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. Oftentimes, the general public here in the USA has not been exposed to a 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.

All of this has led to the misconstrued reputation of belly dance as some sort of sex-driven dance. Middle Eastern dance is very family-friendly and elegant. Yes, it is sensual and an expression of our emotions and state, but it is not an erotic form of dance.

Salsa is salsa, burlesque is burlesque and ballet is ballet, oriental dance is oriental dance (belly dance in the USA)…each is a very different discipline. 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 folkloric or modern dance training. A dancer who has a sexualized facial expression when he/she dances is very different than one expressing joy.

I hope that clients and audience members can use a critical eye and educate themselves through the countless resources online or in libraries to see the difference. In order to make the right choices when hiring a professional for their events, the education needs to be there so they know what to look for. 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 and showmanship style 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 preserving 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, etc. 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. 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 styles, note how they dress, move, and emote. 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.

Please, dancers in the community, be wary of promoting orientalist fantasies that are rooted in racism. Make sure to use imagery that is true and realistic for this dance form. In America, there is a whole industry surrounding the “sex sells” marketing tactics, but at the end of the day, the orientalist fantasies drive me insane. The face veil….research this, please! There are various innocent mistakes seen all around and the only way to stop them from continuing to perpetuate these crazy fantasy and fetish ideals is to educate oneself. People of MENATH countries should feel proud when they see a non-middle easterner perform here in the USA if they are doing their job right. Elegance never goes out of style.

Ok, stepping off of the soapbox. What are your most annoying oriental or fetish marketing ploys or tactics you have seen regarding belly dancers here in the USA?