I think belly dance has a critique problem. I’m sure you are either rolling your eyes or screaming out agreement at the screen about now. So here’s what I mean.
First, there’s this video:
For those who don’t want to watch, it’s Beyonce and co. revealing their rear ends and dancing very provocatively to Enta Omri. Yeah, I find it pretty offensive too, but not for the reasons apparently a lot of other belly dancers do. I think it was culturally insensitive (and offensive) of her to use this song in this way. I also have issue with the track record of popular artists who steal music for their own use and manage to get away with it, so I am skeptical that she got the permission to use this piece (admittedly, I have no proof of this, and is pure conjecture…).
However, this video was posted into a group where the comments turned pretty quickly to body and slut shaming. Find any post of burlesque fused with belly dance, and you get the same thing. “Gross,” “disgusting,” and “shameful” are the adjectives used the most.
Guys, this is not okay.
I find it shameful that a group of people who claim to be body positive, who dance and shake their rear ends around in body revealing costumes go around and shame others for being body positive, who show a lot of skin while shaking their rear ends dancing. Come on. We should know better than this by now. While YOU may not want to dance like Beyonce, lots of other people do, and that’s okay. Her dancing isn’t any less valid than yours.
The root of the problem (other than internalized misogyny) is that belly dancers, in general, do not know how to give or receive critical feedback.
One of the causes of this problem is that many belly dancers do not start out as artists who choose dance. They do not go to college or to art schools to learn. They do not come up in dance schools where critique is part of the curriculum (although there are many dancers that do).
I think it is one of the best things about belly dance that we are so supportive of others, but it is also one of the worst. Why? Because we don’t want to give each other critical feedback. We just tell them “Nice job!” or “Beautiful costume!” and never give them anything else. That kind of feedback is USELESS to a serious artist. While it makes us feel good (especially when given by someone we admire or respect), it does not help us grow as artists or dancers.
Because we are not trained to give useful feedback, we tend to attack what we ARE trained to critique: the bodies, personalities, and choices of other women. So when we watch something we do not like, instead of telling the dancer what they need to work on, we attack (behind their back) their costume choice, their body shape, how they did their makeup, how offended we were at their music choice (how DARE they do fusion), or how much skin they were revealing with the costume. This is USELESS to an artist as well, and harmful.
Yes, dancers make bad choices in music, costuming, and makeup. But that doesn’t mean we have to make fun of them or shame them for it. We certainly should not be shaming them for what their bodies or faces look like. We should not be shaming them for revealing too much skin. Saying things like, “Her dad must be so proud of her” is slut shaming, and is not constructive.
As artists, we need to find a balance between giving feedback that is helpful, and being shaming to our fellow dancers.
The other side of the coin is, of course, being willing to receive feedback. We need to learn how to take the critiques of others (as long as they are given as helpful critique and not harmful shaming) and not get offended. If someone tells me I need to work on my arms, and hey, they really like this DVD on arms, I will thank them and check it out.
I’m not saying we have to like everything our fellow dancers do, nor am I saying that we should give feedback to every dancer that walks past us. Unsolicited feedback is especially unwelcome to any dancer, seasoned or new.
So the next time you see a performance – belly dance or hip hop or anything else – please remember that a human is on the other end and to be kind to them. Slut and body shaming is what is more shameful than a tasteless performance.
Note: I also really like this blog piece, and almost posted it instead of writing this blog. But I think my thoughts on how to give critique to other dancers is useful, so I decided to go ahead and post this.
I have debated myself long and hard whether to post anything about this. But I have made my decision, for good or ill.
Some of you may know that today is National Coming Out Day. I have made no secret that I am part of the LGBTQ+ community, but I have been quieter about what, exactly, that means. Due to the nature of belly dance, I have worried about my standing in the community, my reputation as a dancer, and my business. I realize that by doing this, I will alienate a large section of people. There will be some who believe I have no place in belly dance and there will be those who will not want to work with me any more.
But that’s okay, because I don’t need those sorts of people in my life. They do me no good, nor do they do anyone else any good, either. Bigotry has run unchecked for too long.
I am genderqueer. I am a trans person. Specifically, I am transmasculine*.
Many of you have big question marks over your heads, and I totally understand. It took me a LONG TIME to figure this out for myself. It means that I do not view myself as a woman. However, I do not view myself as a man. I am not a trans man. But I do feel that I am masculine. For about six months now, I have been taking testosterone treatments. They have changed my life. I am happier, calmer, and feel more like myself than I have since high school, when I dressed and acted more masculine than I do now.
What does this mean for belly dance? Hopefully, not a whole lot. I will still continue to teach and perform as Kamrah. That will not change. At the moment, I still present as female and will for a while. However, I do have future plans for surgery and that will affect my appearance. When that happens, I will definitely have a shift in how I present myself on stage. I will likely appear much more masculine on stage when that happens, and I will likely be introduced using masculine pronouns. I ask that people respect that decision. However, in day to day life, I prefer gender neutral pronouns, such as “they” and “them.” I realize some people will have apoplexy due to grammar rules, but hey, if it’s good for Shakespeare, it’s good for you. As Kamrah, for now, however, female pronouns are appropriate and fine with me.
This does not change me as a performer or a person. I am still the same person I have always been, except that now you know more about how I feel inside. I have always felt this way, but have had difficulty expressing it. If you want to know more about my journey, I have started a different blog, called Divergent Lifestyles, that talks a little bit about it.
I am willing to answer RESPECTFUL questions. If you need to know what that means, please check here before asking deeply personal questions. Due to the sensitivity of this, I am closing comments. If you want to say something to me, you can do it on Facebook or Twitter where I can see who you are (and report you if necessary…but let’s not get to that, okay?)
Thank you to all who have supported me. Some of you have known about this, and I appreciate your willingness to be there for me.
*Transmasculine: I do not mean the toxic definition of masculine that many people are familiar with. I mean that I feel my body should have more masculine features instead of the feminine features I was born with.