I’m going to start by saying that I did not intend my first post to be on such a personal note or related to such a delicate topic in the dance community. However, I recently had an experience that provoked a deep reflection on how I want to navigate my authentic personal space especially as it regards body tipping (for my non dancers, I’m referring to the common practice of accepting tips in costumes for belly dancers in the U.S.).
More simply, below is an example of the effect living inauthentically recently had on my creative life and career.
Please note, this is not an opinion piece on body tipping v.s. not body tipping. I practiced accepting body tips for years because it is the norm for belly dancers in the US. I do not care if anyone accepts tips this way or not- just do you!
While performing for a wedding reception a man came up to tip me on behalf of the group. I saw him going straight for my cleavage so immediately crossed my arms over my chest and shifted my body away while saying “don’t tip me there, please”. I then held out my hand telling him to either hand the tip to me or give it to a staff member to give me later. The man ignored me and tried once again to stick the bill between my firmly crossed arms to get to my cleavage. Louder, I yet again repeated, “not there!” and stuck my hand out to take the money. He still single mindedly attempted to get at my cleavage. More forcefully, for a THIRD time I stated very directly, “don’t tip me in my cleavage” while also turning away to shield my chest and go continue dancing with the bride. As I’m turning away, he tried to step around me to still get at my breasts. So I yanked the bill from his hands and threw it away, leaving to continue dancing my set with the bride.
While I know this was a very extreme situation that doesn’t often occur (at least not to me), this experience left me feeling vulnerable, defensive, depressed, feeling violated, and wondering if performing professionally was really for me. Maybe I should just stay a hobbyist? Maybe I’m not cut out to be a “professional” belly dancer since I’m not okay with strangers touching me, even in “appropriate tipping places”, like all the other dancers? If I choose to not take tips on my body anymore do I have the energy to defend myself against the resistance and opinion from other dancers, clients, etc?
Then I felt ashamed that I was being so negatively affected by this experience. I should toughen up, get over it, not let one bad experience out of hundreds of good ones affect me so much, right?
Needless to say this experience pointed to a deep tension I had been carrying yet ignoring inside of me. I realized that I had not been living authentically in certain details of my dance life, and by not living authentically I had actually caused an internal instability that then was HURTING my dancing, my creativity, my career.
For years I forced myself to be okay with not only strangers but friends and other dancers coming into my personal space to tip me in my costume. I smoothed over the discomfort again and again, but it only took one bad experience to bring this tension tearing to the surface again. However, I’ve gained greater insight into how I want to live into my dance life and below I share some things I’ve learned from all of this:
-True respect comes from authenticity. You can’t control whether or not others respect you, but I can guarantee you won’t respect yourself unless you’re being true to you.
-Being inauthentic makes you inconsistent. For years I’d alternate between accepting body tips and not. My message was inconsistent and sometimes confusing for others. Being consistent with your authentic voice helps solidify who you are and the image you project to others.
-Living inauthentically even in the little details can hurt you creatively. In my body tipping example I was aware of my discomfort around tipping but ignored this detail for years. Neglecting to be authentic to myself in how I accept tips eventually brought me to a point where I questioned whether I wanted to dance anymore.
-We won’t always be fully conscious to the fact that we’re ignoring the details that are causing us to live inauthentically…and that’s okay.
Creative living is a lifelong journey and a lifelong choice. When we’re ready tackle the places where we’re living inauthentically they’ll inexplicably rise up. Yeah, I could tell you to cultivate mindfulness, greater self awareness, etc, etc, and that really would be sound advice…but honestly sometimes sh*t is just going to come up. Just never forget in those moments you always have the power to decide whether or not you want to do the work.
Never forget you always have the permission and the right to be true to who you are, because living authentically not only will make you a stronger dancer, a stronger creative, but it’ll lead you to a better life.