National attitudes to bellydance and bellydancers

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Aniseteph

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What are the stereotypes and attitudes to bellydance and bellydancers in your country? What attitudes do you get from the public or your friends/family, and is it because it's bellydance you do? Would it be the same if you were a ballet dancer, for example?

This follows the Seven Veils thread and others on this forum. I get the impression that in the USA there is far more of a "we must educate the general public about what bellydance is (and isn't) about" ethos. Is it because bellydance got degraded by the burlesque/strip connotations in the US, so you have more of an uphill struggle to make it acceptable? In the UK we haven't had this - being a bellydancer might not have the social cachet of being a ballet dancer, but I don't think he/she is automatically assumed to be a stripper or a lap dancer.

So IMO anyone doing a "dance of the seven veils" in the UK would not be expected to have nothing on underneath (unless it was obviously in That Sort of venue). I've read that post-Mata Hari there was quite a vogue for it in respectable society circles. Is my impression that we have an easier time of it in the UK right, or is it just that I live a sheltered life and have friends who dare not disapprove? (Grrrrr - I'm so scary ;) ). Is it a European/USA split? What about other countries?

Please share! :think:
 

teela

New member
I think alot of the attitude varies from place to place. Also it does have some connitations with Burlesque, side show dancers, and a remnent from the victorian era idea of respectibility. I also think some of the perceptions do arise from a lack of knowledge. Its nothing you can really put into a simple statement due to the fact than many of us, as dancers, are still educating ourselves on the dance, what it is and its assorted variations and interpretations. If we as dancers have questions, then it is to be expected that the public will have questions and misperceptions.
 

Moon

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I think here in the Netherlands there are still quite a lot of people who think bellydance was originally done by harem girls to seduce the sultan. (When I was a kid I used to think that too, but I found out otherwise before I started bellydancing myself). I don't know if they also think bellydancers are strippers, but I guess most of the ignorant people here expect a woman in a 2-piece costume. Not for example a baladi dress or a male dancer. And of course some people (unfortunately also people who're doing bellydance themselves) think it's mostly about being sexy.
I am only speaking for myself now, don't know about other Dutch people, but before I started bellydancing and came across Shira's site, I had never heard of "the dance of the seven veils".
As for nasty remarks, I didn't get any myself. Most reactions are rather positive, or they just say "oh nice" and are not really interested. And for the rest, my dad thought a hip scarve belongs on the head :lol:
 
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taheya

New member
Hi anisteph Im not so sure that we are so different from the states regarding attitudes to bellydance. I feel that there is alot of ignorance around the dance in general and people on the whole raise eyebrows when i say im a dancer. Perpetuating the 'dance of the seven veils' would contribute to this ignorance and i do think that people in general in the uk have preconceived ideas about that.
I know i cant generalise from my own experiences but what i have read and heard about belly dance in the UK there is still lots of ignorance. I have a fear also that some teachers are not doing such a great job in educating their students either...but thats another story.
 

gwinity

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I think Moon has pretty much summed it up for the Australian general public, too. Heck, until this year I didn't even realise there was a thriving 'underbelly' (bad pun, I know) of dancers in my city!

Most people, when I tell them I dance, ask about the exercise, stare blankly, or have the sexy-stripper-pole-dancer image in their heads. (I'm still trying to re-educate the latter!) But while the image of scantily-clad, sequinned girlies is prevalent, I think most people equate bellydance for the general public as a dancercize pasttime, not something to be taken seriously.

As for the dance of seven veils, I'd not heard much about it (if anything at all) until I started hearing from sister-dancers that it's a big "no-no"! We're uncouth and don't pay much attention to playwrights and the like in my neck of the woods!!! :lol
 
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Aisha Azar

New member
National attitudes etc.

Dear Group,
I have not found that the general public in America has such a bad opinion of belly dance. I do find that often they are not educated about the dance, but then, how many people are educated about ballet, tap, Tai Chi, Yoga or any other movement experience in which they are not involved? Don't ask me anything about football because I know zilch. This is because it is not interesting to me, and I think in general the average American has no more than a passing interest in MIddle Eastern dance. Because we are so fanantic about it, sometimes we don't see it in persepctive.
I think the average American is not hung up on thinking about belly dance in either positive or negative terms... they simply don't think about it at all...kind of like me and football!
The negative image seems to me to be more in some of our own minds than in the minds of all but a few of the average general public.
Regards,
A'isha
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
It depends on who you're with, what age they are, and where in the country (USA) you are.

I've encountered "some of" the Bible thumper mentality right here in Central California - one of the more free-er thinking areas of the country.

I was just having an email conversation with a dance sister whose BD class was denied by a local "Parks & Recreation" type entity (As I understand it) in a different state because of "Previous Protests". I told her "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, going on Oprah. What that really means is 1 or 2 people out of a rather large group "protested", and as is usual in cases like these; got their way and ruined it for everyone else. The American Taliban mindset in action.

Another dance sister and I were, independently and unbeknownst to each other, considering donating a "Professional Belly Dance Performance" to a local charity auction that we both have contributed to in the past. My sister dancer was denied because of the "Sexual content". She was livid, as was I when I found out about it.

There are two ways of combating this kind of ignorance. You can hide behind semantics - call it "Middle eastern Dance" instead of "Belly Dance", not call a 7 veils dance a 7 veils dance, or whatever. Or you can GET IN THEIR FACE! I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out which way I lean...

Far, far worse than worrying about semantics; are those who promote sleaze under the Belly Dance umbrella. We all either saw, or heard about (ad infinitum) the "Kama-Sutra" show at Rakkasah 2006. In addition, there were other performances that were not exactly family fare either; but Kama-Sutra completely overwhelmed any negativity these may have otherwise received.

Unfortunately, sleaze spreads faster than a fire in an oil refinery - and it doesn't do any of us any good. I know of several dancers who are semi-local to me who have been "influenced" shall we say - whose costuming and dance choices are not the best. We need to decry this at every opportunity - indeed my instructors have had to show more than one dancer to the door at our local venue for this very reason - I wish more dancers/instructors/event organizers had their ethics!

Sorry, got me on a roll there, I'll shut up now...
 
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Well said Zorba!!!!:clap: Here in my neck of woods Akron, Ohio, the Proud Suburb of West Virginia(it's a joke), the attitudes regarding Oriental Dance are pretty nonexistent,neither negative or positive. However dancers in our Notheast Ohio community are well recieved and participate in a variety of events. Many local rec centers and private dance schools feature "bellydance". With that being said, there are not a lot of perfoming venues except for the ones we create for ourselves.
Personally, I haven't experienced outright prejudice, not because of the dance but because of the type of person I am. But I still educate the public whenever I can.
Yasmine
 

chryssanthi sahar

New member
In Germany where I live, belly dance is, generally spoken, in the mean while quite well accepted and it is considered to be an artistic dance by many people. Back in the 80ies it was different, the first belly dancers in Germany had to fight with prejudices, but there was a lady called Dietlinde Karkoutli who was very engaged about the matter and she did a great promotion job for the dance in the media (unfortunately she passed away around 10 years ago). On the other hand, similar to other countries, it depends which area you live in. The smaller the place, the more predujices you will find.
In Greece where I come from (and visit quite some times a year), things are a bit different. Belly dance is nothing new there, since we have our Greek Tsifteteli for longer time, but the problem is, that many Greeks don't understand the difference between Tsifteteli and artistic Oriental Dance (like the Egyptian Raqs Sharqi). Most Greeks think that they are experts on belly dance (the same like most Turks think too), but they cannot really differentiate. And one big problem is, that there are very many girls, who call themselves "professional belly dancers", just because they perform in bouzoukia clubs (and Arabian clubs which are very fashionable in Greece right now), but they actually dance only Tsifteteli (o.k. with some more movements than the average Greek). Those girls are young, good looking and sexy and rather dance to please the male audience, than to perform art. And since in Greece women are quite liberated and want also to have fun, there dance also more and more young good looking guys belly dance in the bouzoukia clubs, in order to please the female audience;) . The situation is kind of problematic, because on one hand belly dance performances are very popular in Greece right now and belly dance is very present in the media, on the other hand, what you mostly see is bad quality belly dance (actually same problem like in Turkey), or better to say, no quality belly dance. But there are some of us who try to change this situation and promote the Art of Oriental Dance in Greece:D
 
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That remind's me

Reading these posts reminds me of something I heard after folk dance class one night. I went with the teachers and a few other members of our group to Marie Calendar's Restaurant like we did back in the late 90s. I was telling one of the newbies I was interested in learning how to belly dance and dance with veils and such. I brought up the name Arturo who used to belly dance somewhere in Southern California. This newbie told me how Arturo is excellent. He then went on to say how some male belly dancers he's seen,not Arturo, will do an x rated move just to get women to tip them.
He said that some male belly dancers will take off there vest to get tips from women. I was shocked to hear this since I thought that only some immature girls would do something like this. Anyway after I went to YouTube.com I started watching a video of a male belly dancer. It looked like he was taking off his vest to show more of his shirtless body. However what he was doing was just opening the vest up so the audience could get a better look at his belly rolls. Thank God that's what he was doing because nobody threw money after that, but it looked like he was going to be immature.
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
I once saw a very well regarded and famous male Belly Dancer actually tear his shirt off during a performance.

I was turned off cold.

He shouldn't have been wearing a shirt (of all things) in the first place - but far more importantly, tearing it off was utterly sending the wrong signals. What does that have to do with Belly Dance?

Sleazy.
 

Aisha Azar

New member
National attitudes

Dear Group,
As dancers, we have different attitudes toward the dance than does the general public. Because of this, I think it is very important to clarify what is being done on stage. I would agree that from a dancer's standpoint, the tearing off of the shirt was an unnecessary theatrical gimick. But, the general public has no idea whether or not they have just seen something that qualifies as "belly dance". They will build an attitude toward the dance based on a lot of stuff that is not dance, until WE start taking the responsibility to educate them to what the dance is and is not.
Anyone can put on a costume (of sorts) and say they are belly dancing. My entire campaign to get clarity is all about the attitudes and furthering of the education of the general public in order to not only define the dance clearly, but also to expand knowledge and upgrade attitudes. Before that can be done, WE have to get clear with our various dances. How can we expect a good attitude from the public if we don't know what we are doing half the time?
Regards,
A'isha
 

Sara

New member
I agree with Aniseteph about the Uk. I don't think it's half as bad here. You all seem to have problems somewhere along the line. My only probbers was my fam.

I think the UKers are too busy worrying about whether or not writing on black boards is politically correct to be bothered thinking about belly dancers as owt else but belly dancers...:dance: Perhaps it's cause there's more people in America?
 
Hi Everyone, It may appear that the U.S. has more problems with the image of Oriental dance, but that may be due to the number of outspoken forum members! It seems to me with the increasing number of students and teachers here in the States, the Oriental community has an obligation to police itself in terms of attitudes and imagery. It only takes a handful of unethical and undereducated dancers to sully the positive hard work of others.
But rather focus on the negative aspects, I can see where Oriental Dance is slowly becoming an accepted part of the creative arts community. There are more staged shows here in the U.S. and In Europe. Our troupe has been invited to perform at our local Arts Expo for the last three years, art gallery openings too. Even the type of students joining classes are seeking to use the art form for something other than sexual titilation(based on our students). Even the music style is becoming fused and more well-known. So there are some positives attitudes being generated here in the States.
Yasmine
 

Silvinka

New member
I am affraid of the way people think about body shape. Since the "modeling buissiness" went booming, it seems like everybody has to be skinnier then skinny. But when i tell people i started bellydancing, they say: well you've got the figure for it!" And im not skinny like Nicole Kidman for example. And that is pleasing to hear, that you don't have to be like a skeleton for being or becoming a good dancer! Is that also a part of an "internatiol aditude" that in bellydance bodyshape is not an issue?
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Attitude

Dear Silvinka,
In the States there is a huge hang-up about body size/weight. I was once a thin dancer and now I am a fat dancer. I notice that people in the non-dance public are at first more attracted to thin dancers, whether or not they can dance, than they are to fat dancers who can. This is just another fact of dance life. Fortunately, there are many people who do begin to discern that body size is not the defining factor in this art form.
Regards,
A'isha
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
I would agree that from a dancer's standpoint, the tearing off of the shirt was an unnecessary theatrical gimick. But, the general public has no idea whether or not they have just seen something that qualifies as "belly dance". They will build an attitude toward the dance based on a lot of stuff that is not dance, until WE start taking the responsibility to educate them to what the dance is and is not.
Agreed. Replay my rant about sleazy dancers!

The baffling thing about it was that this particular male dancer was a VERY well known one whom I know darn well knows better. I won't sully his name by outing him as he never had done it before to the best of my knowledge, and hasn't since. Plus he is an awesome dancer. Probably, he just "went with the moment", and asked himself later "WHY did I do that?".
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
Dear Silvinka,
In the States there is a huge hang-up about body size/weight. I was once a thin dancer and now I am a fat dancer. I notice that people in the non-dance public are at first more attracted to thin dancers, whether or not they can dance, than they are to fat dancers who can. This is just another fact of dance life. Fortunately, there are many people who do begin to discern that body size is not the defining factor in this art form.
Regards,
A'isha
Fortunately, the exact opposite often occurs within our community. I certainly know some dancers that range from large, to Large, to LARGE, to *HUGE* - and they are all an utter joy to watch! They're great in class too - you can see what they're doing and thus they're very easy to follow!

Far better that than the emaciated, boulemic Nazi death camp survivor look. We've all seen these poor gals, some of them can even dance - but who can tell?
 

chryssanthi sahar

New member
Oh, the T-shirt tearing problem wouldn't exist in Greece, because almost all male belly dancers there dance with naked upper body;) This is the Greek male-belly-dancer-stereotype: slim (or even skinny), dark tanned (so that he looks Arabian. Some of them are naturally dark though), bloomers on, naked upper body (well, some of them wear a kind of jewelry). As about doing different stuff in order to get tips from the ladies: yes, they do. But to be honest, it is fun to watch, if they can dance well:lol: I think it is not always possible to perform belly dance as higher art form. I wish it were, but dancers who dance in bouzoukia clubs have to be good entertainers on the first place. It is almost impossible to perform artistic belly dance in the bouzoukia clubs. That's why we (this means me, Maria and some other serious Greek dancers) are trying to find other possibilities to present belly dance as an art form on stage.
 
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