on controversy and discomfort in belly dance

After several private discussions it seems important that I take some time to address the recent piece by Barbara Grant discussing Sashi and to a lesser extent, pharmacy Kaya and Sadie, advice Suhaila and Judeo-Christian ethical standards as they apply to belly dance and as they are represented in the article. I’m going to try to head in the direction of making this a learning opportunity, but some of this may seem pretty personal. For that I apologize in advance.

Don’t be mean. We don’t have to be mean. -B.B.

This goes here and not on Gilded Serpent because there is just no way that the Gilded Serpent 500-word limit on letters is going to cover these thoughts, and neither is the 3-page limit on articles (I’m going to be lucky to come in at less than 5000 words). To even hope to keep this reasonable, I’m going to skip the whole second half of Ms. Grant’s article – perhaps I’ll come back to issues of burlesque and belly dance in the future. For now, focus is important, so I tackle only the first half.

I need to say, up front, that I did not see Sashi’s performance, nor have I seen any Ascend Tribal performance, nor have I seen Barbara Grant perform, ever. I’m not a religious scholar, nor Christian, nor a dancer, nor a cutter, nor female [and thus, have not endured any female genital mutilation or female mutilation of any sort], nor even pierced. I have no business discussing these things, except in as much as I am discussing an article and its audience, belly dancers. Use your own mind, that’s what I’m trying to do.

To echo Ms. Grant (and to help set the stage for something coming up…), “Those who abhor critical opinions may not wish to read further.”

LET’S TALK ABOUT “PLACE”

Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth. – Blaise Pascal

First, I’m going to take issue with self-contradictory statements. Before I do, I’m going to confess that I am as guilty as anyone, and that contradiction is not inherently bad. It has been said (notably by Oscar Wilde) that the wise contradict themselves. It’s also worth noting that as we learn and evolve, new perspective and new information can lead to honest changes of opinion, which, when juxtaposed across a great rift of time, may seem contradictory, but instead demonstrate the wonderful human capacity for growth and development. So, I begin with a contradiction that I think merits some exploration.

In a previous piece Ms. Grant published on the Gilded Serpent, she closes with the following:

The dance is broad enough to allow many varieties of expression and it holds a place for Christians too.

This is an apparent appeal to the broadest definition of “the dance” to include Christians, some of whom (Ms. Grant among them) approach this dance form without any inkling of “erotic” or “enticing” qualities. Ms. Grant’s personal efforts to entertain an audience without being enticing (or erotic) are entirely defensible within the broad culture of American belly dance. Having never seen her perform, I refrain from any judgment on her success in either avoiding eroticism and enticement or being entertaining. It is enough to say that here in America, where we routinely prune the roots of art forms and bend them to our own intentions in a broader culture of appropriation and extension, if someone wants to make belly dance unenticing, they are certainly welcome to do so. I personally encourage individual artistic drive in whatever direction anyone finds it.

We now come to the contradiction, which is that while Ms. Grant seeks (some might claim, demands) “a place” for Christian dancers within the big tent of Belly Dancing, she is quite willing to dismiss and assault others that find different expression in what our author calls “the dance.” From her most recent piece:

If the Tribal community cannot effectively perform quality control over its dancers, perhaps the larger Belly dance community should consider whether or not Tribal performances and festivals are worthy of consideration in a publication such as this one.

and

Extreme body mutilation has no place in Belly dance!

Leaving aside for the moment the problematic concepts of “quality control” and “extreme” (which I will return to in time), we can infer some specific boundaries on what sort of “a place” we are discussing in as far as this particular article is concerned and what is and is not Belly Dancing. With these boundaries firmly in mind, I move on to other issues raised.

KEEPING IT CIVIL

Civility costs nothing, and buys everything. – Mary Wortley Montagu

To dismiss artists, repeatedly, in the space of just sixteen paragraphs is, to me, fairly offensive. Dance is, fundamentally, a performance art (at least when people are talking about it). I suggest we focus on the performance (I can’t; didn’t see it), the art (I can only vaguely address this one), or the culture in which it is created and discussed (bingo).

I would encourage Ms. Grant to reconsider resorting to epithets in an attempt to make a point. Phrases like “or whatever it was that Sashi called it” seem, to me, to belong in the school playground, and not anywhere near a serious discussion about art or culture. If you don’t know what she called it, and you can’t be bothered to find out, that’s fine. Just don’t trouble us with demeaning commentary and drawing that much attention to your personal ignorance – whether it be by choice or otherwise.

I also discourage the liberal use of quotes in an apparent attempt to dismiss or discredit the works and beliefs of those she does not understand or appreciate. For my part, I promise to never refer to Jesus as Ms. Grant’s “savior” or “cult leader.” We may have our differences, but that doesn’t mean I have to disrespect someone else’s beliefs.

I’m also going to take issue with the use of the phrase “Those who abhor such standards may not wish to read further.” (foreshadowing comes into bloom). Perhaps our definitions of abhor differ, but I’m going with “to regard with extreme repugnance” [Merriam-Webster]. Whatever Ms. Grant had in mind when using the phrase “Judeo-Christian ethical standards,” I posit that you will find only a very small percentage of the human population that disagrees with fundamental tenants of Judeo-Christian ethical standards (especially when they are presented as general ethical standards, and not wrapped in a particular and exclusionary religion or history), and a much, much smaller slice of people that would go so far as to abhor such standards. Dismiss, question, bend, and break, perhaps, but abhor is particularly strong language and, I think, inapropriate in as much as it is used to offend and alienate readers that may, for whatever reason, disagree with the author. Nothing anyone can say about dance has such magnitude and import as to establish a personal repugnance for something as broadly definable (and in this specific context, entirely un-defined) as a Judeo-Christian ethical standard. It’s just dance.

But, while we’re here, send me a list of specific Judeo-Christian ethical standards, and we can open a discussion on which ones, if any, that I abhor. In this case, the phrase seems to be used simply as a means to divide and hurt, and that’s just not appropriate. Most particularly from someone who wants to find “a place” for Christians, including herself, among the audience she is addressing.

Also worth mentioning, but only because the original author made such a definitive statement on the subject of biblical Christian beliefs, I am going to go on the record questioning any sort of absolute authority either Jews or Christians have in as far as establishing ethical standards. History is rife with examples of atrocities conducted by the hands of Jews and Christians and in the name of their God, and not only against non-believers. Other ethical standards may apply.

RECOGNIZING THE DIFFERENCE

Despite opening with the confession that Sashi went to great lengths to explain her intent and the background and spiritual nature of her presentation, and the acknowledgement that piercing as a spiritual practice is “not unique” to this performance, this article detours quickly through two tangents that are apparently very personal issues for the author – female genital mutilation and cutting. Since all I have to work with is the article, I guess I get to follow the tangents.

What either of these issues has to do with dance, belly dance, artistic expression, piercing, Sashi’s performance or Judeo-Christian ethics escapes me, but since we’re here, let’s take this opportunity to explore a bit of both subjects.

I suppose there is some potential to connect female genital mutilation with belly dance, if only coincidentally, in as much as female genital mutilation is most-often practiced in North-Eastern and Eastern Africa (Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania), and portions of the Middle-East (Iraq, Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia), which can also lay claim to some of the traditional dances that have been morphed into what we call belly dance today. Of course, the problem with that is that female genital mutilation is also practiced in other parts of the world and was also occasionally practiced in the United States until the late 1950’s (and presumably, still is today).

More importantly, female genital mutilation is generally regarded as a cultural or social practice, and not a religious or spiritual one, so I fail to see how this is relevant. You’re going to have to come up with some pretty strong evidence to convince me that forced genital surgery is a spiritual experience for anyone, much less a child or baby.

If you’d like to learn more about female genital mutilation, I suggest visiting the world health organization site on the subject, as well as one from Amnesty International and Warrior Marks.

Our next tangent brings us to the phenomenon of cutting. A subset of general practices described as self-injury or parasuicide. Without going into a great discussion on the subject, self-injury is not (that I’m aware of) currently recognized as a mental disorder, but it may be considered symptomatic of other recognized disorders, in which case, cutting would be also be an involuntary act.

In any case, some form of habitual self-injury, though not necessarily cutting, is estimated to occur in almost 1% of the population, so chances are there are a few cutters among the readership of Gilded Serpent, and they might have something to say (or think) about comparing their personal experiences with a public performance. Again, as with female genital mutilation, I fail to see how cutting is related to Sashi’s performance.

I’m going to go out on a limb here a bit and posit that dance, and in particular tribal forms of belly dance may constitute a form of interpersonal therapy (a recommended therapy for cutting), which is intended to help people develop and maintain relationships. If that is the case, belly dancing, and tribal dancing in particular, may help reduce the incidence and/or severity of cutting behaviors. I’m just guessing.

For more on cutting, there’s selfinjury.org and recoveryourlife.com. And, since the original article included a random quote from a random cutter, I’ll raise that to a whole book. Go Ask Ogre.

Whatever causes or reasons might bring someone to cutting, it seems quite obvious to me that the path that leads one to self-injure is probably not at all congruent with the path that leads a dancer to explore distant cultures and find personal expression on stage.

This may sound crazy, but I think that things done for spiritual enlightenment, regardless of the religious or cultural framework in which they are cast or the controversial nature of the acts themselves, pretty much have to be done on a voluntary basis with full awareness and intent of the participants. Otherwise, what sort of spiritual enlightenment is available? Can you trip over God and be saved? Christians seem to be quite fond of their rituals and rites that demand the affirmation and consent of their adherents.

There’s a fairly simple difference between female genital mutilation and cutting and suffering in the quest for spiritual enlightenment – Female genital mutilation [usually] and cutting [generally] is not done on a voluntary basis with the full awareness and intent of the participants.

REPREHENSIBLE!

Do not do unto others as you expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same. – George Bernard Shaw

What I left out of the previous discussion on cutting and how it’s not related to anything I understand about Sashi’s performance, was a particularly dramatic statement, “As an American who is concerned about our youth, I find ‘cutting’ particularly reprehensible!” This statement merits discussion on its own, but I think I will rely on the words of others in this matter. Having made the distinction between voluntary and involuntary behaviors in the previous section (I hope…), it’s time to reflect on that word reprehensible (thank you Merriam-Webster):

Main Entry: rep斟e搬en新i搓le
Pronunciation: “re-pri-‘hen(t)-s&-b&l
Function: adjective
: worthy of or deserving reprehension

Main Entry: rep斟e搬en新ion
Pronunciation: -‘hen(t)-sh&n
Function: noun
: the act of reprehending : CENSURE

Main Entry: rep斟e搬end
Pronunciation: “re-pri-‘hend
Function: transitive verb
: to voice disapproval of

Main Entry: cen新ure
Pronunciation: ‘sen(t)-sh&r
Function: noun
1 : a judgment involving condemnation
2 archaic : OPINION, JUDGMENT
3 : the act of blaming or condemning sternly
4 : an official reprimand

Main Entry: cen新ure
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): cen新ured; cen新ur搏ng /’sen(t)-sh(&-)ri[ng]/
1 obsolete : ESTIMATE, JUDGE
2 : to find fault with and criticize as blameworthy

Deferring to the wisdom of those that came before me (in various translations), I offer my spin on reprehensible through excerpts from sacred texts of great religions:

If you are Buddhist, please open the Dhammapada to chapter 18, verse 252:

The fault of others is easily perceived, but that of oneself is difficult to perceive; a man winnows his neighbor’s faults like chaff, but his own fault he hides, as a cheat hides the bad die from the gambler.

If you are Confucian, please open Analects (Lun Yu) to book 12, chapter 16:

The Master said, ‘The superior man seeks to perfect the admirable qualities of men, and does not seek to perfect their bad qualities. The mean man does the opposite of this.’

If you are Hindu, please open the Garuda Purana to chapter 113, verse 57:

The vicious and the mean observe other’s faults, be they so little as mustard seeds. They see, but pretend not to see, their own faults as big as bilva fruits.

If you are Jewish, please open the Pirqe Aboth to chapter 2, verse 5:

judge not thy friend until thou comest into his place

If you are Muslim, please open the Qu’ran to chapter 6, verse 114:

Shall I seek other than Allah for judge, when He it is Who hath revealed unto you Scripture, fully explained?

And now, finally, to connect this to the next section and make it relevant to the piece I’m discussing, I refer you to the Christian Bible (New Testament). Please turn to Matthew, chapter 7, verse 1:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

(That makes at least one possibly Judeo-Christian ethical standard that isn’t quite as exclusive as some Judeo-Christians might suggest…)

KEEPING IT CHRISTIAN [AND EXTREME]

You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy. – John Calvin

Now that we’re back into the Christian vein, let’s discuss some Christian history that might bear relevance to the concept of “mutilation of the body” in the quest for spiritual enlightenment, redemption and purity.

Suffering is Christian, is says so right in the Book:

1 Peter 4:1
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;”

… and most especially for women:

Genesis 3:16
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Suffering, sure, but we’re talking about extreme bodily mutilation. Can we find an example of that? Let’s start with amputation as penance:

Matthew 18:8-9
“If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.”

I’m sure most people would consider amputation a form of “mutilation of the body,” and here we have specific scripture apparently requiring exactly that. Then we can bring it a little closer to the original article. Let’s find some mandatory Biblical genital mutilation.

Joshua 5:2
At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.

Genesis 17:10
This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.

There is so much more on circumcision throughout the Bible, but I have to move on. From yet another book, we find self-assault as a means to… religious credibility?

1 Corinthians 9:27 [World English Bible]
but I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.

Ok, sure, you might say, these are not meant to be read literally. They have no bearing on a discussion of actual spiritual human bodily mutilation. Ah, but they do!

From the depths of the middle ages and in the shadow of great plagues (13th-14th centuries C.E.) in Europe, we find bands of flagellant monks parading from town to town beating themselves and bleeding for their faith. And so disturbing were these that by Papal decree, the Catholic versions of these flagellant orders were condemned by multiple Popes (Clement VI and Gregory XI) and declared heretical. So, for a a while there, flagellation was a tolerated, if not endorsed, spiritual practice among Christians in Europe.

Ok, sure, you might say, the Pope shut all this down and ended it back in the 1300’s, so it has no bearing on a discussion of actual human spiritual bodily mutilation today. Ah, but they do!

Right in the heart of Catholic turf (a beautiful three and a half hour drive south of Rome), we find the town of Guardia Sanframondi, wherein, every seven years, you can find parades that include people flaying their own backs and beating their chests with blocks of pins. It gets even better, but you’ll have to wait until the end for that bit. Patience is a virtue.

Flagellation can be pretty serious stuff, but there are other means of spiritual progress and/or redemption in the Christian faith that have to do with physical punishment, discomfort and suffering, perhaps most notably, the sackcloth or hairshirt. These items are described several times in the Bible, and were apparently a very popular method of mortifying the flesh and demonstrating penitence.

I should also draw your attention to that particular phrase – Mortifying the Flesh. That’s a major theme in Christianity.

If you’re interested in additional information regarding good Christians suffering for their spirituality, just look at the saints. I suggest the stories of St. Dominic Loricatus, St. Peter Damian, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.

As a special gift to you, popular favorite Pope John Paul II discussed suffering at great length.

Blood is a big theme in the Bible, and many others have addressed these things in a much more scholarly and comprehensive manner than permitted here. I offer Blood and Purity in Leviticus and Revelation as an interesting place to start.

While we’re on the subject of bloodshed and spirituality and Christendom, let us not forget the blood of innocent men, women and children spilled in the name of a God they did not know or did not worship [enough].

BLOOD AND PAIN IS UNIVERSALLY SPIRITUAL

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. – Roberta Flack

As part of a spectrum of painful things done for spiritual enlightenment, it’s important to note that many religions endorse or even require fasting and/or pilgrimages. Both of these could be interpreted readily as painful experiences (hunger pain, foot pain, financial pain, etc.) in the quest for spiritual fulfillment. How is it that the pain of fasting can be a valid spiritual ritual, but more dramatic forms of pain somehow become invalid and reprehensible? Who gets to define that line, and by what ethical standard to they get to impose it on others? When does it become “extreme”?

The Christians have quite a history of penitents and other suffering rites, but lest someone think I’m picking on Christians [generally] or Catholics [in particular] in some unfair manner, I would also like to take a bit of space to discuss a few other spiritual quests. I prefer to let Sashi speak to the rituals she has studied, so here, I will skip the entire Hindu field.

Our Muslim brethren have a particularly dramatic and bloody event once a year, Ashura. This event, commemorating the massacre of Husayn bin Ali (among many others), is pretty much the basis for the schism between the Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims. Anyway, you don’t get to kill off a bunch of the hardcore faithful without centuries of repercussions, which today manifest in annual rituals of flagellation and bloodletting. On a positive note (and this is why I’m including this story in this piece), the inventors-of-the-suicide-bomber, Hizbollah, have made an effort in recent years to turn this bloody ritual into something positive and humane. Here you will find the following statement:

Hizbollah is quite vocal about condemning the flagellation. For the last two years, they have set up an alternative for those who want to demonstrate their faith in a different way. The Hizbollah ask Shiites to donate their blood to hospital blood banks, as Hussein donated his for the people.

The concept of ritual pain and suffering is embedded so deeply in human culture, you can even find pain rites in science fiction (just ask your friendly neighborhood Klingon) and in advertising (just watch [embedded quicktime] the Altoidia ad for Callard & Bowser Suchard by Leo Burnett Company.

To bring this bloody concept into the heart of the matter, in this case, blood in art, The Sacrificial Aesthetic: Blood Rituals from Art to Murder is one place to start. If you’ve got time to digest a book, “Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul” by Ariel Glucklich might be a good place to spend some time.

Blood and Pain are two universal conditions of the human experience (we all have both, to some degree or another). Some people, within our cultural, religious and personal contexts, make blood and/or pain into something spiritually meaningful. Sometimes that cultural, religious or personal context is not understood or not accepted by others, but that doesn’t make the individual experience any less spiritual or important.

I’LL TAKE PICTURES FOR A THOUSAND WORDS, ALEX

Much has already been said about the picture selections that accompany the article. I will add that of the photos, Jesus crucified, a baby with IVs, and the “Church Approved Piercing” iron maiden all echo the apparent lack of understanding regarding voluntary and involuntary body modification/mutilation. I personally find the inclusion of a baby very inappropriate.

DID SOMEONE SAY QUALITY CONTROL?

Now I have to address the assertion that the Tribal community cannot effectively perform quality control.

To this, I have a very simple response. If the Greater Belly Dance Community had any concept of Quality Control, this might be a useful suggestion. Unfortunately, since there is very little in the way of Quality Control for any flavor of Belly Dance, the assertion that one group/style/format/approach/school/legacy should have any sort of authority over another is simply absurd.

To back up this argument, I provide, for your viewing amusement, the following three video clips of Quality Controlled Non-Tribal Belly Dancers:

1. [metacafe embedded video]
2. [direct wmv link]
3. [direct wmv link]

AND FINALLY, THE ANSWER

Blut ist ein ganz besonderer Saft – Mephistopheles [Faust] (“Blood is a very special fluid”)

If you’ve made it this far, I finally address the big question that Ms. Grant raised with her controversial opinion piece. She asked:

if “gods” or “goddesses” may be worshiped, and “spiritual enlightenment” achieved, by what is in no uncertain terms mutilation of the body, then where does it stop?

As demonstrated again and again through history, the answer is that it stops when you run out of blood. Just like Jesus.

If you have any doubt, I encourage you to spend your next Easter season in San Pedro Cutud (San Fernando, Philippines), where you will find this enticing bit of pageantry and extreme body mutilation in the name of the Christian God.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. – Matthew 16:24

… and someone always does.

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samira dances

A quick note of congratulations to Samira for her appearance, cialis 40mg in lights, visit twice, clinic in times square:

Presented as part of the GE “Picture a Healthy World” project. Samira, apparently, dances. Whodathunkit?

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no dancing at the parthenon?

or so it would seem

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ballet mori: dance with the earth

“In this improvisational performance, SF Ballet Principal Dancer Muriel Maffre responded to a musical composition modulated live by the unpredictable fluctuations of the Earth’s movement as measured in real time by a UC Berkeley seismometer at the Hayward Fault.”

see more

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belly dance banned in california

ok, diagnosis just part of california, tadalafil but… the story from the modesto bee:

Stanislaus County Library patrons can read any of 10 books on belly dancing, population health from techniques to costumes. They also can check out a DVD on belly dancing as an exercise.

But they can’t attend a belly dancing program at the library anymore.

Stanislaus County Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson has canceled the program, which was scheduled for April 22.

“The issue is what is appropriate for a library and what is not appropriate,” Robinson said.

Robinson saw the event scheduled on the library calendar and questioned it.

“Does it support some form of educational opportunity, or is it just pure entertainment?” Robinson asked. “I couldn’t answer that to my satisfaction, and I couldn’t answer it to my board.”

i’ve spoken about educational opportunities on occasion… but since i don’t know anything about this specific program, i turn the forum over to you…

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belly dance banned in the middle east

ok, order just part of the middle east, recipe but… the story from the bronchi ,1747882,00.html”>guardian:

“Bellydancing is naked women. This is not Islamic. The Egyptians come here and do it. And there are a lot of Russian bellydancers in Egypt and they come here too,” said Mr Sibbah, 58, an Islamic scholar who joined the cabinet of the Hamas government installed last week.

“People do it indoors, in secret. There’s lots of it,” he said.

“If the phenomenon of bellydancing spreads our people might react against it by killing people. We don’t want our people to become like the Taliban.”

ok, naked women… your turn.

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The BDSS bridge building effort and the Mezquita

This has been sticking in my craw for quite a while, site and I guess the best way to free myself is to go ahead and dump it out there in public and the next time it comes up, I can skip the discussion and just point. I could be wrong about all of this, but there are just too many pieces that come together for me.

Long, long ago, in a garden far, far away (in Hollywood), Miles Copeland III made the following statement about just how important the Bellydance Superstars really are:

“Bellydance Superstars is the most important dance company in the world today. We are the only ones doing something that has a social import. Given that the most important thing in the world today is the conflict between Muslim world and the United States, anything that creates bridges between those two cultures is incredibly important.”

Since then, he’s played it a bit fast… and I’ve taken issue with that strategy.

Much more recently, I stumbled into a couple pieces over at Gilded Serpent discussing the latest version of the Bellydance Superstars… one by a [former] superstar and one by Najia. Najia’s piece included this observation:

The curtains opened and a large backdrop of some sort of old palatial architecture suggesting Arabic culture lined the entire back of the stage. These over-large renderings do lend some courtly atmosphere, but tend to dwarf the performers, losing dancers in the perspective of their massive scale, bright colors and over-sized landscapes. I am accustomed to the colorful fabrics that the Egyptians use for their party backdrops that mock the elaborate appliqu廥 of old, but these palace renderings are enormous by comparison!

and this uncredited picture:

I have to emphasize at this point that I am no scholar of Arabic or Middle Eastern culture. I’ve toyed with architecture, and I’ve been working fairly seriously on dance-related cultural stuff for a couple years now, but I am far, far from an expert. They used a smaller backdrop – David Ludwig’s “Moroccan Room” – to fit the stage at the Birchmere, so I have not seen this backdrop in its full glory. With that disclaimer, it’s time for me to connect some dots.

First, this (the larger) backdrop appears to be based on, if not intended to represent, the Mosque of Cordoba. Cordoba’s arches are very distinctive (see here and here and here and here for photos). Even more specific to this sacred site is the cathedral built into the center of the mosque. In the image of the BDSS backdrop, you can see what looks suspiciously like a buttress through the center gap in the columns roof. I could be wrong, but I know of no other place on earth where you will find a forrest of columns, red-striped Islamic arches, under a classically western cathedral architectural element.

Second, if this is Cordoba, Cordoba has a very specific history as a sacred site. To the Romans it was a temple to Janus; to Visigoths, a Cathedral of St. Vincent; to Muslims as a great mosque (the biggest in Europe, even). Then the Christians came back and re-dedicated it to the Virgin Mary, then a couple centuries later, plopped a cathedral in the middle of the building, so now it’s a huge mosque with a cathedral in the middle.

You can interpret that in several ways, of course, and being an anti-fundamentalist, I personally don’t really care which way you interpret it. Cordoba could be a great insult Christians by Islam, a great insult to Islam by Christians (and legend has it that even the king that sanctioned the construction of the Cathedral, Charles V, regretted his endorsement of the construction of the cathedral, saying “You have built what you or others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something unique in the world.” Or it could even be a great insult to Janus by everyone. The polar interpretation (and my preferred interpretation) is that this is one place in the world where Christian and Islamic architecture stand today without the ongoing stain of fresh blood – it is a physical monument to religious tolerance.

Either way, Copeland has dancers showing a lot of skin and shaking a lot of body parts, in what looks like the courtyard of the Mezquita, in the shadow of a Cathedral. For me, that doesn’t bother me – but I don’t get offended easily. I realize that there are people that do (and I go to great lengths to offend them myself). So, I think some cultural awareness is called for… where this runs into trouble for me is that Copeland (and company) can’t claim ignorance – Copeland has paraded his life experience in the Middle East and he’s quoted (and re-quoted and re-quoted) his intention to “create bridges” between the two cultures. It seems to me that staging dancing girls in a sacred place is not the best way to do that.

Not that I expect many fanatical Muslims or Christians in the Bellydance Superstars audience, but if the stated intent is to create bridges, at the very least this is a lost opportunity to educate the audience that does come to the BDSS shows. At worst, this is a profane slap-in-the-face to both Muslims and Christians. As far as I’m concerned, there are two ways out – pull the backdrop and apologize and turn this into an opportunity to build some of those bridges Copeland says are so important, or stop professing the intent to build bridges and admit that the Bellydance Superstars are not about saving us all from a global war of cultures, and it’s merely a dance show.

Whatever Copeland does, I’m going with the former. I guess I will step into the gap, and at least give you the opportunity to turn this into a learning experience and a history lesson.

There are few places in the world that have this kind of distinctive, readily identifiable architecture and embody, in stone, multiple religions. The Mezquita is one… Hagia Sofia in Istanbul is another (converted from a cathedral to a mosque).

I would start with the view from orbit. This is a big, big structure.

Wikipedia also has a good overview, with several links of their own. islamicarchitecture.org has a more detailed history of the construction, at least during the Islamic reign. this photo which is linked from this article is a bit grainy, but shows the buttresses from an aerial perspective. A page from this piece is linked above for photos. archnet.org has a piece as well, and I’ll wrap this up with a link to unesco, which has designated the Mezquita and its surroundings a world heritage site, and includes this this video introduction [windows media].

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pretty big dig

unfortunately, oncologist apparently only available in realmedia, website like this so that’s a limit, but if it’s not a limit for you, and you feel like seeing some big dancers do their thing….

http://bravofact.com/shorts/details.asp?projectID=2050

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this is the belly dance community?

yahoo seems to think so….

ask yahoo yourself

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origins of belly dance at the bbc

Bellydance Origins:

Trust me, visit a Belly Dancer will happily dress just as skimpy and flashy – and will dance with just as many wiggles and undulations – for an all-female audience, case as they will for an audience that includes men. In fact, most of the dancers I know would rather dance for the all-female audience any day.

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