The Belly Dance Book : Rediscovering
the Oldest Dance
by Tazz Richards (Editor)
Backbeat Press
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Are Strippers Our Enemies?
By Shira

A while back, I wrote an article for the Suite101 web site explaining the role that belly dancing played in the history of stripping. I received this response from one of my readers:

I'm an old former stripper and a new current belly dancer. Needless to say, I'm stuck over a fence over this subject. Belly dancing did evolve into the hoochy koochy, and from there into stripping. Playing the stripper blame game for belly dance credibility problems isn't the answer. The first time I contacted a belly dancer for lessons she refused to teach me because of my past. I persevered and have been belly dancing for 5 years, and now I teach two belly dancing classes of my own. It's been a struggle because of this ongoing argument.

I hear this all the time.

Many belly dancers are openly hostile toward strippers. This isn't the first time I've heard that some self-righteous belly-dancing teacher has refused to accept a stripper as a student.

I don't get it. Why are so many belly dancers so hostile toward strippers? We do what we do for one kind of audience, and strippers do what they do for a very different kind of audience. This world is big enough for both of us.

I realize that many belly dancers are frustrated because The General Public often believes that belly dancing and stripping are the same thing. There is a link between the two—as my reader mentioned, stripping evolved from the hoochy koochy, which in turn was Vaudeville's reinterpretation of the Oriental dance performances from the Chicago World's Fair in the 1890s. This historical link between belly dancing and stripping still infests the minds of 21st-century Americans, and sometimes causes credibility problems for belly dancers when they try to arrange gigs in wholesome, family-oriented places. But that's not the fault of today's strippers.

In my 20+ years in the belly dancing community, I've met a number of belly dancers that also happened to be strippers. Some were former strippers, while others continued to do both. When I saw these individuals perform belly dance, each and every one of them did a performance suitable for a family environment. Not one of them stroked herself, twined around a pole, or did sexual hip thrusts when belly dancing. There was nothing in their Oriental dance performances that revealed their other dance experience.

These were smart women; they obviously knew that there were distinct differences between Middle Eastern dance and stripping, and their performances proved that they knew how to keep them separate.

So why are certain belly dancers so hostile to these people? I don't understand. If a prospective student were to tell me that she was a stripper, I'd still welcome her in my classes. If I saw her doing movements that were not appropriate to the family-oriented environments where belly dancers perform, I'd simply correct her in the same way I'd correct any other student for doing something wrong.

I've heard some belly dancers say, "Well, I don't want to teach belly dancing to a stripper because you don't know what she might do with those movements." However, we don't worry about what anyone else might do with what we teach them, so why should we single out strippers? Will we refuse to accept students who want to do private boudoir performances for their favorite males? And just how exactly are we going to screen for this? Are we going to require every would-be student to take a lie-detector test on her motives for learning how to belly dance before we accept her as a student?

I suppose it's possible a stripper might take what she learns in a belly-dance class and incorporate it into a harem girl shtick for her stripping job. And I suppose it's possible that a rather stupid stripper might not be able to figure out that some of her stripper moves are inappropriate for the belly-dance world.

But let's not forget that there are plenty of belly dancers out there who have zero experience as strippers, but still come across as sleazy when they perform belly dance.

It doesn't make the world a better place when we act hostile toward strippers. If they sign up for our classes, let's welcome them the same way we would welcome any other student, and treat them with the same courtesy we would offer to any other student. Let's teach them the same moves we teach everyone else, and correct their mistakes the same way we would correct anyone else.

We should always teach that belly dance originated as preparation for childbirth (see Morocco's articles "Roots" and "Belly Dancing & Childbirth” and later evolved into a way of celebrating at family events, rather than originating as a harem tool for seducing the sultan. And we should teach all our students the importance of ensuring that our presentations are suitable for the situations where we perform. This is how we raise a generation of new dancers who will help us build the right reputation for our dance form.

Finally, let's not try to put on airs of superiority—after all, strippers typically are paid more than belly dancers, so some people could argue that perhaps society values what they do more highly than it values what we do!

Ready for more?

more by Shira-
7-10-01 Dance Or Career: Which To Choose?
You can still stay involved in dance no matter where you choose to live.

1-6-02 Building Bridges Benefit by Susie Poulelis
Nobody seemed to mind the tight quarters and a good time was had by all.

1-16-02 BOOK REVIEW-“The Belly Dance Book" Edited by Tazz Richards" Reviewed by Sadira
This book has a surprising change of format from all the various books that have been published recently...

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