The Gilded Serpent presents...
The Bellybus
by Dervishspin

On Sunday April 25th, 2004, there will be a Pro-Choice march on Washington, DC, organized by a coalition of groups including the National Organization for Women, NARAL, The Black Women’s Health Imperative and Planned Parenthood. DervishSpin as well as the rest of her troupe Bad Raqsan’e Sahra, will be forming a delegation called the BellyBus, and attending the rally. They sent a press release to GS as well as others asking for dancers to join them in dancing, as their way of marching, in this protest. We invited Dervishspin to tell us why we as dancers should join her. More information on the march is available on Dervishspin's bio page linked to her name above.

We are aware that this is one viewpoint in a huge issue and it is not necessarily shared by all on the Gilded Serpent Staff. What's at stake and why are they marching? Roe vs. Wade and your children's rights to control their bodies. We also invite you, the reader, to respond about how personal freedoms and our political climate affect your life as a dancer.

So I have been asked, what does a belly dancer know about the Pro-Choice movement? What can a belly dancer add to the argument that has not already been hashed over a thousand times?

Well, besides the fact that I have a womb, and so am automatically more qualified to have an opinion about this topic than any of the men who signed the late-term abortion ban into law, there are two things that I, as an American belly dancer, know well.

These things are at the root of the conflict between the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements. These two things are shame and control.

Belly dancers are not generally ashamed of their dance form. Most are proud, strong dancers. It’s the rest of the world that tries to hang a sense of shame, like an albatross, around a belly dancer's neck. We are often asked, isn’t belly dance like stripping? Did you learn belly dance to seduce men? Aren’t you embarrassed by dancing half naked?

And frankly, No.

There is nothing shameful about dancing.

Despite our best intentions, sometimes other people’s sense of shame makes us get a little defensive. We explain that our art is a dance of sisterhood, of motherhood, incorporating the movements for assisting women in difficult pregnancies. We come up with different names for our art form: Raqs Sharki, American Tribal, Goddess Dancing, Traditional Middle Eastern… anything to get away from calling it the perceptibly more tawdry term “belly dance”.

This needs to stop. Frankly I don’t care what we call our dance - I’ll still dance it whatever it’s called - but when we give in to others' sense of shame we give them a portion of our power. When we change our actions or our names because of what they think, they win. They control the argument.

Just as it is wrong of us to validate someone else’s sense of shame by reacting to it, so it is wrong of women to allow the radical right to foist their sense of shame off on us when we choose to make the difficult decision to have an abortion. There is no shame in controlling our own reproduction. There is no shame in having sex. There is no shame in dealing with the repercussions of sex. Having mature, consensual sex is not wrong, and consciously choosing how and when to reproduce is not wrong. And I will not and you should not and the Pro-Choice movement should not accept shame for making the choices some other segment of the population would not actively make for themselves. Just because our choices are different from theirs does not mean we are harlots. It does not mean we are murderers. It does not mean that our morals are in tatters. This is not a moral question for each woman who considerers whether or not to have an abortion - it is an intensely practical one. To allow the Pro-Life movement to frame this as an action that is inherently shameful is to allow them to control the discussion.

A belly dancer must have control over her own body. She must have control over what goes into her body, what food and water fuels her movements. She must have control of her dance moves - her shimmies must be regular and rhythmic, her hip drops must be crisp, her undulations smooth and liquid. A dancer must know her body intimately, must listen to it and work with its limitations; she must practice weekly or daily in the pursuit of perfection.

There are few people who know what control is the way a dancer does.

And that is why a dancer can so easily level a finger at the Pro-Life movement and claim, “control freak!” The Pro-Life willingness to ban certain medical procedures, to count the unborn as more valuable than the woman who carries it, to tell us what we can and can not do to and with our own bodies - all this comes from a need to control.

For a dancer to be what she is, to dance, she must be free. For a woman to be a full and equal member of our society she must be free to make her own choices about what is best for her.

Attempts to control a dancer’s body are attempts to control the dance. Attempts to control what a woman can and cannot do to her own body are attempts to control a woman’s life.

Don’t believe me? Legislation has recently been passed to ban a medical procedure called a D&E, what those with no medical training call a “partial-birth abortion”. After its passage the Attorney General attempted to force hospitals and clinics to turn over thousands of abortion records to help him enforce the new law.

Doctor-patient confidentiality and control over our records goes out the window. It starts here.

Some of the people who supported this ban are Joseph Scheidler of the Pro-life Action League and Randall Terry of Operation Rescue. Scheidler once said “I would like to outlaw contraception…contraception is disgusting…” Terry has been quoted as saying “I don’t think Christians should use birth control. You consummate your marriage as often as you like – and if you have babies, you have babies.” You can see where this is going. If it starts with one form of control for women, it will extend to others. Women who are busy being pregnant and occupied with child rearing are no longer free to meddle in the affairs of the men-folk. Are no longer free to dance as they will.

Even if you are on the other side of the fence on the abortion issue, even if you would never have an abortion yourself, to deny the ability to choose to your sisters, to passively watch our options become more limited is to hold our decisions and our ability to take care of our bodies as less valuable than your own.

This is why belly dancers, women, people who value the freedom that a woman has in our society, must take this time to stand up and claim their rights. They must join us in the dance.

For a dancer whose body is controlled is not a dancer, she is a puppet. And although there are people in our society who will be more than pleased for women to go back to being the puppets, I, for one, will be a dancer.

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