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Author Topic: Other: Belly dance appropriation?  (Read 4187 times)

missgraceless

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Belly dance appropriation?
« on: August 21, 2016, 01:08:34 pm »
I dunno if anyone here is a belly dancer or even remotely interested in it, but I figured I'd share this article I came across while researching the history of belly dance. I know there's another thread on general cultural appropriation floating around here somewhere.

I do understand where the author is coming from, but as a white woman who loves belly dance and plans on taking lessons again, I really don't want to let this one article get to me and stop me from doing something I love.

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/04/why_i_cant_stand_white_belly_dancers/

A quick Google search of "belly dance cultural appropriation" comes up with the first link in agreement to the Salon.com article, the second link the article itself, then followed by a slew of other articles (mostly) arguing against the original.

So I do know that cultural appropriation is a serious thing especially here in the US, but does belly dance fall in that category? And what about the people (myself included) who actually take time to learn its history/origins and culture?
« Last Edit: May 07, 2019, 03:04:47 pm by RandallS »
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Jabberwocky

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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2016, 01:17:54 pm »
Quote from: missgraceless;195245

So I do know that cultural appropriation is a serious thing especially here in the US, but does belly dance fall in that category?

 
Only you can answer that question for yourself.

I would ask if there are any arguments from people who are still living in the Middle East to consider.  I'm kinda getting bored of the way that Americans (and to a lesser extent Brits) are insisting that everyone should follow Western cultural norms on this.
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2016, 12:33:35 pm »
This isn't a matter of fact, but of opinion.
So in my opinion, to assume a white person can't belly dance also should mean Middle Eastern woman can't do ballet. Otherwise it's a double standard.
Some of the world's best belly dancers are white, what right does society have to strip them of their passion and talent?

So where does cultural appropriation draw the line?
Can white people eat sushi?
Can white people train yoga?
Can white people play Blues?
Can white people learn martial arts?
Can white people indulge in any cultures apart from their own?

Can white people's motives go 5 minutes without being questioned?
 

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does belly dance fall in that category? And what about the people (myself included) who actually take time to learn its history/origins and culture?
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2016, 01:16:04 pm »
Quote from: Eevee;197918
Can white people's motives go 5 minutes without being questioned?

Yeah, we're so oppressed, us white people. Not able to just do anything we want anymore.
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Dam

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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #4 on: October 24, 2016, 01:22:35 pm »
Quote from: missgraceless;195245

So I do know that cultural appropriation is a serious thing especially here in the US, but does belly dance fall in that category? And what about the people (myself included) who actually take time to learn its history/origins and culture?

 
Before reading this thread I was not aware 'cultural appropriation' was a thing, and it made rather angry as I researched it. Just do what you want. White women being able to do something from another culture is alien, ridiculous, and seems like early stages in cultural segregation to me.

The western world takes more steps towards multiculturalism, and this article seems to me like one of those things that is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The author may see it as progressive, but it isnt really helping anyone. This sort of reasoning seems toxic.

Maybe I should forbid those who arent Scottish in my family from wearing kilts at family celebrations. Maybe we should only be allowed to take part in things from our own nation so we absolutely do not risk annoying anybody ever. It is a shame, really. I didnt want to have to give uo curry.

Honestly, just do what you want as long as you are not causing harm to somebody, their physical posessions, or their freedom to do what they like.

Please excuse any hyperbole.

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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2016, 08:20:37 pm »
Quote from: Eevee;197918


 
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2016, 12:38:02 am »
Quote from: Dam;197923
It is a shame, really. I didnt want to have to give uo curry.

 
Why would you have to give up curry? Isn't western "curry" an invention of the British empire?
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2016, 12:40:52 am »
One other thought:

Quote from: Dam;197923
Honestly, just do what you want as long as you are not causing harm to somebody, their physical posessions, or their freedom to do what they like.



So what happens when someone says "this act is cultural appropriation and it is harming myself and my people"?
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2016, 02:07:59 am »
Quote from: Dam;197923
Before reading this thread I was not aware 'cultural appropriation' was a thing, and it made rather angry as I researched it. Just do what you want. White women being able to do something from another culture is alien, ridiculous, and seems like early stages in cultural segregation to me.

The western world takes more steps towards multiculturalism, and this article seems to me like one of those things that is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The author may see it as progressive, but it isnt really helping anyone. This sort of reasoning seems toxic.

Maybe I should forbid those who arent Scottish in my family from wearing kilts at family celebrations. Maybe we should only be allowed to take part in things from our own nation so we absolutely do not risk annoying anybody ever. It is a shame, really. I didnt want to have to give uo curry.

Honestly, just do what you want as long as you are not causing harm to somebody, their physical posessions, or their freedom to do what they like.

Please excuse any hyperbole.

 
Kilts are an excellent example, but not in the way you think.

Outlanders wearing tartans that don't belong to them was deftly handled by the creation of a tartan specifically for outlanders. They are free to wear it as they please.

That is a great way to handle the problem of appropriation. Outsiders may have a thing that was specially made for them to enjoy without damaging the integrity of the original thing.
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2016, 03:22:40 am »
Quote from: Jack;198003
So what happens when someone says "this act is cultural appropriation and it is harming myself and my people"?

 
Dunno 'bout Dam's response, but if someone said that to me I'd ask two questions.  1) Why is it appropriation?  and  2) How does it cause you or others harm?

My wife practiced bellydance for a couple years, I've trained in a couple different martial arts, and some day I will play the blues on a 6-string.
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #10 on: October 25, 2016, 10:23:36 am »
Quote from: Jack;198003
One other thought:




So what happens when someone says "this act is cultural appropriation and it is harming myself and my people"?

Quote from: MadZealot;198010
Dunno 'bout Dam's response, but if someone said that to me I'd ask two questions.  1) Why is it appropriation?  and  2) How does it cause you or others harm?

My wife practiced bellydance for a couple years, I've trained in a couple different martial arts, and some day I will play the blues on a 6-string.
Well that was the whole point of this thread. I'd found that article saying non-Arabic women are creating the cultural appropriation by belly dancing, but my understanding of it is white girls wearing tribal headdresses for fashion (an example), rather than taking the time to learn about and respect the culture, like I did with belly dance.

Granted, I don't know everything there is to know, and I don't know how belly dance applies to modern everyday Arabic women, but I will admit I do know at least a little more than other beginner belly dancers.
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2016, 07:20:11 am »
Quote from: missgraceless;195245
So I do know that cultural appropriation is a serious thing especially here in the US, but does belly dance fall in that category? And what about the people (myself included) who actually take time to learn its history/origins and culture?


No.

Art is art, and it transcends race and culture boundaries. Some arts are more culture-specific than others, but the only qualification one needs to practise a particular art is to have it resonate with them.

Otherwise, we'd have to say that there should be no black ballerinas - or Native American ones, for that matter. Japanese people have no business performing Bach. People of colour don't belong in Shakespeare.

How do we like it now?

Didn't think so.

The flak about white belly dancers is the same often levelled at white yoga practitioners, and the former can deal with it like the latter. Belly dance as practised in the west has very little to do with 'raqs sharqi', just like western yoga has very little in common with the Indian thing. And that is okay. Practise away. I love the tribal fusion style myself, and dream of a Datura Online membership. :)
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Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #12 on: October 29, 2016, 05:17:34 pm »
Quote from: Chatelaine;198257
Art is art, and it transcends race and culture boundaries.

I have some serious difficulties with this statement. As a sociologist I'm of the opinion that *nothing* transcends (escapes?) the white colonial gaze. Everything is ideological. Everything is part of the discourses we shape - the stories we tell and the kinds of societies we create with them. Race and colonialism have *everything* to do with that.

I find these discussions on cultural misappropriation, which can be seen all over the Pagan internet, fairly repetitive. Mostly because they tend to involve white people from minority world countries coming to places like this to get reassurance that what they're doing isn't bad. They can always find that if they want it. Then they're just going to go back to living their lives the way they always have. So what's the point?

Really, cultural misappropriation (a socially constructed concept itself) is much more complex than this. It's about capitalism and colonialism and history. It's mired in a web of cultural and political relationships of exploitation that are much bigger than just these misguided ideas of 'white people are being told they can't do this' (a reductionist approach that is usually expressed by, well, white people). It's about who gains at whose expense within a capitalist colonialist system, and who is exploited in that system, and how that relates to systems of exploitation through history.  

It really can't be boiled down to "BUT I WANT TO DO THIS! *stompy foot of privilege as I've never been told I can't do things before because I'm white and from a rich country*"... Not without it becoming meaningless.

Ultimately, anyone taking this stompy-foot approach is going to do what they want to do, because they always have. The worst oppression they'll ever have to deal with is having to read articles in which people from actually-oppressed groups say how cultural misappropriation affects them (but no one really listens anyway). These queries about what appropriation means are there to soothe their consciences, which probably don't run very deep anyway.

Debates around cultural appropriation say much more about liberal white guilt vs privileged entitlement, than about anything else. (In my opinion, of course.) And then you start to get policing of white, rich communities by other white, rich people, and things spiral out of control.

As to what we do about that... well that strikes me as a much more interesting question. But not one that anyone's asking.

Quote
Otherwise, we'd have to say that there should be no black ballerinas - or Native American ones, for that matter. Japanese people have no business performing Bach. People of colour don't belong in Shakespeare.

How do we like it now?

Didn't think so.

That's not how cultural appropriation works. Last I heard, entire societies of black people are not taking ballet from white people living in poverty and making a profit of it, while the poor white people can't make a living because of the impact of these capitalist colonialist practices. (Black ballet dancers are mostly too busy trying to fight the white rich privilege that keeps them out of this incredibly privileged art form...) Comparing that to forms of dance where white people make a profit from corrupted versions of exploited indigenous cultures' dance forms - it doesn't quite work as an analogue.  

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The flak about white belly dancers is the same often levelled at white yoga practitioners, and the former can deal with it like the latter. Belly dance as practised in the west has very little to do with 'raqs sharqi', just like western yoga has very little in common with the Indian thing. And that is okay. Practise away. I love the tribal fusion style myself, and dream of a Datura Online membership. :)

 
Good for you. Yoga is a good example of what I said above. It's really complicated in this debate, as its history is contested and all wrapped up, very deeply, in colonialism. Every art form you could look at in this debate will have a different history and context. But they do HAVE histories and contexts. There is no ideology-free art form.

It is my personal religious belief that I should act with honour in relation to such things as capitalism, colonialism and historical contexts of oppression. So I'll be over here, trying (and mostly failing) to get on with that. On the whole, I'd rather focus on honour than such over-simplified concepts as 'cultural appropriation' which are not currently leading to particularly nuanced debates (from what I can see).
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #13 on: October 29, 2016, 06:22:12 pm »
Quote from: Naomi J;198276
That's not how cultural appropriation works. Last I heard, entire societies of black people are not taking ballet from white people living in poverty and making a profit of it, while the poor white people can't make a living because of the impact of these capitalist colonialist practices. (Black ballet dancers are mostly too busy trying to fight the white rich privilege that keeps them out of this incredibly privileged art form...) Comparing that to forms of dance where white people make a profit from corrupted versions of exploited indigenous cultures' dance forms - it doesn't quite work as an analogue.


That comes awfully close to saying 'it's only cultural appropriation when white people do it' with a side of 'western art is a capitalist colonialist tool'.

The author of the piece in the OP is taking exception to white belly dancers doing the entertaining in functions even in Egypt. Beyond the anthropological implications (belly dancing can't really be confined within Egyptian borders; it's a thing all over the Levant, and there are plenty of Levantine women who can validly claim it as their heritage while at the same time presenting as very white), this is a case of blaming entertainment organisers for choosing spectacle over authenticity - which is the norm in all forms of entertainment.

Ballet may not be an exact analogy, because its elitism is not so much racist as classist - it is expensive to pursue to a professional level, and people of colour are a lot more likely not to be able to afford it. My tu'pennyworth is that, if you can find someone to teach you an art form and you're willing to put in the work, you have earned the right to be there. But then I've been repeatedly invited to take Indian and African dance classes with Asian and Black friends, and never told that I can't or shouldn't because I'm white. It can be different on the other side.
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Re: Belly dance appropriation?
« Reply #14 on: October 29, 2016, 11:48:15 pm »
Quote from: Chatelaine;198280
That comes awfully close to saying 'it's only cultural appropriation when white people do it' with a side of 'western art is a capitalist colonialist tool'.

 
It's only cultural appropriation when it's appropriating.

Appropriation, in a quick google definitioning:  "the action of taking something for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission."  Nay used "misappropriate", which would be "(of a person) dishonestly or unfairly take (something, especially money, belonging to another) for one's own use."

So have a poke at what that actually is.

Some people will say that cultural things, such as art forms, do not have owners, and that therefore they cannot be misappropriated.  This is not actually true; the problem is that there are multiple factors in play, and often the conversation is a bloody shell game where which one is "the topic" is unclear.

1)  Inspiration.  Someone saw/heard/tasted/etc. a thing and wants to do something based on their impressions thereof.  They are not doing the thing that inspired them, but the thing that inspired them is part of why their thing exists.

2)  Preservation of lineage.  Some things actually contain very fiddly techniques, and someone who is not correctly taught will almost certainly not be doing them correctly.  What "correctly" means in context varies; it could be about sanctity of a practice, or nuance of the expression, or actual safety concerns.

3) Reclamation.  Many traditional art forms and cultural expressions were among those actively targeted for oppression by colonial or conquering forces.  In order to properly subjugate the populations, their languages, their arts, their religions needed to be brought to heel, and so those things have been damaged over time, and people are acting to preserve and revive them.  In these cases, it is especially critical for people who want to pursue them to do so in the traditional ways, so that they can be rebuilt properly.

4) Insult to injury.  So consider point #3: people trying to preserve, maintain, and repair cultural forms that have been actively taken away from them.  They then encounter people who have taken disconnected bits of the thing that was broken and are basically using them as decorative knick-knacks on their lives, often to show off how spiritual, creative, or appreciative of "native arts" they are.  These things, once stripped of their cultural context, are basically treated as trophies and collectibles by the children of the colonisers.

5) Degradation of meaning.  Most people are pissed off when stuff they consider sacred or important is treated frivolously.  A lot of the trappings that get picked up by outsiders are particularly bold or dramatic - and particularly bold and dramatic things are rather frequently among the sacred in their cultural origins.  Things like the Plains tribes' war bonnet have been adopted as iconic and thus turn up in all kinds of places as a sort of synecdoche for Native culture or a handy way of labelling something, hence its use in tacky Halloween costumes; the actual item, as a mark of honor for someone who has accomplished something of great substance, is much more akin to a Medal of Honor or a knighting than a fancy hat.  These sorts of things directly attack the legitimacy of such people's sense of sanctity.

6)  Mislabelling.  Some people will present their thing as just like the original inspiration or source (or, in some cases, as a better version).  Whatever other issues there may be with the action, this compounds them.

7) Dilution.  When there are lots of people running around presenting on thing X, it may be easier to get thing X, but it is much, much harder for the traditional teachers of thing X to have their positions heard or recognised.  And if most of the people teaching thing X are mislabelling (whether because they don't know better or some other reason), then the process of reclaiming and stabilising threatened traditions gets that much harder.

8)  Commercialisation.  The introduction of the profit motive into matters of art twists things up a lot.  Especially for traditional, sacred art forms of various sorts - there are people who will be horrified by the idea of trying to make a buck off them, there are people who think it's fantastic that would-be collectors have bucks to hand over, and there will be a lot of people in the middle, who think of some forms of exchange as okay and others not, or okay under some circumstances and not others, and so on.  This is a mess of principle and survival and what level of accomodation and adaptation is acceptable and it is a giant sticky morass of argument.

9) Direction of cultural change.  A lot of this stuff is tangled up in who has the power to get another culture to conform to their desires.  Colonising/imperial cultures have an interest in getting other people to do things their way, in whatever form that takes - which ranges over things that include stuff from Roman syncretisation of local gods with their state gods all the way to stealing children and putting them in boarding schools to raise them disconnected from their native cultures and beyond.  Non-colonising cultures may well borrow traditions from each other and adopt things organically, but they default to having no active interest in other people doing things their way.  That is, up until other people start doing their things.

10)  Learning a skill vs. learning a tradition.  There are a lot of things that are skill-based; you follow this set of steps to get this result.  You practice these things, and you eventually achieve mastery.  Etc.  There are also a lot of things that are framed into a context and a worldview, and it is not simply doing the thing, but doing the thing in a particular way, with a particular attitude, within a particular context.  A lot of people who want to learn artforms are approaching it as learning a skill; a lot of people who have those artforms in a traditional context approach it as part of a tradition.  Someone can learn the skills without learning the tradition; someone can be a part of the tradition and be utterly pants at the skills.

Um, off the top of my head.

So I went and read the article in the OP, and I see a whole lot of #4 there.  (I wrote the list above before reading the article.)  The author of the piece is saying that there is a cultural context for her dance, that it is a sacred thing that belongs in the place it belongs, and that it is not appropriate to strip away that context and treat it as just a set of steps.

And I think that raises a lot of interesting questions, even if one doesn't come down on the side of agreeing with the author about appropriate action.  If I were interested in belly dance (and my experience of it is basically entirely in the equivalent of hatha yoga asanas, many of which I also got from other sources, so my familiarity is quite trivial), I would look at that expression of sanctity and want to know: what sort of sanctity can I bring into this art?  Is it at all similar to what this person is expressing?  Is it even appropriate to try to adapt the artform to contain a similar type of sanctity to its place of origin, given my cultural origins are different?  What are the boundaries on what I consider appropriate to do as an outsider to the cultures of origin of this artform?  Is this inspiration or insult?  Is this something I might pursue for my own personal and intimate reasons, but not something that's appropriate to do publically?  Why do people of my culture form social bonding groups over cultural items from somewhere else, and is that energy something I want to feed? And so on.
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* In Memoriam

Chavi (2006)
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* Cauldron Staff

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