Belly Dancing: Specifically a Sexually Charged Entertainment or not Necessarily?

Upon the few occasions that I’ve dined at Moroccan restaurants (in the U.S.), when the belly dancer comes around I can’t help but think “My! Isn’t this a bit sexually charged for a casual dining experience!”

No value judgments here- I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to combine sexually charged entertainment with casual dining. Still, it certainly is different.

A few clarifications:
-I don’t automatically equate sexual entertainment with pornographic entertainment.
-When I say that Belly Dancing is sexually charged entertainment, I don’t mean I think the dancer has a specific goal of giving me a hard-on.

But even if we go with the most hippie-ish attitude of “Oh the human body is beautiful and should be celebrated as such and you with your oh so prudish mind could never understand!”
. . . still, this particular celebration of the human body is sexual in presentation, right?

Lots of bare flesh
Grinding pelvic motions
Bouncing buttocks
Jiggling breasts
and . . .
. . . the manner in which the audience is encourage to tip: slide a folded bill into the dancers garments- the exact same way you tip a stripper.

Basically, when the dancer has directed the focus of her performance toward you, her pelvis is grinding air just inches away from your face, and you are sitting next to your girlfriend’s mother at a family birthday dinner . . .
. . . well, does anyone other than me feel conflicted about the kind of attention and response that is expected in this situation???

Or am I just a dirty dirty man, imposing sexuality upon what is meant to be family friendly fare?

Well, see, there’s more than one kind of belly dancer. I’m not an expert, but I seem to remember the divisions being between ‘cabaret-style’ and several more traditional styles.

So for a cabaret style group you might have girls dressed like this and dancing like this.

But the belly-dancers I see more often look more like this and dance like, say, this. I wish I could find the video of a sword dance I saw once; it’s why I looked this one up. This lady is quite good, but I have seen some amazing stuff where the only people who could manage to not stare slack-jawed were the drummers. Men and women alike were absolutely spellbound.

It IS sexy, but the dances I see most often are designed less to be ‘ooh, I’m so pretty!’ and more ‘my body is a majestic powerhouse of perfectly controlled muscle, which just happens to be incredibly sexy’. Though I don’t know how much truth there is in this statement, I was told by a friend that belly dance was never really for men to watch. Women sequestered to themselves danced to keep themselves entertained, and the abdominal movements were helpful for – get this – helping women survive childbirth.

I’ll buy that. I’ve tried belly dancing and let me tell you, it is a hell of a lot more workout than it looks like. Take that second video: that lady can move every part of her body independently of the others. If you think that sounds easy, stand in front of a mirror and try moving your hips without moving your lower body at all. At ALL. No slight rises in the shoulder or chest. It can be done, it takes a heck of a lot of practice, and you get some really amazing muscle tone while generally still remaining very curvy.

I keep meaning to get into it again. I only ever dipped my toe the first time. One dancer I’ve seen was dancing Indian-style – a little like what you get in a Bollywood musical, but not quite. She’s highly skilled and the dance was beautiful, and it was only after she finished and I saw her later that I realized she’s quite a big girl: almost as big as I am. There’s just some real muscles underneath that softness. :wink:

It’s always sexual, but that’s not all it is.

Moroccan, eh? How do attitudes about belly dancing vary throughout the Islamic world?

“It moved, Jerry.” Is pretty much my take on it. I’d have to be dead to not have my heart rate elevate a bit at the sight of all those pelvic gyrations.

I’ve never felt that belly dancing is all that sexual. A little, but not a lot. I guess what detracts is the elaborate costumes. Somehow I fail to see why that enhances the sexual aspect; my take is it covers it up. And the fact that most (not the examples given, however) belly dancers seem way over the hill. Grandma, shaking your pelvis at light speed doesn’t make you sexy.

I feel much the same about Vegas showgirl routines. I would much rather watch a girl in a simple bikini walking on the beach and I find that much more sexual and sensual.

I study (Egyptian) belly dance (raqs sharqi), and I’ve seen it maligned plenty of times as being ‘barely one step above stripping’; actually, I study pole dancing too, and there was a recent thread with a lot of snooty comments from Dopers that not only was pole dancing not an art form, it wasn’t dancing, and only strippers would swing around a pole! This from people who have probably no IDEA how challenging and exciting learning either belly dancing and pole dancing is. (Not to mention a little insulting to strippers, when there’s a couple of long-time Dopers who are or have been strippers!)

Here is a video of goddess Rachel Brice belly dancing. Yes, she is sexy, because her movements are fluid and because she has the sort of body that about 99% of the human population can only dream of. Foremost, she is an artist, and she studied her art for years to get that good. Being sexy does not in any way detract from the artistry of her dance.

One thing we rarely hear about here in the West are *male *belly dancers. Men belly dance in Turkey (I went to a club in Istanbul where the men practically shoved the women out of the way to take over the dance floor) and in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. And yes, they are also very sexy! I suspect because most Westerners have only been exposed to the more theatrical female belly dancers that they assume that all belly dancing is just fancied up gyrating.

If you had ever seen actual Egyptian belly dancers, you wouldn’t have to ask. They may be sexy to the locals, but it’s got to be an acquired taste. Lebanese, on the other hand: yama-hama! I’ve always thought that belly dancing is highly sexual and suggestive.

The OP mentions “lots of bare flesh”, and I’m wondering how many of the people who voted that belly dancing is sexually charged were thinking more about the costumes than the dancing itself.

I know very little about belly dancing, but years ago I had a friend whose girlfriend studied various styles of international dance including belly dancing. I saw her belly dance at parties while dressed in quite modest outfits. While this was sexier than just standing around, I don’t know that it was any more sexually suggestive than many other forms of dance.

Quoth Lamia:

I wasn’t. There’s a belly-dancing troupe around here, and the costumes (and the ladies wearing them) are certainly sexy enough, but none of them are really all that good at their art. There’s a lot more to good belly-dancing than a pretty lass showing a lot of skin.

Quoth Mississippienne:

Her movements may be fluid, but you’d never know it from that horribly jump-shredded video. Is it really that hard to just leave the camera on her from a single angle and let the dancing carry the scene, instead of editing the Hell out of it?

I was hoping to communicate that I think Belly Dancing is sexual because of the inclusive combination of the elements I listed, starting with the “bare flesh” aspect.

Bare flesh alone is not necessarily sexual. But with Belly Dancing we have:
bare flesh PLUS Grinding pelvic motions PLUS Bouncing buttocks PLUS Jiggling breasts
PLUS tipping by sliding a bill into the dancer’s garment.
(The tipping is something I’ve seen consistent in my admittedly limited experiences in restaurants that have dancers. If I saw a stage performance at a cultural festival, I would not run up to the stage waving a dollar bill in the air.)

I supposed I could have used words like “art” or “artistry” in the OP.
Basically, this was what I was getting at with the “I don’t automatically equate sexual entertainment with pornographic entertainment” bit.
There’s plenty of high art that is sexual.
So, it can be both sexual and art.

Using a more Art Charged Vocabulary:
If Art seeks:
a connection to an audience through
communication on matters of shared human experience and emotion
with aim to arouse a response simpatico with the artist’s intent . . .

Is Human Sexuality generally central to the subject of the artist’s communication, central to the physical expression in the artist’s performance, central to the emotional response the artist wishes to elicit from the audience?

Also, the term: “sexy” vs the word “sexual”
A performance can be sexy without being sexual. A performer who has charisma and or sex-appeal will often, during an intimate performance, be sexy just because of the nature of who they are.
This doesn’t make the performance sexual. A sexual response is not the goal of the performance.
Lena Horne’s performance of “Stormy Weather” is sexy . . . but it’s not sexual.

Conversely, a performance can be sexual without being sexy:
Musicat’s belly dancing grandmas and Chefguy’s unappealing Egyptians may not have succeeded in arousing a sexual response, but that doesn’t mean that the performer’s intent wasn’t sexual.

I’m wondering about opinions on whether Belly Dancing is inherently sexual, though at its best it can certainly be much much more.

Having been more thoughtful on the matter since thinking up the OP, I’m inclined to believe that even in its highest artistic execution it is a sexual expression.

Anyone else with a “The dancer getting all sexy in my face was completely juxtaposed by the company kept and nature of the social gathering in which I was taking part at the time” stories?

I take classes, and I perform. I put down that it is sometimes but not always, and not inherently, sexual. I think you’re incorrect in your assesment about the dancers. I think it is very likely that their intent was NOT sexual, and they were trying more to show off (to other women, at that!) what they could do with their bodies.

I agree with Little Plastic Ninja’s comment of ‘my body is a majestic powerhouse of perfectly controlled muscle, which just happens to be incredibly sexy’.

I think also the level of how sexually charged the dance is depends on the venue and the dancer. I know for most of my group choreographies, we’re going for “flirty, cutesy, girly” or “powerful badasses”, but not for “sexually charged”. The looks, the intent that one conveys is different. I’m guessing for a performance at a restaurant, which may or may not include families, at night, a more sexually charged performance is more likely to bring better tips, for example. :wink:

It seems to me like those other elements would be diminished if the belly dancer is not wearing a revealing or form-fitting costume. The jiggling and bouncing isn’t going to be so obvious if the belly dancer is in a tunic and leggings with a scarf tied around her hips (as I saw my friend’s girlfriend wearing). If she’s not dancing for tips then the tipping thing isn’t an issue.

Sorry, I meant that as a much more general, not even a Belly Dancing specific, comment.

Musicat and Chefguy didn’t link to specific performances. I don’t know what performances they’ve seen, who the performers were, or what the performers’ intent might have been.

Read the following to be broadly applied, having no specific connection to the Belly Dancing discussion:
I just wanted to make the point that whether or not a performance is effective has nothing to do with whether or not is is sexual. An unsexy performer who fails at arousing a sexual response from the audience while giving a sexual performance . . . is still giving a sexual performance. She’s just not doing it effectively.

That was the point I was trying to make in the bit that you quoted.

Yep. Excellent points all around. Certainly my admittedly limited exposure skews my perspective. All the Belly Dancing I’ve ever seen has been in restaurants.

It is a sexual thing, because (nearly all) humans are sexual animals.

It’s just like the female breast: Yeah, one use is for feeding infants, but to pretend that’s the only use is to deny the fact they’re a lot more protuberant and developed than, say, gorilla breasts. Apes don’t need the top bulge in the hourglass to feed infants! They need it to attract mates!

It’s simple prudery to deny the dual-use nature of the breast, and it’s simple prudery to deny the dual-use nature of belly dancing.

And that’s what I meant to try to tell you. From what I read, you’re stating it as if the sexual part was intentional. What I’m saying is that it is very likely that the dance was not meant to be, in any way, to be taken sexually. Many dances are not performed with that in mind, and more with a desire to “ooh and aah” the audience (and other females).

Later on, I did comment that belly dancing can certainly be sexual, and a performance be sexually charged. I just disliked your implication of the sexual nature to be *intentional *and necessary.

There are different STYLES of belly dance, there are different FASHIONS for belly dancer. Some are very erotic, some are not erotic at all. There are some tribal fusion outfits and dances that, if “it moved, Jerry” you would have to be one horny son of a bitch who has not been near a woman in months. Cause some belly dance outfits are about as revealing as burqas.

So, varies, like most things. I prefer the sexy, under-dressed belly dancing myself, but tribal fusion stuff is just fine too, and it looks like the women who dance it are having a helluva lot of fun, which is just fine with me.

Hmmm, I’m still not communicating myself effectively here.

O.K. pretend we’re not talking about Belly Dancing here. In the bit you quoted originally my only intent was to make the point that the sexual or non sexual nature of a performance is founded upon the performer’s intent not on the audience’s response.

I meant to contrast the above with: The sexiness of a performance is founded upon the audience response.

In this scenario (again, not talking about Belly Dancing):
[1]Martha choreographs a performance the goal of which is to give an erection to every man who sees it.
[1b]This is not my interpretation of Martha’s intent, she actually told me in no uncertain terms that this is her intent.
[2]Martha’s performance specifically draws attention to the sexual features of her body, and moves her body in a way that is suggestive of sexual activity.
[3]Martha performs in front of Chuck.
[4]Chuck thinks Martha is old and out of shape and completely awkward and not at all sensual in her command of her body.
[5]Chuck says, “Martha’s performance is not sexual because I don’t find her sexually appealing.”

The point I was making in the bit that you quoted is applied here thusly:
Chuck is wrong.
Martha’s performance is sexual, it’s just that it is not sexy.

Musicat and Chefguy answered “NO” to the question “is it sexual?” but their stated reasoning for saying that it wasn’t sexual was that they did not find the performance sexually appealing.
This, I propose, only means that the performance is not sexy, not that it is not sexual.

Now, I don’t know the performances they are referring to- in fact, neither of them seems to be referring to a specific performance at all. It is possible that the performances they witnessed were NEITHER sexy NOR sexual.

But their stated reasoning only addressed whether or not the performance was sexy. Yet, they directed that reasoning in response to the question of whether or not is was sexual.

I saw one male belly-dancer at an all-ages show once, and it was traumatizing. Let’s just say that it was very clear the dancer was enjoying himself a lot more than was appropriate, given how skin-tight his tights were. I know how he would have voted.