I've invited a guest drill sergeant for this week's belly dance drills. I offer up to you Amala Karam, whom we fondly call Honey Badger in our American tribal Style troupe Djinn Swizzle. She always managed to have strong, elegant arms, which if you do ATS, you know is a very important element.
Make sure you have consulted with a doctor. Warm up, especially your shoulders.
If you would Pin this or Share it (or any of my blog posts), I would really appreciate it! Shimmy on!
Over a decade ago, I started my teaching career by teaching little girls from my church how to belly dance in my home. Over time, that expanded to include adults, teens, and girls as young as four. Throughout all my years belly dancing, and especially since I started teaching children, I have often come across, or been confronted with the question: should little girls be taught to belly dance?
Now that I have my own four year old who loves to dance more than anything except Daddy, the question rings louder than ever. My answer has not changed, and quite simply, the answer is yes.
See, what the subtext is is not whether little girls should dance, but whether little girls should dance like that. And no, I'm not suggesting we should heap the burden of educating the General Public on our little angels' heads. Rather, I'm suggesting we not worry about the GP and what they think about our children when We Know Better. We know for a fact that when girls participate in sports or dance, it contributes to a stronger self-esteem, giving them tools for a sense of achievement as well as developing habits for a healthy lifestyle. It teaches discipline. It provides peers to bond with.
We have no problem starting them in ballet at 2, or tap at 4. Why should we wait to teach them belly dance? Is it because some dancers overtly sexualize it? Well, guess what. Some dancers overtly sexualize every dance form. I will never understand why I can go to a community festival where local dance studios display their teens on stage writhing about, calling it jazz, or thrusting their hips in the name of hip hop, and nobody bats an eye, but as soon as my class shimmies on stage, bodies completely covered except their bellies, people start questioning the propriety of it.
Here's the thing. If people want to remain in ignorance, they're going to. I'm not going to keep the immense number of benefits gained through belly dance from the little girls in my life. I'm going to teach them technique, cultural respect, performance, and help them see how beautiful they are just because they are beautiful. My first students are all young women now, and those who stayed in belly dance got through puberty much more easily than most of their non-belly dancing friends. Why on earth would I deny other girls, and my own daughter in particular, that wonderful experience just because some lady with big hairsprayed hair makes snide comments?
As promised, I've added some more belly dance drills so you can practice practice practice!!! Here are some piston hip drills. Don't forget to check with your doctor and make sure you're in good health and warmed up before starting. Feel free to ask questions, too! Oh, and if you don't mind sharing and pinning this and other videos and blog posts, I would really appreciate it! :)
Last week, Salon published a very controversial piece, and I posted my response here. It's hardly the first time I've discussed cultural appropriation here on my blog, and it certainly won't be my last. However, I also started a new dance class last week that had a different focus than any of the classes I've taught before. Last Friday I began a belly dance class exclusively dedicated to fitness.
The Salon rant was published on Monday, as was my response, but all week, I continued to dwell on the frustration, the hurt, the indignation that was evoked. At my various rehearsals, we discussed it. Having lunch with some fellow belly dancers, we discussed it. My husband had to listen to me as I worked through all the feelings brought to the surface. And then, there I was Friday morning with 30+ women looking at me, waiting for me to get them moving, probably not caring if the shimmy was Egyptian or Bedouin.
I began the class explaining that this was the first time I would be teaching belly dance strictly as exercise, and that for the last thirteen years, I'd taught all the things that went with it- culture, costuming, history, performance. I could tell the ladies were excited to get started and try something new. So, we began.
Even as the heavy beledi beat began, I could feel my tension wash away. This is my passion and who I am. I could not stop belly dancing if I tried, no matter who approves or disapproves. I knew that even if wasn't giving written tests to this new group, they would learn the art of belly dance through me, because that is what it is, and because of who I am, I cannot present it it any other way. Even if I never say a word about it.
Of course, in the short breaks to open up for questions, I couldn't help myself. I explained ethnic differences in certain styles of shimmies we were doing, and told them what rhythms they were hearing. My heart soared after class when I was surrounded my half the class, asking for more information. Unfortunately, I wasn't prepared, but this week, I'll have fliers with web addresses directing them to the information they seek.
In the end, this is art and expression. When I dance I get to say everything my words cannot convey. I just needed to dance to remember that.
Today, Salon posted a piece that is making the rounds through the belly dance community, and to be blunt, I think it's pretty darn offensive. The writer of this brings to mind that guy on the first season of Real World who (wrongly) insisted that because he was black, he couldn't possibly be racist. She accuses white women of being racists, but in so doing, she reveals her own racism.
If you follow me closely at all, you know that I take cultural appropriation very seriously. I am extremely vocal and unashamed about how important I believe it is to seriously study the history and culture of the art we are portraying. It is imperative for us to understand the difference in Orientalist origins as well as the varying Middle Eastern origins. I've complained about cultural laziness in Western dancers, I've defended Arab viewpoints, I've lectured my students on how I refuse to just teach them dance moves. I recall discussion with Amara- who has a PhD in the study of Middle Eastern culture and dance- about knowing rules so you can make educated decisions about breaking them.
The author goes on to accuse other members of her race who teach to non-Arabs of being sellouts and lacking in self-respect. If her issue is actually with cultural appropriation, the best weapon to battle that is education, is it not?
I also understand that as a member of the privileged majority it is easy for me to dismiss the feelings of someone from another, non-dominant culture. However, understanding that does not mean I should allow White Guilt to cloud my thinking. Ultimately, the author of this piece is absolutely no different than white members of a country club saying, "This is for us only! You don't belong." By stating that white belly dancers should not belly dance, she is stating that everyone other than those she deems acceptable must keep their filthy hands off what she thinks is hers, and hers alone. She elevates herself and her judgment above others based solely on their race. If that is not racism, what is?
Thankfully, in the years I've studied Middle Eastern cultures, I've received much encouragement from many Arabs, Persians, Armenians, etc. Through that encouragement has come insight that has helped me understand many aspects of their art, so I can respectfully present and preserve it. The majority of them are delighted I am so in love with the cultures and want to share even more with me. They appreciate that I want to elevate and study and represent it, and do not resent that I am of a different race.
Ultimately, the line between celebration and appropriation can be very fine, and this is a discussion that is good to have. However, insulting a entire group of people and making assumptions about the motives of every last one of them is not the way to engage this discussion. A good place to start is to examine one's own racism.
If you know me, you know I believe that drills are very important. Even if you think you have a move down, it is still a good idea to drill it. I like to be able to let my muscle memory take over when I dance, so I can enjoy the music and dance. Here is the first of drills I'll be posting right here.
Of course, make sure you're in good health, and warm up before you start your drills.
The pre-edited photograph is by Jonathan Levy. The music in the video is Saidi Electro by Drew Warden.
I've seen all kinds of posts and comments about tipping belly dancers. Some love getting tips, some think the venue should just pay enough, some just don't care one way or the other. Here are some of my somewhat random thoughts on tipping.
First, it would be great if we got paid according to how much skill, expertise, education, effort, and love we put into our art form. Unfortunately, we don't. For many reasons, just about every art form is undervalued, and part of this is our own fault. Yet, this isn't to say we never do get paid according to these things. Are there not belly dancers you love and are willing to pay more to watch or to learn from? This is the result of their hard work, most often. Are there people that get gigs over better dancers? Yes, but my experience has told me those relationships are short-lived. A pretty girl in a skimpy costume isn't going to hold the attention of her audience the way an advanced dancer doing a 70's-style five part set will.
So what does that have to do with tipping? Well, if a dancer is getting tipped, and especially if her audience is one that is familiar with Middle Eastern tipping practices, she is going to inspire greater tips. Yes, sometimes the tippers are really just showing off how much money they have to rain upon a dancer, but more often than not, people giving tips are doing so for two reasons: they know the performer is dependant on the tips, and they are so greatly entertained, they want to express their gratitude for a skilled performance.
Wouldn't you like to be the dancer who makes her tips out of the love and appreciation of her audience, and not the obligation? I would.
This leads to another practice in the belly dance community. Many showcases send around baskets, and then evenly divide the tips among all the dancers. This means that the dancer who didn't tell anyone she was performing and didn't practice at all is getting the same as the dancer who filled the venue. I do this, too, with the Belly Dancers of the Antelope Valley Showcase, because I have yet to find a better way, but it has always seemed very unfair to me. I know some dancers justify it by saying it's not fair for the dancers who didn't get anyone to the venue, but to me, that just begs the question, Why didn't anyone come to see her?
I have had audiences who threw money at me for swishing around a pretty piece of fabric (also known as simple veil work), and who were completely unimpressed by things I had worked months on and finally nailed. I've had audiences jump up and shower me with cash because they were so moved by my performance, and I've had audiences stare at their hummus when I've poured my soul onto the stage. One time at a private party, the patriarch was literally getting a stack of cash out and standing up to dance with me, and the next song of the set came on, which he didn't like, and he sat down. He did not tip me. I've danced on top of so much cash, I was slipping around, I've been happy to make three dollars, and I've left with grocery bags filled with tips. It is not the obligation of your audience to give you money. It is your obligation to earn it.
I suppose, for myself, in the end, I like having a base pay, and then I like receiving tips. It reminds me that I am there to show my audience how much I love them, not the other way around, and it is a tangible way to find out if I have accomplished that.