Is Bellydance on a Downward Spiral?
Ask Yasmina #18
by Yasmina Ramzy
posted April 17, 2012
Usually I take questions from readers and try to give some kind of comprehensive answer. This time the question is from me to the universe or perhaps it is a revelation I have come to realize recently that has shocked me to the core.
Is the presentation of Bellydance on a downward spiral after the years of so many trying to lift it up?
The latest full scale Arabesque Dance Company production called JAMRA just finished a few weeks ago. As all of our annual productions, there were 7 performances in a prestigious theatre of 450 seats sponsored by an arts centre and two arts councils. Arabesque consists of 17 male and female dancers and 11 musicians and vocalists.
When compiling the information for the programme, some of the dance artists in the company asked us not to use their real name for fear of complications with their main employment.
These are dance artists who dedicate between 10-20 hours a week to rehearsal and practice with Arabesque. They are serious artists who have many years of training under their belts. Some are instructors as well. They are fearful that they may be found out – the horrible truth exposed that they are a Bellydancer.
The last time I heard anyone fearful of admitting they were a Bellydancer was in the late 80s and early 90s. Those were days when we began to take great care to educate our audiences; to set examples that Bellydance was high art, not striptease; that Bellydancers did not dance on tables or take money in their bra strap or sit with customers after their performance. Yes, it often seemed like an uphill battle but progress was always being made. It is what impelled me to get up in the morning and what brings the 35 members of Arabesque together to work so hard. If members of my own company cannot admit publicly that they Bellydance – including myself on occasion – how can I complain when an arts council does not give me a grant?
After asking around, I found that this Bellydance shame which I thought was long gone was actually a growing trend. Does this mean my last 30 years of diligent efforts of raising awareness was for naught? Should all those dancers around the world who have worked so hard to establish Bellydance as art give up if the community is making a U-turn? Is this just a short bad phase? I am looking for feedback. Is it my imagination or is Bellydance becoming more sexualized and more commercialized? Are dancers actually allowing someone to stick dollar bills in their bra strap? Is it the economy? Really?
This is my 18th column for Gilded Serpent and pretty much every previous column offers examples of how one can demand respect and feel pride in Bellydancing as well as the benefits in rebound and ripple effect that this offers for all communities. I offered these examples because the readers asked the questions. What is the point if a handful of Bellydancers are constantly sabotaging the earnest efforts of those who respect themselves and the art? Is it possible to organize and fight this growing trend?
At the first International Bellydance Conference of Canada, Randa Kamel (Egypt) spoke on one of the panels and was asked about the stigmatization of Bellydance in Egypt. She said it was sad because there is a long lineage of dancers who have loved and respected the art form – from Samia Gamal to Sohair Zaki to herself. But unfortunately, there are a few who ruin it for everyone by acting immodest and disrespectful of themselves and the art.
Very soon will be the last conference, this May 2012. The first one was in 2007 inspired by the International Conference on Middle Eastern Dance in California in 2000. The main feature of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada which made it stand out amongst other Bellydance festivals and events was the focus on highly researched lectures concerning history and socio-political impact as well as panel discussions and debates. Issues were raised such as Commercial Bellydance vs. Women’s Empowerment, Ethics and Conduct, Men in Bellydance, Globalization of Bellydance, Feminist Approaches to Bellydance, Body Image in Bellydance, Cultural Appropriation; Exploiting or Honouring, Tribal Dance Evolution, Art vs. Commercialism, Teaching Standards and so on. Each of these discussions went overtime with the vibrant energy of a room of 150 Bellydancers who really cared about the issues and the future of our art form.
I have noticed that more and more festivals these days include similar type discussions and lectures by scholars. This is very encouraging.
Perhaps things are getting better but there is an equal negative influence that holds onto the inertia of old ways of thinking. Perhaps it is a parallel struggle to women’s plight in general. Feminism has created laws that have allowed women to seek new roles in power and wealth and yet still, basic attitudes have not really changed concerning men’s attitudes towards women and women’s attitudes towards themselves. Perhaps Bellydance is the poster child for many things society needs to examine, work on and dig deep into in order to understand the root causes of its struggles.
The issue could be described in the chicken and egg analogy. Which is first (or last)? Feminine sensuality and Bellydance viewed as negative and degrading or Bellydancers cheapening and selling out their feminine sensuality? At the end of the day, I believe Bellydance is a great vehicle to facilitate change in the hearts of those who dance and those that view it. Bellydance offers an opportunity to claim feminine sensuality as positive, sacred and healing, akin to most art. Please spread the word. The next time you see a dancer in Egypt or elsewhere degrading the art form, perhaps you could offer her/him a better way to present themselves. I am pretty sure I cannot give up just yet.
Ready for more?
- 12-28-11 Ask Yasmina #17: Practice and Rehearsal
The key point to solo study and practice is to remember that if you are enjoying yourself, you are most likely not growing or progressing!
- 7-12-11 Ask Yasmina #16, New Baby Dance, Taqsim Shimmies, and Cane Music
However, there are many who had to resort to Cesarean after a long and arduous labor as well. It might be negligent to throw around such claims.
- 1-5-11 Ask Yasmina #15, Gaining Respect for Bellydance Artists, by Yasmina Ramzy
The following is a kind of "manifesto" or set of guidelines that Bellydancers could follow that might help contribute to our community of artists in gaining respect
- 10-1-10 Ask Yasmina #14: Pro Dancer vs Religion, Importance of Training, Khaleegy Music
Then, I would speak to them about being authentic. If Bellydance was chosen with conviction, love and integrity, then their relationship with God would remain real and honest and maybe one day they might win back the respect of her family. It was still a huge risk, but at least, they could have comfort in living an authentic life.
- 7-1-10 Ask Yasmina #13, Find a Good Teacher, First Workshop, Non-Arab Dancers
First and foremost, take a class or two from many teachers in your area so you can make a better informed decision. Please note that slick advertising and a good website indicate good organization and good marketing skills, not necessarily good Belly dance skills, knowledge, or even teaching skills
- 5-21-08 Saturday Gala Peformance Part 2 of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada
Performers in Act 2 : Aisha Ali of Southern California, Bozenka of Florida, Amy Sigil & Kari Vanderzwaag of Unmata from Sacramento, California, Tito Seif of Egypt, Aida Nour of Egypt
- 5-21-08 Saturday Gala Peformance Part 1 of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada
Performers include: Lopa Sarkar, Sacred Dance Company of Victoria, Nath Keo, Roshana Nofret & Maria Zapetis of Bozenka’s BD Academy, Ensemble El Saharat of Germany-
Mayyadah & Amir of Germany, Ferda Bayazit of Turkey, Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra of Toronto
- 5-15-03 Professional vs. Amateur: What is the Difference?
There are dancers of every gradation in between the two labels of “professional” and “amateur”: dancers who work at dance jobs intermittently, or have part time jobs in addition to regular performances.
- 4-8-08 Divorcing Belly Dance From Burlesque
As it is traditionally understood, I do not find Burlesque, (meaning nudity-no matter how hard one pretends it does not) amusing or creative in the slightest when it comes to including Belly dance, an art that has suffered too long with such unfortunate associations. I find it completely irresponsible and detrimental.
- 4-7-08 When the Hip Hits the Fan
Though fan dancing is not considered traditional in raqs sharqi, due to the increasing popularity of fusion, many Oriental dancers are exploring fusing the many styles of fan dancing and Belly dance with stunning results. When used onstage, fans are FAN-ciful, conveying various emotions to an audience, as well as being a spectacular visual treat. They can be dramatic and stately, or coy and flirtatious and are always a crowd pleaser!
- 9-8-05 Belly Dance, Burlesque and Beyond: Confessions of a Post Modern Showgirl
“BUT WAIT!!!” I can hear you screaming, “ BURLESQUE IS STRIPPING”
- 2-20-00 Entertainment or Art?
It is possible to be an artiste in a non-art form in the sense that one may be skilled, professional and artistic at the business of entertainment.
The Devil’s Details, Show Ethics for Professionals
- 5-4-07 Part 1- Booking a Party
When a dancer looks good, she, or another, will get called back to perform again. When she looks bad, customers might be turned off to our lovely art form forever. Therefore, a bad dancer not only ruins things for herself, but for all of us
- 8-29-07 Part 2- The Cross Cultural Factor
Warning. There is a great deal of passive aggressive face-saving behavior in this profession. It is not always woman friendly either. Respect is not a given…
- 10-15-07 Part 3- Separating the Girls from the Women
If a performer conducts herself as a professional she is much more likely to obtain repeat engagements and referrals. No one wants to be seen knowingly hiring an amateur. It is bad for business and a customer’s image.
- 12-5-07 Part 4 – What NOT To Do
Show up drunk or stoned. No more needs to be said
- 1-28-08 Part 5 – Beauty
For new dancers, mastering the art of glamour can be daunting. But take heart, while internal sensuality requires character work, external beauty is easier to fix
- 5-4-07 Part 1- Booking a Party
- 4-16-12 When Victoria was Queen — And the Ghawazi Ruled, Amusing, Illuminating, and Disturbing Tales of 19th-Century Encounters with the Ghawazi
The first dancing of all ghawazi is simply moving about to the music and undulating the body. Then waves of motion are made to run from head to foot, and over these waves pass with incredible rapidity the ripples and thrills, as you have seen a great billow in a breeze look like a smaller sea ribbed with a thousand wavelets. All is done in perfect time with the music.
- 4-12-12 Dancing on Stemmed Glassware!A Dangerous Specialty for the Stage
The highlight of my performance was sliding the glass out from under my heel with my hand and going into a backbend.
- 4-10-12 Video Interview with Natalie Becker of St Petersburg, Russia,
Interviewed in Marrakech, Morocco at the Mediterranean Delight Festival produced by Simona Guzman in June 2011. Natalie and her daughter, Natalie (nickname- Ebru), are from St Petersburg, Russia. Natalie tells about her start and first mentors. She tells of her daughter’s launch into bellydance as a career. We have more videos coming with Natalie also talking more about the Russian style of Bellydance. Anna Borisova assists.
- 4-7-12 The Festivals That Could Have Been, From the Point of View of an Organizer
Finally, I started again, alone. I sold my car and my apartment, and I booked the five star Beach Resort with that money, including supplies, the gala room, training rooms, and a whole floor for the exhibitors.
- 4-6-12 Queen of Denial Chapter 8: Memories of Baghdad Part 1: Miss America, NOT!
I had been performing as the featured “Miss America of Belly Dance” in an elite restaurant supper club for about two weeks when Saddam Hussein announced to his country that he was being betrayed by his number one ally in the war against Iran, the USA!
- 4-5-12 El Balie Arabie, Dancing in Chile
I discovered finding a teacher was going to be a lot harder than I originally intended.
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