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Bellydance identity: living a double life?
By Sophia Furber (our resident writer) 

Do you share the fact that you are a bellydancer (or bellydance student) with friends, family and colleagues, or do you keep it under wraps? 

For some dancers, it’s only natural to share such an important part of their lives with loved ones and people at the ‘day job’. But for others, reconciling their dance persona with their work and family life is almost impossible, and it’s easier to keep the two things separate.

Unfortunately, many people take a dim view of bellydance and see it as a seedy activity like stripping, which makes a lot of dancers self-conscious and worried about revealing this part of their life – especially if they work in an area where they feel it could hurt their professional reputation, such as working with children, or lead to sniggering and worse from colleagues. And dancers from some cultural backgrounds may struggle with the reactions of family members who don’t think that respectable girls should be out dancing in public in revealing clothes.


I decided to ask members of the U.K. bellydance community about their experiences. All the names marked with a * have been changed to protect the identities of the dancers I spoke to.


A lot of the dancers who contacted me said that family members found their bellydancing difficult to accept, particularly members of the older generation, or that they were scared of repercussions in the workplace if colleagues were to find out.

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Olivia*, a Polish bellydancer based in London, says that she keeps her bellydance identity entirely separate from the rest of her life, using a stage name and keeping separate social media accounts.  

“The other story is that my bellydancing isn’t really appreciated by my family in Poland. Not my close family, who are supportive, but some aunties. It’s because oriental dance isn’t known that well in Poland, and I think they imagine it to be something more like stripping – a sleazy, naughty dance,” she said.

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Nuxya (a stage name) also said that some members of her family would not have been able to accept her bellydancing, and so she chooses to keep her dance identity from them:

“In my family's social circles, 'nice' girls don't dance in public, and certainly not for money,” she said. “Even dancing at family gatherings has, in recent years, become less acceptable, even though it was my great aunt who first taught me and my cousins old-school bollywood songs and dances to perform at family weddings.”

Nuxya doesn’t discuss her bellydance with her parents or her colleagues (she has another job in a very male-dominated industry).


For Hanna*, the problems with other peoples’ negative perceptions of bellydance started early, when she began taking lessons at the age of 16 in her home country:

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“People were making fun of me at school, saying, oh, you can dance with your belly. In university of course, nobody cared. The real problems actually started with my first husband. He really thought that my bellydancing would end and that I would prioritize family. But it was a full-time job. It didn’t just go away like he thought it would.”

Hanna then moved to the U.K., where she remarried and now has a young child. She still aims to develop a career as a professional bellydancer and teacher, but is facing resistance from her husband – which is partly due to his fears about how his colleagues would react if they knew that his wife was a bellydancer:

“I’m a bit afraid of how it will go from here. I feel that he’s pushing me towards everything else, away from being a professional dancer and teacher. Even if I say I can earn good money, I can see in his face that he doesn’t like it,” she said “It’s a bit complicated. He’s less against me teaching, but he doesn’t realise that it could bring something serious into the family. He would be very upset if some of his colleagues would see me, his wife, dancing.  What if someone organised a corporate event, there were bellydancers, and the bellydancer was me? Even if I danced my absolute best, it wouldn’t make a difference.”


Brenda* has come up against some closed-minded colleagues, and finds it easier to steer off the topic of bellydance altogether at work:

“I would love to be more open about my bellydancing. Staff here know but avoid discussions or interest which I believe is because they think bellydance is sleazy or over provocative. Whenever I've tried explaining the response has been a bit "oh really, pull the other one! I've been to restaurants where it's definitely provocative, ladies swinging their boobs in people's faces etc!" So now I just don't try to share it with them because their minds are not open to it's beauty, history and variety.”

But others have found that it easier to be open about their dancing. Safeena, who has over 17 years of teaching experience under her coinbelt, is one:

“I don't keep it a secret. Why should I? It's just the most wonderful way of expressing yourself through dance,” she said.

She has even invited colleagues to attend her haflas, but says that her mother still won’t talk about bellydance with her, or come to watch her.

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Elizabeth a civil servant by day and a bellydance student by night, also says she feels no particular need to hide this part of her life:

“I don't keep it a secret that I dance but I don't make a big thing of it either. If someone asks what I'm doing on a particular evening I tell them which dance class it is,” she said. “We have a major initiative at present about people bringing their whole selves to work and being as open as they choose to be. I tend to keep my work and personal life separate so I don't talk about it at length.”

 

Bryony, a bellydance student and a lawyer, also says that she doesn’t feel under pressure to keep her dancing secret: “I’m very open about it. And why not?”

 

It was sobering to hear about members of the bellydance community having to find ways to work around a range of cultural, professional and family pressures (and prejudices) in order to pursue their art.

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But Nuxya and Olivia also wanted to point out that despite facing challenges, their experiences of balancing two separate identities hadn’t been entirely negative. Olivia said that there are still a good number or relatives and friends who are “fascinated” by what she does, while Nuxya says that her situation has been a catalyst for growth:

“In recent years the lines of separation in my head have blurred; working with diverse groups of people both in work and in dance has helped me grow in so many ways. My achievements in my professional life have given me confidence and strength to achieve more through dance; the creativity and innovation that dance unlocks has helped me to shape changes in my industry.  So whilst you might know me with different names in different places, I'm always still me.”

 

Thank you to all of the dancers who contributed so eloquently and openly to this feature. I am sure that some of you could write a book about your experiences, and if you do, I will be the first one reading it!

A BIG Zameena THANK YOU to Sophia for another intriguing article!


And, there is more to our resident writer than meets the eye!  

Later this month Sophia will be climbing 
Mount Snowdon
in full belly dance costume

to raise funds for Company of Dreams' programme of free bellydance classes for women who have experienced trauma!

GOOD LUCK SOPHIA AND SAFFRON!

Please click on the pic below for full info:

Sophia would like us to know more:

Company of Dreams is participating in a global fundraising challenge run by Global Giving to raise funds for its unique programme of free bellydance classes for women who have experienced trauma such as domestic violence, terminal cancer, sexual violence and slavery. Between September 12th - 25th, members of the bellydance community will be participating in a shimmering array of fundraisers, including a mass sponsored shimmy in Trafalgar Square and a glamorous Cocktails and Rhinestones event featuring an auction of designer costumes. Check out
Company of Dreams'  website
for more details on how to get involved, bag yourself a glamorous costume or to make a pledge. 

Bellydancers Sophia Furber and Saffron have even hatched a plan for sponsored climb up Mount Snowdon in full bellydance costume (plus a performance at the summit!) on September 23rd, and you can sponsor them and keep updated on their adventures
here

Company of Dreams has just begun running classes in women’s refuges and the response has been overwhelming - women who have lived in fear of their lives from violent partners are able to relax and have some fun, dancing together.  With your contributions, director and founder Charlotte Desorgher will be able to keep the classes running and extend them to new locations, so that women who have suffered from slavery, human trafficking, terminal illness, rape and domestic violence will be able to experience the joy of bellydance to help them recover from their ordeals. 

As many of you know, bellydance has incredible properties for helping women to raise their self esteem, release stress and develop a positive body image, while numerous studies have shown that dance can be a powerful tool for healing from trauma. 

As we write this, news has just come out from the National Crime Agency that slavery and human trafficking in Britain is "far more prevalent than previously thought," and is taking place in every large town and city across the country. 
TRIBAL & FUSION FUN LOOKS
from Zara's Zouk

With thanks to our models: Liz and Sahher
On the the left we have black lace crop tops worn with  black flares 

On the right we have Tribal Bras, Tribal skirt, Fringed Over skirt 

All accessorised with tribal belts, tribal cuffstribal neck wear, earrings and headwear and not forgetting the parasol!
Above, on the left we have: Tribal bra worn with a shrug and black Jaipur Skirt edged in blue

On the right we have orange choli top with side zip and tribal fire skirt
 
And not forgetting the men!


Our versatile tops are back in stock!

 
Where to catch up with Sandra and Zara's Zouk: 
Sunday 24th September






The Arab Quarterly
Wonderful Live Music and Dance Show




For more info and to book please click on the pic:
Saturday 30th September 



Shimmytastic! 
A Bellydance Boogie Night



Get your tickets 
Where to catch up with Zara:
Zara's Newest Blog about dancing in Cairo is OUT NOW: 
 

10 Arabic words as a dancer you must know + the night the club was RAIDED by POLICE

 
We truly hope you enjoyed this month's Zameena
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Until next month LOVE AND SHIMMIES
from Zara and Sandra x x  
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