Shaking the booty is still the highest expectation for many dancers and audiences. The old dog keeps his teeth tight against this bone, refusing to let go, no matter how rotten it is: the vamp-man eater-exotic stripteaser- prostitute image is stuck to the Oriental Dancer, no matter how many schools, festivals and efforts are made to fight it.
Egypt and all Middle Eastern countries grab themselves to this bone tighter than others, no doubt; but Europe, the so called birthplace of Western civilization, keeps grabbing the same bone. An intelligent, educated, free from pseudo-religious bullshit and well travelled mind doesn´t necessarily mean a fair understanding of Oriental Dance. On NO, it doesn´t.
A couple of years ago, a group of tourists from Europe visited Cairo and watched my show. Some of the ladies in that group were dancers, students of mine who have their own schools, festivals, autonomous dance life. At the end of the show, the group came backstage to say hi, I loved it, you´re so this and so that (thanks, ladies!), it´s so great to see Oriental Dance taken to a higher level and other lovely etcs. Some months after that meeting, I was sponsored by one of those ladies (whom I love dearly) and had the chance to hear the following gem:
-You remember the last time we came to see you dance in Cairo? – She asked me, between excited and reticent to open the subject.
-My boyfriend, at the time, had a very curious reaction to your show. We all loved it and he loved it too but kept commenting about things I just couldn´t see. He kept saying you were sexually provocative, flirting with rich men in the audience and moving without shame…can you imagine?
-Of course I can. Although none of those things were actually happening – except in his poor mind -, it´s not fresh news: oriental dancers are mirrors of societies´frustrations and repressions. This applies to Egypt – BIG TIME – but the rest of the world is also affected.
We laughed the matter away – better to laugh than to cry.
What brings me back to the booty: many dancers still choose to conform to what audiences expect from a “belly dancer” and play that role with the self-disrespect once observed in slaves (who had no choice, unlike most dancers of today). In this dance, the difference between FREEDOM and EXOTIC STRIPTEASE can be minimal – it´s a fine line that starts and ends in the dancer´s head and her self-respect.
If, instead of playing the stripper role (nothing against it but Oriental Dance is more interesting and rich than that), they played the SOUL´s stripping, we could be in an whole other level and see our dance respected as it deserves.
The word is INTERPRETATION; it´s also (for anyone who has studied Acting) Konstantin Stanislavski. Using your life, the emotions you actually felt (or feel, once you bring them back to the present) in order to TELL a STORY – this is what Oriental Dance is all about, although the majority keeps ignoring it.
Playing your own life, turning wounds into healing and sadness into joy is more difficult than just playing the dumb belly dancer doormat – I agree. Shaking your soul and exposing it through REAL feelings require more talent and risk than shaking your booty – I also agree. There´s no other way to elevate our dance (and yourself), though.
If you want to be respected, you have to respect yourself; if you want Oriental Dance to be respected, you have to bring it up from the dirt it has been dragged on for too many centuries. It makes no sense to expect a change of mentality while doing the same old shit that mainstream ignorance expects. In order to have new results, you have to create a new dance or simply dig the REAL dance from under the rubble of the ruins that cover Egypt.
Which one do you pick: shaking your booty or shaking your soul? Aside from the talent, exposure and serious work the second requires, it´s way more fun that the first. Leave the booty shaking for whomever doesn´t have a brain and a heart (´cause I know you have both).
“If you are looking for something, don’t go sit on the seashore and expect it to come and find you; you must search, search, search with all the stubbornness in you!”
― Konstantin Stanislavski, Building a Character