Have You Failed Lately? Thoughts on Growth and Challenge in Belly Dance

FAILWhen was the last time you failed at one of your belly dance pursuits? You haven’t lately? That’s too bad. If you have, good for you. Last week I was listening to an episode of The Accidental Creative and this topic really hit home.

Failure is good – and it’s good for you. Not only does it keep your feet on the ground, failing means you are stretching the borders of what you are willing to try in expanding the range of your skills. If we take challenging new workshops, we can find ourselves struggling through unfamiliar drills or long choreography. A lot of experienced dancers shy away from this kind of situation because they’re afraid of being seen by their peers doing anything less than perfectly.

There is so much to learn in belly dance and the associated regional folkloric styles; we could live and dance a full lifetime and still have new ground to cover. One dancer who I’ve always admired in this area is Helena Vlahos. When she still lived here in Phoenix, she would regularly show up at the workshops of dancers who weren’t even born yet when she was already a star on the ethnic club circuit. Not only did she show up with a gracious attitude, she was never afraid to try things someone else’s way and say with good humor “that’s hard, I’ll have to practice that.” A great example for us all.

There’s another up side to this kind of failure – one that is especially  important for belly dance instructors. I firmly believe that it is essential for teachers to consistently challenge themselves. Not only does it grow your dance skills, it reminds you of how your students feel when they are learning new material from you. New skills may feel awkward or require new levels of coordination they haven’t yet mastered. As teachers, we should never lose touch with what that feels like.

Personally, I relish this kind of failure, which is only temporary if we persevere.I try to follow Helena’s excellent example and laugh at myself, then get back to work.  I find that things  just beyond my immediate reach don’t discourage me – they fire me up. It’s why I keep going back to aerial yoga and knitting, even though I’m not particularly good at them.

Some failures are a little harder to take. I’ve produced some truly innovative belly dance shows with quality dancers and musicians… that were all but ignored by my dance community. The financial hit is just as tough as the emotional hit, but hey – this isn’t a business for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. Do I regret these risks? Not at all. It was awesome – too bad you missed it!  I may have lost enough to buy a Bella, but I know that I pushed my creative and production experience to new ground and even more importantly I learned a ton along the way – that will never be lost.

When belly dance opportunities present themselves in the form of a visiting instructor, a new style or the inspiration for a show, maybe we shouldn’t ask ourselves “why should I?” but rather “why not?”.  No, it might not work. Or it might. Either way, there is a “win” in there somewhere if you’re willing to look for it. We need to step away from the idea that failure to fully reach the goal line is a badge of shame. It’s a badge of courage that you try with all you’ve got.

What belly dance challenge (large or small) have tried and failed? What good things did you learn from it? Tell us in the comments below…


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27 Responses to “Have You Failed Lately? Thoughts on Growth and Challenge in Belly Dance”

  1. Pat Way Says:

    Thanks, Mahin, I needed to hear this not just in my belly dance journey but in many other areas of my life. Not a new lesson but one that needs to be refreshed from time to time.

  2. rashabellydance Says:

    I’ve entered a couple of competitions where I’ve not done well, but have been pushed to work hard on my dancing, create new choreography, and face up to the things I needed to work on that I might otherwise have continued avoiding. I viewed these as failures at the time, and took a while to recover my confidence afterwards, but they both gave me a much-needed kick up the arse and stopped me becoming complacent about my skills. And with hindsight, I danced respectably for someone at the level I was at, just not at the level I want to be one day!

  3. jo Says:

    Perfect timing. Really been struggling with zills and a few other projects that had left me demoralized and depressed. It’s really taken a toll and even affected my relationships at the studio. I feel like its good to struggle with new things but sometimesrit feels like its to much. Least I know I am TRYING to grow even if I am just stuck in the mud spinning my wheels lol.

  4. Jessika Cruz Says:

    Great article. Failure is good for professional and personal growth,to remind us to stay humble no matter what. After all we are humans and we will always make a mistake here and there. The best is just to face it. That’s all I have at The moment since I became speechless!
    Big hugs!

  5. AJ Says:

    Great post!

    I fail at things all the time, because my teacher is always throwing new stuff at us. Sometimes I get something right away, which feels good (it shows me how far I’ve come), but last week we did something that was SO awkward that it reminded me of how it felt to be a brand new baby dancer! It’s good to be challenged, otherwise I would get bored 😉

  6. cathie Says:

    HA! That struck a chord. After 26 years of dancing Raqs Sharqi and 14 of those also learning ATS, I tried my first Tribal Fusion workshop with Deb Rubin last weekend. Just had to keep laughing at myself trying to do all those poppy/locky thingies. I was also the oldest in the class by far! Helena will be in my mind as I drill….

  7. Terri Robson Says:

    Thank you so much and I agree completely. I am glad I am not alone and now I will take that workshop I was so afraid of!

  8. Atisheh Says:

    I agree that this is perfect timing! I’ve been really frustrated with my dancing lately, with the fact that I’ve been doing it for so long but am still so far from even having reliably good form. (Nevermind performing…) But I’ve signed up for a bunch of workshops this spring, am trying to use videos to prep for them as much as possible, and am ready to suck if need be!

  9. katbellies Says:

    Nice! I may share this on my blog if that’s ok!

  10. mahinbellydance Says:

    You can hear an interview with the inspiring Helena Vlahos on “She’s Got Hips” podcast here https://mahinbellydance.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/podcast-episode-2-interview-with-helena-vlahos/

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  12. Shannon Says:

    Thank you… You must learn to fall sometimes, how else will you ever learn something new. My new thing is the sword. Its easy to balance my sons’ toy sword on my head. LOL Your lessons are always wonderful 🙂 Thank you so much!!!!

  13. katbellies Says:

    Reblogged this on katbellies and commented:
    I like this post about pushing yourself hard in belly dance – even if it means screwing up. There has been a recurring theme in my life about “life happens outside your comfort zone” lately and this is especially true in dance. Of course, every time I read “fail” I see “flail” – which is also true in dance. Sometimes there is a bit of flailing.

  14. Taji Says:

    Great article—i love Helena.

  15. Shaliney Says:

    Nicely put! I struggle constantly. Thank you, look forward to your upcoming workshop to light the fire again.

  16. Steph Says:

    strangely enough i am always in front on people, with various organizations. Yet i have a deathly fear or performing in front of crowds. I am nervous in all my other organizations, but with belly dance i shake like a leaf, and i don’t mean shimmies either, lol. So although i have not been as heavily into belly dance due to starting a studio and tempoarily focusing on Zumba. I have not been practicing as much as i should to get back on top of my game (was out sick for year or so). but I performed with my studio and quick copied routine from a dvd and then repeated it in talent show at TM convention. I practiced that routine. much better then my first solo year proir (where i was also emcee and forget MY entire choreo and had to make it up on the spot with a shakey leg and hands while holding the mic, lol) but i will keep pushing myself to get back on track and then exceed that but putting myself out there to try and learn new things. and face my fears by charging forward!! learn and grow from each trail, that’s the way tho grow!!

  17. mindfuldancer Says:

    Reblogged this on mindfullydancing.

  18. mindfuldancer Says:

    great post. right up my alley. really needed to be reminded of this. fear of failure can be paralyze a person…. but we should embrace it!

  19. jadebellydance Says:

    While I don’t like the connotations of the word ‘failure’, I totally agree with you in the points you make. I have always gone to workshops and pushed myself – yeah and sometimes I have struggled. It is amazing how many experienced dancers refuse to be seen learning something new. I respect dancers that do put themselves out there far more than those pretending to be perfect at everything.

  20. Die Nabelschau | Bauchtanz Links - Top Dance Blogs, Versagen & Neustart | Y2B Says:

    […] Have You Failed Lately? Thoughts on Growth and Challenge in Belly Dance (Englisch) […]

  21. wildbluewonder Says:

    I’m not a belly dancer, but this can apply to anything! Yoga, weights, running, writing, living, loving. We’re not growing if we’re not failing occasionally! Thank you. xoxo

  22. Fritz Nylund Says:

    intelligent way of putting it

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