Sunday, 19 November 2017

Cultural Appropriation & Enculturation in the Middle Eastern Dance Arts

Trio of Egyptian Dancers with the Milayah Laff - Photo Courtesy of Mahmoud Reda

Dear dancers, there has recently been much talk about 'cultural appropriation', both in our dance circles and in popular broadcast media. As bellydancers, we will be affected by this issue at some point in our dance-lives; both individually and collectively. Bellydance is largely an appropriated, and often homogenized art form, utilizing bits and pieces from various cultural dances, many of which cross over in terms of historical transfer, innate movement quality, cultural motif and design. So how and where do we need to create boundaries that distinguish ethical use of another culture’s traditions, verses non-ethical treatment of cultural arts, or even worse… how do we deal with total ignorance of the matter? How can we become more discerning as artists, performers and teachers, and establish common ethical ground to better handle the way we understand cultural transference, and are more discerning with the concept of appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is a concept in sociology, dealing with the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. It is commonly understood as the adoption of certain elements from another culture without the consent of people who belong to that culture.

This is a subject, which, by its innate nature and layering of cultural heritages, challenges us to make informed personal decisions during the developmental timeline of our own evolving dance practice. It has been a topic generating both debate and perplexity within the wider international Middle Eastern, or ‘bellydance motivated’ art and dance communities. Apart from site-specific cases, many of the arguments are either vague or disapproving in nature. It is a touchy subject between traditionalists and contemporary or fusion artists especially, and the concept of cultural appropriation has lately been confronted, defended, argued or rationalized… but more often than not, the issue has been selectively ignored. 

In the world of ‘authentic’ Middle Eastern cultural or heritage dance forms (and of course, to be geographically specific, this discussion is inclusive neighboring dances hailing from the regions of North Africa, The Levant, Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and the Caucasus) we have seen a vast array of cultural appropriations as these dances find their way into the Western world, often instigated by people of the country of origin, then adopted by Western dancers. Due to the level of promotion these arts experience in the Western world, the increase in adaptation is exponential. Unless a researcher’s goal is anthropological study, the newer, progressive forms of the original dance will retain cultural elements whilst diversifying; which is a natural process in creative evolution. The purist aims for certainty, and is ethically bound to represent the original format, whilst the creative developer adapts the original forms to create a new collaborative: either cross-cultural or culturally inspired. The sliding scale at the point of cultural representation is vast in itself – even before considering the more indiscriminate or arbitrary use of cultural art forms.

In the field of traditional cultural arts, ‘enculturation’ is the process by which people learn the requirements of their surrounding culture and acquire values and behaviours appropriate or necessary in that culture.

As part of this process, influencers include parents, other adults, and peers. If successful, enculturation results in competence in the language, values, and rituals of the culture. We see this in areas of traditional arts within Egypt, for example in various styles of ‘Baladi’ urban woman’s dance, daughters learn from their mothers, aunts, grandmothers and close female friends of the family. As the girls mature, they integrate current movement influences from MTV and television dance clips. The trajectory of their dance, and the follow through of in-house dance embodiment, is changed by the external influences – which essentially reflect Western and Middle Eastern entertainment industry fuelled cultural appropriation.
We see this phenomenon occurring in the Middle East, particularly where traditional and indigenous dance forms are represented on stage. In representational folkloric styles, the stage is usually a different platform and environment for true folk arts, with a new set of dynamics and inter-relationship – or division - between performer and audience.  In cultural traditions, the line between performer and audience is often blurred, as the social dance becomes an activity where one can be both participant and spectator. Most national 'ethnic' dance troupes advanced their own creativity and forged new directions through assimilating old (traditional) and new performance styles, with various degrees of cultural appropriation. The merging of cultural elements and new adaptations, usually arise from a blend of progressive in-house cultural growth, or incorporate Western stagecraft or theatre prerequisites. Often, the adjustment of local movement qualities is required to be appropriate for stage dynamics. Most national troupes (eg: In Egypt – the Reda, Khomeyya and Ismalia troupes) aim to retain the intrinsic qualities and integrity of the cultural styles they represent to the public, usually in a theatrical stage setting or within a cinema production, with modifications to complement the new visual environment. Their goal is to engage the public with elements they can relate to culturally – albeit through the lens of theatre – through appropriate cultural nuance and receptivity to the audience feedback cycle.

So how can dancers in the Western world, enamoured and inspired by the arts of the East, maintain a clear and fair sense of cultural ethics, applicable to their own artistic development?

The boundaries should be simple enough; time-honored traditional arts should be preserved to reflect their most original state and cultural integrity, through direct communication with the cultural groups from which the artistic modalities originated. These discussions are essential to the development of representational cultural works, and ethically, before the project is entered into, there must be discussion that fosters a deeper sense of awareness. From an ethical point of view, a strategy that is mutually agreed on, should be formed at the onset. If a representative of that culture is not available, as is often the case in vanishing traditions, it is necessary to follow through with anyone who holds a legacy and has researched the art and culture.

Or, on opposite other hand, when fusing various external cultural elements - it is essentially respectful and shows artistic principle to research, name and be discerning with how these cultural elements are integrated into new works. It is fundamentally an ethical issue as to whether dance exponents decide to educate themselves, communicating openly with those from whom they wish to 'borrow' cultural elements. If you endeavor to proceed with integrity, this is a conscious crossroad that will most likely be encountered at some stage in the Middle Eastern dancer or Bellydancer’s professional development. This approach entails an honest, upfront approach. It also means being prepared to be told 'no', or be given cultural guidelines by the originator, and respecting their decision. Farida Fahmy, for example is very firm with the way she believes the Milaya ‘Laff should be handled and represented on stage, as an accoutrement that represents a respectable urban Egyptian ‘baladi’ woman of a certain generation. Quite frankly, she is frustrated with its connection to the flirtatious bargaining and sexualization representing the fictional, street-savvy 'Banat Bahri'. To her, this is a form of cultural appropriation that has affected an integral part of not only an Egyptian theatrical artistic expression, but also Egyptian women's cultural identity. Farida writes about this in "Dancing with the Milayah Laff", and has written many articles which are freely available online for the dance community.

Where does one start with the decision making process about how cultural integration may apply to their own artistry, and gain clarity to avoid issues arising from negative cultural appropriation?

Clarity and communication are essential for ethical integration and cross-cultural or culturally based project development. Sometimes, a written analysis will support the creative development of a dance project’s direction, or at least provide the impetus for a more thorough understanding of the cultural collaborative effort, to give it more meaning in an artistic and/or anthropological sense. Mahmoud Reda’s field research was the foundational backbone of the contemporary Reda choreographies and costume styles he, his brother, Ali Reda and sister-in-law Farida Fahmy developed from the late 50’s in Egypt. In his communications and visits with provincial artists and local performers, he clearly explained that he wished to view and participate in local traditional dances, to inspire contemporary choreographies that maintained an integral link to Egyptian culture and artistic values. He then adapted the dance moves for stage, with Western elements, and created a legacy that, to this day represents the national arts of Egypt, and is respected, and emulated within his country and abroad.

If anyone has not yet purchased Farida Fahmy's UCLA Thesis on the Creative Development of Mahmoud Reda – it would be worth reading, to clarify this process. This document will deconstruct the process of cultural appropriation in an elegant, real-life cultural model of ethics and clarity of intention, when creating a new art-form, inspired by traditional cultural arts. Farida illustrates how the Reda Troupe maintained clear, respectful boundaries within the creative developmental process, and how they managed to integrate the intrinsic qualities of indigenous, social and area-specific artistic expressions, and present them in a fresh new way, in theatrical format.

Cultural appropriation does not only exist in the realm outside the culture in question, but also within it. This phenomenon often occurs in house, within traditional niches as well. Within the cultural niche model, ecological enculturation creates cultural patterns, which are amplified to create the formation of new pattern networks - a form of cultural pattern appropriation. Outside of the culture, when people uptake a cultural pattern that is not of their native culture, and tinker with the inclusion of personal pattern, it becomes known as ‘chance amplification’. In the positive, this process involves a feedback circuit with the original culture. In the negative, the cultural impetus is disregarded or ignored – almost like using a photo or text without getting permission from, or giving credit to the photographer or author. Therefore, the transfer of cultural elements retains its integrity when there is communication between the originators of the specific cultural art, and the artist adapting elements for their own use – whether a direct representation, creative adaptation or fusion work that includes elements of cultural nuance, that requires a knowledge of historical or anthropological heritage. 
Inquiry into cultural aesthetics and their perceived value can guide dancers in the decision making process of cultural representation. For example, are you portraying colloquial gesture, representing traditional artforms, or integrating 'sacred' or ceremonial elements?

In Australian Aboriginal culture, an Aboriginal woman elder must grant an artist the permission to portray elements of their cultural dance and movement patterns. This is because these sacred dance and movement arts are known as  ‘woman’s business’ and embody Aboriginal spirituality.  In other cultures such as the newer Indian Bollywood style, creativity is key – yet a dialogue or direct learning from a true source emanating from the culture, would be a respectful way to learn more about the art and gain familiarity with nuances. However, Bollywood dancing may become confused with sacred Classical Indian temple arts, for those who are simply amalgamating 'movements' for the sake of a fusion dance.

Gesture and cultural aesthetic is also something to be mindful of, as these may be subtle to the untrained eye, or unless being viewed within its own cultural setting. Stories of Egyptian teachers showing vulgar colloquial gesture as part of ‘shaabi’ street-style choreographies have been told, years after these very gestures have emulated by hundreds. If these gestures were used in performances for Egyptian audiences in the East or West--and many certainly were--often in front of more traditionally-minded or elderly people, the unknowing dance performer would have ruined an otherwise ‘likeable’ performance with an unsavoury aesthetic. Unbeknown to the dancer, those few gestures would have painted them as a vulgar, street-wise performer. When European ballet appeared on Egyptian theatre stages in the 60’s, the male dancer lifting the female by holding the crotch area shocked Egyptian audiences, because it was counter-intuitive to their cultural sense of aesthetic and beauty. It was seen as vulgar, transgressing the moral standards of the Egyptian, and consequently censored.
In conclusion, there are many nuances and complexities involved in integrating cultural influences into the Middle Eastern inspired dance arts, particularly the newer, creative and progressive streams such as fusion and contemporary stage-work.

As artists, we would be wise to follow simple ethical guiding principles. Seek direct dialogue with the people representing their cultural traditions (online or in real life) or at least take time to follow through the heritage, history and aim to understand the enculturation of the cultural patterns you will be incorporating before integrating into new work. Not only is it ethically respectful of artistic traditions developed over time, enriched by the spirit and artistry of people of the culture, but you may learn that the deeper you go, the more awareness you gain, and this process will in turn, give your art more meaning and cultural richness.

Keti Sharif

* For further reading of Farida Fahmy's Articles, visit

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Getting your Product or Idea Online


Do you have a creative idea or concept that you feel would reach a wider audience, and benefit more people by being presented as a product that is available online? Online products are a wonderful way to share your Highest Artistic Vision with the world, and as the process is largely automated, it will give you more time to enjoy life and keep creating. 

There are many ways of delivering a product online – yet the basic creative and logistic development of all online projects is similar. This process is most effective when the essential components are approached in a flowing order that allows for integration at all levels. The four main parts are:

1. Creative development of product
2. Product planning and production stages from start to finish
3. Online tech components (the working parts)
4. Marketing and promotion

Once you create a product, there are multiple working parts that must be interlinked to support the sales and promotion of your product. These include an email marketing program to grow your email subscriber base, a website domain, hosting and clear web pages, web links and lead pages. Efficient delivery systems, an easy to use shop page, simple payment gateways and effective social media are all part of this cyber set up. It can seem overwhelming when you look at the scope of tech components required to sell a product – yet when these components are viewed as a connected system of simple, layered steps, it is easier to do.

Everyone has a great idea or an area in which they hold a special interest. If this idea can become profitable, and also serve others – it is a great way of supplementing your income.  We are living at a time where this is easier than ever to do, and people are buying online every minute of the day, 24/7. The advent of social media changed the way we communicate, and can offer a great means of promotion. Its important to be sensitive to your community's needs and stay grounded, remembering that your product is primarily about service. You must communicate your skills, but avoid using the product as a platform for self promotion. Relentless and aggressive self-promotion is irritating and will repel potential buyers.

You only need an idea to start with. Even if you have no technical skills, there are people who can help. In the early days I used to hire people to assist me with tech set up, but over the years I found it was not so hard to learn to put the pieces together. One of my dear dance colleagues had absolutely no computer knowledge, but had some great ideas that were very easy to turn into online products. I set up a small online store for her, and that has turned over $40,000 USD clear profit for her in the last four years. So this has been a relatively easy way to showcase her knowledge, and bring in a small income. She has been able to set her ideas free, and people who are interested in her life work get access to her brilliant ideas. So everyone wins!

In the last 15 years, I have had the pleasure of being able to share creative ideas, cultural research and dance/music methodology with many people around the world, thorough online products. It has proven to be an effective way of making viable career out of my hobbies, passions and main areas of interest. I have created over a hundred individual media products. One of the benefits is more free time, and less work hours. 


The process of online product creation is twofold; the creative side and the tech side. I have learnt some important things to be aware of in the earlier stages to allow the process to run efficiently. There is an order to work with, and it entails a layered process to save time and energy – otherwise you could be doubling up on activities. The projects that follow this basic sequential order have enjoyed the most success. I hope these tips are useful for fellow artists and creators who wish to share their work with a wider international audience.
Draft your initial idea and contemplate the format you envision your product to be translated into, eg: pdf, ebook, film, audio, e-course, or a multi-media project. Will it be part of a larger ongoing project or upcoming event, or contribute to a wider suite of works, and should it be available as a digital or hard copy item… or both? Does it reference your former work or idea, and can therefore be integrated into an existing system, or is it moving in a whole new direction, which will require more work and new infrastructure?
Do some market research on your target audience. What are their areas of interest, what problem do they want solved, what kind of products do they find useful. Study which formats they are already familiar with. Look at establishing a realistic budget and learn what this audience would be willing to spend on a product of this nature. It is an ideal time to do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities threats) of the product idea and its place in your live and online communities, or for your individual potential buyer.
In this initial planning stage, you will be working with the complete time frame from production to launch. Plan how you will get your product’s key message across with clarity, and how your sequential flow of information to the public will progress both before and after the launch. Create a schedule for product production and determine a budget, allowing 20% more in addition to this, in case it is needed. Decide on the over-all look and feel of the production, and become familiar with general pricing and delivery method. You can look at similar items to get an idea, but ideally, your production should offer something unique. Factor in time for delays, changes, challenges and re-doing things. I usually allow 25% more time than anticipated, just incase of delays. Remember to back up media at every stage.
Legalities are essential areas to finalise before production – so make sure that any music, media and IP (intellectual property) is yours, and is stated in a legal contract. If music is needed, liaise with producer of music and their terms to use it in your production, and clear this before starting. Or alternatively source musicians and pay them for their service in creating music for your project, and remember to sign legal copyright documents to use the music even after paying them.
If you need new artwork begin the drafting of the art, logo, font types and creative aspects of your product and related pages at an early stage. Even if photos still need to be taken, some planning at this stage will be useful, for example, the template can be designed and new photos dropped in at a later date. Sometimes, if you have older images or former productions that are referenced in this new product, choose the images and how they feature. Sometimes, if artists already have an established body of work, older images may be referenced, and the same logo and artistic templates can be used.
Draft your essential written copy and make a full description of your product’s aim and content. The content used needs to communicate directly to the potential buyer, so they understand the product and its benefits, and you must make sure that their concerns are addressed. Establishing the product within the wider context of your existing work is also important – so be sure to add a bit about your vision, past related work and how this product can be of service. Decide on various samples that may be included, and describe them. Copy for newsletters, social media, websites, pdfs, shop, etc must be drafted at this stage. As long as the main body of text is established, it is easy to tweak for various media portals (website, landing pages, social media, articles, marketing emails, etc). Get feedback , and if needed, you can enlist the help of a copywriter or editor.
Investigate delivery options and pricing for these. If the delivery method you plan on using offers a free subscription period (many offer a month), join up and do a bit of testing with a sample digital item to get familiar with the inner workings of the system. You may choose an e-shop that offers a payment portal, but also interfaces with a digital delivery system. This is an ideal time to be testing and setting up your ‘shop’ and methods to receive payment. Link your bank account at this stage, and organise any paperwork required for tax purposes (eg: business number, ABN, business name, etc) and set up your preferred payment gateway, eg: Paypal, Clickbank.
Organise a website domain and hosting if you do not have one already. Create an index page as the ‘homepage’ and several other pages which feature, with a common logo and menu. Create a social media link to drive traffic to your website, or create a sign up button on social media. If you don't plan to release a dedicated social media page, group or event until the actual launch date, then be sure to at least test run buttons and links that will become live at a later date.
For people to sign up to your email data base, you need a mail marketing platform, like the free Mail Chimp for smaller audiences, or paid versions like Madmimi, Constant Contact, Aweber and more. Set this up early and if you are already communicating with students or colleagues who may be interested, begin gathering emails via a newsletter or social media. Testing is essential to make sure all interfaces and newsletter boxes are sending traffic to the correct lists. This is where you can set up drip campaigns, where someone signs up and they receive several emails delivered at regular intervals.
Culminate your research on the topic, find suitable support material – images, music, etc, again, addressing IP and copyright. Practice your body of work, and become familiar with demonstrating or talking about it clearly if that is a part of the project. Make a plan with realistic deadlines, don't cram too much into a working day, and allow time in between tasks in the case of unforeseen circumstances eating up precious time. This is a time to stay focused, and also be aware on not getting stressed. You really need to clear out large chunks of time and say no to distractions. It is useful to prepare everything needed for production in this preliminary phase.
Production time entails a working schedule to complete the body of the project. It is also a time of enlisting the services of others, and executing your project’s main body of media work, which may require filming, recording, audio, writing – whatever forms your project takes. Maintain a budget, be aware of time frame and aim to work to a plan. Always take extra photos or document the work in progress, as this may be useful later. This is the most important time to stay physically healthy and mentally clear, especially if you are presenting the work. Be sure to record yourself giving a brief description of the work, or invitation to view, if you do feature in the production yourself. Aim to have some type of support or assistance at this stage, especially to take care of the more mundane things, as these small things use energy that is necessary for focused production work.
Post production is often a time of deadlines and budgeting, so aim to have a smooth schedule to follow with time for hiccoughs or unexpected changes in schedule to occur. Editing, final proof-reading, compilation, etc, happen at this stage. Always back up and make a spare copy of your material in case there are problems with media. This is the time that product artwork and design, and final copy and content, are to be completed – as this represents the final stages of your work. Trailers and final film edits, dvd authoring, audio mastering, and pdf formatting are finished now. Sometimes website graphics will need updating, even on pages that do not relate directly with the product, as you often need exposure on other pages, so do a web check now for maximum exposure of your new product.
This includes the place your product is stored for digital delivery, so now is the time to upload content. It also features your website, specific product web pages or lead pages with links, where customers can view and purchase the product. It is also where people sign up to your email data base, so you need a mail marketing plan, like the free Mailchimp for smaller audiences, to paid versions like Madmimi, Aweber and more. For all parts to work together, set up and testing is essential.
This is the stage to get from post production to the product in its final format – digital or hard copy. If digital, large MP4 movie files may need to be compressed, audio AIFF will need to be converted into MP3 and PDFs or ebook sizes may need to be minimized without quality loss. Hard copy items require pressing, duplication, printing, etc.
Organise your delivery method, which usually means joining or subscribing with a monthly fee. Some digital delivery platforms (also known as e-commerce platforms) include Sendowl, E-junkie, Pulley, Shopify - there are many. These handle all types of digital downloads and can also combine files of various formats into a ‘bundle’. They are great for courses. More specific ones are Vimeo (for video), CD Baby for audio), Pressbooks (for ebooks). There are also some course platforms like Thinkific, which take a percentage. Remember to shop around before this to get a feel for what would suit your item the best. For hard copy items, postage and shipping, or wholesale options need to be taken into consideration. If selling locally or internationally, work out postage costs, including packaging.
Test all products, finalise sequence for launch and be sure all aspects of the product entity are synched and working well, from web pages to social media links, product pages, description and email marketing, product delivery to payment gateways. Some people prefer to entice buyers with a free item in exchange for their email, and do a slow ‘drip feed’ or offer a free educational process, with a limited time offer. Others prefer to make a splash with a special product launch date, where people can get the new product, or perhaps offer a discount or pre-launch to their existing customers. At this stage, no matter what your launch process will be, testing is essential.
On the date you launch your product, be sure to have intro videos or webpage loaded, tested and ready to go. Keep copy and promotional launch content simple and well integrated with all aspects of the product launch to encourage good initial sales. For customer loyalty, you may have a pre-launch for existing customers and introduce a launch for new buyers or subscribers.
You may wish to do some post launch promotions in the days and weeks following the launch. I usually rotate the promotion of my products and group them into several categories. Work out ways of re-igniting interest in the product in time to come, and be sure to start gathering feedback and get testimonials. This is the time to ask for reviews, and get these onto your social media and website. If in the future you are looking at teaming up with affiliates, or people who will sell the product for you, and get a percentage, you will need to create the copy and pages or links they need to proceed with clarity and ease.

If starting out, and you have an ebook and video, that you wish to sell - you can get a free website, get free email marketing from Mail Chimp, and link it to paypal. Paypal take a small percentage of each transaction. You can get a minimal digital delivery quota from Sendowl for around $10 per month that houses and delivers your product for download to the buyer. So your digital costs to run an automated business can be as low as $120 a year. Ongoing costs depend on what your requirements are. I use Sendowl for digital delivery and Madmimi for email marketing, I like them both. Plus I have web and domain hosting plans with other providers. Remember, that all these monthly expenses are 100% tax deductable.

An affiliate sells your product and gets a commission. This widens your market and works for them too. Or you may allow the use of various parts of the project, in return for promotion of your product. It is also possible to team up with other complimentary producers and create a joint venture, by discounting both items as a package for the buyer.

I believe it is achievable for most people to initially sell 50-100 units of product a month with relative ease, even newbies, if it is the right product for your market. Of course, some people can sell thousands of units! The great thing is that these online platforms work for you internationally, 24/7. So you can earn an income throughout the year, even when you are away on holiday. The cyber world does require attention and clear communication, however the benefits are that you have more time available, and your work can be purchased easily. The buyer can receive their download immediately, which is satisfying for them. Making time for regular communication with your community, both online and in person, is essential because the cyber world is still about relationships and listening. 

Good luck with creating your online product! People get access to your ideas and expertise, your product will educate or inspire others, and you create an income flow in the meantime. Its a step by step process - go slowly and you'll find that each step is quite simple in itself... and it is the assembly of small steps that create your final Vision!

Related resources at 

Artist’s Web ($30) 
Grow your vision from the ground up, referencing the Tree of Life as a model for project planning, from its roots to the final web-ready stage. Keti shares an integrated physical/spiritual approach to creating products that reflect your Highest Artistic Vision, and express them in the world. Features 10 video tutorials and a comprehensive project workbook.

The Business of Bellydance ($8)
Tips for success with Bellydance teaching and ventures.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Are You at The Crossroads of Change?

I've been chatting with many dance friends lately, particularly teachers, who feel like they've lost their "bellydance mojo". They feel that the initial spark, their drive or the energy has fizzled around bellydance somehow. Some are saying it feels like burnout... others are saying they yearn for a fresh direction, but are unsure of the path their dance-life should take. Often, the urge is to find something new, hoping it will ignite or renew passion, or shift the focus... and since there are so many possibilities, even that decision seems overwhelming.
Are you at the crossroads of change?
As you've matured, your dance needs will have probably changed. If you're feeling the shift, listen. This is an ideal time to return to SELF, in a gentle and inquisitive way. Our artistic and soul-enhancing needs change as we mature, so we need to process our new sense of maturity, and through honouring it, we can only understand ourselves better.

Your perspectives have probably changed in recent years. Before making any life-changing decisions, engage in some self discovery to find out where you're at RIGHT NOW, to learn more about YOURSELF and what your changing needs are. Resist the urge to take on anything "NEW", fresh or shiny to fill a void or find a new passion.


Allow yourself to pause, reflect, and release expectations.

Before any meaningful change can be facilitated, its essential to return to what is most authentic and important for you. Its a lovely time to find "Who You Are Now" and "The Person You Have Matured Into" in both a personal and dance sense.
Some call it a reality check, or de-cluttering, and others see it as 'clearing the slate'. Basically, you are clearing away the superfluous and laying a fresh foundation for the future. It takes time... and requires a "letting go" process. Sometimes it can be done over a weekend away, perhaps somewhere alone. Or you can carve space from your busy life to contemplate where you're at - allowing weeks or months for the filtering process to distill into knowing what really matters.

There are four main areas where change happens: Head, Heart, Body, Spirit

Who are you now, as a more mature being - 
mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually?

How does each area affect your dance and what needs to change to synchronise with your most recent level of maturity and self?

Questions to ask yourself:

What energizes you?
What drains you?
What makes you feel uplifted and alive?
What needs to be released?
Which path is calling?

This process takes time, and everyone processes at a different rate. The most important thing is to allocate time for this sacred work, and for a guided approach, you can either work with your own method or be supported with an established step by step process.

Shemiran Ibrahim and I spent two years Crafting and creating the Balanced Bellydance program specifically to help dancers navigate these crossroads, and take dancers on a journey into their own "dance rooms", or spaces within your dance-life where powerful change occurs, to clarify your Head, Heart, Body, Spirit room needs. The full program is available online, or you may prefer 5 x separate parts if you prefer to go slowly, step by step and do one part thoroughly at a time. It meets you at your level and will support and build on what you have done to date. It doesn't negate, it only supports. Its there for your personal journey any time you wish to take it. We also have a private online community who is there to listen of you need to share the stages of your journey.

The website is
If you have a dance friend who might be experiencing this, feel free to pass this on.
And if you already have the course, its a great time to resume!

If you have embarked on this journey - feel free to comment and share how you experienced the changes or renewal in your dance-life, that paralleled your maturing sense of self. How was it for you and how did you navigate the crossroads of change?
Keti xx

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Collaboration, Cross-Promotion or Sponsorship?

Hi dancers! 
I've started a blog... the aim is to share insights into areas that are not often discussed, where we make decisions that affect our artistic directions. I'll post a new article each month.

Events and connections make our local and international dance world go round, right? Bellydance sub-culture has grown phenomenally in the recent decade, with more inter-relationships, live and online, than ever before. But how do we discern which associations are the right ones for us and our fellow artists? Collaboration, cross-promotion and sponsorship are three very different relationships that exist in the co-operative dance world. They can be beneficial and uplifting for everyone involved, including the wider community, or conversely, they can become energetically draining and create disharmony. Artistic relationships need to be initiated with clarity and approached with integrity for ideas to flourish within successful associations; either as a short-term projects or long standing future endeavours. These primary connections between established or emerging artists and ideas require clear conversations. What type of artistic connection is being created, how does it develop, and where is its place in the dance world? 

Most dancers who’ve invested their energy in teaching, or have supported students, worked with other teachers, and built a substantial community over the years, will at some point, have others approach them for some form of artistic exchange or merging of ideas. I believe that it is necessary to understand, from the initial conversation, what type of connection this will establish - is it collaboration, cross-promotion or sponsorship that is being discussed? It's a good skill to be able to recognise the difference between those seeking collaboration and those who are actually seeking a sponsor or someone to promote their work or own artistic vision, because your role is very different in each situation.

Firstly, it is essential to get clear on the nature of the connection:

1. Collaboration
2. Cross-promotion
3. Sponsorship

Most people will open the discussion by asking to 'collaborate' with you, when they really may be asking for sponsorship, promotion or cross-promotion. Asking directly for sponsorship can be confronting, and many artists feel uncomfortable saying “Hey, I have a great idea, and could do with some promotion to widen my scope…can you help me?” There is nothing wrong with this, in fact if it is an upfront request for sponsorship, rather than collaboration, the true nature of the artistic connection can be presented clearly.

A collaboration generates a new idea. If a fellow artist initiates a discussion, expressing a desire to team up with you, and believes that both of your strengths can combine to create something new and exciting for you and your respective communities, you are speaking about collaboration. This normally produces new ideas or merges your interests into a mutually supportive direction. It takes both artistic visions into account and often generates what’s known as a ‘creative third solution’ or an idea that was born from the merging of two visions, rather than one. Those who arrive with questions and interest in their fellow artist, are ready and willing to collaborate; this includes a chat about what they’re doing, where they’re at and what their vision is – plus they ask the very same questions and listen to your answers. This shows the level of receptivity needed for real collaboration, because they are interested to see if your combined visions align. They want to know if it's a good match before investing energy, and because they honour their own vision, they will only team up with someone who’s vision resonates with their own. When this initial conversation opens a collaborative merger, there is potential for a true, solid collaboration with longevity and creative bonds.

Collaborators listen, pay attention, give and receive feedback and ask questions, to see where cross-pollination of ideas can exist. If you are speaking with a collaborator, reciprocal discussion is evident from the very beginning. They listen as well as ask questions, and creative new solutions present themselves. Collaborations often have lasting value, even when undergoing transformational change over the years. Both parties value the importance of listening, communicating, feedback and teamwork - the core qualities of true collaboration that manifest from shared vision. Ultimately, this is true collaborative energy.

If someone is seeking a sponsor, or promotional relationship, they will approach you and ask you to invest time into creating an environment that supports and promotes their ideas and projects. Their aim is to expand their vision or project into new territory, in exchange for remuneration and building a professional relationship. They are prepared to give the best of their work to the community you are promoting them to, as satisfied participants boost their sponsor’s reputation. I have seen this be very a successful liaison, yet at other times it has created drama, disappointment and disparity for those involved. I believe a lack of clarity is the underlying issue. In sponsorship agreements, everything relating to the association needs to be laid on the table and discussed as early as possible. It saves unnecessary difficulty down the line.

Collaboration, sponsorship or cross-promotion? It sounds simple enough, yet many people approaching an artistic relationship may have not clarified what type of association they are requesting, before partaking in an initial discussion. I have observed how this lack of clarity–-usually not intended–-has created a lack of coherence in collaborative efforts, with sponsors (or occasionally, the sponsored guest), investing much more than they were comfortable with, as projects developed and unforeseen events unfolded. Because of the energetic investment any project requires, it is important to process things clearly, right from the beginning, before making a final decision.

Understanding exactly where you feature in this connected artistic equation is necessary for clarity. If you have taken the role of being a sponsor initiating a discussion, asking a guest to work with you is usually quite straight forward, and almost always elicits an enthusiastic reaction… although this association also needs a good deal of clarity before proceeding. If someone approaches you as their potential sponsor, or an artist seeks out your skills to promote their work or project, ideally they would clearly communicate exactly what it is they need, and include how you would benefit as a sponsor. These requests are essential early in the conversation.

Tell-Tale Clues - Is it Collaboration or Something Else?:

1. Artist is Seeking Sponsorship
Usually, when a conversation is more or less 
one-sided, and the initiating artist is talking primarily about their vision without engaging with yours, it reveals that they are looking for sponsors or promoters, rather than collaboration. If someone approaches you with ideas for ‘collaboration’, with a lengthy spiel about what they’re doing, where they’re at and what their vision is… without addressing your work, they are actually requesting a promotional artistic relationship or sponsorship.

2. Artist is Seeking Cross-Promotion (or Partnership)
If they reference both your vision and theirs in conversation, and support your ideas without expressing the need to create a new merged concept, they are probably looking at some kind of cross-promotion. Cross-promotion often gets confused for collaboration, when it is really about two artists promoting each others work without changing either project. Perhaps the most important factor here is that each artist respects and is familiar with the other’s work – not superficially, but understands the artist they are promoting. If cross-promoting, it is equally important to make sure your vision is understood. This can also become a working collective, such as a studio, where dancers promote each other's classes, whist maintaining artistic independence.

3. Artist is Seeking Collaboration For discussions that are focused on collaboration both parties look at how they can create together, with an equal investment of time, energy, resources and ideas. The discussion centres on co-creative ideas that expand on both artist's talents and visions, with the emergence of a new idea.

What is Your Best Response?

Over many years of community and collaborative endeavours, I've learnt that the initial discussion usually reveals your fellow artist’s intention, even if it is not spoken or delivered with absolute clarity. Actually, we are trained to 'create convincing conversation' so mis-communication can inadvertently give the wrong message. Your best response is your authentic one. Once you've understood the situation, you can respond clearly. If you need more information, ask questions, or ask for more time to avoid a reactive response, e.g.: being over zealous or dismissive. It could be wise to hesitate forming an alliance with someone who tries to convince you that they are interested in collaboration, when you know that they are actually seeking a sponsor. But if you are asked and are willing to be a sponsor, give the discussion all the clarity it needs before proceeding. Listen, evaluate and discern from the initial conversation. Be wary of replying too quickly with an answer such as ‘Sure, lets give it a go', and then invest energy into promoting an endeavour that is neither reciprocal nor aligned with your own vision. If you have to say "no", a response that is swift and polite is best for everyone, an example could be, “Thanks for telling me about yourself and your work, I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to chat, however it seems a sponsor might be a better fit for you at this stage, so I don't feel a collaboration is right for us. Good luck with finding the right person”. You can still encourage them to follow their vision, and perhaps even introduce them to a potential sponsor.

Artistic relationships are necessary, however they need to be right for you. When you understand the nature and requirements of the artistic relationship being proposed, your decisions will be clear. This clarity gives your own projects healthy boundaries, maintains the integrity of your artistic vision and supports your personal time investment. In all our artistic relationships, we owe it to both ourselves and to others, to proceed with clarity and dignity, and articulate our intention. When we listen carefully, with awareness, we can evaluate what the heart of the request is really about. Truth, clarity and real discussion are the best entry point--or exit point--for future endeavours, and provide an opportunity to honour your own artistic integrity, as well as that of the other artist. Sometimes the answer presents itself as and intuitive sense of ‘knowing’, yet it will almost always also reveal itself clearly in the initial discussion, when we listen.

As usual, listening is the key.