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:

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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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"


8 Responses to “The White Punching Bags of Belly Dance”
  1. Well, I read the original article and truthfully I am shocked that it was even published. I mean come on now. Salon is supposed to be a progressive leaning site politically and I was always under the impression that it was all about roasting marshmallows singing songs and holding hands. But the kind of stuff she talks about goes on all the time. Jazz is an original form of music but it is now played all over the world and there are some damn good players in Europe as well as Japan and everywhere for that matter and not only that Jazz played around the world has extended the art form. Broadened it and there aren’t any players in the US who are sour grapes because a European player isn’t playing or dressing, or talking like Miles Davis. So here here for calling her out ,. Personally I think her post partially was for effec t. Salon must have been looking for a traffic bump so they decided to publish the most insane, lubricious article possible.

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Thanks for your comment Dan…

      There’s nothing like reading a blog post in today’s day and age that has racism in. After all that humanity has been through to get to the point of tolerance, it’s sad and unfortunate that a woman like Randa Jarrar who should know better writes and throws her viewpoints on the backs of women who have earned the right to dance any way they want.


      • She’ll have to live with what she wrote for a very long time, because as we all know, Google is like Las Vegas: What goes in Google stays in Google and her uninformed, bigoted opinion will be something she’ll have to live with for years. She’ll be branded by it. I do believe that the article was written at least in part for effect but I also believe that she truly believes what she wrote. Anyway, thanks for writing your rebuttal because it too will stay in Google. Maybe someone will write why I hate brown belly dancers. Only joking but you can imagine just what kind of reaction that article would get. You’d have every blithering idiot liberal on the planet screaming bloody murder. Not that they don’t anyway, but you know what I mean.

  2. Nada says:

    I read the blog, I see nothing but bla bla bla. I mean who will say such a thing and why? All cultures are open now for all. I feel completely the opposite, I like all people to learn our dances and foods and traditions, I love that, and i am very proud of it, that mean we at the Middle East have something so beautiful that the people wants to learn it and from it.

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Thank you Nada for commenting in!

      It is such a beautiful dance form and it also makes women from all over the world interested in Middle Eastern cultures. I think this time around the writer is wishing she would have thought more about what she was going to write.

      May all women around the world enjoy belly dancing and may we always remember our Arab sisters!



  3. NubianPrincess808 says:

    I also read the blog, and at first I was a bit confused as to what she was saying and then I was like “really”? To play the devils advocate I think she may be tired of seeing what she is calling “white faces” performing the dance. She is not seeing women of color (meaning other than Caucasian’s, Asian’s etc.,) performing. I have been dancing for over 8 yrs and being a Nubian Princess I must say that I see all colors performing this art form. Living where I do there are more Asian and mixed Caucasian (meaning, German, Scottish ect) performing this dance than “women of color” — to be exact where I am there is just myself and another, why I don’t know. BUT, I think you are right on with what you are saying. My teacher is not a “women of color” but a beautiful dancer. And to put a “color” to a dance is very prejudice – I know that is a hard word to use- and I’m not saying she is BUT.. …. I’m just glad everyone is speaking out.

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Hello Nubian Princess808,

      Thank you for writing in!
      I think we all went…”What?” This dance is performed by so many women now that It is a bit risky to be so blatantly obnoxious about “other” women learning it and performing it.

      I had to speak out just because it was really a bad decision on Salons part to have this woman post an irresponsible rant.

      Keep on dancing your beautiful dance and thank you for taking the time to share!