American Bellydance in Today’s Political Climate

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the state of our world right now. The heavier my heart gets
from all of the wrong and injustice in the world, the more important dancing becomes to me. I am so glad that in a time that is dark in many ways, I can bring fun, happiness and excitement to people, even for a moment. And through appreciation of art and beauty of any kind, people can set aside their differences and forget their cares. Live performance is more important than ever in times of war, hardship and unrest.

I think many bellydancers, in particular, are struggling with their inspiration to dance. In a time of such unrest in the Middle East, with political and religious revivals all over the world, being an American bellydancer puts us in a unique position. Being a bellydancer is not a reflection on any person’s political or religious beliefs, however, it is my strong opinion that we have a responsibility to study and understand the culture that our art originates from.

Nefabit Professional Bellydancer Spokane by John Austin

Photo by John Austin

In Egypt, dancers are being arrested for “inciting debauchery” and “disrupting morality” as the religious revival rises in the Middle East. Here on our own shores, some political candidates are condemning everything Middle Eastern, calling to deport all Muslims and bar entry to Syrians – even putting forth religious tests for refugees. And across our country and the world, religious extremists of various faiths are killing innocent people out of hatred.
Because of these and many other factors, some dancers are feeling disheartened. I must admit that I have had my own misgivings from time to time. Sometimes I wonder, “why would anyone want to see me bellydance right now?” On a few occasions, as I put my makeup on and packed my gig bag, it felt insignificant – frivolous even – when there is so much going on in the world. With paranoia mounting on all sides, I have felt less self-assured, and less confident of my safety and acceptance.

But to my fellow bellydancers and entertainers of all kinds, I remind you that being a performer now is more important than ever. Right now, people need hope, love, and joy. Live entertainers have an amazing ability to spread happiness, soothe unrest, and bring people together.
There is nothing that can replace that fleeting, intimate moment when a dancer and an audience member make eye contact and share an indefinable experience. Or witnessing the dancer moving in complete harmony with the music, and experiencing tarab, a musical ecstasy. Smiling at a stranger (not just smiling into the space above their heads) can be enough to melt a stressful day.
Bellydancers, in particular, have a unique opportunity to remind people of the good that comes from the Middle East. Modern chemistry, astronomy, and mathematics have roots in Arabia. There is so much artistic lineage in the Middle East, in every discipline from language, architecture, textiles, music, and of course, bellydance and various folkloric dances.

I think that being a bellydancer is relevant. So if you are feeling like you’re at a loss for inspiration or the news is making you feel downhearted, just think: if you can affect just one person today, you’ve done your job. Maybe someone will walk away from your show feeling less lonely. Maybe someone who has never seen bellydance will find a new appreciation for Middle Eastern culture. Maybe someone will work up the courage to take a bellydance class. If we focus on the positive, no matter how bleak the world gets, we will continue to make a beneficial impact on people’s lives, and that’s really what performing is all about.


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