Critique vs. Shaming

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.

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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.

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About Kamrah

Kamrah is a belly dancer in Chicago, IL. They started belly dance as an exercise routine but it turned into a passion for dance that has not lessened, even after more than a decade. They have a powerful presence on the stage, and is particularly known for their amazing shimmies. Kamrah is also known as a very versatile belly dancer, and audiences have come to expect the unexpected from them. Performances can be anything from traditional Egyptian, to tribal fusion, to fantasy cosplay (costume play) pieces.

11 responses to “Critique vs. Shaming”

  1. Rachael Raqs says :

    I’m glad you did decide to write your own post, this is really good 🙂

  2. tales1001 says :

    I think you have hit a very good point here. A critique of any kind should have nothing to do with the style of dance. I do not like modern but I respect and appreciate the work that goes into it. It is just a dance form I do not favor. There are many that I do not favor for me. In belly dancing the problem is lack of education by students from teachers who lack education who then become part of our scene as uneducated performers. They do not know good dance from bad. If some one wants to be a stripper, be one. It is not for me. But damn it be as good as you can be, which means get it right. Do not do what you you half- a–ed and then call it talent or dance. As Martha Graham once said there is only 2 types of dance good & bad. Honey, if you don’t want to hear the negative do not become a dancer. It is tough and the work never ends. Be what you want to be , be good and do not pretend it is belly dance if it is not.

  3. Jemileh says :

    Thank you, this is such truth.

  4. Phillip Shurtleff says :

    As a male who has become a fan of belly dance, been on the board of a belly dance not-for-profit for over a decade, performed, and written performances I think I can competently comment. The topic is much greater than implied here. In my case, I never critique a dancer. I’ll leave that to those with much better experience and are asked for their critique. I keep myself solely in the supportive role no matter who dances. It takes a lot of courage for a dancer who doesn’t fit some image ideal to get up there and perform, so I try to reward that courage with compliments and encouragement which can always be done in a truthful way if one is paying attention.

    The bigger topic is not how much or even what skin is shown, rather, the purpose behind it. I’ll enjoy an emotionally driven and explicit love scene in a movie but feel a severe lacking when seeing pornography. The reason is, for want of a better phrase, the “soul” in the action. I’ve seen dances that involved total nudity but didn’t consider them to be sexual whereas some of the current pop artists won’t be showing much of any skin but perform in a way that seems childishly vulgar. It seems that folks mix up beauty and love with selfish animal attraction and lust. So where is the line drawn between the two?

    • Kamrah says :

      The problem shouldn’t be why they are showing skin or not. There is nothing wrong with showing skin. There is nothing wrong with bodies, no matter what shape, size, or color. To say something is vulgar is shaming. If you don’t approve of it, that is your prerogative. But don’t expect people to agree with you, or to necessarily be nice about it. There is nothing wrong with sex, or love, or lust. That, too, is shaming. It is putting your value system on someone else. Again, if you don’t like it, that’s your prerogative. But don’t shame people who enjoy sex, or who enjoy showing their bodies (that is what this whole post is about…slut-shaming is the shaming, or looking-down-upon, those people who enjoy their bodies through sex, sexy activities, etc.) There is nothing wrong with stripping, with sex, with porn, or with enjoying any of those activities. There doesn’t need to be a line drawn. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it, but be respectful and don’t shame those who do like it.

  5. rakdancermom says :

    I have been seeing lots of crazy comments about this video – your thoughtful and insightful post is the most helpful I have read. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. Perfect!

  6. Nikki says :

    I like the “sandwich” technique. Give a positive, then the critique, then another positive statement. That’s a good teaching technique.
    Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. Juana says :

    I LOVE this piece! Thank you for your promotion of helpful feedback, and no to slut shaming.

    I’m sharing with dance friends.

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