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Belly dance and cultural appropriation

Any belly dancers out there in Groupthink land? I'd be interested in your take on this Salon article.

Why I Can't Stand White Belly Dancers


I feel like there is room to have a nuanced discussion about the strains of Orientalism present in some kinds of belly dance, but this article really, really isn't it. For one thing, the author completely ignores other kinds of dance that fall under the broad category of "belly dance," like Turkish, Greek, Roma, or even American cabaret, to say nothing of fusion styles. Egyptian raqs sharqi is only one form of belly dance. The "Arab princess" motif is certainly present in some inflections of modern belly dance, but this analysis of all "white" belly dancers (i.e. non-Arab) as performing fetishized Arab drag is really...shallow. Not only does it ignore the diversity of belly dance, but it veers really close to that particularly frustrating strain of purism in belly dance that refuses to acknowledge the ways that the dance has evolved from its more "traditional" roots. Even the word "traditional" is problematic when talking about belly dance, because there really is no such thing. Even the Egyptian dance that the author frames as a pure form of cultural expression that has been appropriated by white women was actually heavily influenced by European dance, when cabaret owners in Cairo brought in Russian ballerinas to teach the rural peasant dancers how to have the long lines of classical dancers. Belly dance has always been a fusion. If we want to talk about appropriation and belly dance, we can't rely on false constructions of cultural purism that never existed in the first place. It's a much more complicated history of both colonialism and cultural exchange.

Anyway, I have lots of thoughts (mostly about fusion dance and how it fits into this discussion about appropriation and the evolution of art forms), but they are not at all coherent and I'm mostly interested in hearing your thoughts - especially if you're a belly dancer yourself, Arab or otherwise.

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