Most Common Belly Dance Questions

Q. How can I dispel the Hoochi-Coochi image of belly dance to my best friends and family

I'm going to let Delilah answer this one-Candra:

A. I think first we have to identify a few insights and try to understand all perspectives.

This answer comes from Delilah of Visionary Belly Dancing

Stereotypical Scenario

“ Oooh, so you’re a belly dancer! Do you know the dance of the seven veils?! Do you make your husband a sultan for a night of pleasure? Do you like turning men on? Do you wear pasties and a G-string, a jewel in your navel and crawl on your belly like a reptile?

Oh brother!
“Hello? Are you talking to me? You’ve got it all wrong, Mister! You must be thinking of strippers or table dancers. I’m an artist and an athlete, as trained as any ballerina, Olympic gymnast or figure skater. My mother belly dances just for fun and exercise, we go to workshops together, and you’d better believe we are not engaging in some sort of sexual exploitation. Take your attitude elsewhere!”

“I thought because your belly was bare you are. . .you know, like, sexually liberated, you know...available.”

“Really?...and do you come up with the same idea about a swimmer, a hula dancer, a ballerina in a flesh-colored leotard, a figure-skater doing the splits, or a trapeze artist in the Cirque de Soleil?”
Some men, and some women too, can be a bit slow and immature. These kinds of remarks can be tedious at best, and at worst – well, worse. Thank goodness they are not as common as they once were. I will say we have made a lot of progress in the past 20 years and are taken more seriously today. But, why do scenarios like this come up at all? Yes, we belly dancers take offense. Maybe we even overreact at times, and it’s because we are deeply committed to belly dance. We know this dance as something much more mature than a #*! # tease. But it can be difficult to articulate in the face of a culture freely exploiting women all the time.

One reason may be the cultural backdrop behind the dance. The dances of other cultures, times, and places, are often well integrated into general society. For example, compare the images of other sensuous, but respected, dances of Latin America and Spain, such as Flamenco, Samba, Tango, Cha-Cha, and some of the various African dances, the Hawaiian Hula or other Polynesian dances. The Middle East, with its strict rules and segregation of women, has made the very act of dance (free movement in the body) stand out as a totally taboo activity, whereas the Hula comes from a place where people wear bathing suits and swim all day long. The stereotypical image of harem girls wearing face veils below soul filled eyes denoted powerful feminine mystery. The act of lifting the veil (unmasking the feminine), is to peek at a world of women hidden by a entire culture. It has a political association of disempowerment, as well as a sexual titillation. However, that is not the dance we love.

The first way to dispel the myth and begin to change the picture in the minds of the unacquainted is to show them all the trade publications devoted to the art.
Habibi, Jareeda, Cymbal, Chronicles, Zagareet , Eastern Wind, etc. These magazines are supported by women subscribers. They are not peep show entertainment for men.

2. Then show them the performance video, “Dance to the Great Mother”. A belly dance performed in the third trimester of pregnancy. It will demonstrate the power and sanctity of life and a woman’s body.

3. Don’t be defensive. See it as an opportunity to change the world with each person you educate and illuminate!

I think when people get to know real belly dancers, they find strong-willed intelligent women behind that veil. This dance is, in its purist form, a solo dance — you do not need a partner to belly dance. The dance, when professionally executed, is full of beautiful metaphors for life's movement. Drum as heart beat. Dancer as vessel and container of life. Music as mystical conduit. We see ocean and wave patterns, we see the opening and closing of a rose, we see wind, we see nurturing, we see vibrations and turbulence. It dynamically expresses all the emotions of body and soul. The dance sows seeds of a very independent nature. I think this makes the male establishment worried and nervous at times, and it causes knee-jerk reactions that put us down and contain us.

It’s simple, really. Belly dancers want you to enjoy their performance, and to admire their beauty and celebration, but with dignity, manners and the appreciation due any artist and athlete. Their aim is not your sexual gratification.

Anyone looking for female exploitation does not want a woman who is in control (though she may think she’s in control), but rather more vulnerably available. On her back, legs spread, on a bar on top of patent leather stilettos, butt prone, “ohh, daddy come play with me.” This young lady’s goal is to get your money. Believe me, she’ll make good money, too, because you are not going to find too many woman willing to act like that in public for free. Men know this. That fact in itself makes these women vulnerable.

Belly dance does not go anywhere near servicing this role. This dance serves the goal of self expression. And, like all artists, belly dancers will dance because they want to, whether they get paid or not (unfortunately) — a very different psychology. So, woman have taken to dancing for each other at their own in-house events where the belly dance is not misunderstood.

One of the most difficult battles we have fought over the past three decades is a perception portrayed by the media. Media professionals rarely dig very deep or explain the belly dance scene to our satisfaction. Usually, newspaper men completely lose track of the profile of the dance artist as subject, and turn the article into a story about how cute they can be dreaming up little sultan jokes, cliches and sexual innuendoes. I think when the unacquainted newsman gets the drift that this powerful feminine dance is not about him or other men in the audience, they feel uneasy about it and the male ego reaction is to contain, tie down, and punish the dancer. This is the way it has felt many times over in my career experience.

A headline such as this one is a good example:
“Delilah does Dallas with 7 Veils at the Annual Muscular Dystrophy Fund Drive.”

Belly dancing is everywhere right now. Time Magazine ran an article on October 20, 2003, titled “Shakin All Over,” by Michele Orecklin. The magazine dedicated two full pages and color photos to the piece, which attempts to explain the popular resurgence in belly dancing among American women. It also attempts to reveal who is belly dancing and to dissolve the popular stereotypic preconceptions associated with the art. Still a little dry on fully understanding why women love the art form, the article represents a leap of intelligence by popular media when it comes to the subject of belly dance. The 919-word article quotes many professional dancers in the arts. Unfortunately the author and editor are trying to replace one objectionable stereotype — sexy slave girl of the Middle East — with another objectionable stereotype, simple-mined American house wife. The author opened the article with these unflattering and clumsy lines.
Banish the image of nubile harem girls undulating under an Arabian moon for the amusement of sheiks. Envision instead women of expanding waistlines and advancing ages finding their inner goddess under fluorescent lights at the local Y.
I’m sorry, maybe I’m too defensive, but I’m still taking offense. . . It’s as if the male establishment is somehow punishing us for not accepting the first stereotype. (Even though this writer may be a woman, she is playing in the men’s ballpark). Excuse me, but there are far more men’s martial arts classes in the dry, fluorescent-lit environments, which the writer chooses to describe, than belly dance classes. It’s my experience that most belly dance classes are held in beautiful dance or yoga studios whenever possible, but it’s very difficult to find available and affordable dance space these days. The big ticket items, yoga and ballet and football stadiums, take up most of the prime real estate. This is another issue shaping the plight of woman. I don’t know if the media will ever get it right and do us justice.

From my experience, after belly dancing for 30 years, being a women is the only true common denominator among belly dancers that I can find. Belly dancers are doctors, college students, lawyers, librarians, mothers, school principals, ministers, expectant mothers, program directors, nurses, teachers, beauty operators, writers. . . When it comes to belly dance, there is currently a wide range of styles and perspectives to pursue, and the women involved are as young and as old as they come — girl scouts to grandmothers. They represent all shapes and sizes, nationalities and come from all walks of life. Shikira has set the stage on fire. Teens are anxious to learn to belly dance and this is a very good thing! Belly dance will help them fully inhabit their body and join a sisterhood that will be supportive to her life-long feminine self expression.

Candra: “But Delilah, men do find belly dance sexy.”

Of course they do, and so do I!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no prude, Candra, but the difference is dignity versus exploitation. Sensuality, sexuality, and beauty are present in everything.