5 Ways to Avoid Stigmatizing Belly Dance and Help Elevate the Dance Community

 

5 Ways to Avoid Stigmatizing Belly Dance and Help Elevate the Dance Community

Sometimes dancers get so busy branding themselves that they don’t realize some of their choices may actually be toxic to our little 'ol dance world.

 

1. Stop friending everyone who requests it on Facebook and other social media sites.

Somehow, we’ve been groomed to think that having professional photos and 5,000 followers on social media makes us professional dancers. However, it’s actually knowing our material and sharing it with the right audiences that qualify us as professional. Social media is only one way to advertise, and with Facebook’s newer algorithms, our audiences of who we want to see our posts has changed. Let’s face it; we do not have a positive rapport to many Arab men (or Western men at that). Those of us who dance fight an uphill battle to be respected for talent, not tits. Many of us receive messages, love letters, and sexual requests on an ongoing basis. If you wouldn’t friend someone you know who might make such sexual advances, why would you do so for a complete stranger? These creepers are praying on you, your photos, and your self-respect. Click unfriend and block. Send a clear message that you are to be respected as a dancer and as a human being, not some kind of cheap thrill.

2. Understand that pride and feminism works in multiple ways; know your audience and understand that there are multiple viewpoints.

Part of what makes belly dancing a struggle is that both Eastern and Western cultures have to be/are represented and yet be respected simultaneously. Sometimes this line can be as clear as mud. For example, a money shower in some cultures is seen as a traditional sign of respect and love for a dancer; however, westerners may associate that same money shower with strippers. Or take our costuming, as an example. Some women cover up in order to be respected, whereas others might show a bit of skin as an empowering political statement showing ownership and power over their bodies, especially in cultures where women are frowned upon for showing such pride. Know your audience and adjust your choices based on what you think will bring respect to not only you, but to the culture, the audience, and the dance. 

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3. Choose performance opportunities wisely

I often hear dancers say that we’re not respected as much as other art forms. Remember that this dance was originally folklore performed behind closed doors and at celebrations. It was never meant to be put on stage. Then came Western and European Orientalistic fantasies, Hollywood cinema, and Vaudeville.  The industry wanted money .Those who loved this dance wanted to see it on the same stages as black and white movies featuring Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers.  These warm hearted-elders wanted to elevate the dance. Most of them are older and poor but have a legacy.

Ask yourself, do you want this dance to feed your soul, or feed your belly?

It’s not always about the money. It is damn hard these days to make a living as a dancer, but it always has been. Would you rather be known as a dancer who made a living dancing every Thursday and Friday Night at hookah bars, or a dancer who performs less, but has earned the respect and honor of his/her peers and the cultures he/she represents?

I’m not sure how we ended up dancing in hookah bars between the baklava and hummus, instead of upstage by the band in a more elevated format, but either way, where we perform does impact how people see us. If we only dance for entertainment and not as an art form, we are doomed to judgment just like those in gossip magazines-by our looks, what we wear; and not our talents or knowledge. Or, we could set the tone by providing history and information where we perform. Provide programs, brochures, or informative cards on the tables during Haflas, recitals, or other entertainment venues. (hint: the kind of people you want in your class pay attention to this type of memorabilia more than a simple, pretty business card). The dance doesn’t have to lose the interaction and ceremony of its origins. Look to those who have tried to elevate the dance through performances of caliber such as Yasmina Ramzy, Sahra Saeeda, Cassandra Shore, Mahmoud Reda, Jillina, etc.

 4. Educate yourself. Learn folklore, culture, music, and history.

There is so much more to this dance than sequined costumes, technical movements, and performance opportunities.

Let’s take an example. You are American. You associate your culture/expression with Hip Hop music and and dance culture. You bring your friends with you to a restaurant because you are so excited to share your culture with them. Or maybe you are bringing your family for entertainment to this venue as you have moved to another country and you miss home. You are excited to share your culture with others.

Imagine going to this restaurant/venue/show where someone comes on stage coined as an American Hip Hop Dancer. They come on stage, have some of the moves, and some of their costuming makes sense, but when the music plays - it’s country-western! The dancer may have a fabulous stage presence and great technique, but to those in the audience expecting a hip-hop act, it feels out of place and possibly even disrespectful. It just doesn’t make sense – no matter how artistic the interpretation- to you. Would you come back? Would you bring friends?

Imagine you keep trying to find a show with real hip hop, because it reminds you of home and your culture. Each show you go to only has a 5% resemblance to your image; would you get frustrated, stop looking, and recommending people to go out and see these? When other people clap and cheer in a room for them, would you shudder and wish you could show them what real hip hop looked it? Wouldn’t you start to even to not like these groups? What would you do if you asked the dancers why they don’t dance to hip hop music although they are coined hip hop dancers, and they said it’s because there are too many rules and it doesn’t fit their own artistic expression?

When the cultural traditions, expectations and understandings are blurred, it causes a rift in respect between cultures and those parts of the community whose folklore is being misunderstood, are inevitably going to feel a bitter resentment towards those who try to change something that isn’t theirs to change.  When we don’t respect the history/culture, we lose the respect of the people. When we lose the respect of the people, we lose our audiences. When we lose our audiences, we lose our venues.

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5. Give back to the dance community. Don’t be a dance and ditch diva.

We can’t always be performing in the “limelight,” otherwise, there would be a stage full a performers with no music, no lighting, or no stage technician. There’s an illusion in the dance world that all you need to do is show up, doll-up, and dress up. Somehow our sparkly costumes, perfectly-placed eye shadow, and false lashes have masked the hours and effort of work that takes place before any performance.  

I gained a lot by observing and helping my elder dancers with events. I learned the ins and outs and the what to dos and what not to dos. I also learned a negative side of the dance world-watching dancers come merely for the opportunity to perform, but never give back to the dance community. In 15 years of dancing, I’ve never asked to perform in a show, restaurant, or venue; I have to turn down opportunities. I firmly believe this is because I learned the importance of giving back and sharing resources. When people organize an event, they know they can count on me not just to perform, but to pitch in.

Offer to help at any event. Put out chairs, take tickets at the door, or help vendors set up. Offer to do tech, sound, or stage managing. Share events, even those events you are not even attending or part of. Do things without having to be asked. We are a team; a very small team of committed individuals. When one prospers we all prosper.


Making a Positive Impression on Event Organizers
Year in Review: 2016

Comments 4

 
Super User on Tuesday, 26 April 2016 16:52

I think stopping the use of the silly, inaccurate, trite, foisted-upon us misnomer of "belly dance" would be a great start. Explain WHY this is not
the proper name for the dance, and that it's best translation is "Oriental Dance" (Raks Sharqi), and that "oriental" doesn't just mean "Asian".

I think stopping the use of the silly, inaccurate, trite, foisted-upon us misnomer of "belly dance" would be a great start. Explain WHY this is not the proper name for the dance, and that it's best translation is "Oriental Dance" (Raks Sharqi), and that "oriental" doesn't just mean "Asian".
Super User on Wednesday, 27 April 2016 00:01

Thank you for this.

Thank you for this.
Guest - TinaJulie on Wednesday, 27 April 2016 20:34

What bothers me A LOT is the ridiculous names dancers give themselves. Most don't understand what the name they chose means or where it stems from. If you're Caucasian & blond, and do not speak or understand Arabic, why name yourself Layla or Zenaida or - worse yet - Isis? It just doesn't make sense. It cheapens the art form. You will not be taken seriously. Creative freedom & artistic expression to all - but think about these stage names - PLEASE!

What bothers me A LOT is the ridiculous names dancers give themselves. Most don't understand what the name they chose means or where it stems from. If you're Caucasian & blond, and do not speak or understand Arabic, why name yourself Layla or Zenaida or - worse yet - Isis? It just doesn't make sense. It cheapens the art form. You will not be taken seriously. Creative freedom & artistic expression to all - but think about these stage names - PLEASE!
Guest - GeorginaHowson on Sunday, 01 May 2016 05:37

That's a great point about the names. Prior to my 'retirement' from dance I knew of many dancers who had beautiful names of their own (Tatiana being one that springs to mind) but they chose to use stage names which were in some cases utterly ridiculous and not even Egyptian in origin. I decided when I started performing professionally, I would use the name my parents gave me.

Also in relation to the point about social media friends. Some dancers definitely have an ulterior motive for befriending people. As I used to dance, I do have friends who still dance in my friends list and we all comment on each other's posts. I received a friend request from a dancer outside of my area and as I had no clue who she was, I sent a polite message 'so sorry, but do I know you?' thinking maybe I met her at a workshop at some point. She replied saying she'd noticed my comments and so thought I was a dancer and was looking to expand her network of dance friends. She apologised for troubling me and said ignore the request. I decided in the end to accept her friend request in good grace and the next post in my news feed was an advertisement for workshops she was teaching.

Also being choosy about where to perform is essential. I had a call one day (my mobile number was on my website) from a man who garbled away for a while about performing at an event. I eventually coaxed more out of him and asked him to clarify what exactly he wanted me to do. He was offering a great deal of money. But it transpired he wanted someone to strut around at a caged bare knuckle fight! I told him I'm a dancer but I wouldn't dance at that type of event. Amusingly he continued saying he wasn't really interested in the dancing, just someone pretty in a costume to walk around the cage egging the audience on. Needless to say, despite the large fee offered, I declined this booking.

That's a great point about the names. Prior to my 'retirement' from dance I knew of many dancers who had beautiful names of their own (Tatiana being one that springs to mind) but they chose to use stage names which were in some cases utterly ridiculous and not even Egyptian in origin. I decided when I started performing professionally, I would use the name my parents gave me. Also in relation to the point about social media friends. Some dancers definitely have an ulterior motive for befriending people. As I used to dance, I do have friends who still dance in my friends list and we all comment on each other's posts. I received a friend request from a dancer outside of my area and as I had no clue who she was, I sent a polite message 'so sorry, but do I know you?' thinking maybe I met her at a workshop at some point. She replied saying she'd noticed my comments and so thought I was a dancer and was looking to expand her network of dance friends. She apologised for troubling me and said ignore the request. I decided in the end to accept her friend request in good grace and the next post in my news feed was an advertisement for workshops she was teaching. Also being choosy about where to perform is essential. I had a call one day (my mobile number was on my website) from a man who garbled away for a while about performing at an event. I eventually coaxed more out of him and asked him to clarify what exactly he wanted me to do. He was offering a great deal of money. But it transpired he wanted someone to strut around at a caged bare knuckle fight! I told him I'm a dancer but I wouldn't dance at that type of event. Amusingly he continued saying he wasn't really interested in the dancing, just someone pretty in a costume to walk around the cage egging the audience on. Needless to say, despite the large fee offered, I declined this booking.
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