Monday, September 26, 2011

Drama, drama, everywhere: How to handle it gracefully

Drama is an unfortunate part of belly dancing. No matter how hard you try, it always finds a way to insert itself into your shows, your classes, and your professional life. You wish you could find a way of eliminating it, or just avoid dealing with it, but unless you choose to stop dancing all together, you'll always find that you have to deal with the drama.

Depending on where the drama originated from, you may not have to be involved, but you usually have to make a choice. Do I get involved or don't I? Whose side should I take? Should I even take a side? What will this mean for my professional life?

Dancer versus Dancer

Most of the drama I've seen has been between dancers. One dancer might accuse another of stepping on her toes, and both sides of the argument will get someone to back them up. With this type of drama, if you are not directly involved, you can safely remain an arm's length away from. If the involved dancers are professionals, they may even be able to handle it with grace, and without ruining it for everyone else.

For instance, one of my bellydance friends and I were visiting a city we used to live in, and we took some of the local dancers to see my old teacher perform. As it turned out, one of the locals we were with was locked in professional combat with my old teacher. Fortunately, the local dancer was completely professional, sat through the performance, and never mentioned it again. This is an ideal way to handle drama, especially if you end up at a show or workshop with someone your troupe,  teacher, or friends has crossed words with.

Another type of dancer vs. dancer drama can involve the entire troupe. When it's a troupe at war with another troupe, things can get very sticky, especially if you are all located in the same area. You'll often find yourselves competing for gigs, and a lot of the time you'll be at the same gig.

If you're not a senior member of the troupe, it's best to remain professional when interacting with the other troupe--if you have friends in that troupe, perhaps agree to remain friends but not get involved in the troupe drama. The last thing you want to do is let a small argument ruin your friendship. However, if the drama is getting out of hand, or the senior members are making ridiculous demands on what you can and can't do (such as seeing a friend from the opposite troupe outside performances), you'll want to consider changing troupes.

If you are a senior member of a troupe, try to remain the bigger person and at least work things out enough so both troupes can remain in the same geographical area and not get in each other's way. If that's not possible, maintain a professional demeanor at all times: don't gossip and don't tell your troupe members to slander or attempt to sabotage the opposite troupe. Remember that your actions are indicative not just of yourself and your troupe, but of bellydancing in general.

Student versus Teacher

This is a tough situation to be in. You don't think it can happen, but there's all sort of things that can cause student vs. teacher drama. For instance, perhaps a teacher is putting down a student's previous training. Or a student decides she's learned enough and decides to start parroting the teacher's lessons down the street without the teacher's blessing. Or a group of students circumvents the teacher and starts bidding for the same gigs as the student group.

Again, if you're not directly involved, try to stay out of it. Unfortunately, with student vs. teacher drama, especially if it involves several students, you might be forced to choose sides. If you've been with your teacher for a long time, you should have developed a high level respect for and her talents, so it's best to remain on her 'side'. However, refrain from gossip and slander, and be sure to support your teacher and the remaining students. If the teacher is at fault, you may have to find a new teacher. In this case, asking other dancers you trust--perhaps the students who are leaving--for a teacher recommendation.

Other kinds of drama

Sometimes drama doesn't even involve other bellydancers. It can involve a third party, such as a musician, an event coordinator, or even a vendor. I recently experienced dealing with this type of a drama when a vendor locked horns with my teacher. For me, it was easy to figure out what to do. I trusted my teacher, and have been with her longer than I've known the vendor, so I remained on her 'side'. I did ultimately make the the decision to stop visiting the vendors store, but there are other places I can get my costuming and jewelry. Unfortunately for my teacher, because she and the vendor are in the same geographic location, they will have to work with another for large shows. My teacher has chosen to remain as professional as possible, be honest with her troupe, and try to work together to achieve a great show.

This kind of drama, where it's focused outside the dancers but still involves the community, will still affect you in the long run. What happens if your troupe falls out with a musician or an event coordinator, and later when you're doing solos, you find you have to work with them? Hopefully, the primary parties will understand and not put you under stress by forcing you to become involved. If you do find that's the case, though, it's best to remove yourself from the situation. Remember, there will always be other opportunities elsewhere. Is it really worth it to participate when you'll have to deal with drama the entire time?

With dealing with drama in the belly dance world, just remember a few things: Always remain professional and courteous, and refrain from trying to undermine any of the involved parties. If you find yourself in a situation, remember that you are all Bellydancers, and give each other the respect you deserve.

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