Filler
Photo of Shira

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Dear Shira

Shira

Dear Shira:

Do I Need to Shave My Armpits?

 

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The Question

Dear Shira:

I am preparing to do my first performance. Some people are telling me I need to remove the hair from my armpits before I perform, but I really don't want to. I think hairy armpits are sexy, and more natural than shaved ones, but other people are telling me they're gross and I should shave them. What do you think?

— Hairy Mary, Quite Contrary

 

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Shira Responds

Dear Mary,

In North America where we live, the overwhelming majority of women depilate (remove the hair from) their armpits. Women like you who prefer to let it grow typically do so for the same reasons that you mentioned, reasons which you've said are very important to you. I understand how annoying it must be to receive pressure from other people to conform to standards that you don't agree with. You now have a decision to make — which is more important to you, the principles that made you decide to let your armpit hair grow, or doing what's necessary to satisfy the people who don't think you should perform publicly with furry armpits?

This is a conflict between what you personally want for yourself versus what someone else is pressuring you to do. So, either both sides must compromise or one side must give in. Even if you get what you want (in this case, keeping your armpit pelt), you may need to sacrifice something else (such as future performance opportunities) along the way. Sometimes life is about making choices, and accepting the consequences of your decisions.

PHOTO CREDIT: This photo of one of Shira's performances in Egypt was taken by Andre Elbing, Bärbroich, Germany.

So, should you remove your armpit hair before performing? As with many things in life, the answer to this question is, "It depends." Here are the things you need to consider when deciding what to do:

Shira Showing Her Armpits in a Pose
  • Who, exactly, is saying you need to remove your armpit hair? Your teacher? The person organizing the event that you will be dancing in? Your classmates or fellow troupe members? Your friends? Your spouse? How important is this person's opinion to your future dance opportunities?
  • What kind of costume are you wearing?
  • Will you be dancing a solo, or appearing in a group number?
  • What kind of people will be in the audience?
  • In what environment will you be dancing?
  • What will happen if you defy all the opposing opinions and display your underarm forest proudly?

Let's take a look at the above issues, one at a time.

First, What Are Your Options?

Here are your options:

  • Remove the armpit hair.
  • Create costuming for yourself that covers the underarms so that people won't see the hair.
  • Keep the armpit hair and allow it to be visible to the audience, knowing that there could be consequences.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.

Shira Showing Her Armpits

Why Can't I Just Do What I Want?

When you dance in the privacy of your own home or solely in front of your friends and family, you can groom yourself as you please. However, when you perform more publicly, you are inserting yourself into other people's lives: those of the audience members whom you expect to watch you, those of the organizers who provide you with the opportunity, and those of the other people who perform in the same show. This is a responsibility. Performing is not a right, it's a privilege to be earned. People give you the gift of their attention and trust, and you in turn need to show yourself worthy of it. If you are not willing to set aside some of your personal wants in order to provide a pleasing experience for your audience, then you are not emotionally ready to perform in public.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Iowa City, Iowa.

Who Is Telling You to Shave?

Some people's opinions matter more than others. When you receive dance advice from other people, you need to consider the source.

  • Your Teacher or Troupe Director. If your teacher or troupe director is telling you to remove your armpit hair as a requirement for this performance, then you need to either do it or wear a costume that covers it. When you perform in a situation that your teacher or troupe director has arranged for you, you represent that person, and everything about your performance reflects back on her / his reputation. If this person is providing the opportunity, you'll need to do things her / his way. Just remember, this person's advice is based on experience. If you don't want to follow this advice, you need to ask yourself why.
Shira Showing Her Armpits
    • Do you trust your teacher's or troupe director's judgment and expertise? If not, then maybe you should find a different teacher or troupe to work with.
    • Are you rebelling against the idea of someone else telling you what to do? If so, remember that a teacher / student relationship is not one of equals. The teacher is, in a way, an authority figure. If you consistently rebel against authority figures including your dance teacher, boss, mother, local police force, etc., then maybe you have some deep-seated personal issues unrelated to dance that you need to work through. It's normal for teen-agers to rebel against almost any type of authority, but part of growing into adulthood involves learning to recognize when it's appropriate to accept someone else's authority and follow other people's instructions.
    • Is your desire to keep your armpit hair more important than doing this performance? If so, then maybe you need to look for a teacher or troupe whose attitudes toward armpit pelts are more compatible with your own. As long as you stay with your current teacher or troupe director, you'll experience ongoing conflict over this issue.

    PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.

Shira Showing Her Armpits
  • The Person Organizing the Event. It takes a significant amount of work to create showcases for dancers to perform. Event organizers usually feel they are doing people a favor by creating these opportunities. If someone is organizing an event and inviting you to dance, then you need to follow any rules that this person has set forth. This applies not only to grooming rules, but also to length of performance, type of music, type of costuming, visibility of tattoos, use of a cover-up when not actually dancing, or anything else. Otherwise, you won't be invited back in the future. You'll be seen as "too difficult", "too immature", "too selfish", or "too rebellious". If the event organizer is comfortable with the idea of hairy armpits, then it may be acceptable to let yours show, depending on the other factors I've described in this response. However, if the organizer demands that underarms be either hairless or covered, then you need to choose between performing in this event or getting rid of the hair.

    PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.
Shira Showing Her Armpits
  • A Restaurant or Nightclub Owner. If the restaurant owner tells you that people with furry armpits are not acceptable as performers in his / her establishment, then you'll need to accept that this person is the decision-maker. Business owners have a right to set rules for performers, because your behavior affects how their clients will feel about patronizing their businesses. They may not want to take the risk of losing customers because of your rebellious armpit attitude. Or, they may personally find underarm forests unattractive and therefore not want such grooming displayed in their establishments. The easiest option in this case is to choose a costume that covers your armpits, hiding your hair. This allows you to stay true to your preferences while avoiding conflict with the owner. If, however, you feel a strong desire to choose a costume that displays your armpits, then you need to choose between the armpit hair or performing in this person's business establishment.
  • Your Classmates or Fellow Troupe Members. This depends on whether you will be performing with your classmates as a group (for example, a student showcase featuring your teacher's students) or whether you are performing a solo in an event separate from whatever they may be doing.

    PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.
Shira Showing Her Armpits
    • With Your Peers. If you will be dancing as a group of people that are identified as all being together (such as "Beulah's students" or "The Sunny Desert Troupe"), then the other dancers in that group have a legitimate reason to care what you do, because it will reflect on the group as a whole. If you're not willing to suppress your own preferences in order to fit in with what the majority feels is appropriate, then it may be better for you to leave this class / troupe and find one in which other people's views are more compatible with your own. You probably won't change their minds, and if you choose to disregard what they want, you will set the stage for further conflict in the future.
    • On Your Own. If you will be dancing a solo, and if the environment will not be describing you and the others as being all part of the same group, then their opinions aren't very important in this particular situation.
  • Your Friends, Family, or Spouse. If your loved ones aren't dancers, and won't be involved in this show, then they don't get a vote. Take their comments as input, give them whatever level of consideration you think they deserve, weigh the other factors in this article, then do as you see fit.

    PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by "K", Santa Clara, California.
Shira Showing Her Armpits

What About Costuming?

If your costume covers your armpits, then you can groom yourself as you please. The audience, event organizer, and restaurant owner will have no way of knowing what your grooming habits are if you cover them, and it's nobody's business what lies beneath your clothes.

However, for those costumes in which your armpits will be visible:

  • Beads & Sequins Glamor. If your costume is a glamorous confection of chiffon, satin, lycra, beads, and sequins, armpit hair is not compatible with that particular look. It clashes with the glamorous aesthetic of the sparkly costume style and materials.
  • Tribal or Otherwise Earthy. If your costume is earthy, then armpit hair is probably compatible with the look. An "earthy" costume would be one made of natural fibers, shells, coins, bits of bone, small stones, and similar materials.
  • Folkloric. A folkloric costume may be earthy, but if you're performing a folkloric dance in an ethnically-correct costume that shows your armpits, it's best to remove the hair. That's because women in the Middle East remove their body hair. It would be inaccurate to display armpit hair in a folkloric dance.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.

Shira

Solo or Group?

If you're dancing a solo that you personally organized without the help of your teacher or troupe leader, then you can make grooming choices that don't conform to their recommendations. That's because you are representing yourself, and your actions don't reflect directly on your teacher or other dancers.

If you're dancing with a group, then you need to consider the feelings of other group members. That's because your personal choices reflect on their reputations as well as your own.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

What Kind of People Will Be in the Audience?

A performer has a responsibility to consider who the audience will be, and to offer a performance appropriate to that audience. If you don't agree with this sentence, then you don't belong on a public stage. Period.

If the audience will be primarily Middle Eastern people, you should either remove or cover the armpit hair. In Middle Eastern cultures, the prevailing grooming belief is that women should remove their body hair — not just from their armpits, but also from other parts of the body. Displaying furry underarms is almost certain to destroy your chances of being hired for lucrative Middle Eastern weddings and private party gigs. Of course, if you don't dance in Egyptian or Lebanese style, this probably won't matter to you anyway because you're probably not seeking these gigs.

Shira Showing Her Armpits

If the bulk of your audience members are likely to be people who share your attitudes regarding armpit grooming, then most likely you can display your jungles with pride.

In What Environment Will You Be Dancing?

It seems almost silly, but some people assume that if you let your armpit hair grow, then you probably don't do other basic grooming practices such as bathing. They don't understand that you may believe in bathing regularly, but you just don't think hair removal is a necessary part of good hygiene. When such people see your underarm forest, they assume that you don't bathe and that you smell strongly of perspiration odor even if they're not close enough for their noses to know. This public response to armpit hair means that some environments are more hostile to wooly armpits than others.

The worst environment in which to dance with visible armpit hair is a restaurant. People typically are eating while you dance. If they happen to assume as described above that your armpit hear is an indication that you would smell like dirty laundry if you got within sniffing range, then the thought of your probable perspiration odor may spoil their appetites. The sight of your armpit fuzz may cause them to imagine they are smelling sweat, and that in turn taints their ability to enjoy the aromas of their food. This logic may seem crazy to you, but it's really how some people think. The other issue with restaurants is that typically dancers there perform closer to where people are sitting than dancers in other types of environments. This close proximity makes it easier to see details that they may prefer to not see.

Parties at which people are eating and drinking are also poor choices for exposing hairy armpits, unless you have reason to believe that the guests are primarily people who share your views on the subject.

For ethnic festivals, audiences expect performances that are representative of the region your dances come from. If you are dancing at an ethnic festival you should either cover the hair with your costuming or remove it. That's because belly dancing comes from the Middle East, and women in the Middle East remove the hair from their armpits. If you are not willing to consider the Middle Eastern aesthetics when performing, then an ethnic festival is not an appropriate environment for you as a performer.

Events that are more conducive to the hirsute natural look include student-level belly dance showcases, outdoor festivals, Renaissance Faires, Society for Creative Anachronism events, campouts, avant-garde venues, art galleries, etc.

What Will Happen if You Defy Everyone and Keep Your Hair?

Ultimately, you need to weigh all the factors I discussed above and decide what to do. It's your choice. Just remember, whatever choice you make will lead to some kind of results. If you choose to proudly display your fur, then the following may happen, depending on the environment in which you danced:

  • You may ruin your chances for future performances in your teacher's student showcases, your troupe gigs, certain restaurants, or certain private party environments. Are you ready to accept the loss of these opportunities?
  • You may have many people, even strangers, telling you that you should have either covered the hair with costuming or removed it before performing. Are you ready to patiently and courteously answer all these comments?
  • You may find yourself dealing with conflict and drama from your teacher, your troupe director, the person who organized the dance event at which you performed, the restaurant owner, or your dance friends. Is your commitment to your underarm jungle important enough to outweigh the drama it may cause?

You have the right to choose whether to publicly exhibit armpit hair or not. But with that freedom comes responsibility — the responsbility of accepting any negative consequences that may come of your decision. Don't blame everybody else or whine about "politics" if the choices you make today cause people to exclude you from future performance opportunities.

In Conclusion

If your costuming covers your armpits, then this whole debate is a non-issue. It's nobody's business what lies beneath your clothing.

There are dancers who proudly let their armpit hair wave in the breeze. They realize that it excludes them from dancing in certain environments, and they accept the trade-off. You can be a non-conformist like them, but before making the decision to do it, make sure you're emotionally strong enough to accept the criticism, negativity, and pressure that go with such non-conforming.

Because the majority of North American society believes that hairless armpits are an important part of good grooming and hygiene for women, anybody who displays her fur will be noticed. It may even be a distraction that draws attention away from your dancing. Do you want people who saw your performance to refer to you as, "The one with the hairy armpits," or do you want them to refer to you as, "The one who did the awesome drum solo"? Of course, some dancers have the charisma to draw attention away from their armpits and back to their dancing — but do you?

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Shira Showing Her Armpits

 

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About this Column

Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.

 

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