Funny fact: I´ve been told, by men and women, I´m intimidating. Although I don´t understand, exactly, what they mean by it (define”intimidating”), I know for a fact most people don´t have the guts to tell me what they think. They´ll do it on my back, never on my face. Particularly if the subject is Egyptian Dance, or dancers, and what they have to say is something potentially offensive or stupid (often both).
Another funny fact: I get the hints. I can also read people´s minds – a skill I´m more disgusted than thankful for. I know what lies in the subtext, the things that are said when nothing is being said. I´m a dancer, folks! Interpreting silence is what I do for a living.
Almost no one will advise me to undress – as in wearing revealing cloths on and off stage in order to satisfy the curiosity, the expectations and the phantasies of whoever watches me dance.
Notice I said almost.
Some years ago, while I was living and performing with my orchestra in Egypt, a so called “dance empresario” criticized me for two major crimes:
- Not being friendly with men. Friendly, in this context, means seducing men in exchange for professional benefits.
- Dancing with too much cloths on.
He believed these two crimes were huge obstacles to my ascension to mainstream stardom. And he was right. In order to have my success upgraded to the level of the masses, I´d have to sell my soul to the devil.
The thing is I cherish my dignity as a human being more than I cherish any dirty success. And I don´t get along with the devil – I´ve met him, on several occasions, and he´s boring as hell.
A successful career is important but a successful life I can be proud of is more. Others may not know what you did in order to get that opportunity but, in the end, you know and that´s enough for a life time of hell. At least, for me.
I did wonderfully in my work. We had full houses, every day, coming to watch the show because they loved the quality of the music and the dance we produced, not because they knew I´d offer them a light porno show to appease their sexual repression.
I dressed for the dance, not for their phantasies; I moved, on the stage as outside of it, as I am and not according to the expectations they had of a “bellydancer”.
And I never – ever – saw myself as a bellydancer. To tell you the truth, I don´t even know what that is anymore. I did, when I was ignorant.Then I studied, I digged in the field; I headed into the lion´s mouth: I worked in Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, then Egypt for 8 years, performing and teaching and researching and learning and learning and learning. And learning some more.
I had to drop the “bellydance” term – it was the only logical consequence to my increasing knowledge. If you know enough about the craft, and History, of Egyptian Oriental and Folkloric dances, you recognize where the term “bellydance” belongs: in the past, within a concrete context which doesn´t exist anymore. It´s outdated, limited and associated with stigmas which, I believe, every dancer would wish to erase.
To hell with promises of mainstream stardom! I´ll take my local – now international – stardom, thank you very much. I dressed as I pleased and refused to play the Vamp-Men Eater-Bellydancer Glamorous Prostitute game. I´d rather walk with my head up high (something many never forgave me for) than to hold a fake stardom label.
Hints, more subtle than the ones I received in Egypt, kept falling on my lap, after I started working around the world. You´d think mentalities towards Oriental Dance and dancers are more evolved in the West but I have a surprise for you. They aren´t. Not as much as you might think.
No one ever came to me and told me, directly: You should wear revealing cloths on stage because people want to see flesh or you should befriend this and that person in order for them to promote you. Nobody did and yet everybody does.
I once heard a mean, sour dancer mentioning dance contracts were offered based on revealing, flashy pictures and not on dance quality. She defended a lot of dancers were being promoted and hired exclusively based on their va va voom, sexy bombshell, I´ll show you a boob or two photos. At first, I thought that was absurd. I´ve been hired by sponsors/organizers from all over the world and I don´t invest on that kind of image. Slowly but surely, I started to get her point.
Fair enough: there are a lot of people for whom Egyptian Dance is just a business, a way to make money and, eventually, have their egos pampered. There are others who truly love it, understand it and wish to see it respected.
I show as much skin as necessary to communicate what I need to communicate in my dance; I use the cloths that fit the dance style in question and its purpose, not the audience´s expectations of a naked bellydancer with a snake up her neck.
I deliberatly choose cloths that call the attention to the dance, the character it represents and the expression rather than to my body. I wouldn´t do it if I didn´t know how to dance. If all you have to offer is your body, I understand you focus on showing it as much as possible. If all you have to offer is the unlimited potential of your dance, you definitely focus on exploring it.
I believe choices change mentalities, not (only) words. The choice to dress in a way that serves your art – naked, fully covered or anything in between -; the choice of dealing with people like a professional, not like a seductress whose only talents are an open, watering mouth and a pair of breasts.
Choices make US, OUR DANCE and the FUTURE of our art.
As for the “friendly” part – to specific men or groups – I say, quite poetically:
screw you! Get a life! A real life. Not an array of lies that leave you and your eyes empty but a life where feelings are genuine and smiles come, if they wish to, from the heart.
I love who I love not for the benefits a person can bring me but for the sake of love; I ignore whom I don´t like. And I´ll be the first to shoot myself in the feet if the person who can “help my career” is someone I dislike. I´ll refuse to shake hands, walk away and go exactly where Artists go when they´re not working: home. A real home which can inspire real art.
You want naked bellydancers? Go to a strip tease club.
You want friendly ladies? Go to a brothel.
Oriental Dancers are of divine realm – understand it or leave it.