Belly dance, in the last 50 years or so, has become a worldwide phenomenon practiced in its variety of styles all over the world. This dance form is practiced in all continents and in countries across a range of cultures and locations including China, USA, Russia, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Germany, Spain and Argentina, in addition to in countries in which it originated i.e. Egypt and Turkey. Belly dance is danced and appreciated worldwide and this means that there is a global network of dancers, a network which is more like a community and from my experience, always welcoming.
You might be wondering, therefore, how to get in contact with other like minded people who also love this dance form. It is great to be able to exchange ideas and experiences with people who share a common passion, and there is no shortage of other belly dancers around the world for you to meet. If you are at an upper intermediate level or above in terms of your dancing ability, you may find it hard to meet other dancers because you may no longer attend weekly classes, a situation which I have experienced. At a certain level of ability, you may find that it is harder and harder to find classes that meet your level, unless you live in a big city like London. Hence, you may want to keep on practicing belly dance, but you may miss the sense of community you used to find in a class. Some people start teaching and therefore share their passion with their students, but not everyone has the time or the inclination to do so.
Fortunately, technology now enables us to meet other dancers and to keep in contact with each other, much more easily than before, and without always having to travel so far. By using technologies such as the Internet, Skype Video and tools such as an iPad, you may not be able to physically meet other dancers often enough, but at least you will be able to exchange ideas as often as you like. Let us examine below some of the ways in which we can keep in contact as a belly dance community.
My favourite way of meeting other belly dancers, although not cheap, is travelling. There are belly dance events all over the world that are great to attend, such as The Tribal Massive in Las Vegas, which is one of the biggest bellydance events that has been taking place for over ten years, as well a myriad of big and small events worldwide. If you are a belly dance enthusiast, travelling for these events is a great way to combine travelling and dancing.
One of the main ways I travel for dance is to go once a year to a country such as Egypt, Morocco or Turkey to get dance training directly. You can travel on your own, or go on an organised trip, if you do not know the place or simply prefer to have travel companions for the journey itself. I have been to Egypt for dance training a couple of times to Cairo and Luxor with Faridaadventures and those were great experiences. I am also going to go to Morocco with Nawarra, a Moroccan dancer based in Leeds, UK, who frequently organises trips to Morocco that include many hours of training in northern African dances.
If you are travelling on your own, for training or to attend events, and would like to find affordable accommodation, Airbnb is a website that provides a great alternative to traditional hotels and B&Bs. I tend to use this service, unless I am going on one of the organised group trips. One thing I try and do is to seek out accommodation which is offered by fellow belly dancers and to do this I do a Google search by entering ‘belly dancer airbnb cityname’ (replacing the cityname with the actual city name). This way you can often stay in the local destination with a dancer at their house.
What is AirBNB – On Airbnb people who own properties and would like to rent one or more rooms to travellers, offer accommodation for a fee. So, they are not hotels nor B&B, but private individuals offering a place in their own home or apartment, hence the prices of accommodation are lower. However, these are people who rent not only for money but also because they enjoy meeting new people, so they are hospitable and can give you advice on the place you visit. You can read about the interests and hobbies etc of the host and the people offering accommodation get rated by visitors and this provides a certain level of trust also. Overall and to date, I have found it a great way to stay and meet other belly dancers. I have always had great experiences. When you book through Airbnb, you do not pay your host directly, but via the site and they will then pay the host, so there is no direct money exchange.
Go to Airbnb (and get £30 FREE credit).
Nowadays the internet is by far the cheapest, fastest and easiest way to both keep in touch with dancers you already know, or want to touch base with. There are countless social media platforms that belly dancers can use, in addition to websites, blogs and specialised forums to exchange ideas, keep in contact and organise real life events. I will list below, some examples of ways to keep in contact digitally and some of the social media platforms that are most commonly used at the time of writing.
There are so many of these about belly dancing, that it is impossible to even begin listing them. Many are run by teachers to give information about their classes, other give general information about the dance and others, especially blogs, are the most interactive with a comments section in which you can post your comments and actively engage with the blog writer and other belly dancers. Nowadays, with content management systems such as Worpress, it is becoming easier than ever for anyone to start their own blog or professionally looking website. You can read more in my post about promoting your classes online.
These are useful to ask and answer questions, as well as finding out what topics are trendy in the field and get some useful ideas. Two of the most commonly used ones and that have been established for quite a long time are Bellydanceforums.net and the forum in Bhuz.com.
Facebook at the moment is the most used site for organising events, promoting classes, networking and simply keeping in touch. I for one use it a lot for networking and to find out what people are doing in the belly dance community. Twitter is also very commonly used for short updates, while Google+ (join me on Google+) is the more recent social platform by Google. Meetup.com is also often used by bellydancers, who use it to create meet up groups. These are groups that start virtually, but the aim is for people to meet in real life. In order to start a group in Meetup though, you have to pay.
A social platform I like a lot is InterNations.org, which is different from other social platform websites, in that it is aimed at expatriates, people who like to travel and those who want to socialise with people from various countries. There are InterNations groups that meet regularly all over the world, since the aim of this website is to connect people virtually at first, for them to then meet and socialise in person. While this site is not aimed at belly dancers specifically, it is possible to create groups around specific interests, and post on forums to see if other people are interested in certain activities. Also, as there are InterNations groups in many cities worldwide, if you are travelling you could pop in an InterNations meeting in your destination and meet people, including possibly other bellydancers.
These are not my cup of tea, personally, but some people like to create a virtual belly dance community online. One of the platforms used is Second Life where users can be impersonated by avatars and create whatever life they want and buy items with virtual currency. According to research done by Caitlin McDonald (2013), many of the people who recreate a belly dance community in Second Life, are not those who cannot dance in real life and use computers to do what they do not normally do otherwise. Instead, they are people who belly dance in real life but they just want to recreate a parallel belly dance reality online. They have virtual identities, buy costumes, add belly dance moves to their avatar, organise hafla and meet with other Second Life belly dancers, just as they would in reality.
You can of course meet other belly dancers at events that are organised in various locations. These can range from residential courses, festivals with high profile teachers and workshops to hafla. I always find that, as I travel the world or across the UK for belly dance training and events, I always end up meeting the same people and it is great to be able to catch up with them.
If world and national events are good for meeting people from the wider dancing community, local hafla (belly dance parties) are great to liaise with belly dancers in the local area. For example, I currently live in Cardiff, Wales, and here there is a belly dancing community that brings together the Cardiff and Newport areas as well as the wider south Wales area as far as Swansea. During local events like minded people meet and it is good fun.
Another opportunity for meeting other dancers can be street parades and performances. For example, Cardiff Carnival takes place every year in August. The event includes free street performances, followed by a parade of local performers and dancers. Dance genres include samba, burlesque, belly dance, Indonesian dance, capoeira and more. Attending or participating to events like this can be a good way to liaise with other dancers.
McDonald, C. E. (2013) ‘Digitizing Raqs Sharqi. Belly dance in second life.’, in McDonald, C. & Sellers-Young, B. (eds.) Belly dance around the world: new communities, performance and identity: McFarland & Co Inc, pp. 197-208.