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Belly Dance: Orientalism—Exoticism—Self-Exoticism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2014


The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences. (Said 1978,1)

The past century has witnessed the phenomenon of belly dancing becoming a key icon of the Middle East in the West. This iconic representation often causes outrage, resentment, and even protest among Arabs who resent Westerners (mis)representing them by focusing on cabaret-style belly dance, a low-class and disreputable symbol for many in the Arab world, as a primary media image of the Middle East. Since the 1970s, millions of women and some men in the West have been attracted to belly dancing, investing millions of dollars and enormous time acquiring the basic skill of the dance in order to perform it. This essay will address several issues that are raised by the phenomenon of belly dancing and its transformation, globalization, and acculturation in the West; it is designed to develop a newly emerging area of performance/cultural research, drawing from the fields of dance and transnational studies.

Copyright © Congress on Research in Dance 2003

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