Through the Eye of the Camera.
We can learn
a lot about how a particular culture or artist views the phenomena
of belly dance in the way it is described and translated into
two dimensional still or moving images.
dance is an archetype of the feminine experience. When we see
it captured by photography we are also receiving information
concerning fear and fascination of the erotic powerful women.
films, the audience watching the belly dancer is nearly always
male and the context frequently a smoky club. Here we perceive
the dance removed from its historical and cultural context.
The component parts of the body -, breast and belly, are deconstructed
and fetished. Interestingly this phenomenon is far more apparent
in Western cinema than in its Eastern counterparts. Middle Eastern
camera angles frequently show the whole dancer generally the
dancer is presented respectfully (but also erotically) as an
artist. Belly dance in Western film industries often takes
place in the private world of men. However many dance scenes
in Middle Eastern Cinema are outside in courtyards or deserts
where women and men watch female dancers. In Hollywood films
it is very rare to see women watching other attractive women.
Attractive, powerful women are frequently perceived competitively
as a threat to the main female character.
non-Middle Eastern people, their first introduction to belly
dance is often via a white western patriarchal media. Hollywood
has often preferred to examine the oriental dancer as a dangerous
sexual archetype, Theda Bara and Mater
Hari are two who typify these elements. Biblical epics
in the forties and fifties featured a belly dancer (briefly)
for light relief. When belly dancers appear in the likes of
a James Bond film, we are presented with significant
non-verbal information about the perspective from which we should
view the dancer.
camera work, direction and casting collide to create a construct
only partially accredited to the dancer. Frequently the dancer
is beheaded by the camera -this is symbolic of the deprivation
of individual identity of the woman.
if she is not a real dancer but an actress with a fully formed
character we may see her head and shoulders alone. (Like the
dancer in Laurence Darrell’s Justine.)
Unknown’, and ‘Stars of Egypt are a compilations of clips of
vintage belly dancers by Hossam Ramsey – the
dancing is breathtaking. We can gain so much cultural and sociological
information on the status of dancers as well seeing the true
poetry and genius that they display. Stars of Egypt / The
Great Unknown show respect and homage to the dancer. One
of my favorite dancers - Suhair Zaki – in the
“great unknown’’ is filmed like a goddess elevated in a temple
like building. She is performing to an audience of adoring males,
perspiring madly, and looking-up to her entranced – a deeply
feminist film moment. The stunning Samia Gamal,
the most filmed and famous dancer, gave charismatic performances
in Egyptian and International films.
Oriental Dance recognition and admiration in Egypt and worldwide.
How such a woman came to be so influential in Cairo society
at that time is amazing and a positive reflection on the dance.
Leila dancing for Sean Connery in "From Russia with
Khali Balak Min Zou Zou (The example of Zou Zou)
unusually advances the idea that there may be nothing inherently
shameful about being a dancer. Zou Zou is a dancer in her mothers
troupe who hides the fact from her fiancé; she tells her mother
that ’it is other people who have created the bad name
how belly dance and the erotic mystique of the dusky Middle-Eastern
women are represented in the west, we need tools of analysis.
I have found feminist theory, in particular feminist media studies,
to be effective in the understanding of my own position
in society and how one is seen as a belly dancer and how the
film/media present the image of a belly dancer.
dance, with its freedom of improvisation and modification within
the vocabulary of moves, encourages self-expression. The dance
is liberating to women.
dance and other divergent forms seem to have taken on the social,
cultural and gender analysis of Middle Eastern dance.
Mulvay’s ground breaking article in 1975 Visual
pleasure and the narrative cinema, explores the media construction
of women as spectacle, to be looked at by the (male) gaze. Women
function in film as objects of voyeuristic pleasure. Mulvay
draws on Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis to examine the
pleasures of scopophilia and narcissistic identification.
is a complex term that describes a human being’s intense desire
to look at another, with feelings that are more holistic and
satisfying than lust alone.
belly dancers or fans of belly dance we spend time gazing at
other women both live and on film. We may experience a sense
of satisfaction in this, which is hard to define. Perhaps we
like to look at an idealized feminine self? Lacan describes
children perceiving their reflection in the mirror as more powerful
than themselves. Belly dance students often enjoy looking at
their own reflections in dance classes - perhaps this is why.
cinematic conventions often fetishize the female with objects
such as shoes or other items or clothing. This removes us from
the actual body of the women (so rendering her less frightening!).
Perhaps the belly dance costume and paraphernalia actually makes
us less threatening, as these objects themselves have a meaning
and symbology. Casting the women as unproblematic means
she must be framed in a way where males are as Mulvey put it
‘The active controllers of the Look’. John Berger writes
in his classic study Ways of Seeing, that ‘men act and
women appear ‘and that the ‘surveyor of woman in herself is
male’; the surveyed female.’
of those such as Mulvay apply to the framing of belly dance
in the media because the belly dancer is a condensation or typification
of a woman who is to be looked at.
dominate photography and film industries in both the west and
the east. As well as ideas concerning the status of the dancer
and gender, films involving belly dancers can give us information
on the class dynamic and stratification that exists.
In the 1920s
Egyptian movies began to rely on music and dance scenes, the
nightclub and theatre became familiar settings for the film
narrative. “Real-life prejudices against dancers, singers and
even male musicians were part of the narrative as well,” writes
Marjorie Franken in Images of Enchantment. Hollywood exerted
a great influence on film nevertheless, and “its fantasy of
Oriental dance” filtered through and was taken up and unconsciously
parodied by Arab dancers in their desire to emulate Western
theme in Arab films is class conflict. One of my all time favorite
films is a Tunisian film called Silences of the Palace (Saimt
el Qusur) by Moufida Tlatli. Silences of the Palace is
a beautiful heartbreaking film about a young girl, whose mother
is a dancer and lover to the married master, and is set within
a feudal palace where the servants are slaves .
film is not uncritical of the patriarchal abuses of Islam—in
particular laws that count women as “half-persons” and systematically
favor the male in terms of marriage and divorce. The film’s
visual language however, favors the rhythms of inner worlds
camera shots immerse us in the sensual visual worlds of contoured
Arabic architecture, idyllic courtyards, fountains and soothing
inner spaces are entered and explored.
Alia attempts to uncover the secrets which these silences hide,
primarily of who her father is. But there are other secrets
as well, such as those surrounding the political struggles outside
the palace, as Tunisia fights for its independence from France,
and the silent class struggle between the upper and lower class
in the palace. Feminine secrets are also searched for, as the
11-year-old Alia has her first period and with it the insight
into the joys and sorrows of womanhood. Finally, there are also
the silences surrounding rape, as no one will admit to its frequency
in the palace.
on the curved nature of the Arabic interior becomes a perfect
back drop to the films belly dance performance. Alia’s mother
performs a full oriental routine for the elite family of the
house in their plush family room. She is a dancer but also a
slave, she is commanded to dance. She looks happy, beautiful
and liberated when she dances in full cabaret costume. Both
the women and the men enjoy the performance. Her dance is symbolic
of the freedom the slaves find in poetical emancipation. The
others look stiff and unyielding as they rely on the dance to
introduce a subtle eroticism into a circle where the women seated
would find it beneath them to generate this energy themselves.
As one woman
states: “in the palace we are taught one rule: silence”. Alia’s
memories are inextricably linked with the freedom of spirit
generated by music, song and dance which in the film, penetrate
the power of the silence.
is a variety of what could be termed feminist films about Middle
Egyptian feminist Nawal el-Saadawi’s Hidden Faces
explores the problems of women working together to create alternative
institutions. Elizabeth Fernea’s The Veiled Revolution
(1982) shows Egyptian women redefining not only the meaning
of the veil but also the nature of their own sexuality. And
Moroccan filmmaker Farida Benlyazid’s feature film Bab
Ila Sma Maftouh (A Door to the Sky, 1988)
offers a positive gloss on the notion of an all-female space,
counter posing Islamic feminism to Orientalist fantasies. 5
number of recent diasporas film/video works link issues of postcolonial
identity, the position of women and visions of Middle Eastern
culture as perceived by the West.
films/videos call attention to a diversity of experiences within
and across nations. Connected by glaring cultural differences
and separated communities we can also recognize equally obvious
when we are filmed or photographed it is a collaboration with
another’s view of our work. When any dance is filmed it
is changed and altered by the perceptions of those involved
in creating the film. What is important to them about the dance
will be its focus. How we see the presentation of oriental dance
in both Middle Eastern and Western films reflects the ideologies,
fantasies and prejudices of those who capture the dancer on
of belly dance as an encapsulation of the feminine can both
empower and limit women in their creative expression and self-exploration.
Ironically performers like Fifi Abdu, Armani and others have
strong assertive personalities (masculine traits?) so perhaps
there is scope for the whole repertoire of human experience
to be presented
Orientalists described dancers and Arab women to conform
to a fantasy and myth that white Western society held about
see is a fusion of the reality of Arab culture fused with the
mystique and/or prejudice held in the minds of the artists.
The process of film and photography also has the potential to
present the image of the dancer within a preconceived cultural
As a belly
dancer I am lucky to have had publicity from the media,
as this has helped me to be a professional dancer. I have been
misrepresented as well – I have been accused of a variety of
imaginary heinous acts of a sexual nature (by other dancers
with patriarchal perceptions of women generally, the emphasis
on the sexual detracts from the complexity, talent and humanity of
When I look
at filmed and still images of myself as a belly dancer I often
feel disconnected from the person. I much prefer the image to
my ordinary self. When I am being filmed and photographed, I
lose control of my own image and have to hope that the person
behind the camera will be sympathetic and sensitive to the person
I want to be. People may frame me whatever way they choose,
but I will never be a marionette, moved by the strings of someone
else’s world view.
Wendy Buonaventura bellydancing
- 2- Andrea
Deagon Feminism and Belly Dance Habbibi
Kappanir Europes myths of the orient
-visual pleasure and narrative cinema 1975 Bloomington
Zoonen Feminist media studies ,Sage publications
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Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Music Copyright Law for Belly Dancers
(or for any Performing Artist by Yasmin
Hollywood blockbuster movies down to clips on YouTube the law
is the same and it applies to anyone who uses someone else’s
music for their own purposes.
Easter in Cairo by Peppina
is so strong and powerful and beautiful and intense. Even the
not-so-stylish costumes she used to wear didn't take anything
away from her.
7-12-07 Belly Dance:Time for Personal Assessment
or How old are your Shoes? by
do you personally want from the dance? In order to answer this
honestly, you must make a personal assessment of your goals and
include your achievements.
"Veiled Visions" How Belly Dance
Music was First Brought to the United States by Ray Rashid,
intro by Amina
time he told me about a blind accordion player who sat and made
lots of jokes while they rehearsed, that musician turned out to
be Ammar el Sharie.
Chapter 5: Listen to the Music
by Amina Goodyear
wanted us to look exotic, like we were from the Middle East, so
he made us stay downstairs, look available and wear sexy, skimpy
pantaloon outfits or diaphanous caftans when we were not dancing.