Dancing on top of Durham Cathedral bell tower

The Gilded Serpent presents...


My research focuses on analyzing the dance practice and unit of cultural capital known in one appellation as belly dance now practiced throughout the world, both in real life and virtual spaces that allow dancers to connect to one another regardless of physical boundaries. I will examine how belly dancers around the world use Egypt as a reference point for situating themselves within the global dance community, and how Egypt gets romanticized and fantasized in global narratives about belly dance. Like all dance ethnographers, I believe dance is a culturally rich artifact that can be viewed as a tool for examining underlying social mores and attitudes towards social structures like gender and the nation. How and why knowledge of dance is transmitted in Egyptian society and from thence to the global arena are major questions in my research, as are where, when and by whom dance is typically performed. Theories of gender performance with a focus on postcolonial gender theory w ill be used to examine the ritual significance of social dance and dance as a culturally valuable artifact both within Egypt and on the global stage. The conflict between authenticity and cultural growth with particular reference to the boundaries of and interactions between different cultures is another aspect of my theoretical framework.

I will be conducting fieldwork in Cairo from September to December 2008, followed by fieldwork in the United States from December to April 2009 and Britain from April to September 2009. This will comprise interviews with dance teachers and students, with particular focus on those who engage in dance tourism. I will also gather data through participant-observation at dance events like haflas, belly dance conferences, and ordinary classes. Finally I will conduct 'virtual fieldwork' on listservs, message boards and belly dance websites, in keeping with my interest in globalization. This will include research on the belly dancing community in the virtual world of Second Life, where dancers can virtually enact dance as well as engaging in the more traditional function of spaces on the Web for analyzing, discussing, and promoting it.

I am currently in the third and final year of my PhD, part of the 1+3 PhD programme, having completed my MA in Gender and Identity in the Middle East prior to beginning my PhD under the supervision of Dr. Nadje Al-Ali. My MA dissertation was a critical review of the existing literature on Oriental dance, with particular reference to gender construction taking place in the literature as much as in the dance itself. I completed my BA in 2005 at Sarah Lawrence College in New York after leaving high school early to attend Simon's Rock College of Bard in Massachusetts, a college designed for students who wish to commence higher education at a younger age than what is conventional in the United States.

In addition to my academic studies, I am a nationally promoted blogger for the Skirt! magazine website in the United States. Before commencing my fieldwork in Cairo I served for two years as research students' representative for both the IAIS and HuSS Staff-Student Liaison Committees, and I attended IAIS staff meetings in the same capacity. I am also a bronze medalist in Seishen Mizu Ryu Tatakai Jutsu (jiu jitsu) as well as managing the Exeter City club's newsletter since November 2009.

Articles on Gilded Serpent by or about Caitlin

  • Digital Dancer! Belly Dancing in Second Life
    In Second Life, the dancing is done digitally by applying a computer program that causes one's avatar, the digital representation of the self online, to move in a prescribed manner. Instead of learning movements and needing time to practice them, they are loaded onto the avatar just like Nero learns Kung Fu in the "Matrix" films.