What We Show and How We Want To Be Seen

June 23, 2013 6 Comments

Hello there dear blog readers… it’s been a while.  I’ve been on a bit of a creative break – but that may be the subject of another blog post sometime soon.

So, what has spurred this post out of the blue? Shira shared a link on Facebook tonight that really tapped a spot in my belly dance world view that has always felt incongruous within myself – and perhaps other dancers. With that in mind, I thought I’d try a different sort of post this time and open up a discussion here.

Dina, who is no stranger to controversy or attention in her home country of Egypt, has recently gotten a new kind of negative attention for her unique take on the presentation of bellydance. Her performance to a song with religious associations in the film “Abdou Mouta” has been censored by the Egyptian Culture Minister. In what seems to be part of the blow-back from this, her performance at the high-profile wedding of a soccer star was cancelled just as she arrived to the gig to avoid offending some of the more conservative guests.

None of that is too surprising given the turn of political events in Egypt. And that’s not what’s on my mind.

The easiest way to get bellydancers riled up is to associate them with strippers –  to even mention the two in the same sentence!  We are dancers. We are artists. We perform a beautiful dance from another culture.  (I bet you’ve said some version of one of these statements to someone at some time.) We try to show our audiences the difference between beautifully sensual and crassly sexual, putting artistic and cultural space between bellydance and stripping or other “exotic dance” forms.  We want the artistic respect from the general public that other performers enjoy and we’re willing to work for it. That’s one widely-voiced view in Bellydance Land looking over the horizon toward General Public Land.

Now let’s turn around and look inside our own territory. Reading through threads on Bhuz and Tribe (remember that?)  you’ll find scads of discussions spanning years on how to develop, promote and display the kind of artistic integrity that will put bellydance in the same artistic class as ballet, modern and other professional stage forms.  We fawn over – even idolize – the mega-stars who dance so beautifully.

Here’s the incongruity I wrestle with. If we feel so strongly about showing bellydance in a way that will garner respect for the skill and art that it is, why are we so willing to elevate and celebrate stars that have built their fame as much on the aspects we try to downplay as their dance skills? After all, it is the most highly-visible class of dancers that help shape the general public perception of bellydance.

How do you want to be seen as a dancer? How would you wish the art  to be represented to the general public? Do you think stars in outrageous costumes do a disservice to the larger dance community?  I’m throwing a pretty broad topic out there and I know you’ve got thoughts.

All respectfully stated opinions are welcome… let’s talk.

Mahin (121 Posts)

Professional instructor and performer of Middle Eastern belly dance, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and author or the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”. Belly Dance Artrepreneur, Workshop instructor, performer, event producer, and bellydance writer.

  1. Roxane Webster
    June 24, 2013 at 7:18 am

    I actually received a comment from a man comparing our dress to the employees at Hooters and Twin Peaks restaurants and asking how is it any different? Oh, my, can you imagine my response?

  2. Barbara Kasem
    June 24, 2013 at 9:18 am

    I as a beginner older dancer truly respect belly dance as a cultural art. It is a woman’s body that some cultures have no perspective to respect and accept as an artistic expression. Why? Men with bad thoughts toward women and freedom. Why aren’t men dancers banned? I do think dancing
    As a belly dancer has a responsibility to uphold respect for the skills a
    s well as the presentation due to current events still happening for dancers in Egypt. I applaud their bravery and commitment.

  3. Rasha Nour
    July 22, 2013 at 9:28 am

    I don’t think we can judge dancers in the Middle East by the same standards that we judge dancers in the West. They are operating under totally different cultural conditions – they would never be considered respectable by most people even if their costumes were always 100% modest and tasteful to the American eye. And to be honest, I generally feel that they have more authority to make their own decisions about how they want to present their dance than we do as cultural outsiders.

    I also don’t think that the behaviour of dancers in Egypt really influences the opinion of the GP, at least here in the UK. Most people have never even heard of Dina (or anyone else, for that matter). If a non-dancer has heard of anyone, it’ll be Rachel Brice or Sadie (or Shakira!) :-/
    We do get the odd person who thinks we’re some kind of stripper or exotic dancer, but these people are usually the ones who know next to nothing about the dance, rather than having been influenced by modern costuming trends.

    I do also get the sense from taking part in forums and things that we are culturally a lot more liberal about things like revealing costumes here than in the US. Dancers here seem to have a lot less angst about showing a bit of leg or cleavage, and as far as I can tell most members of the GP here don’t have a problem with modern Egyptian-style costuming or find it inappropriate (though I’ve never seen someone wear anything Dina-esque for a GP performance!). So it may be that I will never really see eye to eye with American dancers on this issue…

    1. Mahin
      July 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm

      Thanks for sharing your opinion, Rasha. In general, Europeans do have a more liberal attitude toward displaying flesh – good point.

  4. Rachel
    July 24, 2013 at 7:35 am

    I live in the South(ern U.S.) and the town I lived in has started to accept and respect belly dance as more of an art form, but it was a struggle. I, myself, am a dancer on the more modest of end of the costuming spectrum, but that is, in part, by personal choice and in part trying to change misconceptions about the dance. I had a lot of people, when I started out, tell me they did not “move like that in public” or tell me they never wanted to try it because they believed it was a dance that denigrated women. So my costuming in performance has been more modest in an effort to portray the story behind the dance.

    My family, on the other hand, who have been enthusiastic supporters, deal with their own stereotypes of belly dancers, and I think those are based off of the American “ideal of beauty”. One family member asks me “since I am a BELLY dancer, shouldn’t I bare my belly?” Another tells me ”no one wants to see a dancer with a big belly.” I think those of us in Bellydancer Land can appreciate and respect all body types, but I think the U.S., as a culture, still has some catching up to do before belly dance will truly gain the respect and appreciation it deserves.

    1. Mahin
      July 24, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      Different regions of the US vary greatly in what’s considered “modest” – our experiences from one state to another can be nearly as different as one country to another sometimes. Thanks for sharing your experience.


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