Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why I Love White Belly Dancers (and dancers of all other colors)

Belly dancers come in all colors, shapes, sizes and ages!

I can't bring myself to read that article that all the belly dancers are mad about, you know, the one where the author doesn't like white belly dancers and thinks we're engaging in some harmful cultural appropriation. But what I can do is write something pleasant about diversity in dance.

One of the things that I love the most about this dance form is how inclusive it is. I've known dancers of various races, sizes, shapes, ages, genders and sexual orientation and while there may be the occasional other dancer who isn't as accepting as we would like, the community as a whole is cool about everyone being welcome. We're also welcoming of different religions, political groups, professions and more.

I love belly dance for introducing me to all sorts of people I never would have met otherwise. I've made friends with whom I had a zillion things in common, and friends from very different walks of life from me. It's really broadened my horizons and made me better at relating to people with whom I only have one thing in common.

I'm not saying that there's never any cultural appropriation in dance. I've seen and heard about things that could be considered culturally insensitive and inappropriate. But I've also known people whiter than me (yes, it is possible) who have dedicated themselves to presenting a culturally accurate and respectful version of Egyptian Raqs Sharqi. I know people who study and perform authentic cultural dances from the Middle East to authentic music in authentic costumes. I know people who travel overseas to learn more about the dance, who study Arabic, etc. And for those of us who perform Americanized styles such as my beloved "tribal fusion", many of us still make the effort to learn about the roots of our dance, familiarize ourselves with the greats in traditional styles, study with Egyptian-style teachers, and educate our general-public audiences about the difference between what we're doing and what they're used to seeing at the Lebanese restaurant across town.

No matter what, I know that some people are still going to be offended by non-Middle-Eastern dancers doing belly dance, and there's nothing I can do about that. But there's lots of other things I do in my life that might offend people (my way of dressing isn't modest enough for some religions, I have a tattoo, I say naughty words, I eat meat, I post pictures of insects on FB even though I know I have friends who are afraid of them, I'm just a bundle of offenses). I'm going to keep dancing, because I love it, and I'm going to keep being white, because I have no choice in the matter, and I'm going to keep loving the diverse community that I am a part of. 

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