I'm here today with a stern reminder that slut-shaming has no place in belly dance.
I've been seeing a lot of posts lately by some of my colleagues and predecessors, singling out dancers in Cairo for comment and judgment on their revealing choices of costuming. Here are a number of reasons why this is not okay:
1. The female body in movement always has been and always will be controversial under patriarchy. Particularly the types of movements we do. You might think you are setting yourself apart from dancers wearing more revealing costumes by wearing more conservative costumes, and certainly there will be some people who will be more accepting of your role as a dancer if you do so, but there will always be people who will consider you a sex worker and/or place you at the bottom rung of society simply for being a woman who chooses to belly dance in public, especially if you are getting paid to do so. This is a fact that needs to be understood, leading to point #2
2. Slut-shaming other women is NEVER going to elevate you, it is never going to help you succeed, it is never going to "elevate the art form" and it is never going to make you look good. All this does is drag all of us down, including yourself. It drags the art form and women as a whole down, much more than a revealing costume ever could. See point #1 as to why. For the simple fact that you choose to belly dance in public, you are automatically placed on the same side of the spectrum as the strippers and sex workers you vilify, by a good chunk of the general public, both here AND in the Middle East. You can't "elevate" yourself out of that, certainly not by publicly shaming someone else for wearing just a few inches less than you would. Leading to point #3
3. You shaming another dancer for wearing a skimpy costume or doing moves that in your view are "too sexual" is the exact equivalent of some conservative person pointing you out and shaming *you* for one of your performances, saying your costume is too skimpy because you are showing your belly or legs, and that your dancing is sexual because you are moving your hips. How would it feel if someone did that to you? If you wouldn't like it if it was done to you, then stop doing it to other dancers. In fact, it's much worse when it's a dancer doing it to another, because we should know better, since we all can and do fall victim to these types of attacks.
4. Stating that "costumes were so much more tasteful/classy back in the 50's/60's/70's/80's" is rosy colored glass nostalgia plain and simple. Since the dawn of raqs sharqi we have always performed in revealing costumes. Bra/belt sets with sheer skirts and high slits on curvy female bodies were as scandalous back then as the mini skirts and bodysuit styles are today, and here in the US in particular, the orientalist image of the sexy, seductive, half-naked harem dancer has always been played up since the dance was brought here, by event producers, club owners, dancers and musicians alike so don't even get me started on that. In fact, if anything, the stereotypes I am constantly battling against as a dancer here come from that history, which many of the dancers now bashing younger dancers in Cairo took advantage of long before I or any of those dancers were born. My audiences here in the US have no clue what dancers in Cairo are wearing today. But their expectations have been set by, and their biases come from the decades of Orientalist stereotyping and portrayal of belly dance that was homegrown right here in the US. Which leads me to point #5
5. As non-Arab/non-MENAHT dancers it is absolutely not our job to "elevate" any Arab or MENAHT dance or art form. This smacks of white saviorism and it is not our role to play. We are guests to this art form and we are very lucky that it has been spread to our corners of the world, that we have the exposure to it and freedom to take part in it. We can enjoy learning and performing this dance but this dance is not ours to elevate or to save. Arabs and folks from other MENAHT regions do not need our saving, or our meddling--not in their art forms nor in their politics or anything else. If you are not MENAHT and you think it's your job to uplift, elevate, or save belly dance, know that this attitude is rooted in colonial/imperialist thinking. Please sit with this. This dance is not ours to save. Take as much time as you need with this. It's perfectly okay to enjoy something without laying claim to it, and those of us who are citizens of colonialist/imperialist countries, particularly those of us who are descendants of colonizers themselves really need to sit with this one and examine our deep-rooted colonialist biases and thinking.
6. If you are not performing in Cairo today you have no idea of the current social contexts or the power of current trends or the pressures to look a certain way and wear certain type of costumes. You have no idea of the strength and courage it takes to be a dancer in a society that is that conservative and patriarchal, in the current political environment. You have no idea what these dancers are sacrificing and risking every day to perform this art, how much they are ostracized and vilified for doing what they do. Especially the ones who are native Egyptians. They do not need your voice added to the choir of judgment they already deal with 24/7. It's very easy to judge the costuming choice of a working dancer in Cairo from the comfort of an American home when you can go to your 9-5 job or get a retirement check that pays your bills, but to actually be out there hustling this ruthless industry in the heart of its homeland is a whole other ballgame. So maybe refrain from judging something you will never understand since you are not living a reality that is anything like it right now.
I'll close out this little lecture by stating that it's perfectly valid to have your own opinions and tastes. It's OK if something isn't for you. But if you don't like revealing costumes, just don't wear them. Make more conservative choices in your own style. You can be the change you want to see in the world, without bashing your colleagues and successors in the process.
It is never okay to single out and point out another dancer's choice in costume and invite the whole world to jump in and criticize her. That's slut-shaming, it's a form of bullying, it's low, it's mean, it's unnecessary and it does us all a disservice.
Let's be better than that. Let's do better than that.
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Yamê is a Brazilian-American
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