Tuesday 5 October 2010

A Cautionary Tale...

So, something's been bugging me lately. I've been thinking about whether or not to say anything, and have ultimately decided to speak up because there are areas of deafening silence regarding ethical conduct in the world of bellydance. While I would prefer to just truck along and do my own thing, pretending nothing's up, that actually aids the lack of transparency that allows this stuff to go on. Instead, I protest.

Here's what happened: Recently, another tribal fusion teacher came and set up a directly competing class at my home studio. She didn't get in contact to ask what my thoughts or feelings might be, or if I had any advice about studio space she could hire in a pinch. She did write to tell me she'd set up her course--once the ink was dry on the paperwork--however she said it was only for six weeks.

Now, lest you think me oversensitive, London has literally hundreds of spaces that could be used for dance. By contrast, I could probably count on one hand the number of dancers in London who are teaching tribal fusion. Statistically, there's very little chance of two instructors of this niche form accidentally setting up shop in the same building.

Additionally, the building in question has been the home of my classes for over three years. The staff there are friends of mine; we exchange Christmas cards, and they have helped me develop my classes for years now.

I was not impressed with the situation with the new tribal fusion class, but, as the teacher had assured me that the situation was temporary, I set aside my annoyance and took her at her word when she said that after six weeks she would be in her own space.

Imagine my surprise when, without even an email to let me know she had done so, she extended her tenure across autumn and winter.

Tribal fusion is a really new dance form. There are not that many people who are established in it to the point of being able to teach; as I said, I could probably count on one hand the number of teachers in London. It seems to me that if one of those teachers has been established in a particular venue for a few years, that teacher's relationships to her students and her venue should be respected.

I slowly worked my class offerings up from one class, to two, to three, each step of the way waiting for space to become available. Waiting for studio space is part of the game in London, as any dance teacher can attest.

To try and circumvent that by setting up a directly competing class in a rare dance form within the building of an established teacher is at the least not very considerate, and, at the more sinister end, quite an aggressive tactic. It amounts to piggybacking--for years, I have spent money on advertising my courses, which has in turn brought hundreds of students though the doors. This makes it really easy for students to swap nights to novel class, conveniently at a studio they already know. Indeed, this has happened, and I don't think it's cool--while I always hope my students will learn with whomever catches their fancy, it's not my intention to inadvertently subsidize a competing teacher with my advertising budget.

I am a small enterprise; the inconsideration of this teacher has put pressure on my relationship with the venue that I've worked with happily for years, and on personal relationships that have grown over three years of me consistently teaching weekly classes there. It's disrespectful, disingenuous behaviour, and I think bellydancers can do better.


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