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Monday, August 01, 2005

A Defense of Middle Eastern Dance

This is a bit different from my usual fare, but I wrote this for a fellow dancer. She has been told that her hobby is "inappropriate" and has to do a presentation to the owner of the company to convince her it isn't. This popular view of Middle Eastern dance is one of my pet peeves. Tomorrow I will return to my regularly scheduled programming. ;)

A Defense of Middle Eastern Dance

I first began studying Middle Eastern dance at the age of twenty-one, almost eleven years ago. The impact on my life has been considerable. I have improved my grace, control, flexibility, balance, and strength; I have met many wonderful, interesting people; I have learned a new form of expression.

My first performance was at the Festival of Trees, a venue where my troupe and others performed for several years. Later I performed with several other dancers for a one hundred and tenth birthday celebration, held at the Jewish Nursing Home. I danced at the Decatur Arts Festival at least three years; my troupe has also performed at Stockbridge Days and the Atlanta Folks Dance Festival, as well as many other events. We have even danced as part of the DeKalb International Choir Festival, which was held at a church. All of these events are family-friendly, and I have performed at very few venues where families weren't a significant presence.

Like most dancers, I hold a full-time job and have a college degree. All my coworkers know I dance; at least half have seen me perform, and the owners of the company brought their six-year-old daughter to our recent charity fundraiser. However, only two or three clients know I am a dancer, because it's not relevant to the work I do for them as a graphic designer.

I have been an active member of a Southern Baptist church for longer than I have been dancing. Though I don't run around announcing my hobby, I have never made a secret of it–even though my husband is a church employee. I have myself taught art classes through my church, as well as volunteering in the children's department at all three churches I have attended since I began dancing. Twice I have worn one of my costumes for church productions; I even used my knowledge of Middle Eastern dance to choreograph a number for one of them. Our music ministry directory even lists "Middle Eastern Dance" as one of my interests!

As dancers, we are a varied group. Most of us are college-educated, as I am, some with advanced degrees. Many of us bring our families to events. None of us have found that Middle Eastern dance interferes with our professional lives. Would anyone think twice if a women were a Latin dancer? Yet many of these dances can be quite provocative–and are performed with a male partner. Middle Eastern dance, on the other hand, is performed almost exclusively solo or in all-female troupes.

We are moms and grandmothers, wives and daughters. We are not strippers; we are not prostitutes. We are dancers.

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