As longtime MSP readers know, I’m a belly dancer in addition to a scholar and blogger. I’ve written posts about belly dancing and sexiness, the stigmas associated with belly dance, and the body acceptance that comes from belly dancing. I know, from doing academic research on the American belly dance community, that my perspectives are not wholly unique; many Western women find solace in the belly dance community, rediscover a sense of embodied pleasure, and feel greater self-esteem and confidence due to the dance.
However, it’s not all sunshine and roses in the belly dance community. This very important (but potentially triggering) blog post by Charlotte Desorgher relates her experience visiting Cairo as a young belly dancer. She was gang-raped by a group of Egyptian men. Her story of struggling to come to terms with Egyptian culture–which has been incredibly influential in the history of belly dance, but which also allows for profoundly misogynistic behaviors–is sad and powerful.
Discussing these issues is complicated, as Desorgher acknowledges: “I know this is difficult stuff to talk about â€“ to say that many Arab men think we are sluts for being Western AND bellydancers is not only tough and unpleasant, it also risks feeding the Islamophobia that is increasingly prevalent in our society.” Certainly, it’s not my intention here to say that all Western women need fear for their safety in Islamic contexts; goodness knows there’s plenty of rape and sexual assault in the West too. But it is difficult to disentangle these issues–ethnicity, religion, home vs. elsewhere, sexuality, Orientalism–especially when they are wrapped up in a beautiful package like belly dancing.
I’m saddened that my dance form has roots in cultures that display horrendous misogyny at times… but I also find it quite sobering to realize that even when we teach and perform belly dancing at “home” here in the West, we are doing so in a context where the female body is sexualized and dehumanized through other strategies such as capitalism, consumerism, and the sexually conservative attitudes that stem from certain veins of Christianity (rather than Islam). Sometimes it feels like a lose-lose situation, but that’s one of the reasons I keep dancing: to educate. To feel joy. To connect with other women and other cultures. It’s better than living in constant fear, right?
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