Belly dancers are like the slinky long-sleeve, high-necked long, from-fitting black gown while strippers are like hot pants, revealing halter-top and heels. Belly dancers tease but don’t give it away. A legitimate belly dancer is not a stripper. We do not remove our clothing and bare all. Actually, belly dancers are attired in more chiffon and beading than participants on “Dancing with the Stars.” Definitely more than seen on a public beach.
An authentic belly dancer doesn’t wear her costume in public but covers up with a long robe. She doesn’t flirt with her audience or touch members of her audience. She keeps her hands away from her body and face as a rule and doesn’t touch herself provocatively. There are no pelvic thrusts and her crotch is always away from her audience when executing backbends or floorwork. She doesn’t touch her breasts or thrust them into an audience member’s face. If veiling an audience member she uses a friend as “plant” or gets permission first. She doesn’t allow members of the audience to put money on her person, in her bra or hip belt. Actually, she doesn’t retrieve her tips from the floor but has management or a friend collect after her dance. A dancer isn’t seen in the bar after her dance drinking or smoking with audience members. She dons street clothes before any socializing.
I believe a dancer should be “family-friendly.” If you wouldn’t dance it in front of your children or grandmother, don’t dance it. What you do in the privacy of your home with your husband or significant other, on the other hand, is your business. I personally will not dance at bachelor parties or male-only events. I won’t pop out of a cake. To me, that’s stripper territory.
Costumes should be appropriate to the venue. If dancing at a children’s party, harem pants with a modest blouse or a beladi dress would be appropriate. At a public festival, keep the slits closed and the bust contained. Ask the person hiring you what they expect and dress accordingly. I, for instance, do not accept dance gigs when asked my breast size. Get a stripper! Dress to body type as well (more on this topic later). No “cups runneth over” and, please, no thongs.
Some dancers would beg to differ, but I dance for joy and not for money. My goal is to educate and preserve the integrity of this ancient dance form. The dance embraces the feminine, sensual side but does not exploit it. There will always be detractors who will trash the dance. After all, the famous Hula was banned by missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even now, dancing in public in Islamic culture is considered shameful and dancers not respected.
Belly dancing, though, as an art form has been passed on through the generations in Arabic culture as a way of teaching daughters about their sensuality. Dancing at weddings, rituals and festivals is allowed as long as men and women do not dance together or for each other, Women dance for one another, the only way to express themselves in repressive societies and critique each other.
Belly dance is a sensual dance of empowerment. Stripping is blatantly sexual. I, for one, draw a distinction between the two but will not condemn strippers or stripping. After all, belly dance is often not accepted in “polite society” either. Both dance forms involve athleticism and creativity. Both are studied by middle-aged housewives seeking an alternative exercise routine. Pole dancing as a form of physical fitness is quite popular, like belly dancing.
My goal is to draw the distinction because so many people don’t know the difference. Belly dancers are trying to educate, one shimmy at a time.