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Belly dancing

(330 Posts)
JessinAvalon Wed 23-Mar-11 23:55:28

I don't want to start a raging debate about this but I am hoping that some on here may be able to settle a difference in opinion between me and a friend.

She thinks (after seeing a belly dancer perform at a feminist arts event in Bristol) that it's anything but feminist and thinks it's not that different to lapdancing (titillating, revealing costumes etc).

I don't see it like that. I do Bollywood dancing (which is very hard!) and have come across belly dancers through my dancing but they were all older, larger ladies (am I allowed to say that?!) and, to me, the belly dancers I saw were celebrating their form, celebrating the dance and generally having fun.

Admittedly though I don't know much about it. Does anyone have any views/experience/knowledge that would help the debate?

queenofthecapitalwasteland Thu 24-Mar-11 07:50:08

Based on my own, very brief, research I would agree with your friend. Www.worldbellydance.com/history suggests a woman lead religion created belly dancing as a celebration of women and child bearing but wikipedia en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belly_dance and some other sites seem to say it mainly came from nightclubs in the middle east in the 19th century, which gives it more sleazy origins. But I will look into it more.

tinierclanger Thu 24-Mar-11 07:55:41

When I did belly-dancing lessons it was very much a woman's thing and didn't seem at all anti-feminist! It was sensual rather then sexual and mostly just fun.

dittany Thu 24-Mar-11 08:04:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

queenofthecapitalwasteland Thu 24-Mar-11 08:13:02

Without wanting to start an argument, I have never found any difference between a woman looking/acting sensually and one looking/acting sexy. The meanings seem interchangeable to me.
I'm not suggesting bellydancing couldn't be fun or a good workout, but it would be worth knowing whether this was just titillation by any other name and thinking what you intend to do with it once you've learnt it?

StewieGriffinsMom Thu 24-Mar-11 08:13:05

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

FromGirders Thu 24-Mar-11 08:22:12

This will be rushed - excuse typos - but Slinky alerted me to this thread and I can't not answer.

I am a belly-dancer, have danced for eight years now. My understanding of the situation is that belly-dancing is a bit bipolar.

There are professional dancers who are out to titillate their audiences, but I don't think these dancers are hugely well thought of perhaps. There should be audience interaction, no matter what your audience is, that's part of your performance. there's a really cool blog here by a Scottish woman living and working as a professional dancer in Cairo. I've done workshops with her - she is a fabulous dancer, but very self-contained and dignified. If her audience treats her with disrespect, she leaves the stage until they "behave".

I have also done workshops with another lady (of Persian descent) who has danced since the age of three, taught by her grandmother. She would never dance in front of a man, not even her husband - her attitude was "why would i want to?" Dancing was very much a "by women for women" thing. I'd love to have the kind of society where after coffee instead of all sitting round biching and sniping, we all danced together!

However on a personal level, I dance with a group of other women, and perform at haflas (belly dance parties) which are almost always entirely women only events. (Although, as a group my class also performs at fetes or other charity-type things). I have never found such a supportive atmosphere anywhere outside the belly dancing community. I've never heard a word of criticism about someone's shape, age, weight or beauty (although we do praise costumes, and most importantly, dancing technique!) I've seen fat, thin, pregnant and scarred women dancing - all of them dancing beautifully. It really is an actual "sisterhood".

Part of the fun is dressing up in beautiful, sparkly, jingly costumes - who doesn't want to look exotic and beautiful from time to time? But I think a part of the attraction for many women (definitely for me) is that it's a part of our lives where no-one judges us. We dance to the best of our ability, we buy and make beautiful costimes with may show off lots of skin or almost none at all. We are not invisible.

We are dancers.

MitchiestInge Thu 24-Mar-11 08:36:42

instead of 'a bit bipolar' would 'polarised' work?

FromGirders Thu 24-Mar-11 08:45:24

polarised would be much better, thank you - i did search for a better word, honest!

MitchiestInge Thu 24-Mar-11 09:29:49

who made me the language police anyway? shock

sethstarkaddersmackerel Thu 24-Mar-11 09:31:17

this is all really interesting.
<nothing helpful to add emoticon>

sprogger Thu 24-Mar-11 09:37:13

An anecdote:
Once I went with a friend to a Middle Eastern restaurant that is very popular with expat Gulf residents. When the belly dancer started to dance, she approached the diners (mainly expats) who all rose in turn to dance with her. Gradually, the whole restaurant was dancing - men, women, children. My friend (who does NOT dance) and I were watching when one of the waiters approached us and encouraged my friend to dance with me. Naturally he refused (as he DOES NOT dance), but his excuse was, "She's not my girlfriend."

The waiter was HORRIFIED. "Oh NO, sir. That's not why we dance!"

EngelbertFustianMcSlinkydog Thu 24-Mar-11 09:52:33

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

FromGirders Thu 24-Mar-11 09:54:02

In my defence, I was thinking more of the scientific / electric "bipolar".
Very much no disrespect intended to anyone with the disorder of the same name.

thumbwitch Thu 24-Mar-11 09:57:04

I rather love bellydancing - it's fabulous exercise. It's a lot less sexual innuendo than pole dancing, IMO; although there are some moves that are quite sensual, my experience is also that no men were involved, invited or included.

I think that men think of belly dancing as similar to lap dancing, pole dancing etc. - but they're wrong.

FlamingoBingo Thu 24-Mar-11 10:10:41

I agree with the labour/period pains argument. Women in very many traditional cultures still bellydance throughout labour; and it's a very instinctive movement to adopt when your hips are aching and your uterus is contracting and it's physiologically helpful too - it encourages gravity to help the baby move down and put more pressure on the cervix and it loosens your pelvis to help the baby through the birth canal.

I think it has become in some instances more like pole-dancing ie. done for men. But I'm fairly certain it's origins are purely about women and their bodies and how they experience their bodies, not how men do.

And birth is sensual - you need oxytocin to birth easily and oxytocin is the hormone of love. You release it in massive quantities in the weeks that you're falling in love with someone. You have a boost of it every time you have skin-to-skin contact with someone you care about or who cares about you. It makes you feel slightly spaced out and switches off your thinking/forebrain a little. You release a massive load of it when you orgasm, which is why orgasm is such an overwhelmingly sensual experience - you're not thinking at all when you get to that point. And childbirth should be the same (it's not, because oxytocin is hard to release when you're in public, with men around you). It shoudln't hurt so much to labour and birth because oxytocin switches off your thinking/pain-acknowledging part of your brain. It follows that movements that mimic the very instinctive, womanly movements of labour and birth also cause your body to release the sensual, loving hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin also has other benefits to your body. It strengthens your immune system, switches off cortisol (stress hormone), for example. From this basis, I really would argue that bellydancing is solely about women enjoying their own bodies and how wonderful they are.

Unrulysun Thu 24-Mar-11 11:04:17

I was invited to the women only bit if a traditional wedding in Jordan once for an hour or two and they were belly dancing together and pissing themselves laughing at teaching us some moves. I think it's a women only thing which men can't stand being a women only thing so they've turned it into a sleazy nightclub thing. That's my impression. So you're probably both right OP.

David51 Thu 24-Mar-11 12:36:06

My partner used to organise belly dancing classes for women of the Turkish community as it was considered a culturally appropriate form of exercise. (ie they were more likely to be interested in belly dancing than something like aerobics for example).

However she doesn't think there is anything problematic about men watching it as erotic entertainment either (and yes she is a feminist). Belly dancing is all about women celebrating their own bodies and the women who dance are proud to display their skill in doing this, whether to a male or a female audience.

notenoughsocks Thu 24-Mar-11 12:52:25

One of my very closest friends, who I love dearly, is a belly dancer. She describes herself as a feminist -but is much more with the 'empowement' thing with me. So much so, that I have to stop myself lecturing her. She has told me about the history of the dance - to try and ease my concerns, I think. However, and I am sure she would not mind me saying this, she is very body concious. Also, she says that there is a very 'bitchy' side to the belly dance community.
TBH, the reason I am torn so much is because I can't bear to diagree with my friend on something that means so much to her.
So, I am watching this thread with intrest. I quite liked what has been said about the bipolar nature of bellydance community. It did seem to match what my friend has said. Perhaps, the matter is not so much belly dancing it self, but the way it is seen by the preformers and the audience.

tinierclanger Thu 24-Mar-11 13:13:52

I'm more thinking about just doing the dancing than performing it in a club type situation - that to me does seem seedy. But I'm afraid I disagree with you Dittany on this occasion. It doesn't seem anything like pole-dancing to me. A lot of the dances are group things.

Sexy versus sensual? For me sensuality is a more internal thing, enjoying your body and its feelings, yes it might include pleasure in how you look and move but it's a sort of holistic thing. Sexy is more about pleasing an onlooker and revelling in their gaze.

FromGirders Thu 24-Mar-11 13:20:16

I meant more that the image was polarized, not the community. I've really never met anyone who was other than supportive while dancing.
Ok, one teacher / professional whom I didn't like so much, but that was one isolated person out of hundreds I've met.

notenoughsocks Thu 24-Mar-11 13:36:36

ooopps - sorry. misread. No, in that case, I was saying something different. That there is, apparently, some very bitch belly dancers (not the sort who just pop along to a class or two).

notenoughsocks Thu 24-Mar-11 13:52:50

Just realised that that post looks quite bitchy itself. It am not offering a major debating point, just wanted to clarify something I said earlier.

Unrulysun Thu 24-Mar-11 14:00:50

David your friend might not have a problem with men watching it as erotic entertainment but the same things get said about lap dancing on here all yhe time.

madwomanintheattic Thu 24-Mar-11 14:01:37

i can't think straight about belly-dancing at all.

working in an extremely male dominated community, i once attended a work lunch where (for some reason) they had hired two belly-dancers to perform mid way through the meal, and afterwards.

i was slightly weirded out by a large group of my drunken male colleagues (and two female managers who they had apparently forgotten existed) sitting in a conference room of a lunchtime leching over two semi-clad jingling jiggling dancers. it was made much worse by the fact that they then realised there were two women of their own in the room who they might be able to coerce into joining in as the entertainment. (just the female managers, obv.)

the dancers were quite happy to encourage the female managers to join in - i can see that audience participation is a strong theme etc etc. but i'm afraid in that context it was so completely wrong. and so completely one-sided.

i am liking the idea that there is another side to belly-dancing, but i can't get out of my head the way it has been co-opted by blokes into an ogle-fest (where i can assure you plenty of comments about size/ shape/ weight/ age were being made)

but the dancers were getting paid - so i guess it was in their best interests to try and encourage the two female managers to join in, as that was what the vast majority of the (male) audience were baying for.

i always find discussions about dance tricky. all of my dcs dance (inc ds1) in various disciplines. ds1 has now given up ballet (thanks to a group of female peers who informed him he shouldn't be doing it as it was for girls), but all of them dance musical theatre, for example. dance is performance. i'm just uncomfortable with some audiences, and some types of performing, i think.

i can watch belly dancers in group performance on a charity event and celebrate with them (but i can also hear the comments from men in the audience). i think i can get over that... that's just how some men choose to view women as a whole - they could just as easily be walking the dog, or catching the bus. but hiring belly dancers for a male business lunch and exhorting the only two female employees present to join the spectacle... ew, ew,ew. context is everything.

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