Belly dance, burlesque and sexuality

Elisheva

New member
Hello all,

I recently performed some belly dances in a burlesque show as a guest act. They had invited me as they wanted something "different" to break the show up a bit and add an element of novelty and I was very happy to participate. They were lovely girls and the show was a lot of fun.

The discussions I had afterwards sparked some thoughts in my head. I did have some burlesque lessons at one point (that's how the organisers knew me) but decided that it wasn't really my sort of thing. It didn't seem, to me personally, to have the same richness and diversity as belly dance, or the same focus on dance technique and development. This may have just been the place I had lessons and not apply to other schools; I didn't stay involved in burlesque long enough to know.

After the show, several people said that they thought my performances had been "sexier" than the burlesque acts because I hadn't been stripping or "trying to show off your body". I didn't really know how to respond to this. First of all, I hadn't been trying in any way to be "sexier" than anybody, I had just been trying to perform my dances with passion and entertain the audience to the best of my ability. My dances were very cabaret, with lots of shimmies, layered shimmying and hair tossing. They weren't risque in the way the striptease acts were but I don't think it would be fully honest to claim there was no element of sexuality or sensuality in them at all. I did flirt playfully with the front row on a couple of the moves and one audience member said afterwards, "Well, it wouldn't have worked if you were a hairy male biker or wearing a tracksuit!" I guess I did want to be sort of playfully sexy in a cabaret style, but I was also glad that people didn't see my performances as overtly sexual, as I didn't feel that was the purpose of them. Does all this seem somewhat self-contradictory and unclear? It does to me.

All this is really a bit of a roundabout way to spark a debate about belly dance and burlesque, the nature of sexuality and sensuality in the dance styles, whether or not we like our dancing to be seen as "sexual" and if so to what degree...I am just curious to know what everyone thinks. Or perhaps you are both a burlesque and a belly dancer and have some interesting insights into the similarities and differences between the two, or how they can be married together in a performance?

Please may I apologise in advance if I have said anything that might be offensive to anybody. It is not my intention. If I have made any mistakes and you are kind enough to correct me, I will be humbly grateful.
 

Dunyah

New member
Well, I'm old school, came up dancing in the 70's, so for me personally I do not support events that mix the two. I think burlesque is fine and I obviously love belly dance, but I prefer them kept separate.

I'm no expert, but my observation is that burlesque is less about dancing and more about performing, it's more like a "skit" than a dance. There may be elements of dance, i.e. moving gracefully, or posing, but burlesque is not a dance form as far as I know.

I think belly dance is innately sexy, I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I just think it is a mistake for a belly dancer to "try" to be sexy, that detracts from the dance because it puts the focus on the sexy-ness rather than the dancey-ness if you get my meaning.

Burlesque is intended to have a sexual come-on or tease, right?

That's the difference to me. Belly dance is intended to be a dance that is a celebration of life, including sensuality. Burlesque can be a lot of things and has evolved in recent years, but it's not primarily a dance.

It sounds like you did a straight belly dance performance in a venue where the atmosphere was sexually charged, which may have influenced the way some audience members saw you. They were expecting sexy stuff, so that's how they interpreted it.
 
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Elisheva

New member
There may be elements of dance, i.e. moving gracefully, or posing, but burlesque is not a dance form as far as I know.

....

Burlesque is intended to have a sexual come-on or tease, right?

This is exactly my impression, but as I didn't get very immersed in burlesque I stand open to correction. It really didn't seem to me to be about dance and there was little to no actual dancing in the other acts...just inventive ways of removing stockings and shoes etc. I do believe that burlesque is indeed supposed to be about the tease and any nudity is only implied. Above all that, it is supposed to be self aware and funny but the humour seems to be missing in a lot of the performances I've seen. Again, I stand open to correction.

An interesting point about it being a sexually charged environment with people seeing what they want to see. I hadn't thought of that. Yet there was a sexual element to my dance...I feel it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. At one point I was doing some sharp shimmies to a drum beat (that dance was a drum solo) and a chap in the front row cheered and clapped very loudly. I caught his eye and gave him a playfully flirtatious nod, and he was one of the people who I looked at at a later point in the choreography when I had my back to the audience and kept looking over my shoulder at them.

I am quite comfortable with my dance being mildly flirtatious in that regard, and yet I would have been unhappy if people had thought it was sexualised to the extent of some of the burlesque acts. But given my dance was undeniably sexual to a degree, am I being precious or hypocritical....?
 

khanjar

New member
Burlesque to me comes across as sleaze through sexual, where belly dance is more of art through the sensual and I see the two as a choice of tastes almost illustrated by does one like porn or does one like erotica, does one like it to be served on a plate or does one want to allow the mind to imagine.

I have seen burlesque a few times, but it does not interest me in the slightest as i like art not sleaze.
 

Elisheva

New member
Burlesque to me comes across as sleaze through sexual, where belly dance is more of art through the sensual and I see the two as a choice of tastes almost illustrated by does one like porn or does one like erotica, does one like it to be served on a plate or does one want to allow the mind to imagine.

I have seen burlesque a few times, but it does not interest me in the slightest as i like art not sleaze.

Porn or erotica...

A lot of people would say an upskirt of a scantily clad female celebrity on the cover of a newspaper is sleazy, but a fully nude woman in moody black and white photography is art. Where do we draw the line?

There was one burlesque act last night where the dancer drew a whip over her tongue and between her legs. It seemed crass to my mind, though perhaps it was meant to be funny (I didn't laugh). But if that's the case, was I crass in giving a little nod to an appreciative man in the front row?

(To give some context, I did two cabaret style performances, including a drum solo. They were very distinct from the burlesque acts - that was the reason the organisers wanted me to perform.)
 

Darshiva

Moderator
Khanjar, I suspect that you haven't seen good burlesque.

A good burly act has comedy, drama and sexual tension. Yes, there is overt sexuality to it, but that's not what it's all about. Not if the performer is any good at any rate.
 

khanjar

New member
Khanjar, I suspect that you haven't seen good burlesque.

A good burly act has comedy, drama and sexual tension. Yes, there is overt sexuality to it, but that's not what it's all about. Not if the performer is any good at any rate.

Well, what I have seen does not inspire me to see more of it, that's the problem and it could be what bad performance actually does beyond portray what I don't like in human presentation.

But overt sexuality I don't get on with, where I lean more towards the implied hence the sensual.
 

Darshiva

Moderator
Fair enough.

It is interesting to use it as an object lesson in thinking about how something is perceived by the general public and how that can reflect on the given dance style or performance art. ;)
 

teela

New member
Thing about Burlesque is that it has been around and has changed over time. I have noticed that there is a move towards doing a more traditional burlesque by some performers. I think the reason you got the response you did Elishiva is that the genre has had very sexual connotations and some of the acts have developed into items that are more erotic. The audience was expecting eroticism and saw it when you danced even if you were not intending it. Our mind often sees what we expect to see.
 

ezmasiddiqah

New member
Little bit of a back story, then what I share will make more sense.

I left a troupe about a year ago that was silo-based (not looking out nor participating with regional dancers but internally focused) and was on my own. Am based in Fargo, North Dakota (middle of north american continent) and it is full of conservative scandinavians and germans, no middle eastern restaurants to dance in, and I am too old for that anyhow. Dance scene is art festivals, community events, etc. When I looked around my town there was one lady teaching raks shaqi who I reached out to. We started dancing together once a week. She is a wonderful person and has since become my dance partner and a good friend.

She is a member of a burlesque troupe, and when she performs it is pure bellydance. To support her as my partner and friend, I attended the burlesque shows.

The performers indeed I feel have "acts" and most are highly talented classy entertainers. One lady uses feather fans and full dress in a classic striptease (think gypsy rose lee). Another male dancers has Frank Sinatra songs and waits until the end to reveal himself, dancing all the while.

It was difficult for me to figure out how to feel about this mixing of burlesque and bellydance. Bellydance is an art form (cabaret/egyptian/forklore/etc.) and my initial thoughts were don't mix them. But my partner is a member and I must support her, and not be judgmental about the burlesque members. She keeps her dance elevated to what it should be, and that is good enough for me.

In a perfect world, classic bellydance performances would not mix with burlesque acts. Jasmin Jahal and Dahlena (who I take workshops from and consider my mentors) I think would not be happy.

But what's a girl gonna do in a tiny town? Keep supporting her friend I think is the right thing.

So now on to the original posters queries, I can't remember exactly without looking again and I'm posting now. Bellydance is generally sensual in nature (in a bra/skirt cab/classic dance), and it is okay to flirt a little. Connection with the audience in a way that comes from the individual's heart and soul could be a whole other thread.

Don't mean to offend anyone, I am no expert, just sharing what my bdance life is.:rolleyes:
 

Zumarrad

Active member
A lot of people would say an upskirt of a scantily clad female celebrity on the cover of a newspaper is sleazy, but a fully nude woman in moody black and white photography is art. Where do we draw the line?

An upskirt photograph implies voyeurism, a surreptitious revelation of something real. A REAL person, one we all know. "scantily" clad.

A "scantily clad" person, especially a woman, is more "sexual" than a naked anonymous body, especiallly if the naked anonymous body is not representing itself as sexual. If it is just nude. that is very different to a body positioned in such a way as to show off the genitals and/or imply sexual activity.
 

Duvet

Member
So now on to the original posters queries, I can't remember exactly without looking again and I'm posting now. Bellydance is generally sensual in nature (in a bra/skirt cab/classic dance), and it is okay to flirt a little. Connection with the audience in a way that comes from the individual's heart and soul could be a whole other thread.

Does that imply that the sensuality of the dance is tied into the type of costume the dancer is wearing? I think that's more of a visual stereotype for building an audience's expectations. But the costume alone does not reflect the ability of the dancer to portray that image (although wearing the costume might feed into the dancers own stereotype, and affect their confidence/persona), and I've seen plenty of sensual dancing done in unglamourous, or fully covered clothing.

To the OP, perhaps, because you were doing something different, the audience paid more attention to you, and so engaged more in what you were doing. You were trying to be playfully sexy, so maybe you just succeeded more than the other acts did in getting that across. But then again, temptation is often more appealing than overt sin, so the fact you didn't strip or try to show off your body peeked the audience's curiosity as to what you were doing or about to do, which allowed their imagination, curiosity and sense of adventure to generate their own pleasure rather than solely relying on what was given to them on a plate (which could end up being disappointing or old hat).

IMO the terms sensual, sensuous, sexual and sexy are often interchanged in people's minds, and thinking about it I'm not too sure I'm all that clear about it myself. But to me, burlesque is sexual and tries to be sexy - what I've seen contained elements of dominatrix, striptease and exhibitionist voyeurism, but with a heavy dollop of humour included, although the humour can frequently be the embarrassed/shock type. Dancing and instrumental music (on the whole) are incidental to the burlesque. Its the body posing and the voice that gives the image, and the flirtation with the audience tends to be more direct and suggestive of sexual proposition. As such, some people will find it attractive while others won't (just as we differ on our own sexual preferences in everyday relationships).

Bellydance, while it can be portrayed as sexual, is IMO more sensual - its about the dance, and the dancer interpreting the music for the audiences visual pleasure. A good burlesque dancer does this too, but in bellydance the flirtation is less direct, tends to be more at a distance and more low key, almost as if the dancer and the audience are sharing a secret. The humour is more often facial expression, rather than the OMG-did-that-just-happen! kind. As such, I think an individual performance is more likely to appeal at different levels to an audience.

Perhaps I just haven't seen enough variety of burlesque? Or I'm a prude. On the whole, when someone is trying to be sexy to an audience (whether burlesque, bellydance, or whatever) it comes across as contrived and slightly desperate or (worse) playing to an expected stereotype. My reaction is 'You act like the world thinks you're sexy, but why should I let you take my opinion for granted?' I therefore become more demanding of the performer and usually more disappointed. If the dancer seems less concerned about my opinion of the body and more concerned about interpreting the music, I find it more enjoyable. But that probably says more about me than about the performer.

I've only had a couple burlesque classes myself, and they were more about the choreography than the technique, so maybe I haven't had the right input.
 
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ezmasiddiqah

New member
Does that imply that the sensuality of the dance is tied into the type of costume the dancer is wearing? I think that's more of a visual stereotype for building an audience's expectations. But the costume alone does not reflect the ability of the dancer to portray that image (although wearing the costume might feed into the dancers own stereotype, and affect their confidence/persona), and I've seen plenty of sensual dancing done in unglamourous, or fully covered clothing.

I think you're right about this, especially the last sentence. Totally agree.
 

Dunyah

New member
But what's a girl gonna do in a tiny town? Keep supporting her friend I think is the right thing.

Hi Ezma,
I have relatives (in-laws) in North Dakota, in towns probably even more conservative than Fargo, so I'm curious. Some of them are a bit scandalized by my belly dancing, the comment I heard was "isn't that a little suggestive?"

So how is it that a burlesque troupe can flourish in a small city while a belly dance troupe doesn't? It seems that burlesque has had a much easier time going mainstream than belly dance has.
 

ezmasiddiqah

New member
Hi Ezma,
I have relatives (in-laws) in North Dakota, in towns probably even more conservative than Fargo, so I'm curious. Some of them are a bit scandalized by my belly dancing, the comment I heard was "isn't that a little suggestive?"

So how is it that a burlesque troupe can flourish in a small city while a belly dance troupe doesn't? It seems that burlesque has had a much easier time going mainstream than belly dance has.

I think you're right on both counts. The conservative and sometimes judgmental general public has an "idea" of what bellydancing is, and when doing performances at art/community events with my old troupe we presented it as the art it is. Am sure they thought it was suggestive, but it was well received.

There is a strong artistic scene in Fargo which has embraced the burlesque troupe, and they have done a good job in promoting themselves, getting gigs and keeping their clients happy. I'll ask my partner what she thinks about burlesque v. bellydance re easier time going mainstream since I don't really have an answer.
 

Elisheva

New member
Hi Ezma,
So how is it that a burlesque troupe can flourish in a small city while a belly dance troupe doesn't? It seems that burlesque has had a much easier time going mainstream than belly dance has.

Perhaps it is because burlesque has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the last few years whereas belly dance has stayed pretty steady? Burlesque as it is practised now is a new thing, and we expect new things to grow and flourish at least for a while before they level off or the bubble bursts. It is fashionable. I wouldn't say belly dance is unfashionable but it isn't a surging new trend in and of itself the way burlesque seems to be.

Also, if I am correct in my perception that burlesque has less focus on technique and actual dance, then perhaps many people are attracted more to it because it is easier. In belly dance, you soon learn just how difficult and advanced the dance form can be....I never got that impression from my burlesque lessons.
 

khanjar

New member
Let's all remember one thing ; Sex sells.

We are all attracted including the prudish like me, it is only human, but what it is some do not like to display their interest to others perhaps because they are uncomfortable but there is nothing wrong with that, but some like to keep their interests private for their own reasons.

But a lot of what burlesque is to me, is memories from the past, someone trying to embarrass me with what I was not at the time comfortable with and an onerous tv programme my granny just had to have us all watch with her, her being an ex show dancer who was well known to the local male population, but not liked by the female population.

To me, burlesque is a step too far.
 

ezmasiddiqah

New member
Also, if I am correct in my perception that burlesque has less focus on technique and actual dance, then perhaps many people are attracted more to it because it is easier. In belly dance, you soon learn just how difficult and advanced the dance form can be....I never got that impression from my burlesque lessons.

yes I think you are spot on.
 

Aniseteph

New member
So how is it that a burlesque troupe can flourish in a small city while a belly dance troupe doesn't? It seems that burlesque has had a much easier time going mainstream than belly dance has.

I think it's because burlesque is accessible to its audiences. The music is accessible, the audience gets the cultural references and is in on the jokes. And it can be very varied - you can take your inspiration from ANYTHING.

Whereas for a Western audience who is unfamiliar with the music or stylistic niceties, it's far harder for them to "get" belly dance except on a superficial level - nice costumes, impressive moves, proptasticness...
 

Zumarrad

Active member
Burlesque has definitely replaced bellydance as the place for fat/old/unconventional women to explore sensuality in public. And I would say that the fact it has nothing to do with Those Furriners would have a lot to do with it. It's fair to say that the post 9/11 environment is a very different one to the 70s and 80s.
 
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