There are many myths and misconceptions about the women’s dances of the Middle East. Here are the ones I hear most often:
Belly-Dance is some sort of sex dance performed by “harem girls” for some sort of “sheik” or “sultan.”
Belly Dance is a woman’s dance. At one time it was done by “harem girls” but not for the sultan. Harems were full of women of all ages, who sang, danced and played musical instruments to ward off boredom and pass the time.
My favorite response to this myth is from Morocco, a popular dancer from New York. When I asked her what she said when she was asked about this one, she replied, “Honey, I can think of a lot easier ways to attract a man; I do this dance for me.”
Indeed, we belly dance for ourselves and if you ever go to a belly dance event you’ll see the audience is about 80% or more women.
Belly dancers dance with their bellies.
While pregnant with my son and on a visit to the obstetrician, I mentioned a show I had just sponsored where my headliner (Halima) ended up in the emergency room after the show with a torn ligament in her calf. His response was, “How do you hurt your leg doing belly dancing?”
That was one of many such questions. In reality, stomach rolls and undulations involve only a tiny fraction of our dance, and many belly dancers don’t even do belly movements.
Belly dancers wear jewels in their navels.
This is not a Middle Eastern tradition but started in Hollywood during the 30’s as a form of censorship. Navels were too risque to show at the cinema. (Times have sure changed!)
Belly dancers are the same thing as strippers.
Belly dancing and stripping are two completely different dance forms. Strippers sometimes do moves from other dance forms such as belly dance or jazz, but stripping is a different discipline.
When a stripper wears a belly dance costume, she is no more a belly dancer than she is a cop when she wears a police uniform in her routine or a nurse when she strips out of a nurse uniform.
Belly dancing is sexual or lewd.
Real belly dancing is family entertainment. It is a dance that children can do as well as older women.
I once had a man in the front row of a performance my students did. He had the reputation of being a womanizer and player so I wasn’t really happy to see him there. After the show he came up to me and said, “I have to admit that I came here expecting to be titillated but what I saw was the power of womanhood. I think it changed my life and I want to thank you.”
Belly dancing is easy.
Just like any other dance form, belly dancing takes a lot of practice and discipline to learn. It is an art form and becoming an expert requires learning not only steps from Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Arabia, Syria, Persia, Tunisia, etc, but also the rhythms. A professional must also be able to accompany her dance and the music with zills (finger cymbals).
The next time another type of dancer declares that belly dancing is so easy, I would like to hand her a pair of zills and tell her to accompany herself with a musical instrument while she dances and then tell me how easy that is!
Belly dancing degrades women.
This is an attitude that I have run across and usually comes from misinformed feminist types. I have been told, “It’s women like you that get men excited watching you dance, and then they go out and rape other women.”
I was once told I couldn’t do a benefit for a women’s shelter because what I did was degrading women and encouraging their victimization. I asked if I could do a demonstration and danced at their board meeting. I received a formal apology and a couple of board members became my students.
The reality is that belly dancing empowers women by increasing their self-confidence and enhancing their self-image along with the physical benefits of the dance. I have seen it in myself and with so many others.
Women who learn to belly dance stop walking and acting like victims as they become strong and confident. I’ve seen them get out of abusive relationships, get educations and great jobs and always with the support of our great belly dance community.
Any time, I run across any of these myths and attitudes, I use the occasion to EDUCATE. The more we educate, the less people will believe the myths surrounding our dance. For every person we enlighten, they will enlighten others.