Friday, March 7, 2014

Why I can't stand any belly dancers

Randa Jarrar, a beloved author whom I meet breifly in 2006, has recently written an article in Salon called "Why I can't stand white belly dancers."

What a shit storm this has generated, mostly from the very white belly dancers the article is addressed towards.  Well of course they are gong to get upset, Ms. Jarrar, you just burst their bubble.

It's hard to hold up a mirror to the belly dance community and ask them to examine why they need the name and the get-up, what is thier fascination with all the Hollywood gimmicks surrounding this dance?

You told them that the dance they are doing is not culturally yours, despite the fact that they've been told otherwise for years.

In fact you say it plain and clear in the start of paragraph two: "The term “belly dance” itself is a Western one."

However, everyone seems to be caught up in the word *gasp* white in the title, and ignoring the entire point of the article. 

And for those that are curious, but never got around to clicking the link, this is what Fifi Abdo looks like, dressed in robes, dancing at a Arab celebration, in the video Ms. Jarrar included:

Sadly, Fifi Abdo is not the image that pops up when one searches Middle East dance.

YoYo and the Speedo

So I'd like to re-examine Ms. Jarrar's article and hopefully explain what she is trying to say, for those people that can't seem to get past the word "white."  But I'd like to use another analogy so that hopefully white belly dancers everywhere can understand why Ms. Jarrar can't stand to be around you.

Let's take YoYo Ma for example.  Here is an Asian male, performing music by a European male.  Now some would wonder why an Asian man would be interested in music by an European man, while others are happy this Asian man is performing Bach because, honestly, he's the best in the world.

We get that.  Yes, this becomes about race.

But let's put a little twist on it.  Let's say that back in 1920, Hollywood produced a movie, and to add further glamor quotient to this exotic European music, it introduces a new colorful costume, which made it more popular: the speedo.

So now, every time that Bach is performed by men, it is done in a speedo. 

You wonder, what does Bach have to do with a speedo?  That doesn't matter, Hollywood was going for sexy and that is what it has come up with in its brilliance. 

But wait, Hollywood is not done.  It has added some coins hanging off the speedo, and maybe a bra top with fringe. Again, these are items not associated with a speedo, or Bach. It. Doesn't. Matter.

You know what? Hollywood also thinks Bach needs to be performed in bare feet.  Yes, we know that Europeans perform Bach in shoes, but Hollywood says bare feet, so we go with bare feet.  Because who cares?

Flash forward 90 years and now you are taking your honey on a nice romantic dinner at a beautiful German restaurant in California.  Being German yourself, you have been looking forward to this date for awhile.

YoYo Ma arrives performing Bach, twerking his way around the room, his speedo ass in your wurst, while a fringe lands in your Löwensenf .

You are outraged, what the hell is going on?  This is not how Bach was performed at your wedding.  When you went to the Vienna State Opera, there was not a single speedo on the stage, as you enjoyed BWV 225–249.  In fact, in German, no one wears speedos to perform Bach because everyone there understand that Bach has zero, sifer, null to do with a speedo.

So you go complain to the restaurant manager, who tells you to sit down, shut up, and enjoy the show. You try to explain that the speedo is not part of performing Bach, but it falls on deaf ears.

Why?  The restaurant makes tons of money every time YoYo performs in a speedo.

So you go complain to YoYo.  You explain to him that you are German, and this is not how Bach is performed in Germany.  YoYo tells you he went to Germany, studied speedo Bach under Johann Neefe for FIVE years, the best speedo Bach performer in Germany.  So that makes it okay.

He screams at you that as an Asian, he has every right to perform jazz, electro, country, reggae, and rock.  But he doesn't seem to understand that none of those are performed in speedos while wearing enough eyeliner to keep the Hasty Pudding cast members in stock for years.

Again you tell him, the speedo takes away from the music.  It's not about sex or looking sexy, it's not about your body.  The speedo looks wrong, coins have nothing to do with your German culture, the bra is disrespectful, and bare feet are honestly not practical in the European winters.

But for a second time, your concerns fall on deaf ears, and YoYo decides to add salt to your already burning eyes and calls you racist.

You look around the restaurant and realize that it's full of every single skin color under the sun, except for German. 

How do you explain to everyone that what YoYo is wearing is not part of your culture? How do you have an open dialog with an entire restaurant that starts chanting 'racist'?

But it's impossible when the only thing everyone sees is you being against YoYo performing Bach while Asian.

When in reality, all we want is for YoYo to wear a suit, just like when Bach is performed in Germany. Otherwise YoYo doesn't really understand Bach and what he means historically to the German culture. Because no matter what his skin color is, if he is in a speedo, he is not showcasing Bach. 

Let me repeat that because it was missed in the article by Ms. Jarrar: If YoYo is in a speedo, he doesn't know Bach.

So please spare me the dialog about race and look at the article to really understand what is being said: If you are in a belly dance outfit, you are not performing Middle East dance. 

Ms. Jarrar put white in the title, because let's be honest, 90% of belly dancing is performed by white women.  However, it doesn't matter what you skin color is because the bottom line is what you are wearing has really insulting negative implications.

I want to have a dialog.

The dialog I want to have is why when I search the word 'Middle East dance', the first images I see are of women in Disney Aladdin pants, with jingling coins, a low cut bra, fringe, and bare feet.  Why do I not see more women dressed like Fifi, who in reality is representing me, my mother, my grandmother?

I'd love to understand how an outfit that I would never be caught dead in, because my Middle East mother would have died from shame, is okay because it showcases "my" culture.

I'd also love to go an Arab restaurant and not have to pick coins out of my hummus, because a woman, one Velcro strap away from a Vegas showgirl costume, is belly dancing.  But we can leave that story for another blog post.

For the record, I have enjoyed many a Middle East nights with my girl friends, dancing for hours for each other, in a room with every type of skin color, at a Laylit al-Binat.  However, the only people in the fringed bra and jiggling MC Hammer pants are always non-Arab women. 

Come dance WITH ME, don't mimic me.

The point the article was trying to make is that you do not need to wear this Arab Drag to represent my culture.  I would love to be with you covered up, so we can both enjoy the dance, the movement, and the true bonding that happens when a group of women are set free together in a room of music.

Ms. Jarrar has had to close the comment section of her article for all the hate it has generated from people that missed the point, so I'd like to open up my comment section below (unless you exhibit rudeness) to you as a way to share how this article impacted you.

If you are a belly dancer, I would love to hear your thoughts on how your costume, worn in whatever skin color you happen to have, is okay on stage representing me, showcases my Arab roots.

A costume, by the way, invented by a male costumer designer in Hollywood who saw an image of a woman in an Indian sari and got the two cultures confused.

I really do want to try understand why YoYo must perform Bach in a bra and speedo, contemplating changing his name to JoJo Müller. 


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