“What Do Middle Easterners Think of Belly Dancers“? My great friend Maria came to me with this question last week and while I am not Middle Eastern and cannot speak for them, I will share a few of my thoughts from experiences traveling abroad, what I have felt at private events, research findings, and open up the discussion later on to the community.
Here in America oriental dance is a hobby, a past time, and something those with disposable income can take part in whether it is for fitness or to immerse themselves into the Art form. The version of belly dance that has been cultivated here is a mishmash of various styles of Bellydance that were passed down by Americans to other Americans and transformed the genre into a more muscular, isolated, and show style performance. Sure we had some Middle Eastern Instructors come by and teach, but the distance and the story of American style of belly dances’ roots really made it unique unto its’ own.
In the Middle East currently belly dance is a dying art form that represents the past, and is the source of controversy at the moment. Many belly dancers have to hide the fact that they are indeed Oriental dance artists for safety reasons. Now this is not true of all countries, Lebanon for example really has a freer outlook on this topic, but the trend right now is conservatism and this has effected the industry quite a bit.
That being said the Near East and Middle East is compromised of a vast array or countries and cultures that differ from region to region and is quite complex. You cannot simply lump everything up into “the middle east” and think that is ok. Each countries’ peoples can have different languages, dances, foods, and etc… (similar to latin and Spanish countries).
From my experience, and having immersed myself into this art form, I will say that the way we are viewed really encompasses the entire spectrum of emotions. There are many who think that what we do as belly dancers is of low class, shameful to the family and morally/spiritually wrong. Stringent religious beliefs and government policies have really elevated this view point in various highly conservative countries.
There are others who see it as a dance with links historically to prostitution, and because prostitution with dancers still occur in their region, we are automatically thought of as prostitutes. Here in the states we will see dances inspired by the gypsies of Iraq, and Egypt, and so on and so forth, but such a thing there would have a huge stigma attached. Americans are free to do what we please here, but sometimes we forget the persecution the people whose dance we are representing endure.
On The Flip Side…
Some see belly dancers as the reminder of their countries past and the associate them with the joy we bring to special celebrations. Every wedding, every major event, always had a belly dancer in it and dancing was a joyous and exciting part of the ceremony growing up. Belly dancers are expected to be at these occasions still today in these parts, even if their country may be divided on the subject.
Many times I have asked a person of Arab decent what they think of the show and if they would allow their daughter to learn, and while some younger more modern folks will not make a big deal over it, some will say that they loved the show but would not want their daughter to do so as a profession.
At times I feel that there is a love hat relationship with belly dance. In quite a few countries we see raging conservatism yet at a huge wedding they hire famous belly dancers and are in love with the performance. Take Dina for example and the love hate relationship the media has with her.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. It is quite a hefty topic and I would love to obtain more insight on this. What do Middle Easterners think of belly dancers?