Baladi dance , (the culturally appropriate term for belly dance), is a cultural art form plagued by appropriation and myth. From Orientalist stereotypes, to half-clad women writhing like tortured cobras, this dance today is often a parody of its authentic self. My experience of teaching Baladi has helped me understand how stereotyping and misconceptions hold people back from exploring and appreciating this dance form.
As I educate and elaborate through this blog, my teaching, and workshops, I try to dispel many of the misrepresentations, which impede an honest and authentic appreciation of this art form and its culture.
I have lost count of the amount of times I have said, “You do not need to be a sex siren or temptress, you do not need to be skinny or voluptuous, you do not need to bare your belly; and you certainly do not need a ‘belly’ to belly dance!” If you enjoy music and dance, or are seeking a supportive female environment, then this activity is a perfect fit. Music and dance have always served as a communal avenue for us to bond, express ourselves, and celebrate life; and Baladi dance is no exception.
Over the years, I have made a point of asking women their reasons for choosing this dance, and the answer has always been self-discovery, nurturing femininity, and connecting with other women. Not one has ever said, “I want to be a sex siren and dance in a nightclub!” In her article American Belly Dance and the Invention of the New Exotic: Orientalism, Feminism, and Popular Culture, Jennifer Lynn Haynes-Clark confirms that, “For many American women, belly dance is a dynamic means to explore identity and meaning based on culturally viable tropes.”
All over the world, this art form is attracting thousands of women seeking a nurturing environment that supports their physical and emotional wellbeing. In, I know who I am when I Belly dance, Daleela explains “I found myself slowly becoming a different woman. Dancing with bare feet connected me to nature and to the Earth, moving to the powerful rhythms of the drum grounded me, dancing soft, circular movements connected me to a healthy sensuality and a primal female energy I had lost long ago.”
Baladi Dance is my heart, home, and Holy Grail, I have yet to experience a day without dance and the joys it brings. With pride, I will continue to share this authentic dance and its many traditions through online spaces like this, and out there in the real world as teacher, dancer, and cultural emissary.
Written by Hanan Ahlam Abboud 2015 (c)