Danse du ventre: an introduction.

A belly dancing group at Yale performed a show this week in an effort to raise money for the New Haven soup kitchen. Though the Yale Affiliates Belly Dance Society is practicing philanthropy, there remain to be jarring misconceptions about the dance that they and many others across the country practice. This story is a good example of those misconceptions and a good way to start off this portion of my blog, which will be all about the art of belly dance.

Shiraz

Let’s get those preconceived notions straightened out right away and learn about the origins of belly dance!

The name “belly dance” comes from the French phrase “danse du ventre”, which translates to “dance of the stomach”. But the dance involves much more than just the stomach; it engages the arms, fingers, hips, legs, head, feet and, of course, the face.

Perhaps the most pervasive misconception of belly dance is the idea that it’s actually just stripping. As is mentioned by a dancer in the article, it is a widely spread misconception in America that belly dancing is a purely sexual dance or a sort of strip tease.

This is not true. Belly dancing is an art form that is thousands of years old. There are several different theories as to how it began. One is that it was a folk dance performed by women for women as a way to celebrate the female body, fertility and childbirth. Many of the movements in belly dance – undulations, contractions of the abs, shimmies – are historically related as reflections of the body’s responses to and preparation for childbirth. Early pagan communities often worshipped female deities and were fascinated by the functions of the female body. 

Another theory is that the dance was created for the purpose of aiding in childbirth, as is evidenced by the popularity of pre-natal belly dance. In addition to celebrating women giving birth, the dance may have begun as a way to assist in the act of birth.

Another origin story is that belly dance began simply as entertainment, done at informal gatherings among family and friends, and became popular when traveling gypsies adopted it and showcased it wherever they went. There’s evidence for this in the blending of certain dance movements, like the Indian head slide and shimmy, as well as the use of props like veils and canes.

 

In any of these origin stories, the primary interest is in a functional or communal dance. America, and in particular Hollywood, tends to romanticize and sexualize belly dance as a purely erotic dance. Though its exact origins are unclear, there is much more evidence that it began as a folk dance than anything meant to seduce or entice.

As with any dance, belly dance has evolved over time, and continues to evolve. There are some moves and costumes that are very traditional and unique to certain countries and communities, and there are entirely new styles that have come out of collaboration and fusing different forms together. The dance can be sensual, but it can also be so much more. It is interpretive. It can tell a story, evoke a mood, or illustrate music. It can be performance-oriented, exercise, stress relief, a group activity or simply an enjoyable hobby.

As a dancer in the article points out, belly dancing takes practice. It takes discipline and dedication to perfect an art form, just like any other dance. It is thus extremely important that everyone learn about this ancient dance and cultivate for it the respect it deserves.

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Consent Is Sexy

Sexual assault peer educators teach their fellow students about how communication is the sexiest value anyone can have. Read more.

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TigerTHON

Towson University students danced the night away to raise money for the Johns Hopkins Children’s Miracle Network on Friday. The event was open to all of campus and was expected to bring in a large crowd. Read more.

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Let’s get this (not really) straight.

This article discusses Anderson Cooper being an obviously flaming homosexual. I do not take issue with this, since I’m sure Anderson Cooper is in fact very gay and that’s okay, as Avenue Q would say. So much unintentional rhyme. I am very much a supporter of all things gay, and as a journalism student I really admire Anderson Cooper both as a professional and a person, since he’s all about keeping things honest and always seeks to report the truth, something all journalists should do.

Look at this picture of Anderson Cooper with a sloth! Look at it!

Edit: I realize that this article is mostly sarcastic and light-hearted, but nevertheless my position on respect remains the same.

What I take issue with is how this article characterizes him. Above the article title is “scared straight” and overall Cooper seems to be some sort of fearful teenager who needs to just “come out already”:

These gay-not-gay celebrities are different from the Hugh Jackmans, John Travoltas, Tom Cruises, and Kenny Chesneys, who are all constantly plagued with gay rumors that they strenuously try to deny or deflect. If they’re gay, they’re doing it in secret. Cooper and his set of cohorts live openly gay lives — and that’s a good thing — but they refuse to acknowledge what the public already knows.

The author later claims that Cooper coming out is something he needs to do, for gaybies everywhere:

Coming out would open Cooper up to irrational accusations from those waiting to pounce on the “liberal media” just as quickly as A.C. pounces on his muscle man in an Indian hotel room. That sucks, but it’s the way it currently is. How does it get changed? Well, by having some major national news figures come out and show that they can still get blown over in a hurricane or report live from a war zone without breaking into a anti-Prop 8 rant.

That’s right, Anderson, it’s going to take you to change it. Rachel Maddow has paved the way, but all the baby gays out there need you to man up and be our Jackie Robinson. 

OH MY GOD IT'S ANOTHER ONE I CAN'T EVEN

Now.

My initial reaction to this article was a mix of indignation and defensiveness. Upon further reflection it has shifted slightly, but all I am completely sure of is that there is room for debate on this and I cannot say for sure which I believe to be the correct course of action.

At first, perhaps in part due to my love for Anderson Cooper as a person, I felt this author was being disrespectful and condescending towards the subject. To characterize him as someone who is in some way lying about who he is seems incorrect. Then of course you have the question of how much does a person’s sexuality play into who they are, which opens up another discussion, one that I think is relevant to Anderson Cooper. Since we live in a hetero-normative society, often people who fit into the norm — heterosexuality — take it for granted that their sexuality is not questioned or degraded the way homosexuality is. As such, gay professionals have much more to deal with when it comes to their private lives being probed into, and unfortunately it often ends up hurting their careers or reputation in some way.

That being said, I don’t think that anyone who is gay should hide their sexuality in order to prevent ridicule; I think that would be akin to telling women not to wear dresses in order to prevent rape. I am in full support of LGBTQI rights and I think it’s wonderful to have people out and successful, like Rachel Maddow. But I also understand that since homosexuality is still a stigmatized identity in our culture today that gay professionals may be hesitant to broadcast their sexuality to the world for fear of having their career abilities be undermined by their sexual orientation. Adam Lambert said he felt that way at first when he started to become popular; he said he didn’t want to be seen as just a gay musician, and (I would infer) therefore in some way separate from any other musician in terms of talent and put them on unequal levels.

Now with the strengthening of the “It Gets Better” campaign to prevent teen suicide, Lambert has changed his outlook on the subject in light of the need to support LGBTQI youth, wanting to take a more positive activist stance. Again, this is wonderful and I am in full support of it.

However, I can see the uniqueness of Cooper’s position even as compared to Lambert’s. Adam Lambert is a musician. That’s his career. He can be as open and opinionated as he wants, he’ll have no trouble with his loyal Glamberts. Anderson Cooper is a journalist. Journalism requires objectivity and truth.

This is not to say that gay people cannot be journalists because their flaming homo feelings would get in the way. To the contrary, I think Anderson Cooper is amazing at what he does, and clearly lots of other important people do, given the number of awards he’s received for his work.

What I mean to say is that this is part of what Anderson Cooper chooses to do: he is very private about his private life. That isn’t limited to just his sexuality, it’s just all things private. He wants to remain neutral as a journalist, and despite all of the typical gossip that inevitably follows good-looking people in television, he refuses to compromise his professionalism. That is something to be admired.

I can agree with this author in that Cooper coming out publicly would be helpful the same way Rachel Maddow coming out has been. I definitely think the more out people there are who are successful the better. It fights the bigotry still entrenched in our culture and sends a message that people can be good at what they do and deserve respect no matter what their sexuality.

My success, let me show you it

I do not in any way want to condone the reasoning some used to support DADT, that sexuality has no place in the workplace because gay sex is the same as bestiality or something ridiculous like, oh, I don’t know, anything that Rick Santorum says. I can see the harm in seeming to reject sexuality as important to who we are as people because it allows for the dehumanizing of oppressed groups like LGBTQI. It can be harmful the same way that false equality is; that is, oppressed groups imitating their oppressor groups as a way to appear equal. I don’t think it’s fair that a straight news anchor could say any sort of harmless or suggestive anecdote regarding the opposite sex but a gay news anchor would have to stay silent. That’s like women objectifying men the same way men objectify women and citing it as equality — it’s not equality as long as the same harm is being done. Silencing oppressed groups is a way of keeping the oppressors in power.

What I’m trying to get at is that while would be great if Anderson Cooper came out, he should not be treated as though he is not in a difficult position. This article seems to come from the perspective that is unfamiliar with the difficulties of coming out in a hetero-normative society. While it may be good-natured, this article nevertheless drops a few irritating generalizations:

There’s no difference between him and Neil Patrick Harris. They both play it straight at their day jobs and then openly go about town with their boyfriends and do TV interviews about how much they love Kathy Griffin and The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

By “play it straight” does this author mean lying about their sexuality? Or does the author mean both men go about their jobs acting straight and competent and then immediately collapse into a heap of gayness afterwards doing only the most stereotypical gay things? I’m not quite sure.

The author seems to think that they’re not lying in the sense that they’re claiming to be straight, but that they’re lying in that they aren’t distinctively “gay” to the public. This raised a question for me, which is what exactly does it mean to be open to the public/workplace about being gay? Does that mean they’d objectify other men the way straight men objectify women? Would they prance around? Start lisping, perhaps?

Is this gay enough?

This is where I take issue with how this author comes across. By making the statement that these gay men “play it straight” at work and then reveal their true selves outside of it the author invariably makes a distinction between how straight men and gay men act. Since both men are both good at what they do, this would seem to imply that these gay men are only good at what they do because they “act” straight, whatever that means. Then after their job is done, they are free to frolic about town doing the things apparently only gay men can do.

The author may not have meant it quite this way, but if not he should have been more careful about how he was writing. Overall the article strikes me as insensitive and disrespectful to a man who deserves endless respect as a person and a professional.

I’ve realized this issue is more complex than I first imagined when I first read this article, and again, I cannot say for sure what I think is the absolute best course of action. Does such a successful gay man have the greater obligation to be overtly public about his sexuality in order to further eliminate homophobia in our society? Or does he deserve the right to make a personal choice to be private about his sexuality for the sake of his profession?

Either way, it’s ultimately up to Anderson Cooper whatever he decides to publicly declare. What I believe is that the man should be treated with dignity, and for those who have no idea what it’s like to come out in a hetero-normative society: show some respect for those who do.

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Hello hello.

My name is Allison and I write about a lot of things. I’m a journalism major and a women’s studies minor and I’d really love to work for National Geographic or some such publication so that I could travel and go on adventures with/take pictures of wild animals, or become an advocate for social justice in a way that I could change things.

I’m a fan of the Daily Show, Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper. I’m a belly dancer and a feminist and I have a penchant for rainbows. I drive around a lot and am fascinated by cars. If I could hang out with animals every day, the world would be a better place.

Here we go, semester.

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The more I think about it

The more awesome the idea of eventually working for National Geographic sounds.

Traveling to lots of places, getting to be around amazing animals.

This could be a very good thing.

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Pledge: it’s what’s for dinner. (blog assignment #9)

One fine summer evening a few months ago, I was sitting at home watching television. Commercials came on and I stopped consciously listening to the audio until I noticed something. A commercial for Pledge furniture polish started to run and I observed something interesting.

This commercial depicted a woman in a glass box filled with furniture being ordered to clean everything in it with the Pledge product. I thought to myself, “of course, an ad displaying a woman using a cleaning product, nothing atypical of sexism there”. Then she says “I’ve got to go pick up my kids”; another typical mom line. Then instead of being allowed to leave, the voice-over for the ad commands her to clean. The entire commercial is one that we see very often that has implications we may not be fully aware of. There are other Pledge commercials similar to this one, all depicting women being told to clean things and look happy about it. Sarah Haskins of Current TV does a fine job of poking fun at these types of advertisements.

Though it is not blatantly sexist to an extreme degree, this ad perpetuates gender roles to an extent that is perhaps even more problematic than the extreme degree. By making it subtle, it is seen as a docile and harmless idea rather than a smaller part of a very large problem. It’s simply part of consumerism and part of our daily lives and it’s something that we should just accept and not bother questioning.

Personally, I am not of that mindset.

Dear Dr. Herbert Fisk Johnson III, (CEO of SC Johnson)

I am writing to you out of concern for the method of advertising your company has chosen to sell a product. Your Pledge “Multisurface cleaner” commercials all seem to follow a similar trend in which women are consistently placed in the role of busy mommies who don’t have time to clean because they need to pick up their kids or do other traditionally “mom” things. Though this might not have been your intention, these ads create far deeper implications than the surface sales pitch. Understand that I am not labeling you as a male chauvinist bigot; I am merely pointing out that which your advertisements imply.

By depicting only women in these commercials, there is a certain degree of gender role perpetuation. Why not use a male actor for any of these ads? Surely there are men out there who care about the state of their furniture, just as there are women who could care less. Perhaps a more egalitarian approach would help to alleviate the gendered feel of this advertisement.

Another way to counter the perpetuation of female gender roles is to not have the setting be a glass box. Besides the literal image of keeping women in one place and not allowing them to leave, there are also the mental associations of women traditionally taking care of housework, cleaning, cooking, taking care of the kids, etc. Perhaps have a woman using the product while at work? Rather than her “mom” duties being showcased, advertise her responsibilities as a working woman.

These changes are not drastic. This is not asking too much. This is a request to reflect the variation of women’s roles in society.

This is a request to give women in your advertisements more respect and dimension. I hope you do not find it too difficult to give, because it isn’t.

Sincerely,

Allison Brickell (a concerned female)

Then again, maybe I’m just overreacting. Maybe cleaning constantly isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe I should try to find whatever it is these women have so that I can also be absurdly happy about cleaning too.

Then again, maybe not.

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