Raqs sharqi dance snobbery is a rarity in my life. When I say dance snobbery, I meanĀ  people being dismissive about Middle Eastern dance. Mainly because I choose not to mention it in most parts of my life. I’ve only recently become more comfortable discussing my dancing and luckily, the response has been pretty positive. The worst responses have been from people rather close to me.

Last night was my first experience with dance snobbery within a dance community. At Bharatanatyam, some of my classmates were chortling about non-present students who are, as they described themselves, “belly dancers” (I’ve heard of them in passing). I never felt inclined to share to much about myself; my class doesn’t have much community in it, and I’m really there to dance. Their attitude bothered me, because well, Middle Eastern dance is a huge part of my life. My classmates and I work ridiculously hard; I can’t attest to the students by whom my classmates were amused (I’ve heard excellent things about their troupe, though), but I can safely say that there are talented, hardworking Middle Eastern dancers in the Boston-area.

I’ve always been at a weird spot with dance. I don’t lie about it being a part of my life, but I also don’t share it. The reasons are simply people are judgmental and often will say offensive/ignorant things that indicate that they aren’t willing to learn about the styles I dance.

Because everyone is on Facebook nowadays and it’s slowly becoming the best way to be in the know, my personal Facebook profile is containing more and more information on my dance life. I don’t know how in depth people read Facebook profiles on my list, but the whole thing has me thinking on a grander scale. Rather than be vague about how I spend my non-work time, I decided that I will share what I do. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Classical Indian dance and Middle Eastern dance are 100% family friendly. The Middle Eastern dance community often talks about how we have nothing to be ashamed of and how it makes no sense that people perceive the dance as family-unfriendly. I feel like by not letting friends and close acquaintances know about a huge part of my life, I am behaving like I have something to hide when I do not.

In terms of jobs and my non-dance/personal life, I’ll still handle things in a more discreet way. I tend not to share most of my life at work anyway, so I don’t feel that my behavior is contradictory there.

My SO has been to about 3 lessons and loves dancing. However, in this very brief time, he’s already discovered what it’s like to tell people you do Middle Eastern dance. His parents were curious (they already know I am heavily involved in dance), but they have been very accepting. His martial arts instructor has been interested and very supportive. One of his friends, though, had a negative reaction to my SO doing Middle Eastern dance and essentially insulted his masculinity.

I think that one reaction is really sad. I commend him for not quitting and for standing up for himself, but it is really disheartening to have someone say something like that. I wish more people would be more open-minded and not say hurtful things. I heard enough stories about people letting that one person get to them, no matter how many others are supportive. I hope everyone who has a bad run-in with someone doesn’t let it get to them.

Somehow, my blog got tagged in some catalog with “Topless dancer.” No, I’m not a topless dancer or a stripper or a burlesque dancer.

I struggle to write about this, because I think it often becomes condescending towards the above. I recognize that they’re all different and support a woman’s (or man’s) right to work in those industries. Off the top of my head, a Middle Eastern/belly dancer differs from a topless dancer in that

  • S/he doesn’t remove her top. If you’re hiring a Middle Eastern dancer hoping for that, you really should hire someone else
  • S/he performs a cultural dance. Sure, there’s a lot of Hollywood in the current costumes, but the movements, the music, etc. are a part of Middle Eastern dance.
  • S/he provides family entertainment. I’d be hardpressed to find a person who thinks it’s cool to hire a topless dancer for a child’s party. With Middle Eastern dance, a few friends have “Princess Jasmine” birthday party packages where they dress up like the character from Aladdin and do a birthday party thing for little kids.
  • The age range. Middle Eastern dancers range from children to much older women. I don’t see the same in topless dancers

I hope this clears up some misperceptions.