I have wanted to write this article for years but hesitated. Jealousy IS NOT AN EASY TOPIC TO TALK OR READ ABOUT. It is a complex emotion that can be so strong and hard to control. Factors causing it are mixed up with other emotions, as well as personal and social issues. It is hard to know where to even begin but I am just going to do my best even if it is just an article that can act as a platform for sharing experiences, I will be happy.
What makes me qualified to write this article? NOTHING. I am not a mental health doctor and I have not studied psychology (PLEASE MAKE A NOTE OF THIS) I strongly recommend anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues to seek professional advice and help – LOOK AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH <3
However, over the past 15 years of working in the bellydance community, both as a hobbyist and a professional, I have experienced a lot of jealousy both towards me and from me. I have also watched it manifest and take over other dancers to the point it becomes all consuming and robs them of any joy of the dance! I am upset at seeing this and no longer want to see jealousy have such a hold on our beautiful art. If I’m honest I’m sick of it. Jealousy is an exhausting energy with no positive gain for anyone involved. Call me crazy, but I want us bellydancers to liberate ourselves from it. Imagine how much nicer, this already amazing community and art, could be without jealousy. We could all enjoy it A LOT MORE: yes even more! How exciting is that? What possibilities could it open the door too?
Let’s jump in with one of my experiences of jealousy.
One of my first memories of bellydance jealousy was towards a fellow student in a class. It was a class that was fashionable at the time. All the top London dancers would go to learn from this teacher as well as dedicated hobbyists. At the time I was semi-pro, climbing the ladder, and I desperately wanted to be better. The class had a subtle sense of competition about it and in many ways a bit of healthy competition was good. It would drive me to try harder but it is when jealousy comes into it that it becomes ridiculous. A student who was almost A BEGINNER, who had no want of ever becoming a pro, was just there for joy, was progressing fast. The teacher really highlighted and praised this in class one day and that was it. I was overwhelmed with hate and jealousy towards this woman. It was nasty. I felt that I HATED her, but at the same time I was overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt that I disliked this lovely lady who, ironically, looked up to me because I was one of the more pro dancers in the class.
This guilty feeling, luckily, stopped me from doing or saying anything horrible to her. It would have been awful if I had, but had I done, I could empathise. The feelings were strong and almost overpowering. I had this black storm inside me of horrible nastiness towards her that ultimately just damaged me. All sorts of ego got involved and for a few weeks I actively hated the class. I hated going. I would be grumpy in class, self hating, snappy, and more concerned with her progress than my own.
I know full well why I was so jealous. I had been feeling stuck in my own dance for so long that I didn’t feel I was getting better or would get better. This teamed with the fact that at the time I was studying a PhD which I really wasn’t enjoying due to being constantly belittled by others at uni. Bellydance was my escapism and I just felt it was also falling flat on its face.
The irony of it was, any progress I was making, I wouldn’t have been able to see anyway because I was concentrating on this other woman more! Luckily, because this woman was so nice, especially to me, these feelings of jealousy passed in a few weeks. But it could so easily have gone another way.
Today it is harder – the social media trap
Today it is even harder, at least then, when I left the class I could reflect on how stupid these feeling were and as a result deal with them. That, combined with the blessings of an understanding mum I told everything to, meant that my jealously never got out of control. Now, with social media, we are constantly being reminded of how good other dancers’ progress is. We are bombarded 24 hours with images of how many gigs or haflas they are going to. How beautiful they look in their bathroom selfies; how many competitions they have won; how many likes they get on their pictures; how tremendously full their class look …… Remember, people only post their best pictures and about their successes, so if you are not careful you could be overwhelmed with jealousy by comparing yourself constantly against a superficially high, tailor made ideal and THAT ISN’T THE WHOLE STORY or even real. This could easily lead to you judging yourself and being horrible to yourself, feeling inadequate, acting nastily to fellow dancers and ultimately getting swooped up in this horrible storm of dark feelings.
Bellydance community as a whole lack of SISTERHOOD
I’ve given a personal example that shows just how damaging jealousy can potentially be, but it is also, I feel, holding us collectively back as dancers. I LOVE THE DANCE COMMUNITY and all the comments and examples I’m about to make in no way take away from all the amazing elements of our community.
Jealousy, I believe, is a weakness in our community that has been exploited by many and leads to horrible things happening. One of the biggest ways this manifests is a lack of sisterhood. Although it is not the only way, it is no wonder that there is a lot of jealously in bellydance, when you consider social factors. Basically, society has conditioned women from birth to be self hating and to place self value on how they compare to other women, especially in superficial ways such as beauty. If you are not convinced about this please STOP HERE and just have a quick read of this article: 23 Ways You May Have Internalised Misogyny Without Even Realising. It is a little window into how much women have been brought up in a society which teaches us to hate ourselves and, through jealousy, to hate other women. Don’t know what I am talking about? Please read the article before continuing with this one.
It then isn’t a wonder that when it comes to bellydance, an art for the solo, powerful, woman performer, an art where a woman embraces her body, her beauty, her independence, her femininity and everything womanly about herself that it triggers our internalised misogyny. Sexism’s BIGGEST WEAPON is that women hate and bring down fellow women, including themselves. It is like we have been hypnotised by society over time and when we see a woman doing well and embracing herself, which bellydance calls for, we are then triggered to attack!!! (a scene in the film Zolander is very similar why a man has been hypnotised to attack the president when hearing the song relax, see the clip). How do we attack? We look for and emphasise her flaws; we slut shame; we want her to fail; we don’t support her or her events; we exclude her from our events; we see her as direct competition (even if she isn’t); we don’t share or like her posts; we don’t pass work on to her; we criticize her hipdrops etc.
Now, you know why nearly every bellydancer in Cairo is wearing an evil eye necklace for protection. I’m guilty of it too, even though I hate what underlies it. I don’t think we should think of other dancers as the enemy and actually we should actively compliment each other (something that the evil eye actually protects you from as in the Middle East even a compliment is seen as jealousy if not accompanied by “mashallah” Aley Allegra Pena talks about it here)
Our internalised misogyny has often been our community’s biggest weakness: exploited MANY TIMES by poisonous people as I know from my experiences in the UK, Egypt and the rest of the world. Abusers (manipulative or toxic teachers/event organisers, sexual abusers, physical abusers and many more) have time after time split our community and used our lack of love and support for each other as a cover to manifest their deviousness. Whist we are all sitting around hating each other, they are there exploiting us all.
Another, slightly less horrid, example is just how over represented male teachers are at the top of bellydance. Yes, I know there are a lot of AMAZING male teachers. One of my best teachers was a man, but let’s be real: the ratio of male teachers to women is PRETTY HIGH and they are often over glorified at festivals. When you compare how many female professional bellydancers there are, working every day as dancers to how many profession male bellydancers there are - it’s pretty crazy. Unfortunately, we find it easier to love, praise and admire male teachers and identify their talent, than to look up and take in the amazingness of a strong female. Jealousy is a strong factor in this.
Are Bellydancers that awful?
But I don’t look down on the bellydance community in any way for this. How could I? This is just a very small part of it. It is an AMAZING COMMUNITY WITH SO MUCH AND HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH. I even thank the bellydance community in my PhD thesis. Also, I find comfort that it is not only in bellydance that these things happen. I’ve heard how ballerinas can often be overly nasty to each other. At Crufts, the dog show, I’ve heard people have done some pretty horrible thing to rivals’ dogs!! And as for the male dominance, it is rife in our society no matter the industry. Look at something like hairdressing. Most hairdressers are female, but look at the top. The BIG NAMES, the famous, most sought after hairdressers, the ones that all the celebrities want and, more importantly, the hairdressers themselves admire and it’s nearly all men!
How to deal with your jealousy
So, basically jealously isn’t helping anyone. It isn’t doing us any good as individuals and it isn’t doing us any good as a community! It often leads to us hating ourselves, hating each other and holding ourselves back. So, what can we do about it? Well, below I have put some suggestions. Things that have helped me deal with jealousy in and out of bellydance life.
STEP ONE: Be aware of it – realise you are not alone
The examples above hopefully give you some insight into what jealously might feel like and how it may manifest. The first step is to identify you are experiencing it. But, in identifying you are experiencing it, don’t forget A LOT OF US ARE. I know top dancers, who I thought of as goddesses, feel threatened about little me working in Cairo, and refuse to be my friend any longer. It can happen to the very BEST OF US in the very same way that I was jealous and threatened by a beginner in dance class. Remember, you don’t know the back story of the person you are jealous of. Ironically, they are probably as jealous as you are and as insecure and even if they are not, they are fighting their own battles! Instead of allowing your jealousy to separate you from other dancers and make you feel like you are alone: “I’m the only one not getting work”, “I’m the only one feeling this depressed about how slow I’m progressing” or “My class numbers are lower than hers”, let it UNITE YOU MORE WITH OTHER DANCERS. Let it be a reminder that we are all in this together. We are all amazing women drawn to this art in seek of conquering these insecurities. Let's turn jealousy on its head and instead of separate us let it unite us. We all have to rebel against our conditioning and internalised hate. Nearly every bellydancer, in some way or another, is facing a similar battle.
STEP TWO: Don’t act on it, don’t dwell on it
Try your best not to act on it – or even imagine yourself in scenarios acting on it! You may feel yourself wanting to click the unlike thumb on her YouTube videos. You may feel yourself wanting to spread her deepest secret and slut shame her to all your friends; tell people not to go to her events; trust me it won’t make you feel any better. Probably, in the long run, you are just making your suffering worse. You’re adding negative actions to an already negative feeling. You’ll just make yourself feel crap. The more time you spend taking her down (literally or in your imagination) the more time you are replaying the painfulness of the situation. Also, the more time you are dwelling on it and letting it upset you means you are spending less time looking after yourself. Jealousy is a horrible experience for you. You need to deal with that issue, not keep dwelling on what is causing it.
Don’t beat yourself up about it – but don’t justify it with EGO
STEP THREE: Be kind to yourself
Regardless of if you act on it or not, DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT FEELING jealous. As I mentioned before, for many reasons jealousy is understandable but remember, these thoughts and actions don’t define you! It is just something you are experiencing. It isn’t something you are. BE KIND TO YOURSELF!! Give yourself some love and understanding. We are in a hard industry; a hard world in general, it is understandable. Take some time out to understand these feelings. Ask yourself why you have them; talk to yourself about them; REASSURE YOURSELF THAT THEY ARE OK FEELINGS TO HAVE. But don’t justify your feelings with ego (another bad energy), just sit with your feelings as they are.
What’s the difference? Well let’s take my case above about the woman in class I was jealous of. To justify it with ego I would tell myself, “Well it’s no wonder I am pissed off with the teacher giving her praise when she can’t do a good hip drop and she doesn’t know how to shimmy and I am so much better at x, y and z than her.” but to be kind and understanding with myself I would take an approach such as, “Zara, I know you are feeling jealous right now but it is ok. It’s no wonder because you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself. I know you want to be a better dancer; I know you feel stuck so of course all that praise to another in front of you is hard to deal with. Breathe – it’s OK. You’re a lovely dancer on your own path. You are probably progressing more than you realise. There is no need to feel jealous.”
STEP FOUR: Always remind yourself: another’s success does not detract from your own. ENJOY YOUR JOURNEY
It isn’t just sexist views that have lead to constant comparison of one’s self to others. Even in school with things like gold star awards and naming who is top of the class, we automatically start to compare our success to others. For example in a test at school you can get 97% but belittle this result because your best friend got 98%. This is ridiculous. Getting 97% is AMAZING but your comparison to others makes you dismiss the 97% and concentrate on the 1% difference, something that is irrelevant. Because someone got 1% more than you doesn’t take away your 97% of amazingness!
There is the famous saying, “Comparison is the biggest killer of joy” and it can easily kill your joy of bellydance, hobbyist or pro. Detach the success of others from your own. Be happy for them on their journey but be EQUALLY happy for your own. Their doing well doesn’t mean you are not! Acknowledge your own success and if you catch yourself saying things such as, “I’m crap because Mary is even better…/ or has more… / is more… blah blah” stop yourself. Reassure yourself and be kind and remind yourself comparison is irrelevant. Your achievements are still amazing. Your journey is your own, so appreciate every step of it. Mary’s journey is hers.
I hope these four steps of some help!!
On the receiving end of jealousy?
But if you are the one suffering as a result of someone's jealousy? I’m gonna just quickly give a few lines of advice on dealing with petty acts of jealousy you may experience in bellydance. Things like, other teachers not helping you or supporting your events; stopping their students attending; dancers clicking unlike on your YouTube video; not giving you gigs; bad mouthing you to work, stuff like that.
HOWEVER, if someone is in any way being abusive to you or you are in some sort of abusive relationship, it is beyond the scope of this article but PLEASE, PLEASE know you are not alone and seek help (links at end of article). LOOK AFTER YOURSELF distance yourself from toxic people. Do not keep horrible people in your life. Of course, easier said than done but always remember you don’t deserve to be treated horribly.
Back to pettiness: Ok so, you don’t deserve other dancers to be horrible to you or jealous of you. You’re more than likely going through more s**t than they could ever know. My advice is not to justify their behaviour but I do recommend you EMAPATHISE with it. Empathy means you can see why they are doing it – not that you agree with it. Society is hard on women. Maybe they have their own body issues and as a result lash out at other dancers they feel are prettier. Maybe they feel threatened by your hafla, even though you know you are not looking to steal their students. Maybe they have had a dancer backstab them in the past or even underlying issues from childhood. Just take a minute to understand them. This act of kindness in understanding the person will make you less angry with them, because getting angry will only hurt YOU!! And ALL acts of jealousy are about the giver NOT THE RECEIVER so as a receiver DON’T GIVE IT ANY OF YOUR TIME. Not even your anger or hurt. It won’t change what they are doing to you, and being less angry will make you more likely to think of a rational, calm, PRACTICAL solution to this person’s pettiness. Yes, you may need to block them or simply ignore them but these decisions are easier when you are less upset or angered by their actions.
End note and LINKS
Hope this article is in some way a help. I hope you enjoyed it, if that is the right word, and whether you are experiencing bellydance jealousy or are the receiver: remember you are not alone and have a little bit of kindness and compassion be it for yourself or the person doing you wrong AND ALWAYS DANCE IT OUT!!!!!!
If you enjoyed PLEASE SUBSCRIBE to my monthly newsletter/ Zameena it is a platform I do my best to use as a way of empowering other dancers, sharing the love of bellydance AND building our amazing bellydance community. If that isn’t reason enough, you also get a £5 voucher to spend at Zara’s Zouk online bellydance store…
RECOMMENDED READING: this article only scratches the surface of self kindness, something I am taking time to try and improve on. Jealousy is just one thing that it can help you deal with. A book I seriously recommend, it is not an easy read but so worth it, is: Self Compassion by Kristin Neff you can get it here and TRUST ME, IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE
Here are also some links for if at anytime you feel you need to talk to someone or to help you if you think you may be suffering from mental health issues or any abusive relationships.
Samaritans: 116 123 or email@example.com
National domestic violence hotline: 0808 2000 247 (women)
Men's advice line: 0808 801 0327
National LGBT+ domestic abuse helpline: 0800 999 5428
Also a big thank you to Roxane Grant Potography for the photo of me at beginning of the article.