THERE IS AN ELEPHANT ON THE DANCE FLOOR!

SADIE MARQUARDT

International Performing Artist, Instructor & Choreographer

There is an elephant on the dance floor!! And I know it has your attention. 

Please enjoy my perspectives on change and learning to navigating the territory between staying “relevant” and staying “true”. 

 I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts and feelings on the ever Changing World of Bellydance for sometime. But honestly I have had to sit with this one for awhile!

The 21 century, for better or worse, is here to stay. Or should I say “it’s here to change”!

It is quite romantic to ponder life without all the technology, but unless you plan on joining the Amish community at some point you have to examine your relationship with the digital world. My mom owns 80 acres of farm land in Wisconsin, I bought her a smartphone for her birthday so I can send her photos of my son growing up. She cried and strongly resisted. She hates change and she has extreme anxiety around anything digital. She finds peace and comfort tactily working with her hands building things. But even she has embraced small doses of technology, seeing how it can keep us connected and even considering how it could transform her business and potential as an organic farmer. As a mother I find myself conflicted over how much technological influence is necessary for my son to thrive in this new world and how much may be counterproductive to his young developing brain and wellbeing.

Changing World of Bellydance

Keeping up with the rate of change is almost a full time job! And keeping up with the pace it has set is even more challenging. Everything is happening so fast and it is easy to feel like we are always at risk of missing an opportunity. The digital age has permeated every aspect of modern life. Like most things there are pros and cons to the new way of the world.

Much of the change and “progress”, especially technological, has been pretty cool and exciting to me. It has allowed for so much growth and opportunity in our industry. But there is a dark side, “magic comes with a price”. I always try to stay open to the positives and work through my unease when change takes me out of my comfort zone but it is not easy. I find it to be even more difficult in the realm of my dancing, both professionally and personally. Social media trends challenge many of my deepest feelings, beliefs and rituals around my dance practice.

I believe in hard work. I believe it was the years I spent perfecting my craft in private that earned me my praise in public. I believe that what I put my heart into artistically, as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Time is imperative for creative people. I have often said and felt that time is my muse. Along the artistic journey we need time: time to grow, time to marinate on ideas, time to align with our center, time to develop a voice, time to step away and come back with a new fresh perspective. That is why I LOVE writing my newsletters. It takes days. It offers me time to process my thoughts and feelings. What an invaluable gift!

The vanity and self-obsession of the “instant gratification” culture has left no room for this process! It has taken the personal joy and fulfulment out of doing something for oneself and has put all motivation in doing something for the superficial reaction of others attention and approval.

The sacred beauty and diversity of this dance is being replaced more and more by extreme narcissism! Please don’t get me wrong. Social media has many great benefits and I continue to enjoy them myself but there are very unhealthy behaviors taking place that are almost vile! Robbing new dancers from discovering the spirit of the dance and leaving many of us wondering where it has gone? I know I am not alone in my concerns. It has been coming up a lot lately on the professional circuit and among my students. We all want to know how we fit into this perverse selfy circus since it seems to be the new norm and standard for promoting oneself in many industries including ours.

Skewed algorithms on social media typically only show you and suggest the content with the most views and likes making you feel like you need to join the pissing contest to be among them.  The content and quality of bellydance selfy videos are becoming evermore hyper-sexualized in nature. Let me be the first to say I am all for women expressing every aspect of themselves, including sexuality. In fact I think it is damaging to deny that aspect of ourselves but I don’t believe that the current trend is one of empowered, liberated motives. This is one of the saddest points for me since Bellydance has always had a strong current of empowerment associated with it. Our community is being influenced by the standards of pop culture more and more.
Social media has also brought shaming to a whole new level of cowardice!
Like any of us needs the help of a pathetic, faceless troll on the internet to let us know how far from the unrealistic standard of beauty we are!
My blood pressure is rising just thinking of it all and I imagine yours might be too!  Time-out and deep breath. All is not lost!!  I think it is so important to share these real concerns.
We are never alone. I am such a private person that I forget that. There have been a few occasions I put my feelings in a google search to realize I am actually totally normal. And as much of a celebrity you may think I am, I struggle with all these very real issues that also affect my life and wellbeing. Sometimes I am so fed up and feel so disconnected from the joy and fulfillment dance can offer me, that I just want to be done with it and move to the farm with my mom! (Actually that is my life dream and goal. I just envision dance being a part of that.)
Upon self-examination I realize I almost always feel that way when my values, beliefs or identity is being threatened or challenged.  And that is when I realize I need to follow my authenticity compass more. How do we find balance, integrity and honor amidst the inevitable, often unhealthy environment of social media? Where do we find ourselves, let alone stay true to ourselves as people and as artists and not crack under the pressure of duck lips?
My humble advice would be to step away and remember that social media is NOT a direct correlation for success. Some people have huge social media fan bases and are not working or producing much because they have no real life support base. Others have a small social media presence but have huge student bases in their studios and schools and are producing lots of great real-time, real-life experiences and material!
Get off social media for some days or weeks. You will see that life goes on and you are still important and valuable in the “real” world. Detox from the news feeds that can make you feel inadequate or insignificant. There are many things you can do to gain much needed perspective and create healthy boundaries and balance.

Here are just a few of the things I do:

  • Stay connected to nature!
  • Nurture real life relationships in real time face to face or voice to voice. Calling my grandma every Monday for an hour is one of the highlights of my week.
  • Use social media as a tool for change! How can you empower others through your content instead of perpetuating unhealthy standards or negativity?
  • Be playful but mindful. Share video clips of yourself and other dancers who inspire you and emulate the beauty and diversity in the dance!
  • Design your newsfeed. Get rid of everything that doesn’t serve and empower you.
  • Dare to be original! Sit alone with your creativity and the music and trust what comes out. No imitating or borrowing moves. Be organic in your movement! You have so much more potential than you know!
  • Be creative!  Just because everyone else is posting selfie pics and videos every dang day doesn’t mean you should. Take the time to create something beautiful worth watching over and over even years from now. Limit “instant gratification” content. Think quality over quantity. If you are constantly posting free, low quality content of yourself you devalue its power and effect. Big corporations have studied “free content” and guess what? Giving yourself away online is not in your best business interest. Every smart dancer I know who runs a successful business is completely against this free daily content trend.
  • Approach all social media engagement as an experiment. Some things may generate buzz and most will not. Don’t be totally against posting content, just do it in your style! People are attracted to things online the same way they are in the real world. By unique, original concepts and ideas. We’ve seen enough twerk bellydance videos and duck lip selfies. Start a new trend.
  • Get off social media and get dancing!!! Truly experience the thing you fell in love with in the first place!! And don’t always feel the need to broadcast it to the world. Just do it for yourself and enjoy the moment.
  • If you do suffer from narcissistic tendencies, counter it with some humility. Do something kind for others without compensation or expectation. Make an anonymous donation. And please do not post a selfie of you doing so!

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