Exposure vs. Experience vs. Training

I read a site called Dance Advantage a lot. It has some absolutely phenomenal articles about training, professionalism, career development and practical advice for dancers. It has articles aimed at students, teachers and performers, and a lot of overlap in between. It's definitely geared towards professionals and pre-professionals which is great. I love it.

Somehow this article, posted on May 13th evaded me until this morning and now that I've read it I have to talk about it right now. I'm just about beside myself to be honest.

This is what I see in the pre- and professional belly dance community. A general lack of understanding and balance between these three factors that create the total package that professional dancers want to have (as defined in the article):

"Exposure = Watching a variety of dancers, styles, and performances; Making contact with other students and professionals; Reading about dance or dance artists

Experience = Getting a taste of alternative ways of moving and patterning dance; Learning a dance; Participating in a performance; Working with master teachers or choreographers;

Training = Engaging in a course of study that prepares a dancer for the physical, cognitive, and mental requirements of codified dance forms/techniques; specialized practice and instruction over a period of time"

I know I will be writing more about this in the future, but in essence, I believe there is a serious lack of balance in a lot of what I see in pre- and professional belly dancers when it comes to these three basic building blocks. Exposure and experience are important, but there is nothing that can replace training or even come close to it. Nichelle, the writer of this article, feels that one hour of solid training is worth ten hours of exposure. It's true that I have had training that was worth less than exposure-- and that I've had performance opportunities that have taught me all kinds of things that you can't learn in a classroom (just wait until I am able to write about STEP!)

But I have had an hour's worth of training worth twenty, or thirty hours of exposure. So I can't disagree with the sentiment at all. And, most importantly, I don't think exposure and experience can't really have the intended polishing effect if the rough ability isn't in you yet. And only training gives you the ability to execute movement competently.

The article gives a list of "signs" to look for that will let you know that your attention to the these factors is out of balance and since if you're anything like me, you've already gone and read it (or will after you finish this entry) I have a few to add!

  • The only thing you take away from classes and workshops is combinations and choreography--which you have to use in performance, not because they add to the piece, but because you have no tools for choreographing your own material
  • You are unfamiliar with what other dancers in your community are doing because you don't attend recitals for other schools, shows for other companies, etc
I've gotten into major training ruts because I didn't have access to the class time I wanted, but I think there are even ways around that, which is something I want to develop and write about a bit more as well.

Finally, not everybody wants to be a professional belly dancer. Some dancers just want to have fun and perform occasionally in a strictly recreational capacity. I don't think that's somehow less noble, and I wouldn't want to imply that a person has to train hardcore at every opportunity and mind their training/experience/exposure balance just so they can do their piece at a hafla. We're all in this for different reasons, and hobbyist is a very valid reason.

Overall, I feel like that article is a really good summary of one of the biggest issues I have with my own attitude towards dancing and with the (pre- and professional) community's attitude as well--framing it as an focus imbalance makes perfect sense to me.

What other signs of imbalance have you experienced or seen, in dance or in anything else?


  1. dancers who take more care of their promo shots than of their technique or choreography.

  2. I never even thought of that one! But totally right, I've definitely seen this.

  3. you have a nice blog - and are an excellent writer. Thank you for sharing you thoughts and insights. Good job on this one too!
    ~Dilara Sultan

  4. Thanks Dilara, those kinds of comments mean so much to me! I'm happy to know there are readers out there enjoying my stuff :)


  5. similar to Amy's comment - dancers who spend more time/money/energy arranging costumes than their technique/chorography. Though, I think everyone might be guilty of this at some point.

  6. Thank you, Heather, for sharing my article. It is one of my personal favorites because I think it helps some put their thoughts about dance study into words, while offering others a new way of thinking about the way they pursue dance.

    I'm happy that you found it applicable to the bellydance community. It is interesting that the same balance issues exist.

    I particularly appreciate this point you've made:
    "most importantly, I don't think exposure and experience can't really have the intended polishing effect if the rough ability isn't in you yet. And only training gives you the ability to execute movement competently."

    Training prepares the soil. You get more value out of experience and exposure if the training is there. Kind of like my statement on versatility in the article but it's true for most other elements of dance too.

    I also want to add that good training can and should happen at all levels - recreational students may not want or need the same intensity as those in a more accelerated program but they still require and should have access to thoughtful, purposeful training for the reasons mentioned above. And that's often where the balance is most disrupted in ballet/contemporary/jazz-focused schools, which are filled recreational dancers who need more from their classes than choreography.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment and thanks for sharing the article. I welcome your comments on Dance Advantage as well!

  7. Wow Nichelle, thank you taking the time to comment, that really means a lot to me! I'm also happy to send my readers your way, because I think sometimes as belly dancers we feel outside of the larger dance community, and I would love to help narrow that gap.

    I will definitely join the conversation at Dance Advantage :)


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