At one point or the other in our dance lives we look at other dancers and start to compare them to ourselves as well as others. We like this dancer more than that dancer, because we liked how they interpreted our favourite song and they were really nice in person and you like their style, etc. We dislike others for the same reasons; we don’t like their interpretation, or that costume is too revealing and you’d never wear that on stage, etc. No matter the subject we tend to be in a constant state of comparison, which is one way of understanding the world around us. There are positive and negative aspects of comparison; we can decide to support and encourage and/or be judgemental. The worst is when we turn that act of comparison into judgement against others and judgement against ourselves.
I personally dance two styles of dances; belly dance and bollywood. Bollywood is very much a fusion dance and it seems to always be in a constant state of flux. At its roots are classical indian styles, bhangra and folk dances of India;however, nowadays it tends to gravitate more towards western dance moves, like hip hop and jazz, as well as a lot of belly dance moves. I naturally do not compare myself with other dancers for this dance form because often these are group dances and they tend to borrow moves directly from the original video songs. The interpretation of the song is more direct and based on the words. I know that my style of Bollywood is not as super fast as others and/or my audience and students tend to like medium but happy paced songs. Also, I tend to gravitate to trying to keep to the roots of the style because it connects me more to the cultural aspects of the dance and inspires me to explore the rich movements that the root dances have.
As for Belly dance, the music can be very intricate and there are more levels of meaning and emotions that can be interpreted and felt with a song; not all songs have official videos with dance moves laid out to help the dancer. A belly dancer must rely on other resources, such as their teachers, translations of songs with words, and other dancer videos to help get an idea of what the song is about before dancing themselves to the song. Even then, how one person connects to the song can be quite different than how another person connects to a song.
For myself, I’m naturally a more melodic dancer. I tend to hear the melody more than the rhythm in part because it catches my ear more often as well as I have trouble hearing certain tones in the music. My style of belly dance is now more Egyptian focused, because I’m seeking out Egyptian teachers and/or Egyptian taught teachers. In my earliest years of learning belly dance, my teachers were non-Egyptian who taught a mix of styles from American Cabaret and Lebanese influences. The variations in themselves can cause one to compare whether or not a dancer is a good dancer in a particular form of belly dance.
I tend to be a lot harder on myself, because I will see other dancers, who started with just one style be more connected with moves than I feel, even though I might actually be doing the moves just as well. Then there are times where I feel the exact opposite and get mad at myself, because really, I don’t know how long they’ve been dancing and/or how many hours they might have practiced that one move.
What we forget as dancers is that we don’t know everyone’s dance origin story. We don’t know how many hours someone has worked on perfecting that move for their body type. We don’t know if they have body limitations when they perform a movement and it looks differently than when we do it ourselves.
Are all of the same level for technique, interpretation and style of dance? Simply, no. How can we be?
Some people do it for fun and recreationally; some do it as amateurs; some do it as a semi-professional and some make it a career. What we need to make sure is to adjust our perception of how we see other dancers and how we see ourselves.
If you want to become a better dancer than you need to decide what level you’d like to achieve and set realistic goals for yourself. If you want to be a professional dancer, where it becomes a career, then look to other professional dancers to become inspired by and learn from for the business model, but remember not to look down and/or think that those not wanting a career of it are not dancers, nor not a place to look for inspiration; the semi-professionals could surprise you in their interpretations of songs. Remember that your interpretation will be different than someone else’s because you’ll hear the song differently; for example I tend to hear the melody more than the rhythm in part because it catches my ear more often because I have trouble hearing certain tones in the music.
For the levels below the professional level, looking at all levels of dancers is a great way to find inspiration for moves, music interpretations and simply getting the most of the dance that you’ve chosen to dance.
Don’t be judgemental of those putting themselves out on YouTube, Instagram in video, they often are trying to share something they really liked and/or loved. Besides, you’re the one that decided to check it out for inspiration in the first place, because they might be dancing on a song you’ve been thinking of dancing to. So what if they didn’t interpret the song the way you’ve chosen to do, they might hit an accent you hadn’t quite caught yet. If you still didn’t like it for the time you spent on watching it, use the dislike to inspire yourself for your interpretation; don’t waste your energy just thinking you didn’t like it, move to the song the way you want to move. Turn your judgement into movement and/or inspiration for yourself to dance and create.