Debunking Common Myths About Belly Dancing

Though Most Women Agree That Belly Dancing Is A Beautiful Art Form, Many Wonder If It Conflicts With Wholesome Family Values And Faith. An interview:

Amy: What reassurance can you offer to those who fear that belly dancing may lead to the exploitation of children?

Terri: Stereotypes and myths fuel that kind of thought process. Belly dancing is actually a modest dance. Of course, like many things, there will be people and places with different standards. You have to trust the teacher. I did a lot of child abuse prevention with parents and am uniquely trained to handle all kinds of issues with children. If you think about some of the other styles of dance that many children learn, the moves, music and costumes are much more suggestive that those used in belly dancing.

Amy: What do the children wear?

Terri: For the Rochesterfest Parade, they will wear black pants, hip scarves and t-shirts. I never dress the kids in two-piece costumes. When I host birthday parties for girls, they sometimes make their own hip scarves with dangling coins and beads. At the end of the party, moms are invited to watch their daughters perform and they are absolutely delighted.

Amy: How do your sons, ages 6 and 10, feel about mom being a belly dancer?

Terri: They like that their mom is a dancer. Belly dancing teaches girls about positive body image and it’s important for my sons to view girls in this way rather than the way girls are portrayed in ads. I recently danced with my boys at a Mother’s Day show.

Amy: Can you explain how belly dancing is modest?

Terri: The style is demure. There are certain pelvic moves that are inappropriate in belly dance. We never lean over in a way that shows our chest to the audience. Many times, we dance with our arms placed over our chests. We never dance with our legs in an open position. One knee is always inward, which is much more modest.

Amy: I noticed on your web site that you requested “no all male groups.” Has that ever been an issue? Have you ever felt like men have perceived you in a way that conflicts with your intentions?

Terri: There’s no way to control how people perceive you. Every performance of mine and of Shaia Dance Collective’s is a family performance. When there is a group of all men with one woman dancing, there is a societal connotation. I will not dance for all-male audiences. The MN Guild of Oriental Dance sets guidelines that promote a healthy understanding of dance and we desire to be culturally appropriate so we never give the appearance of impropriety.

Amy: Rochester is known for being more of a conservative city. How has belly dancing been received?

Terri: It has been overwhelmingly positive. Initially, people have the image of a hyper-sexualized female with very little clothing. Then they meet us or attend a show or birthday party. Once they are exposed, they realize that it’s a much more modest dance.

Amy: Is belly dancing rooted in a particular religion? Would Christian women feel uncomfortable or conflicted about being in this environment?

Terri: I have a Master’s of Theological Studies, so this question is right up my alley. In most belly dance classes in the U.S., you are learning an Americanized version of a Middle Eastern dance. Belly dancing may have come from fertility rituals originally, but currently has no religious significance. It would be similar to taking a class on Chinese cooking – no religious influence, only increased cultural appreciation. There is one exception to this. There is a traditional dance done with the woman wearing a candelabra-like headpiece who dances in front of the bride and groom as they enter the wedding ceremony. It is designed to light the way symbolically toward the couple’s future. This aspect of ceremony is also done in some African cultures.

Amy: Can every woman really do this?

Terri: I teach women in their 70s and women in their 20s. It’s not always the marathon runners who are the best dancers. Any woman can enjoy this dance. In our culture, there are so many stereotypes about women needing to look a certain way. Traditional western dance, like ballet, holds the energy in all up in the chest and lifted, but in belly dance, the energy is in the hips. Women’s bodies naturally flow into the moves because they are very female-centered.