Myths and Misconceptions

Aisha Azar

New member
Dance

Dear Brea,
I know and have known Arabs from many different countries. Some live here, some do not. My best friend is Saudi and when we party, we might have people around from 10 different Arab countries. There is no common thread that would influence ALL of the Arabs I have met since they are of varied backgrounds, ages, lengths of time in the U.S. etc. Some of them have been here just to go to school, some came as refugees,some werre just immigrants, some were here visiting relatives who live here or go to school here, some are male, some female, some old, some young. They come from diverse economic groups and do various jobs. There is no common thread among them except that they are Arabs. I have never heard even one of them say that belly dance is a men's dance. Some of these people may or may not have been trying to please me, but the ones that I know well would tell me the truth of their feelings and thoughts on the idea.
I do find that often, in order to be polite, Arabs that do not know people well will sort of agree in an noncommittal kind of way, with what the other person is saying. This happened to me when I first started working in the restaurant where I worked for 12 years. After the first year, all pretense at agreement was gone and they felt as free to disagree with me as much as they would their own family. I still occasionally work with Ra'ed Azar and he treats me like a sister now instead being polite. I like it much more because I know where I stand. Ra'ed was a singer back home, and he worked occasionally with belly dancers in the Middle East. We have worked on stage several times and he often does parts for me when I need a male to sing, act or interact in Meliyah or Saidi or other types of skits. By the way, Ra'ed gave Mark Balahadia a big compliment by saying how much he is as good as female dancers, "even if men don't really do it".
Regards,
A'isha
 

Brea

New member
A'isha:

Do you think, perhaps, that they are referring to the folkloric dance when they refer to it as an 'everybody' dance? That's what I've been told. Not that it was specifically for men or women, but for everyone.

And believe me, the people I'm talking about would disagree with me heartily, and did so quite often. Yet even Tarik says that the people he's known in/from the Middle East also say it is an 'everybody' dance. That's why I am curious.
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Dance

Dear Brea,
What I have noticed is that IF Arabs don't think you know words like Beledi, Shaabi, Saidi, then they tend to call it "belly dance". If they know that you have some Arabic, then they tend to say the terms like Beledi, or "dance like the Saidi people", or Shaabi dance, rather than "belly dance" when they are explaining what the average citizens do when they are dancing. When they refer to professional raqs sharghi,like you see Randa and Suheir Zaki and Dandash perform, they say in English "belly dance", and they tend to say it is a womens' dance and that it is shameful for men to do it. Tarik and I have argued about this frequently for many years. He has said recently that it is still not commonly accepted in Egypt that men belly dance, though a few are accepting. He does feel that Tito and a few others are belly dancing, while they look definitely Beledi to me. (He also states that Tito started out as a folkloric dancer and that he does have strong Beledi flavor in his dance. There is a whole thread on here somewhere about it.
It started out as a womens' dance, with the idea of calling attention to feminine attributes. That was Badia Masabni's message in the dance. She created it specifically for that purpose and whether or not people are willing to acknowledge that, it is the truth. They certainly do acknowledge that in Egypt and other Arab countries and it is the reason why it is considered to be shameful for both men and women, but all the more so for men who are acting like women. Goofing around off stage in a social setting is completely different than becoming a professional entertainer.
Regards,
A'isha
 

belly_dancer

New member
Andrea- the sexism did it. I can't listen to a man who's so wrapped up in that, because for me any scholarly work is tainted (especially considering what it is he's teaching).

Aside from that, I don't feel a personal manifestation of anything. However, people have told me that when I dance in a show there's like a 'whoomph' of power (compared to other dancers), whatever that means. I still don't buy into the mother goddess thing.
I dunno... I had a boyfriend once a long, LONG time ago... who was homophobic.... so because of that... ANYthing a gay man said... he did not believe,,,, then we had a gay friend (who said boyfriend did not know was gay!:shok:!).... who was quite charismatic & fab & into all the same stuff as said bf.... so boyfriend worships almost EVERY thing that fell from this (gay) man's mouth.... point.... JUST because you do not share the exact set of beliefs is NOT a reason to discount EVERYthing someone has to say... ALMOST everyone has a lesson the rest of us can learn from...
even if we do not want to....
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Campbell

I dunno... I had a boyfriend once a long, LONG time ago... who was homophobic.... so because of that... ANYthing a gay man said... he did not believe,,,, then we had a gay friend (who said boyfriend did not know was gay!:shok:!).... who was quite charismatic & fab & into all the same stuff as said bf.... so boyfriend worships almost EVERY thing that fell from this (gay) man's mouth.... point.... JUST because you do not share the exact set of beliefs is NOT a reason to discount EVERYthing someone has to say... ALMOST everyone has a lesson the rest of us can learn from...
even if we do not want to....

Dear Bellydance,
And I have to say that I did not find Joesph Campbell's work particularly sexist, for that matter. He mostly reports on world mythologies and tries to tie them to each other. It is not his fault if many myths are built on male dominance and superiority. If peple had heard him talk about his wife, they may think differently.
Regards,
A'isha
 

Marya

Member
Reasons

A'isha-

I don't think you're making it up. And I have been around many more Arabs than two! They all seem to agree with each other, my teachers (from Algeria), my boss (from Egypt), the Jordanian professor I recently met, and all their friends. I have been immersed in this world as well.

I am merely wondering if there is some reason why these people say different things...length of time in the US? perhaps, like with Thor Heyerdahl, they want to make both of us happy by telling us what we want to hear?
Reasons for differenct answers may have to do with how the question was asked and how the answer was interpreted. I know Aisha defines belly dance strictly as the entertaining performance of Raks Shaki (Oriental dance) in a public venue. Not as any kind of folkloric dance presentation or social dancing or specfic ethnic dance, public or not. Many, many, many, many, americans, dance belly dancers or not, do not make this kind of distinction. So, how was the question asked? was belly dance defined by the asker, or left open to interpretation? I would guess that many Arabs living in the US understand that many americans do not strictly define what they mean by belly dance and so may have answered more generally and inclusively.

Many of the discussion on this list do not carefully define what it is you are discussing and so disagreements happen that do not always reflect what people really mean.

Aisha, I think reminding people, always, when you post that you are carefully defining Belly Dance will go a long ways toward helping people understand what you are saying. People will always default to their own definition if not reminded.

Marya
 

Mya

New member
forgive me if i'm saying anything that has been said already, but for me, though i do not personally ascribe to any external goddess reference for the dance i do sometimes feel as though the dance awakes the divine within me.
I think that all humans have part of the divine within us (be it masculine, feminine or anything else) and weirdly enough, i don't think that it's something that puts us in the sky, but rather something that makes us more human than ever.

The way i look at it, people are the most divine when they are doing god's work - being kind, charitable, making a difference in the world no matter how small and allowing themselves to feel the emotions that inspire us to make change. In being divine then we are made infinitely more human!

The dance for me calls out that emotional part of what i call divine and so while i feel that the dance is innately human and agree with A'isha on this point, i still feel that it can at the same time address the divine.

Perhaps the emotion that i connect with it is similar to the flamenco duende that was referenced before - A feeling that we recognise as being bigger than we are, but that makes us connect more with the human-ness of emotion and feeling rather than setting us on a pedestal away from it.

of course that might just be me.

Mya
 

Aziyade

New member
Dear Aziyade,
I know that many people are under the impression that it is only the West who demand this difference between the way men and women move,
No, a movement's "gender" is determined by the culture itself -- it's not a generic east versus west thing. This varies from culture to culture -- from the Andes to Africa. It also varies from era to era. The boundaries of what were considered too "masculine" movements for women flamencas were broken in the 20th century. Historically, these boundaries tend to be broken after or during major political or economic upheavals -- civil revolutions, imperialism/colonization, periods of widespread famine, etc.

Egyptians, for the most part still feel that the dance IS a women's dance.
Basically I don't deny this -- if we're talking about a staged performance. This, during the 90s, was the "official" position of the Ministry of Culture, coming straight from the mouth of Farouk Hosni -- who I fully respect for all of what he's done for the arts in Egypt, but you couldn't find a more Western and White attitude in an Arab. I'm not insulting him; actually I admire him for understanding and embracing modernism. But he's one of Egypt's "intelligentsia," and his viewpoint is decidedly Western.

A lot of Egyptians today I'm sure believe this is a woman's dance. But it's not a woman's dance in the way that some of Ladino Jewish dances are Women's Dances, or Romanian shepherdess folk dances are women's dances -- with the attitude that if men do it, it's bad luck, or that it's RESERVED for the women, specially because of tradition or superstition. Belly dance is a woman's dance because it's "unmanly" or "unmasculine" -- spoken from the mouths of Egytptian statesmen and intelligentsia. Again, if you want sources, I can supply them.

But the question is WHY do today's Egyptians believe the stage art is a woman's dance?

My answer: in short, because they were TOLD it was "unmanly" and feminine by Europeans (French, German, and Brit) who had distinct ideas about what constituted "feminine" movement. The ruling elite and upper tiers of Egyptian society adopted this attitude either a) deliberately, in order to appear more European (read: more "cultured" and "civilized") or b) through the process of lengthy, generational exposure to these ideas.

Before I gave up my research, I had started looking into the Roman period of occupation in Egypt to see what I could find on sex roles and gender expectations. Sources are limited, but this whole conversation (and the fact that I'm back in Flamenco classes again - yay!) has got me pretty stoked about picking this up again.

Beledi, Saidi and Shaabi,on the other hand are accepted as appropriate for both genders.
Sources on Saidi dance are scant -- unless you're talking about ghawazee, which I consider to be a separate category. As far as cataloging dance by movement, I'd have to consider Saidi a regional variant of Beledi, and Shaabi just a modern take on Beledi, with modern music (assuming that what we're calling beledi is the same thing.) If you had to list an "official" national dance of Egypt, I'd classify Beledi as that. Beledi, as I see it, is bellydance without the stage and the trappings of a staged performance.


For most Egyptains, it is still very much a female dance, and this has less to do with movement than context both psychologically and culturally.
Well of course it's not as simple as "this is a woman's movement, and this is a man's movement," but movement does have culturally-assigned "gender." We see this all over the globe. The context plays a big part -- whether the woman is unmarried or married, if the dance is represented as a caricature of a specific group -- but we're not in disagreement here. The 21st century Egyptian culture has deemed performance bellydance a woman's dance because it is unmanly. Did they get this idea from Islam? Did they get this idea on their own, independent of Western influence? Or did they get this idea from the Europeans?

AND -- is this the actual opinion of the generic Egyptian "peasant" -- or is what they've been TAUGHT in their western-style academies, and what they expect us Westerners to hear when they come here to live/visit? That's all what we need to consider too.


BTW - I'm only offering references as an opportunity for other people to explore this idea, and to show it's not JUST my opinion. Since I'm not looking at publication anymore, I don't have any emotional investment in any of my theories, so it doesn't bother me in the least to see them shot down. :)
 

Aziyade

New member
It started out as a womens' dance, with the idea of calling attention to feminine attributes. That was Badia Masabni's message in the dance. She created it specifically for that purpose and whether or not people are willing to acknowledge that, it is the truth.
A'isha, please cite your source for this. I am looking for more info on Badia.


BUT, even if we credit Badia with making bellydance a Woman's Dance, she isn't exactly the poster child for authentic Egyptian attitudes.

I took this from one of Jodette's books about her life experiences. I know you trust Jodette as a source, so I thought I'd point some things out. The bold emphasis is mine:


Mr. Dawara told me a great deal about Badia's life. She had once told him that when she was a little girl and was living in Lebanon that her older brother molested her and the family was shamed. They put her in a Catholics nun's school where she learned tap and ballet. When her younger brother found out that she had been molested, he killed his older brother. He did not spend any time in jail because of his pride to keep the family's name clean. After this, the nuns sent Badia to America with an American family and she spent about five years in the USA. Then she returned to Beirut. She wanted to be a dancer, so she went to Egypt where she changed her name from a Christian name to a Muslim name- Badia Masabni. She also changed her looks and in a short time, she was the greatest of all dancers.


Catholic school
Ballet class
Living in the USA

That's sort of the trifecta of a Western education/influence.

If Jodette is in fact an accurate source, what we have is essentially a Western Viewpoint defining for future generations what bellydance is, and qualifying it as a woman's dance.

In this aspect, Badia is no different from Suraya Hilal. Both women wanted to redefine what THEY thought bellydance should be, based on their own personal viewpoints and prejudices. They both SOLD an image of bellydance to their viewers, which got absorbed into current cultural expectations.
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Dance and moveent

Dear Aziyade,

No, a movement's "gender" is determined by the culture itself -- it's not a generic east versus west thing. This varies from culture to culture -- from the Andes to Africa. It also varies from era to era. The boundaries of what were considered too "masculine" movements for women flamencas were broken in the 20th century. Historically, these boundaries tend to be broken after or during major political or economic upheavals -- civil revolutions, imperialism/colonization, periods of widespread famine, etc.

A' writes- Actually the fact that genders are even put together differently dictates that there are indeed male and female movements. It is also true among animals that there are gender movements and gender behaviors. Only humans seem to try to dispute this. We can study whales, apes, hu,ans, dogs, chickens, etc, and see differences in bone structure and musculature and everything else as far as male/female goes. Archeologists can pick up bone fragments thousands of years old and pretty accurately assign it a gender. The bone structure alone would make us move differently, never mind how muscles are attached, the relatively deeper pelvis and narrower shoulders of women, etc.



Basically I don't deny this -- if we're talking about a staged performance. This, during the 90s, was the "official" position of the Ministry of Culture, coming straight from the mouth of Farouk Hosni -- who I fully respect for all of what he's done for the arts in Egypt, but you couldn't find a more Western and White attitude in an Arab. I'm not insulting him; actually I admire him for understanding and embracing modernism. But he's one of Egypt's "intelligentsia," and his viewpoint is decidedly Western.

A. writes- But, that IS the definition of the dance. It has not developed as a street dance, but as a stage entertainment, It has been that since its inception in the early 1900s.

A lot of Egyptians today I'm sure believe this is a woman's dance. But it's not a woman's dance in the way that some of Ladino Jewish dances are Women's Dances, or Romanian shepherdess folk dances are women's dances -- with the attitude that if men do it, it's bad luck, or that it's RESERVED for the women, specially because of tradition or superstition.

A. writes- Actually, it is trasditionally a womens' dance.

Belly dance is a woman's dance because it's "unmanly" or "unmasculine" -- spoken from the mouths of Egytptian statesmen and intelligentsia. Again, if you want sources, I can supply them.

A, wries- And part of the reason that it is unmanly is because it is traditionally a womens' dance. The other part is the feeling on context to the movements of the dance. It is a womens' form of expression in countries of origin and accepted as so abroad and this is not because of European or western input, it is because that is the way the developers made it to be. The same thing was NOT being done by European women at the same time.

But the question is WHY do today's Egyptians believe the stage art is a woman's dance?

My answer: in short, because they were TOLD it was "unmanly" and feminine by Europeans (French, German, and Brit) who had distinct ideas about what constituted "feminine" movement. The ruling elite and upper tiers of Egyptian society adopted this attitude either a) deliberately, in order to appear more European (read: more "cultured" and "civilized") or b) through the process of lengthy, generational exposure to these ideas.

A. writes- I disagree. The movements and essence of the dance taken with the context of where, how and why it was performed would have made it unmanly even if every person in the audience was an Arab male, from no matter what economic and cultural background.

Before I gave up my research, I had started looking into the Roman period of occupation in Egypt to see what I could find on sex roles and gender expectations. Sources are limited, but this whole conversation (and the fact that I'm back in Flamenco classes again - yay!) has got me pretty stoked about picking this up again.



Sources on Saidi dance are scant --

A. writes- Not if you happen to know Saidis personally. I learned Saudi dance form a Saidi girl originally. Once again I probably will hear about how this is not a coroborrative source but that does not make it any less real and true.

unless you're talking about ghawazee, which I consider to be a separate category.

A. writes- I agree that the Ghawazi do separate stuff from the general Saidi people as far as dancing, but then, they are professional entertainers and the average Saidi is not.

As far as cataloging dance by movement, I'd have to consider Saidi a regional variant of Beledi, and Shaabi just a modern take on Beledi, with modern music (assuming that what we're calling beledi is the same thing.) If you had to list an "official" national dance of Egypt, I'd classify Beledi as that. Beledi, as I see it, is bellydance without the stage and the trappings of a staged performance.

A, writes- The feeling and essence of each of the folkloric dances make them separate both from belly dance and from each other. They have some movements in common, but belly dance is by far more complex than any of the folk dances in complexity of emotional content, movement and in interpretation of musical content. it is a whole different dance all together. The only corroborative evodence one needs here is to actually LOOK at the dances.




Well of course it's not as simple as "this is a woman's movement, and this is a man's movement," but movement does have culturally-assigned "gender."

A. writes- I would say this is partly true, but there is much that is natural to the genders due to their physocal structure.

We see this all over the globe.

A. writes- We also see all over the globe that certain movements are more easily done by one sex or the other because of physicality.

The context plays a big part -- whether the woman is unmarried or married, if the dance is represented as a caricature of a specific group -- but we're not in disagreement here. The 21st century Egyptian culture has deemed performance bellydance a woman's dance because it is unmanly. Did they get this idea from Islam? Did they get this idea on their own, independent of Western influence? Or did they get this idea from the Europeans?

A. writes- O would say that they got the idea because the dance started out as female pursuit, along with the qualities of emotion, movement and other distinctly female things about the dance at its inception.

AND -- is this the actual opinion of the generic Egyptian "peasant" -- or is what they've been TAUGHT in their western-style academies, and what they expect us Westerners to hear when they come here to live/visit? That's all what we need to consider too.

A. writes- The Egyptian peasant for the most part could give a fig about belly dance. It has nothing to do with his or her life.


BTW - I'm only offering references as an opportunity for other people to explore this idea, and to show it's not JUST my opinion. Since I'm not looking at publication anymore, I don't have any emotional investment in any of my theories, so it doesn't bother me in the least to see them shot down. :)
A, writes- You have to remember that everything we hear, read and think
about this dance is "Just" our opinion whether or not we can back it up with written resources. Let's just say I trust the Arabs I have spoken with to know more about their own dances than I do, or that Anthony Shay or anyone else outside the culture does. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion if it is backed up with a lot of research. I am not sure why both you and Kharmine have such issues with that. If you don't believe what I say, fine, but I really do not see that I have said anything that is not pretty obvious if people just LOOK. It does not take a master's degree or tons of written corroboration. it just takes an eye for what you are looking at!

Regards,
A'isha
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Masabni, etc.

Dear Aziyade,

A'isha, please cite your source for this. I am looking for more info on Badia.

A'isha writes- At the moment, no I can not quote a source for it. Some things have no absolute sources, which is partly what is wrong with the purely acacdemic approach to this dance. It may have been something passed on to me in a class, or it may be actually written downs somewhere in this vast bunch of source material that I do have. I have been studying dance for 34 years and my memory is not what it used to be. On the other hand, it is usually you, Tarik and some others who point out to me that the conditions under which Masabni introduced the dance made it "necessary" for it to be done by females, because she was doing the dance for male Europeans who would not appreciate men's performances. I consider that to be beside the point. The dance was developed the way it was on purpose, regardless of motivation.


BUT, even if we credit Badia with making bellydance a Woman's Dance, she isn't exactly the poster child for authentic Egyptian attitudes.

A. writes- I never said she was, but she certainly approached things through an Arab filter. Later dancers, like Carioca and Gamal, etc, really tempered the dance so that among Arabs everywhere, Egyptian are the most famed for being the great dancers of Raqs Sharghi.

I took this from one of Jodette's books about her life experiences. I know you trust Jodette as a source, so I thought I'd point some things out. The bold emphasis is mine:


Mr. Dawara told me a great deal about Badia's life. She had once told him that when she was a little girl and was living in Lebanon that her older brother molested her and the family was shamed. They put her in a Catholics nun's school where she learned tap and ballet. When her younger brother found out that she had been molested, he killed his older brother. He did not spend any time in jail because of his pride to keep the family's name clean. After this, the nuns sent Badia to America with an American family and she spent about five years in the USA. Then she returned to Beirut. She wanted to be a dancer, so she went to Egypt where she changed her name from a Christian name to a Muslim name- Badia Masabni. She also changed her looks and in a short time, she was the greatest of all dancers.


A. writes- While I trust that Jodette is passing things on the the Arab fashion, I suspect that some of this is not true, because I went to Catholic Schools in the 50s and 60s and Holy Mother Church, even at that time would not have sanctioned the teaching of ballet or tap dance. Also, the story of the brothers is rather suspect as well, and the fact that it would be shared that she was molested by a family member. Even in America in later times this was kept secret, never mind in the 20s when it was still very much a man's world here and there, and molestation would have been kept quiet for the family's honor in either place.


Catholic school
Ballet class
Living in the USA

That's sort of the trifecta of a Western education/influence.

A.writes- Regardless, she STILL would have lived her life through an Arab filter. Even though I can not reach up to any of my Anthropology books right now to give you a source about cultural filtering, I hope you believe me that such a thing exists and totally influences our way of looking at things. I am not sure WHY you find anything that I say SO unbelievable, but it seems that my word is never good enough, so I am not sure that I will ever be able to show you how I see things and why.

If Jodette is in fact an accurate source, what we have is essentially a Western Viewpoint defining for future generations what bellydance is, and qualifying it as a woman's dance.

A. writes- I disagree. This is NOT a western view point deciding that belly dance is a women's dance, but a woman who just happened to be in the States at some time or another, if we are to believe the man Jodette spoke with. Also, there are Arab Catholics. Syrian Orthodox churches are not western. AND I have seen a deviated septum turn into brain surgery before my very eyes when speaking with Arabs.

In this aspect, Badia is no different from Suraya Hilal. Both women wanted to redefine what THEY thought bellydance should be, based on their own personal viewpoints and prejudices. They both SOLD an image of bellydance to their viewers, which got absorbed into current cultural
expectations.
A. writes- The place that Masabni chose to develop her dance was not nearly as free and open as was Syria or Lebanon by the 1920s. She chose that place and time for a distinctly Arab reason, and that IS my opinion. And yes,k the both sold a product. Belly dance however, is a distinctly ehtnic product, regardless of outside influences.
Regards,
A'isha
 

cathy

New member
No, a movement's "gender" is determined by the culture itself -- it's not a generic east versus west thing. This varies from culture to culture -- from the Andes to Africa. It also varies from era to era. The boundaries of what were considered too "masculine" movements for women flamencas were broken in the 20th century. Historically, these boundaries tend to be broken after or during major political or economic upheavals -- civil revolutions, imperialism/colonization, periods of widespread famine, etc.

A lot of Egyptians today I'm sure believe this is a woman's dance. But it's not a woman's dance in the way that some of Ladino Jewish dances are Women's Dances, or Romanian shepherdess folk dances are women's dances -- with the attitude that if men do it, it's bad luck, or that it's RESERVED for the women, specially because of tradition or superstition. Belly dance is a woman's dance because it's "unmanly" or "unmasculine" -- spoken from the mouths of Egytptian statesmen and intelligentsia. Again, if you want sources, I can supply them.

But the question is WHY do today's Egyptians believe the stage art is a woman's dance?

My answer: in short, because they were TOLD it was "unmanly" and feminine by Europeans (French, German, and Brit) who had distinct ideas about what constituted "feminine" movement. The ruling elite and upper tiers of Egyptian society adopted this attitude either a) deliberately, in order to appear more European (read: more "cultured" and "civilized") or b) through the process of lengthy, generational exposure to these ideas.

As far as cataloging dance by movement, I'd have to consider Saidi a regional variant of Beledi, and Shaabi just a modern take on Beledi, with modern music (assuming that what we're calling beledi is the same thing.) If you had to list an "official" national dance of Egypt, I'd classify Beledi as that. Beledi, as I see it, is bellydance without the stage and the trappings of a staged performance.

Well of course it's not as simple as "this is a woman's movement, and this is a man's movement," but movement does have culturally-assigned "gender."

The 21st century Egyptian culture has deemed performance bellydance a woman's dance because it is unmanly. Did they get this idea from Islam? Did they get this idea on their own, independent of Western influence? Or did they get this idea from the Europeans?

AND -- is this the actual opinion of the generic Egyptian "peasant" -- or is what they've been TAUGHT in their western-style academies, and what they expect us Westerners to hear when they come here to live/visit? That's all what we need to consider too.
Dear Aziyade,

Not quite sure why I am adding my two cents here, as I think I know how this is going to play out :shok: but here goes.

I agree about the "gender" of movement being determined by the culture. Yes, there are physiological differences between men and women, I don't dispute that. But aside from sex organs, men and women have the same parts and can move them in the same ways. Yes, it looks different when a woman sways her hips because she has a bigger waist to hip ratio, but both men and women are doing the same basic movement. On the other hand, the question of whether the meaning of a movement has a gender seems a cultural one to me. The "feeling" of the movement is influenced by lots of factors including gender, but to my way of thinking, this does not separate one dance form from another, just one dancer from another. Differences that I love to observe and appreciate!

Interesting what you say about the boundaries being broken down during social upheavals. I'll give that some more thought. Can you give me examples? Do you mean like Flamenco, the woman doing taconeo? Or like women wearing pants in the late 1960s or whatever?

I also agree with you that Egyptians were undoubtedly influenced by the colonials and their views, including their views on dance. Not to say that Raks Sharki and Raks Beledi aren't ethnic, they certainly are. But it seems to me that when Raks Sharki BECAME a staged dance done by women, this was within the context of how it was viewed by both its then- practioners (women) and its then-public (largely, colonial men and Egytian men who worked with or were otherwise interested in what was then a Westernized entertainment situation--i.e. the nightclub.)

Lastly I agree with you when you say: "Beledi, as I see it, is bellydance without the stage and the trappings of a staged performance."

P.S. Well now I feel compelled to add that it seems to me that if we call what is indisputably Beledi white, and what is indisputably Sharki black, that as far as I can tell there are many shades of gray. There are extremely good, polished dancers with tons of Middle Eastern feeling who dance only socially. They are entirely capable of complex choreography, improv, using space, spins & turns, great posture, charisma, etc. And there are undoubtedly paid dancers in bedlah on stage or in nightclubs, dancing to highly orchestrated, traditional-era music, who just walk from one point to another, and do hip drops while staring at the floor, with no feeling for the music. It also perplexes me why some go on about how vast the difference is between the two when basically ALL professional dancers Over There learned how to dance in the home and then might have gotten some stage presence tips and polish from a coach. If Beledi is what is done in the home socially, and that's how the professionals LEARN how to dance, it seems to me there must be a strong relationship between the two, and many shades of gray. Maybe Raks is just Raks. Same movement vocabulary, same cultural filters. I'm trying to be less hung up on the difference. I want to see and do good Raks! Have no problem with shades of gray here.

Cathy
 
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Aziyade

New member
Actually the fact that genders are even put together differently dictates that there are indeed male and female movements.
GENDERS are not put together differently. SEXES are.
Sex is a biological construct. Gender is a social/cultural construct.


It is also true among animals that there are gender movements and gender behaviors.
No, there are SEX-based behaviors. But I still fail to see how the anatomy or sex of a whale or honeybee has ANYTHING to do with humans. Humans have language. Animals do not. Humans have developed extremely complicated social structures because we have language. Animals do not "dance" as we've defined it, so that's completely irrelevant to the discussion. (Except for my dog, who I swear does a mean Conga.)

I wrote:
Belly dance is a woman's dance because it's "unmanly" or "unmasculine" -- spoken from the mouths of Egytptian statesmen and intelligentsia. Again, if you want sources, I can supply them.

A, wries- And part of the reason that it is unmanly is because it is traditionally a womens' dance.
If this is not just your opinion, please cite your source. If "traditionally" you mean for the past 100 years, I will agree -- BUT for social and political reasons, and not because of anything "inherent" in the movements.


It is a womens' form of expression in countries of origin
Maybe in Saudi Arabia. But not as we've seen in Lebanon or Egypt, and especially not in Turkey.


and accepted as so abroad and this is not because of European or western input, it is because that is the way the developers made it to be. The same thing was NOT being done by European women at the same time.
Badia et al's aesthetic is western, and I'm surprised you don't see that. European women were NOT using hip and torso based movements, but the idea of masculine and feminine movements-- as we have seen them defined in bellydance -- is European.

The movements and essence of the dance taken with the context of where, how and why it was performed would have made it unmanly even if every person in the audience was an Arab male, from no matter what economic and cultural background.
We can agree to disagree. For my part, I still assert the "unmanly" quality is socio-political and not based on movement. As you have said numerous times, it's considered "women's work" -- much the way nursing and secretarial jobs were considered women's work in this country. Not because of any specific detail relating to SEX or anatomy, but for social reasons.

I wrote:
Sources on Saidi dance are scant -- meaning historical Saidi folk dance, but anyway...

A. writes- Not if you happen to know Saidis personally. I learned Saudi dance form a Saidi girl originally. Once again I probably will hear about how this is not a coroborrative source but that does not make it any less real and true.
One source does not a "truth" make. Thus the definition of "corroboration."
I learned "Gypsy" dance once from a Polish instructor. If I took her word for what "Gypsy" dance was, I'd be utterly confounded by what I've seen Artemis and Laurel Gray teaching.

If we all relied on one source, rather than trying to find corroborating evidence, we'd all have to believe that Reda's Hagallah is REALLY what Bedouin do at weddings.

I love and appreciate it when Arabs or Turks share with me their knowledge about their dance or their music or their culture. But 9 times out of 10, if you get more than 3 of them together, they argue with each other. Could be a cultural practice, could be that they all want to appear more knowledgeable than they really are. :) I was doing a live chat thing once with some Arabs in California, and one of the guys kept saying Tayehha Karioca was the best dancer ever, and they've never danced like her since. I asked if he knew of any OTHER bellydancers and he couldn't name a one! But then, I couldn't name a ballroom dancer outside of the old black and white movies, so I don't know what that proves about me as an American!


We also see all over the globe that certain movements are more easily done by one sex or the other because of physicality.
Please cite your source.

I've seen women doing some mean "coffeegrinders." I've seen men doing some pretty awesome backbend/contortions. Carmen Amaya's leg strength had less to do with her doing zapateados (the "traditionally" masculine form) than the fact that she wanted to rebel against tradition.

There's an old myth that female ballet dancers can spin faster or with more revolutions than men because of the placement of their center of gravity -- but that myth was shattered in the 80s.

We see gender-specific dances (like the female circumcision dances of West Africa, and the Haitian storytelling dances) that are done exclusively by women, but that's not because of something in their anatomy.


the dance started out as female pursuit, along with the qualities of emotion, movement and other distinctly female things about the dance at its inception.
There are no feminine movements. Movement is not gender-based. Femininity is culturally ascribed. What is feminine in American culture may not be in Maori culture.


A, writes- You have to remember that everything we hear, read and think
about this dance is "Just" our opinion whether or not we can back it up with written resources. Let's just say I trust the Arabs I have spoken with to know more about their own dances than I do, or that Anthony Shay or anyone else outside the culture does.
I do not trust Arabs or any cultural group to automatically "know more" about their culture -- or at least their cultural history -- than I can, especially when they have spent a significant part of their lives either outside of the culture, or living as transplanted expatriates. You said yourself the average Arab peasant couldn't give a fig about bellydance. Why should they care to research specific styles, history, music, etc. As such, why should they know any better than field researchers? What do I as an American know about Jazz? NOTHING. I'm not an expert on part of my culture simply because I'm from that culture.

For the Arabs who come here to study, or come here to live, they are still viewing the world through that lovely Western filter. Why are American Arabs so fond of Reda? (All the ones around here love him.) Shouldn't they realize this isn't their real dance?

I can't speak for Kharmine, but I have no issue with people having opinions, whether they're well-informed opinions or not. But if someone is going to speak as though their opinion is FACT, I want to see some evidence of its factuality. If someone tells me the trumpet dates back to prehistory, I want to see some evidence of that before I accept it.

A'isha, we have some really interesting scholars in this field, but I keep seeing you disregard them if they don't agree with your opinions. Shay's work is VERY thought-provoking, and having actually read some of his books, I'd consider him a trustworthy source. He HAS spent a great deal of time with the people and groups he writes about. Metin And, Newkirk, Mernissi -- it seems like any time some of these researchers are brought up, you immediately disregard them. I'm beginning to see you rejecting ANY kind of sociological study that relates to the dance, and I don't follow your logic.

And yes, I know about psycho-cultural filtering, which is what I was trying to get across. A post-colonialist culture sees the world through a post-colonial filter. Just as Hosni sees his world though the eyes of an educated man with a formal art education and LOTS of French influence. Just as Arabs who live here see the world through eyes that are different from their friends and relatives who don't travel abroad.

As for Jodette -- sorry, if you want to use her as a source you can't pick and choose only the parts that fit your personal beliefs.

You seem to think that I don't "BELIEVE YOU" -- almost as if BELIEF is an issue of faith for you. This is a discussion forum. We discuss things. Discussion doesn't mean trying to sway one person's view to your own. It's a method of finding our OWN answers and discovering new sources to help understand this dance/music/cultures a little better.

This isn't the Cult of A'isha, and I'm not required to have FAITH in everything you say. You seem to take disagreement, or even the offering of a different viewpoint as some kind of personal insult, and I assure you I don't think there is ANYONE on the forum who is here to try and personally insult anyone. There is no room for emotional entanglement on a discussion forum. Please don't take disagreement or a differing viewpoint -- or frankly, a correction from someone who has more training in a specific field -- as an insult.

You trust me enough to listen to me when I give you advice on knitting -- I would hope that you would trust me enough to give you clarifications and information on language and linguistics (my area of expertise, such that it is) without assuming that I'm being "pompous" in sharing that info. I'm thrilled that we have people who are willing to share what they know in their various specialties. You, for Saudi dance; Maria and Chryssanthi for Greek dance; Brea as a sociologist; Kharmine as a historian; Andrea and Morocco for being so darn immersed in ALL of it!!
 

cathy

New member
A'isha, please cite your source for this. I am looking for more info on Badia.
BUT, even if we credit Badia with making bellydance a Woman's Dance, she isn't exactly the poster child for authentic Egyptian attitudes.
I took this from one of Jodette's books about her life experiences. I know you trust Jodette as a source, so I thought I'd point some things out. The bold emphasis is mine:


Mr. Dawara told me a great deal about Badia's life. She had once told him that when she was a little girl and was living in Lebanon that her older brother molested her and the family was shamed. They put her in a Catholics nun's school where she learned tap and ballet. When her younger brother found out that she had been molested, he killed his older brother. He did not spend any time in jail because of his pride to keep the family's name clean. After this, the nuns sent Badia to America with an American family and she spent about five years in the USA. Then she returned to Beirut. She wanted to be a dancer, so she went to Egypt where she changed her name from a Christian name to a Muslim name- Badia Masabni. She also changed her looks and in a short time, she was the greatest of all dancers.


Catholic school
Ballet class
Living in the USA

That's sort of the trifecta of a Western education/influence.

If Jodette is in fact an accurate source, what we have is essentially a Western Viewpoint defining for future generations what bellydance is, and qualifying it as a woman's dance.

In this aspect, Badia is no different from Suraya Hilal. Both women wanted to redefine what THEY thought bellydance should be, based on their own personal viewpoints and prejudices. They both SOLD an image of bellydance to their viewers, which got absorbed into current cultural expectations.
Dear Aziyade,

Interesting! I too am curious to know more about Badia Masabni's life. I dearly wish someone would translate her memoirs into English. And do a definitive scholarly biography. I had heard that she was a Christian and something about the brother bit but I had not heard about the Catholic school, tap and ballet, or living in the US! Do you know what her original Christian name was by any chance? Have you come across other sources for these tidbits besides Jodettes book? Is that still in print BTW?

Now I am curious about Suraya Hilal as well.

Agree that both had to have been shrewd businesswomen, which I mean as a compliment and no slight to their "vision" or selling of Raks Sharki. It seems to me that to one extent or another we ALL are liable to use the dance as a vehicle for making our own personal points. (That's kinda what I was getting at on the "appeal of the exotic" thread. How can a person know that he/she is advancing his/her own agenda rather than looking at reality. Why this is moreso with this art form than others, or at least seems so to me, is something that puzzles me. Maybe partly because it hasn't been documented in a scholarly way, and the vast majority of practioners are hobbyists--in the West anyway. Maybe dance is more prone to this than say poetry or painting? I just don't know.)

Cathy
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Dance etc.

Dear Aziyade,
Snippage below




A'isha- Sex and gender are biological. Go and look up the latest info on the wiring in male and female brains.





A'isha-Humans are animals. Other animals have languages ad speak to each other. We are not sure whether animals dance or for what reasons.

I wrote:
Belly dance is a woman's dance because it's "unmanly" or "unmasculine" -- spoken from the mouths of Egytptian statesmen and intelligentsia.
If "traditionally" you mean for the past 100 years, I will agree -- BUT for social and political reasons, and not because of anything "inherent" in the movements.

A'isha-Morocco sometimes names no source and there is a NO corroborative evidence fo rher statements, yet you cite her as believable. I have tried to corroborate her birth story. I never once found a Moroccan or any other Arab who has heard about this kind of thing. Doesn't mean she is lying.




Maybe in Saudi Arabia. But not as we've seen in Lebanon or Egypt, and especially not in Turkey.

A'isha- I have many examples.They are only natives and not cited anywhere. Ra'ed Azar, who worked in entertainment in his native Jordan, Mark Basouni, who worked in hotels in Alexandria where famous belly dancers worked. He is the best male dancer I have ever seen, but will not perform publicly because it is shameful. Manal Daoud who is an Alexandrian Christian, Leila Al-Tassan, who is Saudi and has seen many of The famous dancers in person, Amr Taleb, who is an Alexandrian male who was very surprised to see a male belly dancer on my stage, though he is well traveled and educated. I could go on but I sense it will be useless since you can not see the value of uncited sources.




Badia et al's aesthetic is western, and I'm surprised you don't see that. European women were NOT using hip and torso based movements, but the idea of masculine and feminine movements-- as we have seen them defined in bellydance -- is European.

A'isha- I disagree. She borrowed a few western concepts in theatre and dance. I disagree that gender movement is defined in the minds of westerners alone. There would not be an injunction against homosexuality in the Bible and other books from the Middle East if that were true. It is ancient custom in the Middle East that men should not act like women.



For my part, I still assert the "unmanly" quality is socio-political and not based on movement. As you have said numerous times, it's considered "women's work" -- much the way nursing and secretarial jobs were considered women's work in this country. Not because of any specific detail relating to SEX or anatomy, but for social reasons.

A'isha- And how would you go about divorcing the issue from sex and anatomy? It is ALL about that.




One source does not a "truth" make.

A'isha- I can ask several Alexandrians about Saidi by picking up the phone.



I love and appreciate it when Arabs or Turks share with me their knowledge about their dance or their music or their culture. But 9 times out of 10, if you get more than 3 of them together, they argue with each other.

A'isha- I have so far spent more than 30 years asking questions. There are some responses that repeat through time.




Please cite your source.

A. writes- I can find more if necessary. I am not sure I want to spend my time looking through every physical fitness, coaching etc, book I own. I took some classes in college in order to be a better dance instructor.
Dinstan, Stone, Penning, Davis. 1984: "Discovering Lifetime fitness", St. Paul, West Publishing Company. Pg 111.
This is from a chapter called, "Should females train with weights?". It advocates women doing weight training, talks about ways in which male and female bodies respond . "While the male demonstrates substantial increases in muscle girth with weight training, this response is greatly diminished in the female". Other comments about movement in the book: Women possess greater manual dexterity . Women have greater bouyancy which gives them an advantage in swimming, which is a kind of movement. We even have different age limits for peak endurance and power. It is reflected in movement.



I've seen women doing some mean "coffeegrinders."

A'isha- Your point is what? There are always exceptions to the general rule.


We see gender-specific dances that are done exclusively by women, but that's not because of something in their anatomy.

A'isha- Actually it is because there is a difference in anatomy that these dances developed.




There are no feminine movements. Movement is not gender-based. Femininity is culturally ascribed. What is feminine in American culture may not be in Maori culture.

A'isha- Transvestites study these differences in order to move like women. I disagree that they are entirely culture based. Cite your sources as you say because this is not proveable either way.




I do not trust Arabs or any cultural group to automatically "know more" about their culture -- or at least their cultural history -- than I can,
A. writes- Neither do I but a long time general consensus says something,especially among people who have never met.

For the Arabs who come here to study, or come here to live, they are still viewing the world through that lovely Western filter. Why are American Arabs so fond of Reda? (All the ones around here love him.)

A. writes- I disagree. They often do not view the world in a western way at all. They do not necessarily look at Reda and think he is doing their dances in an authentic way. They realize his value to them as one of them who has done well.

But if someone is going to speak as though their opinion is FACT, I want to see some evidence of its factuality. If someone tells me the trumpet dates back to prehistory, I want to see some evidence of that before I accept it.

A. writes- You have said many things here as "fact" that I can dispute and do. Again, would you say the same thing to Morocco about her birth ritual story?

A'isha, we have some really interesting scholars in this field, but I keep seeing you disregard them if they don't agree with your opinions. -- it seems like any time some of these researchers are brought up, you immediately disregard them. I'm beginning to see you rejecting ANY kind of sociological study that relates to the dance, and I don't follow your logic.

A.writes- While Shay does not impress me, Nieukirk does, and I have said that before. That does not mean I will agree with EVERY word she says. I also do not agree with EVERYTHING Jodette says either, but that does not make her a totally unreliable source. Mernissi says some REALLY off the wall stuff, but that does not mean every word she writes is suspect. I just do not turn these people into iconoclastic figures of belly dance and I dare to occasionally question what they write. I am allowed to question their methods, their conclusions and any other part of their researches, and if I am smart, I will.

And yes, I know about psycho-cultural filtering, which is what I was trying to get across.

A. writes- And yet you do not seem to see the cultural filter as applicable in dance?

As for Jodette -- sorry, if you want to use her as a source you can't pick and choose only the parts that fit your personal beliefs.

A. writes- I can pick and choose what is believable of her or anyone else. That is what researchers do.

You seem to think that I don't "BELIEVE YOU" -- almost as if BELIEF is an issue of faith for you. This is a discussion forum. We discuss things. Discussion doesn't mean trying to sway one person's view to your own. It's a method of finding our OWN answers and discovering new sources to help understand this dance/music/cultures a little better.

A. writes- What I find is that if I say it, you automatically reject it, rather than giving it careful consideration. You owe me no fealty, but you could at least give what I say a faIr hearing. You prefer instead TO make snarky comments like that below.

This isn't the Cult of A'isha, and I'm not required to have FAITH in everything you say. You seem to take disagreement, or even the offering of a different viewpoint as some kind of personal insult, and I assure you I don't think there is ANYONE on the forum who is here to try and personally insult anyone.

A. writes- I do not need acolytes. I do not require faith in ME, but I do get damn tired of not being given a fair hearing by you, Kharmine and a couple of other people on this forum. Many people do disagree and I respect them. Andrea and I for example, often have differences in our conclusions.

There is no room for emotional entanglement on a discussion forum. Please don't take disagreement or a differing viewpoint -- or frankly, a correction from someone who has more training in a specific field -- as an insult.

A. writes- When I see the logic of the correction, I acknowledge it. This is not an academic field.... and even academics get passionate about their fields, (I went to college and worked in one for 7 years, remember?) I am not insulted by people disagreeing with me. I am insulted by constant calls for "resources" that are just as likely as my first hand researches to be flawed, but somehow you find them more believable.

You trust me enough to listen to me when I give you advice on knitting -- I would hope that you would trust me enough to give you clarifications and information on language and linguistics (my area of expertise, such that it is) without assuming that I'm being "pompous" in sharing that info.

A. writes- Excuse me, but you have called me pompous and worse when I have disagreed with people and given evidence that, for you is not corroborated and therefore no good. Don't believe what I have to say if you don't want to, but don't imply that I have an ax to grind while you are just an innocent researcher.

Regards,
A'isha
 

Brea

New member
Holy crap! I'm a sociologist? Awesome! I'll let my history and anthropology profs know. ;) Hm. Now that I think of it maybe that's what history + anthropology equals. Never thought of that before.

Seriously, Aziyade, you are saying exactly what I have been trying to say and unable to figure out how to say it properly. So thank you for that; I have nothing to add! You summed it up perfectly.
 

Morocco

New member
Dear Aziyade,

Interesting! I too am curious to know more about Badia Masabni's life. I dearly wish someone would translate her memoirs into English. And do a definitive scholarly biography. I had heard that she was a Christian and something about the brother bit but I had not heard about the Catholic school, tap and ballet, or living in the US! Do you know what her original Christian name was by any chance? Have you come across other sources for these tidbits besides Jodettes book? Is that still in print BTW?

Now I am curious about Suraya Hilal as well.

Agree that both had to have been shrewd businesswomen, which I mean as a compliment and no slight to their "vision" or selling of Raks Sharki. It seems to me that to one extent or another we ALL are liable to use the dance as a vehicle for making our own personal points. (That's kinda what I was getting at on the "appeal of the exotic" thread. How can a person know that he/she is advancing his/her own agenda rather than looking at reality. Why this is moreso with this art form than others, or at least seems so to me, is something that puzzles me. Maybe partly because it hasn't been documented in a scholarly way, and the vast majority of practioners are hobbyists--in the West anyway. Maybe dance is more prone to this than say poetry or painting? I just don't know.)

Cathy
I'm very sorry, but I have learned over the years not to trust "info" from Jodette.

Official bios of Masabni *never* mention any time in the US, which is beyond "curious", but they DO state that the whole family moved to South America - (I think it was) Argentina - for several years, before Masabni returned to Lebanon.

Mayhap *South* America morphed into *North* America/ the US in Jodette's memory...

I have a video of the movie about Badia's life, which showed/ implied her being raped by a friend of her brother's, thus necessitating the family's move out of Syria - rather than any sort of revenge/ honor killing.

In fact, if there had been any "honor killing" at all, the victim would have had to be Badia!!! (Gotta really know the culture in order to catch the fairy tales!)

I won't state my opinion as to why Suraya/ Selwa developed her "approach" on a website ... would take too much time that I don't have.

However, it isn't just dance or Oriental dance where folks advance their own agendas - it's in EVERY field/ area/ Art form. You just happened to have landed in this one.

Everybody has an "agenda" - some are about reality & some are about personal fantasies ...

Then there's politics!!!:pray::pray::pray:
Morocco
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Dance etc.

Dear Aziyade,
Another thing; if I am so believable in Saudi stuff, what makes my knowledge so suspect in other areas? I have danced Egyptian, studied with Egyptians and been around Egyptians for longer than I have Saudis. It makes no sense to me whatsoever that I would be able to give accurate info in one area, but not another. There is even less corroborative evidence about the things I say about Saudis than there is on Egyptians, because most people do not have the connections that I have been fortunate to have into that world. I basically report in the same ways on both areas, and on anything else I do report on. Note that I say almost nothing about Turkish dance, This is because I feel that I KNOW next to nothing about it, so I keep my opinions to myself. I know very few Turks with whom I can talk. I am not sure why you feel that you can trust what I say about Saudis, but not Egyptians.


Dear Morroco,
I have found some of what Jodette says to be true and some of what she says to be very hard to believe. I studied with her when I first started dancing and she is a wonderful teacher as well as a good dancer. Do I take every word she says as gospel? No. Do I find that ANYONE's information always meshes with what I have learned from the Arabs? No. But, I also questioned much of what was in that little info from Dr. Whatisname to Jodette. It does not make sense in context. Plus, going to Catholic school in an Arab country could very well mean anything from going to an actual Syrian Orthodox Arab catholic school, to going to any religious school. As for ballet and tap in an Arab religious school, er.... I think not. ( My friend Leila did take modern and jazz dancing in Saudi Arabia, and it was through an American agency of some sort.) And yes on the honor killing, IF it came out in the first place that there was a rape or molestation, (which mostly it does not because it creates too much of a mess for the families involved), then the liklihood is that Badia would have been killed, not one of the guys!
Regards,
A'isha
 

belly_dancer

New member
Dear Aziyade,

Not quite sure why I am adding my two cents here, as I think I know how this is going to play out :shok: but here goes.


Cathy
I'm not sure either... but cannot seem to help myself... cannot keep up on "who said what"... but seriously..... look at ANY (ok 99% as there is always that "odd man out") male or female just simply WALKING down the street and you can SEE the difference!... i am sure nature had a plan, as it is the WAY our hips move (as females) that attracts the male & perpetuates the species...(remember the good old days when it was scary to walk by a construction site, cause the guys would whistle & make comments such as "shake it, don't break it!!")...& from a biological viewpoint the ONLY reason ANY of us is here is to procreate....
of course there are other things besides hips.... like gee... our breasts?... how about our hair?... how about waist to hip ratio?... our slight "softness"? (a slightly plump girl is still healthy, put has enough 'resources" to maintain pregnancy & nursing)... etc etc etc...
many of these things have NOW been "proven" as fact.. and transvestites DO study these feminine WAYS OF MOVING so they can be convincing women!
interesting how ALL of those same things HAPPEN to be alot of what BD movement/costuming is focused on
I do not consider it my opinion... as I want to belly dance for MUCH more lofty ideals.... HOWEVER.... based on the movements/the costuming... it is SOOOOO feminine... & so BASELY feminine at that..... I mean ALL emphasis is on being a WOMAN.... (& guys.... do not hate me, I have seen MANY fab male dancers... this is nothing against you... & just like ballet started out feminine & got the male thing added later... that is working here too)
A'isha... I know (& sorry cannot remember exact quotes) that you are the champion of BD being NOT just movement... so I am sure you can go on about the feminine essence of BD way better than I... but I do feel ok to point out that YEAH... there IS something inherently feminine in BD and other dances around the globe...( hula/tahitian are 2 examples) that DOES have ALOT to do with the DIFFERENCES in the physical structure of men & women...

oooh & lets throw this wrench in... how about "multi-tasking"... "studies have shown" that women are (usually) way better at this (while men tend to be better at pinpoint focusing) (& yeah I KNOW there are ALWAYS exceptions... oh.. could one of you scholars point out how the "exception proves the norm"... never really "got" that)...
well is not belly dancing as we know it today, with all of it's layering, etc. the epitome of multi tasking....
ok as usual... my mind has wandered....
so signing off....
 

Andrea Deagon

New member
"Representing" & Masabni

Wow, what I missed by having a busy work week!:D

I've been reading Anthony Shay's Choreographing Identity, which deals with folk dance but is very relevant to this discussion. A lot of his recent work has explored the interactions between nationalism, the desire to create "appropriate" national dances to express the values the urban elite wanted associated with their nationhood, the ways these dances have found their way back into both immigrant and native communities, and (this is important) the role of individuals in shaping these representations at key times.

I think his analyses work very well with understanding Masabni's contributions. In the 1920's Egypt was clearly at work redefining its international image. The creation of raqs sharqi was an element of this redefinition -- NOT by the government, NOT as a political definition of Egypt -- but as a popular model of urban sophistication, focused on the female as the embodiment of these values as they took shape in the Arab world.

A lot of Eastern dancers had made careers of representing the East to the West, on more or less Western terms. It's difficult to say exactly how they did this, from what is currently out (as opposed to lying in dusty archives) about Egyptian and other Eastern dance in the early 20th century. I think that Paris was a breeding ground for new ways of representing the East that might ultimtaely have influenced the East itself, but without archival work by someone (I'd do it if I could get the funding), it's hard to say for sure. (I hope some enterprising young Arabic scholar will get in there and complete the work on early 20th century entertainment in Egypt that Van Nieuwkerk started.)

In any case, Shay points out that these deliberate representations can sometimes be absorbed back into the native community, taken as true and authentic elements of culture rather than as artificial constructs.

So, suppose you have a dance form in which men and women essentially dance the same way, though of course it looks different on the different anatomies. Then, due to one or many innovators, and fueled by a cultural need, a form is created in which the ever-symbolic woman represents a valued variety of urban sophistication -- raqs sharqi. It develops quickly into a form with complex and beautiful aesthetics that do relate to both men and women in some respects (both share the ability to convey emotional experience and tarab, for example), but that are *in terms of the representation of culture* defined primarily by their embodiment in female form.

Well, this is sketching out something that could be theorized much better, but my point is, raqs sharqi is specifically a representation, but its gender-limitations have been accepted as authentic/traditional by the culture, even though they do not necessarily represent traditional views.

Definition is the source of some ofthe conflicts here. While some people equate "belly dance" essentially with "beledi," I believe A'isha's definition of belly dance equates it specifically to raqs sharqi as developed in the early 20th century, which was specifically a feminine form, as conceived at the time and in those circumstances. I suggest that this form, together with absorption of Western ideas about movement and gender, have made many people of Eastern origin see the limitations of raqs sharqi as traditional, especially as regards gender and performance.

But the dance traditions of Egypt (and elsewhere in the Middle East) are really better represented by beledi (or whatever you call it) which shares at least the fundamentals of the raqs sharqi movement vocabulary, and is not gendered masculine or feminine. (And, as Cathy points out, is the starting point for the women who do become professional dancers, as they learn social techniques first.)

Again, how precisely you define belly dancing (i.e. is it fundamentally raqs sharqi or fundamentally beledi) makes a huge difference in whether you think it is potentially a masculine and/or feminine art.

Shay also observes that some Central Asian dance troupes have adapted movements that were traditionally associated with professional male dancers, to the "delicacy" of women's dance, while adopting big, balletic, macho movement unlike anything the native culture produced, for men's movements. In other words, men were disenfranchised from their traditional movement, which was defined as "unmasculine" for the purposes of representing the culture. And then there was this new definition of masculine and feminine movement, for the actual people of the community to absorb into their perceptions of what was appropriate for real men's dances.

So members of even native communities are not necessarily the best judges of the historical bases for their dances.

I'm not meaning to argue "for" or "against" the validity of any given definition, just meaning to point out (1) some dynamics behind how cultures perceive and define their dances and (2) that differences in definitions are at the root of a lot of the disagreements here.

Joy in dance,

Andrea
 
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