|Posted by Tessa Thompson on April 5, 2012 at 10:00 AM|
When in Rome…
Have you ever wondered why hosting troupes have certain guidelines for dancers to follow? As another open dance floor event approaches, we would like to offer a brief explanation along with some fun facts. Have you ever heard the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans”?
Interestingly, that saying has direct relevance to us as bellydancers here in Billings, MT. In Egypt only licensed dancers may perform publicly. Here, we have no restrictions placed on who can or can’t dance. In order for an Egyptian dancer to get a license, the dancer must perform in front of a group of commissioners. If the dance is viewed to be lewd or provocative, a license will not be issued. Furthermore, bellydancers are forbidden to show their stomachs.
Ninety percent of Egyptians view belly dance negatively, a sentiment echoed in many other parts of the world. Billings, to a point, is no exception. Many people in our area have no idea what belly dance is, confusing it with a variation of exotic dancing often done in topless nightclubs. Most people aren’t even aware that there’s such an active and burgeoning belly dance community here in the Magic City. Nor that at its base there is a strong community of women—all ages.
The way a belly dancer looks and the costume he or she wears also differs in acceptability from place to place. On one extreme we have Egypt, where it is a criminal offense to expose your belly. On the other side of the spectrum is Las Vegas—Sin City. As the name implies, anything goes. People flock to Vegas every year to be shocked and awed. Billings, however, is more of a midline between these two extremes, though leaning toward conservative. And, while area residents don’t expect us to cover up from headto toe, our family-oriented audiences don’t expect to see any parts of a woman’s body that they would travel to “Planet Lockwood” or “Shotgun Willie’s” to see. They like dancers to dress in a way that won’t cause their 90-year-old mother to suffer a stroke, or little Johnny to ask unexpected anatomy questions.
Layers and modesty still allow us to be creative and entertain our fellow Montanans. Fact is, they don’t mind being awed with our colorful costumes, ethnic music or lots of sparkles, but they don’t want to be shocked by low cut tops, high slit skirts and songs belting out profanity. Modesty is the key.
This brings us to choosing music, which can also cause headaches for us at times. But we do have more choices than some. Did you know that Greece, back in the 1930’s, outlawed all Turkish music? If you were a belly dancer you could only dance to Greek inspired tunes. Today in Turkey, most of their music is played by people of Romani descent, which perfectly suits the athletic, energetic style of Turkish dancers. In Vegas, as with costuming, almost anything seems to go. Here in Billings, the conservative nature of the community dictates that the music we perform to not contain words that may be seen as morally offensive. In public, family friendly lyrics are essential.
We are so fortunate that we don’t have laws inhibiting us like those in Egypt, or in Greece from decades ago, but there are moral codes that we follow out of common courtesy and respect for our patrons. Only 12-years-ago, even in Billings, belly dance was taboo. We all want to see belly dance continue to grow and thrive; we’ve come a long way since those taboos, working hard to find acceptance amongst our conservative, fun-loving Montanans. We don’t want to lose the progress we’ve made. So if you’re wondering what costume to wear or what music to dance to, remember that old saying, “When in Rome…” or in this case, “When in Billings …”
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