by Reanee Temple
Hopefully, when a woman walks into a Belly dance
class (of any style) for the first time, she is taught
basic movements of the dance, and also the history of the
dance art that we have come to love so dearly. A teacher should
be the guiding light leading the student out of dark and uncertain
seas, safely into the ports of knowledge and grace. A teacher
must be a dancer with experience, passion and talent who will
lead us through rough waters in a swirling sea of competitive
desires, encouraging students to reach out to audiences through
interpretation of the music. We stand behind our teachers as surely
as any sailor in rough waters follows a lighthouse beacon. They
are experienced, after all, and educated in the dance! We assume
that they are more skillful than their students are.
At least, that is what teachers are supposed
then, do we do about a teacher who has been misled, apparently,
concerning the history of our dance?
if he or she stands on what he thinks is "true" Middle
Eastern Dance, I believe that it is our job as fellow dancers,
and even our responsibility and obligation as fellow dance instructors
to educate everyone--even the untaught teacher.
Recently, an article was published in my local area in
the Reno News and Review about a dance troupe nearby
in the Reno, Nevada area. Troupe members were qualified for a
newspaper interview because the troupe had been named by popular
vote “the best dance troupe” in our area. They had performed at
many local events and had been an organized dance troupe for over
eight years. Their newly appointed president gave an interview
over the phone.
The first question, as always, concerned the idea of body-image
as it relates to the Belly dance. That question seemed simple
enough to answer.
The interviewee expanded the discussion, however, into the history
of Belly dance. "The first Belly dancers came from the East
and were in Seattle at the World's Fair at the turn
of the 20th century."
Holding a collective breath, we hoped that she was misquoted!
Because she was the president of a noted dance troupe, that is
what we would have liked to think.
She clearly established that she had no connection to the Las
Vegas showgirl look of current American Cabaret dancers, while
omitting mention that to some, it seems apparent that Hollywood
may have had influence upon the creative costume evolution of
the American version for her style of dance. I should mention
also, that the burlesque industry of the same time could also
have collected some credit for contributing some costuming ideas
into the mix.
a fifteen-minute interview, this spokesperson gifted the American
cabaret dancer the distinguished image of a sexualized, unauthentic
image for which Cabaret dancers had fought during the last thirty
years was handed back to them on a silver platter by a dancer
who should have thought of herself as “one of their own”.
asked her this question: "So, is [your troupe] more
into the traditional [style of] dancing?"
Her response was, "Yeah". A spokesperson and representative
who has been university trained, and who has had years
of dance experience behind her, should have mentioned that
there are over twenty-two countries that comprise the Middle East.
Most countries of the Middle East have been irrevocably changed
by the domination of the Romans, Christianity, English colonization;
even Hollywood has helped to change standards and images throughout
the world. With so many societies lost through “modernization”,
how can any dancer claim to understand "traditional"
She continued, and the newspaper article quotes her, saying that
women have studied the history of the dance by going back to Africa
and the Middle East to look at the dances performed there in the
outlying villages. In an evident attempt to give her troupe style
more credibility, she said that her group dances more like women
in a “hut”!
Regrettably, in response to a questions posed about male dancers,
the article went on to say, "A lot of the best dressed ones
[male dancers] are drag queens."
- Any person
who has made a cursory attempt to look at our history in dance
could easily learn that, while some male dancers are
gay, many are not. Though there were young boys who historically
dressed and danced as women in countries such as Algeria,
most men in dance are not drag queens. Men in Middle Eastern
Dance play a very important role, reflecting Middle Eastern
values and life.
- If the
interviewee had researched the history of our dance, she would
have been aware that the introduction to the art of Middle Eastern
Dance happened at the Chicago World Fair at the turn of the
- If she
had had exposure to anthropology, she probably would not have
used the word "hut".
- Even if
some extremely polished dancers are “drag queens”, why
would she make reference to these few in a short interview as
if they were the rule rather than the exception and rarity that
is not her fault that this inadvertent representative of our dance
community simply regurgitates whatever she has heard here and
there and does not place it into perspective. Perhaps, it is
Shame on the
interviewer/reporter for helping put her absurdity into print!
I would wager that our dance community would most likely feel
shame for her lack of common judgment if they had read the interview.
If there were any silver lining in this cloud of shame upon our
dance form, it is that we dance teachers in the area, and perhaps
in other communities too, now know how much work that must be
done inside our own dance classes first, so that we, too, do not
become parties to misleading the public about our dance.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Calling all professional dancers!
How much do you charge? by Nanna Candelaria
the years, we dancers have unwittingly kept the general rate ridiculously
low in restaurants and nightclubs.
Interview with Mahmoud Reda
Part 1: The Beginning by Morocco
Ministry of Culture should be of help, not a source of problems.
But anyway, they had control of all the theaters, so to find a
theater we must go to them, but they gave us problems. I don’t
know why; maybe they were jealous!
Rhythm and Reason Series,
Article 3, Community Warfare by Mary Ellen Donald
and again I hear dancers deplore the fact that in many parts of
the country there are warring camps among dancers; that is, groups
that openly oppose each other and that try to keep all useful
information and all jobs to themselves.
Carnival 2005 Page 1 June
11-12, 2005, Glendale,
help us identify faces. Thanks!
Hadia Speaks: a Telephone Interview
experience is that, although many dancers in Middle Eastern countries
are wonderful artists, they generally lack the skills to teach
in an effective, methodical, safe way.