Saturday, March 8, 2014

Reactions to Why I can't stand any belly dancers

I had some really great comments (from ACraftyArab.blogspot) on my How to talk to your Why I can't stand any belly dancers post yesterday that I wanted to preserve -


Anonymous said...
You make an interesting analogy.

And honestly, I do think Jarrar makes some good points about stereotyping in her article. It is something that needs to be examined. And it's a reason I've shied away from belly dancing, despite learning originally from an Egyptian roommate and having turkish roots myself. Whenever I looked up classes online, the offerings left a bad taste in my mouth, with the "Arabian nights" themes and what not.

Where I REALLY disagree with jarrar is that learning belly dance is inherently racist. I think that's absolutely ridiculous. According to her, even if you choose a teacher from a culture where belly dancing originates and treat it as respectfully as a ballerina would ballet, a white woman is still racist for her interest. Although I do believe it is possible to appropriate sacred dances, belly dancing has such a long and varied history that it's impossible to tie it down to one culture, one origin, one religion.

So, for me, it's a matter of the stereotyping being racist, not the actual interest in the dance. And I'm sorry, but Jarrar has yet to convince me of otherwise. I guess its good she started a dialogue, though.

(Sorry for being anon; I just don't really feel like getting into it with random strangers via email (not meaning you!)).
Tamalyn Dallal said...

From a "bellydancer" with 38 years experience dancing and teaching in 40 countries:
Hollywood inspired the Egyptian film industry to put the dance into bras and belts. American bellydancers get their costumes from Egypt and Turkey, which are conservative compared to what Egyptian dancers wear , or what Turkish dancers wore in the 70's.
This bellydance costumes for foreigners industry keeps thousands of Egyptians employed during a time when there is little employment.
I see the points you make (and laughed my head off at the speedo analogy). I see the pointes Randa Jarar makes too. I have spent a lot of time in the Middle EAst, North Africa and EAst Africa. I would love to arrange a dialogue between women "of the culture" and belly dancers who are not.
But dialogue, not hate is what is missing.
Tamalyn Dallal
Tamalyn Dallal said...
Oops. I wasn't finished. I see the points, but don't agree with all of them because they are under researched. I can't take Randa Jarrar's article seriously because of the way it is presented- niot in the spirit of encuraging understanding. It is divisive and racist in ots own right.This is too bad because some of the things she says with hate are what I have been hoping to find ways to resolve through bringing western and Asian "bellydancers" to Zanzibar and the Siwa Oasis of Egypt and spending time with local women (6 trips so far), writing, film making, teaching workshops...
Not spewing nastiness toward other women.
BTW, how does one determine if they are brown, white or beige? Is there a device to measure that? (LOL) I'm getting tired of trying to figure out what color people are.
Leela said...
Professional Egyptian-style dancer here. I love your speedo analogy and think the image is hilarious, but it doesn't really speak to the story of how the bra and belt combo became de rigeur for the bellydancer. Or, it does, but only part of the story. Fifi Abdo remains one of the greatest practitioners of the art no matter what she wore, but the performances she did in the white galabeya are very specific to a particular style and character that she was portraying in that portion of her show. If I showed up to a gig in a galabeya, no one would want to watch me, and it's not because they want to see my body, it's because they didn't hire me for a folklore show if it's a restaurant or a party. The white galabeya performances she did are famous and iconic, but they're only part of her repertoire, and if you search for her on Youtube you will find her in many different costumes, from bra and belt sets with a flowing skirt, to melaya leff, to beledi dresses, etc.

I'm very sorry if a bellydancer got her fringe in your baba ganoush in the past. We all fear that, and try to avoid it. Those of us who care deeply about the art also care deeply about our audiences and try hard not to get our beads and sequins in their food.

I'm glad you posted this, it was a needed laugh after such a poisonous attack piece. But I also want to point out that 90% is a pretty high figure. I don't think that many dancers are "white" (whatever that means, because as you point out, how do you measure that?). There are many, many bellydancers of African-American, Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Argentinian, Brazilian, Persian, Native-American, and other backgrounds, out there performing all over the world. Many people saw Jarrar as silently condemning them, too, without wanting to actually come out and say it. We're a diverse bunch and many of us deeply love the cultures the dances come from, and care about how we perform those dances. We would love to dance with you and your girlfriends, and I promise you that many of us would never be caught dead in Hammer pants and a coin belt.
Anonymous said...
Ridiculousness. Clearly is what this article is all about. You are a Purist, and that is ok. But the Bach analogy made no sense whatsoever. I have lived in New York for 15 years, I have performed and have watched many dance performances in many different venues. The only place that the Bach example would even exist is in a Comedy Club. Yes I do understand what you were trying to explain, but it is simply an opinion with a bit of hostility. I am also a Professional Flamenco dancer. I have also cringed at the Americanized Gypsy Kings version of Flamenco Dance and music. However, To lay claim, that music and or dance was derived from once place in the world and from one people and only one influence and there for is owned and controlled by same, is nothing short of ignorance. There are roots of any type of dance and influences of same in different areas of the world, ethnic backgrounds and cultural flavor. There are different variations and interpretations to every form of art in the world. There will be persons that will will either be open or completely closed off. You are of the later category me thinks, and what a tragedy. If this is an area that causes you disdain, then it is up to you, especially if you are living in American, to do the research to make sure that your special "evening" will go as planned. Just like any other important evening, be in control of your own destiny. And one more thought in closing...I couldn't imagine living in an "artistic" world if we were told as artist, how to perform, what to wear, who can and cannot perform to certain types of music and what music to use and not use, etc.....How exhausting and demoralizing a task that would be... this is a very close minded and small way of thinking in the plethora of artistic energy...had I been sitting there and a guy been playing Bach in a Speedo, I would have started to DANCE!!!! <3 LIVE, LOVE and DANCE
Ruth Schleifer said...
Thanks for your well reasoned and meticulously factual reply. Clearly, will not be publishing your work as their intention was to gauge the ease with which "white women" will embrace another reason to hate themselves. It was not only a racist article, it was oddly mysogynistic. :-)
Anonymous said...
If Fifi is the example, what about the hundreds of times that she also performed in sequined bra and belt costumes?
Anonymous said...
Honestly, I am surprised at how critical the bellydance community is of anything Arab American women say. There is always a reason to dismiss or disvalidate the perspective. Anyway, I think one of the reasons that bellydance has become so sexualized has to do with the fact that Arab men are the ones that connect with the bellydancers. I just do not see bellydancers connecting with Arab women. And from the reactions that I have seen; I am not sure that they are ready. That is what I see. Even though I love the sexy costume that Dina wears I cant agree more with the author that the more traditional aspects are grossly under-represented.
Anonymous said...
The difficulty, of course, is that all public interactions are highly constrained, even in societies that are ostensibly "free." Since artists are required to place their work in the public sphere, despite their fantasies about themselves that they are free to do anything they want, the truth is that they must mold and shape and twist what they do to conform to certain expectations. I am quite convinced this is why we artists are often such unhappy and warped people -- we want nothing more than to connect to others, but we are forced to twist that in highly artificial and manacled ways.

The freedom of dance as flow of exchange that you are talking about here is private discussion amongst friends, when those strictures have been loosened. This is a different kind of art, freeing because it is something that takes place amongst equals, not something that requires hiding itself in acceptable garb to be received by "better" people. Public and private performance take on different meaning and form because the constraints are different.

I think you and Jarrar are speaking of private, egalitarian forms of conversation while the other dancers responding to this are talking about public performance. These are very different things. I would agree with you that the ideal and more humanizing form is that that takes place amongst friends and equals. Sadiqi truth. But there is a role for the more constrained public forms to slip a reminder of humanity to others, in the guise of entertainment. This is subversive in its own way, precisely because it is not amongst equals but is an attempt, with time, to bring the high down to the level of equals, speakers and listeners.
Anonymous said...
rashabellydance said...
The origin of the 2-piece bellydance costume is kind of unclear, but it has been worn by professional dancers in Egypt for the best part of a century. And you might find these photos of Cairo dancer in around 1900 interesting - Their costumes aren't quite the modern two-piece, but nor are they a Fifi-style galabeyya by any means, and you can definitely see a relationship between their embellished cropped vests over sheer blouses, and the embellished bra tops that came a couple of decades later.

I think an important part of the context that is missing in this post and in Randa Jarrar's article is the difference between social dance and professional entertainment. Raqs has always existed as both, as far as I can tell, with normal people dancing at home in their normal clothes, and paid entertainers performing in public in special costumes which varied depending on the era.

The 2-piece costume is standard for *professional* Raqs Sharqi dancers in Egypt today except for during the folklore parts of their shows, but I'd guess (hope)that most Western dancers are aware that ordinary Arab women would never dress up like that when dancing socially. It's not meant to represent 'Arab women' as a whole, but professional performers of Raqs Sharqi. Of course it's not normal clothes, any more than a samba costume represents normal day-to-day Brazilian dress, or French people actually walk around Paris in tights and tutus. People watching a professional entertainer, on a basic level, generally don't want to see someone looking normal and everyday.
Anonymous said...
Since the title of the original article was "Why I can't stand white belly dancers," I should point out that Fif Abdo is as white as you can get.
Anonymous said...
Your analogy of Bach being performed in a Speedo is definitely amusing but it does not really coincide with the history of bellydance performance and its costuming. First of all Hollywood did not put dancers in the 'speedo' so to speak. During the time that professional raqs sharqi rose to prevalence, Egyptian music, dance and film was certainly taking a lot of inspiration from the West, but they took the things they wanted and incorporated them into their own expression. The two piece, sparkly costume was invented as the iconic costume for the perfomance of raqs sharqi by Arabs. As noted in the article that rashabellydance links above, it took at least as much inspiration from professional dance costumes that preceded it as it did from Hollywood. Yes... that's professional bellydance..which though related movement wise to social dance, has its own history. When I, or any other dancer, of any color, puts on a bellydance costume (even if its a cheesy costume) and makeup, they are not dressing as an Arab woman, they are dressing as a the costume designed for performance of that dance.
Leela said...
To tha anonymous poster who commented that bellydancers are dismissive of anything an Arab woman has to say: I and my colleagues aren't dismissing all Arab female opinion. We are dismissing Randa Jarrar's Salon article because it is factually incorrect, completely ignorant of the history of the professional dance, and written from a place of bitterness and rejection. She conflates the social dance with the professional dance, and between the lines, many of us heard a very different point being made: that very familiar Arab discomfort and prejudice against professional dance and its practitioners. There is much to unpack there, but at the moment I don't have the time. The short answer is that the professional dance in Egypt and elsewhere has always been performed by non-Arabs. It would be hard for Jarrar to find an Arab dancer to hire, or at least one she would approve of.

There are also glaring class issues in Egyptian dance, and massive racism against black people there. Again, more on that later.

I'll just conclude by saying that I don't dance "for Arab men". I don't sexualize my dance. I dance for families. Arab women have been some of my biggest fans and supporters. And teachers!
Anonymous said...
“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.”

I would not have a problem with your example except that it’s not a good comparison for what Jarrar said. She WOULD have a problem with a white belly dancer no matter what they wore. She clearly stated that white women should not belly dance ever, for any reason. She says/implies it more than once but the first time was this: “Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.”

Also – regarding attire. All her named belly dancers that she approves of, including FiFi, have worn the costume you claim is offensive. FiFi has worn a variety of outfits when dancing – sometimes in the more traditional white covering, sometimes she wore the two piece sparkly jangly costumes. It depends on the environment and nature of the performance - key word being performance – Fifi and others PERFORM in public which is different than the more family/community oriented social dancing. You are talking about two different things. It only took a minite to find a plethora of photos and videos of them wearing a variety of costumes – Fifi included.

Laila said...
Thank you for your support of the article as the barrage of rants against her are overwhelming.

I always had a negative visceral response when I saw belly dancers (Arab or not) in skimpy outfits and globs of glittery makeup and I never had the words to express where that discomfort came from. So, when I first read Jarrar's article I felt validated that not only am I not the only one who felt that way but she gave me the rationalization for the response. And it made sense to me, if it's about the dance and not the Orientalization of the dance then what is the need of all this over-sexualization.

Upon re-reading the article and I can see how saying white women shouldn't belly dance can rub people the wrong way. Nobody wants to be told they can't do something. And yes, she could have been more diplomatic with her words but I just want to give a few more examples of why I feel Randa has a valid point.

It's one thing to appropriate culture. We as Americans do it (and do it poorly) ALL the time; we have yoga studios on every street, we have Taco Bell, I think I make a great tamale. But, in general it is not acceptable to add racist components to our appropriation; what we don't do is wear Turbans to yoga, or ask all employees at Taco Bell to wear sombreros and take on a "Mexican" name. And I wouldn't open up a food truck and call it Rosita's Tamales and sell them wearing a poncho.

So, she is challenging this on the belly dancing front. Why can a person (and I do wish she left out the word white as it seems to be the focus of the responses) come out in a bad stereotype of another culture and have it be acceptable.

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