I have been sponsoring visiting dance instructors in my town for 7 years now. Like many, I started doing it because there were people I wanted to bring to town that no one else was, as well as to bring teachers who were explicitly focused on more traditional forms of “belly dance” to San Francisco proper. It also made good business sense as part of my own dance work, and I greatly enjoy the connections that are made between the small businesswomen (and men, but we are a largely women driven industry) of belly dance when we work together to make something happen.
After working with a few California artists (notably Shareen El Safy, Sahra Kent, and Amel Tafsout), I branched out to dancers from way across the country (Ranya Renee and Jim Boz) and even the world (Outi of Cairo).
Sponsoring teachers in San Francisco remains part of my larger business plan, though I have gone from bringing people two to three times a year to one, or maybe two, times a year. The global belly dance world is vast and seemingly grows more and more each year, and what was once a unified, albeit loose, subculture can sometimes feel like many more fragmented subcultures, with not a lot of crossover between people working even down the street from one another! There are folks who don’t venture past their city limits or past what their own teachers bring or recommend, as well as folks who are working hard on one particular style or offshoot of belly dance (and I can definitely relate to and respect the latter!). There are also a lot more events to choose from, and the average belly dancers budget and time can be stretched thin having to choose from a plethora of often fabulous things to do. The rise of online classes, private lessons via skype, and dance destination festivals where we can choose from many teachers in one convenient spot also have–perhaps?–lessened the need to bring dancers to the area as often.
I have decided to tweak my sponsorship offerings a bit to bring dancers who can truly augment what I see from the amazing women and men in my local scene. I always remain loyal to dancers working from more traditional starting points, and work with the instructors I sponsor to keep the material focused on the advanced dancer, the working dancer, the teacher, the serious student, and the long term amateurs. I want to show respect to my Bay Area colleagues, dance friends, and students by offering them something slightly different that also has a clear value for their own continuing education, dance work, performances, and classes.
I’m ruminating on this topic today as I get more and more excited to bring Ranya back to San Francisco for the fourth time. Through some long phone conversations and a flurry of emails earlier in the year, we ultimately decided to focus on presenting two different approaches to Egyptian Dance, which is a phrase that sounds specific but can can actually–and hopefully!–be broad in its meaning when used by dancers (I usually want to know if it is referencing a specific time period, region of the country, audience, musical style, urban or rural, beledi or sharqi…). Ranya and I decided to offer two approaches to the form this time. One is what she terms an ‘organic’ style, one that is melody driven and derived from strong musicality. This has been my own preferred style and approach over many years, and I am so excited to get Ranya’s take on it! The other we are terming ‘combination-driven’, and is derived from the work pioneered by Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy beginning in the 1950s as they presented staged Egyptian ‘folkloric’ dance to the Cairo stage. Their work has influenced many belly dancers today due to so many top Cairo dancers and teachers getting their professional dance start with the Reda Troupe.
It is teachers and topics like this that make me not quite ready to hang up my sponsor hat!