Wednesday, March 12, 2014

When In Doubt Shimmy

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.

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