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 try to keep it positive here on the blog. But I’ve been noticing–thankfully not experiencing (at least, as far as I can tell)–some worrying problems in the belly dance community.
One of the best things about being a belly dancer is being able to work with wonderful, talented ladies. The problem is that women tend to be vicious to one another. This is sad. Egos get over-inflated, dancers get defensive and easily insulted. Back-biting happens over gigs and professional ethics. Body shaming happens (luckily not as often in our community as in the rest of the country), friendships end, whole communities get split apart. People vaguebook.
Consider this a friendly reminder that there is such a thing as libel and slander. For those who don’t know, these are legal terms that apply to attacking a person in speech or print (falsely) and making it difficult, or impossible, for the victim to get work (in other words, some damage to their finances occurs) due to the attack on their character. Libel and slander are illegal, and you can get sued for them.
While it’s difficult to prove in court (libel and slander must be believable, untrue, and have caused harm), do you really want to risk having your name dragged through the mud for a libel or slander suit? Do you really want to put your community into that situation?
Keep the old adage in mind: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. And keep your nose in your own business.
Working in the “real world” (feel free to eye roll), when giving recommendations to potential employers, supervisors have to be very careful what they say. If they did not like the employee applicant in question, they can tell the truth, but they must be careful not to put personal judgements in their answers. If the employee applicant was lazy and never did their job, they cannot say that. What they can say is more like, “This employee did not meet the goals set for them.” While some will scream “political correctness,” this is the reality. To do otherwise opens the supervisor and the company to slander and libel suits. Any amount of exaggeration or personal opinion can be construed as slander or libel, and therefore subject to a suit.
Likewise in the dance community. If you did not like working with a dancer, then instead of slamming her (even on Facebook!), don’t say anything*. If someone, say a potential employer or director, asks you about that dancer, be honest, but keep your judgements and personal feelings to yourself. Stick to the facts. If you found her to be rude and irresponsible, or felt she had insulted you in some way, you can’t (or, rather, shouldn’t) say that. If you must say something, then politely state that you found her to be difficult to work with. Period. If the potential employer presses, again, stick to the facts. Say…because you did not get her music when requested, she did not show up to rehearsals, and was late to the show. Don’t say, “She’s so rude! I can’t stand her. She does this to get back at me for the time I didn’t go to her show because I was sick!”
(Note: I have a lot to say about professionalism in dance, and separating our professional lives from our personal ones…watch out for another blog post once I edit it and decide I won’t immediately get flamed for it).
And if you hear that a dancer is a rhymes-with-witch, and that’s it, keep this in mind. It might be gossip. It might be true. But don’t let slander or libel crush a dancer’s chances at a gig. It’s not legal…and you could find yourself entangled in something you don’t want any part of. If you hear something like this from another dancer, ask them why. Get facts, not opinions or personal feelings.
If it gets out that someone was not hired because of something another dancer said or heard, then you are vulnerable to a suit. People gossip, and someone may tell the wrong person and suddenly you find yourself in hot water for what you thought was just gossip.
Everyone gossips (yes, even me…). But let’s just be aware that gossip is not always innocuous. Let’s all support each other, and keep our negative opinions to ourselves.
And let’s not even get into the “She doesn’t deserve gigs!” territory, okay? That, too, is a judgement that none of us are qualified to make.
*I realize that many situations we dancers find ourselves dealing with require the opinions and support of other professional dancers, and many of us have turned to Facebook groups for help. That is fine, but I have seen many of those pleas for help turn into nothing more than the bashing of some dancer that did something to another dancer. This isn’t helpful (though I do understand it is therapeutic). Let’s still stick to the facts when searching for help in thorny ethical dilemmas.
Hello fellow dancers! It’s Monday, and it’s time for another weekly belly dance challenge! This week is going to be a little different.
Costuming in belly dance can be almost as important as your movements. Different styles of belly dance use different costuming, but it can be jarring to see practice wear on the stage. I’ve seen it. In fact, this post was inspired by a friend’s post on Facebook about “blinged out” practice gear being considered for performances. Yuck.
You see, professional belly dancers are trying very hard to get belly dance to be seen as a legitimate dance form. Belly dance is not easy to master, but a lot of people take a few classes, buy a $60 costume off eBay and start calling themselves professionals. Not cool.
Even if you have no intent of ever being a professional, it’s still a good idea to figure out what style of costuming is appropriate. Hence, this week’s challenge.
Beginner: You probably aren’t ready for performance yet, and that’s okay! But, you may at some point dance at a hafla with a student troupe. Student costuming, necessarily, is quite different from professional costuming. But it still should not be practice wear. A sports bra and a raggedy pair of Melodias is not appropriate for a student costume, even at a student hafla. So what’s the challenge? Don’t worry, it’s not going to break your bank! Think of this as a scavenger hunt! Watch some videos, browse costuming sites like Dahlal, or sites like Etsy. Take a look at what other student troupes in different styles are wearing. For Tribal, choli tops and colorful skirts work really well. For cabaret, previously owned costumes may still be too expensive. Try a half top and skirt from L. Rose instead. Don’t worry about buying them, just take a look at what others are wearing and what’s available. Every day this week spend a few minutes looking at sites, and see what’s out there. Stay away from bra tops that still look like bras (you shouldn’t be able to see the underwire, the thin lingerie straps, or the normal lingerie hooks), and from sports bras with necklaces pinned to them. Can you make a dream costume for under $80?
Intermediate: It’s definitely time for student haflas! If you are in a student troupe, you may already have a troupe costume. Take a look at it. Is it a bra with a necklace draped over it? Did you make it yourself? If you did, that’s great, but is the bra completely covered? Your challenge is going to be similar this week. Look at your own stuff, and look at what other troupes are wearing (remember that this is not a comparison challenge…you aren’t trying to find out if your costumes are better or worse than someone else’s; you are looking just to see what other people are wearing). Take a look at the sites listed above and see if maybe you can put together a good student costume for under $80. Again, don’t worry about buying it, just see what’s out there, and what you should be wearing. Again, stay away from uncovered bras and sets that look like craft-store projects.
Advanced: If you are a professional dancer, you should know better than to go on stage, representing belly dance as an art form, wearing an uncovered bra with some stuff slapped onto it and yoga pants. While not every costume has to be a Bella with half your yearly income worth of rhinestones on it, it should still be appropriate for the style and venue. I’ve seen professionals, at a show that I had to pay to get into, doing a traditional cabaret set in a choli tops and yoga pants. Not cool. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that your costume is as much a part of the show as your dancing. Why do you think cover-ups are such a big deal (oh, don’t get me started…you DO have a cover-up, right?). If your piece calls for a choli top and yoga pants, then go ahead and wear them. I’ve seen excellent performances in those items, but they fit the piece and the style. Your challenge is to go through your own closet and take a long, hard look at your costumes. Do you have any that are inappropriate (uncovered bras, plastic beading, etc.)? If so, don’t throw them out, just keep in mind that those are more appropriate for practice. If you don’t have any appropriate costumes, see what you can’t find on those websites. A good starter professional costume will only set you back about $150. Get one in silver or gold, and then buy a bunch of different colored skirts, and you have more than one costume that won’t send you into debt! Tribal ladies have the same challenge. Too many Tribal bras are plain black lingerie bras with some coins sewn on. See if you can’t find some that are covered instead.
Let’s all up the standards of belly dance costuming, okay? Believe me, if your costume is too distracting because it’s inappropriate, people will not remember you for your dancing, no matter how good it is. And for those just beginning, early education on appropriate costuming means you won’t be wasting your money later on if you do decide to perform!
Many bloggers (including me) write primarily about how to be a good dancer, how to improve yourself, how to stretch and reach for the stars. But not too many write on how to be a good audience member, especially if you are a dancer. We think, hey, I’m a dancer, and I know how I want an audience to behave. But what might be acceptable to you may not be to another dancer. Here are some tips for being a good audience member.
- Never show up in costume to another performer’s gig. This is just about as rude as you can get. If you want to see another dancer perform, and you have a gig afterwards, show up in your street clothes (or dressy clothes, whatever is appropriate for the venue) and change once you get to your gig (and not in the dressing room of the other dancer)
- Even if you are capable of this or this, DO NOT zill through another dancer’s set, unless she has specifically asked you to. It’s great that you know how to zill, and it’s wonderful that you want to participate in the show, but keep it to your own set. You may distract the dancer (and the audience) or cover up the accents she is trying to hit, or, horrors, not be playing the right rhythm! I’ve had this happen to me too much, ruining sets and video because someone was zilling through my set.
- If you do not like the dancer, don’t bad mouth her before, during, or after her set, especially in the hearing of other audience members. When she is performing, it is her stage, her moment, no matter how much you don’t like her. Let her have her time on the stage. And, to be fair, if you don’t like a dancer, you shouldn’t bad mouth her ever. Keep it to yourself.
- If you do not like a performer’s set, song, style, or skill level, also keep it to yourself. Clap politely (or not) at the end. Please do not loudly proclaim how you can do so much better, or wave your hands wildly in dismissal, or cluck unappreciatively. I’ve seen all three of those from other belly dancers, and it is so rude. This is childish behavior and will reflect more on you than on the dancer.
- Please do help get a dead crowd going. Most Americans are taught to sit quietly and politely through a performance, and this can kill the energy of a belly dance show. Help a girl out and show the audience that it is okay to clap, make noise, and tip the dancer. The dancer should be the one to handle this, but there are some crowds that need more help than others.
- And finally, the best thing you can do to be a good audience member is…show up! If you have no intention of going, don’t reply with a “yes” on Facebook (this can give the dancer higher expectations and when no one comes, be a big disappointment). Support other dancers in your community by going to their events, even if you are not performing.
Tribal Fest 2012 is now over, and the videos are rolling in. So, apparently, are the negative comments. I’ve tried to keep myself out of it as much as possible, because 1) I don’t have the time, and 2) it’s infuriating and I don’t need my head to explode.
Why is there such a problem with tribal fusion belly dance? Why do so many dancers either hate it or love it?
I’ve blogged about this before and seen some snarky comments about “oh, I’m an *artist* so I can do what I want” blah, blah, blah. This is a really negative and childish attitude to take, and doesn’t help the already not-so-great image of belly dance. Yes, ALL dancers are artists, and we can do whatever we want, within reason. If I want to “I’ll wrap my small intestines ’round my neck/And set fire to myself on stage” because I “perform this way.*” Dance is an art, and art is about creativity. We aren’t going to stop dancing just because a few people can’t expand their horizons and appreciate the art, skill, and talent that goes into tribal fusion, even if they don’t particularly care for it.
I’m not going to retread my entire previous blog post, because you can just go read that. But I will say this, and put it in bullets to make it clearer:
- Belly Dance is already a fusion art. Even “traditional” dance has movements from different cultures and art forms. Modern belly dance wasn’t conceived of, fully formed, in a vacuum. If you don’t believe me, watch this video and then ask yourself if this is how YOU belly dance (and gee…that certainly looks like an ommi to me…) For comparison, here is a modern Egyptian belly dancer. Don’t much look the same, do they?
- “Art isn’t safe” (a quote I heard from Rob Zombie). If it makes you angry, I’ve done my job. Art–including dancing–speaks to our emotions, and it doesn’t always have to be the happy, safe, glittery kind of emotions. I’ve seen belly dance so beautiful, I’ve cried. I’ve seen belly dance so powerful I was riveted to my seat and wouldn’t have noticed if I had started drooling. Fusion dancers: when some narrow-minded person tells you that what you are doing isn’t belly dance, just keep the thought, “They felt something, so I did my job,” in mind. At least they are watching your videos and commenting on them.
- If you don’t like it, DON’T WATCH IT. And don’t be a jerk and make negative comments. It devalues all of us. At least respect the skill and the time that went into learning and perfecting the movements, picking out the music, doing the choreography (yes, fusion dancers often choreograph), rehearsing, pulling together the costuming, putting on the makeup, getting over the stage fright, and opening our hearts and souls to the audience. For many of us (introverts), sharing our art is giving you a peek into our souls. Don’t devalue that by commenting, “That isn’t belly dance! I hate fusion.”
I’m going to go take some deep breaths now to calm down. In the meantime, don’t forget to go read my full blog on this subject.
*Lyrics from Weird Al’s “Perform This Way”
Okay, I know you’ve probably heard or read other dancers discussing proper belly dance costuming, but apparently we aren’t speaking loudly enough, or typing fast enough. Or something. Because this is still not getting the attention it deserves.
Everyone has costuming problems. I have yet to sit through a belly dance show without some sort of costume mishap. And sometimes, it’s even my mishap. It happens to us all. No matter how many times we practice in it and how many metal detectors go off because of the safety pins, when you get on stage a skirt will slip a little too far. Or you have no idea what you were thinking when you bought that latest fringed crasseled monstrosity. Or your hair flowers are determined to fall off everywhere you go, even after resorting to Super Glue. Or the color ended up looking hideous on you after all. I’ve even seen an A-list belly dance star, in a professional show, actually stop dancing to remove a costume piece that was not cooperating (she handled it gracefully and with a sense of humor, so it was not embarrassing). It happens, and it happens to all of us.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that we can do to prevent it. There are guidelines we can follow to present ourselves as professional dancers, and not professional strippers. Yes, I just said that.
Rule #1: NO UNCOVERED BRAS. This continues the stereotype that we are strippers, and is UNACCEPTABLE. If an audience can see the bra straps and hooks, it is not properly covered. A single swag of beads or a few feathers glued onto a lingerie bra is NOT a costume. Do you really want your audience to be thinking, “Is she wearing…a bra?” No, they should be thinking, “Wow, what a beautiful costume. Look at the bead work.” We are NOT up there to dance in our underwear. If funding is an issue, there are functional new costumes available for less than $200, and used ones on Bhuz.com, eBay, etc. for less (or more).
Rule #2: NO VISIBLE SAFETY PINS. Yes, we all use safety pins to make sure that our belts don’t migrate around our skirts, but they should not be visible. Also, if you are concerned that your bra will pop open, you should consider stronger (or more) hooks (the proper kind, NOT the lingerie kind) and placing a safety pin on the UNDERSIDE of the strap. This will probably require assistance but is better than having a huge, visible safety pin obviously keeping your bra closed. You can disregard this rule for any 70s/80s punk-inspired looks.
Rule #3: WEAR A COSTUME THAT FITS. Be honest with yourself. Belly dance is a beautiful art form that embraces women of all sizes and ages–and that’s one of its most wonderful aspects. But no matter how thin or fat or in-between you are, muffin tops and armpit bulges are not pretty. This also goes the other way. If you have to stuff a sock in it, you need to get a smaller size. Yes, we CAN see the sock. If your skirt slips, add elastic, safety pins, or wear a body stocking to pin it to. (Disclaimer: I’ve probably made this mistake the most…because I lost a lot of weight and suddenly nothing fit and I had gigs. But I got new costumes ASAP.)
Rule #4: WEAR A COSTUME THAT FITS THE PIECE. Asharah recently posted a blog that should be required reading for any belly dancer. If you are performing a classic Egyptian piece, don’t wear yoga pants, please. Although there is such a thing as tribaret costuming, and that’s cool. Just don’t call it a classical Egyptian piece. People will be confused when they expect a bright shiny bedlah or a sleek and modest dress and end up with yoga pants and a halter top. If you read my previous post, you should know that I have NO problem with fusion and pushing boundaries. But your costume should still match the piece. When I danced as a zombie Nurse from the Silent Hill games , I dressed like a zombie Nurse from the Silent Hill games. No shiny things there. And yes, there was fake blood, just like I promised.
Rule #5: PRIVATES REMAIN PRIVATE, meaning your costume should fit (see above) and should be modest enough that your privates do not hang or pop out, even in your most athletic movements. It also means you should be wearing proper underwear for the costume. I’m not saying don’t wear daring costumes; I’m saying make sure they are merely daring and not scandalous.
This topic is getting into dead-horse territory, yet I still see these mistakes. I’ve even made some of them myself. This post isn’t meant to point fingers or embarrass anyone; I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had some whoopsie costume moments. I fix the problem and move on, and so should you!
Let’s talk about fusion belly dance. To some in the belly dance community, “fusion” is a dirty word, met with eye-rolling disdain. Many claim that fusion dancers only call themselves fusion because they aren’t good enough to do any other form of “real” belly dance. Or they are looked on as invaders from other dance styles who throw in a couple of hip shakes and call themselves belly dancers. Or they are snidely called “artists” (again with the eye-rolling) because these dancers want to take belly dance in a non-traditional direction.
I’m a little biased, as I am a fusion dancer, but these responses are pretty disrespectful to those of us who work hard at our craft, spend vast amounts of money and time on classes, costuming, and performances, and love fusion with as much passion as any “traditional” dancer and her art. Yes, there will be dancers who really aren’t that great, or dancers who put on a purple hip scarf and black makeup and sell themselves as professional fusion belly dancers, but that’s true of all art forms.
I am also a “traditional” belly dancer, in that I dance Egyptian and Lebanese styles. While I know I’m not the only dancer that sits on the dual performer fence, I am one of the few that I know of that equally love both styles. Traditional belly dance changed my life. Fusion belly dance changed my life. Before I knew what fusion (specifically gothic belly dance) was, I enjoyed belly dance and had fun with it, but I had never thought about it being more than just an interesting (and slightly weird) hobby and a way to lose weight without going to the gym. But once I found fusion, I knew that was what I needed to be doing. Fusion belly dance is why I am where I am now. But I am always called back to the grace and elegance (and the sparklies) of the more traditional forms of belly dance.
So why I am writing this blog?
It’s time to educate fellow dancers about fusion. I know I won’t convince everyone of the value of fusion, but please, do take some time to read what I have to say about art and fusion and belly dance.
Belly dance is a folkloric dance with deep roots in many of the countries in the Middle East and western Asia. Therefore, it has a long history—and a murky one—but one that comes from many places. Belly dance as we know it is already a fusion, a distillation of these folkloric dances into what we know today. Do you really think Egyptian dancers were wearing sequined bedlahs way back when? Ballet was later incorporated into more modern belly dance, so most belly dancers today are already fusion dancers. I might be wrong, but I don’t think ballet is traditionally Egyptian.
It gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?
Since belly dance is a traditional dance and a part of several cultures, it deserves respect and preservation. There should always be dancers that peer into the past and try to get the roots of the dance. There should always be dancers willing to travel to Egypt and Lebanon (and elsewhere) to study with the “real deal” in order to preserve and promote traditional belly dancing.
Yet belly dance, like all dance forms, is an art. What is art? According to one dictionary, it is: 1. The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, and 2. works produced by such skill and imagination. There’s that pesky word . . . “creative.” And another pesky word . . . “imagination.”
I’m not saying that traditional belly dance is not creative or imaginative. But creativity and imagination don’t like limitations and will often burst forth violently when held too much in check.
That is what happened to me. As I mentioned before, I loved belly dance in its more traditional forms. But seeing fusion for the first time lit my brain on fire. After first watching Ariellah and Asharah dance, I spent one sleepless night planning, scheming, and imagining all the wonderful things I could do with an art form I loved but without boundaries, without fetters, without limits. I could barely contain the rush of creativity that burst forth from me as I thought about what belly dance could do for me, and what I could do with it.
Belly dance is an art. And art should never, ever be limited. Art should push boundaries, crash through walls of culture and class, and make people angry, sad, happy, horrified, thoughtful . . . It should unite us as humans, the only animal on this planet that creates art, and it should be considered precious. Art is what makes us well rounded human beings. It shows us our sensitive sides or our darker sides. It makes us uncomfortable while at the same time bringing us home and bringing forth our inner light. How awesome is it that we can communicate the deepest feelings we have without ever saying a single word?
Do you really want to limit something so beautiful and so precious as creativity? As children, our creativity is crushed under the heavy weight of school, responsibility, and growing up. We let our creativity die—or sometimes we kill it—in order to sanely work in sterile environments like cubicle farms or in jobs we detest. Only a few, who aren’t dissuaded by constant comments like, “When are you going to get a real job?” from parents maintain that creative spark and develop it to become the painters, dancers, and other artists we know.
I’m not willing to kill my creativity in order to limit myself to just one form of dance. And now I can almost hear those eye rolling in their sockets. “Oh, she’s just another ‘artist,’” you say sarcastically. Yep, that I am. I am an artist, and I will continue to belly dance to music you hate or to fuse belly dance and other dance styles in order to make you angry or uncomfortable. Or maybe it will make you happy or perhaps even inspire you. If I’ve made you feel anything, I’ve done my job.
Fusion belly dance is here to stay. Belly dance as an art form is going to grow and mutate and break its limitations whether you like it or not. Even traditional belly dance has grown and changed. We don’t live in a vacuum, and even traditional-style belly dancers will take movements they like from other dance forms, and, suddenly, everyone is doing it, not realizing that it really isn’t a belly dance move. Fusion dancers are just more open about it when “stealing” movements and styles from other dance forms.
This is not to say that we should completely discard the traditional. Tradition always has its place, and it should be honored because of it. But stay too hide-bound, and you stifle the very creativity and inspiration that developed the art form in the first place. Let art grow, but respectfully and in full awareness of the traditional.
I hope this at least makes you stop and think before you snort and wave dismissively at the next fusion performer you see (yes, I have seen this happen during a belly dance show). She has every right to take belly dance in her direction, just as you have the right to keep the traditional alive and well. If you don’t like it, then at least be respectful enough of those around you to let them watch an artist perform.