Helping students defeat the stereotypes?

shiradotnet

New member
Should belly dance teachers include suggestions in class on how students can respond to people in their life who say, "Isn't that a dance of serving men? Didn't it originate as seducing the Sultan?"

Should teachers say stuff like, "Your friends and family might say..." followed by "...and here's how I suggest responding...."?

Or, should we assume students will figure out how to respond without our help and just teach dance technique?

I've never said anything in my classes along these lines. I might give students a glimpse of belly dance history, such as talking about Middle Eastern people belly dancing as a social dance at weddings, but I don't say, "Here's how I'd suggest replying if people in your life say ___."
 

Mosaic

Super Moderator
I think most students figure it out for themselves & if they are troubled I am sure would approach their instructor for advice. It could also be introduced as part of a history lesson especially for new students.
~Mosaic
 

Munniko

New member
I'm going to agree with Mosaic on this just mention where the dance comes from to new students as a mild history lesson. I might be over thinking this, but if you bring up the worst case scenario where you have to defend what you are doing, I feel like it might discourage people from taking Belly Dance lessons.
 

DancingArabian

New member
I can honestly say that no one has ever asked either question to me when I mention that I bellydance.

While I absolutely understand and appreciate the cultural aspects and learning about them, I know of several people who were peeved at the history lesson during classes. As far as they were concerned, they were there to learn how to dance, not how to have an educated conversation of the background of it.

I do think that if someone was running across a problem that they would approach their instructor or fellow classmates.
 
Harem Dance

Should belly dance teachers include suggestions in class on how students can respond to people in their life who say, "Isn't that a dance of serving men? Didn't it originate as seducing the Sultan?"

Should teachers say stuff like, "Your friends and family might say..." followed by "...and here's how I suggest responding...."?

Or, should we assume students will figure out how to respond without our help and just teach dance technique?

I've never said anything in my classes along these lines. I might give students a glimpse of belly dance history, such as talking about Middle Eastern people belly dancing as a social dance at weddings, but I don't say, "Here's how I'd suggest replying if people in your life say ___."
This is what one of my folk dance teachers told me about belly dancing. With regards to dancing for a Sultan, she told me that the women in a harem didn't dance for the sultan,but for each other for pleasure. Meaning as a form of entertainment for each other within the harem and not involving the sultan period. Also no seducing involved either just dancing.
 

SeeJaneDance

New member
I don't think it's necessary in beginner classes. Those people are usually there because they want to learn the dance moves, or because they want to try something new, and a history or cultural lesson may seem overwhelming or just unnecessary.

That said, my own instructor starts introducing historical bits at the intermediate level, and I think it's a great idea. There are so many dancers I know (students and student troupe members) who either don't know any of the history, know the "thousands of years old goddess worship dance" story, or believe that what they're doing is fully intended to pique men's imaginations.

I'm a nerd, so as soon as I started dancing I was all over shira.net and trying to figure out what exactly I was learning. Not everyone does that, though, and at some point in the process of learning the difference between a 3/4 and 4/4 shimmy, some sort of cultural background should be introduced. My instructor actually focuses on the Golden Era as a starting point, because it's easily verifiable and definitely true.

It also helps for when you start getting into different regions and the dances associated with them. "Saiidi" and "Khaleegy" resonate a lot more if you know that they relate to regions, as opposed to just being arbitrarily different types of dances.
 

Duvet

Member
Should belly dance teachers include suggestions in class on how students can respond to people in their life who say, "Isn't that a dance of serving men? Didn't it originate as seducing the Sultan?"
My first thought was how do you know the students themselves don't think this way? People are attracted to all sorts of things largely due to the pre-existing ideas they bring with them. Giving them your knowledge of what bellydance is/should be will be enough ammunition for them to refute those types of questions, if they accept your viewpoint (and some students will want to believe the seduction angle).

Personally, I prefer weekly classes to concentrate on technique, and teach how to dance and interprete the music. Repeated digressions into history and hypothetical scenarios are not always what I want to spend my time on when I've come to dance. That being said, I think a teacher should be approachable and willing to share their knowledge if prompted by a student. Maybe part of the initial class could cover history and inaccurate stereotypes, and I do like one-off workshops on specific styles to give me a brief intro on their history/reputation.
 
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shiradotnet

New member
I can honestly say that no one has ever asked either question to me when I mention that I bellydance.
That's really interesting. I don't doubt you, it's just that your experience is different from mine. I've heard the Sultan question a LOT over the years. For example, one time I made a comment to my boss about having a male student, and she was shocked. She had always known that I was a belly dancer, and never questioned it, but when I mentioned the male student, she said, "You mean MEN belly dance????? But didn't belly dance originate as women competing with each other for the Sultan's attention?"

I've also had many different people over the years ask me if belly dance was something like stripping. I've had emails from people asking me at what age children in the Middle East learn "the dance of seduction". And many other variations on that theme...

My first thought was how do you know the students themselves don't think this way? People are attracted to all sorts of things largely due to the pre-existing ideas they bring with them. Giving them your knowledge of what bellydance is/should be will be enough ammunition for them to refute those types of questions, if they accept your viewpoint (and some students will want to believe the seduction angle).
I agree with you that some students indeed are hoping that belly dance will make them more sexy. They usually don't say it out loud (until, maybe, a year later or so), but it is part of what draws many students.

The late Bert Balladine, who was a legendary belly dance teacher in the San Francisco area, said, "The image of Bellydance must stay a little bit naughty to the general public, because when it isn’t anymore, they’ll look for something else."
 
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Duvet

Member
I've just finished reading your article Shira. http://bellydanceforums.net/other-dance-stuff/18037-mass-media-mass-stereotypes.html. I think I've altered my stance! Complacency in the face of prejudice doesn't cause status quo - it makes the situation worse. Whilst I still don't want lots of academic stuff in a dance class, raising the issue of stereotypes would both widen the students' knowledge and give them a good stance for refuting the stereotypes from others.
 

khanjar

New member
I second Duvet, class is for learning the dance, those that stay the course through enjoying what they are learning might look a bit deeper into it's history and come to their own conclusions be that the truth or what they wish to make of it or it might even propel them to find out more than what is commonly believed for there is much stuff out there that is not on wikipedia as there is a certain amount of politics in what is commonly known.

As to myself in this dance I have come in for a bit of flak over the years but I have learned how to defend myself from stupid comments by deferring to what already exists on the world stage, they are that interested type in to youtube and learn something, but if they will listen I do know my stuff as I always research what interests me and with this dance I have found I have to know my stuff and a bit more besides to counter certain undesirable accusations from males sadly and mostly, but I always include the health benefits what it does for dodgy backs and general fitness as we age.
 

DancingArabian

New member
That's really interesting. I don't doubt you, it's just that your experience is different from mine. I've heard the Sultan question a LOT over the years. For example, one time I made a comment to my boss about having a male student, and she was shocked. She had always known that I was a belly dancer, and never questioned it, but when I mentioned the male student, she said, "You mean MEN belly dance????? But didn't belly dance originate as women competing with each other for the Sultan's attention?"

I've also had many different people over the years ask me if belly dance was something like stripping. I've had emails from people asking me at what age children in the Middle East learn "the dance of seduction". And many other variations on that theme...
The typical response I get when I tell someone I belly dance is an exclamation of "How cool!" or something along those lines, and a request to extend an invitation if/when I perform. No one has ever mentioned anything about harems, slave girls, Sultans or sex. A few times a week

The "worst" response I've gotten a blink and a smirk.
 

Zumarrad

Member
I don't know that I've ever heard the "seduce the Sultan" thing from a live human either, to be honest. People know the dance is "supposed" to have an erotic content and are intrigued at the idea of dancing for their husbands or significant others, which I guess is residual "seduce the Sultan" or the Salome thing. But, you know, you get that in Egyptian movies as well.

Desmond Morris appears to be responsible for it but many adults today are too young to have read his books (I WENT THERE!!!). I'm pushing 50 and he's before my time....

The typical response I get when I tell someone I belly dance is an exclamation of "How cool!" or something along those lines, and a request to extend an invitation if/when I perform. No one has ever mentioned anything about harems, slave girls, Sultans or sex. A few times a week

The "worst" response I've gotten a blink and a smirk.
In 15 years I have had precisely one woman look at me with an expression of disgust when it was revealed that I belly dance. Everyone else has been positive. Occasionally sleazy, but positive.
 
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DancingArabian

New member
In 15 years I have had precisely one woman look at me with an expression of disgust when it was revealed that I belly dance. Everyone else has been positive. Occasionally sleazy, but positive.
I can honestly say I've never come across open disgust. Surprise, interest, and generally positive responses. The occasional sleazy smirk/wink.

I'm also amazed at how often I'm asked if I have a Slave Leia outfit.
 

shiradotnet

New member
The typical response I get when I tell someone I belly dance is an exclamation of "How cool!" or something along those lines, and a request to extend an invitation if/when I perform. No one has ever mentioned anything about harems, slave girls, Sultans or sex. A few times a week

The "worst" response I've gotten a blink and a smirk.
I do often get replies of "How cool!" or "I tried that once and it was fun...." and so on.

The old stereotypes are not as pervasive as they used to be, but they still regularly rear their ugly heads. People don't always say out loud what they're thinking.

For example, about 4-5 years ago my mother-in-law wanted me to do a dance lecture/performance at the retirement community where she lived, but the activities director vetoed it on the grounds that "someone might be offended". (My mother-in-law's friends then got a petition together and filled it with signatures demanding that the place let me do my show.)

For another example, a few months ago I was talking to a dancer who was upset because her husband is pressuring her to stop performing in public - not because he personally has a problem with it, but because he's sick of having other church members ostracize him due to the fact that his wife is a belly dancer.
 

Aniseteph

New member
The worst I've had personally was a co-worker saying "I heard you've taken up exotic dance". I said yes that's right and watched him run away. I know, I could have taken the opportunity to set the record straight, but with some people you can tell them about belly dance being fundamentally a folk dance etc etc and all they will hear is a chick talking to them about sexy belly dancing. :rolleyes: :wall:

I really don't think friends generally think anything much of it at all, any different to taking up ballroom or Bollywood or playing the trombone.

But the attitude's still out there. Dance buddy and I were on the train coming back from an event, and someone who'd also been there was sitting nearby with a book on belly dance. Some guy across from her was asking about the book - I couldn't see but he sounder older - he was just being friendly and interested but it was all about ooer that must drive the men wild.

It was odd as we'd just come from an event where there were hardly any men present, and I suspect some of those who'd been dragged along would be trying to wriggle out of the next one.
 

Munniko

New member
I don't think I've gotten any straight out seducing sultan comments, but as soon as it is brought up that I belly dance I can see male and female co-workers look at me a little different in the kinda eyebrow wiggle way.
 

Darshiva

Moderator
On my way to my first term of bellydance, I had a cab driver wiggle at me suggestively. He was pretty old too, so that just layered on extra creep factor.
 

AspiringDancer

New member
I wish I had a good response when my Grandmother asked me why I want to learn stripping....*jaw drop* All I could manage was...It's...not...stripping.

First and only negative reaction though!
 

khanjar

New member
All I get from males is I just have to be gay, closet maybe, but females it is 'why not' and 'I would love to see male belly dance' and here I understand regards the perception of this dance it is a male perception mostly and males educate females in some quarters and especially religious quarters through the fact most priests are male and can only present a male perspective.
 
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