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

Talking to Other Christians About Belly Dance

 

 

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Introduction

Many belly dancers are Christian. Some are fortunate enough to receive encouragement from friends, family, and church members. Others are ostracized by these people in their lives. They struggle, feeling caught between the people they love and the dance they love.

If you find that someone in your life is uncomfortable with your love of belly dance, what then?

Some people's minds are so tightly closed that no amount of conversation will change the way they think about belly dance.

Other people, however, may be willing to listen to a different point of view from you. Treasure these people, because they value you more highly than they value their stereotypes and insecurities.

When someone raises doubts about your love for belly dance, your first challenge is to guess which category this person fits: closed mind, or willing to listen.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Shira is wearing a gallabiya, which is an Egyptian folkloric style of dress. This would be appropriate for performing baladi, which is the folkloric version of belly dance. Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.

This article offers ideas on how to talk with those who are willing to listen to you and learn more about how this dance fits into your life.

Shira

 

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Where to Start

It can often help to find out why the other person has a negative view of belly dance. Once you understand the objection, you'll be in a better position to share an alternate way of thinking about it.

Here's one possible approach. I don't bother with this when I think the other person is judgmental and closed-minded, but I often find it helpful if they're willing to re-examine what they think they know about belly dancing.

Show That You Are Genuinely Trying to Understand Their Concern

Repeat the objection back to the other person, using your own words. This will test whether you correctly understand the other person's issue.

Other Person: Well, I don't know why you would want to learn 'that kind of dance'.

You: I think you're saying you don't understand why belly dancing appeals to me?

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This antique colorized photo was taken by Gabriel Lekegian, a photographer who lived and worked in Cairo in the late 19th century. It was found in a box in New York in an estate sale, and identified as being a dancer named Chafika. It illustrates that dance attire wasn't always the skin-baring look we think of today. Follow this link for more information.

Ask Questions

Give the other person an opportunity to state why s/he has a negative view of belly dance. Don't assume that you already know, because you might be making the wrong assumption. You can't expect the other person to listen to you if you don't care enough to listen to their concern first.

You [in a kind, honestly interested tone of voice]: Can you clarify why you have a problem with belly dancing?

Sometimes what people say isn't really what they mean. For example, people might tell a car salesperson, "That car is too expensive," when what they really mean is either, "You haven't convinced me that it's actually worth that much money," or, "I love it, but I can't afford to spend that much."

So, at this point you can either rephrase whatever the person said, using different words, or you can ask a follow-up question such as this example:

Other Person: I've always thought belly dancing was a sin.

You [in a kind, willing-to-invite-further-comment voice]: Hmmm, that's an interesting point of view. Can you tell me more about why you feel that way?

You may need to ask some additional follow-up questions to find out what the other person's real objection to belly dancing is. It might not be what you think. You can't persuade a person if you argue the wrong point.

Shafiqa el-Koptiyya

Assume the Other Person Has Honorable Intentions

If the other person is normally reasonable, don't be aggressive, rude, or dismissive. Ask gently, politely, if they're willing to consider another point of view.

You: I realize you have a negative opinion of belly dancing because ___. I can see why you feel that way based on what you've heard / read / seen. However, that doesn't match the experience I've had with belly dance. May I share with you another way of looking at it?

See the talking points below for suggestions on how to respond to the other person's preconceived notions and negative stereotypes.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Shira is wearing a folkloric style of Egyptian dress known as a gallabiya, made from an Egyptian textile often known as tulle bitalli or assuit. The assuit fabric is sheer, and it is the dancer's choice how much of a covered look to wear under it. Dancers who want a modest look can wear a unitard (such as the one shown in the photo) or a full-length slip. Photo by John Rickman, San Jose, California.

Shira

 

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Talking Points for Discussing Belly Dance

The concerns I hear the most often from Christians about belly dancing are either that the person believes it to be a dance of seduction, or the person has seen a belly dancer's web site claiming it is linked to worship of ancient goddesses.

Here are some suggestions for responding to these two areas of concern. Pick the top 2 or 3 points that you feel most comfortable with, and bring those into your conversation.

Responding to the "Sexy" Stereotype

The primary concern I've heard over the years is that many people incorrectly think of belly dancing as a "dance of seduction" and therefore an act that could tempt others to sin.

When talking with Christian friends, it's important for us to remember that they have probably seen the sexy version of belly dance on television, in movies, and perhaps in live performances at restaurants. We shouldn't be angry if people think belly dance is always like what they saw. If we want to be credible, we need to acknowledge their own experience before we try to educate them on how we personally work with the dance.

You: "Oh dear, I'm sorry that dancer you saw on vacation in Turkey put on such a show. Unfortunately, women have been exploited throughout history to titillate men. It has happened not just with belly dance, but also ballet, hula, and many other dance forms. Please let me share with you some history, as well as what belly dance means to me."

Here are some talking points. Pick just one or two that you feel comfortable using:

  1. Belly dancing has existed a very long time. The sexy costumes have existed only since the beginning of the 20th century.
  2. The sexy costumes were created and promoted by the entertainment industry to sell show tickets and movie tickets. However, not all dancers, even today, choose to wear them. Many prefer a more modest look.
  3. Dancing is simply moving the human body to music. God knows what is in our hearts when we do it. We can use our bodies as instruments of praise.
  4. If you have photos of yourself wearing a gallabiya (folkloric dress) or other modest costume, show those to your friends. If you don't yet have photos of yourself in such costumes, show them the photos in this article.
  5. Ask the other person, "Where is the Holy Land?" Then point out that this is exactly where belly dance comes from, the Holy Land. Belly dance comes from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey.
  6. Point to the many Bible verses encouraging people to dance, such as Psalm 149:3: "Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with tambourine and lyre." Point out that because belly dance comes from the Holy Land, at least some of these Bible verses may have been referencing an ancient ancestor of belly dance.
  7. Use my article A Dance for the Whole Family to learn about and share information about the role belly dance plays in family occasions in The Holy Land: weddings, circumcisions, etc.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Shira is wearing a thobe, a traditional dress from Palestine. It would particularly fit well with a Christmas pageant, because Bethlem lies in Palestine, the region this style of dress comes from. For dance costuming purposes, a narrower cut might be appropriate. For debka performances, dancers will often wear a knee-length tunic in this style, over pants, so that the footwork of debka can be seen. For belly dance, a rectangular scarf would be tied at the hips to showcase the hipwork. Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

Shira

Responding to the "Ancient Goddesses" Stereotype

So far as I can tell, this origin theory was invented in the 1970's by U.S. belly dancers who wanted to make the dance seem exotic and empowering to prospective students. The earliest mention of this tale that I've been able to find was in the writings of Jamila Salimpour from California.

in the 1970's, some women jumbled together feminist political agenda, pursuit of sexual liberation, use of goddess spirituality to feel empowered, and the pleasure they felt in belly dancing. But... just because some women wanted their goddess origin theories of belly dancing to be true doesn't make it so.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This drawing from an 1848 traveler's diary shows what dancers in Egypt were wearing to perform in the 19th century.

So, now that you understand where the goddess origin theory comes from, here are suggestions on ways to respond if the other person brings it up:

  1. Even if someday someone can prove this origin theory to be true, it doesn't really change anything. Many items that were once used in Pagan religions are now very much a part of Christian celebrations: Christmas trees, candles, Yule log, gift-giving, mistletoe, holly, Easter eggs, Easter bunnies, musical instruments, and using stars as symbols, to name a few.
  2. Ultimately, God knows what is in your heart. When you light a candle on your church altar or put up a Christmas tree, God knows in your heart it is not an act of worship to an ancient Pagan goddess. Similarly, God knows that when you dance, you are not worshiping a Pagan goddess.
  3. The human voice was used in antiquity to pray to Pagan gods, and yet we don't have a problem with using our voices today to sing praises or speak prayers. So why should we have a problem with using the bodies God gave us to praise him through dance? Again, God knows what is in your heart.
  4. As noted above, the events of the Bible took place in the land that belly dance comes from. Many Bible verses talk about dancing as an act of joy or worship, and it is reasonable to believe that at least some of this dancing was belly dance. If dancing was bad, the Bible wouldn't speak of it as a celebration of joy or tool of praise.
Ghawazee

 

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Should You Invite them to a Show?

I don't recommend inviting your Christian friends and family to come see you perform at a belly dance event unless you can be absolutely sure that the other performers won't do something that would further alienate your guests. It would be very unfortunate if you took your Christian friend to a belly dance event on the very same night another dancer decides to debut her Goth-inspired fusion performance portraying a succubus seducing a victim.

Perhaps instead of taking your guests to a gathering that features other dancers, you could show them a video of you or a friend performing.

You can use these videos to talk about the fact that, although it's true that some belly dance is sexy because of the agendas of clients, the media, or the dancers themselves, there's a lot of it that's not. Ultimately, it's about the dancer's intention, and the choices her intention leads her to make.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Shira is wearing a sequin-covered dress for a belly dance Christmas event. Belly dance costumes can be glittery and glamorous without exposing the midriff, cleavage, or thighs. Photo by Kara Lynn, Volo, Illinois.

Shira

 

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If It's Impossible to Reach Them

There are some people who won't change their minds, no matter what you do. They will cling to their prejudices, and maybe even bully you. There's no point in continuing to try to persuade them. If it becomes obvious that you're talking to one of these people, it may be necessary to accept that you are at very different points in your own walks with God.

If the person is generally loving and kind toward you, tell them you'll pray that the two of you can resolve this difference, and move on. Their prejudices may have deep roots that even they may be unaware of.

If the person's behavior toward you is mean and bullying, it's likely the toxicity is showing up in other ways as well unrelated to dance. For this person, it's not really about dance, it's about trying to use religion as a tool to control you or bully you.

Rather than trying to have a debate with a toxic person, it may be best to minimize your contact (even if they're a family member) until they can bring more kindness and positive behavior into your relationship. They have chosen their own path to walk, but you don't need to walk it with them.

Judgmental behavior is as old as humankind. The subject comes up several times in the Bible:

"Judge not, that you be not judged."
— Matthew 7:1 (Revised Standard Version)

"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone."
— John 8:7 (King James Version)

"Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"
— Matthew 7:3 (Revised Standard Version)

"Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God."
— Romans 14:10 (Revised Standard Version)

"I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean."
— Romans 14:14 (Revised Standard Version)

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

Shira

 

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Closing Thoughts

In the cultures it comes from, belly dance is a celebratory activity that Middle Eastern people associate with weddings, circumcisions, and other joyous family-oriented occasions. Although professional dancers in the Middle East do wear the sexy costumes, family members wear their normal-person clothes and use belly dancing as a social dance.

Remember that you can't change everybody's minds. Don't waste your time trying to convince people who have hardened their hearts.

Ultimately, it's a matter of what's in the dancer's heart. Her intentions shape the choices she makes.

"Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."
— Matthew 11:15 and Mark 4:9

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

Shira

 

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