Dance forms: Bound by nationality or open to all?

A blog that speaks against white belly dancers has gone viral, and has opened up a debate on whether dance forms, if adopted by foreign nationals, tend to lose their essence and authenticity.

By Jenna Powell

Published: Tue 25 Mar 2014, 3:29 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:42 PM

Dancers from Nisha Dance Center peform.-Supplied photo

An American-Arab woman’s blog post “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers” has gone viral after she suggested white women who do belly dancing or Raqs Sharqi are racist and are engaging in cultural appropriation.

The writer describes white women who dress up in bangles, bells and kohl eyeliner and dance as “Arab drag”, too thin and nothing like her favourite Raqs Sharqi dancer Fifi Abdo.

The writer also says white women interested in Raqs Sharqi have moved to Egypt because of “an obsession with belly dance” and are stealing the art off local women.

She says that white women performing the Middle East dance is not okay, even if they have been taught the dance and its history from Arab women.

“This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community… a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other,” she writes for Salon.

“Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?”

Over 2000 commenters took to the internet to voice their opinion of the article, some agreeing and others hitting back at claims of racism.

“What next: Why I can't stand Arab ballet dancers?” one person responded.

“…The author is conflating her own modern cultural experience with ownership of a dance form that literally has roots on nearly every continent in the world. Awareness breeds understanding, understanding breeds admiration and admiration breeds imitation, and imitation then breeds creativity,” another said.

Rasha, a user from Eygpt, said she thought the author was racist, saying dancers from other cultures help bridge the gap between east and west.

“I apologize to all of you lovely ladies that put your heart and soul in my culture,” she said.

But others were supportive of the author’s sentiments and one pointed to yoga as an example of western influence.

“Yoga has been 'divorced' from its spirituality, commercialized… and made all American.”

A Dubai dance teacher has expressed her disapproval of the blog post.

Indian national and manager of Nisha Dance Center ,Nisha Shivnani,in Dubai says the writer's ideas should not be promoted.

“Dance goes beyond any boundaries like culture and skin colour. You can dance whether you are short or fat. Everyone can dance. It’s about freedom. Any form of dance is for anyone. It connects people.”

Nisha blends Indian cinematic, oriental dance (popular belly dance), jazz and hip-hop to Bollywood music and she says creativity should never be restricted because of where someone is from.

“There are so many nationalities in my classes. We have Indians, Emiratis, Americans and Russians. You couldn’t say to them that they couldn’t do one type of dance.”

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