by Helen Blondel As Belly Dancers, we are privileged to be participants of arguably one of the coolest artistic hobbies ever. However, we are also susceptible to a lot of misconceptions.
I've been in the belly dance scene for over 15 years and the continual ignorance toward Oriental Dance Artists never ceases to astound me. There are dozens of statements you should avoid saying to belly dancers, but I've compiled the top 5 things you should absolutely never say to one!
5. "That's Pretty Much Stripping, Right?"
I can confidently speak for ALL belly dancers when I say this is an easy way to grind our gears. Would you compare ballet, salsa, or figure skating to stripping? Probably not. However, of the dance styles I mentioned, only one of them does not involve short skirts and frequent opening of the legs. Can you guess which one that is? Yeah, and yet belly dance is the most sexual & comparable to stripping. Okay *dramatic eye roll*
4. "Could you dance for my event free of charge for 'exposure'?"
This is a big slap in the face. We are already viewed from the outside as more of a "variety act," than actual classical dance artists, and are often undervalued when trying to book gigs. The fact that there is an influx of undercutting in the belly dance community does not help the situation, either. Still don't understand why asking for a voluntary or free gig in exchange for "exposure" is a slap in the face? We invest years worth of money and time into dance classes to become the performer you want so badly at your event, our beautiful costumes you love are typically $300 minimum, we make sure our appearance (that includes quality makeup, hairstyle, etc) is top notch, and not to mention all the behind the scenes work we do, such as staying in shape & marketing. Plus, would you ask your Dentist or Lawyer to perform a service for free or "exposure?" I think not.
3. "Isn't that just booty shaking?"
If I had a dollar for all the times someone said this to me, I'd finally have the money to buy my 2-month luxury stay at the Burj al Arab in Dubai. It's shocking how many people think that belly dance is just some shaky-shaky dance comparable to twerking, when, in actuality, it is one of the hardest dances to master because its origins are so ancient and date back to earlier than 3000 B.C. There are over 20 "substyles" of Oriental Dance (aka. Belly Dance) and you are not considered a pro or master dancer within the community until you are versed in at least half of them. Each style has its own history and strict rules for technique and goes well beyond what you see in Shakira's music videos.
2. "Belly Dancing must be so easy!"
We, as belly dancers, are flattered to know that we make this wonderful style of dance appear so easy. The truth, however, is that this is a huge misconception! I started belly dancing in 2005. 15 years later and I am still fine-tuning technique to become a better dancer. Belly dance consist of isolating different parts of your body to different components of music, staying elegant and graceful, and trying not to look like your muscles are in pain, all at the SAME TIME! As mentioned previously, there are also so many styles within the umbrella of Raqs Sharki (aka. Belly Dance) and take a long time to learn. Please do not tell me belly dance is easy until you've made it through at least four full belly dance classes.
1. "Will you do a private dance for me?"
Now if I had a dollar for each time I've been asked this question, forget a stay in Dubai-- I'd be able to DuBUY the whole resort AND the surrounding beaches. I have so much to say about this and yet am left speechless every time I get the request. Okay, I get it. Belly dance is a naturally beautiful and sensual dance and belly dancers are often very pretty. In spite of this, you must refrain from approaching us with such lewd inquiry because it degrades us to the same standard as sex workers, which we are not. We are artists, no different from ballerinas or ballroom dancers, who have invested years of blood, sweat, and tears into perfecting our craft. You don't have to love what we do, but all I ask is that you respect it and respect us in return.
Helen Blondel is passionate about belly dance and has appeared on televised programs such as "Despierta America" and "Sabado Gigante" on Univision as a belly dancer. She is also the 1st Place winner of the Miami Belly Dance Convention Professional Group Category with the Bellymotions RAKettes, as well as Orientalisimo's winner of Best Nine of March 2020.
Helen has performed at a myriad of venues in Central & South Florida, including Kababi Cafe, Hookita Lounge, Makani, Cafe Istanbul, Tehran Hookah Lounge, & Dar Tagine. She is the former Belly Dance Instructor of Florida International University recreation in Miami.
In January 2020, Helen founded her wellness brand, BellyPOP™. BellyPOP™ is all about bringing out your inner belly dance goddess! She aims to show others that they are beautiful regardless of what society teaches them to think. In addition to online how-to workout videos, BellyPOP™ also consists of blogs, vlogs, and a published Intro to Belly Dance course.