Are bindis as big of a problem as I've read?

Dani

New member
I was shopping for belly dance accessories, and when I saw bindis, I decided to look up the meaning. When I did, it said that bindis were a terrible and ignorant addition, and that belly dancers should never wear it. I don't know how true that is, and this was a while ago, but I see them in belly dance every so often.

Does anyone know why people would say that? Is there a reason why I shouldn't buy them? I'm so confused.
 

Darshiva

Moderator
According to blogs I've read from Indian nationals, if it's the blingy kind, it's just jewellery. If it's the red dot kind, it's sacred and DO NOT GO THERE!
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Bindis are Indian, not middle eastern. Would be sort of like wearing a bolo tie and Wyoming bucking horse pin with your bedlah.
 

Farasha Hanem

New member
What Shanazel said. Bindis are beautiful, but not appropriate for Middle Eastern dance, unless perhaps you're doing some sort of ME/Bollywood fusion, but there again, you'd need to be strong in both dance genres to do the fusion justice. Bellydance comes from the MENAT (Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey) cultures, and do not wear bindis. Although some people mistakenly believe that India had an influence on the development and history of bellydance, it's simply not true. Two different cultures, two different dance styles (I'm generalizing here, because both dance styles can be further broken down into their many respective folkloric styles).
 

Roshanna

New member
There are two issues here: the general issue of people who are not Indian or Hindu wearing bindis, and the specific issue of wearing them for bellydance.

On the first point, opinion among Indian people seems quite divided and I've seen articles strongly arguing in both directions (that it's harmless, and that it's offensive cultural appropriation) - but all agree that this only applies to blingy 'fashion bindis'. The red religious ones are certainly off limits unless they are a part of your religion. Since some proportion of Indian people would be likely to find it offensive if I wore a bindi, even though some would also be fine with it, this alone is enough to convince me personally that the small benefit of having a tiny bit of extra bling isn't really worth doing something that I know some people will find hurtful.

On the second point: As a few people have said already, there is no good reason to wear a bindi when performing bellydance (unless it is a well-researched Indian fusion piece). They are from a totally different culture! Wearing one would risk confusing the audience (since some people already incorrectly think that bellydance is from India), and would also risk making you look ignorant, as knowledgeable audience members would be likely to assume you were wearing it because you didn't know the difference.

To go deeper into this: when we mix together elements of unrelated cultures just because we think they look cool, then we are sending the message that we see all 'exotic' cultures as one interchangeable mass, and that the huge differences between these cultures don't matter to us because they are all foreign and exotic and 'other' - or that we think our 'creative' fantasy is more important than the real people and real cultures we are misrepresenting. It's thoughtless and disrespectful, often racist, and obviously to someone who comes from one of those cultures, it's likely to be offensive. Unfortunately it does still happen rather a lot in the bellydance world, but it really shouldn't.
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
All true, but with all that said, there's more Belly Dancers who wear Bindis than don't - at least around here. For whatever that's worth...
 

Dani

New member
Thanks everyone! I think I will be avoiding bindis, but that's not against anyone who does decide to wear them. I am looking into Indian belly dancing, but I'd like to make sure I understand the style well before I wear it. I greatly appreciate everyone's feedback! Thank you!
 

Roshanna

New member
All true, but with all that said, there's more Belly Dancers who wear Bindis than don't - at least around here. For whatever that's worth...
In my experience, there's a pro/hobbyist divide. I virtually never see bindis on 'serious' oriental-style dancers in the UK (unless they are doing an Indian-influenced piece, perhaps), but hobbyist groups will sometimes wear them.
ATS is another question, of course, and one I'm not really qualified to comment on.

I'd also argue that just because everyone does something and it's 'normal', doesn't mean it's right or a good idea.
As a random example, until 2002, lots of people here in the UK collected and wore enamel badges with golliwogs on them, which you could get by collecting marmalade jars. My parents had a few of them. At the time, it was normal and commonplace and many people would have scoffed at the idea that it was offensive. As a child it never even occurred to me that it was racist - but looking back, I'm quite shocked that this continued as late as it did (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robertson's#Gollywog_branding). I do wonder if we'll look back in a couple of decades and be similarly amazed that bellydancers were still wearing bindis in 2015...
 

Amulya

Moderator
I often wore them matching my costumes, I have a huge collection and I used to wear them mostly every day (was married to an Indian). I stopped wearing them long ago because of horrible ignorant people* I have bumped into when I moved to Australia (in Holland there was never an issue, people were more accepting of differences because it's a multicultural country, which Australia is also supposed to be, but just too many rednecks around still)

As for dancing style, I have never been a purist, always been slightly fusion, but if I did Egytian style, I didn't wear them as it doesn't make sense. So it depends on what your style is, if you want to be a purist or more a fusion dancer. Whatever style you choose, always educate your audience (if you do pro gigs) about what your style is and if it's fusion you can always tell people that the original styles are different. It's a good chance to teach people about dance :)
the reason why I didn't want to be purist was at that time everybody in the country where I lived was a purist and a copy of each other, the only way to be different was to not be another copy.

Off topic but regarding those articles regarding "cultural appropriation", they are generally written by white people. My Indian friend gets super angry at them because to her it means that she wouldn't be allowed to appropriate either (if cultural appropriation is a bad thing) and wearing jeans wouldn't be allowed for her, she'd be forced to only wear only wear indian clothes.
As for bindis, she says she wouldn't wear them because they represent sexism to her, but she can understand people find them pretty and if she can wear jeans they can wear bindis.

*think rednecks or preachy white women (you know the loud kind that like to create social issues just for the sake so they can be nasty at everybody)
 
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Aniseteph

New member
My experience is similar to Roshanna's - if I saw an Oriental style dancer wearing one and she wasn't doing an obviously Indian or Bollywood styled number I'd be wondering if it was cluelessness. I wouldn't be that surprised to see them on hobbyist troupes hereabouts doing no particular style though,. Whether that is cluelessness again ôr just dressing up being as sparkly as possible I can't say.

OTOH some of the TF girls here wear them and with the way they do their make up it just becomes part of the overall exotic look and stops looking so specifically Indian, if that makes sense.
 

Kashmir

New member
All true, but with all that said, there's more Belly Dancers who wear Bindis than don't - at least around here. For whatever that's worth...
Around here it is only a few fusion "belly dancers". Belly dancers here don't wear them in general (unless it's Bollywood fusion) - and none of my students are allowed on stage with them. Bindis are INDIAN - not Middle Eastern!!!!
 

Kashmir

New member
Thanks everyone! I think I will be avoiding bindis, but that's not against anyone who does decide to wear them. I am looking into Indian belly dancing, but I'd like to make sure I understand the style well before I wear it. I greatly appreciate everyone's feedback! Thank you!
And "Indian belly dancing" is what exactly? (Middle Eastern) belly dance as performed by people in India? Because there is NO native belly dance in India - by definition. However some years back friend developed a NZ/belly dance fusion - but it was done from well educated belly dancers within the NZ culture. Developing a belly dance/Indian (and which Indian?) fusion from without the culture of BOTH is extremely fraught. And why would you want to do it?
 

Roshanna

New member
Off topic but regarding those articles regarding "cultural appropriation", they are generally written by white people. My Indian friend gets super angry at them because to her it means that she wouldn't be allowed to appropriate either (if cultural appropriation is a bad thing) and wearing jeans wouldn't be allowed for her, she'd be forced to only wear only wear indian clothes.
As for bindis, she says she wouldn't wear them because they represent sexism to her, but she can understand people find them pretty and if she can wear jeans they can wear bindis.
All the ones I'm thinking of re: bindis were written by Indian women. Here is an example, and there are other articles linked to in this one that have also been written by Indian our South Asian women: http://shamelessmag.com/blog/entry/not-your-fashion-dots-the-continuous-appropriatio/

Here is a quote than sums up the main point of that article:

When a non-South Asian person wears the bindi, it is generally seen as edgy and cute. Fans and music media alike praise these celebrities for their bold “fashion” choices. But when someone like me or my mom wears the bindi out in public, we are either stared down with dirty looks, told to go back to where we came from, or exotified...
And the idea that Indian people would not be 'allowed' to wear jeans is a complete misunderstanding of the idea of cultural appropriation. It simply isn't true, because Americans have never been exploited and discriminated against by Indians in the same way that Indian people have been by Western nations (both in historical terms in the British empire, and in the discrimination that South Asian people still face now when living in Europe, America, Australia etc). History and politics are important here. When there's a cultural exchange, the power dynamics matter. American culture has been deliberately exported to the rest of the world, and America is a world superpower. The same has been true of Britain and France. This is totally different from an American using part of the culture of a people who have suffered the effects of European colonialism followed by US imperialism for centuries, without those people deliberately choosing to export their culture, and whilst continuing to discriminate against and oppress the people the cultural item was taken from.

EDIT: in case it wasn't clear, the reason I use America as an example is because blue jeans are originally American.
 
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Shanazel

Super Moderator
Your point is taken, Roshanna, and I understand why you used America as an example. With that in mind:

American culture is an amalgamate of dozens of cultures. Most of us are ethnic mutts and proud to be that way. To call the traditional mixing of cultures in America cultural appropriation is to not understand what it means to be American. Anyone bent on ethnic purity, be they white supremists or newly immigrated [choose a culture], has come to the wrong place. When people immigrate here, they bring their culture to the mix whatever the folks back home think of it, and it becomes part of the American stew pot of cultures.

Worldwide, people can vote for or against American companies the same way we do here. Don't eat at the Parisian McDonald's, don't watch American made movies, don't read American novelists, and don't accept American foreign aid. De Gaulle's France did a decent job of eliminating Americanisms from that culture even as America cheerfully said c'est la vie and parked a few more Ouis in garages.

We are what we are.
 
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Amulya

Moderator
Shanazel, that was what I was thinking too. People have been copying things from each other for 1000s of years, think of all the ancient statues in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and India that have a Roman inspired look. That's just one example of many. I like that, it would be utterly boring if there was no melting pot thing going on and everybody had to stick to their own culture (which is some cases is impossible, if you have multiple backgrounds)
 

Roshanna

New member
American culture is an amalgamate of dozens of cultures. Most of us are ethnic mutts and proud to be that way. To call the traditional mixing of cultures in America cultural appropriation is to not understand what it means to be American. Anyone bent on ethnic purity, be they white supremists or newly immigrated [choose a culture], has come to the wrong place. When people immigrate here, they bring their culture to the mix whatever the folks back home think of it, and it becomes part of the American stew pot of cultures.
I don't believe that anybody who is concerned about cultural appropriation is 'bent on ethnic purity'. What they *are* concerned about is aspects of their culture being exoticised, fetishised, and used as fashion items or 'cute' costumes (in some cases in very disrespectful or inappropriate ways) by people who continue in other respects to discriminate against them. Cultural sharing should be based on an equal and respectful exchange (e.g. in the case of bindis, if an Indian woman invited her non-Indian friends to her wedding and encouraged them all to wear Indian formal dress, then that would be an example of cultural sharing between equals), not "it's ours now to do whatever we like with, whether you like it or not, because we say so".

Worldwide, people can vote for or against American companies the same way we do here. Don't eat at the Parisian McDonald's, don't watch American made movies, don't read American novelists, and don't accept American foreign aid. De Gaulle's France did a decent job of eliminating Americanisms from that culture even as America cheerfully said c'est la vie and parked a few more Ouis in garages.
This seems to be missing my point, which is that an Indian person wearing jeans or eating McDonalds is *not* cultural appropriation, because those things have been freely and willingly exported to the rest of the world. Not that people should for some reason boycott all American culture.
 
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