Authenticity in Oriental Dance

I just read one of the most interesting books! With the oriental dance community growing so rapidly and all the articles about anti-white bellydancers, I thought I would share some of the knowledge and post a few questions for discussion. The name of the book is (Re)Framing the Arab/Muslim: Mediating Orientalism in Contemporary Arab American Life Writing by Silke Schmidt. Below are 2 quotes that are pertinent to bellydancers as professionals.

  • “(Authenticity of the dance) requires more than cultural knowledge to fully grasp the meaning of cultural performance.”
    • This idea is mentioned several times throughout the book. The subject in this book was born and raised in Egypt and moved to the USA in her childhood. A situation is presented where she watched several oriental dance performances and could not tell which dancers/dances were ‘authentic’. She further explains that ‘authentic’ is a very complex term. Firstly, the cultural setting in which a dancer performs will drastically change the perspective. Second, each individual watching the performance will compare their own cultural identity, experiences, and feelings to attempt to connect with the dancer. If these do not match, it becomes less authentic.


  • “I wonder what happens when dervish dancing and music are performed in the United States? In what way does the performance transform? Does it become less authentic?”
    • This quote brings up a great argument. The author compares oriental dance with jazz music. The roots of jazz music are in the African culture, however, the home of jazz music is said to be New Orleans. Also, many famous and authentic jazz musicians are not African or African-American. Each moment in our life affects our personality and identity. Think back on all the instructors you have met/learned from, places you have visited, and things you have seen. Hasn’t each one changed your perspective on the world or altered your identity in some way?


  • “The image of America among Egyptians does not at all correspond to the ideal of the multicultural melting pot in which everyone is welcome to contribute the uniqueness of his/her own ethnic background in order to form something new.” Many Egyptians assume that all Americans are white and blonde.”
    • This pretty controversial quote makes up a large section of the book. It is not politically correct, but presents a largely believed fact in Egypt. Another subject in the book was told by an Egyptian that all Americans are blonde and racist, but if they had black hair were not subject to that stereotype. He also mentions that having Egyptians features (such as a tan or dark hair) makes it easier for Arab students/audiences to respond to you and deem you ‘authentic’. I know personally, each gig I perform, the owners always argue with me and says that they are 100% sure I am from Egyptian descent. My experiences along with what is mentioned in the book makes me tend to agree. Does that mean having dark hair will lead to more gigs with an Arab audience?

So now that you’ve read these quotes. Tell me your stories! Do you agree or disagree with what is mentioned in the book? Have you read this book and found other noteworthy ideals?

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