IT MAY BE TIME TO DANCE LIKE AN EGYPTIAN
Before I met Monica Gayed, founder of Atelier de Danse Orientale by Monica, my understanding of what is often called belly dancing was informed by an album I discovered when I was 8 years-old buried in my parents record collection. The record was called “How to Belly Dance for Your Husband”.
My mother insisted it was a gift, still wrapped in cellophane as evidence. To my young eyes the cover seemed slightly sinister. The woman in the foreground seemed strong but weirdly shadowed. The man in the background, was brightly lit while managing to seem both perplexed and smug. In other words, he seemed like a jerk. The album, which was released in 1963, was launched into popularity by a dancer who used the stage name Little Egypt.
Little Egypt had been the go to stage name for many dancers going back to the dance’s 1893 North American debut at the Chicago World Fair. Following this introduction to an American audience, the dance began it’s creeping distortion into the hyper-sexualized image on the cover of “How to Belly Dance for Your Husband”, helped along the way by Hollywood and a patronizing Orientalism.
In true practice, this dance isn’t sexual at all. Monica describes it as sensual but not sexual. Many scholars consider what is more properly called Danse Orientale or Eastern Dance, the oldest dance in the world. The name belly dance is derived from the french name danse du ventre, and as such is loaded with colonial misrepresentations. There are currently engaging conversations surrounding cultural appropriation taking place wherever the dance ebbs and flows in popularity. If you live in the Suisse Romande, it would be well worth your time to talk with Monica and learn the real history and cultural significance of this ancient dance. Sharing this dance with others has become her passion and her mission.
Eastern Dance has much to offer women of all shapes, backgrounds and ages. This is especially true when you are guided by a dancer like Monica, who has been dancing since she was a child. It’s a myth that the origins of Eastern Dance are rooted in women dancing for the pleasure of men. Instead it is danced mainly by women for women, at marriages and other celebrations, with grandmothers, sisters and strangers. It’s a social dance, and it is this sense of community and empowerment that Monica wants to share with other women. She wants to show women that dancing together not only brings the benefits of physical exercise but also, through the the movement of the body, taps into emotional expression that can be therapeutic.
I’ve decided I want to learn and I’ll stop calling it belly dancing. Watch this video.