This has been a very emotional couple of days for me. We all know of the current problem that has come up around Tribal Fest®. If you need to catch up, you can read the official statement from the teachers and vendors who have decided to withdraw, and Tribal Fest’s® (Kajira’s) official response as well as Chuck’s apology.
While I was not specifically targeted (as far as I know all the dancers who were have been contacted; I have not been) this entire situation impacts me pretty personally, as well as professionally.
I have been a Tribal Fest® instructor as well as staff, performer, and attendee. I have encouraged my students, colleagues, and friends to go. While I had only been twice, I felt supported and welcomed by the amazing community there. I’ve made friends there, got to reunite with friends there, and got to take workshops with the biggest names in belly dance there. I have many fond memories there, as I felt welcomed and part of a family.
And so this situation has me horrified, disappointed, shocked, and sad. And now angry. My heart goes out to Kajira, who must now pick up the pieces after a horrible betrayal by someone who is supposed to be a woman’s biggest supporter: her spouse.
After the release of the initial statement from the teachers, I gathered some information that led me to decide to no longer support Tribal Fest®. This came about after many agonizing hours. To be clear: the names on this list are some of the biggest names in belly dance. They did not come to this decision lightly. This has been going on for some time, not just the three days that it has been public. You can be certain that lawyers were called and that much deliberation went into this decision. For many of the instructors and vendors, Tribal Fest® was their biggest week. They would not lightly put their entire livelihood and reputation at risk for rumors, for something that wasn’t as serious as this has turned out to be. I have not seen actual screenshots but I have read descriptions of the posts and they are about as disgusting as you can imagine.
This was a betrayal, pure and simple. A person in power used that power to demean, degrade, and dehumanize both men and women in the community. While I have not seen the actual postings, there are claims of not only misogyny, but also homophobia and transphobia.
I am part of the LGBTQ+ community and I cannot stand for that.
I have to say that I am disappointed in the official response to this situation. There are many questions left and, now coming to light, “inaccuracies.” Chuck’s apology leaves much to be desired. In addition, his response to comments on his post has shown that he is not yet ready for forgiveness or amends, however sincere his apology may seem. Right now, he is angry and sorry he got caught. I hope, for his sake and for the community’s sake, that he grows and truly becomes sorry for what he did. We must remember that we cannot force people to change. People must be willing to change for it to happen.
It is unfair that Kajira must now suffer for the actions of her husband. This is a tough lesson. We are all connected, and everything we say and do affects those around us, whether we are aware of it or not. Chuck and Kajira are learning this the hard way, and I do feel sorry for them both.
Yet I have decided that I still cannot support Tribal Fest®. I will not be at TF16. It is too soon. I have not been asked to teach this year (though I had applied), and I do not know what the future holds since so many other teachers have pulled out. But if I am approached to teach, I will have to decline.
We must keep one thing in mind over the next few days and weeks: a thing is not a person. A thing cannot be a victim. An event cannot be a victim. There are real victims, victims of a form of violence, that are suffering right now. The (possible) closure of an event, no matter how beloved, pales in comparison to what the victims are going through. I support the victims of this terrible situation and stand by them.
I have the utmost respect for Kajira and the enormous amount of work she has put into the festival, as well as all the teachers, vendors, and students who have chosen to continue to support her and Tribal Fest®. This should not be an “us vs. them” situation. People make business and conscience decisions every day, and we must respect each person’s decision, even if we disagree with them.
It is my sincere and fervent hope that Tribal Fest® will someday return to its glory days. But that will not – and should not – happen while Chuck is still involved in any way, directly or indirectly. We must take a stand against violent, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic speech. We must send a clear message that this is Not Okay in our community and will not be tolerated at all, even if tears down the party and ruins everyone’s fun. It is a hard lesson to learn, but one that is necessary.
Will I ever return to Tribal Fest®? I hope so. But not until much healing and many amends have been made. Will Tribal Fest® survive? I hope so, though it will never be the same. That might be for the best.
Love to all who have been hurt by this, and I hope that healing begins soon for everyone. I wish Kajira the best.
Edit: Abusive comments will be deleted.
How is your Spring going? It snowed yesterday here in ChiBeria. Not very Spring-like, is it?!
Let’s get onto the challenge for this last full week of March!
There’s been a lot going around lately about cultural appropriation, and whether or not is is okay for white (American/Western) women to belly dance. A lot has already been said, and there are others who have mirrored my opinions on it, so I am not going to go on about that here. Let’s just say that people do have the right to be angry over things that offend them. But I also believe that insulting people is the wrong way to handle that anger. There is no need to increase the wrong by being insulting, racist, or by thin-shaming. When you do this, you only alienate the object of your anger and completely invalidate your points (in their view). People will get defensive and then never listen to the completely valid points you do have. And I mean this about BOTH SIDES of the argument.
As belly dancers, and participants in a culture that is not our own, we are required to be respectful and knowledgeable about that culture. It is NOT up to others to educate you. It is up to you, and you alone.
It is unfortunate that my first teacher never taught me anything about any of the cultures she was borrowing from. When I “came out” onto the rest of the belly dance scene, I was way behind. I didn’t know any of the famous dancers of the Golden Age, didn’t know any of the “must know” songs or what they meant, and I certainly did not know the true roots of this dance. I was horrified at my lack of knowledge, and immediately began trying to find out everything I could.
This week, your challenge is to do the same. If you are unfamiliar with the history of belly dance, please use this week to educate yourself. Look up articles online. Talk to your teacher (maybe request a special class just on history?). If you don’t know anything about cultural appropriation, here is a good start (though it is not specifically about belly dance, and I find myself disagreeing with one point. Please see below for that point).
Use this week to go deeper into the meaning of your dance. Why do we wear bedlahs (what is a bedlah?!) or some dancers dance in heels and others don’t? Where did Tribal Fusion come from? Who, in your opinion, is the most important belly dancer of all time, or just of the modern age? What country (or countries) does your dance come from and why? What are the differences between the different styles of traditional belly dance?
All these questions are good starting points as a way to educate yourself about your dance. Even if you perform Tribal Fusion, you should know where the roots of your dance come from, and why you are using them.
If we join in the conversation about cultural appropriation and belly dance respectfully and knowledgeably, and help to politely and respectfully educate others, then maybe we can cut down on the number of hateful articles about belly dance, white belly dancers, and “this is not belly dance.”
Please keep in mind, too, that these challenges are only a week. A week is not enough time to fully educate yourself on any aspect of belly dance. The challenges are meant to be just that. A challenge. Can you do this in a week? Can you build a practice, one week at a time? They are meant to get you used to practicing (or researching) every day. So let’s do it! Every single day!
Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!
Here’s my comment about the cultural appropriation article I linked. It is true that when cultural appropriation is pointed out that it is not meant to be personal. However, there have been too many times where I have seen that it has gotten personal. That is not okay. It is okay to say, “It’s wrong when [this dominant culture] appropriates [this other culture] by wearing [this object from the other culture].” That is a statement of fact. However, it is NOT okay to say, “These ugly, stupid, evil, insensitive [racial group], they have no idea what harm they are personally causing me because they are [wearing this object from my culture] or [doing this activity from my culture.]” Even if it is true (which it might be), insulting an entire racial or ethnic group is not helpful. When people do this, they come off as whiny victims who are petty and overly sensitive. I’m not saying that they are, but that is how they appear to others. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to point out when others are harming you or your culture. It is okay to ask people to stop. It is not okay to insult. You are shooting yourself in the foot if the first thing you do is insult an entire group of people (“sins of our enemies,” and all that, you know…)
I have, previously, been accused of derailing arguments by calling for rational discussion of controversial subjects. Fine. But unless and until we can all peaceably sit down and talk about things rationally, without insults, yelling, or the constant need to blame others or be victims, then nothing will change. Yes, anger is what makes things change by rattling cages and shocking people. But anger can be used without causing harm to others, and that is what I am calling for. When has insulting someone EVER changed their mind? Anyone? Examples?
[Edit:] changed a few words for clarity in my point that were not caught in the initial editing.
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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”