Certification: Part 2

In Certification: Part 1 I talked about why it might be an ok idea to have certifications in belly dance, or at least a few really good ones. This is more about why I think we don't much of a separation between high quality and low quality.

I'd suggest that the belly dance community needs to start creating a better separation between legitimate certification and low-requirement, resume filler certification. Because belly dance needs certification in this part of the world, at least if parity to Western dance is the goal. But if it isn't high quality certification, it isn't going to accomplish much.

The reason I'd propose this separation and the consequent acceptance of high quality certification as important to professionals isn't happening quickly is complex and I'm probably wrong about most of my theories. First, it's early. In twenty years, I think things will be very different. Second, I think this goes for all dance and art and anything else, but belly dancers are mildly territorial about what they do, and so it can sometimes be hard to accept a technical standard, or even the assertion that there should be one. I am understating this.

Belly dance has had a willy nilly approach to technique that varies from person to person and region to region for a long, long time, and I don't think everyone is in agreement that that should change. A lot of women see belly dance as something any woman can do (and it is!) and so the idea of institutionalizing it is scary. I don't even know what I think about it half the time. But I do think the option to create something lasting, technical and standard should be there for those who want it.

Finally, because the cultural understanding doesn't exist (of ME culture or of belly dance as a part of Western culture) there isn't a lot of mainstream understanding of what belly dance is, and not a terrible lot of interest in learning about it, even when there is interest in watching. That means the onus is on us as dancers to know our stuff, and I don't know how many of us do.

I do modern belly dance, but it is ridiculously important to learn everything I can get my hands on about traditional and non-traditional belly dance forms of all kinds, traditional and non-traditional music, and belly dance related history. The more we know, the more that becomes a trickle-down cultural awareness (call it raq-onomics!) and the more respect belly dance will get as a legitimate art form. I mean, if we can't be bothered to learn about the history of our dance, how can we expect our audience to get where we are coming from when we get onstage?

Fortunately and unfortunately, our dance is subtle, complex and wonderful. I think standardizing it does have the potential to turn us all into bra-and-belted-clones, and that's not what most of us want. But it also has the capacity to give us tools that will let us express what we are really trying to say with our dance. Maybe it will help if we look at certification or standardized technique as a tool, a means, rather than a product or an end in and of itself. An artist doesn't see her art degree or her knowledge of paint brushes as a piece of art, but the art that she produces as a result of those things is improved as long as the certification adds rather than takes away from her creativity.

On a slightly tangential note, I was reading one of my favourite belly dance blogs, Adventures of the Tribal Dancer when I noticed that there were a few blogs in the blogroll that I hadn't spotted before. One of them was Megan Hartmann's blog. She's a fellow belly dancer living in a non-belly dance mecca but trying to make it, so I really get where she's coming from and devoured basically her whole blog in one sitting. You should too. But she also read this article and had some really interesting things to say about certification in particular:

"When I say I am level II, I believe it says that there is a certain standard of excellence that my technique MUST adhere to. I earned that right through my sweat, tears, sore muscles, and bruises. If you take ONE workshop with Suhaila, regardless of how you feel about the testing process, you will see that this training and format liberates you body to present and combination of movements you desire safely and effectively. Now, I’m not an elitist. I know tons of incredible dancers that aren’t certified. And I don’t look down on their choices — the format is NOT for everyone. But I find it incredibly offensive when people tell me I’ve wasted my money and time. I would never say that to a fellow dancer, and I don’t deserve it either."
Basically that's exactly what I'm saying. Certification isn't for everyone, but it is wildly helpful for some people and for some parts of the community and belly dance progress.

Ok I think I'm done here, but I am really curious about how other dancers feel about this. Especially the ATS types because a lot of certification talk revolves around Suhaila and I'm curious to know what the tribal perpsective on certification a la FCBD is. Especially given that a common understanding is crucial for tribal improv.


  1. My only real thought on this is that if you are giving out certificates, I would like them to stand for some PROVEN ABILITY, and not just proof of attendance. I wish more certifications were tested, like Suhaila and Gypsy Caravan's programs. I also want them to be fairly strict. I wish there was more homework, too, frankly. LOL But I am motivated by these things.

  2. Oh and PS, thanks for the shoutout! I am so glad you enjoy my blog! Ditto backatcha!

  3. hmm intersting. Certification is a big debate in the bellydance community but I agree that it should be done. The hard part will be determining what is going to be required of the various levels of certification and who or what group is going to enforce it.

  4. Wow, this entire blog and related comments is like my inner monologue just fell out into the public.

    I have decided to take up a similar topic as an essay for an intensive I am doing in november. Please allow me to rattle off my rough ideas?

    I had wondered on the "who or what group are going to enforce" part that if this is indeed a work in progress; taking time to adequately plan towards educating and changing bellydance culture: perhaps a central website where folks vote against stds suggestions would work.

    Anyone can contribute and suggest (moderators would come into play to remove catiness and clutter): a community comprised certification std could be agreed based on majority votes.

    The community could nominate and agree the panel who are present to judge this and if the nomineed accepted, then agreed dates a few times a year could be set.

    The website would have to take into account geographicial factors: eg: where are the nominated respected teachers based and how does this affect when and where certification gradings are available, multilanguage functionality: I'd envisaged that this site is a global step forward toward agreeing across the belly community what they deem important for certification levelsf

    It would probably take a year or two to set this up: site planning and development + free word of mouth & online mkting: alerting dancers to the site's existance + compiling and publishing the vote results.

    It'd also then be up to geographical volunteers to take ownership of compiling votes into a final organised certification locations and dates.

    So certification availability in one continent / county / state / province could be lacking if no one had picked up the reigns there.

    Other factors would apply: Getting certifieid by your country's agreed panel could mean you are lower than a person certified in another country: but this perhaps only matters if you are wanting to teach? If so you would likely be in existing teacher territory so it's good ettiqutte to get their consent and / or attain certification in that new geographical location at the next soonest opportunity.

    If you dont want to teach: Then it's up to the gig or restuarant that hire you to decide if they like what they see.

    I also feel there is a double blade responsibility: Folks who hire dancers need to oneday understand the impacts of hiring undercutter dancers rather than local masters.

    Conversely: Dancers should think about 2 things: 1. Who toe's they're treading on when they're performing pieces in a location where Master dancers are having to work multiple jobs just to survive; 2. Did their performance have enough in it to help educate and change audience opinions on Bellydance being an Art form that can be taken seriously.

    Hope that made sense. This is a great blog.
    Thank you!


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