Sunday, June 16, 2013

hot and bothered

Let me say this up front: I am a very sexual person. The only fetishes I'm not interested in are scat and permanent scarring. Oh, and leather, since I'm vegan. And I cannot stand the smell.

For decades, belly dancers have been trying to fight the stigma of belly dance being a sexy dance, and by that I mean dance of seduction, this is especially true in a muslim-dominated country like Indonesia. Three years ago, my troupe mates from the velvetRAQS were set to perform a belly dance show for an outdoor festival in the Monas area. Then the Jakarta governor at that time, that asshole jerk corrupt Fauzi Bowo (who went to the same all-male Catholic high school that I did which made me think he was different but turned out he wasn't) came and specifically ordered the belly dance show be removed or else he would not want to attend the event (he was the guest of honor). My troupe got paid in full anyway, but still.

I don't do Salsa, but from what I know, Salsa nights are more common than belly dance nights, and people here are very enthusiastic about the dance. I've seen how touchy-feely Salsa is and the ladies usually wear really short skirts (with great respect to Salsa dancers, I love what you're doing, but I don't understand how Salsa can get more respect than belly dance. Maybe it's the name?). This also goes to Tango.

One of my teachers at FatChanceBellyDance®, Ms. Sandi Ball, also does Polynesian dance. One time, she posted a photo of her teacher and his troupe dancing on stage. And all I could see were his body. I mean, I've seen videos of male Hula performers and I have to stay, they got me hot and bothered, awkay? Here, have a looksee.

Seriously, if you're a straight woman or a gay man, how can you not? Unless of course they're not your type. But bloody hell. Picture taken from this page.

Here's the thing: I am guilty of making lewd comments about those hunks, and for that, I am sorry. Okay, so maybe "lewd" is not the correct word to describe what I wrote (it was more along the lines of exclamations like "yummy" or "hot" and I kept the nasty thoughts to my own nasty self), but it is not the dancer's fault if the audience member's member gives him a standing ovation (I can't believe I just wrote that).

Last year, when I performed in Bali, I had an audience member (an Arab male) asking me for a photo. I obliged. Then for the second photo, he asked me to sit on his lap. I declined. I told him that he could look but he couldn't touch. He backed off.

I danced Oriental and from time to time I dance Tribal Fusion, and I know that there are songs that require our faces to be flirty and playful, and they are translated by the audience as seductive (and our costumes are also less covered than ATS®). It is up to us as dancers to let the audience know that they can look (and take photos) and talk to us, but nothing more than that. I had a long discussion with my male American friend  about that incident with Beyonce, and I said that she was an entertainer and although she wore a body-hugging suit and danced the way she did, it didn't mean that the guy could touch her in any way at all.

Male belly dancers have been present throughout the ages. We hear names like the late John Compton to Tito Seif to Mohamed Shahin, then there are Zadiel and Eliran Amar. Here's one of Eliran's very popular videos.

It is his right to wear those skimpy panels. It is his right to show off his yummy bod. However, to be honest, it could've been covered just a teensy bit more. I was hoping to be flashed. When that didn't happen, I was both relieved and disappointed. Relieved because no wardrobe malfunction occurred. Disappointed because, well, I'm a perv. This is where costume choice comes into the equation. In the video, his facial expression is far from seductive, but yours truly here still fans himself whenever he sees this clip.

My point is, there are things we can do to control how we want the audience (and the world) to perceive what belly dance is, and those things include pre and post performance attitude, costume choice, and make-up, and to some extent our facial expression (which is essentially related to the song we dance to). Yet it is alright (and expected) to be angry whenever an audience member "cracks" a slut "joke" and becomes touchy-feely.

There's a huge difference between thinking lewd thoughts and actually doing them. There's also a huge difference between doing those lewd things with consent and doing them without consent.

Fact of the matter is, there are still people who don't know the difference. I guess I'm a polite perv, or I have good self-restraint.

There are belly dancers who try their best to fight this slutty dance label and at the same time there are those who get bashed on this hilarious Tumblr. These people have helped perpetuate said label. Perhaps unknown to them. Hopefully unknown to them. (Addendum: okay, so perhaps that Tumblr isn't hilarious and the writer gets defensive from time to time, and thinks s/he knows what belly dance is or not, but who am I to say what is or isn't belly dance?).

Back to Salsa and Tango. Maybe they get more recognition (and by recognition I mean serious dance movies like Take the Lead and Scent of a Woman, the former has this really seductive dance scene). See how the female dancer has that "look but don't touch" attitude and that air of aloofness? That's what I mean.

I don't know. I'm blabbering all over the place. I guess I'm just jealous of the recognition that other dance forms have received and enjoyed in the mainstream media while belly dance is still stuck in being hoochie-koochie and cheap. I mean, come on. Even Twerking gets more respect.

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