Escaping the Switzerland of the Soul
by Andrea Deagon PhD
posted July 18, 2010
In the 1949 film classic The Third Man, Orson Welles’ menacing and morally corrupt character cynically comments: “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
I think belly dancers need to take this to heart. I’m not comparing the average belly dance to the Mona Lisa, or the belly dance world to Italy under the Borgias – at least our backstabbing isn’t fatal.
However, I do believe that belly dance is able to attain such vitality and complexity in the modern world precisely because it’s embroiled in serious cultural and personal contestations. It is precisely clashes of aesthetic values, conflicting paradigms of sexuality and gender, and economic as well as political inequities that strike the dance’s most beautiful notes. The cross-cultural dynamism of belly dance throughout the modern world is spurred as much by conflict as by brotherly or even sisterly love.
What I want to discuss here, with the Western and Pacific Rim belly dancers who will be reading this, are the temptations and risks of unconsciously abandoning these vital pressures in order to situate ourselves in “Switzerland” and manufacture the belly dance equivalent of cuckoo clocks. My critique begins with the nurturing ancient matriarchy where our popular histories so often locate the origins and essence of belly dance. I’ll question our definition of femininity and feminine aesthetics. Additionally, I’ll problematize the archetypes that many Western belly dancers have found empowering: birth dance, fertility ritual, the Great Mother, the Sacred Prostitute, and the Gypsy. These ideas have fostered meaningful experiences for Western belly dancers for over 40 years, and they still provide many Western women with their first frisson of real connection with the deeper potentials of their own experience of belly dance.
But now, amidst changing social, political, and intercultural realities, we need to critique our former sources of strength so that we can take them honestly into the future. And our future, like our past, is patriarchal.
Living in Patriarchy
A patriarchy is simply a society in which men and ideas associated with men are generally privileged over women and ideas associated with women. It’s often hierarchical, with men exerting power over their own families, women, and lower-status men. All agricultural societies and industrial nations observable in the present and documented in the past are patriarchal to varying degrees. This makes patriarchy the most common form of social organization in the world. It’s not evil, it’s just a part of life – but one that needs to be acknowledged and understood by those who want to mitigate its power.
Every Belly dancer anywhere today grew up in a patriarchy and performs in one. Every personal statement she (or he) makes through dancing, and every image she projects, expresses an identity, an archetypal framework, and a world-view formed within her specific patriarchy. The values and dynamics of patriarchal societies have shaped our dance and cut the paths through which we seek, and define both artistry and empowerment. Because we grow up in a patriarchal environment we accept as natural, we absorb the values we see around us as natural as well. Our own patriarchy has valorized, for example, concepts like freedom, power, creativity, and self-expression, things we all want and take as universals, but which in fact reflect a world view specific to the modern West.
When it surged back into North American popular culture in the 1960s and ’70s, belly dance was naturally allied with “Women’s Lib” (as women’s liberation was known then). Belly dance felt ancient and wise, and its sensual, enjoyable transgressions of “nice girl” expectations gave it a natural home in the ancient matriarchy constructed by feminists to counteract the unpleasant realities of the male-dominated world. This imagined matriarchy, unfortunately, had its roots in Victorian ideas of who women were, peaceful, motherly and fertile and how they would behave when left to their own devices, but never mind. It was still a radical break from the “brownie-baking housewife and mom” expectations of the 1960s. In the ’70s version of matriarchy, women were respected for their biological creativity, and women’s values (as defined at the time) held sway. People co-existed peacefully, found fulfillment in sexual, personal, and creative freedom, and celebrated life through goddess worship, which could contain sensual or even sexual elements. We were sisters (and okay, brothers too) – and we could celebrate all this in dance.
As Switzerland goes, early matriarchy is a pretty good one. Since the 1960s, committed belly dancers have encouraged – if not thoroughly maintained – its dynamics in their students’ early classes. The beginning dancer learns to express herself through movement that seems to verge on the forbidden territory of sex. She’s taught to love her body, however little it conforms to the unrealistic standards of our time. She leaves behind the demands of husbands, bosses, and kids with their soccer games and backtalk, for a pleasurable, self-indulgent world, among other women who love each other and themselves. She can be sexy, or spiritual, or both at the same time. For 40 years, beleaguered women in the West have looked forward to their weekly dose of belly dance as the salve for the stressed-out, if not actually wounded, soul.
On the other hand, the thin shell of this mini-matriarchy is easily shattered. Before long, the new dancer may begin to wonder whether belly dance really resides in the Switzerland of sisterhood and empowerment after all. She’ll notice that employers and audiences insist that all good belly dancers are thin and young, with the kohl-rimmed eyes, shaped and reddened lips, polished nails, long, touchable hair, and conceal-and-reveal costumes of our conventional exoticism.
If she performs, that’s how she’d better be as well. To impress her audiences, she’ll have to quantify her technique by making it countable and precise rather than idiosyncratic and resistant to measurement – face it, Western audiences like tic-toc cute isolations more than floods of emotional shimmies in taqsims. She’ll often be seen as an object to be enjoyed rather than as the author of her dance. She’ll probably be underpaid, and may therefore unconsciously begin to dismiss the value of what she does, since for most of us, it’s only a hobby after all. When she performs, she may subordinate her desire to create joy and enchantment to a deep-seated need to find public validation for her beauty and skill. She’ll probably define her body as open to touch – and sometimes unwelcome varieties of it – through tipping upon her body. She’ll probably ignore the ways in which her complacence makes her uncomfortable, and she may think of herself as doing the Goddess-dance of matriarchy the whole time.
The mantras “belly dance is all about women” or “belly dance is empowering” can foster deception and worse, self-deception about the dynamics of patriarchy that are so much a part of how this dance is still conceived and played out in the real world. Are these dynamics our fault? No, of course not, but ignoring them is.
Hiding behind the mists of matriarchy is less likely to lead to moving, honest performances, than starting where you really are: as someone whose ability to work, speak, create, determine her physical boundaries and define her authorial voice, is compromised by both the expectations of her culture and her own acquiescence to them. This is not empowerment: it is personal, cultural, and physical constraint.
Of course I believe that it’s still possible to create something valuable through Belly dance, or I wouldn’t be doing it. A position of weakness doesn’t always stifle one’s voice, or we’d never have heard of, say, Jesus Christ. However, you can’t speak truthfully if you ignore where you stand.
The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Archetype
Archetypes, powerful recurring images and story-patterns, are particularly problematic for us. Our own culture’s archetypes – Great Mother, Temple Priestess, Sacred Prostitute, Gypsy, Dancing Girl, Amazon, Wild Woman, and so on – are as natural to us as breathing. The free-flowing, expressive explorations of belly dance call us to these seemingly universal figures of power which can be meaningful, effective tools of both self-exploration and communication with the Western audiences who share them. For many new (and more experienced) dancers, the instinctive emergence of these powerful patterns in her own dance can be a breakthrough moment – a time when human connections and sources of power that she (or he) had previously lacked come bubbling to the surface. For many, if not most, Western belly dancers, archetype provides a pathway into new realms of the self.
However, they are also paths that take us only as far as our culture allows us to go. We – both belly dancers and adherents of the New Age movement that popularized the idea of archetype – have typically defined archetypes as arising from ancient, universal and truthful roots. But they don’t!
Our archetypes have taken their unique forms through the constructs of our own patriarchal society. Do they feel empowering? Yes, of course they do. They help us access deep-seated primal feelings, and give us meaningful frames for our dances. They resonate; they connect us with a sea of shared experiences, but they aren’t survivals from ancient places and times. They’re creations of the here and now, and they’re as patriarchal as the society which gave rise to them. We need to be aware of their limits as well as their power.
The Great Mother
As a historian, I find the concept of the Great Mother problematic – mainly because, as far as any evidence from the ancient Middle East indicates, there wasn’t one. Goddesses who are mothers have many functions, and motherly functions are an integral aspect of many different deities, so that no one is really the “goddess of” motherhood. In fact, the one Middle Eastern goddess worshipped by the name of “Great Mother,” Cybele, wasn’t actually a mother and didn’t relate to her worshippers in a maternal way. Go figure! But there’s no denying that, from the Victorian age through the present day, the archetype of the Great Mother, with her seat of power in the distant mists of time, has been a powerful evocation of feminine strength.
Interwoven with the powerfully creative figure of the Great Mother is the Western connection of the pelvic motion of belly dance with fertility and childbirth. It may be that this sort of movement, on some deep level, in some times, and in some circumstances, does evoke the interaction of sex-fertility-childbirth that permeates the ancient Middle East. The pop-culture literature of childbirth, following our example, often comments that belly dance originated as a way to prepare for childbirth, or even as a birth ritual.
Among us, anecdotes about childbirths made easy by belly dance abound, to the point where any dancer who has a difficult labor is ashamed to admit it and may even begin to doubt her dance ability.
The connection of Belly dance and childbirth has inspired some heartfelt artistic statements like Delilah’s “Dance to the Great Mother,” a moving, resonant piece. However, it is problematic that we so often define birth as the origin and essence of belly dance rather than the inspiration for modern artistic and personal statements. It’s certainly not the majority opinion in the Middle East. Go ask your Arab immigrant friends if the true meaning of belly dance is its use for childbirth preparation and enjoy the incredulous stares. There is no first-hand account of belly dance as birth ritual in any anthropological literature. (Morocco [Carolina Varga Dinicu] describes attending a birth in Morocco where pelvic movements were performed by attendants, but none of them thought of this as dancing, and Morocco herself will tell you that this is not evidence of “belly dance” as birth ritual.) There are also no actual statistics correlating expertise in belly dance with easier childbirth – quite the opposite, if you look at non-medical childbirth in rural Egypt, where raqs beledi is commonly practiced.
On the basis of fragmented and often misinterpreted evidence, the belly dance community (or a substantial part of it) has latched onto the idea of childbirth as a central meaning of belly dance, even an explanation for its origins and development among women. Certainly, many of us have found belly dance particularly meaningful during pregnancy and early motherhood. This may be true in the Middle East as well. It is – or so many dancers have said – quite wonderful to belly dance while carrying life. (It may be equally wonderful to do Yoga or Tai Chi in the same state, or for that matter to swim or relax in a hammock while enjoying one’s baby-to-be.)
Does that justify our emphasis on childbirth as the origin of the dance? Speaking personally, my own experiences of dancing while pregnant were often quite profound. However, they were not more profound than the first time I danced to Inta Omri after my husband died. Other things in a woman’s life are as important as motherhood.
We come to this dance as whole people, not as birthing vessels, and non-mothers dance with as much wisdom and power as mothers. Ultimately, the childbirth origin myth is diminishing. It roots the sources of womens’ creativity not in the completeness of personhood but in the procreative function that so often limits us in patriarchies.
Many other archetypes steer our supposed empowerment along patriarchal lines and require unconscious acquiescence to the ways patriarchy defines women. Take the Sacred Prostitute – please! This figure, a staple of the early New Age reclaimation of women’s sexuality, has also been embraced by the belly dance community, although at this point she seems to be sliding back into the late Victorian fantasy world that spawned her. Both a divine priestess and sexual healer, the Sacred Prostitute has given dancers (and others) a metaphor for integrating the sexual and the sacred.
But why are we so willing to identify the mechanism for this as whoredom, the quinessential illustration of men’s economic and sexual domination of women? Even if you ditch the Sacred Prostitute and go with the Temple Priestess – also a staple of belly dance “histories” – why embrace the structured, hierarchical world of the temple as our true home?
Throughout history, most women (and men) have experienced the sacred in their daily lives. In cultures where belly dance or a version of it plays a role in social rituals, it’s not as the product of a remote temple. It’s in the more complex intermixture of the sacred and daily life that we ourselves experience in our own culture’s metaphors. If we are priestesses, we should be (as Delilah puts it) the “neighborhood” kind.
Another popular archetype is the saucy Gypsy woman, free to entice and seduce, be as outrageous as she pleases, then hit the road and take life as she finds it. We love our gypsies. There must be hundreds of belly dance groups or businesses with “Gypsy” in their name somewhere – despite literally decades of consciousness-raising by dancer/activists such as Artemis Mourat and Laurel Victoria Gray about the harm our stereotyping may do to the actual “Gyspies” involved.
Our fiery, self-willed, imaginary Gypsy has nothing to do with the real Roma, but we’re not about to chase her from our archetypal world, because she so powerfully embodies our own compelling need for vicarious irresponsibility and freedom.
We have to get our taxes done and get the kids to the dentist, but she can just hop a wagon and dance around a camp fire, a freedom we can at least try to approximate with flowing skirts and plenty of zaghareets. I’ve done it myself and it feels wonderful.
Yet even if you ignore the problem of cultural appropriation (as all belly dancers do at least a little), this brand of freedom isn’t the most reassuring kind. Our gypsies are only “free” because they can leave, avoid commitment, and deliberately violate cultural norms. This is rebellion, not the basis for a real life. In the end, the archetypal Gypsy’s freedom comes only at the expense of exile and disenfranchisement, and even (in stories such as “Carmen,” for example) violence and victimization.
The lullaby of archetype has the potential to lure us toward illusory freedom and power even as it shunts the real thing away.
Perhaps we should take our freedom without the Gypsy, our spiritual sexuality without the Sacred Prostitute, and our fundamental creative power without the Great Mother. We shouldn’t try to escape archetypes altogether – they open too many doors. We couldn’t do it anyway. However, we need to have them in the right perspective. They are the training wheels that give us our first experience of the wind in our hair, but ultimately, to make truly powerful dances, we need to see through and beyond them into the truths that arise from our own real pains and pleasures.
Our empowering archetypes also help to obscure the reality that, in complete contrast to any matriarchal ideas, professional belly dance is generally defined and experienced as erotic display. Professional Belly dancers have always been – as far as any actual historical records show – women culturally defined as something other than virtuous wives, and boys or men defined as something other than heads of household with a full range of masculine privileges. And professional belly dance has always, with very few exceptions, been the province of the nubile, conventially attractive, erotically appealing young.
The public face of our dance contradicts our often-voiced claim that it is a nurturing dance for all ages and bodies. Our matriarchal myths mask the silencing of the belly dancers who, through non-conformance to our own patriarchy’s standards of beauty, are denied a public voice and may therefore, through constant reinforcement, become convinced that they don’t deserve one. Do fat or old dancers, however talented and accomplished, really have the same status in our community as young, attractive ones? Do we hire as our seminar teachers the dancers who have had a lifetime of teaching experience and know how to convey everything they have learned – or do we choose the young ones who look great on stage and can put on a better show? Do we acquiesce when we see others assume that the pretty ones are better dancers than the ones who, for some reason (usually weight, however little they exceed pop-culture standards) don’t quite measure up in looks? Do we feel proud in our new Bella costume and maybe just a little superior to the gal who can’t afford one?
We implicitly claim that there is a conceptual boundary between the “real world’s” valuation of youth and beauty, and our own, but we’re not that immune to our native culture, and we need to acknowledge the havoc these inequities wreak in our own world. Aligning ourselves with an imagined matriarchy steers us away from an obvious challenge to our self-talk about Belly dance, and consequently, we construct few supportive paradigms for the non-conformists – willing or not – among us.
Another question our largely feminine community faces is whether there is a specifically feminine kind of creativity, and if there is, what is it?
Well – to many of us in the West – it looks a lot like what we do in belly dance, which expresses many of our feminine ideals. It’s circular, free-flowing, and nuanced, rather than direct and goal-oriented. It’s improvisational rather than rigidly structured and planned. The dancer is a vessel or catalyst for communal feeling, rather than forcing everyone into her own agenda. She responds to or embodies music, rather than dominating it. She expresses feeling, rather than telling a story. Her dance isn’t about grand themes but reflects an individual response to life. She draws her audience into her dance, rather than thrusting it out toward them. She is people-oriented, she charms, she creates emotional resonance.
Are any of these qualities of belly dance masculine? Not as we see it! Men are direct, linear and logical. They’re outwardly-focused, dominant, and self-willed. They’re active rather than reactive, intellectual rather than emotional… right? None of that is how you belly dance. So we perceive the aesthetics and essence of belly dance as feminine.
In reality, these aesthetics are essentially those of traditional Arab music and dance, as described by scholars such as Louise Ibsen al-Faruqi, Ali Jihad Racy, and Anthony Shay. Arab music and dance evoke circularity and oscillation; they’re based on repetition and variation, tension and release, rather than rigidly structured toward a single focused end. Improvisation is highly valued. The artist creates moving communal feeling through his own emotionally charged art – he can be a vessel for it, or facilitate it through his own expertise, rather than claiming the role of author of a particular, preconceived experience. Tarab, communal emotional enchantment, is often the goal of musical performance and can also be a goal or result of dance. Dance and music both reach out, and invite the audience in.
Reading these values as feminine rather than Arab or for that matter, available to any artist, puts us in an odd position. We honor our own Western experience of femininity, which is after all reinforced by the 20th century development of elite raqs sharqi, and social Belly dance is particularly important to women in the Middle East. So we’re right about the feminine side – sort of.
Also, we unfairly deny this sort of aesthetic expression to men in our own culture. We fail to acknowledge the aesthetics of the Arab world that created this dance, and we do that all-too-colonial thing: we feminize the Arab “Other,” which, in the metaphor of all patriarchies, aligns him with inherent flaws and inevitable defeat. In claiming that Belly dance is fundamentally feminine, we truthfully reflect the often-empowering ideals of our own culture. However, we also we fall prey to the limitations our patriarchy imposes on both genders, limit our own freedom of expression, exclude men, and repress Arabs all in one fell swoop. (Wow!)
We need to question our ideas about masculinity and femininity, especially as we project them onto the Arab world. We’re inclined to minimize the flaws of our own patriarchy while demonizing Arabs as heartless oppressors of women. And of course, we can agree that Afghanistan is not Switzerland. However, the Arab world created Belly dance. Arab belly dancers do not express individuality, emotionality, and power because they’re throwbacks to ancient matriarchies. It’s because their own patriarchies foster this sort of expression! Statements of astounding power may be made by Arab women we define as inherently oppressed, and it’s seldom that supposedly liberated Western belly dancers approach anything like the physical and emotional power of a Mona Said or a Randa Kamal.
All societies have subtle, intricately interwoven valuations of what is normal, acceptable, and good, and what is deviant, improper, and bad, but people differ and culture is not static, so in every society there’s a continuing discourse in which many conflicting voices constantly challenge or reaffirm these views and all their variants. Buttoned-down Republicans, black-garbed, anarchic Goths, and goddess-worshipping belly dancers are only a few voices in our own culture’s discourse, which is constantly pushing and pulling in many different directions.
One aspect of this discourse is transgression, which is essentially a deliberate violation of accepted values that calls attention to rigid, repressive, seldom challenged views. In terms of cultural dynamics, transgression must be contained. The person who instigates it is typically an outsider to the mainstream, and/or the occasions for transgression are carefully limited. Goths, for example, as transgressive people, are defined as outsiders; and while anybody can drink in the streets and dance obscenely on the transgressive occasion of Mardi Gras, they had better stop the next day.
As transgressors in this sense, belly dancers in the Middle East model alternative, challenging, and potentially disruptive views of crucial ideas such as family propriety, the control of sexuality, and women’s public voice. At the same time, their transgression is ultimately contained, both because it’s limited to certain celebratory occasions (notably weddings) or places (nightclubs where alcohol might be served), and because its performers are marginalized.
So belly dance challenges the status quo on both levels. At the same time, in a sort of Catch-22, its containment means that it vents social tensions that might otherwise get out of hand – so it maintains the status quo as much as it truly challenges it.
In some Middle Eastern cultures, belly dancers have a symbolic role that goes beyond their importance as entertainers and into the delicate balance of tradition, the potential for moral chaos, and the assaults on ethnic identity offered by a rapidly changing world. For example, “Son of a dancer” wouldn’t be much of an insult on my block, but in Egypt it allies the man who is called that with family immorality and moral decay.
Given Western dancers’ ongoing engagement with redefining and legitimizing our dance, do we also transgress? In the 1970s, many North American women found in belly dance a safe way to do just that, through entering the strange, partly-imaginary Orient of the woman-centered, enchanting, and even publicly erotic world of belly dance. It was a significant personal transgression to bare your belly and get up in front of everyone at the studio hafla and dance – or especially to take the next step and perform this sensuous dance at the local kebab house for all to see. At the same time, the mysterious, sisterly, enchanting imaginary Orient of belly dance could also buffer the belly dancer from the sometimes unpleasant consequences of her transgressions (for example, customers who grope): “What happens in Arabia, stays in Arabia.”
However, times have changed and belly dance is no longer especially transgressive, which explains both its burgeoning popularity in the West and Pacific Rim and the chaotic fractals of its recent developments.
There are thousands of casual belly dancers who couldn’t care less about the Middle East. They watch Fit TV’s “Shimmy” or pick up Dolphina’s DVDs on Amazon.com, and satisfy themselves with feeling goddessy while working their buns and abs. Young people – whose responsibility to their culture is to take on the role of rebel and transgressor in our cultural discourse – increasingly turn to Tribal style, which has, however, developed increasingly carefully constructed metaphors of rebellion, fellowship, and empowerment. We’ve also seen a controversial new trend of dancers who ditch the subtleties of Middle Eastern music, culture and aesthetics, and turn to burlesque. In burlesque, sexual transgression is the whole point, although it is also standardized and declawed, so one can appear to challenge cultural discourses while not really doing so.
Many of us (including Tribal dancers) try to work through the complexities of how we can use our dancing bodies not to transgress inhibitions we have long since left behind, but rather to challenge complacent readings of women, belly dance, and the Arab world – things that continue to stand in the way of our integration as respected participants in the artistic, social, and economic mainstreams of our cultures.
Ultimately, Eastern and Western transgressions through belly dance are fundamentally different. Most Eastern dancers transgress “morals” from financial or personal necessity. They play a symbolic, embodied, contentious and significant role, like it or not, in how their culture’s moral and gender tensions are played out. However, in the West and Pacific Rim, it has always been all about our individual transgressions, our individual paths, and it’s as individuals – and not terribly empowered ones – that we try to take on the world.
It may be this very isolation, bordering on insignificance, that draws us so powerfully to seeming universals like matriarchy, fertility, and archetype, since they give us resonant guides for our drives toward both rebellion and creativity. My concern is that we be aware of the limitations of these culturally encoded ideas, which may seem to be more transgressive than they really are. Despite their eye-and heart-opening potentials, they ultimately steer us into our patriarchy’s predictable circumscription of women’s and men’s roles, and give us only the sorts of freedom available in the modern industrial world.
Telling the Truth
I don’t think it’s possible to transcend patriarchy, or to escape it through enacting the archetypes and transgressions it offers us, but I’m not sure that transcending patriarchy should be a goal. The patriarchal limitations of the Arab and Western worlds have not prevented powerful artistic and personal expression through dance. The contentions of gender, class, race, and power are exhausting and we are right to address them, but these very contentions have made us what we are.
As I said at the beginning, anything a belly dancer expresses is defined by her citizenship in a patriarchal world, where all of her audience also maintains permanent residence. However, voice and strength are also possible from within, and it is this very individual, emotionally charged, catalytic voice that gives belly dance its most powerful expression.
Ultimately, our artistry depends on honesty: honest acknowledgement of the ways in which gender affects and inhibits our modes of expression – honesty about how we value youth, beauty, and erotic display, and honesty about whether what we are doing is really feminine, or something more challenging and complicated. It depends on honesty about conventions that, under the mask of feminism, encourage women to remain underpaid, open to physical violation, and willing to adopt roles, and honesty about the compromises we’re willing to make to practice our art.
Nothing truthful can emerge from self-deception and if there is one thing the best dancers of Middle Eastern patriarchies have shown us, it is that the core of belly dance resides in the lived, felt, courageous truths it can tell.
Ready for more?
4-16-10 Belly Dance and Feminism: Different Issues, Different Perspectives
Feminism embraces more than one point of view, and feminist perspectives lead to many different decisions and courses of action. Feminism is a tool for thinking – for understanding and putting a name to issues you may be wrestling with in your own dance life, and for seeing belly dance in the light of broader economic, social and political realities.
- 8-16-09 Dancing for Dowries, Part 2: The Nailiyat
It respected the intelligence, style and wisdom gained by women who had lived in the public eye and in the world beyond their native home – a world many men of the Ouled Nail never saw.
- 7-18-09 Dancing for Dowries: Earning Power, Ethnology, and Happily Ever After
When a mythic history is told and retold in a context like the belly dance community, you have to assume that there are strong underlying reasons for its popularity.
- 10-19-09 Naked Belly Dance in Ancient Egypt, Part 1: Are They Really Belly Dancing?.
The real first question is, “What is belly dance?” Many elements of the modern practice of belly dance emerged in the 20th century. Our emphasis on the female soloist, the structure of the typical show in both the East and the West, the style of music we dance to, our costuming, our specific styles of relationship with the audience, and so on, are modern developments.
- 11-16-09 Naked Belly Dance in Ancient Egypt, Part 2: Are They Really Naked? by
Andrea Deagon Ph.D
What does nudity mean in a dance scene like this? And does this nudity reflect an actual practice of naked dancing as banquet entertainment?
- 7-15-10 Sema Yildiz, A Star of Turkish Dance by Zumarrad/ Brigid Kelly
She was fortunate, she says, to grow up in a Roma (Gypsy) community rich in dance and music – the Fatih district, which houses the Sulukule, famous for its entertainment and considered the oldest Roma settlement in the world.
- 7-15-10 Queen of Denial, Chapter 2: Dancing in the “City of Lights” by Rebaba
I’m breathing very hard, and can tell I’m very, very shiny and red, even under the stage lights, but I think he likes me. And he is completely dumbfounded that an “American” girl is auditioning for a job as a “Danseuse Oriental!” I know I’m way too fat, but thank God I’m a belly dancer, and apparently a novelty, because I couldn’t get away with this in any other dance form! Fortunately, I’m only 19 years old and my excess flesh is young, tan and firm!”
- 7-12-10 Fusion: How much is too much? by Najia Marlyz
In America, and evidently elsewhere, we dancers seem to have a voracious appetite for new steps and movements, so like hungry chipmunks, we have grabbed all we could stuff into our cheeks of Turkish and Arabic steps and gestures, resorting to incorporating and mixing of Saidi, Kaleedgi, Blue Guedra, Ghawazi, etc. We’ve chewed all of them up together and spit them out and found that they have not sufficiently nourished us.
- 7-6-10 Mohamed El Hosseny: His Dancing Journey from Suez to Cairo, Helsinki, and Beyond Interview by Zsuzsi
My advice which I tell all of my students is to study ballet at a beginner level for a few months. It will help your lines very much, so you have a nice bodyline without worrying about it and you can focus on learning the choreography and Oriental movements of the teacher in front of you.
- 7-5-10-Carnival of Stars, Performers L – Z Photos by Carl Sermon
Latifa, Leyla Lanty, Lulu, Mahsati, Maila, MaShuqa, Monica, Monifa, Naiya Halal, Nera Brent, Pepper, Raks Al Khalil, Raska a Diva, Raks Hakohaveen, Robyn Lovejoy, Safiyah, Sarah Horbeein, Shadha, Shaunte, Sister Sirens, Sukara, Surreyya, Tanja, Tatseena, Tera Lynda, Trish …