Certification: Part 1

I've been reading a lot of really heated discussion about a Gilded Serpent article that Miles Copeland wrote recently about contests, competitions and certifications in the belly dance world. His thesis seems to be that:

"in the end for me it’s “seeing is believing”! It is not the credits on your resume; it is what you deliver on stage, or at an audition, or in a workshop that counts. If you can’t pull it off there, fifty pages of credits are meaningless."

I've been unsure whether or not to throw my two cents in about this, because first, I'm not really the certification type myself, at least not right now, although I support their existence wholeheartedly. And second, I think a lot of people have made really great points about this subject already, on both sides. Third, it's really heated and I don't want to get yelled at!

So I'm going to talk generally about certification in the belly dance world because I come from a background in more typical Western dance and it's something I can grasp comparatively.

To preface, all of this is written from the perspective that most belly dancers want to make belly dance more accepted as compared to more established Western dance-- ballet, modern, ballroom, etc. That's inherently difficult because belly dance is still perceived as a folk dance or distinguished by stereotype in Western cultural understanding. Furthermore, this is definitely not everyone's goal, and I can't even say for sure what I think about it. So read this as one theoretical approach, and not my definitive thoughts on the matter.

I have a lot of respect for some certifications-- Suhaila's format, Fat Chance certifications-- to me those are pure formats which represent one standardized vision and that have a lot of meaning for the belly dance community, at least on this side of the world. We talk about becoming more respected and codified so that this dance can be elevated to the same prestige as other dance forms, and while I don't think truly great dancers need a piece of paper to be truly great, I also don't believe it can denied that we need more common language and understanding if we really expect belly dance to get better and give more technically and artistically. In other words, in creating those truly great dancers and having them speak the same language, certification is extremely helpful.

In the article, Miles mentions that professionals don't enter ballet competitions, for example, and that is functionally true, but where certification is concerned it's a different animal-- professional ballet dancers have almost always certified in one of the major ballet schools-- I was never a professional but I studied Cecchetti ballet and ISTD Jazz with girls who are. I see a lot of analagous content between FCBD and Suhaila belly dance certification and Imperial and Cecchetti ballet certification too. Two different major schools of thought, two different functions being served, two methods that produce high quality, structured, technical approaches to dance that art and emotion can be layered onto.

With that being said, I do imagine that the two belly dance schools I mentioned were exempt from what Miles was saying about certification--his problem seems to be with false or misleading credentials. I'm all about fixing that. Right now in most cases, a belly dance resume doesn't have a lot of meaning, and I'd argue that isn't true in the case of a lot of other dance. For example, if a ballet dancer's resume says she studied at the National Ballet, in most cases you can be reasonably sure of a competent dancer. So what do we do about it?

So I have some vague approximations of ideas about why this is such a major issue and how on earth it can be fixed, which I will post in Certification: Part 2.


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