Gilded Serpent presents...
the milaya, the seven veils, the hijab; all subjects of
some controversy. For a Bellydancer performing in
Islamic countries, the veil can mean many things.
are a wide variety of images conveying the oppressed Middle
Eastern woman veiled and downtrodden that stir sympathy
in the Western woman. The mysterious and exotic veiled Arab
woman often stirs desire in men, but for both men
and women, it holds some kind of fascination.
never really given the veil much consideration. It was
just part of Middle Eastern culture and sometimes part
of my performance. It became an object of my curiosity
one day when traveling from Damascus to dance
at a wedding in London. While washing my hands in
the ladies room at the Heathrow airport, I was at
the sink beside a completely veiled young woman who
had just come off the same flight. In order to wash her
face, she partially unveiled to reveal blonde hair and
blue eyes and then spoke in a British accent.
as I am, I could not contain my curiosity and had to inquire.
excused myself first and then asked her “why on earth
would someone obviously not of Middle Eastern heritage
actually choose to wear the veil?” She smiled knowingly
and gave me an answer that still keeps me thinking today.
Souvenir sticker available in Cairo
that being brought up in a Western so called “free” society,
she was torn in a battle of what she claimed was too much
choice; a variety of careers, motherhood, marriage, single
life etc. She seemed to feel that no matter which choices
she made, they were always wrong. If she chose a career,
she was deemed heartless. If she chose motherhood, she
was stupid and boring. If she was a virgin, she was frigid
and if she was sexually active, she was a whore. If she
chose all, she was really in a bad state. She said she
found herself trying to be everything and nothing to so
many in her so called free society. It was a no win situation.
She said that maybe she was free to choose, but nonetheless,
none of the choices gave her fulfillment and self worth.
worth, she said, is exactly why she chose to
marry into the Islamic world. This freckled faced girl
was an Islamic married woman with children and felt this
position in her new chosen society held value and high
esteem. The choice was a narrow one but one that was fulfilling
because she knew who she was and had self worth. She seemed
a very happy person and her lively smile and healthy,
rosy cheeks certainly did not convey a downtrodden soul.
fact, it seemed as if she pitied me lost in my world
of choices. Part of me thought "what a cop out" and
part of me could not deny the truth in some of her
in the eighties, self-esteem was not a key issue for women
and giving up one's freedom for self worth hardly
seemed a fair trade. It is now many years later and self-esteem
is a huge issue for everyone. At the same time, Bellydancing has
become mainstream. Where only 15 years ago, there
were a handful of people making a living out of teaching
Bellydance in the world, now it is the full time career
of many in cities and small towns all over the globe. I
have had the honour of teaching countless women the
art of Bellydance and most will comment on how the act
of performing or learning this dance has raised their self-esteem.
now there are the Shakira wannabees, the exposed midriff
is fashionable and Amr Diab can be heard in Italian restaurants.
Bellydancing, Arabic music and Bellydance accessories such
as the coined hip scarf are becoming part of our Western
culture. Some people are actually learning Bellydance
as a career choice because of the high demand for teachers.
These teachers will tell you, they enjoy their job so much
because of how they are able to affect their student's
self esteem as well as their comfort in their bodies
and their sexuality.
by-product of a healthy body image that comes from practicing
Bellydancing has also leant itself to one of today's hot
by the questions I am often asked in media interviews and
by some bold students, there seems to be a belief that
Bellydancing may improve one's sex life as well. When
a student is biting her lip trying to perfect the
vertical hip drop technique then turns to ask me when will
this start making her feel sexy, my mind wanders to the
living rooms of Jordan, where after dinner, I would party
with women ages 2 to 102.
from the men who were in another room playing Tawleh (Backgammon)
and smoking Shisha, we women were raucously dancing
up a storm. Shape, size, age and technical ability had
no relevance in this room.
would watch in awe as the 5 year old, the great grandma,
the gorgeous blooming teenager and the radiant pregnant
mother all danced in the same manner, blurring the differences
all had a sweet but knowing smile, looked down at
their hip and chest movements admiring their own body and
then held their chins high proud to be a woman. Each embodied
confidence, becoming a queen in her own right as she
danced. This confidence had nothing to do with fleeting, superficial
beauty. The only thing I could find that these women based
their pride on was the fact that they were the proud owners
of a miraculous woman’s body, a body that could make
men emotionally pliable, produce other human beings
and feed and nurture those new human beings.
women had never taken a Bellydance lesson. There aren't
Bellydance schools in the Middle East. I guess each girl
learned by watching her mother, sister, aunt or maybe
the Egyptian movie stars.
often ask myself, why does feminine and sensual expression
seem so foreign to Western women?
Why are striptease
classes becoming the in thing? Shouldn't feminine
expression and pride in the female body come naturally
or at least be inherited from one's mother or other
women in a girl's life? Why do Western women need
classes in such a things?
mother was a devout feminist in the late sixties and early
seventies, burning her bra at women's rights marches. She
taught me that I do not need to rely on a man for my security
and happiness. I could do it all on my own by working
at a good career. Having a career and a vocation outside
of motherhood and marriage was what would make me a
fulfilled woman. Of course, when I chose Bellydance as
my career, my mother began to wonder where she had gone
wrong. Exploiting the female body in a culture with little
regard for women's rights and freedoms was not the
career she had in mind. Nonetheless, I have come to realize
that a healthy self-image based on something personally
inherent may be a very important ingredient to
happiness. Relying on the business world's stamp of approval for
your self-esteem and fulfillment is fleeting and relative.
are these veiled subservient women happy and
fulfilled or are they downtrodden and suffering from oppression?
Ask them, and they will tell you they wear the veil out
a symbol of modesty. They feel proud that their body has
such a powerful effect; it needs to be covered up to keep
the peace. Arab men will tell you they treat their women
like precious princesses that it is their duty to take
care of. There is always some seemingly logical answer
for why a woman needs her husband's permission to travel
or why she must be a virgin when getting married. From
my point of view, I see them conditioned by their own mothers
or by propaganda in the guise of religion.
Author does Milaya lef
the young girl/woman of the West is proud to have the choice
to be anything she wants, is free to flaunt her body how
she wants and can choose to have sex with whom she wants
whether married or not. Western men will say they are attracted
to strong, independent women who know what they want and
are sexually demonstrative. Yet, the conversations I have
overheard in washrooms between teenage girls blatantly
display a complete lack of respect for themselves and their
bodies. Their self worth is based on the needs of the teenage
boys. In all this freedom, some women rarely experience
orgasm and then there is the more mature woman whose husband
has left her unceremoniously for a girl half her
a while, I begin to feel the "independent female" sales
pitch is just that, a sales pitch.
in hotels in the Middle East, I would often find myself
crammed in with a group of Kuwaiti or Saudi women. These
women were completely veiled with black gloves and even
their eyes were veiled so walking without help was
difficult. As soon as the elevator doors closed, no men
in sight, the typical giggling began at the sight of a dusty,
unveiled blonde girl with her ripped jeans and un-brushed
bang, the big heavy black dresses were lifted and I was
invited to feast my eyes on the wildest, most revealing
fashions straight off the Paris runways; leather hot pants,
deep cut necklines revealing cleavage and lacy underwear.
spoken, not that I would have understood anyway, just lots
in my teenage years devoted to mysticism, I was taught
the significance of the Dance of the Seven Veils. I learned
that the veils were a symbol of ignorance or a barrier
to truth, self-knowledge and enlightenment. I think, whether
East or West, we are all ill informed and living in
are many veils to be lifted in both cultures. In fact I
think one of the most revealing veils to be lifted could
be the one dividing the Arab “world” and the North American "way
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for other possible viewpoints!
Summer School of Khaleegy Dance, Dance Style from the Saudi Arabian
Peninsula, by Yasmina Ramzy
police”and hotel security watched every move I made. All
my phone calls were monitored. I was not allowed to talk to or
get into an elevator with an Arab man.
A Report on the First International Bellydance
Conference of Canada Part One- Lectures, Workshops, Panel Discussions
by Diane Adams Photos by Lynette
18-22, 2007 Toronto, Ontario. Hosted by Yasmina Ramzy of Arabesque
Academy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, this International Bellydance
Conference of Canada, the first ever on the Canadian dance scene,
proved to be one of the top dance experiences in this reviewer’s
Great American Belly Dance Veil Routine by Najia El
After having said all that, I must add that American style Oriental/Belly dance
is a distinctive style composed of creative elements that are simply outstanding.
Teacher, Fahtiem by Lucia
As performers, we tend to often dance improvisation with
moves that are ‘safe’and comfortable. It is often difficult
to step out of the box.
Passage of Time by
Her performance brought tears to my eyes; not only was
she technically outstanding, but she had a whole persona, stage
presence and her aura…no younger dancer could be compared
to her. Many times I went to see the show to watch her again and
Egyptian Dance - Has it crossed the line? by Amina
festivals, held in Giza were isolated and insulated from the people
and the Cairo that I know and love.