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.


Valizan said...

Well said!

I would add to your comments about bellydancers (male and female) that physicality is a facet of our dance. Along with costuming, skill, stage presence and chutzpah. All that together makes the jewel that is a performance.

But when dancers focus on one element, the others suffer.

Being TOO nekkid can mean that I won't notice your costume or your dance skill/technique.

I've seen dancers where I've had to force myself to watch their dance, because I was focussing on whether their breasts were going to fly out of their tiny beaded bras. Schadenfreude? Maybe.

And male dancers have been equally guilty. It is great that some guy has ripped abs, bulging biceps and a nice smile... but if you step on a bellydance stage, I want to see you dance. If you just want people to admire your body, go to a bodybuilding competition! Your physical attractiveness should be a facet of your dance, not the wholeness of your dance.

Ditto to dancing costume syndrome. The costume is the whole reason for the dance. Any movement is tertiary. Feh!

Shay Moore The TribalDancer said...

Enjoyed the read, Yuska.

Over the years, these discussions usually come back to the fact that bellydance is a female-centric dance (with due respect to our dance brothers, it is at its root historically a woman's dance), and more importantly the vision of bellydance is a woman dancing alone, in control of her own body. Historically, and sadly to this day, that is a distasteful thing to many.

Tango, salsa, and many other similar potentially WAY sexual dances are partner dances--the woman is paired with a man, and somehow that makes it okay. Express your femininity with a man=safe, accepted. Express it alone or among other women==dangerous, reviled.

Today, all bellydance, male or female, gets lumped into this outdated notion--that bellydance is a dance of seduction and individual empowerment that is a danger to those who watch it, and/or those who do it or watch it are sexually deviant. Male dancers are now included in that, just because they are performing "bellydance". Even if the person with the bias can't put their finger on it or define it in this way, this is the root of a lot of the bias that still exists today.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Nice post Yuska!

Yeah - as Rob said, too bare and you spend more time wondering if that was a flash of pubic hair or just a shadow. It is one of the things that makes me love ATS - I am SO covered, even if I have a costume malfunction I've got 6 other layers on!

It's also something I've been wondering about lately. We've had a couple of high profile "boy bands" at dance festivals recently - which is awesome, love to have my dance brothers representing - but the reaction I am seeing from the audiences is a bit odd. YES to the support for the fellas, but there seems to be some objectification mixed in which makes me uncomfortable.

Richie Rich Razil said...

I don't like you referring to yourself as a perv. I know ypur preferences are not exactly the same as mine, but they're no less valid. As dancers, we are very aware of our audiences, and how they respond to our performances, but I say dance the way you want, and let the chips fall where they may.
You may have to deal with creeps who get the wrong impression, but at least you'll be true to yourself. And we'll probably never change the warped idea in the public's psyche that bellydance and burlesque are the same thing. But that's their hang-up. Flaunt that pink belt, and if you have to use it to beat away the miscrients, then so be it.

Richie Rich Razil said...

Sorry, Rob, I've suffered from DCS my whole life.

famousfeline said...

Rob: I was going to use bodybuilders as analogy, but I've used it before and I don't want to turn this blog into something it's actually not (HAHA).

Rich: I know, "perv" is too heavy a word for me.

Foodsykitty: Yes! For me, the costuming of ATS plus the jewelry exude that badass "don't you even think about it" attitude. Wait, who is this boyband you're talking about?

Shay: I've never thought of it that way before (re: Salsa and Tango as partner dance therefore it's okay, unlike belly dance). That is a very interesting point of view and really scary if it's true (I'm not saying it's not valid, it's just that I have never heard of that idea and it's a total lightbulb for me). It is really scary because it says so much about how the world perceives an strong, independent woman.

Also, can you explain more about the history of belly dance as a woman's dance? Does it have something to do with birthing? I remember an article on Aunt Rocky's website where she traveled and witnessed a woman giving birth and the women around her started to gyrate and did belly dance moves to help encourage the woman who was giving birth to do the same so the delivery would be easier.

Alice said...

I commend you for your honesty. :)

And it is true - bare skin and athletic, moving, slinky bodies do effect people in various ways. But this is a cultural issue with humans in many parts of the world - if something is carnal, voluptous, sexy or naked, then it must at the same time be low, smut, trash, open for grabs.

And the truth is the "moral" and conservative people adore it. They love to want forbidden and the tabu. And pretend they re not like that.

The thing is it is okay to be sexy.

Some of the best male and female dancers that I think and feel very highly of are the most sexual looking creatures in the universe, to me at least. But that is okay and it doesn t degrade their art or them.

Art is inherently sexual because it is about creation and emotion. Dance is so corporal, it is sexual even when it s ugly because of the honest surendering of the artist on stage.

Humans should grow mature to the realization that being attractive is a part of our nature. Many and many folk dances were and still are dances in the service of finding a mate. Hell, I ve met my boyfriend at the nightclub - dance still holds that importance in our lives.

When you feel attraction to the artists, only shame can make you feel they are immoral and should be put away. If you accept your feelings and roll with them, what bad issues could ever arise?

famousfeline said...

Alice: I agree with you that it is okay to be sexy. By God, I strive to be sexy. I stay with my current boyfriend because he makes me feel sexy and it's hard for me to feel that way, what with my insecurities and self-consciousness.

Sexy or naked doesn't have to be smut. Check this video:

Holy ****, yum yum yum. But since it's Butoh, it is expected to do it naked. Is it smut? Nope.

However, you might notice that Butoh's movements are far different from belly dance.

Now imagine naked belly dance. Or naked Hula dance.

What do you see?

Alice said...

Well, in that case, I don t see the dance anymore, but in traces. I think those types of dancing are so linked to the costume - we depend on the costume to give accentuation where accentuation is needed and to set a stage for the body to express. Without its costume and/or props, I think the dance is lost, it becomes contemporary improvisational experimentation on the topic of body isolation, a whole different genre. (and in contemporary it would be okay to be naked).

Generally if there is an "elite", highbrow art on an elite theater stage involved, nakedness is nowadays approved or at least tolerated. Depending on the country/culture.

Naked bellydance for me is still okay, but not something I would put on a stage because of its dependance on the costume to look the way it should. (for example, I am not getting on a stage if I don t have a right amount of fringe elements on me so it accentuates every chest pop or circle - because on my petite frame the movement would be invisible to the back rows)

Somebody else would just see the gyration and wobbling thinking it s a special stripper dance.

(and strippers can be artists too in their own right so it s not an insulting thought really)

It s all so relative.

I m really sorry they canceled your performance because of it.

Sharon Mitzy Sheen said...

Ha, It's funny! Eliran was actually my teacher. Anyway, I think sexual and seductive are 2 different things. When I dance, I hope my dance says: "I am a powerful, sexual, sensuous person". And I hope my dance does NOT say "and you are invited".

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