Can we take a moment to talk about something problematic with cultural appropriation?
We all know its origins, and we all probably want to do it, have done it, or like to watch it.
However, can we just discuss that damn near all the people in America “teaching” belly dance classes and doing performances are white women?
They’re plain old white women who can belly dance, but what’s problematic and a trend is the bastardizing of the whole culture surrounding belly dancing, taking “exotic” sounding names to make their classes more appealing/edgy/ethnic-ish, and then performing at hookah bars or other “Middle Eastern-feeling” venues.
It’s always bothered me, especially when I hear the word “tribal” and “belly dance” used in the same sentence.
Can we discuss this problem? Because it’s a problem.
Hell yeah it’s a problem!
I’d really like to take a belly dancing class, but the venues near me that offer it are all taught by white women, in addition to costing ridiculous amounts of money. White people profitting off of cultural elements belonging to cultures of PoC. I’m not surprised.
And this was before I even had second thoughts about belly dancing due to the appropriation issue - I just walked in, asked the white lady to talk to the head teacher, and then kind of WTFed when she said she was.
My main thing is - if you actually learn the original, true forms of belly-dancing from someone who is of that culture, and not some white person teaching a bastardization of it, is it still acceptable to learn belly dancing even though you’re not Middle Eastern?
I’ve taken belly dance classes before, one of the classes offered by the university gym. It was taught by a white woman, obvsly (although I occasionally suspected her of white-passing, but never asked). I can’t remember everything I learned about belly-dance but my main takeaway was that belly-dance is a form of grounding oneself and being aware of the body (which could be wrong, for all I know). My problem with belly-dance classes (and yoga and the like) is the fact that money is funneled into white pockets. I would have less a problem paying an actual Middle-Eastern woman who is offering classes on more traditional forms of belly-dance for lessons. And then the white folk who learned it start teaching it to other white folk, forming all-white belly-dance troupes. Which I get the idea of: ARTISTIC FREEDOM and all that, but it plays right into the problem of invisibilizing the originary people.
Like, it’s not that you gain this knowledge that’s a problem, but what you do with it after, you know? If you use the knowledge to start bastardizing it and start contributing to the commodification of the art form and trumping a white-dominant industry, rather than continue working with other Middle-Eastern performers, that’s somewhat more problematic than just learning it for your own self.