Belly Dance Burlesque
Belly burlesque is the new fad in belly dancing - a fusion of belly dance and burlesque. OK, I know I'm going to be called a prude, but I must be honest - I don't like it.
No, before you burlesque girls get all indignant - I have nothing against burlesque. I have nothing against pole dancing, striptease or exotic dancing either. If I was 20 years younger, there's a pretty good chance I'd be having a go at some or all of them! I just worry about associating any of them with belly dance.
Let's be honest, in the Middle East, the history of belly dance has been tainted by association with prostitution for centuries - and still is. Over there, belly dance is not considered a respectable profession for a young woman, and performers often keep their job a secret from their neighbours.
Although belly dance was considered scandalous in its early days in the States, it didn't become as tainted - and ever since, Western belly dancers have been at pains to preserve the reputation of Oriental Dance as a beautiful, sensual but respectable art form, suitable for all ages to enjoy. In spite of all those efforts, belly dance is still misunderstood: just ask professional belly dance performers, who have to screen all their calls to protect themselves from cranks, and have to patiently explain that no, they won't do a strip for a bachelor party.
That's why I'm so surprised this belly dancer didn't see a problem with appearing in a burlesque show (skip the first 55 seconds, it's boring!).
If a member of that audience approached that belly dancer afterwards for a gig, what kind of a show would they be expecting, I wonder?
As the clip demonstrates, the essence of burlesque is sexual innuendo and titillation - even if the performer doesn't remove a skerrick of clothing. And like it or not, the general public does associate burlesque with nipple pasties and g-strings. After all, ask most people to name a burlesque artist and they would immediately name Miss Dita von Teese.
Belly burlesque dancers will object to my definition of burlesque. They'll point out that burlesque isn't supposed to be about the strip. That's true, in the sense that burlesque has nothing to do with today's interpretation of stripping - where the dancer quickly gets totally nude, then writhes around on a pole or the floor. Burlesque dancers are never nude (though I would question why a couple of pasties and a patch make that much difference).
But the point is, however far a burlesque dancer does or doesn't go, it's all about the tease - even if it's presented as comedy in full dress. The difference between the sensual movements of a belly dancer and the erotic moves of a good burlesque dancer may be subtle, but there is a difference: the thrill of a burlesque performance lies in the possibility that the dancer might take something off. That is never part of a belly dance performance, and we don't want the public to start thinking it might be - do we?
I know I'm out of step here. Burlesque, "stripperobics" and pole dancing are enjoying a resurgence as part of today's "raunch culture". Women are taking these genres up in the name of women's empowerment, saying they "have a right" to show off their bodies without men taking advantage of it. Yes, of course you do - but you can't control what's going on in your audience's mind. You can perform a belly dance burlesque to a supportive group of (straight, female) belly dancers and they will enjoy it for its own sake. Just don't fool yourself that the men or lesbians in the audience aren't thinking about sex.
I suspect some teachers are seeing "exotic dance" classes stealing their students, and are offering belly burlesque in a desperate effort not to lose money. The result can be oddly sterile - using the name burlesque but trying to keep it clean, like the video below! In my book, this is more like "belly dance showgirl". A showgirl is not a burlesque performer: their moves are restricted to stalking around the stage, high kicking and turning.
Photo by Peter Brown.