I will never be that good. I will never be successful.
I hear this a lot in many circles: in writing, in dance, in most other creative outlets I’m a part of or know people in. I see famous authors tweeting out that their writing is crap because it isn’t like someone else’s. I see dancers desperately trying to dance/look just like their idols, but lamenting over how they can’t do one trick or another.
I, too, find myself watching other dancers, or reading other people’s books, and putting myself down the entire time: “I can’t do that trick.” “I can’t write such evocative prose.” “I will never be able to do the splits.”
I get depressed over the lack of time I have to completely change the direction of my dancing and writing skills to go after the ones I do not possess, to be just like someone I admire. I feel the pull to dance just like that famous dancer or write just like that famous writer. The thought presses down on me: I will never be successful unless I change how I do my art.
I’m going to borrow a phrase from British English here: bollocks.
We should never change ourselves or our art to please others.
My prose is not flowery and flowy. I will never make you cry over the beauty of my words. My stories hit you in the face like a ton of bricks, ripping open feelings and picking through them like birds with entrails. This does not make me a bad writer. My dance is not light and feminine and playful, nor is it hip hop or ballet. My dance is a powerful blend of styles, with knife-sharp isolations and musicality (also kind of like a ton of bricks to the face). This does not make me a bad dancer.
I may lament those lacks, and feel the pressure to change, but that’s not going to do me any favors. While I might not make you cry over the beauty of my words, I can certainly disturb you with the dark imagery I spill onto the page. The important message here is that neither is better than the other.
To force myself to change these things about my art would change me and how I express myself. It would be inauthentic. The one thing that we do not seem to tell other artists enough is that being yourself will lead to your success.
Authenticity is a cornerstone of artistic expression. Art comes from within, and people tend to notice when artists aren’t “feeling it.” To me, authenticity is part of that elusive “it factor” that some artists have. We can’t describe “it” but we sure know star power, the “it factor,” when we see it.
Once I came out as trans, people started telling me that they have noticed how my dancing has changed, and that has changed how they see me as a dancer. I was literally told that they can’t believe the progress I’ve made as a dancer in the short time since I’ve come out. While some of that is definitely training, a lot of it is being authentic. I can finally express, through my art, who I really am inside.
In my writing, I got nowhere with stories about women. I then started writing trans-related stories and essays, and suddenly I’ve sold three of them. All I did was refocus my efforts into being authentic and into writing characters that I identified with because I was just like them.
So don’t worry about whether you can do this trick or that trick, or write that genre or that way. If you really want to learn it, that’s great. I’m always all about challenging ourselves to stretch and learn and grow (we should always be learning!). But if it feels inauthentic, or doesn’t work with your style, stop saying how bad you are for not being just like that other artist. Stop putting yourself down because you aren’t just like some famous person. Be you instead, and train to be the best you you can be. No one else can be you.
Most of you know by now that I am in the process of transitioning. I am in an interesting point in my life and career where I can basically reinvent myself. It is both frightening and exhilarating. I fear for what this will do for my belly dancing career (do I try to continue to dance while presenting female, which I’d rather not do, or go whole-hog male and risk alienating people? In between, which is where I’d rather be, is probably just too confusing for most of the general public).
But I cannot lie to myself or others just to preserve my career. I’ll build it from the ground up, once more, if I have to. Belly dance and my identity both mean that much to me.
The struggle to be at peace with my body has been a long, hard, and almost disastrous one.
I hated my boobs with a passion that is difficult to describe. They didn’t belong on my body. They were two large, non-cancerous tumors that caused me emotional and physical pain. I hated the way I looked in costumes, I hated how I always had to accommodate them in order find costumes that fit. Whenever I had costume issues, it was always the bra. So imagine my discomfort participating in an art-form that values big breasts.
This is in no way meant to shame people who have big breasts. They’re great. Just not on my body.
When I realized that Tribal Revolution was going to be where I would most likely perform for the first time after my top surgery, I knew I had to tell my story there.
My journey through my belly dance life and my transition are one in the same. One fed the other. And so I have fused those two stories together into one piece.
The piece I will be dancing at Tribal Revolution is not only a journey through all the belly dance forms I have learned and loved, but also the journey to love my own body. There was pain and heartbreak at the beginning. When I first started dancing, I hated my body and covered it up as much as possible. But with some inner work, I made, at best, a guarded peace with it and began to perform.
As much as I love traditional style dancing, it wasn’t the best fit for me (at least then; I’m looking forward to exploring it more now through a male lens). It was girly and flirty, which was fun sometimes, but entirely not who I am. It was difficult to fake. So I moved on to fusion (mostly). At first, I tried to fit into other dancer’s ideas of fusion. I learned all I could about other fusion dancers’ styles. But that wasn’t a fit either, though fusion caused less confusion and pain than the traditional styles.
ATS® has given me another home, with people I love to dance with. They’ve been so welcoming, even though this was when the struggle to be me has hit me hardest. With the highest highs come the lowest lows. Despairing, I kept dancing. It was the only thing I could do.
And now, my body has changed. My dancing has changed. I can finally be who I am meant to be, both male and female and neither, and all styles fused together as one. This has been a huge relief for me, freeing me from the chains that bound me to a body I didn’t want to inhabit.
I hope that you can come and see it live, and I hope you truly do enjoy it. This piece is deeply personal and means a lot to me.