Serving Men Indeed! Harumph!
I am having
a hard time finding concrete information to prove my husband that belly
dancing did not originate for serving men. He believes that it would be
rationally impossible, if this dance originated in the Middle East, where
women are known to be second to men, that the only possible reason for
belly dancing would be to entice men, to seduce men, in order for women
to get financial support. He even has made comparisions to stripping and
other similar types related to stripping. My husband thinks it's impossible
for it not to be a dance for men because the clothes belly dancers wear
are so seductive. Is he right?
Your husband is one very confused male individual. Please tell him to
pull his mind out of his pants! Here are some facts that should set him
According to several articles written by Morocco, based on interviews
and other research that she conducted, belly dancing originated as a sacred
birth ritual. Women would gather around a woman in labor and do certain
abdominal movements, encouraging her to do the same. These were movements
that would ease the birth and create a sense of unity and common experience
among them. For more details, see the article Roots
on Morocco's web site. Over the centuries, changing society and the rise
of patriarchal religion caused the use of these movements to lose their
sacred connotations and become a social dance.
Traditionally, "belly dancing" among Muslim women has been mostly a social
dance that was done in the company of other women. Just as we use social
dancing as part of our celebration at wedding receptions and other happy
occasions, so did people in the Middle East. In traditional Muslim households,
women celebrated separately from men. For each special event, men had
their party, and women had a separate one. Men danced with other men,
and women danced with other women, all using the moves that today we think
of as "belly dancing" moves.
In some areas, after feeding a large noon meal to their men, women would
congregate in the homes of female friends, neighbors, and family members
for socializing. Often, these gatherings would involve playing music and
taking turns dancing for each other. In this way, eligible single women
could make themselves known to the mothers and sisters of marriageable
men. Older women could use these occasions to simply relax and enjoy the
pleasure of other women's company.
In Sura XXIV, 31, the Koran says, "And say to the believing women that
they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should
not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear.
Therefore, they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display
their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands'
fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers'
sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves they possess,
or male servants who are free of physical needs, or small children who
have no sense of shame of sex."
For this reason,
the professional entertainers of the Middle East typically came from
groups outside the mainstream Muslim society: Jews, Ghawazee (Gypsies),
divorced or widowed women who had no other source of financial support,
etc. Professional entertainers were normally seen as being on the
fringes of society, at the very bottom of the social ladder
. Singers and other
musicians held slightly more prestige than dancers. Even today, "son of
a dancer" is still a nasty insult in Egypt. These professionals would
appear at saints day festivals, wedding celebrations, circumcisions, and
other such events. They were also the performers that European travelers
had access to seeing.
"Oriental dance," which is the stage presentation of the dance form that
is known as "belly dancing" in the U.S., arose out of two phenomena that
appeared in the Middle East at the dawn of the 20th century: 1) The appearance
of nightclubs, and 2) The movie industry.
Historically, there was no special sexy dance "costume" resembling what
dancers wear today. Just as we wear "nice" but mostly normal clothes to
parties, so did the men and women of the Middle East. Even the professional
dancers performed in clothing that was part of their typical wardrobe.
of wearing a special costume for dancing arose in the 20th century
and was inspired by the influence of the harem fantasy movies coming
out of the U.S. These Hollywood costume designers, working with the
Western notion of the exotic Orient, created the concept of a jewel-encrusted
bra, bare midriff, and low-slung skirt to portray Cleopatra, Salome,
and other notorious Oriental femme fatales.
in the Arabic-language Egyptian movies of the 1930's picked up on these
ideas and soon the beaded bra/belt/skirt uniform became standard garb.
Today, in many Middle Eastern countries men and women mingle in public
life. Therefore, family celebrations are no longer separated into separate
parties for men and women. When I was in Egypt in January 1999 I had the
opportunity to attend two wedding celebrations. Neither one featured a
professional Oriental dance artist. Instead, the paid entertainment for
both consisted of troupes of young men. Men and women sat together at
the same tables. But when the band started to play and people got up to
dance socially, the women danced in one part of the room and the men in
And now, back to your husband's specific comments:
- Origin Of The
Dance. The dance was created by women, to celebrate the feminine
experience. Admittedly, many a man will acknowledge that a beautiful
woman who is celebrating her femininity is very sexy, even if she's
not doing so for men's benefit. Just take a look at how many men fantasize
about watching sex between two Lesbians. But at its heart, this remains
a women's dance.
Relations. He misunderstands the Middle Eastern view of male/female
relations: a man's honor is deeply affected by the reputation of his
women. Most Muslim men would rather support their wives, mothers, unmarried
sisters, or daughters than be dishonored through letting their family
women dance professionally. Therefore, only a small minority of women
in the Middle East need to use the dance for financial support.
sexy costume that dancers today wear were inspired by Hollywood costume
designers in the early 20th century who were responding to the fantasy
of the exotic beauties of the East. It does not represent any sort of
traditional Middle Eastern dance attire.
Of course, I acknowledge
that individual women have danced for their husbands in private as a tool
of seduction over the ages. But that doesn't automatically mean the dance
originated that way.
also been known to cook wonderful meals for men as a tool of seduction,
but most of us understand that seduction wasn't the sole purpose or
origin of good cuisine.
For more historical
fact on Oriental dance, you may find these sources helpful:
- A Trade Like
Any Other. A book by Karin van Nieuwkerk. Offers a solidly researched
perspective on the role of professional dancers in Egyptian society.
- The Belly Dance
Book A book edited by Tazz Richards. The articles in the historical
section are excellent.
On Morocco's Web Site. Written by Morocco and Tark abd Malik.
Several researched historical information on the history of the dance.
Dance For The Whole Family.Another article I wrote on this subject.
It appears that your
husband is letting his own erotic fantasies fueled by the 20th-century
entertainment industry lead him to false conclusions. Good luck in helping
him overcome his preconceived notions!
2-26-01 The Fourth Annual
IAMED Awards of Belly Dance by Marula
Seldom does one see a bellydance production as professionally staged
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