Thursday, February 25, 2010

Osama Bin Laden and Belly Dance??? REALLY?!


Recently, Jesse Waters- one of the producers of the “The O'Reilly Factor”- attended a belly dance competition in LA. The purpose of his investigation was unclear in his interviews and commentary, but of all the conclusions he could have come up with, the point he decided to stress was that 9/11- and Osama Bin Laden in particular- is responsible for the rising popularity of belly dance in America. The clip- along with dozens of comments from outraged belly dancers- can be found on you tube, face book walls, and various websites.
The outrage felt by belly dancers at Waters’ and O’Reilly’s comments is understandable. I don’t know any dancers who took up belly dancing because 9/11 made them curious about Arabic culture. Usually, women take up belly dancing as a way to get in shape, to express themselves, to connect with other women, and a myriad of other reasons. Classes contain a diverse mix of ages, ethnicities, and body sizes, and it follows that the motives for belly dancing are just as diverse.
Furthermore, if anything, 9/11 has caused an increased ignorance of Arabic culture, rather than a curiosity about it. Bill O’Reilly proves this himself during the interview when he says that a woman "would be behead if she did that in a Muslim country”. Obviously, O’Reilly is more ignorant than curious, because if he was curious than he would be interested to know that belly dancing is very popular in countries like Egypt and Turkey, where both Islam and belly dance co-exist peacefully.
A friend of mine and prominent Egyptian dancer, Sausan Molthen, has observed that there is a boom in belly dance roughly every ten years. Trends ebb and flow, especially in the dance world. Also, part of the rise in popularity is due to the emergence of tribal belly dance in the 1980s; from which a number of belly dance genres have sprung forth. From the 1990s to present day, dancers have seen an explosion of belly dance styles, including American Tribal Style, Tribal Fusion, Gothic Belly Dance, and Belly Dance Theatre. From these have emerged a variety of fusions, as well: belly dance fused with ballet, modern dance, hip hop, jazz, Turkish Roma, and so forth. Belly dance has become popular in America not because of 9/11, but because so many dedicated teachers and dancers have been working their asses off to spread and promote their art.
The ignorance in Waters’ and O’Reilly’s segment was truly astounding. Waters seemed shocked that there were children in attendance at the competition and O’Reilly followed up by saying that belly dancing should be reserved for ages 16 and up. My jaw dropped on that one. In some cultures, children start learning to dance before they can walk. And the way a child belly dances is very different than the way an adult dances. Children look adorable when they belly dance, not sexually indecent like O’Reilly implies. Certainly, this clip shows that even a five year old girl can belly dance- without losing any of her innocence. Besides, children are often better belly dancers than adults because their bodies are so flexible. There are two boys I know in Costa Rica that can do better belly rolls than any dancer I know- even better than Rachel Brice!
It would be great if Waters and O’Reilly had developed a curiously about Arabic culture after 9/11, rather than the ignorance that they continue to show. Or maybe they should both get their asses to a belly dance class and learn what it’s all about first hand- because men can be belly dancers, too!

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