Cultural appropriation


New member
Warning:This response is heavy on the snark.

Genocide and slavery. Alas, this is all the American history some folks manage to cram into their brains during those hours of lectures. We fought a war about 160 years ago that ended the practice of slavery in the US and we’ve been struggling along ever since to mitigate the results of the practice. Last time I checked, slavery was an ongoing thing in other parts of the world, de facto if not de jure. I'm not going to mention one of the worst documented offenders since doing so will probably get me accused of generalizing and cultural insensitivity.;)
Given that the genocide of Native Americans continued into the early 1900's and the most recent lynching was in '98, there are reverberations of both that resonate forcefully into the present day. The dark history of this country is the vast majority. And before you get onto me about it, you can be patriotic and acknowledge the reality of what our ancestors participated in.

While not making any excuses for the terrible way the First People were treated by the government, I do have to point out . . . The First People were not and are not one big happy family. All we have to do here is look a few miles west to the Wind River Rez where the Arapaho and Shoshone are currently going at each other in court over bald eagles . . .
Well then I guess it's a good thing you're not "making excuses" except that excuses makes up the entire content of this reply. No amount of inter-tribal conflict or slavery in other nations excuses or diminishes the atrocious behavior on US soil. You do realize that you're regurgitating all the same excuses the early colonists spouted for why it was ok to get rid of the "Indian problem."

I'm not even going to respond to the bit about WWII as it makes no logical sense.

Re: the “invisible privilege and position of authority” of average Americans being responsible for our ability to enjoy seeing others embrace our customs. You know, if you were talking about anyone but Americans you’d get accused of cultural insensitivity but seriously, I have to shake my head and laugh. Could it possibly be that we enjoy seeing others enjoy our customs, dance, and music just because we like to see people take part in the very things we take pleasure in?

Even in America there are everyday things from older more traditional cultures that have elements of religion or specific social values attached to them that outsiders might not be able to discern without help. Really, do you think we're a blueprint of what you see on TV? :)[/FONT][/COLOR]
The marked difference is that the practice of American culture has never been made illegal. The Natives had their cultural traditions outlawed and their children kidnapped to prevent them from learning their traditions. Africans and Latin Americans saw their traditions similarly outlawed. Maybe we don't have as much pause in sharing our traditions because we've never had it taken or stolen from us on an institutionalized scale? Or had to fear our lives for practicing our cultural traditions. There should be similar care taken with the cultures of the Middle East and South Asia, given our (and the British empire's) involvement in that region.

It is good to be aware of others and to treat them and their beliefs and customs with respect but I reiterate without apology: we've all gotten a bit too sensitive about what can be shared and what can't.
Well I guess when anyone has any questions about the sharing of cultural practices we'll have to come to you, now that you get to decide what is and isn't "too sensitive."

But honestly, it is the height of arrogance to tell someone else what they do/don't have to share from their own culture.

Who gets to decide whether or not to share if my husband is cool with folks in Latvia or Ceylon singing hymns that arose in the Second Great Awakening of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and my neighbor across the street is not?
By the way, this was a religious and not secular occurrence that had a huge impact on the USA, but probably that story got by folks in those same old boring history lectures mentioned above. Frankly, I’ve never met anyone whose religious beliefs stem from that Awakening who wouldn’t be delighted to teach those songs to anyone who asks despite the songs having important religious and cultural significance.
"but probably that story got by folks in those same old boring history lectures mentioned above" I have no idea what you are trying to say in this bit. You're also forgetting that this religious occurrence happened via colonization and in many cases, ethically problematic missionary work.

Belly dance was originally shared in the United States the same way most things get shared: by immigrants to the country. Videos and internet weren't invented in the fifties and sixties and we learned from people who'd learned from other people. My first Middle Eastern dance teacher was the mother of a friend who immigrated to California from Eygpt during the 1967 war. Can't get much more willingly shared than having someone show you how to dance in her living room and serve you honey bread and coffee afterward.

Then it is not cultural appropriation. You seem to misunderstand me. I do not have a problem with every example of someone learning something from another culture, only when it is done without the consent of the original culture (or in cases of blantant misrepresentation). Hell, if it was to the contrary, I wouldn't be pursuing belly dance.

My first raks teacher was a woman from Armenia who’d learned to dance from family and friends. More sharing- she taught me to dance, I taught her an old style of Appalachain embroidery. Oops! Darn, there I went sharing a rare example of American craft that is not without specific cultural significance . What if my friend who also teaches embroidery objects to sharing this specialized knowledge? Who gets the final word?
Ah. What a fine discussion. Thanks to all involved.

Who gets the final word? The members of the culture. That's all I've ever said. In the case of belly dance, they share it willingly, so I see no issue there. Similarly you (and your friend) shared something from your own culture.

From Anisteph "Cultural interactions and learning about other people - cool.
Picking up bits and pieces with no regard as to meaning for the people who made them, as if the world is a global supermarket - uncool.Getting snotty with individual people who are genuinely interested, because their ancestors did whatever to your ancestors* - also uncool IMO."

I'm just saying that given our history and how prevalent the "global supermarket" attidude is in this country, we should be sure that we're doing the former and not the latter. If it is snotty to acknowledge this concern and respond to someone glossing over it, then I'll be snotty.

From Aziyade "Looking back at this forum, others, and of course my own experience, I do have to agree, in part, that many dancers (when it comes to issues of cultural appropriation) err on the side of caution, and that SOME TIMES we do tend to restrict ourselves for fear of doing something "wrong" or offensive . . . I actually want to believe that the people who are most guilty of the offensive kind of appropriation are also in the minority, but it also seems that we can't go two years on OD without dredging up the "Gypsy" issue, so maybe my expectations are off.

You said it better than I could!

From Zummarad "I have perhaps not handled this well. There is a certain position in bellydance - and it TENDS to be held by American dancers, . . . I can't engage with those people. Sometimes when I see statements online that seem to touch on that discourse, I respond to it - not with the intention of engaging with the poster but just so that another viewpoint is there for people to read. I made the mistake of picking up on what I believed to be that viewpoint in one of Shanazel's remarks," "I have not posted on this board for a long time and I would just like to say to anybody reading this that I do not have any kind of "vehement hatred" or even dislike for Americans."

I echo the same feelings, what I saw in Shanazel's original comment ("That so many felt the need to justify it with pseudo-history and costuming is sad and even sadder is that they aren't taken as a serious cultural movement because a) it is still in its infancy and b) in the beginning was composed largely of middle class Caucassian women. And we all know middle-class Caucassians haven't a clue to "real" tribal culture, right?") was a glossing over of the legitimate concerns people have with appropriation in tribal fusion/ATS (though there are examples in cabaret/oriental). It's important for people to keep these concerns in mind without turning into some of the extreme examples Aziyade mentions. It is not meant as an attack on the US, belly dancers, or even Shanazel personally, but just a reminder.


New member
I was not accusing anyone of being snotty here - it was just an observation that if someone genuinely shows an interest in another culture, even if they get it wrong to start with, it does no one any good to slap them down as an evil cultural imperialist. No accusations whatsoever, and that is 100% snark-free.

(wow, it's not often I'm snark free... :confused:)


New member
I was not accusing anyone of being snotty here - it was just an observation that if someone genuinely shows an interest in another culture, even if they get it wrong to start with, it does no one any good to slap them down as an evil cultural imperialist. No accusations whatsoever, and that is 100% snark-free.

(wow, it's not often I'm snark free... :confused:)
I'm just going to repeat this: what I saw in Shanazel's original comment, it was a glossing over of the legitimate concerns people have with appropriation in tribal fusion/ATS (though there are examples in cabaret/oriental). It's important for people to keep these concerns in mind without turning into some of the extreme examples Aziyade mentions. It is not meant as an attack on the US, belly dancers, or even Shanazel personally, but just a reminder.

"it does no one any good to slap them down as an evil cultural imperialist"
Well then you are misinterpreting a reminder with a "slap down." It is upsetting to see people so defensive to the recognition and discussion of a problematic situation. Though it concerns a more extreme version of this issue, I believe this discussion on sensitivity applies.


New member
And I'll just repeat - I was not accusing anyone of being snotty here. I just tried to clarify that that was not referring to anything specific on this thread.

I've been here for years and have seen this topic in come up in various forms over and over again, which is why it all washes over me sometimes and I chip in with generalisations. All I meant in the cool/uncool post was that if someone takes a genuine want-to-learn-more interest in another persons culture and they get rejected outright just because they are from outside that culture, that's not great for humanity in general. IMO. It might be completely understandable, but I still don't think it's a good thing, any more than trying to assault someone who has provoked you is a good thing.

Reminders are different - reminders are great, education is great, discussions are great. Slapdowns aren't. I said slapdowns because I meant slapdowns.

And for the record - YES, I agree 100% that there are serious issues with cultural appropriation, misrepresentation and mislabelling in the various branches of belly dance and that it needs airing. Absolutely. I've thought so for a long time, been there done that had the argument with A'isha Azar and seen the light, worried about whether I should belly dance, and joined in in plenty of those debates. Just because I don't pitch in this time doesn't mean I am one of the defensive deniers.
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My BFF's husband is a Kiwi, so we compiled the list of
"New Zealand's Top 10 Important Cultural Contributions"
(in no particular order)

1. Lord of the Rings (the obvious one first)
2. Really great wool
3. Calling itself En Zed, which sounds so futuristic! We tried "Oosuh" but it didn't work so well for us.
4. Xena, warrior princess, Lucy Lawless
5. Poi, even though we like to set them on fire in the states
6. Cadbury Yowies (illegal in the US because apparently American kids are too stupid to not eat the small parts.)
7. Using "as" after an adjective ("cool as" to mean "very cool.")
8. Flight of the Conchords
9. Sam (Damian) Neil
10. Maori art (so now every idiot who wants a tattoo can pick a random design and call it "tribal")

Also splitting the atom, jetboats and, as it turns out, probably both instant coffee and the flat white. (Get out Australians. You did not invent the flat white. I will defend it and the pavlova till my dying breath.) LOL.

Have you ever seen Peter Jackson's spoof doco "Forgotten Silver", in which a long-forgotten NZ filmmaker did practically everything in film before everybody else, using all manner of unlikely materials, but never got the credit? That's pretty much NZ's idea of itself in a nutshell.


New member
It's part of globalisation and it interests me.

I can and do say and criticise things about my own country's historical and current policies on a lot of things, and especially the government we now have, even though my own country is just a small developed nation not a world power. It just doesn't come up here because this is not a community of Kiwis talking about how they can do what they want with ME dance "because we're NZers/our audiences are NZers". Ask Kashmir about me raising those issues IN NZ WITH NZers. I do it.
Yes, she does :D

I'm not sure if people from the States realize how pervasive (parts of) their culture is worldwide. I don't have a TV (and have not since the 1980s). Yet, I do watch films; I do listen to radio; I do have a computer. Even with that small contact my own speech has changed. Even if I don't say it I know what a "sidewalk" is. Even if I don't spell it that way I recognize color, favor, center. I can understand prog-ress, asss, eye-rack. Our newspapers are full of events in the US (spelt correctly thanks to Zumarrad); we had almost blow by blow coverage of the presidental election. You can't get away from it - and it does impact our everyday lives. Currently our government is in "free" trade negotiations which may mean huge increases in the cost common medicines - which means either cuts elsewhere, reduction in perscribing or tax increases.
I understand that some Americans don't like their country being criticised or generalised about. I can't actually understand why, given the much-vaunted freedom of speech etc. When I have done it it is in response to generalisations about other countries/people, by US posters, hoping that people might *get* it but many seldom do, so clearly it's a failed tactic.
The fish doesn't see the water?


Super Moderator
The land walkers aren't necessarily qualified to teach the fish.

USA cultural contributions (excluding "popular culture and warmongering", already mentioned above)

1. Some really good cotton

2. A really good cotton gin

3. Cowboy hats and boots (protecting ranchers and making tourists look like fools for 150 years)

4. Barbed wire (ripping triangular tears in pants for the same 150 years)

5. Denim jeans (providing greater challenges to barbed wire since 1873)

6. Spandex (God Bless Joseph Shivers, without whom there's be no stretch BD costumes)

7. Cat litter (first commercially available in the '40s. No small matter to those of us with multiple cat households.

And most important, The Big Three, without which the world would succumb to the Second Law of Thermodynamics

8. WD 40

9. Duck tape

10. Baling twine
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New member
Ah WD-40 or water displacer or war department, originally designed as a fuel for a rocket engine, still good stuff.

Farasha Hanem

New member
I didn't take Shanazel's remark as "glossing over," I thought that she was making the same point that I believe everyone else here has made: it's not a good thing to take someone else's culture and make light of it. Shan just has a very tongue-in-cheek way of saying things, and I think that might have led to some misunderstanding.

I love and respect our forum members, and learn much from you all. This forum is the source I turn to for correct information, because sadly, I don't get enough of it in my own class, and I can't think of a person here that takes culture or dance lightly.

So, are we all good with one another? :(


Super Moderator
I've finally cooled down enough to rejoin the conversation.

Who gets the final word? The members of the culture.
Yeah. I get that. I was saying if the members of the culture disagree on what can be shared; who gets the final word? To wit: Ms. Makar says, "How delighted I am that you learn that dance!" Ms. Abdul says, "How offended I am that you perform that dance and mock our culture."

The marked difference is that the practice of American culture has never been made illegal.
Americans come from all sorts of cultures whose practices have been made illegal. Let's take a single example: approximately 13 percent of Americans identify themselves as being of Irish or Scotch Irish descent (check the US Census Bureau records).

England colonized Ireland in much the same way and at the same time as it colonized America. Native Irish were regarded as inferior to the good God fearing Protestants of England. Irish culture was banned, singing Wearing of the Green got people shot; it wasn't just a lyric in a song. At the time of the Famine there was plenty of food in Ireland; only the poverity stricken Irish depended on potatos for food so only the poverty stricken Irish died or immigrated in coffin ships.

Thirteen percent of all Americans come from a single culture whose practices have been banned.

The flight of the Irish from English-occupied Ireland to America is closer to me than Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt's flight from the US Cavalry is to my friend Susan. One event is not more significant to American culture than the other. They are both intrinsic to American culture.

And lest anyone think I'm tossing all the blame for atrocities to England in order to get it away from myself, Sassenachs occupy the old family tree along with half a dozen other bloodlines. Any given American might be the United Nations in a single body.

Do you get what I'm saying here? "American Culture" is complicated.

American history is not written in black and white in unarguable phrases. For me to give equal emphasis to (for example) the viewpoints of Scotch Irish settlers and the viewpoints of the Cherokee about who owned the land in 1812 is not advocating genocide: it is weighing history and giving equal consideration to all participants.

To present American Indians solely as victims is to deny them their full due. A large number of tribes gave as good as they got, held out for a long time, and might've held out longer had their numbers not been crushed by plagues and epidemics. To present the settlers solely as racist bastards bent on rape and pillage to boost their feelings of superiority is just as short-sighted.

And to take it back to the subject of dance and culture:

Is it wrong for an American sub-culture (let's say goths: I got permission from a goth to use her group as an example) to allow its dances to evolve from Egyptian cabaret? Hw about if a guy from Cairo says, "I'm honored your appreciate this part of my own culture enough to embrace it yourself" but a gal from Luxor says, "Thou varlet! Cease and desist immediately for I am offended?"

Which viewpoint is more important?

And don't cop out by saying "whatever the majority of cultural members say" because it is unlikely polls can be taken.

Do you get where I'm coming from now? Do you understand I am not generalizing about anyone else's culture? Do you understand that American culture does not mean Army Wives, Fox News, and CSI New York? Those are entertainments, not to be taken as gospel or as representative of the 300 million people who live here. American culture includes Navajo weaving, Armenian lace making, and middle eastern dance because American culture embraces Navajos, Armenians, and Egyptians, and that's just for a start.

Do you get it now?

The fish has spoken. and is returning to her lake.



New member
if the members of the culture disagree on what can be shared; who gets the final word?
And that says it all I believe. You can`t please everyone..
I know people how get angry when someone wears a 'arafat scarfe without knowing it`s origin. For me, I see my cultural heritage not disappearing even i its in a different context.

And uhm, dear peeps from nz and also know what your rep is here in europe? not much better then the US...;)


New member
And uhm, dear peeps from nz and also know what your rep is here in europe? not much better then the US...;)
Wow! 4 million people can have that much influence - I'm impressed! (or is it just that we dared to convict the murderers who sank the Rainbow Warrior and killed the camera man?)

Farasha Hanem

New member
Please, please, before this escalates again, all of us are in agreement that stealing bits and pieces of different cultures with no regard to the peoples of those cultures is insensitive and wrong. Shanazel was trying to say that in the first place, even though her statement that fired things up was misunderstood. She does respect all cultures, even though she became hurt and angry and fired back. But I don't want this to become any worse than it is already, so please, will the fish and the land walkers please stop hurting each other before it's too late? I don't want to lose any more friends on this forum. :(

I witnessed some otherwise reasonable, wise people leave here a few short years ago because of some deep-running, heated feelings about a very sensitive subject. I know that terrible things have happened that are not excusable, and atrocities to individuals and groups continue to happen. But we've GOT to start healing one another. No matter what our culture, we are all people, each one of us is important. We all have the same basic human needs (besides the physical), the need to be loved, understood, and to have others realize that our lives matter.

I have met, made friends with, and love dearly a number of people from New Zealand and Australia, thanks to this forum. I'm sorry for anything that was said in this topic that has hurt or angered you. I feel that ultimately, this is my fault for having asked about Tribal tassels in the first place. I certainly did not intend the furor that has come about for having started the topic. I think what Shan was trying to say in the first place that it's such a shame that some people (not all, mind you, just some---we have such people also who dance Egyptian, American Oriental, and so forth) who dance Tribal (whether ATS, ITS, or Fusion) who feel that they have to justify their art by making up its own wishtory, when it's own origins are fascinating enough as it is, and a phenomenon, for sure. There are those in the genre who are very honest about Tribal's origins and purpose, and who do respect the cultures from which they borrow. The few who are guilty of cultural appropriation try to take those bits and pieces and make them what they want, and these are the people that Shan was speaking of.

I'm sorry for my contribution to this whole mess, even though it was entirely unintentional. I was just curious. :(

Fish. Land Walkers. I don't know where I fit. :(
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New member
.... deleted in the interests of pouring oil on troubled waters...
Not that it was inflammatory in any way, but after Farasha's post I don't want to find out I poured on lighthearted oil and it turned out to be flammable or cause environmental trauma. Love and peace to the fish, land dwellers, birds, insects, little green aliens, and anyone else...
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Farasha, you are in no way responsible for the direction this topic took, nor for this split-off thread.

I found the dig at Aussies/NZers/USAmericans offensive too, but honestly I just figured I'd ignore it because it wasn't a personal attack, just a poorly-worded attempt to neutralise the issue.

But since we're here in the debate forum, have at it. Debate. But keep it civil, refrain from personal attacks and we can all have an interesting time here.


Super Moderator
Farasha, you have every right to ask any question you want, so don't feel it's all your fault:D I don't think it's out of hand so to speak, different thoughts, ideas & opinions that is all & that is OK too. It is all civil ( I'm upset that only sea dwellers & land walkers are included - what about the sky walkers ... ;))


Super Moderator

And uhm, dear peeps from nz and also know what your rep is here in europe? not much better then the US...;)
Hmmmmm interesting, by the way I am a 'peep' from NZ living in Australia ... remind me not to go to Europe anytime soon, don't want fingers pointed at me, I'm very sensitive to finger pointing ... why you may ask, well my Dad always said that if you point fingers you'll make holes in the air ... wise man (and he was a New Zealander:shok:)


Super Moderator
- what about the sky walkers ... ;))
And those that walk the line, too.

Johnny Cash-Walk The Line - YouTube

I thought it was rather nice of Nejmeh to ease in and suggest the pointing fingers could easily be poking holes in the air in the opposite direction. I suspect she thought it might make people pause and think about what they were doing themselves.

There's equal opportunity dislike in the world and we're all at one end or the other of the pointing finger at some, er... point.
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