Sunday, July 29, 2007


I have to admit i'm having a bit of a bellydance-related-crisis.

I encountered my first brush with fundamentalism a while ago, I was asked why I "degraded myself in front on an audience" and how would I ever expect to find a husband? And while I think that I explained the dance and my motives pretty well, it was still a bit of a wake-up call.

I'm planning on going to the Middle East to teach English and study dance in the winter, and it's just hitting me now that I can't say that I'm a bellydancer if I expect to be employed, respected and treated as a professional. This really upsets me as I think that being a dance teacher and performer is a wonderful thing, and I'd love to have in on my TESOL resume as I think it really qualifies me to teach there. It seems so ironic to me that the very countries that I have dedicated my life to studying the dances of, are the ones that I can't admit this to! You'd think they'd appreciate someone who is so fascinated with their culture, yet it's places like China that would actually respect this!

Also, it's hard to feel like people appreciate your art when a large portion of our audience views us as some sort of party trick, and assumes that we want to be sexualized. Just last night I pulled up a guest at a restuarant and had him dance with me, and instead of thanking me as he sat down, he slapped my butt. Shocked, I kind of gave the audience an unimpressed look, but I was in full performance mode and couldn't think of what to do. I wanted to come back after I'd changed and give him a piece of my mind, but I just wanted to leave at that point.

This is a serious problem for dancers, people have been fired for stopping a show due to customer harassment. Restaurant owners seem to think it's just a hazard of the job and it's our job to just "go on with the show" and not make any one feel uncomfortable, even if they just grabbed us.

I think that Western men just don't understand how they are supposed to react to a bellydancer. Should they look away? Smile politely? Made crude comments to their buddies? Shake their pelvis wildly at us? Its pretty disheartening after studying this dance for so long and working so hard on being a great performer, so see that a lot of our audiences view us as basically a clothed stripper who is there to embarass, seduce and make fun of the men.

My plan of attack has always been to project my joy and love of the dance and hope that this shines though...but people always project their own experiances and assuptions onto you no matter what you do. I'm starting to wonder if the nightclub/party scene is really for me.



Rani said...

Yes, Laura, I can see how that can be very disheartening. I think it's important to put it in the perspective that women from some cultures are still forbidden to dance in public, and the freedom that women have here in North America scares the bejesus out of them. It's also not complete freedom that we have here, as men in our own culture really don't get it either. They see sensual and they think sex, and they see sexy women as tarts, not as artists. It just goes to show we have a lot more education to spread about the dance to the world, and particularly to men!

Don't give up!

Bless you for sharing this, could help a lot of people!

Charlotte said...

Laura, I'm having problems with quite a bit of what you said in your post:
First, from your description this is not a brush with "fundamentalism". Fundamentalism is a much more extreme and serious and dangerous condition. Bellydancing is still a questionable "art form", and there is a very very fine line between it being distasteful and it being classy - and I've seen both.

You mention at the end that maybe the nightclub/party scene isn't for you, what did you expect at the nightclub/party scene? The people who frequent that scene expect that you're nothing more than a stripper... Do you think nightclub owners want you to perform there so their patrons can appreciate Middle-Eastern culture? To enjoy Arabic music? Or perhaps, it's more likely to salivate over your shimmies? Why are you surprised? And it isn't the "fundamentalists" only who think that, I've heard liberal Arab mothers say the same thing, as well as cultured feminist white Canadians. I've seen Arabesque dancers perform in wonderful "toned down" choreographies, but I've also seen some performances which were - nothing more than unrelenting displays of "come-hither" sexuality, and the latter left me feeling cold and disgusted.

As for your trip to the Middle East, please remember that what you have been trained in, is nothing more than cultural appropriation at best, and that Middle Eastern culture has a lot more richness and history to it than just hip accents and undulations. And the last time I checked, China isn't a resource on feminism and respect for humanity.

Bellydancing is tons of fun most of the time, but I don't think you should take it so seriously, nor pretend that it is a serious form of art.

Anonymous said...

I can see why its disheartening, and its really sad the stereotypes people have about dancers, to the extent where you were treated the way you were at the nightclub. Its amazing how people, or really men, are brainwashed about these stereotypes, when really it is not about that when it comes to dancing in public. Although I only recently started bellydancing, I've performed a bit too and commend you for sharing your story. Men were bilogically made to think about one thing, sadly enough, but when they project it in public the wrong way, it's even worse. BTW- it's okay to take bellydancng seriously, your good at it! I take dancing seriously in general but that's all for now :-)