One of my biggest and most important goals as a professional belly dancer in Orlando has always been to display the beautiful art form of belly dance with the utmost class and respect. Often times the general public has not been exposed to a true trained and professional belly dance artist. Instead, many have only seen the orientalist fantasies that still linger in movies, marketing, and paintings. It is so clearly evident in any Halloween store when you see how a “belly dance costume” is portrayed. This has led to the misconstrued reputation of belly dance as some sort of strip tease or sex-driven dance. Middle Eastern dance is very family friendly and classy. Although it contains elements of sensuality, it was in no way developed to be erotic. Elegance in Bellydance is its very essence.

Salsa is salsa, burlesque is burlesque and ballet is ballet…each is a very different discipline. Fusion is a wonderful thing, but I am always asked by clients why some dancers are more eroticized than others and it is precisely due to the decisions of what they fuse together and their own artistic expression. A dancer with a strip aerobics background is VERY different from a belly dancer with classical or modern dance training.

I hope that clients and audience members can use a critical eye and educate themselves to see the difference in order to make the right choices when hiring a professional for their events. If one is looking for a tasteful, family friendly belly dance artist, it is important to research the performer and ensure they have the training you are looking for. It can make the difference between a poor/tacky display and an elegant and spectacular show.

When you study the history of this dance and the artists who have dedicated their lives to presenting it, you will see that they often express in interviews (and it can be seen in their work), that elegance is a vital component in raqs sharqi. Yes, elements of ballet, modern and Latin dances have been fused, but it was always done so in an educated and trained manner. The major movement vocabulary was still rooted in raqs sharqi and beledi styles of dance and thus, they could still preserve what made this dance so unique and beautiful in the first place.

I plead to anyone reading this, do not follow these orientalist fantasies you may see in movies or youtube or paintings, do your research, see a true authentic performance from a person of the culture, and then see a professionally trained dancer in your area. While they may dance with very different styling, note how they dress. See how movements are executed with taste and skill. These orientalist notions need to simply stop being used to draw attention. The dance speaks for itself.

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