Frequent questions and Suggestions
Is Oriental Dance the same as Belly Dance?
Belly Dance is the most used and commercially known term for Oriental Dance – the direct translation of the Arabic name “raks il sharki”.
I usually prefer the term Oriental Dance to belly dance which is, in my opinion, a limited term because it locates an exaggerated focus on the “belly” when Oriental Dance is about moving your whole body (and soul).
Who can practice Oriental Dance?
Everybody – from the 3 year old boy to the grandmother. Each person will take advantage of the benefits that fit them in particular.
Of course not everyone can be a professional dancer (that takes specific conditions, talent, character and preparation like in any other artistic area) but everybody can enjoy the perks – physical and psychological - of this beautiful healing art form.
Is Oriental Dance therapeutic?
Yes, it is.
This is – probably – the aspect that makes love teaching so much. Not only do I see students of all ages, shapes and nationalities learning a new dance vocabulary and culture context but I also witness the PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION they go through in this process. Seeing people flourish into the best version of themselves is a blessing and an honour for me.
Sensuality, body exposure and revealing cloths – why is Oriental Dance so deeply associated with sexuality?
The answer to this question is rather complex and it differs according to the country, culture and mentality we´re dealing with.
Basically, I believe there is a huge mistake-misconception that links this dance to an exotic kind of strip-tease (a misconception that is terribly confirmed by many non-professional “dancers” who use this image and take advantage of it, perpetuating it to their own profit).
Although I never saw it or felt it that way, I realized upon my arrival to Egypt that most people there saw this dance as a shameful daughter of prostitution; I was even more shocked when I started traveling the world to perform and teach and found the same kind of prejudice (yet with lighter contours) in the mainstream public. The students, dancers and aficionados of this Art form – mostly – know what the dance is all about but the general public tends to still see it as an exotic kind of strip-tease.
What is about this Dance that makes it so prone to this kind of association?
Muslim countries have some kind of “justification” because their mentality locates women in two shelves: the mother-wife-virgin or the PROSTITUTE (nothing in between, nothing except those two sides of the same coin). The Dancer who is still professionally dancing fits in the prostitute shelf. In predominantly muslim countries, a woman is not supposed to expose herself in front of strange men (except for their fathers, brothers and husbands) but what about the West and its supposed modern and open mind? Which excuse do we find to STILL associate Oriental Dance to a “harem fantasy” of odalisques seducing their masters-men-sultans? Christianity and its patronizing – to say the least – treatment of Women (again: with the clear division between the Mother-Wife and the Prostitute) also had a strong grip on the European minds for a long time (mostly in latin countries) but I supposed we already got rid of those chains. Did we? Is Women´s FREEDOM still a frightening thing for our – orthodox - minds?
Then the argument of the physical exposure: one that does not convince any working brain. Check what happens in Classical Ballet and see how much more exposed the dancer´s bodies are (and no one seems to point their fingers at them or mention this extreme physical- even intimate parts exposure).
The argument of extreme sexual charged movements also does not convince me: check what happens in the Argentinian Tango – the sexiest dance alive as far as I´m concerned – or the gipsy Flamenco and you will find a much heavier sexual charge (and, then again, no one seems to mention it or be bothered by it).
What is it then?
Well: some dancers – in Egypt and any other country – misuse this dance and take an ultra provocative and pornographic style attitude in order to attract audience´s attentions and get money from it. This is specially common amongst the dancers who are NOT DANCERS at all – therefore have to use any other assets they possess in order to work and earn a living. In these cases, the focus is not the DANCE ITSELF but the excessive, unnecessary and cheap selling of one´s body. Rest assured: this is NOT ORIENTAL DANCE and these are NOT PROFESSIONAL ORIENTAL DANCERS.
This dance has a natural, elegant, powerful, organic and even spiritual sensuality. This sensuality does not come from how much legs or breasts you´re showing off, how many lap dancing you do (lap dancing is NOT part of an Oriental Dancer´s job) and how many porno-flick faces you throw in your audience´s direction.
Oriental Dance sensuality comes from a deeply rooted pleasure of MOVING in your own skin and allowing that pleasure to expand through music and the communication with your audience.
The physical exposure is there – as it is in any other dance style (remember a dancer´s BODY is her/his creative tool so it makes no sense to request that tool to be excessively covered for moral reasons). The HUMAN BODY is not a shameful thing: it´s the thoughts we put on it that can be shameful.
All dances are sexual because we are – like it or not – sexual beings. Oriental Dance just freely expresses that fact going so far as transforming it into ART.
Is it justified that Oriental Dancers are associated with prostitution in Egypt and all the Middle East?
In many cases it is – in particular in Egypt and other Middle East countries where the whole idea of professional Oriental Dance is deeply connected with loose morals and sex.
The Oriental Dance market in Egypt has reached a state of extreme decadence, corruption and prostitution so there is a lot of dirtiness going on. Although the negative image this dance does not come exclusively from the dancers who actually prostitute (in exchange for money, jobs, career opportunities, promise of easy fame) a considerable part of it comes from this sad reality. I often say: you teach by example and this is what does not happen in most cases. If you want other people to respect you: respect yourself. If you wish audiences to accept Oriental Dance as an Art form: do it as an Art form and the mentalities will change.
From the moment I arrived to Egypt – alone and with a bag full of naïf and fantastic dreams who ended up coming true against all odds – I realized what an alien and a warrior I would have to be in order to succeed in my career without prostituting myself. The battles were hard and continuous but I´ve DONE IT – when nobody, except me, believed I would – and that proves that being a successful Oriental Dancer in Egypt without prostituting yourself is REALLY rare and hard but it IS POSSIBLE (I´m the living proof of it).
Is Oriental Dance a seduction dance?
Oriental Dance is whatever you are and want the dance to be.
All kinds of dances are SENSUAL by nature because they are all about MOVEMENT, BODY REACTIONS, FREEDOM and the PLEASURE of feeling, expressing and transforming the MUSIC-SOUND into a 3 dimension work of art (the dancer him/herself). Sensual does not mean – necessarily – cheap. Please distinguish SENSUALITY from PORNOGRAPHY (a distinction most Arabic countries cannot make due to the extreme repression they are victims of). Oriental Dance is all about organic, spontaneous, HUMAN SENSUALITY that gathers body, mind, heart and soul – not a porno flick.
Then it comes the Mirror aspect (the way you dance tells me more about who you are than about the dance itself).
As it happens with any other dance: if you want to make it beautiful, you do it;
If you want to make it hilarious, you do it;
If you want to make it cheap, you do it;
If you want to make it as the ART FORM it really is then you can also do it.
Do not judge the DANCE itself by the wrong way it has been used for many centuries.
Oriental Dancers were – originally – and incarnation of the Mother Earth, the Goddess, the Divinity and turned out to be transformed into slaves whose aim is to seduce, serve and please men. From Goddesses to slaves: how did this happen?
Do men also practice Oriental Dance?
They do – both amateurs and professionals.
Some of the best Oriental Dance teachers I had were male (Shokry Mohamed, Mahmoud Reda and Yousry Sherif, to name just a few) and there are good professional male dancers all over the world.
In Egypt men dance for fun but not as performers (oriental male dancers are associated with homosexuality which is not well accepted in the country). You will find folkloric male dancers in Egypt but no Oriental male dancers (those usually reserve their talents to the domestic sphere or travel outside of Egypt to be able to have a normal life and career away from their country´s finger pointing prejudices).
Do I need to be fit, skinny, etc to practice it?
You don´t need to be anything in particular – except yourself – in order to start learning Oriental Dance. This is, probably, the most democratic of all dances.
No matter what shape, age, nationality, race, colour, fitness conditioning you have there is a place for you in this Dance´s path.
Each person will develop according to his/her own timing, pace, energy and time-effort investment in the practice of the dance.