A Hairy Situation
Many years ago I read a response by Shira to someone requesting info on whether or not armpit hair is acceptable in belly dance.
Shira’s response attempted to use humour but as a young hippy that was in love with belly dance, it just left me feeling patronised and upset. I recently looked up the article again and have found it considerably toned down from my memory of it (or perhaps I am just less sensitive these days???). Remembered quips don’t seem to be there now but it still refers to under arm hair as a “pelt” and it just makes me wonder how hairy she gets under there.
This topic has come up again recently among my students so I thought I would give my take on the issue. While I wouldn’t really call myself a hippy these days, I do live in an “alternative” area and in the past, was in the situation where I was wondering if I would or would not wax / shave to conform.
Why don’t people just conform?
There are many reasons someone may choose not to wax or shave their body hair. Sometimes it’s medical i.e. waxing is not recommended for diabetics, pronounced hair follicles can make hair removal troublesome too. Other times it is cultural or ideal driven. Some people don’t want to waste time and money on something superficial, others like to embrace natural beauty and others prefer the look. Remember, beauty standards change constantly. It wasn’t that long ago that wigs and lead based white face powder was what was considered beautiful. Not everyone wants to buy into the latest trend.
So do you need to denude yourself in order to be a belly dancer?
The short answer is NO, but it comes with some caveats.
You can be a beautiful and celebrated dancer and be in your natural state but you should be aware of the expectations.
In the Middle East there is a long tradition of females removing body hair. Apparently when a girl gets married she has all her body hair removed. There is a hairless expectation when you are dancing for people from this part of the world. In Bellydance oasis magazine (Issue 39 Aug 2010), mega-star Dina revealed that the number 1 thing she would be judging dancers on (in a competition) would be appearance. This apparently included waxing your forearms! “The dancer must be clean – clean in the way she looks after herself. I hate to see body hair – on the arms for example” said Dina.
I am never going to wax my forearms and don’t worry, it’s not expected in Australia either (unless you are performing for Dina). (Check out my pictures page to see if I did conform)
Starting out with Belly Dance
When you start dancing, I recommend you get yourself a costume that cover the legs and the under arms. Something nice that fits with your style of dance. This takes the pressure off and you can dance for any audience comfortably without concern. I have included a few photos to give you costume ideas, there is a wide selection to choose from, a quick search online will give you so many options. It’s also good to have a costume like this even if you are into hair removal. Sometimes you get a last minute booking and for example you prefer waxing but are booked in with a beautician for the day after the performance – you just get out your trusty covered costume and are worry free. Sometimes I just feel like being a bit covered up regardless of where I am at in my beauty regime.
Ideas if you want to cover up
Body suits, tops with arms and full dresses can cover you up in an attractive way.
Full skirts and/ or wearing harem pants can cover up leg hair. Sheer chiffon pants obscure all but the thickest and longest of hair.
Been dancing a while?
If you intend on regularly dancing for a Middle Eastern audience it is probably simplest if you get at least a half leg and under arm wax or shave. Same goes if you will mostly dancing in fancy restaurants, night clubs etc with conservative audiences. Currently the trend for females in Australia, particularly among the 20-30’s generation, is complete removal of all body hair below the waist as well as under the arm. Personally, I would have less issue with it if I felt it were copying Middle Eastern tradition or something but mostly it has stemmed out of people embracing the porn industry standards of trying to look pre-pubescent.
Anyway, why it is standard is by the by – hairy legs and arm pits are going to limit your costume choices and audiences. You can choose to challenge convention and all power to you if you do but be prepared for comments and perhaps less bookings than others.
For men, well there are not many male belly dancers in Australia. I have seen some footage of overseas dancer waxing their chests and pits but I am a bit old fashioned I suppose. I prefer men with body hair. A hairy back probably wouldn’t be a popular aesthetic though.
A personal example
When you are in a community of friends where body hair removal is not standard, it is easy to forget that it is considered essential by some elements of society. Many years ago I danced at a community event. I was dancing for free, it was a tribal style costume and it was local. I had just finished making a new bra top and wanted to wear it but when I was getting dressed I realised I hadn’t shaved my arm pits recently. I have sensitive skin and didn’t want to risk looking irritated. I naturally have very little hair under there anyway but I chose to trim it back with scissors to try and conform a bit. It meant that there was hardly any hair visible. Despite that, a friend of a friend passed on ‘what a shame she didn’t shave properly’. It apparently ruined the dancing for her. I was shocked that she had even noticed – I know most people didn’t notice or care but it goes to show you that body hair challenges some people a great deal and even in a tribal costume, in a free show at a small community event, in an alternative area – it became an issue.
On the other hand…..
There is a small minority with a bit of a fetish for body hair. Australian dancer Acushla has shared a whole heap of strange comments she has received on facebook about whether she was ‘the dancer with hairy arm pits’ (she isn’t). She seems to have achieved a bit of minor celebrity over the incident. There are several famous dancers in the tribal scene that have at times sported a natural look. It is a way to be remembered! Good marketing is about finding a niche – perhaps flaunting the natural look could be that for you!
What are your thoughts? Have you had any positive or negative comments regarding body hair when dancing? Please comment below..