If you’ve read my blog, you know I’m a feminist. And also a belly dancer. These things are not mutually exclusive.
Still, there’s always that person who’s like, “But belly dance is meant to seduce men! How can you call yourself a feminist and do that???”
The answer, it turns out, is very similar to the reasons why women wear revealing clothes: we do it for our own pleasure, and for our own reasons which often have very little to do with what others think of us.
Shira, a respected belly dancer and blogger, gives her own answer to the question here, which I think is worth reading. She writes:
Men often make the mistake of assuming that everything that they like that’s done by women is intended for men. Well, it’s not.
Most of the time, women do what we do because it pleases us, and if a man happens to like it, well, that’s okay, but it’s not why we do it.
I’m in complete agreement. And I’m reminded of the meme critiquing the view that women wear makeup to impress men, as though they could tell the difference between the 70+ MAC lipsticks that we own. Of course I’m not into gender essentialism or heterosexism (clearly some guys are into makeup, and some women aren’t, and not all women want to appear sexy to impress men, and liking makeup or not is also available to non-binary folks), but the sentiment resonates with me.
As I write this, I’m helping edit a list of the 100+ dance moves in American Tribal Style Belly Dance that my troupe has been working on learning and perfecting. Am I putting in this much effort to look sexy to dudes? Surely not. My dance troupe means so much to me emotionally and professionally, that the thought of whether I look seductive doing it rarely enters my head.
Can belly dance be sexy? Sure. But it’s so much more than that: a self-esteem boost, a way of participating in a community, a form of exercise, movement therapy, an expressive outlet, and so on.
My feminism is intersectional, inclusive, and sex-positive. I try to be aware of patriarchal bullshit influencing how I feel about my body and when I feel sexy, because none of us have escaped all that awful conditioning, but I also like to think that there are liberating possibilities within the arts for all of us. Belly dance offers just such a possibility, and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much.