What a completely offensive bitch….oops. I was being judgmental…just like her. My bad.
Came across this blog post through another dancer…
This blogger, Lisa, claims to be “sarcastic”. She’s not sarcastic….she’s mean. She’s very offensive, suggesting bellydancers are uneducated “beauty school drop outs” and “wanna be strippers”. I feel like if she honestly wanted to know and felt uncomfortable, she could have asked nicely, or done some research herself. She turned it into a chance to be mean, insulting, and pick on women…
Read it for yourself and weigh in. Even Zoe Jake’s attention was nabbed by it. She of course, was super sweet in her reply to help educate this woman.
The lovely Shina posted a reply on Lisa Newlin’s face book page as follows and I couldn’t have answered better myself:
(Head here for Shina’s site. http://shira.net/about/media-stereotypes.htm )
“Hi Lisa! Since seeing someone post a link to your blog about belly dancing earlier today, I’ve been meaning to write a note of my own to you.
First, I would like to apologize for the angry comments you have received from belly dancers all over the world. I’ve been belly dancing since 1981 and I’m quite passionate about it, but in reading your blog I saw three things that have affected the way I personally want to respond to you: 1) I believe you honestly weren’t sure where to look when watching the belly dancer, and decided to write about it; 2) I think you believe some misconceptions about belly dancing that have been perpetrated by the mass media for over 100 years; 3) I think you were trying to use insult-the-belly-dancers humor to entertain your readers; 4) I suspect you had no idea how offensive the types of things you wrote would come across to us, nor did you realize that (intentionally or not) you managed to voice many of the tired old stereotypes that we’ve been battling for half a century.
Little did you know that thousands of people all over the world would take exception to what you wrote. In my response, I’d like to help you see why so many of us did.
Taking my above 3 points in order….
#1. Not Knowing Where to Look.
I see from other comments posted on this page that other people have already sent you a link to the article I wrote titled “How to Be an Appreciative Audience Member”, so I won’t repeat the link here. As I read your blog, I found myself thinking, “I need to go back to that article and add a section advising audience members on where to look.” As I reflect on my many restaurant performances over the years, I remember many people behaving as if that were exactly their issue.
Anyway, make eye contact as we approach and smile. If we’re using a prop such as a large piece of fabric or a sword, you can always gaze at the prop. It’s okay to allow your glance to rest on our hips for whatever length of time fits within your comfort level, and then let your eyes follow what our arms are doing. It’s ok to take your eyes off of us and return to conversation with your dinner companion.
#2. Misconceptions and Stereotypes
For over 100 years, the American mass media have misrepresented belly dancing, portraying it as a dance of seduction. Why? Well, for the media, sex sells. It serves their agenda to portray belly dance in this way. If you’d like to read an article I’ve written about this, see my web site at http://shira.net/about/media-stereotypes.htm . I’ve also developed a lecture on this subject called “Hares in the Harem and Fantasies of Seduction”, showing how even children’s cartoons have painted a picture of belly dancing as being all about seducing men.
From my years of studying this dance and researching its history, it has become clear to me that in the cultures Oriental dance (its correct name) comes from, this dance is something people use for entertainment at parties. Just as, in our own culture, we might enjoy doing ballroom dance ourselves with our favorite partners but also watching Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers do an amped-up version in the movies, so it is with belly dance in the Middle East.
I’ve been a guest in Egyptian homes and at Egyptian weddings, and I’ve seen the dance used in the context of its culture. People will get up and belly dance with each other at wedding receptions, with the women on one side of the room dancing with each other, and with the men on the other side of the room, dancing with each other. It’s what people do for fun – a dance of joy. It’s also a performing art – those same weddings with social dancing on the dance floor will also often bring in a professional dancer to do a performance, as entertainment.
Here in America, belly dancing is also actually PRIMARILY a dance that women do for fun, in front of an audience of other women. Surprised? There’s a huge subculture of belly dance “insider” events at which dancers organize parties and take turns performing for each other. These are generally not marketed to the general public, so the audience members consist and dancers, their friends, and their families. Usually, there are very few men at these events because any man with a belly dancer in his life quickly gets bored at being dragged to these things. Belly dancing in our own culture is the ultimate female bonding experience – bringing potluck snacks, having sewing parties, dressing up in cool costumes, etc.
Anyway, because of the mass media, we belly dancers are really, really tired of the whole comparison with stripping. Belly dancing has nothing to do with stripping, and it’s offensive to us when someone makes the types of comments you made. We’ve been fighting this stereotype for many decades, and it damages us when people like you drag it into a discussion of belly dancing. How does it damage us, you ask? It makes churches hesitate to let us rent out their fellowship halls for teaching classes or hosting our events. It makes cities hesitate to let us have a spot performing at their city festivals. My in-laws’ nursing home refused to let my mother-in-law arrange for me to perform there because “somebody might be offended” – when she told her friends that’s why I wasn’t going to perform, they got together a petition demanding that the place allow it. They did, and it was so immensely popular that they had to move it to the biggest room they had to ensure everybody who wanted to watch would fit. So, this stupid stripper stereotype really irritates us, and every time someone references it in connection with belly dancing, it keeps the stereotype alive. And that played a big role in your getting the hostile reaction you did from so many angry belly dancers.
Two more articles on my web site I’d like to recommend for further reading:
Oriental Dance: A Dance for the Whole Family at http://shira.net/whole-family.htm
“Isn’t That Like Stripping?” at http://shira.net/likestrip.htm
Another stereotype that we belly dancers have heard a lot and, quite frankly, are very tired of, is the one suggesting that we must not be very bright or well educated. And unfortunately, by dragging THAT stereotype into your article, you pushed another button that enraged a lot of belly dancers.
Although there are dancers whose sole income comes from belly dancing, many of us have a different “primary” profession. For example, I work for a very large technology company in sales and marketing (a career I’ve been in for over 30 years), and I hold a Master’s degree in Business Administration. If you ever see me dancing at a restaurant, there’ll be no need to hand me a brochure for a technical school, because I’ve already got a highly successful technology career.
Surely you aren’t very happy about it when people believe all the obnoxious stereotypes about lawyers, believing you all to be ambulance chasers and soulless sharks. Well, we don’t like it when people believe the stereotypes about us, either.
#3. Using Insults as Humor
Okay, I “get” that you were trying to use over-the-top humor. I didn’t seriously believe you were screaming at the dancer over the music, for example.
But, did you really *have* to choose humor that would be openly insulting to belly dancers? Did you have to imply that we’re stupid and uneducated (wanting to give the dancer a college brochure)? Did you have to liken us to strippers? Here’s a hint: repeating the same old stereotypes people have been repeating for half a century isn’t clever, it’s trite.
Insults aren’t the only flavor of humor, you know. You could have made playful observations about being blinded by the glittery sequins on her costume, or you could have talked about being afraid she’d get you up to dance and make you look foolish. You could have wondered whether she had a camel waiting for her in the parking lot, or mused about how many hours it would take her to remove her eye makeup once she got home.
#4. The Hostile Reactions
I’m truly sorry that you’ve been bombarded with hostile reactions. I’ve already explained that part of the hostility is due to the fact that you dragged damaging stereotypes into a conversation about belly dancing – stereotypes that REALLY DO harm us, and are not true. When people do that, we feel defamed. We worry that you’ve added yet another voice to influencing the public to believe something that harms us and leads to opportunities being denied us.
But it goes farther than that.
For many, many women in our culture, belly dancing is a passion. It opens so many doors for us. It offers us an artistic outlet. It provides an opportunity for us to build a circle of friends with other women. Some incorporate it into their personal spiritual practice. It enables entrepreneurial women to start their own businesses – as performers, as teachers, as costume designers/makers/importers, as event organizers, as retailers of belly dance supplies, and so much more. For me, when I felt lost after moving to a new city, it provided me a way to find my own small-town sense of community within a huge metropolitan area of 7 million people. Students who had experienced violence or incest in their past have confided to me that the physical act of belly dancing helped them heal, psychologically. It helps women with body image issues overcome those and feel GOOD about their bodies. Students who have suffered from long-time physical pain due to past injury or surgery have found relief from it through belly dancing. We dance because we love to dance. Most never perform in public, but they’ll dance at our “insider” gatherings.
And you insulted this thing that is so close to our hearts. Many people’s knee-jerk reaction was to fight back. They felt your attack as being personal because of how important belly dance is to their very souls, and they sought to retaliate. I’m sure you had no idea just how offensive your stereotypes and insult-humor would be. But, I guess you’ve found out.
I ask that you try to keep an open mind – I’m sure the angry reactions are still coming your way. I’ve tried to be gentle in explaining why so many of us were dismayed by certain aspects of your blog, and I hope you’re willing to consider what I’ve said. St. Louis isn’t so far from Iowa City, Iowa where I’m based – if you ever find yourself anywhere close to Iowa City, just give me a call – I’d be happy to sit down with you, have coffee, answer any questions you have about belly dance, and show you just how intelligent a belly dancer can be. <smile> Here’s my contact info: http://www.shira.net/shira/mailphone.htm