The White Punching Bags of Belly Dance

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Quite the title don’t you think? Why would I put such a title? Well, it’s my response to another blog post that is creating quite a hoopla with the belly dance community. It’s titled, “Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers,” by Randa Jarrar.

I mean what’s with the “white” reference and why does skin color matter in today’s day and age? Personally, I think it was for shock value, a way of addressing dancers who aren’t according to this writer’s opinion, the right ethnicity. But I think I’m getting ahead of myself here. For those of you who haven’t read this blog post, the link is here:

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/04/why_i_cant_stand_white_belly_dancers/

Interestingly enough she states that whether we like it or not we are involved in the appropriation of belly dance. With the history of belly dance and the many women who are quite the historians in belly dance, she has put herself in quite a pickle because who is anyone to say that belly dance is entirely from their culture, lock, stock and barrel?

The Chicago’s World’s Fair was the beginning, the introduction of belly dance to western society but that doesn’t take away the authenticity of the learned dance itself by the 3 dancers who were purportedly called “Little Egypt.” Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, Ashea Wabe and Fatima Djemille demonstrated belly dance in such a way that people weren’t concerned with if they could culturally portray belly dance. All 3 women had already convinced the masses they were legit. Skin color doesn’t make a dance legit, talent does.

Let’s face it, if any of us can learn belly dance from a well known Middle Eastern dancer, we’ll jump on it in a heart beat. I guess since we are riding the backs of Arab sisters, I can only assume that the Arab teacher’s, who have taught us, are all imbeciles who have no idea who they are teaching. I guess we must be exploiting them to such a point that they really don’t have a clue…yeah right! Bottom line is they know where the money is.

American dancers get a bum rap when it comes to doing something well. We can be intimidating and if we do it to such a degree of professionalism then we become threatening, creating a jealous mentality from those who can’t stand the fact that we can do it as well as them. It’s funny to even mention skin color when America is full of a kaleidoscope of dancers from all ethnicities. So the chip on this writers shoulder must be more deep rooted then we think. Perhaps she has the idea that segregation is better then appropriation. But I have to ask a question, she’s here in America and what does she think our Freedom and Liberties are all about? Our foundation as a society is not based on racism, segregation and appropriation. I think Randa Jarrar is placing the separation of gender she grew up with on the shoulders of belly dancers especially those who provide entertainment for both men and women in restaurants and clubs.

I’m sure her beef extends to foreign dancers who perform in Middle Eastern countries as well. Obviously the establishments in these countries who hire “white” belly dancers have no loyalty to their own people. Also, I have no clue what she means by the “brown face Oriental façade.” Is her skin color brown therefore she is insisting this is the only legitimate skin color for belly dance? Perhaps she meant something more metaphorical but never the less of what her gripe is, it’s a swipe at the most basic human right which is the freedom to express oneself. One more thing that seemed to come out of left field was her friend’s phrase, “Arab Face.” Who says that???

As far as names go, I was given my name Leyla Najma by Lebanese friends so does this make my name false and phony? Because it’s not a birth name I guess it doesn’t amount to much since the people who gave it to me obviously didn’t know what they were doing when they gave it to me. I have danced by this name for almost 30 years so that wouldn’t be legit either by her standards. My question for Randa Jarrar is how does acquiring a dance name harm a culture besides appropriation of a dance form. (Wow, she uses that word a lot!) We know who the unwitting racist is by now.

I don’t lose myself in Arab women; I don’t pour myself into their mind set or habits of living. There is no need because my cup runith over in my own multi-cultures. I am Italian, Scottish, Irish and Spanish and through talking to professors of genealogy, I found out I have Moorish blood in me too. So I represent 5 cultures at this point as many Americans do in today’s day and age. Would this make a difference to this writer…I doubt it.

Belly dance is not only Randa Jarrar’s birth right; it was not created for one specific culture to keep to itself. If that was the case she wouldn’t be whining about how the joy of belly dance has spread. If she took her blinders off, she would see women looking back at her glowing in the bliss of an ancient art form that has nothing to do with appropriation but everything to do with the right to be women in any way, shape or form.

I think Randa Jarrar needs to get off the backs of women who are keeping this dance alive!

PS: If you’re looking for online Belly Dance Classes, go to Belly Dance Village and get immediate access to all 40 Hip Phylosophy Belly Dance Instructional Videos for 10 days. Only $1.00

 

 

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I wanted to write a bit about the belly dance journey and to let you all know that every once in awhile the rose colored glasses come off and reality starts to set in even for us belly dancers. Sometimes women think that self fulfillment will happen magically with this dance and to be honest with you it takes work. But it’s the kind of work that feels more like an entrepreneurial quest. We make the journey what it is, a success or a spiraling drama. At times they kind of go hand in hand but how much really depends on you. Read more