What is the Right Way to Belly Dance?

peacock belly dance costumes

What is the right way to belly dance? This question has been swimming around in my head lately, as within the belly dance community there seem to be some fairly opinionated thoughts on this topic. I really got to thinking about this topic after reading a recent article written by Leila Farid of Cairo on Gilded Serpent in which she critiques Ukrainian dancer Alla Kushnir against the Egyptian dancers Tahia Karaoka and Dina, essentially stating that Alla Kushnir's dance is too technique and movement based, while lacking in emotional depth and subtlety. (Before moving on, I would like to clarify so that I'm not putting words into the author's mouth that weren't said: Farid never uses the words "right" and "wrong" in her article or any variation of them, and ultimately the message of her article that I walked away with was to promote cultural awareness. But I did see her article setting the stage for this type of discussion, which it certainly did across various belly dance forums and news feeds after it was published. Therefore this post does not represent some type of response or counter-argument to Farid's article, but rather a progression of thought.)

I have to be honest, when I first entered this art form, I never imagined that there would be so many "rules". Rules about how to interpret the music, what to wear, how to represent culture, how to put together your performance set, and so on. And yes, at least initially, I agree that knowing and studying the "rules" including cultural context, especially for a dancer presenting herself as a professional, is a requirement. Heck, I even posted my own set of "rules" quite recently on when, in my personal opinion, a dancer is qualified to be a professional. So I'm not proposing some type of dance anarchy.

But when does it all become too much? When does appreciating culture and history turn into just drawing an arbitrary line in the sand? When does following the rules start inhibiting creative expression and personal authenticity?

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