Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I Took a Bellydance Class

Awhile ago, I saw an article saying white women shouldn't take bellydance classes, because it's cultural appropriation and changing (westernizing) the expectations of audiences.

I am really sympathetic to the complaints of appropriation. I promise. Absolutely, I do not want to participate in the dilution or desecration of sacred elements of another culture. But I do want to explain why I, a white lady, have taken bellydance classes.

I'm fat. As a child, taking ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance, my body was scoffed at (less so in jazz than the others, I will say). The studio where I took classes once explicitly stated you had to be thin to try out for one of their productions. Generally, forms of dance associated with American audiences are about as far from body positive as you can get.

Before taking classes, I knew next to nothing about bellydance. I'm still not going to claim anything other than beginner knowledge. But one thing I did know was that it was supposed to be a form of dance that was overwhelmingly accepting of different shapes, and even celebrated those with a little jiggle.

I signed up because, despite the horrible way my body was treated as a child, I enjoy the act of dancing. I signed up because I wanted to participate in an activity I like in an environment that would appreciate my figure.

Admittedly, I was unfortunate. The bellydance classes I took were taught by an instructor who kept mentioning bikini bodies. I quit those, and am looking for somewhere else to go.

That kind of attitude sounds like exactly what the author of the original article was unhappy about. The American mentality of associating movement with weight loss is frustrating, and has no place here.

So now I'm torn -- how do I continue an activity that helps me feel good about myself without perpetuating the very things my presence represents? How do I reconcile the intersection between body positivity and cultural appropriation? I don't want to cause harm, but I also want to exercise self-care, so where is the line between the two?

There are almost definitely not single answers to these questions, but whenever we engage in cross-cultural activities, we should be thinking about them, and about how we may contribute to positive and negative associations with different groups of people.

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