Friday, April 20, 2012

Belly Dance Festival Goes Belly-up

The latest silly news from Morocco is of a belly dance festival ( see our earlier story here) which was to have been held in Marrakech on May 10, but was cancelled today. The reason for the cancellation was not a sudden burst of common sense (belly dancing is not Moroccan) or a rush of prurient blood to the head; but rather fears over the safety of its Israeli dancers.
Belly dancing in the Fez Medina

“I cancelled it because I didn’t receive any authorization and I was afraid for the safety of my participants,” festival producer Simona Guzman told the media.

No authorisation? Was it the case that the excuse of safety was used to shut down a festival the Islamist government was disapproving of? Maybe so, because Islamist members of parliament and pro-Palestinian associations had criticized the invitation to the Israelis.

Criticism over the Israeli presence was first heard last year when the festival was also held in Marrakesh, but the event went off without mishap.

Some 18 countries, including Britain, Japan, Russia and The Netherlands, were due to have taken part in the festival which was first held in Istanbul in 2010.

Belly dancing in Marrakech

After the Greek and Roman period, there seems to be no documentation of veil dancing in the Middle East or North Africa in literature or in art. At the end of the 1800's and the beginning of the 1900's, there were numerous photographs taken of women dancing with what looked like shawls and kerchiefs. Many of these photographs were posed pictures which were more reflective of the photographers' prurient taste than the culture which they presumed to document. There was a salacious appetite to be quenched for the English and European buyers of these provocative and sometimes seminude photographs. There was money to be made. The photographs depicted the Orientalists' racist, sexist fantasy of how the forbidden women of the harems were supposed to appear. - Artemis Mourat, The Illusive Veil.

While not at all interested in censorship or a fundamentalist response to the festival, it is of concern that some seem to think Morocco needs belly dancing. There is enough indigenous music, dance and culture without pandering to Orientalist fantasies that are not part of Moroccan culture.

Also see our story: What is it with belly dancing?



Bill Day said...

I don't care much about belly dancing, particularly since, as you point out, it is not really a part of Moroccan culture. However, censorship and discrimination based on religion or national origin cannot be condemned too strongly.

EmpressiveSharra said...

I agree with your point of view....

but then, most of the obvious perversions of other than "western" societies are tourist oriented... I have to laugh at the obviousness of the "peeper" mentality as it bleeds into other areas... for the political --- one of the western arguments stressing how oppressed the women of Muslim countries are is the use of hijab, or abaya, or whatever covering, because in western eyes, the "liberated" female is so thoroughly objectified she is really little more than a peep-show and they cannot bear it that they are not allowed full access to do the same to others elsewhere... These are the eyes of the crass who can never understand the thoughts behind women's dances, let alone a woman's urge and need for a little personal privacy.

That this cancellation is about alleged safety concerns for Israeli women sends my thoughts in two directions.

First, it was the Israeli's religion that sealed the fate of women when it characterised women as evil, conniving with demons, responsible for the loss of paradise, out to ruin men, and seeing we women as nasty sexual types, so there is a certain irony this situation.

My second thought is that this is more of the "Woe is us, we poor Israelis" because of the increase in world-wide negative press that country receives, so what better way to get sympathy and attention than to use women and the "protection" of women as a way to smack down a country that currently isn't quite in a kow-towing mood...

Your statement gets to the other heart of things: "There is enough indigenous music, dance and culture without pandering to Orientalist fantasies that are not part of Moroccan culture."

Andrea said...

I think the article mixes up the two issues of 1. why this festival was cancelled and 2. that tourists seek for bellydance in Morocco.
To think that the festival might have been indeed cancelled because of security concerns makes me sad as I hope somewhen Morocco is more open to other religions.
The second topic is a whole different issue. You are right in saying that people are mislead when they look for bellydance in Morocco and you can critize the shows that are performed in hotels etc. nevertheless, okay. But that festival? I think most professional bellydancers are well aware that they mix all kind of different styles in their dancing. They see it as an art form that has developed with time. Also most of the dancers are not from Morocco or the Middle East. So should they stop dancing because it´s not their culture? Should some music styles not be heard in concert in Morocco because it´s not moroccan music? Apparently the festival will take place in Greece now and I hope no journalist there will accuse the organizers of not having "common sense" because they do a festival of bellydance in Greece.
And yes, you guess right, I do bellydance myself, in Germany by the way, and often have to clarify that in Morocco their is no tradition of bellydance. Nevertheless, the shimmy in moroccan dancing is really similar and my dance lessons helped during moroccan weddings :-)