How to Deal with the Doubts of a Significant Other
A recent issue of a certain men’s health and fitness magazine, among a slew of advertisements, featured one for a muscle building supplement. The marketing slant of this ad was to pose half a dozen flat-abed, slim hipped, lusty eyed women around a pair of shirtless men. The harem fantasy. I scoffed under my breath at the bedlahs these “bellydancers” wore. Such cheap costumes were the stuff of student haflah wear at best.
With images like this occupying the collective consciousness, practitioners of the art sometimes find themselves trying to explain and excuse what they do. Earnestly abating concerns that bellydance is not, in fact, like stripping or that it’s more than snake charming and wiggling around. An East coast based dance troupe, Al Shamps Wel Al Amar, for example, had a gig for a corporate picnic which fell through last minute due to concerns over “family friendliness.” Despite the scantiness of dance costumes in general, the exposed midriff often comes into question.
Comparisons between bellydance and exotic dance or burlesque are often drawn. But anyone who’s seen the stage production- not to mention the motion picture- of Chicago could observe that bellydance is far less provocative. And that’s jazz dance set in theatre. The difference between bellydance and any of these other forms of dance, were it to be simply stated, is that bellydance has sensual undertones. A visceral connection to the one’s femininity, the earth, the elements, the experience- physical, emotional, and spiritual is translated through bellydance. Whether it be of a playful, flirty nature, emphasizing what is hidden over what is shown, as in burlesque, or portrayed blatantly and unapologetically, as with exotic dance, these dance forms have sexual undertones.
As if it’s not already enough fun dealing with peoples’ misconceptions and ignorant attitudes to your art, your passion, and the vessel for your devotion and creative juices, you then may have the very people closest to you calling your art into question.
So how do you deal when the skeptical party is your significant other?
It makes sense that a highly effective means with which to address misconceptions is to drag your partner along to a bellydance venue. Besides restaurants and nightclubs, there are weddings, showers, community fairs, and ethnic festivals, all showcasing bellydance for the deeply-rooted art form that it is. A local, daytime bellydance event, such as the annual Mediterranean Fantasy Festival in Seattle, ensures an especially family friendly display of dancing that is geared towards the public. Here your partner will have the opportunity to see that all kinds of women of all ages and backgrounds find joy through this dance form. At these sorts of events, anyone- even a close-minded man- will find it hard not to grin along with these womens’ efforts. Most likely the slouching, reluctant guy you dragged along to a bellydance event will be clapping along before long, whispering to you that the drum solos are especially cool while chowing on a heaping gyro provided by the food vendor.
Without having to take your word for it, your partner will see that bellydancers are mothers, and sometimes even grandmothers. He’ll see that bellydancers are thin, curvy, and robust. And he’ll pick up on the fact that they’re out there feeling positive about their bodies and what they can express through those bodies. He’ll catch glimpse of husbands, boyfriends, and girlfriends, friends and family members in the audience, supporting their beloved bellydancers.
Professional bellydancer, Jennifer of Orlando appreciates “all the men in belly dancers’ lives who ‘get it.’ Who know that this dance is nothing erotic in the correct hands. For the men who … trust in their women and support their business smarts and independence… partners who come with us to private events, parties, haflas, and pretty much everything else, because they know it will make us happy and they make sure we are kept safe.”
Another approach to informing your significant other of bellydance’s non-subversive origins is to speak directly of its origins. Bellydance, preceding written language, is somewhat mired in mystery. There is, however, a popular consensus which asserts that bellydance originated by women, for women. This is the furthest thing from the harem fantasy. The movements, it is commonly believed, are ones that mimic childbirth and the muscles involved- the rolling of the stomach, the loosening of the hips, and the connection to the earth. The lifting and dropping of the hips emulates how a mother can carry and rock her baby using her body. If you want to forward your partner some informative reading up on the history of bellydance, there is probably no better source than bellydancer Shira’s website, www.shira.net. This site is replete with information on bellydance’s origins, history, meaning, even spanning beyond the dance into Middle Eastern music and culture.
Lastly, and most importantly, be honest with your partner about what bellydance means to you. Because regardless of what the public, professional venues, your fellow dancers, or your instructor believes bellydance to be, this is your own dance journey. If bellydance offers you spiritual, physical, or emotional healing, renewal, or rejuvenation, then this is in itself is more meaningful than anything else. And if your partner maintains the opinion that there is a dark tint cast over bellydance? It remains true that nothing changed in this world without someone making it so. It is partly thanks to all the bellydancers who have come before you, helping to dispel the negative or warped conceptions of the dance, that make you and your peers better understood and accepted today and equipped with more opportunities to perform.
Lead him through your bellydance journey one day at a time. Without expecting his understanding to come to instantly equal the full fruition of yours, expose your significant other here and there, allowing him to come to his own conclusions in an organic manner.
There’s also a time not to explain a thing. Simply stating, “this is important to me, this is a part of who I am, and I’m going to do it,” is ultimately all you should have to say when you’re speaking to someone who loves and supports you. As any bellydancer knows, bellydance is a journey. Not just in dance but in life. Elements of this journey are self-acceptance, freedom of expression, rejoicing with abandon. For some dancers, part of the journey is bringing others along for the ride.