5 Reasons Why Your Daughters Should Be Allowed to Belly Dance

 

5 Reasons Why Your Daughters Should Be Allowed to Belly Dance

Most parents of young girls and teens who come to the studio have heard at least one of the following statements from family or peers:

“You allow your daughter do THAT?”

“Why would you allow her do something so sexy, so young?”

“I would never allow MY daughter do something like that!”

 

To these responses, I always shrug and reply, “Yes. Unfortunately, you’re going to get that.”

Most folks have no idea what Belly Dancing is. They imagine MTV music videos of scantily clad women in two-piece costumes twerking in hookah bars, because this is the only image of “belly dancers” to which they have been exposed.

The reality is, people don’t get exposed to church haflas (parties), studio dance performances, internationally travelling shows, or the culture of so many women who enjoy this dance at home with friends and family - places where this dance does flourish in all its intent and beauty.  Nor are most people aware that Belly Dance is one of the oldest social dances among women, performed by thousands of young girls, all over the world, often right by the sides of their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. In some countries, there are Belly Dance schools, similar to those dedicated to ballet and other dance forms. Belly Dance is a healthy activity promoting positive self-esteem and comradery among girls.

I started belly dance young. I took my first Belly Dance class when I was 14, tired of being bullied in field hockey for not being the fastest runner. I wanted to be part of a team, but I wasn’t competitive enough. I even had to sew two hockey skirts together in order for the uniform to fit my body, and I was so embarrassed over how it looked.

In search of an activity where I would be a better fit and feel more welcomed, I came across a flyer for a Belly Dance class.  Since I enjoyed dancing to hip-hop music, I thought maybe it was something, “similar” (ha). Though it turned out not to be quite the case, eighteen years later, I’m still studying the art of belly dance and sharing the love of a dance and community I credit with saving my life and keeping me too busy to get into trouble.

1. It’s fun and non-competitive

Unlike other dance styles and activities, Belly Dancing is non-competitive. There’s no end goal; there’s no graduation, only personal growth.  You do it to learn how to move your body in a way that makes you feel good, and do so while spending time and laughing with others. Today, almost all activities for school age girls are competitive - sports, theatre, even math teams. There is very little out there for girls to do that is just for them, just for fun, self-directed, with maybe a soft goal of performing if they wish. And even then, performing is an optional goal!

2. Belly Dance Builds Positive Self-Esteem.

Girls are constantly fed media and marketing telling them how they should look. I remember being a pre-teen and looking at beauty magazines. I skipped lunches, did 1,000 sit-ups, and I still never felt good enough.  There are hundreds of studies on the impact of Photoshopped media and self-esteem. I have had girls in class as young as six say negative things about the way they look. It’s so disheartening. Building a positive self-worth starts early and impacts a girl’s success for the rest of her life!

By 7thgrade, I was 5 ft. 6 in, with a large chest, and long, awkward legs.  When I stepped into my first Belly Dance class, I was immediately welcomed by women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. When they walked around that room, they owned their own beauty through posture, poise, and passion. There was even an older woman who was going through chemo, strutting proudly her bald head.  I studied her and thought she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen.  Then I realized, what this style of dance gave, was the ability to walk with purpose, to move the body when one feels like it, and to own those movements as their own. When a girl or woman is empowered to love their own body as is, that’s what makes them shine; that’s what makes them beautiful.  Photoshop could never touch that!

We have this phenomenon happen at the studio. If we wear two piece costumes, the audience spends more time thinking about how we fit into their narrow expectations of what a Belly Dancer should look like (thanks MTV!). They watch the show, but they are distracted. When we wear dresses or something fully covered, we get more applause for the exact same piece. It doesn’t matter what age, size, or shape the dancers are, we received the same response! Sometimes, even our audiences get distracted by what we should be. But our dancers never do, because they are too busy having fun, and it shows. Usually after a performance other women come up to our dancers to compliment them and say they are an inspiration. Whatever happens in life, whatever shape our body takes, and regardless of who is watching, we must learn to never lose our own sparkle and keep dancing!

 

3. They learn to own and control their own bodies

There comes a special power when a person can control their body - in what they wear, who they allow near it, and how they feel. When you can control the smallest movement, a turn of the wrist, a movement of the hip, there’s this sense of accomplishment and empowerment that comes with it. Even with full grown women, the fact that they learn to control muscles and movements to own as their own is a spark of freedom!  There are also benefits to releasing and moving through whole muscle groups for relaxation and detoxification similar to Yoga and Pilates.

 

4.It makes them less susceptible to negative self-talk and external pressues

I have also experienced that  girls who start Belly Dancing, have a higher self-worth, have more of a self-purpose or are more motivated towards their own personal goals. They know their body is a powerful tool, and they learn that although they may not be able to do a particular movement yet, they know they will be able to.  They seem to respond better when bullied or harassed in school. An example was when one young lady came in saying that someone had said her hips were too big, of which she replied, “why thank-you!” and walked away dancing. I think it also helps being part of a community of women in various stages of the natural aging process instead of just hanging out with their age clichés and the issues they have at that specific age.

 

5. Learning to spend time on themselves is a healthy habit to start early

Ok, this one may be more for the parents. I started teaching in 2003. Since then, something has happened in our culture. I’ve talked to my mentors about this, and they say they have seen the same trend:  women feel guilty taking time away from their families. Leaving one night a week is hard. Leaving for a one hour class to recharge makes them feel guilty. This is not healthy for moms, it doesn’t build independence for the rest of the family, and no one has recharge time alone! Mom not taking time for herself sets the tone for the next generation of women.

Sometimes women come to the studio and the first thing they do is take a deep breath. When they come, they’re drained. When they leave, they’re smiling. Regardless if it is Belly Dancing, Yoga, or sitting and reading a book, find something for you for an hour a week!  You can always come with your daughter/granddaughter/niece/foster child too, but quite possibly, you could find that hour for yourself while your daughter is learning to own her own movements and sparkle!

-Amity Alize

 

Raq-On dance Studio offers girls classes, birthday parties, and celebrations. For more information on girl's classes for ages 5+, email raqondance@gmail.com


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Body Positivity and Belly Dance

 

 

Body Positivity and Belly Dance

By Raq-ette Iris

Note: Iris presented this topic as a presentation at one of our WRJ First Friday events and blew everyone away. Here it is in blog format!

This is a topic near and dear to me:  I’m so passionate about Belly Dance and so intense in my desire to express what the dance means to me and why it’s been both terrifying and growth-inspiring on a personal level that I’m finding it hard not to jump in head first, gushing like a mad woman and overwhelming you as a reader who may be new to Belly Dance or unsure of her place within the body positive movement..

Instead I’m going to try to start slow and ask some simple questions to give us a kind of framework or I might run off on a hundred different tangents trying to say everything all at once and end up saying nothing!

So:

What are we talking about?  Body Positivity, especially as it pertains to Belly Dance.

Who are we talking about?  You. No one else can live for you.  You make your decisions and you live your life. You can’t change anyone else.  This is about you.

Where can this be accomplished?  Here.  You made it here and here is where you can start to seriously think about your body.

When can this happen?  Now…and from now on. Not when you lose weight, not when school starts, not when you finish your latest project. NOW.

Why?  Because you are important.  And I’m going to say that again.  Because you are important. You count.  You matter.  You, and the body you inhabit have a right to be here. You and the body you inhabit have an impact on the world.

How?  A million ways, but right now our how is going to be through Belly Dance.

What do you have to gain?

  • Acceptance of Self

  • Peer group

  • Mastery over muscle

  • Appreciation of your body through exploration of its capabilities:  both body and mind

  • Learning about a whole new culture:  expanding your view of the world.  We begin to understand accept each other based on commonalities:  dance is something everyone does!

  • Variety of styles, skill levels

  • Fun!

 

So let’s start with a story:

 

When I was 20, my parents gave me a car.  Cool right?  Arguably, this is one of the most exciting things that could happen to a young person.

It just happens that this car used to belong to my Grandmother.  It was a 1978 Cutlass Salon:  Beige…. (Let me let that sink in).  Not so cool.  This thing was the epitome of what you just DON’T want to be seen driving.  It was 10 years old and had no amenities.  We’re talking an AM radio…period.  The first thing I did was snatch the granny square afghan off the seat, which I lived to regret:  did I mention the seats were vinyl?  Those babies could cook the backs of your thighs in 2.6 seconds flat.

 

So here’s the thing.  This is what I got.  Cool or not, I had wheels.  Wheels meant freedom and autonomy.  This horribly-anything-but-what-I-would-have-chosen-for-myself car opened up a whole world of opportunities that were unattainable for me before.

So now let’s talk about bodies….something else I largely inherited from my grandmother.  Mine is short and solid.  My hair and eyes are brown.  My most striking or remarkable aspect is my pre-disposition to want to gain and hold onto a whole bunch of weight.  This is not what I would have chosen from the catalog if I had been shopping for a body.  It is, however, what was given to me.  So cool or not, this anything-but-what-I-would-have chosen-for-myself body is mine.  It has strengths and weaknesses, but it is the tool I have to work with to create and experience every single aspect of my life.

Let me say that again.  My body is the tool I have to:

Create

And Experience

Every

Single

Aspect

Of my life.

This thing is amazing.  It takes in information.  It stores information.  It sorts information and interprets what it takes in.  It learns. From this comes the creation of emotions, likes, dislikes, compassion. It fixes itself.  It is able to interact with the world.  It replicates….Whoa.

My body DESERVES my respect

My body DESERVES my love

My body DESERVES my positivity

 

Dance is one place where you really can see when a person is able to love their body.

It’s not just a hip circle….it’s a hip (ahhhhh) circle….look at my hip…and it’s coming around.  It looks good, it feels good, and it’s mine.  This is me.  Yeah.

It’s not just putting your arm up,  it’s being THERE with your arm as it goes up, feeling which muscles are being used, how MUCH they’re being used; the flow of one muscle into another.

It’s not just a series of movements strung together, it’s communication:  you get to show someone the real you without saying a word and, yeah, sometimes that’s HARD, but sometimes words just don’t cut it and this can be a way to put it all out there.

 

Here’s an exercise:

Pull up Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I

You’re going to dance.  The goal here is not to come up with a pretty or interesting dance.  The goal is not necessarily to fuse Belly Dance moves with American pop music…you may or may not know the moves and you may or may not know this song.  The goal is to take moves you are already comfortable with and REALLY connect with your body.  No hiding! No excuses! The goal is to find and showcase…YOU!  Do you like to really rock out with your hips? Use them!  Use them to the nth degree.  Show the world what hips are!  Do you have a killer smile?  Flash it!  Are you all about slow ooey gooey moves?  This is where you let them out.  Pops and locks?  Yup!  Now’s the time!  Whatever makes you feel good, whatever makes you feel confident: You’re the star of this one.

This is often our relationship with our bodies:  a bad romance.

Our relationship with our bodies is a relationship.  And body positivity and acceptance can be like couples counseling

Sometimes things are great and it’s a match made in heaven…everyone is happy and content.

Sometimes there are HUGE evident issues that cause HUGE everyday problems.

Sometimes the problems are hidden but eroding a good relationship quietly from the inside.

There are times when your body can simply let you down: people get sick or hurt.  Sometimes your body doesn’t react to things the way you expect or want it to.

Sometimes YOU let your body down.  We don’t always eat the right things or sleep enough or move enough.

Just like a relationship, you sometimes have to make a conscious decision to love your body, even though it’s not perfect…maybe especially where it’s not perfect.  Relationships don’t get fixed by ignoring your partner, or by alienating them or blaming them.  It’s so much easier to get WORK done when you do it in a positive way.

*Something to think about:  You may not always be 100% in awe of your partner, but do you let other people tear them down?  Most of us will come to our loved ones’ defense.  Shouldn’t we love ourselves in the same way?

*Something else to think about:  the Japanese have a practice called kintsukuroi.   They repair a broken object with gold or silver and understand that the piece is more beautiful and stronger for having been broken.

Why Bad (romance)? Because we have been messed with.  We have been lied to.  We’ve been bamboozled into thinking that the only body that is worth having is a young, healthy, athletic body.  More than that.  We’ve been told tall is better than short and thin is better than fat. (but not tootall and not toothin). We’ve even been told that the color of our skin or hair or eyes is not as desirable as someone elses’.  We’ve been told growing old means we are less desirable. We’ve been told we should conform…change our body, no matter the cost…or hide our bodies and thus hide ourselves. We are told that our imperfection is a burden on society.

“Seriously, who wants to see that?”  Whatever “that” is we internalize it.  Our specific imperfection is terrible!  Unforgiveable! We hide ourselves or try to fix ourselves.  We pick on ourselves beforesomeone else can. We laugh at jokes that were made at our expense and we point out other peoples’ flaws.  And every day we are bombarded with a thousand reminders:  on TV, in magazines, store windows, billboards, and on-line by images of bodies…desirable bodies…bodies without our imperfection. They have a certain look to them to begin with, but then they get touched up…and somehow we are supposed to live up to a standard that isn’t even reality.

 

Here are some pictures of women who have been photo-shopped to appear “more appealing”

 

Was there really anything wrong with the original woman? Seriously…would Disney’s box office sales have plummeted if they had drawn the Little Mermaid on the right?

Yet they chose the tiny version on the left.  Watch it in action here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLmSUhyySLI  youtube Power of Photoshop)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tabloids and Click Baits really prey on this.  They regularly feature “Who Aged Horribly”

And “Who Wore It Best” Often these are just regular pics vs glamor shots or who is more popular or thinner

So we run around trying to not let people see our “flaws”. We put makeup over our pimples and we tweeze hairs and we lift this up and squeeze that in and we hide our cellulite and our scars and our crooked toenails and our varicose veins.  We bleach our teeth and dye our hair.  We starve ourselves and torture ourselves and carve ourselves up chasing that ideal. We’ve been told we’re not good enough.

Don’t Buy It.

Stop and think.

No one is perfect.

Beyond that:  you already know that there is beauty in imperfection:

You pick out the oddest looking puppy to bring home.

You choose an asymmetrical hemline.

You find a wooden table with intricate patterns in the grain.

 

Questions to ponder:

Would Madonna have been better off in life if her parents had put her in braces?

What could you do with the time you’ve spent hiding?

What if, when I got my first car, I was so embarrassed that I would only drive it at night when no one else was on the road?  What if I never changed the oil because it didn’t matter anyway? What If I convinced myself I was better off walking until I owned a black Firebird with a gold eagle on the hood?

No more.

Shine!

 

Fortunately there has been some pushback lately.  People are really spotlighting and questioning some of these values.    Modeling agencies are hiring models that represent more of us.  Tess Holiday, Madeline Stewart , Winnie Harlow, & Stephanie Reid.. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a real movement that includes more and more of us in the spotlight where we belong

 

Take a step on this journey where you discover how to celebrate your body and yourself.

I am NOT saying you can’t work on yourself: you have the right to do what you want with your body. What I am saying is that your goals should be YOUR goals for YOUR reasons, not because you’ve been tricked or bullied into them.  Isn’t it easier to shine a positive light on what you have to work with?  

How many of us look in the mirror and say, “I HATE what I see and I’ll never be happy until it’s different”?  What if your attitude was:

“I love what I have and I’m going to be happy as I work to make it better” or

“I love what I have and I’m happy to keep it this way.”  or

“ I love what I have and am ready to accept the changes in my body as they happen naturally.”

These are all incredibly valid.  These are incredibly powerful.  As you accept yourself, you allow love of self. 

So what if something could help you find that love that was also good for you?

Along comes Belly Dance.

Physically Belly Dance helps you move, strengthens, stretches, and keeps your blood moving.

This dance is accessible.  You can Belly Dance is you’re thin or fat…if you are a gifted athlete or if you trip over your own feet.  You can Belly Dance if you’re young or old, if your body is intact, or if pieces of your body don’t work or aren’t there (D1, D2,D3, D4, D5, D6, D7)

 

 

 

 

Miasia http://miasia.org/

 

 

 

 

 

Adira Elham

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgZlD59b4IE   

www.Dangerouscurvesbellydance.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Famous Dance Star Mona Said, dancing in regular clothes and still "Raqing" it!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh8O4ZSvqTs   

Dancer Samia of China https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiECgisc8HQ  

Mentally, there is a huge boost in watching yourself transform:  experiencing your body do things it couldn’t do the week before.  There is a conversation that is opened between you and your body:  a conversation that can lead to a much better understanding of who you are, what you need, where you stand, and where you are heading.   Remember our couples counseling?  You can’t fix things without communicating.  Bodies closed to conversation do not get their needs met, and eventually they will rebel.

There is a lot to gain in having something to look forward to:  be it learning new things, just getting out of the house, enjoying some conversation with classmates, learning new music, hearing about a different culture.

Here are some of the beautiful people I dance with or have learned from:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Alia Thabit www.aliathabit.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Rosette Divine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Dance Friends Barb & Sandy, and Teacher Lily with Iris

  http://www.lilyadances.com/

 

 

 

 

  Amity Alize www.raq-on.net

 

 

 

Could we pick them apart for their imperfections?  Sure.  But why?  Isn’t it better to let their strength, beauty, and joy wash over us and fill us?

This can be a time and a place to heal…your kintsukuroi:  Belly Dance can be your gold.  We can use this as a medium to mend our cracks, strengthen ourselves, and emerge beautiful.

-Iris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Life as a Raq-ette: Lisa

It smells like decades old rummage sale leftovers.  Uneven floors carry the last one hundred and fifty years of footsteps. Vintage blue ceramic tiles reminiscent of times past surround iron-stained sinks and toilets that are no match for even the strongest industrial cleaners. The floor has lost a tile or two along the way, resembling the complexities of a New York Times crossword puzzle. Bulbs line edges of the mirrors, some frosted, some clear, some missing all together.  These fading panes of glass have likely reflected back the faces of some Vaudeville and Off-Broadway stars. But there are no divas here now– not really. We’ve squeezed four-maybe even five of us in a room intended for two. My head knocks against the empty metal hangers, and my elbow dumps the bucket of safety pins at one point organized by size. This is our new performance home – and we love it.  After all, it is moving up in the world for us.

This year marked my 5 yr. Raq-On-versary.  The studio spaces and the venues may have changed over the years, but the spirit I love at Raq-On never waivers because the essence of Raq-On lives in the amazing character of its dancers. Even when nervous jitters and melting makeup cause frustrations to rise above the temperature, Raq-On dancers don’t just put their best performance forward, they put their best person forward.  These moments are the pinnacles of hard work and success; the true highlight of our shows, hidden behind the velvet curtains and glittering costumes.  They are accomplishments that come not from learning techniques or choreographies, but shared and passed along by example – from instructors and from each other.

Five years ago, I entered quiver-kneed into a different venue for my first performance with the Raq-On family. Here, we huddled into the backstage room of a night club.  It was the first hot day of summer, and the humidity had already bullied its way into the early summer air. Fans blew in vain, unable to abate the added heat of flat irons and fabric steamers. We were elbow to curling iron as we crouched to get cat-eyed and curled. Some were lucky enough to mark territory in the open lounge area, while others managed to tuck themselves behind boxes of barware and soap dispenser refills.  There was no room to be discreet no matter how hard you tried to use those clever contortionist middle school changing techniques.

Heat, nerves, hairspray smog, and glitter bombs - it had all the makings of performance Armageddon.  But no, not with this group of gals. I knew only a few dancers who were in my small class, but that didn’t seem to matter. Never before had I been welcomed by such a supportive group of women. Need your costume pinned? Help with your hair? Not just one – but several dancers appear like fairy godmothers with their rescue box of safety pins, hair clips, fashion tape, or just a free hand. And never, will any dancer at a Raq-On show perform sans glitter, because each one comes locked and loaded to ensure every one of us sparkles on that stage. 

When a choreography stumbles, a veil catches, or a sword falters, each dancer is supportive and uplifting: “I messed up too! Don’t worry, you still looked beautiful;” “You did great! We’ve all been there when it doesn’t go so well;” “So you missed a step! Your barrel turn was amazing!” These are the voices of Raq-On dancers. At each performance, especially our end of the year showcase, there are always hard won moments. A dancer strikes her final pose, and she breathlessly returns backstage you hear “YES! I did it!” And there waiting are all her supporters primed for high-fives (because hugging, rhinestones, paillettes, and fringe could be a recipe for disaster).

The most memorable recital I have been a part of holds a special place in my heart.  It was my third recital when we crowded in a tiny corner just off stage to watch our dance mom, Amity, perform one of the most emotional dances of her life - a tribute performance for her longtime love, Roger, who died in the fall of 2014.  There were no dry eyes– not on stage, not in the audience, and certainly not among those of us who stood captivated in the wings.  

But as always, it’s not so much what happens on stage, so much as what happens behind it that touches me the most.  Here we all were, a family of sisters, waiting anxiously to embrace our courageous friend with all the love and positivity we had to give.  

This unconditional support continues at each and every performance I’ve experienced as part of the Raq-On family.  At every performance I witness the genuine, kind-hearted qualities of the women I dance with. Some have come and some have gone.  Priorities shift, we marry, go to school, change jobs, move away, or move on. But that’s the natural progression of all families. 

The feeling of my first show with Raq-On has never left me – and not because the heat was so unforgettable that year. Next year, we could be in a another new venue, and while I’ll miss the creaking, glitter stained floors of the Briggs, or that fact that I know my way around it in complete darkness, I can count on the comfort that my nerves will lighten with encouraging words, helping hands, and laughter – lots of laughter.  And when the curtain falls at the end of the night, we’ll gather around a table of fancy margaritas and a spread of Mexican food, poking fun at our mishaps that more than likely will involve a costume malfunction by yours truly.  And Amity, laughing along, will already be churning over ideas for next year.

This year our resident videographer, Lisa, came around asking us why we dance.  In the moment I couldn’t think quickly enough and gave a canned answer: “because it makes me happy.” Which is true, for certain.  But what I should have answered, more specifically, was: I dance because my place at this table, with this family of empowering, encouraging, thoughtful, helpful, genuine women, means the world to me.

(And of course, there’s the sparkles!)

 

About Lisa

Lisa joined the studio as a student in 2012.  Being a "dancer" was a youthful flame in danger of being extinguished until her daughter took her to experience a Raq-On class for beginners, “I would have would have gone along thinking dance was reserved for trained professionals or nightclubs. But I was certainly proved wrong when I found the community at Raq-On. Plus, being new to a community isn’t easy, but here I was instantly welcomed into this amazing, supportive dance family.” Studying dance coincides with her love of studying folklore. Outside of dance, Lisa is a mother, wife, writer, and teacher, with a Master’s Degree in English. She feels strongly that studying the culture and meanings behind the dance is just as important as learning moves and choreography. Lisa, aka “Stella R. Night,” is also a member of the Vaudeville Vixens cabaret troupe who practice and perform at Raq-On.


 

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Year in Review: 2016

 

As I was thinking back through 2016, I realized why December felt so empty: we didn't have to build a new studio! Technically, we have built studios in December/January for the past 3 years (added the addition to the Lebanon location in 2013, moved to WRJ in 2014, and moved again unexpectedly in 2015.).

One thing due to the craziness of 2014/2015 I missed was being a student. My number one priority was getting back into classes. I was able to take classes, intensives, workshops, and private lessons with Nourhan Sharif, Katia, Shadia, Yasmina Ramzy, Alia Thabit, Katerina Shereen, Roxanne Shelaby, Phaedra, and more! One of my favorite things is to sneak into others Beginner Classes and just soak up being a baby belly again! I also attended close to a dozen shows just as an audience member, and many with live music. One of my favorites was OPA, created by the triple threat dancer/singer/comedian, Aurel.

We hosted our annual Shimmyathon and welcomed 7 instructors from all over New England and put on one heck of a show! We hosted 2 roundtables: One on the history of Belly Dance and Fusion Family Tree, another with Sufi and Religion in Dance vs. Theatrics and Theraputic Abilities of the dance. We also hosted Phaedra of Boston for Workshops and performances.

I was invited to perform at Shalimar's Show at Marco Polo Restaurant in CT twice, a crazy fun summer Birthday Party Celebration for Duncan,  Hannah's Crazy Foam Birthday Bash on the Cape, Goddess Rising in southern VT, Bellies and Brew hosted by the ladies of Eidetic in MA, Performed for most likely the final time at Karoun restaurant before it closes with the Fred Elias Ensemble. We even saw dear Freddie Elias retire in the most killer live music and dancing night for the books. I taught at Rosa’s Noreen’s Bright Star World Dance in Maine, North End Studio in Burlington, VT, and in a couple other states too for private groups. I performed at Sue’s Cairo Cabaret and danced at family events and celebrations that always inspire me to be a better dancer. I’ve been kind of in hiding as a performer the past few years, I am thankful to have had these wonderful venues to reinvigorate and to inspire me to perform more in 2017.

I also did a super fun photo shoot with Peter Paradise Michaels, and with the help of the Lovely Sahina!

The Studio Performing Troupe, the Raq-ettes were on fire this year! In addition to our annual student showcase, they performed at Puppets in Education Gala, Open Fields Renaissance Festival, Marco Polo (some making their first Restaurant Show Debut!), various haflas, and more! Most importantly, their performances helped raise over $3K in VT for Syrian Refugee Resettlement.  I am so proud of them and their continuous growth into not only budding performers, but responsible dance community members that contribute back to the art and culture of which we borrow this wonderful dance from.

 

Which leads me to thanking everyone who supports our events, who dances with us, and continues to root us on from afar. We are so thankful for all of you! So here’s to 2017, which promises to be another busy year with new students, offerings, classes, research, special events, new Raq-On intensives, and more!

Amity Alize

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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.


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