In the Belly of Nuit
Am I still a Bellydancer?
Widening Your Horizons

Part Two - Am I Still a Bellydancer?


Last week's blog post called "Am I Still a Bellydancer?" was an eye opener. It has been read over 4500 times so far and received more comments directly on the post than all of my other previous posts put together. The re-posting on other group and personal Facebook walls with their long list of comments is something I can not keep up with. People I had not heard from in years came out of the woodwork with their comments and encouragement. Ioana Timariu wrote..."in zeitgeist spirit...". She may be right.

I thought the post would be provocative and polarizing. I had been contemplating the idea for an awfully long time and eventually had to overcome the fear and commit to the itch in my heart. There were very few FB likes but many more people took the time to re-post on their own FB wall asking for feedback or wrote powerful words of encouragement in the comments, on the blog and privately through messaging and emails. I feel honoured and comforted that so many world respected artists whom I admire commented that they had either done the same or were contemplating the same position. Jalilah Zamora aligning with Aunt Rocky and noting the work of Arabesque wondered why I had not done so earlier.

Fearless Luna of Cairo took my thoughts one step further on the Facebook page called "Bellydance Matters" that helped to clarify where I was coming from. Some fav comments were "standing ovation" from DaVid of Scandinavia and one that I forgot its origin that said something to the effect of "I have so much to say but am not ready yet" or another that stated "like so many others before her" or Michael Menegon's "ah, the true artist emerges".

Many people wrote about what is and is not Bellydance or Belly Dance in their opinion. The endless list of variables I offered in the blog is the tip of the iceberg and as I said in the post, this long list only proves that "Bellydance inspires a fountain of creativity and that is why I love it ". I would like to add  that I will always love it and have always loved it. I am not sure anyone has the authority to determine what Bellydance is or is not if indeed its lifespan is so long. I prefer to look at Bellydance as a spirit that reveals itself in Sohair Zaki to Khairiyya Mazin to April Rose. I like to think that this same spirit inspired Isadora Duncan and Ruth St.Denis. Pelvic centered movement is certainly one of its trademarks but many dances the world over are pelvic centered. I believe it is the emotionalism, spirit and motive that creates the often sensual movement that makes Bellydance special.

If due respect was given to this ancient art form often named Bellydance, then I may not want to venture from the label. When the spirit is allowed to thrive and breath through artists whose motives come from respect of the art form above and beyond their bank account or ego gratification, or sexual insecurities, then Bellydance is alive and well. I have never let the general public's view of the term "Bellydance" be a deterrent for me. It is the respect, or lack of, given to the art form from the very people who call themselves Bellydancers that worries me. What are the motives is the question for me? I look around me when I travel physically and online and I see more concern placed on the biz of Bellydance than respecting the art and onself as an artist. 

The Arab community of fans and musicians around me who have been my mentors from the beginning say that my work with Arabesque is not Bellydance, as they understand it, yet they say it is true to the Arab artistic essence and soul. Arts councils that make Arabesque productions possible will not fund a dance form that has competition as part of its presentation format or takes money in their bra strap while dancing on a table. This combined with a biz emphasis in the Bellydance community that I do not feel connected to or even know how to navigate has led me to realize that maybe it is time to call myself something else.

"Arabesque dance art" is deeply rooted in Bellydance, Arab dance, Raqs Sharqi, Orental dance. Beledhi, etc, and this wonderful art form has given me legs to walk my own path into the future. No doubt this is scary, actually, very scary, but honestly, since I wrote the first post six days ago, I have felt lighter, more free, more inspired and getting very excited about the future.

I still love Bellydancing and of course Bellydancers and my heart is still a Bellydancer. I have fought and worked very hard for 34 years to help all I can in the effort towards Bellydance taking its place as a legit and respected art form in the mainstream dance wiorld. However, I am not willing to fight on behalf of a commercial business industry. Hopefully by re-labelling my work, it will still further the reach of the Bellydance spirit as art.

Sawah - Afrita Nomad





Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Prince Rafik

Belly dance , oriental dance " what ever you want to call or name it" is an Art like any others. Many Art council around the world have now endorsed it and have recognised it it's an Art form of 2000 years of civilisation. We promote from positive prospective rather than negative. Variation of unique oriental dance bringing out joy and smiles on many Art lover around the world. Contribution from you and others have made belly dance beautiful as it can be. Congratulation for being part of Bellydance communities through out of the world. From London Thanking you.


I love all that you are saying! As an American I envy you for having arts council support for your art. Maybe Americans are all about the biz because we have 0 support. Some cities and states are better than California. If we are to do productions it all has to come from our own bank accounts, so we are trying to make the best business decisions possible. I can't believe I'm even defending the biz part of Bellydance since I truly do not like it, but it's a sad fact here.

Kathy Kraft

HI Yasmina,
I think that you, like all other inventors, messengers, and pioneers in society, have moments of doubt. But few talk or have talked about it. You are so busy inspiring all of us, but who inspires you? When do you have time for yourself? I hope that you do find some time, and know that so many love you and are inspired by you. I know that you will continue to go on inspiring,it's just what you were meant to do. <3

Linda Riyad

The power of what we've been calling Belly Dance is evident in that performers of so many styles and manifestations of Middle Eastern Dance claim the term.

I too have considered changing my website, which includes the words "belly dance". I stopped putting the term on my business cards a long time ago, but there is an issue with branding that many dancers must overcome.
Steering clear of "Belly Dance" is a double edged sword. If I use another term, many people simply cannot picture what it is that I do. Then again, maybe I don't want them to have whatever picture they associate with "belly dance." The majority of clients search for our performances and classes by entering those words (or 'that word', if you prefer Bellydance). It's only three easy syllables; it's catchy; and it has permeated international pop culture. Remember, too that many cultures discovered this dance without the same negative connotations that Anglo-North America did. To them, the term is as innocuous as "ballet". With all of that in mind, many dancers over the years have worked to reclaim the term. Either way, change will happen slowly.

"Belly Dance" is, of course, too limited (not just in terms of body parts). The folk dances of the Middle East are certainly not "belly dance," yet any worthy professional studies and can perform them. I prefer the term "Middle Eastern Dance" for what I do (as "Oriental" makes many Westerners think of Eastern Asia) and the title "artist" for my role. ("Performer" does not imply instruction or choreographer, both of which I do in addition to performance.)

I have never thought that the words themselves were the real culprits of so much misunderstanding. If all of the performers who called themselves "Belly Dancers" were tasteful, artistic, socially-aware, knowledgeable connoisseurs of Middle Eastern art forms, we would never have to have such conversations. But like the practices of tipping, we have had to constantly distance ourselves from the stigma of irresponsible performers and misguided associations. (Remember the good-old-days when getting tipped with a money shower was the respectable way and DIDN'T remind customers of "makin' it rain"? - Ah, the stripper associations continue...)

Whether trying to distance oneself from the term or trying to reclaim it, I think the most important job we have is to keep the standards for music and dance knowledge, cultural awareness, ethnological preservation, performance quality, and business standards as high as possible. "What's in a name?" Whatever meaning you put into it.

The comments to this entry are closed.