Does belly dance sexualise children?

A few times when I have mentioned I teach children’s belly dance classes, I have noticed people’s faces go through a range of emotions – usually distastefulness or uncertainly followed rapidly by trying to cover it with any other expression they can. When this happens I whip out my phone and proudly show them a few pictures of my girls. The girls look gorgeous and tasteful and the doubter’s expressions tend to shift to a look of relief and approval. I forget that there are still a few people out there that erroneously think of belly dancing as a kind of stripping. Thankfully this attitude has been in decline over the years as people have become more educated about our art form.

Tasteful childrens dancing

My girls!

 ‘In the Middle East, women often dance with other women at family gatherings, and men dance with other men. This has long been the tradition of their culture. Of course, it’s likely that there were individuals who used this beautiful dance form to entice their husbands behind closed doors. However, that is not how Oriental dance’s place in society is viewed by the people who have actually grown up in Middle Eastern families. Women don’t teach their daughters a “dance of seduction”. Instead, the girls watch their mothers, cousins, aunts, grandmothers, and sisters dancing with each other at weddings and other parties, and imitate what they see.’ – Shira

I believe the general public, is much more supportive of Middle Eastern dance these days. In India belly dancing has been a contentious issue but even there attitudes shifting. Two girls auditioned recently for a TV show called ‘Dance India Dance’ and this is what one of the judges had to say about their dancing.

“Watching these girls dance was truly a joy! Their every movement was spot on, exuding grace with each beat. Nothing remotely vulgar or crude. They retained the innocence of children in their belly dance, without compromising on the basic form of belly dancing” – Master Geeta Kapur

Comments like that warm my heart. For those that are still baulking at the idea of children learning belly dance, I would like to add a little perspective.

Moving with grace is beautiful; whatever the style of dance you perform.

Yes, it is possible for a clueless teacher (in any dance genre) to teach a provocative dance piece to children and then advise them to costume themselves inappropriately. (That link is of 7yr olds!! I wouldn’t dress or dance like that in public. The children are having their talent exploited). More often than not this occurs when the teacher themselves has never had children and simply has not thought about what is acceptable. Unfortunately, it’s up to parents to check with teachers that the music their children are performing to does not contain sexual lyrics and to question costuming that is not age-appropriate. Look for another teacher if necessary but don’t discount all dance as lewd because of the thoughtlessness of a few. Of course it all gets complicated by individual opinion. What one person thinks is appropriate another can find offensive. We all look at life through our own prism of experience.

Here’s a little hint though: if the junior members of a dance school are not advised to watch the dance piece the 12 -14 year olds are performing because its too risqué – THEN ITS NOT APPROPRIATE for the 12-14yr olds either. This actually occurred locally with a dance school that shall remain nameless (it wasn’t a belly dance school I assure you). It does occur in belly dance too though as much as I would like to deny it – here is another link of a talented child wearing something ridiculous. (I haven’t embedded these vids as I don’t want them appearing under my name.)

Thankfully the vast majority of dance teachers and schools do a great job.

Now as to singling out belly dance as particularly ‘sexy’ as compared to other dance forms that are widely accepted (eg jazz, tap, ballet) I am asking you to really think about it…. here are a few points to get you started.

  • Belly dancers usually wear more clothes than cover more skin than jazz or contemporary dancers.

A snap shot of my daughter trying on a costume I brought back from Egypt for her. You can be sparkly and not scantily clad.

Super short tutus, skirts dresses and skin tight bike shorts are all very standard in those genres. Belly dancing children more often than not have their legs entirely covered with long skirts. Adults will show flashes of skin sometimes in the way of a split but rarely would you see the whole of either leg and showing your belly is optional. I would like to add here a plea to belly dance teachers if you agree with I have written then please – lets stop this new trend of dressing your kids in bras!! They don’t have breasts and it is not necessary or tasteful. A choli or form fitting top will still show off abdominal control. Please note that the silly see through skirts and tiny sequinned bra tops that are sold in Turkish tourists markets are not something any self respecting dancer would dress their own child in. They are cheap, crappy and would not stand up to the rigours of dance i.e. they are not REAL costumes.

  • Belly dancers don’t dance with their legs apart.

I am personally annoyed the amount of times choreographers (outside belly dancing) have their dancers performing the splits facing the audience. I do not want to look at your daughter’s vulva nor do I want to check out your wax job! If you want to show a long line and flexibility then point your crutch to the side please!!!

  • Belly dancers don’t have partners grabbing their groins.

I know, the crutch grabbing is for lifts that can look spectacular, I’m just sayin… we don’t do that.

I am not claiming that other dance styles are vulgar, I actually like them, just that it is unjustified in thinking belly dance is sordid in comparison. In all reality it is often far more tame and conservative than Ballet, Jazz and Contemporary and just as suitable for children.

None of these styles of dance of themselves sexualise children – insensitive adults do.

What are your thoughts?

Do you have any suggestions for great Arabic music suitable for kids to dance to?

(please click the link on the right to vote for this blog ! Only a few mores days left of the Australian blog awards – this is the only belly dance blog nominated, it only takes a moment of your time but means a lot to me)

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Intermittante
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 20:50:08

    It’s ignorance speaking when they say kids are “sexualized” through belly dance. I had to explain my own nan last week that I wasn’t some gogo girl trying to sell my boobs when I was belly dancing. She said it was alright after I showed her my dancing outfit. Still not for her, but decent.

    -This- is no threat to our children. The next raphipbobber saying “wanna suck my lollipop” in an awfully produced R&B song is a threat. That’s what children learn.

    It was absolutely hilarious seeing my entire family dancing at my sisters wedding to Lili Allens song “it’s not fair” where she describes how he’s awful in bed, and she’s sitting in wet patches after blow jobs and whatnot.. Nobody understood the lyrics.

    And thankfully, dutch kids also often don’t understand the US/UK lyrics. Once they grow up and find out what these blokes/galls are actually saying, -that- is when the problem begins. That’s when half of them begins to dress and act like skanks, and the more decent half goes; “Wtf duckface? You retard.”

    Really. Belly dance isn’t ruining our children. It’s people projecting sexuality on our children that is ruining our children. It’s people not thinking straight. It’s wrong standards and morals. But it’s not belly dancing.

    Reply

    • jadebellydance
      May 02, 2012 @ 20:00:38

      I totally agree with you. For the most part Arabic songs are hopelessly romantic but not crude and many big stars write children’s songs eg Abou El Leef, Haifa Wahbi and Nancy Ajram. Compared to mainstream western music, it is far more appropriate for children!

      Reply

  2. Intermittante
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 20:53:30

    I’m well happy you’re fighting this fight, you know? Thank you! Kids don’t know sexuality, we do. It’s our wrong perception. Why would they not be able to experience and learn something awesome because -we- consider it appropriate where as they don’t even grasp the concept and are just having fun?

    Reply

  3. Samimi
    May 02, 2012 @ 17:55:45

    I think it’s too bad how many people think belly dance is just a step below stripping (and I swear they’re all here…) but I loved your comment about ballet. That’s ALWAYS what I think of when people comment on the ‘innappropriate’ costumes. Sure some costumes are almost lingerie, but very few real dancers wear them, and I’m always thinking: uh, hello, ballet? They’re almost naked. They’re as close to naked as a body can be – both genders. I just hate that argument against belly dance. When one of the most classical and respectable dances is showing off that much… everything, that argument falls apart pretty fast.

    In my opinion.

    Reply

    • jadebellydance
      May 02, 2012 @ 20:19:08

      It amazes me how few people seem to have thought about it. How is Ballet’s flesh coloured leotards with a touch of tulle at the waist respectable in some circles and a full skirt to the floor with a sequinned top not?? I hope the double standard dissipates over time.

      Reply

      • Samimi
        May 03, 2012 @ 13:15:22

        I completely agree. I think it’s really just a stigma and people that aren’t interested just don’t think about it that far.

  4. maxwest
    May 21, 2012 @ 09:07:50

    As an artist who sometimes does sketches of belly dancers, I still am surprised at how many in Western society continue to equate belly dance with striptease. Luckily, there are those of us who know better.

    Reply

  5. Christine
    Sep 26, 2013 @ 15:56:43

    Nicely written! I have to say this article would be perfect to be mentioned in a documentary for bellydancing if they ever make one.
    They should write a similar article on pole dancing as there’s loads of misconceptions on that just like bellydancing

    Reply

    • jadebellydance
      Sep 29, 2013 @ 18:48:20

      Thank you. You are quite right, there are a lot of misconceptions about pole dancing too. However there is still a big difference between belly dance which is at its heart a folk dance and pole dancing which did originate as titillation (unlike belly dance). In a modern context though, pole dancing is often used for fitness and strength. I now have a good friend that is a professional pole dancer, she blew away many of my misconceptions. She is so sweet, loves sci-fi and puppies and kittens, totally doesn’t fit the stereotype I had in my mind.

      Reply

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