13 September 2016
These Hips Don’t Lie: The Telling of my Joining a Discourse Community
In the first few weeks in ENGL 1301, we have discussed the importance of mastering rhetorical skills. The main way we have learned to do so is by making appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos. Using such appeals enables writers and speakers to move their audience in whichever way they choose, like when you convince your parents to loan you their car or when you try to make friends to form a study group. One cannot move any audience or join any community without these appeals and in this paper I will prove that I have mastered the appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos and that I have used them to join the discourse community of belly dance. It gives me a chance to show you, my instructor, and you, my classmates that I have experience in joining a discourse community and it will also help you get to know me better.
In a discourse community, members must have common knowledge and ways of thinking, as well as particular terminology for their knowledge and thinking. To be a good belly dancer, I knew I would have to learn this terminology and learn how to think the way the other dancers do, but also that I would need to demonstrate this knowledge. Using the appeal of logos, I gained a place in the belly dance community. A good example of using the logos appeal is when my class and I were practicing for our very first on stage performance at an event called “Yaa Halla, Y’all.” The dance we were performing was the “Cantimilla”, a slow and graceful dance that required complete control of our bodies and extensive knowledge of belly dance basics. There are many steps in the Cantimilla that look similar but are executed differently and the class as a whole was having difficulty with them. Together we discussed the differences between the steps and the importance of executing them correctly, such as dancing an “omi” with only your hips but a “circle salom” with your entire midsection and hands. I pointed out that oftentimes an omi is much faster than a circle salom as it takes less of a body to perform, so when we only have a few “bars” of music left it means we do not have enough time to complete a circle salom before moving to the next “count.” I pointed out the same similarity between a “hagalla” and a “Turkish S” because even though the hip movements are virtually the same on both, a hagalla takes longer because you have to “slide” into it.
Even so, knowledge is not all that it takes to join a community. If you do not come off as a good person with good sense, good will, and good intentions to the people around you, other members of the community will be hard pressed to accept you as one of their own. In my time as a belly dancer I have been able to build enough credibility to be granted the privilege of dancing front and center in the class, which is the main focal point. My dance instructor, Isis, trusted me to know the steps and the music to our dances and not to mess up. She trusted me because I had demonstrated my ability to do these things and consistently helped out other girls in my class, giving them a better understanding of the dances we were learning. I have also been a dancer since the age of two, and while I did not start belly dance until age sixteen, I have the discipline and skill from my fourteen years of previous dance experience to carry me over to belly dance. Isis knows she does not have to stop and explain the basics of dance to me as I am experienced enough to already know and comprehend them.
Still, knowledge and credibility are not the only things one needs to become a member of a discourse community. One must be compassionate and learn to appeal to the thoughts and feelings of the other members of the community as well as show vulnerability and emotion themselves. For example, when I joined belly dance I was quite shy, afraid to speak up and ask questions and absolutely terrified of getting a step wrong in a dance. I had come directly from six years of Irish step dancing, a style that differs greatly from belly dancing. Step dancing required my body to be taut and rigid, each step executed with calculated precision. Belly dancing required my body to be fluid like water, each and every motion executed seamlessly to blend in with the next. I was not used to it and my body would not move right. Oftentimes I grew so frustrated I thought I might cry, wondering why I could not move beautifully and seamlessly like the other dancers around me. However, each time I showed frustration or a sign of tears, those dancers would quickly be by my side with their arms around me and smiles on their faces, giving me words of praise and encouragement. They stood with me through months of practice, watching me learn and improve and were supportive and helpful. As I grew more confident I began to support and help others as well, gaining not just friends, but a family.
Some people may argue that because I only have two years of experience belly dancing and because I do not perform and compete frequently I am not truly a member of this community. However, I disagree. I do not think that achievements and awards define whether or not someone is a member of a community, but that it is defined by the friendships and respect one builds between themselves and the other members. I do not think you can be a member of a community without being a participant, but I do not think that participating means winning contests and awards and achieving great things. In my case, I do not perform often and I do not compete at all, but I have still formed strong bonds with my fellow dancers and my instructors. I help the other dancers learn and grow and they do the same with me. I still work just as hard as the dancers that compete and love what I do just as much. A painter is still a painter even if their works do not wind up in a museum- so long as I am a part of the family that is belly dance; I am a valid member of a discourse community. Furthermore, people may argue that just explaining steps to a class full of confused dancers does not make me one of them, but I disagree. It was because I explained the steps that we were able to come to conclusions as a group on how to perform them accurately and how to listen in the music for clues as to which steps to perform. Anyone could mimic a dance instructor and try to pass it off as a step, but unless they break the steps down to understand them it will always come off as unpolished and sloppy. Knowing terminology and being able to break steps down to understand and perfect them is a vital part of any form of dance, as well as being able to listen to the music for cues as to what is coming next. If I do not listen to the music I could miss a cue to leave, to enter, or to perform a certain step and in doing so could throw off the rest of the dancers. Throughout my time in belly dance I have developed my ability to do these things and now I do not even have to think about the differences between steps and can dance them without difficulty. I have even memorized the different steps that go with different types of music, like hagallas for slow, graceful songs and shimmies for fast, upbeat ones. It is because of my ability to not only listen to the music but dance the steps in time that allowed me to master the knowledge and terminology necessary to become a member of the belly dance community.
Because of my experience joining the discourse community of belly dance, I see how important mastering the appeals of ethos, pathos and logos is and how it will affect me and my future careers. I started out shy and awkward in belly dance, but once I learned how to make these appeals towards the other members of the community; I was able to come out of my shell and be accepted as a member of the community and the family. Without these tools I would have remained the shy little girl in the back of the class with no friends and no camaraderie. Using these tools allowed me to join a discourse community and thus lead me to what have so far been the best years of my life. I see now how vital mastering rhetorical skills can be and I know that I will use the skills that I have learned in future discourse communities that I want to join. I hope that you, my instructor and you, my classmates, have mastered these skills as well.