Thursday, October 1, 2015

Interview with the Author: Tava Naiyin

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals hit the market earlier this year. This self-help book for aspiring dancers is distinct from others in its approach. Instead of the contents of the gig bag, Tava zooms in on the life of a performing artist, and how to create a career of integrity and longevity.
Tava herself has been dancing her entire life, taking her first bellydance class at age four in California. Years later, she went on to become a professional bellydancer in New York City. Today she's a bellydancer, instructor, choreographer, blogger, and mentor based in Connecticut. She lives with her husband, a stage manager to the likes of Diana Ross and The New York Dolls, as well as three cats and a dog with varying levels of artistic talent.

Tava, what prompted you to write this book?

After years in the industry, I'd seen a number of things I wanted to speak up about. I find that new dancers want to do things the right way, but may simply not know how. No one told them "the rules." When I started, there seemed to be more mentoring going on. The students I knew waited for their teacher's blessing to go pro, and had someone to turn to along the way. Now, a lot of learning happens via YouTube clips. Many things fall through the cracks. I don't expect people to agree with everything I write, but I'm happy if they consider it and form their own opinions based on knowledge and experience -- rather than assumption.

What do you wish for the reader to get out of this book?

They will know which issues they are likely to face when turning their hobby into a business and what it's like to be a pro dancer. I want to give the reader a realistic idea of what that means, instead of the fantasy we all have in our heads as aspiring dancers. Should you turn your passion into a paycheck? How will you get through a slow gig month without falling into financial despair? Do you want to put on makeup and dance when you have fever? The answer may not be a resounding yes.

Give us an example of a gig gone wrong!

Back when I was fresh in the field, I used to book shows verbally, and I was hired to dance at a maternity store opening. There was some media, and I was already out in my costume to take some pictures...when suddenly, I was escorted into the back area. There had been a major miscommunication between the store owner and the person who hired me: the owner only wanted a pregnant bellydancer! Obviously, I didn't fit the profile. I was not paid at all. Today, this could never happen to me, as I would have created a contract and collected a deposit well before the event.

Wow. So what are some of the issues in the dance scene today?

Well, there are amazing dancers out there who conduct themselves with tact and professionalism. But, of course, there are others who seem to emerge out of nowhere, buy expensive costumes, create a website or online profile, and poof! They become "professional" overnight. But being hire-able doesn't mean the dancer is ready to go pro. Ignoring professional standards devalues the same art form we are trying so hard to promote as legit and respectable.
An example that comes to mind is dancers not costuming themselves properly. This is not about morality - different dances simply have a different aesthetic. In some dance forms, flashing your crotch area, covered with tights or micro shorts, while turning fast or lifting your leg is totally acceptable. In bellydance, it's too much information - and usually way too up close. Much like a woman on the street whose skirt gets blown in the wind, the audience is seeing something they're not supposed to see. Dancers coming into bellydance from ballroom or ballet may simply not know this.
Other times, a raised stage might lead to an oops moment. The dancer turns, and the audience down below sees all of her business.

There's also the etiquette of dancing together with others when nothing is pre-planned. And, of course, how to cover a gig for another dancer without making waves. I have a number of contributors who weigh in to share thoughts on topics we face as dancers. I love having multiple perspectives.

Staying inspired in a long career can be a challenge. How do you keep the love alive?

One of the contributors of the book, Riskallah, actually discusses this in depth. In a nutshell: keep learning and remain a student. I'm so deeply in love with this dance which has supported me, brought me my closest friends and helped me find my confidence - and maintain my humility. I want the same for everyone who chooses this path.

Photo by Joe Marquez

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals 
is available here.