New England Belly Dance Survey: Part 1

Aleksie of Boston

Introduction

“Who are the belly dancers in New England? What factors cause them to attend events?” These two questions I had regarding this community were the starting point for this survey project. In my brief time back in Boston/New England, I have become more and more involved with the community and volunteered my time to help organize and promote events. However, I realized that I really had no idea to whom we are marketing. As organizers and promoters, are we spending our money in ways that make sense?

After discussing these issues with other members of our community, I decided that we should do a study on this matter, which has evolved and covers a multitude of issues. Over the course of the summer, I plan on publishing the results of this study on Belly Dance New England as a broad overview of the New England belly dance community. I will then focus on specific areas of the community, as well as possibly a more rigorous analysis. This article covers the first two sections of the survey, found here

Methodology

Before creating the survey, I emailed a wide-range of event organizers in the New England states, independent of style. My rationale for having others contribute was two-fold. One was to determine what questions to ask because I am not incredibly in-tune with New England belly dance in general, and am fairly new to organizing events. One of the goals of the survey is to create a resource for other belly dancers in New England, so I figured asking others for what they would want to know would be ideal for such a project.

The second purpose was that I wanted the project to be inclusive. Working together is good for the community. In terms of the survey, I wanted New England belly dancers to know that this survey is for anyone in New England who considers him/herself a belly dancer.

Those who replied to my email were placed on an email list where we discussed the survey. This discussion began in July 2011 and 15 organizers from across New England agreed to continue on with this discussion. These organizers included Amy Smith of MA/Belly Dance New England, Kanina of RI, Amity of NH, Meiver of Boston, Phaedra of Boston, Shadia of Boston, and Badriya al-Badi'a of Boston.

Initially, we discussed what topics to cover with the emphasis on what people are actually doing rather than what they would hypothetically do. Discussions with friends from other locations indicate what people say they would do is not always in agreement with what they actually do.

After this discussion, the organizers sent survey questions to me. The questions were compiled into a list that was then discussed via email. Because several of the questions were remarkably similar (e.g. What style do you dance?), questions were selected by which was more clearly worded, had more or better-defined options, or a combination of the afore-mentioned criteria.

The survey was placed in a Google Docs Survey format on my Google account. Google Docs was selected because it was easy to use and free. I took the survey once to approximate how much time a participant should anticipate and added 5 minutes. The additional 5 minutes was because I had quite a bit of familiarity with the survey at this point and could anticipate not only the content of the questions but also the order in which they appeared.

Once the organizers on the list approved of the survey, we released the survey to the public on 31 January 2012. We began to advertise through Facebook (status posts, any relevant groups), the New England Belly Dance Calendar Yahoo! List, Bhuz.com, personal email contact lists, and of course, through Belly Dance New England where Amy Smith had a notice on the homepage of the site. The language used to advertise the survey was crafted to be as explicit as possible that we truly wanted anyone who identifies themselves as a belly dancer in New England, regardless of style, level, or New England location.

Many of these advertising means were carefully updated to ensure that as many people as possible were informed about the survey but not so much to be spam. I personally made announcements about the survey on my personal Facebook account once or twice a week throughout this process. Late February, I contacted teachers who are listed on Belly Dance New England to see if they would send out notices to their students.

To encourage participation, we had agreed upon a $25 raffle prize. Amy Smith collected the money from the various organizers on the survey organization list and donated money via Belly Dance New England. We raised enough money for two $25 prizes. Because the survey is anonymous, participants had to email info@bellydancenewengland.com with their name and email address.

The survey was closed on 30 March 2012, with the raffle closing on 15 March 2012, meaning the survey ran for two months. Using Mathematica’s random number generator, the raffle winners were selected.

Our total number of participants is 160 from across New England.

Survey Analysis Methodology

Once the survey was closed, analysis began. I have been the only person who has access to and seen the data in its entirety, further increasing confidentiality.

Survey Analysis Methodology: Quantitative

Google Docs Surveys can be downloaded in an Excel format. This format is compatible with SPSS, the statistical software package I use. The data was not quite usable for analysis; for instance, I removed units (e.g. years) from the numeric data so I could average the numbers. If participants specified a range, I averaged the range of numbers and rounded up if the decimal were 0.5 or larger. If participants gave an answer such as 4+ years, I would use 4 rather than estimate what + meant. If participants specified a distance rather than a time length, I assumed one is driving at 45 MPH and calculated time from the speed estimation.

One disadvantage to using Google Docs Surveys is multiple-selection questions are not already separated. An example of this is the “What aspects of a performance event would cause you to NOT attend?” question. If a participant selected multiple answers, the multiple answers appear as text separated by commas. This would not allow the software to tally results easily. The “Text to Columns” feature in Excel was used to separate response.

These modifications were performed in a second sheet to preserve the original data as well as to not overwrite other responses, which “Text to Columns” will do.

Survey Analysis Methodology: Qualitative

While much of the survey contained multiple-choice questions or more numeric responses, there were some open-ended questions. Of those open-ended questions, several of those yielded less straightforward responses. Those questions are:

  1. What type of dance education do you feel you need to be a good all around belly dancer? 
  2. If you could change one thing about your dance experience, what would it be and why?
  3. What workshop topics are of interest to you?
  4. How much does your perception of age, body type or skill level/experience affect your willingness to participate in events?
  5. How much does your perception of age, body type or skill level/experience of the other participants affect your willingness to participate in events?
  6. What are the biggest issues facing your particular dance community?
  7. What are the biggest issues facing the general New England dance community?
  8. What are the things about the venue or space, the teacher or community where you practice regularly that help you remain connected to dance? What helps keep you coming back?
  9. Are there any other thoughts, opinions or pieces of advice you wish to share?

Results from the first two questions are in this article. Subsequent articles will feature the other questions.

To ensure they were categorized accurately, Badriya al-Badi'a of Boston agreed to work on this part of the survey. I asked her because she has a strong background in the social sciences, has been a member of this community for many years, and participates in both traditional and alternative belly dance events. She is also in the Boston-area and could meet with me as needed.

We both had Excel sheets with the questions and responses without the rest of the data in order to not bias our categories, i.e. we had no information on dancer location, age, style, etc. when working with these questions. We met twice: once to discuss a timeline and how to work on this and a second time to discuss our results after we had independently categorized responses.

Our categorization was largely similar. I selected the categories that best captured the essence of the responses. Once I had determined this, I asked Badriya if she agreed with the final results which she did.

Results and Analysis

The figures and tables below show various demographic attributes of the respondents. Due to the amount of information provided, I decided to present the material a bit atypically with the results reported in the captions of each figure.

General Demographics

 

 

Fig. 1: Histogram of the ages of the respondents. Out of 160 respondents, 153 provided an age. The youngest was 12 while the oldest 67. The average age is 40.4 +/- 11 years. As shown in the figure, the majority of respondents were in their 40s.

 

Fig. 2: Plot of the location of the respondents with the frequency of each location. All respondents provided a location. The bulk of the respondents were from the Boston-metro area and Rhode Island. These numbers likely do not fully represent the number of dancers in each area, e.g. there is likely more than 30 belly dancers in the Boston-metro area. The limitations of this survey are discussed in section 4.

Respondent Employment Status

Employment Status

Frequency

% of cases

Full-time

109

68.6

Part-time

33

20.8

Student

10

6.3

Unemployed

2

1.3

Other

16

10.1

 

Table 1: Table of the employment statuses. The bulk of respondents were employed full-time. Because respondents were allowed to select multiple answers, the total number of responses is 170. A total of 159 respondents answered this question.

Dancer Info

Fig. 3: Plot of the respondents’ levels in terms of dance. Four respondents did not provide an answer. The majority of respondents consider themselves intermediate. The Other category included responses where respondents emphasized a lot of experience or being in between the given categories.

Fig. 4: Plot of the number of years the respondent had been dancing. The range is from 0 to 40 years with a mean of 10 +/-9 years. The total number of responses is 156.

How would you describe your dance style?

Dance Style

Frequency

% of cases

Arabic

72

45.9

American Cabaret/Vintage Oriental

68

43.3

Turkish

44

28.0

Folkloric

36

22.9

American Tribal Style (ATS)

26

16.6

Other Fusion

26

16.6

Unsure

25

15.9

Tribal Fusion

25

15.9

Lebanese

7

4.5

Egyptian

5

3.2

Gothic

2

1.3

Gypsy Fusion

1

0.6

Modern Oriental

1

0.6

Belly dancing

1

0.6

North African

1

0.6

Turkish Rom

1

0.6

Table 2: Table of dancer-defined style. Most dancers identified as multiple styles, some as many as 6 different styles. While perhaps some of the styles could have been aggregated such as American Belly Dance with American Cabaret/Vintage Oriental, I chose to present the responses as is as I was not sure if that was what the respondent meant.

How did you study dance over the past 365 days?

Dance Study

Frequency

% of cases

Group Classes

114

71.7

Workshops

89

56

DVDs

74

46.5

Private or semi-private lessons

34

21.4

Online courses

5

3.1

Other

9

5.6

 

Table 3: Table of how respondents studied belly dance. Out of 160 respondents, 159 answered this question. Most dancers provided several answers, as it is common for dancers to study through multiple means. The percent of cases is the percent of the total, e.g. 114 respondents out of 159 respondents studied belly dance via group classes, making the percent 71.7. The Other category yielded results that include Shimmy TV, observing other dancers, YouTube, and one’s own practice.

What roles do you play in your community?

Roles in Community

Frequency

% of cases

Student

126

80.3

Performer (haflas/theater/variety shows/other)

82

52.2

Teacher

58

36.9

Performer (Night club/private gigs/restaurant)

49

31.2

Event Organizer

34

21.7

Vendor

16

10.2

Event Volunteer

9

5.6

Other

7

4.5

Table 4: Table of the roles respondents play in their communities. Out of 160 respondents, 157 answered this question. Most dancers provided several answers, as it is common for dancers to hold multiple roles. The Other category yielded results that include mentor and audience member or supporter.

Information on Students Taking Classes

The average commute to dance classes by public transit is approximately 40+/- 52 minutes based upon 19 responses. The minimum public transit commute was 5 minutes and the maximum was 240. If a range of commute times was provided, the higher number was selected.

The average commute to dance classes for those who drive to classes is approximately 27 +/- 16 minutes based upon 101 responses. The minimum driving commute is 2 minutes and the maximum is 75 minutes. If a range of commute times was provided, the higher number was selected.

If you drive to class, what is the parking situation like?

Parking for Classes

Frequency

% of cases

Parking lot

82

89.1

Street

26

28.3

Other

5

5.4

Table 5: Table discussing the parking situations for classes. 92 people responded to this question, with multiple responses. The Other category included various forms of parking, such as a pay lot or a driveway.

Because many people provided a range in amount they paid for classes, I selected the highest in the range.  Many people pay per session/term and provided the length of one term with the total cost, so total cost was divided by number of classes within a term. Because many people provided cost per class without length of class, I simply went with cost per class regardless of class length. I excluded 11 cases, because they did not provide the required information to calculate cost per class or the classes were labeled as private lessons. 100 respondents answered this question. The average cost of a class is $15.6 +/- 4.97. The maximum of these is $35, while the minimum is $3.

When asked “How much are you willing to pay, per class, for an hour-long class with a qualified teacher in a dance studio?”, 36 respondents provided a range. I selected the highest number in the range again. 102 participants provided responses. The average amount people are willing to pay per class for the given criteria is $17.4 +/- 4.44, with a maximum of $102 and a minimum of $10.

Information on Dance Teachers

Fig. 5: Plot of the number of years the respondent have been teaching belly dance. Some respondents provided more ambiguous answers, e.g + years or using the phrase “or so” after writing the number of years they taught. In order to calculate the statistics, the numeric value was taken as is. The range is from 0.42 to 40 years with a mean of 9.5+/-10.8 years. The total number of responses is 58.

What level classes do you teach?

Levels Taught

Frequency

% of cases

Beginner

52

91.2

Advanced Beginner

36

63.2

Intermediate

32

56.1

Advanced/Semi-Pro

17

29.8

Professional

7

12.3

Open-level

12

21.1

 

Table 6: Table discussing the level of classes taught. 57 people responded to this question, with multiple responses.

I did not analyze the number of students in a class question because in retrospect I believe the question was unclear. I also believe it would be a useless statistic as it would be comparing unlike classes. It yielded a mixture of answers, ranging from 2 to 55.

Dance Interests

Why do you study belly dance?

Reasons why

Frequency

% cases

For exercise

114

77.6

Just for fun

104

70.7

It makes me feel better about myself

102

69.4

To make friends and be involved in the dance community

79

53.7

I want to perform at dancer events but not professionally

78

53.1

I want to dance professionally

41

27.9

Other

32

21.8

 

Table 7: Table tabulating the results to the question “Why do you study belly dance?” 147 people responded to this question, with multiple responses. The “Other” category yielded responses ranging from learning reasons to artistic fulfillment to physical and mental well-being to working as a professional.

What is your ideal venue?

Ideal Venue

Frequency

% cases

Professionally staged shows in a theater or similar venue

106

68.8

Informal haflas

96

62.3

Fundraisers

88

57.1

Professional restaurants/nightclubs

74

48.1

Just for friends/other dancers

59

38.3

Private gigs

41

26.6

I don’t wish to perform

7

4.5

Other

14

9.1

Table 8: Table tabulating the results to a question pertaining to where respondents were ideally like to perform. 154 people responded to this question, with multiple responses. The “Other” category yielded responses ranging from venues with live music to nursing homes.

Where do you perform?

Place of performance

Frequency

% cases

Informal haflas

106

68.8

Professionally staged shows in a theater or similar venue

96

62.3

Fundraisers

88

57.1

Professional restaurants/nightclubs

69

45.4

Just for friends/other dancers

61

40.1

Private gigs

44

28.9

I have never performed but would like to someday

16

10.5

Nursing homes

5

3.3

Recital

5

3.3

I don’t wish to perform

4

2.6

Other

10

6.6

 

Table 9: Table tabulating the results to a question pertaining to where respondents were actually performing. 152 people responded to this question, with multiple responses. The “Other” category yielded responses ranging from cultural events to festivals to more general public venues such as ball games or parades.

What skills have you learned?

Skills learned

Frequency

% cases

Technique

149

95.5

Zills/sagat

126

80.8

Veil

120

76.9

Performance skills

113

72.4

Musicality

110

70.5

Historical/cultural information

108

69.2

Cane

75

48.1

Fusion props

53

34.0

Other

16

10.3

Table 10: Table tabulating the results to a question pertaining to the skills respondents have learned. 156 people responded to this question, with multiple responses. The “Other” category yielded responses ranging from sword to tahtib to improv to costuming to professional standards.

What type of dance education do you feel you need to have to be a good all-around belly dancer?

Category

Frequency

Example response

Musicality/music education

45

“I think it starts with being comfortable with the music for me. There also has to be a natural inclination to dance along to the music.”

Middle Eastern dance technique

43

 

Cultural knowledge and history

40

“If you're going to perform folklore or call yourself "Turkish" or "Arabic" style, it's necessary to learn the role of the dance in that culture and a bit about the culture itself.  If you're a fusion dancer or modern dancer, learning Middle Eastern culture is less important, but you should still know where your style came from.”

Experiencing multiple/all styles of belly dance

26

“Classical Belly dance to appropriately ethnic music (Arabic, Turkish, sometimes Greek and Armenian) is the foundation EVERYONE needs no matter what offshoot into interpretive dance they may choose. Otherwise, how can you call yourself a belly dancer? You can't.”

“Having a strong understanding of the cultural aspects of your particular style, understanding the various other styles. Can you tell a student why something is Turkish-style, even if that's not what you study?”

Western dance (ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop)

19

 “A traditional western dance background helps (ballet, jazz, etc.) - especially for entertaining today's American audiences, and definitely if you'll be performing professionally on a large stage a distance from your audience.”

“I think students could benefit form classes in other disciplines [tap, musical theater, jazz was mentioned earlier by respondent]. These would help with turns, strong stretched feet, arms and presence.”

Quality teachers

16

 

Stagecraft

15

 

Expressiveness/personality

15

“The most important thing is the feeling, and the ability of the dancer to enjoy herself with the audience.”

Fitness/physical development

12

“Know about the body, what is strengthening and what is dangerous.”

Self-guided learning (practice, watching video)

12

 

Ability to improvise

12

“Dance every chance you get! The most painful dance education, and therefore the most beneficial, is improvisation.”

Continuing education (workshops, DVDs, etc.)

11

 

Ability to choreograph

11

 

Zills/sagat

10

 

Folklore

9

 

Props

8

 

Ethics

6

“A well rounded, educated belly dancer maintains a more professional appearance and ideology.”

All of the above (Technique, choreography, historical/cultural information, musicality, veil, cane, zills/sagat, fusion props, performance skills, teacher skills)

6

 

Costuming knowledge

5

 

Table 11: Table tabulating the results to a question: “What type of dance education do you feel you need to have to be a good all around belly dancer?” 145 people responded to this question in short-answer responses. Listed above are the themes or categories that 5 or more people mentioned. For clarification, some individual responses are listed in the third column.

 If you could change one thing about your dance experience, what would it be and why?

Category

Frequency

Example response

More access to classes (location, time, level

21

“If I could have a proficient instructor and studio a little closer to me so I didn't have to commute in bad weather. “

“There are no current instructors in my area; all belly dance class sessions are more than an hour's drive each way...no way to consistently maintain and progress in my dance skills.”

Started earlier/younger

17

 

Wouldn’t change anything

15

 

Community less clique-y, less drama, more cooperative, more professional

13

“Belly dance Drama! I hate it! There is so much bullying, back biting, favoritism, and all out nastiness going around! I hate that people will spread stuff that is not true about people and others believe it without checking.”

 

“To upgrade the level of professionalism in teaching and performing, stronger and employment situations for dancers”

More performance venues/opportunities

11

“More opportunities to help new dancers perform publicly. It's one of the best feelings when a student takes the stage for the first time and reminds me why this dance is so magical. It brings such confidence and power to the dancer/student.”

 

“Would like to see more cooperation between dance teachers to put on shows and create more spaces for students to dance in without needing to fight for a dance spot.”

More pro opportunities

8

“I would like to have more gigs overall. Being able to perform sharpens my technique and gives my dance feedback much quicker than practice time. Plus I just love to share belly dance with others!”

More improv training

6

 

Have more money

6

“My dance experiences have become extremely limited in the last few years by financial stress which forces me to work constantly and prevents me from paying for workshops, traveling to urban venues, etc.”

Life events getting in the way

6

“To have never stopped - took a number of years off for marriage & having a family.”

More self-confidence

5

“To feel more sure, and completely confident of ones self… Without confidence your true self is hindered...”

“I wish I liked my body more early on.  It would have made the first few years of dance more enjoyable and less uncomfortable.”

Table 12: Table tabulating the results to a question: “If you could change one thing about your dance experience, what would it be and why?” 144 people responded to this question in short-answer responds. Listed above are the themes or categories that 5 or more people mentioned. For clarification, some individual responses are listed in the third column.

Limitations and Further Research

Limitations

While much can be gleaned from this survey, there are limitations,  like with any study. The most prominent limitation is the number of responses. There is no census indicating how many people who identify themselves as belly dancers exist in New England, but I suspect there are more than 160. This limitation may have been a result of any or several of the following.

The survey itself may have limited our response rate. People may have been daunted by the amount of time it took. We offered a raffle prize for that reason. Although the length of the survey may have been intimidating, we all felt the questions were worthwhile to ask. Designing the survey was a lengthy process, so optimizing the survey’s functions was necessary. This means more questions and, hence, a longer survey.

Being a relatively unknown member of the community, some people did inquire why I was emailing them about the survey. I provided them with the truth: I wanted to have some data to portray the community rather than simply base things upon limited experience or anecdotal evidence and to provide insight as to how to best service this community. There are no other reasons and by placing this information on the Internet, it is available to anyone. It is possible, however, those people were not convinced of those reasons or were skeptical and did not contact, with both hypothetical scenarios resulting in less participation.

Finally, there may have been some doubts as to whether the survey was for x group, e.g. dancers not in Boston. Some answers in the survey expressed uncertainty as to whether the survey was for them to answer. I anticipated giving the impression that it was either a Boston/MA survey or one for Arabic-style dancers, because both are true about me. To be as inclusive as possible, I sought the advice and help of dancers all over New England for the survey design, contacted teachers in every area of New England I could find to help spread the word, as well as wording ads as explicitly as possible to ensure inclusion regardless of New England location, belly dance style, level, and any category I may have left out. The survey was for anyone who claims to be a belly dancer. Other dancers from various areas used similar language to advertise.

Despite these limitations, we have collected a rich set of data. What is to be done with the data and these results? I intend on writing semi-regular articles for Belly Dance New England on this data with further analysis, including presenting the rest of the collected data.

I hope the results can help aid organizers and teachers make informed choices in their events and their classes. I encourage others to write about the topics of these results, e.g. what do you think makes a well-rounded belly dancer and why, do additional studies/interviews/articles, and take active steps to resolve some of the issues mentioned.

Special thanks to those who supported this project, which includes: Amy Smith of MA/Belly Dance New England, Kanina of RI, Amity of NH, Meiver of Boston, Phaedra of Boston, Shadia of Boston, and Badriya al-Badi'a of Boston. Also, thank you to those who helped advertise this survey and for those who participated, both tasks so vital to this process; without data, there is nothing to analyze!