Belly dancing; Celebrating cultures or contributing to colonization?

For me, as a foreign national visitor who seeks for authentic  Australian folk art the Illawarra folk festival was still in lack of indigenous art and music. But the 3 day festival was a host to international cuisines from Turkey, Bali, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and music bands from Europe, across Australia and … in different styles. Belly dancing was performed for an hour every day and attracted lots of visitors’ attentions.
How Australian women are encouraged to perform belly dancing while their country is involved with war in the Middle East? Are white women belly dancing a reaction in support of anti imperialism? Or is belly dancing performed by western women a stage to let deeper levels of imperialism and feminism emerges? These are the questions which there are no specific response for them at the end of this note but to open the ground to discuss the new aspects of feminism.

Laura, 22 Australian is one of the seven women dancing Shaabi, an Egyptian dance style. She has taken all her belly dancing lessons in Australia and has practiced while travelling to Turkey. During our conversation she constantly mentions how she sees the aesthetic aspect in belly dancing as an art but not entertaining and sexual approach.

How well belly dancing is performed in Australia?
The women’s clothing in belly dancing group at Illarwara folk festival was different from the normal ones which is now common in the Middle East; more revealing and naked. Besides that, everything else reminded me of similar performing in the UAE and Syria.
A part of all these observations is the curiosity to know how visitors and audiences perceive the belly dancing in Folk Festival; Is it just a type of dance to entertain? Or it is a touch to Arab art? Deborah, 26, describes her feedback: “The dance is much better than their countries”. In response to this question which whether she has ever travelled to Egypt or the UAE, two countries which Shaabi and Khaleeji dance are originated from,  or if she knows the culture or people from that region, Deborah said: “No, but I have been to India.”
Belly dancing is being more and more attractive these days because it brings a chance for white women to constitute and perform their westernity and feminity through a liberal and multicultural vision of the nation.
Australia is not the only western country where Belly dancing is performed in public events by white non-muslim women; US is another example of the vast number of women interested in learning belly dancing; the interest which increased amongst both performers and audience while after 9/11  followed by Shakira’s belly dancing. As Sunaina Maira discusses the current representations of East – “orient”, and what called barbaric Arabs have allowed US popular culture providing an antithesis for American national identity and helping to legitimate US imperial expansion including its supports for colonialist projects in the Middle East.
Similar to US, Australia has never colonized countries in the Middle East directly but an appalling reputation of occupying the indigenous lands, heritage and languages under the British colonization of Australia which began in 1788.This accompanied by the influx of emigration to Australia which now contributes to 22.55 million of Australia’s population and exploration of their cultures has shaped the Australian national identity.
Given the history of US long interest in the Middle East including US support for the Balfoure declaration of 1917 and the creation of the state of Israel in the Middle East in 1948, the overthrow of Mosadeq in Iran and installation of Shah in 1953, the attack on Beirut in 1958, the OPEC oil crisis of 1970s, the two wars on Iraq and Afghanistan all shows the US strategic, economic and political interest in the Middle East. This liberal humanitarianism has long been used to support US colonial interventions and policies to justify imperialism currently witnessed in the region; along with its military interventions that are legitimized though the discourse of human rights and women’s rights. The preoccupation with oppressed, veiled Arab and Muslim women is at the core of neo-orientalism discourse of US, including its liberal feminist variants in their current policy in the Middle East.

Living experiences as a Middle Eastern in Australia

The Middle Eastern community in Australia experiences various forms of discrimination in the culturally diversified society. It varies from Middle Eastern names and English accent to color skin. Facing with women, those who wear hijab, is still a new phenomenon and they are mostly being marginalized in the public places.
The problem is that liberal multiculturalism is trying to use culture talk as a response to what Arab and

Muslim communities are being racially categorized. It focuses on cultural and religious differences and avoids the West’s political, economic and military interfering in the Middle East. Within the liberal multicultural frame, in order to reject racism there are possible symbolic performances by using cultural elements to respect these differences often experienced in the host society. Belly dancing also seems to be a sign of liberal tolerance and cultural or aesthetic affiliation with other ethnic groups in Australia.

January 30, 2013 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
Posted in: Art and Culture, Women