommons.org/ ) to the music in question, which specifies how the material may be used. If you comply with the terms specified by the copyright owner, then you (everyone, really) already have permission and don’t need to ask.
3) In the United States, the performance is non-commercial/charitable/educational and complies with the additional restrictions described in 17 USC 110(1) and 17 USC 110(4). The additional restrictions include prohibition on cover charges.
4) In the United States, the performance is limited to a religious organization during a worship service (17 USC 110(3)).
5) In the United States, the performance is in a retail establishment where the primary purpose of playing the music is to sell it (17 USC 110(7)).
6) In the United States, the performance is done under the auspices of a government agency or office (17 USC 110(6)) or a veteran’s or fraternal organization (17 USC 110(11)), subject to additional conditions.
7) What you are doing is Fair Use. This would include criticism, comment (which could include parody or satire), news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. Fair Use is a big, nebulous and very strange world of copyright law, codified in (17 USC 107) but that is a subject unto itself. Fair Use would rarely come up in the context of a typical belly dance performance, but you probably should know about it anyway.

There are other exceptions, like for jukeboxes and cable broadcasters, but they are even less relevant to belly dancing as I know it.

Also of note, you may not have to actually pay for your music to be recorded to be the copyright owner. It is possible to have legitimate work-for-hire done (and thus to be a copyright owner) without monetary compensation.

On Mechanical Rights

For 2006 and later, the mechanical rate is the greater of 9.1¢ per song or 1.75¢ per minute for each copy of a record or tape made and distributed (this includes DVDs). A DVD producer may be able to arrange different terms and conditions with an independent artist, particularly if publicity for the music is involved. But a written contract still must be signed that grants permission.

Yasmin fails to explain that these rates are set by statute (hence “statutory rates”) 17 USC 115, which defines a “Compulsory license for making and distributing phonorecords.” The nature of a compulsory license is that you do not need permission as long as you comply with the rules specified in the law. These rates apply to “phonorecords” which means audio recordings (but not necessarily audio-visual recordings). You can, of course, negotiate a different rate with the appropriate copyright owner(s), for which a written contract is an excellent idea. So, more properly, with regard to mechanical rights for phonorecords, you need to pay the statutory rate, or get permission (probably in writing), but not both.

Few dancers are doing anything that is subject to mechanical rights, which would involve “making” or “distributing” audio recordings (and those that are should probably have lawyers to deal with this stuff). Dancers producing or selling DVDs should probably be more concerned with synchronization rights, which apply any time music is accompanied by a visual image (such as an image of a dancer) and which, to my knowledge, do not have any compulsory license in the United States. While you’re negotiating your synchronization rights, you can bring up the associated mechanical rights as well. If you’re lucky, the same entity will be able to negotiate both.

On the Berne Convention

In the United States and all the countries that signed the Berne Convention (1886 and 1971), intellectual property is protected by copyright laws that must be respected if you want to copy and/or perform to someone else’ work.

Countries don’t have to be party to the Berne Convention to have copyright laws that must be obeyed (not just “respected”).

The Berne convention was revised in 1908, 1928, 1948, 1967 and 1971, and most recently amended in 1979. The United States is also party, under the provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act 1998 (or DMCA), to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty (1996) (or WCT) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Performances and Phonograms Treaty (1996) (or WPPT).

If you’re feeling particularly nervous after reading Yasmin’s article, you might also want to look into the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (1994), which applies to World Trade Organization parties, including Egypt (member since 1995) and the United States (member since 1995) and the Rome Convention (1961), which applies in neither Egypt or the United States, but does apply in 86 other countries. Oddly enough, there is a lot of world out there that isn’t either Egypt or the United States.

On “a lot of rights to worry about”

But wait! There’s more! Translation, recitation and broadcast rights are discussed in the Berne convention. Reproduction, distribution, rental, making available rights (including broadcast) are discussed in WPPT and distribution, rental and communication to the public rights (which includes broadcast) are discussed in WCT.

Given the large secondary market in the bellysphere, it’s also worth noting that there is a “first-sale doctrine” that usually applies with regard to distribution (or, more precisely, I suppose, re-distribution).

When you’re done reading (and paying a lawyer to translate) all of the various laws and treaties, then you might have some time left to dance (or you might not).

On Performing Rights Societies

Yasmin goes on to mention Performing Rights Societies, which are more commonly (as far as I know) known as Performing Rights Organizations, some of which are societies, some are corporations, and I think some might even be government bodies (depending on the country involved).

Performing Rights Organizations (PRO) generally deal with performing rights (as one might assume from the descriptive name), though some also handle mechanical or other rights, and some even take it upon themselves to promote and produce music. Of course, a PRO does charge fees, and does collect royalties and in some cases, they eventually pay the artists they represent. If you are a “major recording artist” then a PRO is a great thing. Which organizations are relevant depends on the country or countries that the copyright owner(s) are in and where the performance occurs. Many have reciprocal terms with each other, some do not. Here’s an incomplete laundry list of Performing Rights Organizations, which may or may not be relevant to your particular performance (I hope you can handle this alphabet soup):


On Public Domain and Contacting the Copyright Owner

The only reason a dancer would not have to contact the copyright owner of her music is if it falls in the public domain.

This is not correct. Yasmin provides handy references regarding the duration of copyright, but an expired copyright is not the only way a copyright-protected work may enter the public domain. Nor is the public domain the only circumstance under which someone can use material that is (or was) protected by copyright without contacting the copyright owner.

A copyright owner may specifically dedicate the work to the public domain. Works of the US Federal Government (and some other governments and quasi-public organizations) are not subject to copyright. And, of course, specific rights may be waived or have specific terms associated with them for a given work (e.g., “free for non-commercial use”). Don’t forget any compulsory licensing that may apply, or any of the exceptions discussed previously.

On Egyptian Copyright Law

I don’t speak or read Arabic, but I did find some interesting tidbits about copyright law in Egypt. Egypt is a member of the Berne convention [pdf] (effective June 7, 1977 ). Copyright protection under the Berne convention is at least for the life of the author plus 50 years ( see http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/berne/summary_berne.html ). The 1954 copyright law in Egypt was amended at least in 1994. Copyright in Egypt is managed by the Ministry of Culture, Supreme Council of Culture, Permanent Office for the Protection of Copyright, 1 El Gabalaia Street Opera House, El Gezira, Cairo, (20 2) 735 2396 / 403 3023.

Egypt is not a member of the WIPO Copyright Treaty.

In 2000, a conference was held in Cairo to discuss copyright issues in Egypt. I don’t know what went on, but such a conference is significant. Someone should spend some time on that if they care about Egyptian copyright issues.

On Respecting Nations and Their Laws

The translation I found states that in 1952 Nasser passed a clear copyright law that established protection for all intellectual property until 50 years after the death of the author. Fifty, not seventy as in the rest of the world, but a law does exist on their books.

It is true that some countries offer copyright protection for the life of the creator plus 70 (or even more) years, but those countries (which include the United States) do not constitute the “rest of the world” with respect to Egypt. Before one disparages a nation based on its alleged non-conformity with global copyright standards, one should carefully consider how non-conformist it truly is. The WPPT and WCT (by which Egypt is not bound) specify a term of protection of at least life+50 years. Most of the world is comfortable with life+50 terms for copyright.

Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Gambia, Guyana, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Zambia (at least) have a general copyright term of life of the author plus 50 years. By the way, it was life+50 in the United States too, until 1998.

Egypt is not so alone in this regard.

On Citing Laws

Anyone serious about discussing international copyright would be well-advised to contact a currently practicing lawyer in the field, rather than citing a translation of a more-than-50-year old law. Laws do not exist in isolation or without context. In 1952, South Carolina passed a clear law making it a crime to give a colored person custody of a white child (see http://www.jimcrowhistory.org/scripts/jimcrow/insidesouth.cgi?state=South%20Carolina). Many things have happened since then. It’s also illegal to steal an alligator in Louisiana or to sell a car on Sunday in Michigan.

Copyright has changed a lot since 1952 (what with the whole digital media thing), and I’m sure that’s true in Egypt, too. Like the rest of the world, Egypt has digital communications technologies.

On the Threat of Legal Action

The answer is because Western distributors of these products, if they have legally acquired the rights, can enforce those rights using Western laws and judicial systems. Being sued in a court of law can cost thousands in legal fees alone, not to mention the fine for damages if the offense is ongoing, lucrative and widely publicized.

That’s scary stuff.

Serpentine is a “Western distributor” and, despite Yasmin’s apparently (based only on her Gilded Serpent article) incomplete understanding of the rights involved, surely believes they have “legally acquired the rights.” The way I read that statement, to use music for which Serpentine owns or claims to own the copyright, you, as a dancer, have four basic options:
a) Hire lawyers and, if necessary, investigators and researchers at significant expense to ensure that you are fully compliant with all the nuances of copyright law, and that Serpentine actually has all the relevant rights;
b) Assume that Serpentine has the appropriate rights and ask Serpentine for permission before you do anything;
c) Ignore this threat and wait to be summoned to court; or
d) Avoid using Serpentine materials altogether.

The cheapest, simplest and safest approach is, unfortunately, D. It costs nothing to avoid this sort of problem. There is lots of other music in the world.

On a Dancer’s Responsibility

It’s not, I think, the dancer’s responsibility to know who owns the rights to a given piece of music. Given the nature of international trade, the opportunity to transfer rights, and the complexities of international law and reconciliation, it is unreasonable to expect that a dancer can identify all the relevant rights owners for a given recording. That’s why performance rights organizations exist – to associate a recording with the various (and current) rights-owners.

It is, I think, a dancer’s responsibility to comply with the licensing and reporting requirements of the venues in which s/he performs.

It is also a dancer’s responsibility to make sure that you purchase your music from a reputable retail operation, and that it is not likely to be pirated. I recommend purchasing from the musicians directly whenever possible (more on that next).

On Thinking of the Musicians

Think of the musicians and their families. If the musicians and their producers can’t make a living from their creativity, how can they continue to publish more?

If you’re really thinking of the musicians, and you want them to continue to create, you have to get a lot closer and more direct with your support. Collecting performing rights fees and enforcing copyright laws is a very ineffective way to feed and nurture musicians.

The challenge for musicians with regard to performance rights is that they have to be big enough for the PROs to realize they exist before they can benefit from them. Then they have to wait for their money, and they have to share it with all the middlemen. Indulge me while I do some hypothetical math for you.

Licensing from a PRO for an “enhanced musical performance” (that is, music with dancing) for a typical restaurant in the United States might cost $750 per year. Assuming they play music 12 hours a day (background music plus dancing music), 360 days per year and a typical song is 4 minutes, that results in about 64,800 song-plays per year. The PRO deducts their administrative overhead (let’s say 15%) and the remaining $640 is divided among the copyright owners for each song. That works out to about .99 cents per song. If a musician is relying on revenue from performing rights on music used by dancers, and they are earning a penny per song, that means a dancer would have to dance twice a night, every night to one song from this musician for almost two years just to cover the cost of a set of oud strings.

In an ideal world, the copyright owners get paid about a penny every time you dance to one of their songs. That penny gets further divided among the lyrics copyright owner(s), the composition copyright owner(s), the recording copyright owner(s) – and there might be lawyers and agents and other people in line with their hands out.

This isn’t an ideal world, and often enough, small independent copyright owners never get paid by a PRO. This happens because their collected fees never accumulate enough to justify the expense of all this accounting and analysis or the methods used by the PROs simply don’t pick up the relatively few plays for the songs in question. It is technically and practically impossible to monitor every song played everywhere, track the associated rights-owners, and collect all the appropriate fees (minus those performances with statutory exemptions, of course), and distribute the resulting pool of money precisely to the millions of rights-owners involved. The “small” copyright owners essentially vanish into a footnote on a PRO financial statement.

If you want to feed a musician, buy [legitimate!] copies of their recordings and merchandise. Buy them as directly as possible, preferably right from the hand of the musicians themselves (eliminate as many middlemen as possible and let the musicians keep as much money as possible). Encourage others to do the same. Talk to your musicians (if you can), and make sure they know you appreciate (and pay for) what they do. It takes more than fractions of a penny on a remote accounting ledger to keep someone creative and productive. Sometimes it takes a new set of strings.

I wish Yasmin was thinking of the musicians with whom she works when she decided to put the fear of economic ruin into any dancer that would dare to do something with their music “without permission” – even if they are perfectly within their rights to do so.

On Ethics

We as artists have a duty to respect the other artists we work with.

As mentioned in the Gilded Serpent letters, such a duty would suggest credit should be given to Jean-Léon Gérôme for the inclusion of a detail from “Almeh Performing the Sword Dance” ~1870, and possibly also the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University.

Such respect would also, ideally, extend to other dancers as well.

On the Bibliography

I would suggest that Yasmin update her sources. 1996 and 1998 books can not discuss the implications of several laws, court decisions, conventions and treaties that have come into force or have been amended since their publication. The Napster decision, in particular, didn’t happen until 2001.

What I’m Going To Do

I own the copyright for this article. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license. Some rights reserved.

The rest is up to you. I hope someone with more experience or time will decide to add to the questions I’ve raised here.

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New camera on the way; Thanks

Just a quick note to let those concerned know that there is a replacement camera on the way, and I’ll be jumping on that learning curve as fast as I can around the rest of life.

I do want to take a few moments to acknowledge some important people…

Thanks to Karima, Amustela, Bijou, Antonia, Aliya, Yucy, Masani, Latifa, Belladonna, Laura, Beth, Melissa, Shadiyah, Dianna, Amanda, Bonnie, the performers and audience at the Five Seasons a few months ago, when I wasn’t there… and all the people that called and offered any sort of support this year. Thanks. A lot. I mean that.

I’m still very, very behind on email; so if you haven’t heard from me, and there’s something important or time-critical, please do send it again.

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Early retirement?

the rumors will circulate quickly, i’m sure… so let me get a few things out before they do.

my camera gear (and cell phone) was stolen this weekend, so i’m effectively out of the photography business (at least as far as new photographs) for the near future. i’ll be spending some time with stuff i’ve already shot, but obviously, i won’t be doing any new work until the gear is replaced – and that could be a while.

on the upside, since i won’t be spending time “out in the field,” this is a good time to let me know if you want some work done on material i’ve already shot. on the other hand, my inbox is completely overwhelmed right now, and i can’t even tell how far the backlog goes at the moment, so please bear with me…

i don’t mean to be down, but 2007 is very un-fun so far, so i need to think about what’s gone on, and where i should go from here.

Posted in Personal | 3 Comments

An appeal

with the new year, i’ve done some reflecting, and i’ve come to some unpleasant conclusions…. so i’m going to make an oblique, broad request to the dance “community.”

stop finding reasons and excuses not to do something, and do something. do something for each other.

give me a reason to work with you. give anyone a reason to work with you.

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Thanks to Shadiyah

… a little late coming (and not just because thanks gets people in trouble….), but I wanted to recognize Shadiyah‘s efforts to populate the dance calendar. She’s put a lot of time into making that a useful and up-to-date feature here. So, thanks.

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Giving thanks

It’s a bit early to be the thanksgiving season, but I wanted to say a quick thanks (despite the fact that doing so can get me into much trouble) to the dancers of this past weekend – both individually and collectively – for providing some measure of faith in my work with belly dance. I won’t name names here, but if you happen to stop by – thanks.

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extracted from tribe.net – on the city paper “dissing” belly dance

because this was not easy to find, i’m copying my 2.5-cents over here into my own space, with a link to the original thread. in light of recent events, i am probably too thankful, but in the interest of integrity, this is what i said when i said it. it’s been over a year, but the issues keep coming up, so… from my own dark past (and happy halloween), i present my thoughts on a subject that came up in baltimore. hopefully in a place that people can find it a little faster…

As a reminder, the following material is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

i’ve read this thread with interest, and i’ve been very much swamped with dancing stuff and other-life stuff over the past several days, but i do want to chime in with a bit of an “outsider perspective.” i apologize if this is a bit disjointed and incoherent – i really haven’t had time to “write” as much as “spew”…bellydance is a performing art, and as such i have one general thing to say to everyone at all levels – and it’s something i often said to musicians when i worked with them – the only thing that matters, and i have to emphasize that, the ONLY thing that matters in a performing art is finding your audience. it doesn’t matter if that is an audience of one (yourself) or dozens or hundreds or millions. find the people that you connect with. find them at home, in restaurants, in theaters or in stadiums – it doesn’t matter where. find your audience. respect that audience once you’ve found them, and your career, no matter what path you find yourself on, is a success. success can’t be measured in dollars or tickets or t-shirts. it can’t be measured in pop charts or tv appearances. success (and this is my own personal definition, so take it that way), is that connection between a performer and their audience. make that connection, and the rest will play out well.

and now to do some ranting… i’ve said much of this to several people (hi people!) in person, but i guess this is the big opportunity to put it all “out there” in one place… luck you :)

in case it isn’t painfully obvious to anyone here, i do respect the dance and the dancers. i do have a very real personal and professional interest in this dancing thing that you do. i am inherently pro-bellydancing, even if it’s not called bellydancing (and even if inherently is not the ideal choice of words…). i’m also an “interloper” and “outsider” so i probably have a slightly different perspective.

this is an art form, and i think it should be treated like one.

when i first ran into this paragraph in the city paper, i made a quick editorial comment in my own space ( www.rojisan.com/dance/foru…_bellydance ), which essentially boils down to “take it up a notch. please.”

the thread here is a very powerful indication that could very well happen… and for that i am very thankful.

so first, let me say that i am amazed at the depth and breadth in the dance community (speaking in the broadest sense of community) in the area. the variety of talent here is truly impressive. on the dc side of the area, just the parade of world-class workshops and events in recent and coming months is ample evidence of the talent and dedication of the dancers in this area.

as dancers, you live in a slightly different reality – to dancers, names like rachel brice, suhaila, ansuya, jill parker, heather stants, delilah and [sometimes – www.gildedserpent.com/art29/m…iles.htm ] miles copeland mean something. outside the dancers+family+friends, not so much – and that’s ok. just to riff on a comparison from this thread, i imagine most of the dc tribal readers won’t have any knowledge of darcey bussell or alina cojocaru (and how exactly do you pronounce that?). despite grand assertions of “superstardom,” dancers in this field just aren’t quite at the public-awareness level of, say, a michael jackson or a michael flatley, so there’s much room to evolve. bellydance hasn’t had it’s breakout superstar yet – there hasn’t been a baryshnikov that captured the global public’s attention yet… and i do mean yet.

the city paper paragraph is, i think, a valid reflection of the broader public’s perception – even if it’s just the jaded arts&entertainment staff at the local weekly rag – it’s still a perception from “outside the bellysphere.” it’s probably also worth noting that the city paper and similar papers generally run with a relatively dry humor, and when it’s close to home and personal (like this is to many dancers), that can get lost.

there is at least an attempt at humor here, and some respect for the dance is buried in there. even the city paper acknowledges that this is a “trend” – now maybe i’m being overly generous, but at least they didn’t say “worst fad we’d like to throw a robe on” or “ugliest public spectacle” or “what dahell are these women thinking?” so maybe it is a trend (i think more of a cyclical thing myself…). perhaps most important to this discussion, there’s an obvious level of ignorance in the piece – “bells on their fingers” and the thing about hiring people to shake their asses. i think what you’re seeing here is an opportunity, if you twist yourself around and grab just the right perspective. and i don’t mean trading in your zils for bells…. i mean a little education can go a long way to shaping public perception. there’s a big public outside the bellysphere.

this area is saturated with talent and potential talent. there are literally hundreds of dancers, in this form, in this area. i usually figure something in the neighborhood of 1000 dancers around here, and then start splitting that up in various ways to make points about the business of bellydance or something – if only because 1000 makes for easy math. that’s a lot of dancers. but it also demonstrates an interesting question – how “serious” do you have to be to “count” as a dancer? does a 4-week class at the local health club count? does a couple hours working with a really bad instructional video count? do you have to dance in public? says who? i’ll come back to that thought eventually…

it’s basically my job to watch the dancers, but i occasionally sneak a peak at the audiences as well, and i have to say this: it’s a lot of familiar faces – it’s other dancers, and friends, and family and a few strange people like myself that show up at a lot of events. there are a few different “types” of public performances within this dance – there are the restaurant gigs and weddings and gallery openings and such (and those get lots of unfamilar faces, because people are there for things other than the dancers – like food or the bride or the exhibitor), and there are the shows and more formal presentations (and those are mostly familiar faces), and there are the halfas and student recitals and other informal shows (and those are ALL familiar faces). all of these are important – the history of the dance form makes it a more intimate, close experience than most “performance arts,” and this is a good thing. i would never suggest that performing at a restaurants is a bad thing (but i would suggest that it is not for everyone…).

so, i do want to throw my hat in with ashara’s comments (she is generally brilliant, so i’m completely comfortable with that…), and echo this: “WE as dancers need to get our acts together to work on technique and professionalism.” her thoughts are a bit more developed and eloquent than my “take it up a notch,” but that’s where i’m headed… and now i’m going to start making trouble…

baltimore is a strange place for many reasons, but to attempt to answer a couple questions that have come up in this thread… i imagine that the city paper arts&entertainment staff end up seeing so many bellydancers in baltimore for two reasons – one is that there are a lot of bellydancers in baltimore, and the other is that those bellydancers tend to offer their services to arts events throughout the city – cheap or free. so, arts&entertainment reporters tend to be at events where baltimore bellydancers tend to be, and that apparently got a little old.

before you eat me alive, i do understand the importance of getting experience as a dancer in front of an audience, but please, please, please, respect the form and respect the other dancers, and if you’re a student, or generally inexperienced, say so. say so very prominently. don’t pitch yourself as a professional. you’re not. seriously. if john q. public sees a “bellydancer” that’s had a couple months of classes and comes away from that performance with the perception that it’s all “ass-shaking” and “bell ringing” that’s a problem for everyone. i personally have faith that even john q. public can tell the difference between a professional dancer and a beginning dancer – if they have the opportunity to see both. i think even people completely ignorant of the structures and movements and rhythms and styles and culture behind this dance form would be able to look at a[n advanced] student dancer and, for example, an artemis, and recognize that artemis is in an entirely different league (to riff on another analogy from here). the problem is that john q. public doesn’t see artemis – he only sees the street festival, and seeing the street festival doesn’t [often enough] come away from it thinking “you know, i really gotta check out some other bellydancers… that rocked!” in at least one case that we know of, they come away thinking “seen it. blah.”

there’s a wonderful community spirit in this dance, and i certainly don’t want to tear that apart in any fashion. the community spirit (when the communities aren’t too busy being warring tribes, that is…) is one of the greatest things about this dance. but, and i hope i can get away with saying this as a bit of an “outsider,” there’s no quality-control or professional respect in this dance. in most other performing arts, there’s a gatekeeper of some kind – a critic, a producer, an a&r rep, or, best of all, a teacher – that stands between a performer and the public and has the ability and [most importantly] responsibility to say “you’re not ready yet.” in most performing arts, rejection is 99% of the game. actors and models get to endure cattle-call auditions with dozens or even hundreds of equally “qualified” competitors vying for one job. musicians have to audition to sit in the orchestra. ballerinas have to survive the russian dance instructor with a big hickory stick before they even GET to audition. in bellydance, there’s a universal acceptance – and that’s a wonderful thing for what it is – but it’s a challenge you, as dancers, have to deal with when your art form comes face-to-face with the general public.

to make this very personal and very local – i basically can’t afford to work in baltimore. the baltimore bellydance “scene” (such as it is) basically gives me one opportunity a month (the five seasons, first sundays) to work with baltimore bellydancers. beyond that, i’d have to fight horrible lighting and ugly backgrounds in restaurants with one dancer, to try to get any picture worth keeping, and she’s getting paid so little that she can’t afford to buy anything from me anyway, so my chances of covering dinner and gas for the effort are about zero. don’t get me wrong – there are great dancers in baltimore (some of my favorites), but given the wage-scale in the city and the lack of “show” events, the economics just aren’t there. i end up shooting something unfun (say, something other than a dancer) rather than taking my chances in baltimore. baltimore is in trouble [cue the music man soundtrack…]

now a few random thoughts and criticisms and suggestions… in no particular order

call this an art, and treat it like an art. take it seriously. focus on developing your own skills, and your professionalism. realize that you’re not just representing yourself, but you’re representing thousands of dancers that have dedicated millions of hours [and dollars!] to this thing you’re doing. you may be the first bellydancer that someone ever sees. make sure it’s a solid first impression. make them want to see and learn more.

try, at least a little, to pull this thing in the direction of a profession, together, as a community. if you’re not out there trying to make this into your personal profession, at least don’t cut the dancers that are [trying to make it their personal profession] off at the knees. that’s just mean.

do the festivals, do the gallery openings, do the restaurants, but while you’re doing all those things, do put some effort into organizing some shows, some next-level stuff. do put a lot of effort into getting people from outside the bellysphere to see something impressive with this form. you’ve got the talent in this area. make something amazing with it. in fact, let me know what i can do to help you do it.

this region has some of the most amazing dance talent in the world – you have so much variety and depth here it’s simply amazing. technically it might not be quite as progressive as, say, san francisco, or quite as well-populated as, say, new york, but take a serious look at the talent available here. you should be doing world-class shows. and i’m not saying “world class” as hyperbole – one thing that san francisco and new york can’t offer is the breadth of world culture available in washington dc (there is an embassy for just about every country in that city, you know… you literally have direct access to the world here).

try, at least a little, to expand the pie a bit. i’ve seen so much energy wasted on fighting over “turf” rather than expanding the available turf. find new places to dance. if you can’t find any, make some. there are huge gaps in the local geography (at least in my perception) – look around catonsville/ellicott city, towson/timonium, fells point, silver spring, college park, rockville/germantown, and even out in the direction of annapolis. there are places around here that have dance stuff, but could probably support more – takoma park, georgetown, and out along I-66. regular, consistent shows are easier to publicize than one-time events. look at things like the starlight shimmy (hi zareen!) and five seasons (hi na’lani!) and decoy lounge (hi yucy!). do something every quarter, or every other month, or even every month. do it in a school auditorium or a community center, or an american legion hall or whatever. and when you’re putting your show together, please think of me a little and try to have some light :) i will be there anyway (probably), but good light is nice once in a while…

if you read the previous paragraph and decided that i don’t think the market is “over saturated,” you’re right. at the moment the wameda website lists 13 restaurants/clubs with dancing (and yes, it’s missing some), most of which only have one or two nights a week. there’s about 7 million people in this region. how many of them have seen you dance?

when you’re putting shows together, don’t intentionally schedule your stuff at the same time as other stuff. seriously. that’s just mean. scheduling conflicts will happen, but lots of them can be avoided.

students need places to perform, and they need the support of their dance-mentors when they do it. so consider leaving some room for the up-and-coming dancers to gain some experience under your banner as you expand this pie. find an appropriate place, with a supportive audience, and let the students roll. it’s worked before with the rising star events (hi katie!). don’t eat your young – it’s bad for the species.

don’t send students or baby dancers out and say they’re professionals or even let the public assume they’re “professionals.” for their own sake, and for the sake of the bigger picture, be straight with your audience. remember that thing i said up at the beginning about respecting your audience? this is part of it. the public can be cruel. don’t send your young out for the wolves to eat either – that is also bad for the species.

get over yourselves a bit. realize that if you don’t get to dance at a restaurant or a show, that it might NOT be personal. you don’t have time to hold grudges over stuff like this. someone long ago told me, “don’t attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” so if you didn’t get hired for a gig, maybe the person doing the hiring was stupid. then embrace the idea that we’re all stupid at some point or another and move on to the next thing.

if you’re doing restaurant gigs (and these are not for everyone), realize that the restaurant owner is paying you for a specific function – you’re there to make the restaurant more money. there’s basically just a couple ways to do this – you either bring more people through the door, or you keep people there (and drinking) longer than normal. try to expand the dance offerings into the weekdays. if you add 10 new people to a friday night that already has 100 people coming through the door, that’s not nearly as much impact as adding 10 new people to a tuesday night that only has 25 people. if someone gets a new restaurant gig, especially on a weekday night, support that – go to the shows, see the new space, meet the owner, it’s good for everyone – even if you don’t get hired “on the spot.” if restaurants realize that dancers are an asset and actually do improve their bottom line (and aren’t just a novelty thing for their own personal entertainment), believe me, there will be more gigs for everyone.

you do not need to spend any time “dissing” any other dancers. you don’t have to love everyone in this dance, and you may have had some personal issues with individual dancers. that’s fine. you don’t have to work with everyone. embrace the bigger picture. respect is a huge part of being a professional. respect the dance, and respect each other, even if you don’t LIKE each other. if someone doesn’t dance in public, that’s ok – it doesn’t mean they work any less than the rest of you. if someone has a different business approach or philosophical approach, or cultural approach to dancing, that’s ok – it doesn’t mean they’re any less serious than the rest of you. even if they are less serious or don’t work as hard, so what? respect people that dance for no one but themselves. respect people that dance to preserve a specific culture. respect those that dance in a different way or style than you. respec those that dance hard just to make a quick buck on weekends. and while you’re doing all this respecting…

be critical, but be constructively critical. i’ve going to bring up a very sore subject now, and that’s a little article that appeared in the wameda newsletter some time ago – that was critical. and then the wrath and fury of all the heavens came down on the author for writing it and wameda for printing it. well, i hate to rub people the wrong way, but someone needed to get out there and say that stuff. perhaps it wasn’t the most tactful approach, and perhaps the writing could be better, but the nugget of truth in all this is that being critical is necessary in a profession. if you’re all already perfect and the dance is already perfect, and the business is already perfect, why aren’t you all shoveling piles of cash in my direction for giant beautifully framed art prints? hopefully i’m taking some of my own medicine with this thing – it’s getting pretty long and pretty critical so far. it worries me that nearly every critical comment in this thread is prefaced with some sort of “ducking” comment. that says a lot about how the dancers take criticism. you’re all strong women, you can handle it. this will be harsh: if you’re not strong enough to take criticism from other dancers that [probably] know how hard you’ve worked and what you’ve put into this thing, you are no where near ready to be calling yourself a “performer” or “teacher.”

if you’re going to be serious about being a professional in this business of dance, realize that it is a business – and beg (if you have to) to get the magazines, associations, websites and events to provide you with some information on making this a profession and a business. it’s always nice to see pretty pictures and read reviews and personal editorials on gilded serpent (to pick on one site) or in the wameda newsletter (another) – but they can do so much more. ask. you are their audience. artemis does her workshops and her stuff. piper, carolena and suhaila have their certification things (and i’m sure there are others…). that’s not enough.

never stop learning. you’re not that good.

get a real teacher, be a good student. if you’re teaching and you’ve got students that want to perform in public, consider it your personal responsibility to clue them in on things like health and safety and ethics and professionalism and culture. if you can’t do it, refer them to someone that can. there is no excuse for sending “baby dancers” out into the wild unprepared. if you’re out there calling yourself a teacher and getting paid to be a teacher, realize that there is a lot of responsibility that comes with that title, even if the pay scale sucks. taaj and some compatriots have tried to address some of these issues with MEDIA ( www.mediadance.org/ ). artemis has her workshops. within driving distance, there wonderful, truly good people with hundreds of years of professional experience. if you’re in this geographic area, you don’t get to make excuses for missing it.

i’m not totally sold on certifications, but i do think there’s room for some formality in instruction. this is already way too long for most people to read, but if you’ve made it this far, and you’d like me to do a brain-dump on that subject, get in touch with me – i’m sure that will end up being another book-length exposition.

anyway, i have to get back to work… but before i do, i want to say it here at the end, because i do mean it – thanks for what you do.

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teaching physics with dance

Ok, so it’s pole-dancing, but… Popular Science has a piece called “Flight of the Pole Dancer” that explains an unfortunate dancing incident in terms of Newton’s First Law.  Come and get your physics while it’s hot…

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four superheroes

i’ve been sitting on this far, far too long, because i had plans. as with most plans, things change.

so, because this is important on its own, i present, ak comics.

four superheroes create a new vision for the middle east and its nations.

i’m not into comics, myself… but this is a positive thing, and that’s important.

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