What’s the first word that pops into your mind when you think of the life of a travelling belly dancer? What one word describes the experience of traveling the world dancing at luxury hotels and other touristic venues? Glamour? Adventure? Nope: for me it’s loneliness. Dancers that have chosen this lifestyle have sacrificed relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners. While of course the adventure of hopping on a plane to a new destination where you will be performing every night is exciting, and those couple hours per night you spend at the venue do feel glamorous, the hours in between shows can be long and lonely. Unlike many musicians or other performance troupes, belly dancers usually perform alone. Much of the time you end up in a foreign country where you don’t know a soul. There are always staff members to befriend, but the contracts tend to be short enough (usually 2-3 months) that there isn’t much time to develop close relationships, especially romantic relationships. Performing every night doesn’t give a lot of time to meet people besides those at the place where you are working, and dating people who know you as “the belly dancer” tends to be a bad idea. In fact it is actually forbidden on most contracts to associate with guests outside of work, or even to sit at their table.
After awhile when homesickness kicks in you start contacting your friends back home to try to feel connected again. But guess what? After you’ve missed their birthday, wedding, etc. they tend to feel your communications are a little less urgent. But you had to choose between flying all the way across the world to attend and accepting a contract that will keep your bills paid for the next 3 months when you’ve run out of money from the last contract that ended a month ago. And if you say no to your agent this time there’s a good chance you’re not going to be one of his first choices the next time around. Of course your friends understand, but it’s difficult to keep the bonds strong when neither friend feels the other is 100% there for them.
So why do we do it? For the love of dance of course, and because the feeling is loneliness is easier to bear than the feeling of emptiness that comes from not dancing. Those that have established themselves in a place where they can make a good living with their dancing and have a balanced life surrounded by people they care about are fortunate. For the rest of us, we will just have to keep searching.