Tradition Not Exhibition

Authentic belly dance or Balady dance is more about tradition than exhibition. Images of scantily clad women swaying to haunting melodies, lavish harems, sultans and silks, veils and mystery, erotica and mysticism. This is the vision most people conjure when belly dance is mentioned.
Although the term Balady is sometimes used to describe a belly dance performance style, this is not what I am concerned with here. Authentic Balady dance is distinct from the skimpy glittering costumes and choreographed moves designed to dazzle paying audiences.

Balady is about harvests and celebrations, it is about community and togetherness, it is about traditions, customs, and continuity. When Balady people dance together, it is an age-old tradition celebrating life and togetherness, we wear our everyday clothes or the customary Abaya (Kaftan), and bare bellies are not an option. Genuine Balady dance is spontaneous and free. An unstructured outpouring of energy and emotion, it is devoid of choreography or design. Balady dance tells the story of a people and their life, so knowledge of the language and culture is also essential.

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Teaching Balady Dance has helped me understand how stereotyping and misconceptions can often hold people back from exploring and appreciating other cultures. From Orientalist stereotypes, to half-clad women writhing like tortured cobras, Balady dance is plagued by appropriation and myth. As I educate and elaborate through blogs like this, my classes, and workshops, I try to dispel many of the misrepresentations, which impede an honest and authentic appreciation of this art form and its culture.

Every culture displays its truth in dance. Whether Baladi dance, African tribal, or the Corroborees of Indigenous people, these dances tell stories about community, culture, and the relationships of people with their land and each other. Dance is the universal language of the world, it is a way of life, and an open culture to which many can and do belong.

In dance, there is a common identity and this is where I found mine. I have yet to experience a day without dance and the many joys it has brought to my life. With pride, I continue to share my authentic Balady dance and its many traditions through online spaces like this, and out there in the real world as both teacher and cultural emissary.

While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. This is why I dance. – Hans Bos

Written by Hanan Ahlam Abboud 2015 (c)

One thought on “You Say Belly Dance, I Say Balady

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