Welcome to the Belly Dance FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). This is a dynamic document, meant to reflect the common questions we ask ourselves and each other about the aspects and issues in and surrounding Belly Dance. Very little is cut-and-dried, here... At this point we're just trying to form a consistent framework of information & opinions that will help us understand the dance and each other. Please contribute your own questions & suggested answers if what's here doesn't reflect your own thinking. Documented sources are appreciated, but not required. Much of this FAQ will reflect the issues being raised (and answered) in the med-dance mailing list (see question#1), so posting there is the prefered method of participating in this document.
1. Where can I read and/or write about Belly Dance online?
Several places! Via email, you can subscribe/participate in the med-dance mailing list (20+ letters per day). Just send mail to email@example.com with the command "subscribe med-dance" in the body. You will get an acknowlegement that you're on the list and instructions on how to participate, including how to unsubscribe to the list. Via anonymous ftp, try the dance archives at ftp.std.com, in the directory /ftp/nonprofits/dance/med-dance, which includes archives of the med-dance list. On the World Wide Web, go to the Belly Dance Home Page at URL "http:/www.bdancer.com/" (Specializes in linking to other Belly Dance resources on the Web, including the dance archives). On usenet, the topic closest to appropriate is rec.folk-dancing, but there isn't much about Belly Dancing there. There is also a conference on America Online (only available to members).
2. Do I have to have a ficticious "stage name" or "dance name" to be a "real" Belly Dancer?
Short answer: No, but there are some advantages.
Longer answer (discussed in med-dance in early September of 1995): There are people out there who think having a dance name is a mark of professionalism, but the existence of many (very prestigeous) dancers who use their real names (ethnic-sounding or not) shows this to be a debateable point, not an accepted rule. Using your real name may increase your sense of being an integrated person, if that's an issue for you, and may also make a statement to your audience that you are a real person. Still, there are benefits to using a dance name. One function of a dance name is to create a mood (for yourself and your audience), but that is a cosmetic function. More practically, use of a dance name can increase your personal safety from the (rare) weirdo who persues anyone who draws their attention. The number of people like that who are also willing to do the extra work of finding out your real name / address / phone number is even smaller, so this little precaution can be very effective, especially when combined with other methods of discouraging harrassment.
3. So how do I discourage harrassment?
As any personal safety instructor will tell you, the best defense against becoming a target is to not act like one. Projecting a sense of confidence and awareness of your surroundings (on or off stage) will repel weirdos, and scrunching your shoulders and staring at the ground will attract them. Use of a dance name (see question 2) provides an extra psychological and practical barrier to harrassment. Having a buddy in the audience (friend or significant other) to back you up or bail you out is a VERY good idea, but make sure they understand it's their job to stay aware of what's going on and what sort of help you expect if trouble appears imminent (even people you love and trust can be amazingly unaware of things they aren't looking for).
4. So is it really dangerous being a belly dancer?
Only slightly more dangerous than being alive (which can be pretty dangerous if you don't anticipate & manage risks before they arrive). This is true of Belly Dancing or crossing the street.
5. But I have to be some thin beauty queen, right?
No, especially if you're concerned with being 'authentic'. Keep in mind that cultural standards of beauty vary. Many middle-eastern societies prefer women that have 'more meat on their bones', as an Egyptian man once put it.
6. Blonde hair isn't terribly authentic though, is it?
Actually, it is. There are many blonde belly dancers in the middle-east, if that's what you mean by authentic.
7. Is American Belly Dance authentic?
Yes and no. If you mean, is it an exact duplication of what is seen in the middle-east TODAY, no, but it's not as far off as you might think. Keep in mind that influences go both ways. Americans were influenced by the dance and music of the middle-east, and they in turn have been influenced by us. Belly dance has changed quite a bit there in the last hundred years, so that modern middle-east dance has more in common with the American version than with it's own past.
8. What do you wear to class? Do you need a costume?
Belly dance class is essentially an exercise class; you should wear something comfortable that allows you to move, and the instructor to see your movements, easily. You only need a costume if you want to perform.
9. Aren't belly dancers really just bimbos?
No, that's just a stereotype. Many highly intelligent and creative women enjoy belly dancing and find it personally fulfilling. Traditionally, the dance was done by women for women, for their own enjoyment. It is not just entertainment for men.
10. Do belly dancers take off their clothes?
No they do not. A dancer who removes her clothes is a stripper, not a belly dancer. A stripper who starts out dressed like a harem girl is not a real belly dancer, any more than a stripper who starts out wearing a police uniform is a real police officer.
11. Do you have to show your belly?
No. Even when performing, many professional dancers keep their stomachs covered.
12. Can men belly dance?
Sure! It is traditional for men in the Middle East to dance using many of the same movements we learn in belly dance class, and there are many male belly dancers (See article on Masculine Belly Dance).
13. Don't you have to be young to do the movements?
No. Unlike ballet, belly dance movements are natural and not hard on your body. Most people feel that "life experience" actually makes a better belly dancer.
14. Is belly dancing difficult?
Sometimes. You discover new ways of moving your body. Some movements will be easy; others will be unusual and will require some practice and concentration to get used to. It becomes easier as you practice.
15. Do you have to spend a lot of money?
That's entirely up to you. If you just want to dance for the exercise and your personal enjoyment, you don't have to spend any additional money. If you decide you want to perform, you can make or buy costumes according to your personal taste and budget. If you like shopping, you can shop 'til you drop if you want to!
16. How is tipping handled?
It varies, and there has been some heated debate on the med-dance mailing list about this. One way is to let people tuck it into some part of your costume, which many dancers are very uncomfortable with. If you allow costume tipping, have some way of indicating where it's OK to put it, and if someone tips or touches you in an inappropriate place, be prepared to have some method of indicating to them and the rest of the audience that it wasn't OK, like to stop dancing and/or return the tip. Around my area, the dance guilds avoid the problem by just putting a contributions basket out on a table, and all tips go toward guild projects & expenses. One visiting dancer went through the audience with her veil draped on her forward reaching arms to form an impromtu basket to collect tips. At one show a man walked across the stage area throwing money in the air, which seemed pretty rude until I found out that one way tipping was done in the middle-east was for an associate of the dancer to collect tips for the dancer, and that the associate then crosses stage throwing money in the air as I had seen done. Your call, it just depends on the enviroment and what you're comfortable with. The important thing is to keep control of the situation and your self-respect.