Monday, February 13, 2012

Sex Appeal in Bellydance: Introspection & Irony

While I have been doing a lot of thinking (surprise, I'm part of Overthinkers Anonymous...ok, not so anonymous, see the overthinking?), I haven't had a lot of time to put it all down, so here's to trying to get back to a regular schedule with the blog.  There is a lot to cover in this one, so this post will make up for it.

So, you may have noticed the image connected with this post.  It's a new photo, taken recently of me by the amazing Carrie Meyer of St. Louis, MO ( - Carrie has taken some incredible photos of me in the last year (as have several other great photographers in New England).  I'm about to totally revamp my website, since it's been several years since I've changed the overall look, so I have been thinking a lot about what images I want to use, what they reflect, what branding they put forth etc.  I also just recently posted a slew of my old costumes for sale, so I was looking at photos that were taken of me from 2005-2008 and comparing.  And how much I like the new ones more.  Not for any lack of image quality - there are some truly great photographs in that group, taken by very talented photographers, and I got a lot of mileage out of those images.  But personally, it's like looking at two different people. Which is pretty close to the truth I think.

But let me back up a bit here.  Growing up, I was never much of a girly-girl.  I have two very much older brothers who I idolized.  I played street hockey, I surfed, I spent hours in the backyard playing wilderness games, excavating under stones and "hunting" things. I wore my brothers' clothes whenever possible. I failed at "girly" activities, not interested in the pink satin trappings of ballet, cheerleading, make-up application (though I loved "fashion plates" - remember those? well, it fell under "art"). Puberty snuck up on me around 6th grade and caused much confusion for the next several years.  I had always felt more comfortable around guys, but now I was being rejected and harshly teased by them as well as the rest of the girls.  I felt stuck between the two sides, and it was fairly traumatic for me, until I moved at 15 to South Carolina, and entered a whole new school system.  The social dynamic was much different, and I could easily be the artsy/tough girl without catching any flack. And pretty much proceeded along that path indefinitely throughout college and so forth. And I found bellydancing - and my personality merged with that. Which makes a lot of sense when you look at a lot of my earlier Gothic Bellydance pieces, full of elements of "dangerous/femme fatale" mixed with "hard-edge", alternating between in that spectrum.  I had a hard time reconciling "soft" vs. "hard", feminine versus masculine, especially wondering about audience reception.  Now? Now I don't care which way my dance swings, because I think I've merged the elements now more successfully, or found a different way to say them.

So I've been thinking about what makes who I am now as a dancer different than who I was then, because I think that has a lot to do with the changes in the imagery and idea development.  It again made me think about this article I wrote about 5-6 years ago and wondering if I would have a different opinion about "a dancer has nothing to dance about until she's over 30". And well, not really. I may have something different to say now, but it doesn't invalidate what I had to say then. 

One of the things I would say is that I'm much more comfortable being ME now than I was then, as weird as that sounds.  That perhaps I know who I am more.  The girl in the old photos is pretty, touch of edgy, proud but not grounded. The woman in the photographs now seems far more confident, in command, and sexy. She knows things. And yes, I said the s-word. Sexy

Which brings us to the conundrum of sex appeal and bellydance.  Dancers are constantly fighting the stereotypes that we're not strippers, that what we do is a valid art form and socially proper form of entertainment.  We're endlessly debating sexual vs sensual. That we're not doing this for the arousal of the opposite sex, etc, etc.

And in looking at these photos, along with all the other photos I deal with from other dancers for the events and websites I put together, and the commentary on photos post on facebook, I realized something.  It IS about sex appeal.  The funny thing is, it's really not about the dancer in the image trying to appeal to the opposite sex, as so much it is about transferring sex appeal to the consumer - which for workshops and classes, the consumer is the potential student.  The student wants to have that same sex appeal themselves - for whatever reason, and if they perceive it in the teacher, then they feel they too can get in on the action. That's the root of it, plain and simple.

And while some of you are probably going "duh" - well, you have to understand that I don't really think that way.  I'm a geek, and a dork, and like being silly. I don't care about "looking cool", b/c I'm just going to be me no matter what, for what it's worth.  So instead of going "whoa, that is a hot photograph of X", I'm wondering if she's wearing underwear, how much shaving did that involve, and surely she wouldn't perform in THAT "costume", because if she moved her legs, we'd see it all.  And wow, that can't be comfortable. 

Which means, I either think too much (which we have already established), but also, there's different levels of sexy.  To me, sexy isn't about how much I'm exposing of my body - especially since I believe the fashion truth that it's a matter of ratio versus what you show  versus what you don't show (like ankles being sexy and taboo for Victorians, that Flappers were sexy for showing legs and arms, but they look wholesome next to the pop stars of today who bare pretty much all of their assets).  It's not about the clothing or lack there of, it's about the attitude, and how you wear that attitude that makes the sex appeal. That it's not a request for attention, but a declaration of self. That's what really makes it sexy.

Which makes me love all of my students that much more, because I think that means they're in it for themselves too.  How awesome is that?


  1. The thing is, I am a straight woman, but I find a woman who knows who she is and inhabits her skin comfortably as sexy as hell. And it shows when those women dance. Awesome! Why shouldn't the glorification of the body be erotic? It's not about exploitative titillation.

  2. Love this post... I wasn't a tomboy growing up, but I definitely did not feel right in my female body, and spent most of my childhood and adolescence wishing I'd been born male. Puberty certainly did not resolve this. But there were a few things that helped me feel more comfortable in the body I have, and one major one was bellydance. It had nothing to do with goddess/mother/ur-tribal/birthing anything, and everything to do with how bellydance movements felt on my body -- they just felt so right, so graceful, sensual, in a way I had never felt before. So I really embrace the sexiness of bellydance, because for me, it's meant embracing my sex.