The Belly Dance Taboo – An Erotic Fantasy, a Patriarchy Victim or a Feminist Victory?

“Ye to sirf prostitues karti hain”

(It’s a dance done only by prostitutes)

I was dumbfounded one morning when my boss made that scathing statement while we were discussing how we spend our weekends pursuing our passions. He further went on to share some unsolicited advice on how I should “Do it only infront of my husband or boyfriend.”

I was infuriated by this crude ridicule of the integrity of the art I love and my soul felt agitated. I would have made a snide remark about his caveman mindedness if, at that instant, the demure girl in me wasn’t forced to reconsider the choice made a year back.

I reminisced. I had, with great enthusiasm, consciously chosen to learn belly dancing as a way to explore and express my femininity. Initially I was skeptical about participating in an experience that is assumed to be sexually exploitative but was immediately struck with contradiction. For the first time I appreciated my body for what it was able to accomplish physically and aesthetically.

It felt so good. The doubt transpired. It transfigured into an urge to spread awareness about the art form and address the stigma attached to it.

‘Belly Dance’ is a popular improvised version of Raqs Sharqi, a dance form originated in the Middle East that involves undulating and serpentine movements of the torso. Highly recognized by the image of a voluptuous woman in a sequined costume and bare midriff performing such movements.

It originated as an art form passed on from a mother to her daughter to prepare the womb for child birth and was often performed at social gatherings.

Then how come along the way an art with such sacred origins came to be known as disreputable, something no proper women would indulge into and it was shameful for men to watch as well.

Patriarchy.

“Belly dance exists at a point of conflict between women’s expressions of fundamental truths, and patriarchal interpretations of this expression. It is not an easy place to be”, Andrea deagon phrases it well. It is these points of conflicts from which we can alter realities.

While for women the dance was a way to express emotions and a creative outlet to reconnect with their sensual selves which is an intrinsic aspect of human state.

The patriarchal era viewed women as a potentially disruptive force and their sexuality considered dangerous, due to the assumption that men are unable to resist their powerful lure.

The cruel patriarchal norms thus gave rise to a stereotype of belly dancers as sexually available, morally questionable, exotic unveiled dancer, an antithesis to restrained Muslim womanhood.

Moreover, when the west started to colonize Middle East, it attached the element of exotic to it. Failing to understand the movement vocabulary they wrongly perceived it as something sensual and irrational. It was soon shunned as a dance that arouses carnal desires in men.

Because men cannot control themselves against women’s allure, they put the responsibility on women instead. Are there any other reasons why it would be so intrinsically wrong for women to express their sensuality in public?

I would say belly dance is transgressive because it destabilizes social assumptions that women should not (publicly) shake, or draw attention to their breasts, hips, abdomens, and especially their pelvises.

Today, women around the world are taking it up and you ask them why?

To go beyond the comfortable into what stretches, challenges and revitalizes the mind. It helps them to tap into their physicality, reconcile with their body, feel liberated and foster a spirit of sisterhood.

It is sad that such an expressive dance form remains so misunderstood by a majority of the society and because of my unabashed love for it I can only hope the world soon comes to embrace it.

Dance: The Beautiful Art

It is natural to want to dance and move whenever we hear music. With the drum beat of a military march, we want to march in time; the smooth circles of a waltz have the power to make us feel like twirling forever; and a lullaby makes us lilt our bodies into sleep. Dance is a natural expression and is a natural response to music that is heard externally or sometimes but rarely, it is in resonance with the sounds of inner joy, to which only the individual is privy.

Most people wish to dance, or enjoy dancing. It is a feature in the life of most people throughout the world who reveal the differences in their culture through the different types of music and the different styles of dance movement they develop in their traditional art. There is a different between the dance of a country barn dance or western line-up with a country band and the rap dancing with its accompanying intonation and sounds; between the tap dancers metallic beat to a popular tune and the ballet dancers soft pointed feet describing the patterns of a classical piece; the passionate guitar and strong heel beats of a Spanish flamenco and the smooth swirls of an Austrian circular waltz to the strains of a violin.

Music provides the powerful influence which we seek to express in movement and dance. In addition, if our own emotions are moved, we can convey how we feel by injecting our emotions into our physical movements. If music uplifts us, we may dance but wish we could fly and the best we can do is to raise our arms and elevate our bodies from the floor as best we can. If the music on the other hand is sombre, we would rather dress in garments of grey and drop our heads to respond in heavy deliberate movements to show what the music intends.

For the professional dancer, it is music which dictates the mood and demands that a dancer surrenders his body to that music, not just for his own pleasure, but for the sake of a wider purpose. Then the dancer surrenders to music as if it were the conductor, as he seeks to make his body its complete or final instrument .The dancer can only surrender to the music if he wishes his body to serve to express its influence. To dance to a rhythm without conscious thought is a pure reaction – it is not an art.

Dancers are agents of the music – there to express something of the spirit of his inspiration of the composer. If we like the music we are asked to dance to, there is an easy relationship and harmony between the music, the source of it and our bodies. It is all in tune and the dancer can add the ingredient of his own intelligence and pour his feeling through his body language. If we are not attracted to the music then the dancer is a mere puppet. In the future, to use a dancer without him having conscious desire to express the music will be seen as dancer abuse! It is not a true and fine example of the art form at all unless music and dancer are as one.

If we hear discordant sound and it is the fashion to move to it, one must be very skilled or insensitive or perhaps both in wishing to express chaos and discord. Life’s real discordant notes are only too well known in the reality of living without having to bold type it all. Modern times are difficult with little rhythm, melody or harmony in any popular music.

In discothèques the lighting makes jagged vibrations through the chaos and to a dancer who is sensitive to the loveliness and the harmonies of inspired music, it creates an atmosphere which is unintelligent, purposeless and insane. There can be no reason why such occasions are not banned because of the noise, so as to preserve the health and the hearing of everyone concerned. The brains of all who participate are damaged – to what extent, only the future will reveal. Participants do not deserve the name dancer but often are enslaved by drugs and the hypnotic drum beats.

Modern music is not harmonious. Therefore a dancer’s body must become jerky and strained, stretched to an extreme tension, tested beyond its inherent strength, making demands which are acrobatic, exaggerated, unnatural and unattractive in the main. Beauty is the ingredient which is neglected, even forgotten. And in judging the result, anyone witnessing such movement to such music may gasp at techniques which extend the boundaries of body capabilities – but which leave the audience empty.

Music is best understood as food for the soul. This was and remains the classical approach to the art which was dedicated to either the purpose of delighting the listeners, telling a story, honouring a greater person, state, ideal , expressing a nation’s spirit, or in spiritual dedication to religious worship and the glories of God. Music was an expression which served to enrich the listeners. At its best and most powerful, music can stir the spirits of thousands, who for a time experience the pleasure of a feeling of unity beyond the diversity in human life.

The dancer depends upon the music. Dance is music made visible!

Dance has always been a part of human culture and will no doubt remain so. In past eras, as in ancient Egypt, dancers were trained in the temples, dedicated to the gods, their art was sanctified and they were used within the powerful ritual which were used in ceremonies and outer rituals to involve the people and to amass group thought in prayer. In the ancient Indian traditions the temple dancers held also a place of respect and their music and dances were dedicated to the gods.

In ancient Greece and in fact, in all ancient civilizations, it was the same – there were the temple dances and there were the folk dances of the general populace.

In our western culture we have no such equivalent system which allows each to have its place. In fact in our Christian religion and worship there is no place and never one has been considered, for dancing.

So in our way of life, we are the poorer. We only have resort to the dancing of the masses – that which only expresses the spirit of the people – and this is always uninspired. But we have our classical music which has served to inspire many millions of people throughout the world. So in this, we have a ‘conductor’ but where are the dancers who can make their bodies instruments capable of expressing the exquisite sounds and spirit of such glorious arrangements of notes? There are thousands of dancers with skill but have they attunement to the spirit to fulfil the needs of the art?

There are many musicians trained in classical music and many dancers trained in classical dance. Surely they can support one another to act as twin arts in creating something really beautiful?

Interested In Tap Dance? – 3 Things To Look For When Selecting A Tap Dance Syllabus

Tap dancing is not only fun to watch but also very enjoyable to perform. What is more is that this kind of dancing also comes with a number of health benefits to those who engage in it. It has a way of increasing cardiovascular conditioning, coordination, flexibility and strength. The dance combines lots of feet and leg movements which in return improve flexibility around the knees, hips and even ankles. Considering that the dancers need mental and muscle memory to be proficient in the tapping cognitive abilities are also enhanced.

Tap dancers develop a sense of timing and rhythm and have to therefore focus on music as they incorporate steps and combinations. The best thing about this kind of dancing is that it can be done solo without a partner and still be enjoyed to the maximum. If you are interested in learning tap dance on your own or you wish to be an instructor of the same, a tap dance syllabus can help you achieve your goals easily. All you need to do is ensure that you choose the right tap program and a few things can help you start off on the right note.

1. Tap program level

Contrary to what many people think, tap dance is not just for kids. The fact is that the dancing can be customized to suit any age and fitness level. This means that adults and even senior citizens can enjoy the tapping too and reap the benefits. When looking at a program, therefore, it is important that you choose the one that is designed for your age and fitness level or for your category of learners you wish to train. A program designed for teens may not work very well for seniors. Most programs are categorized in age brackets and selecting the most suitable ones is therefore not as hard.

2. Manual and video

Tap dancing takes skill and without the right guidance it can be hard to learn or teach the right movements. A good program should have a comprehensive guide to all the exercises, rhythms and steps for easy reference. With an instructional video included, it becomes very easy for learners and trainers to get the right combinations during the dance and perfect them professionally.

3. Music

Tap dance is never complete without the right music to accompany the steps and combinations. When looking for a tap program, you want to ensure that it has a number of tracks to accompany the manual and video. The tracks should be complete with the right styles and tempos that are suitable for the age group it is designed for. The last thing you want to do is to end up with a syllabus that leaves all the work of choosing the right music for you because it is something that can be tedious to do, especially if you are a learner or a trainer trying to get familiar with dance strategies.