The last time I forgot, a white woman came out in Arab drag — because that’s what that is, when a person who’s not Arab wears genie pants and a bra and heavy eye makeup and Arabic jewelry, or jewelry that is meant to read as “Arabic” because it’s metallic and shiny and has squiggles of some kind — and began to belly-dance. – Article
I have to admit, this quote made me giggle snort a bit. Arab drag is so true in so many cases. You don’t need the heavy make up and the bikini to belly dance. You just dance. In jeans. In skirts. In shirts. In whatever you’re in. Friends have often asked me to belly dance for them and I do. In my own clothes. They have requested I get a proper belly dance outfit and put on a wee show for them and I die a bit inside because I may be an exhibitionist.. yet my inner shy child dies at the thought of all my bits jiggling in people’s faces!
You know those restaurants that have belly dancers? The ones that get up and sometimes actually nail the concept of belly dancing? Well most of those places make me cringe and want to run away. If only because the “dancer” isn’t really doing the dancing any favours. Where they having an off night? Maybe. But honestly, it’s not that hard to get up and shake your hips to music you like. Hell I can’t even keep my hips still when I’m cleaning and listening to some of my favourite Turkish songs.
In the Turkish culture, as with Arab and other middle eastern cultures, belly dancing isn’t really the same … what’s that word I’m looking for… Let’s just say that we have many things where there’s just women attending and the way we dance, without men around, is a lot different to the way we dance at say, a wedding.
So when I came across this article about why this lady can’t stand white belly dancers I had to agree with her.
The term “belly dance” itself is a Western one. In Arabic, this kind of dance is called Raqs Sharqi, or Eastern dance. Belly dance, as it is known and practised in the West, has its roots in, and a long history of, white appropriation of Eastern dance. As early as the 1890s in the U.S., white “side-show sheikhs” managed dance troupes of white women, who performed belly dance at world’s fairs (fun trivia: Mark Twain made a short film of a belly dancer at the 1893 fair). Many white women who presently practice belly dance are continuing this century-old tradition of appropriation, whether they are willing to view their practice this way or not.
Which then had me thinking a few things and about why I may be cringing at belly dancers in restaurants. I think there was one time, just one single time when I was wowed by a belly dancer.
And it was a man.
He was dancing at the Turkish restaurant that my mother loves to go to in the city. At the time the music started up and I went to excuse myself so I could go outside and play on my phone for a bit. But instead before I could jump out of my chair and high tail it out of there, I noticed that the person walking out of the back room wasn’t a woman. It was a man. He was middle eastern, easily. He had the right features, the thick full black hair and a piercing gaze. And a body to match his confidence.
Being that there aren’t many male belly dancers anywhere, I sat my arse back down in my chair and fixed my gaze on this specimen of a man while my mother giggled like a school girl next to me about how ripped his abs were and that I should ask him for his number. Never mind the guy came out in sparkly “hammer pants” and nothing else. Although I can’t be sure if he had glitter on his nipples or not… I wasn’t about to go up and rub them to find out if I got glitter herpes.
By the time the music had started, my mother and I had already had an argument about this guy becoming her future son-in-law. I was pretty sure this guy was gay, but she had other ideas.
The music started and he started dancing and both of us shut up. The man could move! His hips! He danced with a ceremonial sword on his chest and as his butt wiggled and the sword didn’t move I knew he was totally gay. No straight man can move that way. They just can’t, bless em.
Suffice to say he had the entire restaurant captivated with his dancing so much so that the second woman dancer to come out everyone ignored because she just wasn’t as engaging.
Now my other pet hate is when they grab you as you’re trying to get past to make you dance with them. Seriously chick, you don’t want me to dance with you. I’ve done this since I was in vitro, you’ve done it for a few years. But yet they make you. So you dance and they look surprised that your hips move and your boobs jiggle and you can dance, but you dance differently to them. For us it’s a celebration, it’s not a show we put on for an audience. So when I am cornered into dancing in a restaurant with the belly dancer, I leave her dancing in the middle of the room and wander off to dance at my family and friends sitting at the table who cheer me on and some get up and dance with me.
I dance because I want to share my joy with family and friends. We dance because we enjoy the music. We dance because we are celebrating someone getting married, engaged, a birthday… you name it and we usually dance at it. Hell, if they are anything like me then they even dance while cleaning and cooking to the point where I put down said cleaning or cooking implements and take 5 minutes to really dance my arse off to some wonderful davul and zurna music (translation: cylindrical drums and wind instrument).
This is what our dancing is about.
But, here’s the thing. Arab women are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not bangles or eyeliner or tiny bells on hips. We are human beings. This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze. Just because a white woman doesn’t profit from her performance doesn’t mean she’s not appropriating a culture. And, ultimately, the question is this: Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?
For me this isn’t about an us and them thing, it’s not about white women riding the appropriation coat tails and it getting on my nerves. It’s about the irk I get being subject to bad belly dancers, it’s the irk I get because they try to be something they aren’t. It’s the irk I get because they are making something that brings us such joy and laughter and connection into something that’s just a cheap trick to be paid for in restaurants. Yet I can sit and appreciate the art of belly dancing in competitions and if someone has a certain something that makes me take notice. Are all white belly dancers crap? No, not really, but you do get the sense that they aren’t engaged with the music, they aren’t feeling it from the inside out. And I think that’s what makes an awesome belly dancer dance.
So to see the difference in what I think is relevant belly dancing as opposed to what you get when you go somewhere to eat… Here’s a few clips I found that made me get up and shake my booty.