The art of piercing
with the art of Belly dance.
A famous scene from the movie called "A
Man Called Horse." The character was suspended by piercings
in his chest as part of a Native American ritual (?)
One of our favorite role models, Mona Said,
Festival 2006 highlights!
Suhaila's troupe above, Kaya & Sadie below, both performed
on the raised stage for the general public.
Suhaila's 2002 rakkasah show
Rituals and Beyond:
Exploring Current Controversies
in Middle Eastern Dance
chosen by Lynette
Two recent controversies
covered by Gilded Serpent have raised significant commentary from
dancers and readers of this publication. They are: the "Sashi-Kabob"
piece written by Lynette and discussed on the
Letters page by several dancers, and the “relationship”
(if there is one) between Belly dance and Burlesque dancing. This
comparison was prompted initially by Princess
Farhana's article in 2005 and subsequently addressed in commentary
on both that article and related material on other performances,
such as those at the Rakassah,
2006 Festical featuring Suhaila's troupe and the duet
of Kaya and Sadie. If you are like me, (I know that many
are not) you first responded viscerally and negatively to both
situations. Then, as the shock wore off, perhaps you tried to
make sense of it all. In this piece I’m trying to do just that,
from my point of view, of course.
Warning notice: My judgments stated here are
based fundamentally on Judeo-Christian ethical standards gleaned
from my biblical Christian beliefs. Those who abhor such standards
may not wish to read further.
first, the "piercing" dance (or whatever it was that
Sashi called it):
She delivered a detailed introduction, attributing
her performance as "inspired by the Tribal Hindu Thaipusam
Festivals of Malaysia in which Kavadi frames, cheek and tongue
spears are worn in trance-like states to honor Lord Muruga while
seeking penance for themselves and their community" as noted
by her student Justine Thorpe in her Letter to the Editor
of Gilded Serpent.
Thorpe averred that witnessing Sashi's piercing was a "beautiful"
experience, akin to helping Sashi give birth to a child, "but
in this case the child was creativity."
of piercing oneself for purposes of gaining "spiritual awareness"
is not unique, of course, to the Hindu inhabitants of Malaysia.
As Lynette’s original Sashi article noted, Sashi's boyfriend,
Steve, routinely participates in piercing rituals, the
description of which reminded me distinctly of the 1970 film "A
Man Called Horse" in which Richard Harris' chest is pierced
with hooks hanging from the top of a tent, from which he dangles
during a Native American ritual. Those who participated in it
thought that it promoted spirituality.
question: if "gods" or "goddesses" may be
worshiped, and "spiritual enlightenment" achieved, by
what is in no uncertain terms mutilation of the body, then where
does it stop? Will our next performance treat be "spiritual
enlightenment" arising from the practices of "cutting"
or Female Genital Mutilation
(FGM)? Should we expect to justify such body mutilations
when they appear in the dual contexts of spirituality and dance
As an American
who is concerned about our youth, I find "cutting" particularly
reprehensible! Its strongest adherents are female American
teenagers. "I actually liked how the cuts looked," said
"Jen," an American teenaged girl. (http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/cutting.html).
felt kind of bad when they started to heal - and so I would
'freshen them up' by cutting again. Now I can see how crazy
that sounds, but at the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable
long before a practice like this one is associated with some spiritual
tradition found somewhere among the many diverse cultures of the
world, then subsequently promoted as legitimate "performance
art" on a Belly dance stage? And what is the cost to the
young and vulnerable? Being a teenaged girl in this country is
not easy. If a girl can circumvent the "puking ritual,"
designed to conform her figure to what is considered ideal by
the culture, might she next succumb to "cutting" as
a means of gaining "empowerment" and "spiritual
Extreme body mutilation has no place in Belly
dance! However, after reading “Sashi-Kabob,” I've begun to wonder
whether this community should even consider including the "Tribal
dance" among its many and varied forms. What is "Tribal,"
anyway? It is an American invention, having nothing at all to
do with the dance arts of the Middle East. That is not to say
that American innovations in the dance are negative, but it seems
to me after reading this article that "Tribal" as exemplified
by Sashi and her ilk has absolutely nothing to do with
the dance form I've studied as Belly dance over the past 15-plus
years. If the Tribal community cannot effectively perform quality
control over its dancers, perhaps the larger Belly dance community
should consider whether or not Tribal performances and festivals
are worthy of consideration in a publication such as this one.
Regarding the other controversy:
Recent Letters to the Editor of Gilded Serpent have decried the
presence of what seem to be quasi-burlesque dancing routines performed
at Rakassah and other venues. Princess Farhana, in her
published piece, clearly draws the distinction between her Burlesque
performances and her Belly dance performances. Frankly,
I doubt whether she is the only burlesque performer who also Belly
two points I want to make here, and the first has been clearly
articulated by Miles Copeland: there is
a "guilt by association" aspect between Burlesque dance
and Belly dance, and the latter should attempt to stay
far away from the former. From my perspective, it's a matter of
taste and judgment: I don't want my dance to be associated with
Burlesque because dancing in a Burlesque show does not comport
with the ethical standards I've chosen to live by. If that characterizes
me as a "prude" to some people, so be it!
perspective, I'm displeased to see routines such as the one Suhaila
and her troupe performed at the recent Rakassah. What is the troupe
trying to present? Is it Art? Is it, perhaps, a modern-day Madonna-esque
interpretation of the Middle Eastern culture? (Our singer Madonna,
of course, succeeded famously with her "crotch-grabbing"
routine.) However, I ask again: what does this have to do with
Belly dance? It has precious little in common with Belly dance,
as I can
tell--about as much as Sashi and her "pierced wings"
have to do with our art.
I doubt whether
we will ever achieve agreement on a definition of "Belly
dance" that satisfies everyone and encompasses the diverse
spectrum of performers who call themselves Belly dancers. Yet
I think it is also wise to carefully consider the manner in
which fringe elements characterize our dance. Are we a group of
eager "Body Pierced” dancers or "Burlesque dancers"?
Some may wonder. However, if we consistently advise audiences
that our dance efforts seek to promote a dance art form that emanated,
in ancient times, from the Middle East, and has now been adapted
to the Western stage, perhaps we'll win audiences who'll watch
and listen with respect.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Sashi - Kabob by Lynette, Warning,
possibly disturbing graphics!
The punctures appear to go under the skin into the subcutaneous
fat layer and not through muscle tissue.
The Photos of Saroya Ahlaam,
March 2006, Rakkasah Festival, Richmond, Ca
...she was a replacement at Rakkasah for a no-show and
did a great job! I was so impressed with the crystals on her costume.
You could see them sparkle from the back of the auditorium.
The Bellydance Scene in Taiwan Toss
Hair Dance by Eugenia
The women were much more skillful than I expected: just
3 years ago, nobody in Taiwan really knew anything about Bellydance.
Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 12
Moved by the Music by Mary Ellen Donald
I did all this because those sudden shifts in rhythm
and tempo and the abrupt breaks in the music that were unfamiliar
to me could have made me look like a fool...
Tribal Fest 2006, May 19
in Sebastopol photos by Susie Poulelis
Performances from Saturday late afternoon including:
BlackSheep, Sashi, InFusion...
I Love Lucy: Confessions of a Dancer
by Yosifah Rose
Lucy does not believe that one can properly perform Oriental
dance with a set choreography.
Fresh Old Sounds by Charmaine
Seeking fresh sounds in belly dance music? Consider a
trip back to the 1950s up to the groovy ‘70s when a new
style of music was bringing the East to the West.
Traveling to Tizi Ouzou by Linda
When I was in high school, I was fascinated by some of the names
I read about when studying world geography.