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


by Despina


Belly dance was not created (as Western myth tells it) in harems by concubines, but in the communities and homes of the people of the Middle East, parts of the Mediterranean and North Africa.

So why do people insist on believing ignorant lies?

Some maintain that belly dance is sexual and performed to arouse men. How many times have you heard it being called a "dance of seduction"?

Some insist it's erotica, and are disgusted by it. How many times have you been asked: "So how does it feel performing for sleazy, drooling middle aged men?"

Others insist it's the Middle Eastern equivalent of a striptease. How many times have I had a woman say to me: "don't dance for me, the boys are over there!"?

And, yes, there are some sleazy performers who call themselves belly dancers. Yes, they're sleazy, yes they're performers, but they're often not belly dancers!

So what can we do, as professional belly dancers, to educate people? Simple: speak. Correct people when they make erroneous statements about Oriental Dance, inform them of the truth. An easy task? I'm afraid not! Most people hate being corrected, even by someone more knowledgable than they. In such cases, when they insist on wallowing in their own stupidity, just tell them so: "Look, I'm sorry you see it that way. I'm trying to tell you how it really is, but if you choose to remain ignorant, so be it!" And walk away with your head held high.

My suggested reply for you to use with a stubborn listener may sound a little insulting, but in certain cases it's called for. Think about what they're saying to you, between the lines: If they're making references to erotica, aren't they in reality insinuating you're a type of stripper? And are you? Hell no!! If they start talking about harems, aren't they insinuating belly dance is a type of prostitution? Are you a prostitute? I think not! So why should you shoulder these labels?

Fight back (with words mostly)! Educate yourself well about the origins of Oriental Dance and then educate your audiences. I'm not suggesting you should stand on a little podium at Town Hall steps with a megaphone yelling and screaming like a Belly-Evangelist, but when people say things you know to be wrong, don't be shy - tell it like it is. Some people actually want to know the truth.

Now, besides educating people verbally, there's one more thing we can do to teach people what belly dance is really about: that it's the art of isolation, a dance that takes a lot of skill, often considered to be one of the most difficult dances in the world to truly master. What could this one thing be? Dance well: Study under good teachers and dance well. Enjoy your performances - don't let it be an ego trip - you're an entertainer. Put soul in your dance and people will see and appreciate your show so much more. Pay a lot of attention to the women - it's not a show for the men, so don't exclude the women.

Fortunately there are many performers who respect themselves. They have a reputation for quality. But keep practicing and improve the quality of your performance - there is still much to be done to combat the ignorance that still exists.




About the Author

Originally inspired by the 1960's television show I Dream of Jeannie, Despina has been studying Oriental Dance since 1992. She studied with a variety of people, representing a variety of different belly dance styles, and through that acquired a broad perspective on the dance. She started performing professionally in 1995 and then teaching in 1997. Her mentor, Amera, has provided a great deal of valuable guidance over the years.

Since 1998, Despina has dedicated herself full-time to teaching and performing belly dance. In 2002 she completed Belyssa's Bellydance Teacher Training Course.

Despina has contributed several articles to this web site.

For more information about her dance studio in Australia and its activities, see her web site at:

Click on the photo to the right to see Despina's picture in more detail.




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