What's the Purpose of Belly Dancing?
Updated: Aug 16
"So, Jen, how does it feel to be a pin-up?" I was, like, dumbfounded when my friend asked me that question.
A couple of years before that, we'd been introduced to belly dance at the same time. We'd taken our first workshop and classes together, and we were totally into it. We were both new moms, physically active, into alternative therapies, and completely in love with dance and this new dance to us called "belly dance." When we got together for play dates with our kids, we'd practice our moves while our kids built blanket forts and Lego monsters.
So my gut reaction when she asked me that question after she saw the first studio photo of me in a belly dance costume, was this bizarre feeling of WTF mixed with just a tinge of shame and betrayal. After all, we'd learned in this dance and shared so many hours of fun together, how could she think I was a pin-up—something relegated to mechanic shops run by sexist neanderthals.
It got me to thinking and thinking and thinking...I've been pondering it and researching it and writing about it for nearly two decades now...
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF BELLY DANCE?
Is it to titillate people (pun totally intended)? Is it to blatantly flaunt what used to be called, "tits 'n ass?" Is it kinda, sorta legit exotic dancing, without actually getting naked?
Or is it the embodiment of femininity? A fertility dance? A childbirth dance? A cultural dance?
Does it even matter what the purpose is???
I think the purpose of belly dance is what it is to you, what it is to each of us. Like all art forms, belly dance is on a spectrum, and that spectrum is subjective. Belly dance's purpose is what the viewer or the dancer perceives it to be. What is a pin-up (in a derogatory sense) to one person is, perhaps, a work of art to another or a publicity photo to another. It's like some people thinking a blank canvas hanging in the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art is crap and some finding tremendous beauty in it.
I think the purpose of belly dancing around the world today is broad. I have met many who dance to heal themselves emotionally, to exercise their cores, to express their sensuality, to dress up and be a "princess," to stimulate an audience. For me, belly dance is a multi-faceted metaphor for life that challenges me and centers me. For me, the purpose of belly dancing is to express the music, and to me, music is the expression of life.
So, today, in my late 50's, if my friend were to ask me that question, "So, Jen, how does it feel to be a pin-up?" I'd say it feels "effin" great!
©Jennifer Carpenter-Peak & Robert Peak, 2020