Helping students defeat the stereotypes?

Shanazel

Super Moderator
In thirty-five years of involvement with belly dance, I think I've heard it all at least once. Responses vary from simple eye rolling to withering stare to direct frontal attack with detailed history lesson and associated hand gestures. "How to respond to idiotic commentary" is not something I discuss as a matter of course with students, but if the subject comes up we talk about it, usually at our favorite restaurant after class.
 

Amulya

Moderator
I do teach my students about stereo types. I like to print out information and hand it out. My own teachers used to do that (although they didn't have correct information and I ended up with really weird ideas about belly dance history...) and I like the idea. Just with correct info and links to web sites :)
 

LuLu

New member
I don't know about teaching them to respond but teaching them the history is a good start.
 

Jaada al Johara

New member
A bit late to this one but my thoughts...

Knowledge is the best form of defense in my opinion. I have received cheeky comments from men, most of which who knew me well enough to know that I would shrug off the joke. However, all jokes have some basis in true opinion and often times ignorance. If I am honest, I have refrained from telling selected people what type of dance I do depending on my observations of their behavior in other contexts.

I don't necessarily think we need to provide formal training to respond to idiots, as they are usually not worth the breath it takes to utter the words, but subtly empowering students so that they feel solid and confident based on understanding the history of the dance is a good start. They can then choose how they wish to tackle the instances, if they ever come up.

My teachers usually offered a few tidbits of history once or twice in a course, toward the end once they built a rapport. If students wanted more, they then felt more comfortable asking questions. I like that approach because many are just coming for fun and exercise and don't necessarily want a lot of extraneous chatter about morality and stereotypes.
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
The way I handel this is to just mention things in passing and always emphasizing that it is primarily a social dance. For instance, getting people to relax and let go, I'll mention that in Egypt people learn to dance by watching at celebrations as kids and that no one's judging how well you do a hip drop because all they care about is having fun. Or if I put on a more orchestrated piece of music, I'll explain that this is a performance style piece, or visa versa, that this song is more social dance, so we don't do travel steps, When you dance socially noone expects xyz etc. This way I keep it moving and after a while, they understand the context.

Once in a while I'll get on a soap box, but that is mostly to get them to love and appreciate themselves and feel safe to let themselves go. So in that context, I'll mention that when the women get together with their friends in a safe environment, they let their hair down and just go for it. Or I'll say, "those local women in Egypt are all shaped like you and you have to see when they dance, they know they're beautiful". Or, you'll also see this move in XYZ part of Africa, or depending on their background say its like this step in Salsa, or Merengue. Sometimes they mention it and I'll say well, these are all African dances so these are all variations on the same theme.

I keep dropping info in passing, like, "I saw this cab driver that put all the young kids to shame, and he did a move like this and that". After a while, they get to know. Also, we spend time talking while getting ready and while packing up to leave casually, and that's a great non pressure way to pass on info.

As far as outsiders. Without getting deep into it, I just say, well that's just a stereotype, or if they think its just a women's dance, I just say well that's just one aspect that was developed in the nightclubs in XYZ era, but its actually based on the folk dance. Most people get it.
 

Roshanna

New member
I do a very brief talk at the start of each term of classes about the background of the dance, ever since I overheard some beginners talking about how they'd heard that the dance was used in the harems to seduce the sultan :rolleyes:

That's just a quick 5 minutes of which countries the dance is from, that it has its roots in various folk dances, that it's a dance that ordinary people do for fun with their friends and family (including men and women of all ages and little children), and that there are also glammed up stage versions which are similar in some ways and different in some ways but basically a more polished version of the dance that everyone does at parties.

I also try to drop in tidbits of cultural information as I'm teaching technique throughout the term, just things like 'this music is from southern Egypt and is very folky' or 'this movement is used a lot in Tunisian dance', which I don't necessarily expect them to remember, just to get across the sense that it's a dance with a rich and varied background and that they won't know 'everything there is to know' after 10 weeks of classes ;)
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
My next semester of classes starts around the 18th. Perhaps I will demonstrate the karate kick I've been learning as a tool for dealing with stereotypers...:think:
 

Florina

New member
I'm going to agree with Mosaic on this just mention where the dance comes from to new students as a mild history lesson. I might be over thinking this, but if you bring up the worst case scenario where you have to defend what you are doing, I feel like it might discourage people from taking Belly Dance lessons.
Yes, I agree! :)

I've made the experience however that if you convey the message in a more subtle way (or even "wrapped up as a joke"), the students usually catch the hint in a more responsive light-hearted way without feeling immediately discouraged. Does this make sense?
I know of an instructor for example who touches upon such tricky topics by adding a pinch of humour here and there. The way she deals with criticism sets an example for other students showing them how to adopt a stronger more positive attitude in dealing with negative reactions. Well, these are the experiences I've made. It's probably different from person to person.
 

KhezlaDurr33

New member
I do a very brief talk at the start of each term of classes about the background of the dance, ever since I overheard some beginners talking about how they'd heard that the dance was used in the harems to seduce the sultan :rolleyes:

That's just a quick 5 minutes of which countries the dance is from, that it has its roots in various folk dances, that it's a dance that ordinary people do for fun with their friends and family (including men and women of all ages and little children), and that there are also glammed up stage versions which are similar in some ways and different in some ways but basically a more polished version of the dance that everyone does at parties.

I also try to drop in tidbits of cultural information as I'm teaching technique throughout the term, just things like 'this music is from southern Egypt and is very folky' or 'this movement is used a lot in Tunisian dance', which I don't necessarily expect them to remember, just to get across the sense that it's a dance with a rich and varied background and that they won't know 'everything there is to know' after 10 weeks of classes ;)
LOL Your phrase "know everything there is to know after 10 weeks of classes" reminded me of a teacher in the 1970s-80s here in St. Louis. Her name was BP but she adopted the stage name of Simone. My dear friend, Diana Rhodes, the first belly dancer in St. Louis, opened a Pandora's box when she ran the first belly dance class and taught it at the JCCA. I saw the sign in sheets from the first class with B's name on them. B (Simone) immediately hung out her shingle after the 10 lesson class, and claimed she learned from a man in Puerto Rico, never would acknowledge Diana as her teacher, bc she was afraid everyone would just go to her instead and she would lose the business. She was more of a business person than a dancer, didn't have much to teach but knew how to string ppl along to keep the money coming in. She took a few lessons from Jamila but never mastered anything, big ego. That's the way some ppl are.
 
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Greek Bonfire

Well-known member
This is why I do not try to set up shop in my neighborhood because too many people still see bellydance as a sexy dance to be mostly performed "for their man" and that is not what I want to represent. Sure, you can do that, but if I was to teach in my own back yard, I want people to come who are more interested in the cultural than that sultan stuff!
 

KhezlaDurr33

New member
This is why I do not try to set up shop in my neighborhood because too many people still see bellydance as a sexy dance to be mostly performed "for their man" and that is not what I want to represent. Sure, you can do that, but if I was to teach in my own back yard, I want people to come who are more interested in the cultural than that sultan stuff!
This reminds me of when I was running Carolyn's School of Middle Eastern Dance in Columbia, MO from 1975-77.
(1) The young lady who asked if learning this dance would help her "sex off" her husband. I replied that I was a dance teacher, not a therapist, and that maybe they needed to try counseling. That was in the days before the little blue pill for men.

(2) Before my students could perform in public, we had to take political action at the city council meeting to get an ordinance struck from the books that prohibited women from dancing in public as performers. When Bobby (Ibrahim Farrah) heard about what we were put through, he immediately had me write an article of our experience for his magazine "Arabesque". It should be in those archives of 1975-76 if anyone knows where they can be accessed.

(3) During that same time period, my ex-husband made the remark that he thought the dance would be taken more seriously as a dance if the dancers were covered up, wearing evening gowns and such rather exposing so much (skin show), bc that would get them confused with strippers. He thought the clothing gave the wrong impression. Sounds like the Egyptian dress codes, thought it was interesting he would come up w/ this when he knew nothing of the belly dance history or what they required in Egypt.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
About 2010, I taught belly dance through a program that provided grade school children with special learning presentations while teachers were at in-service training. Taught it for a couple of years with a good time had by kids and adult attendees. Wore a floor length, high necked, long-sleeved baladi dress with no slit up the sides. Then came the day when a single parent complained about the subject, never having seen the class, and the school district refused to let me teach the class any longer. I offered to do the class for the school board, for a panel of parents, whatever was required to show it was simply a dance class. School district refused. Several people who'd seen the program contacted the school district on my behalf, but one parent's protest closed both my class and the yoga class down (parent protested yoga was religion). So. I changed the name of the class to Creative Movement to World Music or some such title and continued to teach exactly the same class for another year.
 

KhezlaDurr33

New member
About 2010, I taught belly dance through a program that provided grade school children with special learning presentations while teachers were at in-service training. Taught it for a couple of years with a good time had by kids and adult attendees. Wore a floor length, high necked, long-sleeved baladi dress with no slit up the sides. Then came the day when a single parent complained about the subject, never having seen the class, and the school district refused to let me teach the class any longer. I offered to do the class for the school board, for a panel of parents, whatever was required to show it was simply a dance class. School district refused. Several people who'd seen the program contacted the school district on my behalf, but one parent's protest closed both my class and the yoga class down (parent protested yoga was religion). So. I changed the name of the class to Creative Movement to World Music or some such title and continued to teach exactly the same class for another year.
BTW what is your best recommended source for a baladi dress such as you wore to teach that class?
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
I made my own. My favorite patterns were hacked versions of a long-sleeved, straight dress or nightgown with or without slit(s) up the side(s). The nightgown pattern was nice because it had extra looseness in the scye that allowed for moving my arms overhead without hiking up the entire dress. Adding underarm gussets also worked, as did leaving the seam between underarm and sleeve open.
 
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