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.