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.