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 and 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)

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