Thursday, August 7, 2008

Belly Dance and Mormonism

A couple years ago, I had a discussion with my mentor and belly dance teacher Shara, about how weird I felt as LDS and a belly dancer, and that I felt like I had to keep those two aspects of my life separate from each other, that if people from my church found out I was a belly dancer I would be ostracized and conversely, if the group of women I danced with found out I was LDS, they might think differently of me (especially since Wicca is fairly prevalent in the belly dance community).

It was about this time that PBS aired the documentary called "The Mormons". Shara watched it and came across this little tidbit about dance and Mormonism:

There is, in the Mormon faith, a kind of celebration of the physical which I think is a little bit outside the Christian mainstream. When the Saints moved west to Utah, one observer in the 1850s noted that they had schools in most every block but that every night, the schools were converted into dancing schools. And he observed with some displeasure that Mormons taught their children that they should go to school but they must go to dancing school.
And I think that there's a connection between the place of dancing in Mormon history and the concept of an embodied God. Because we believe that God the Father, as well as Jesus Christ, are physical, embodied beings, that elevates the body to a heavenly status. And I think there's a kind of exuberance and celebration that is, in many ways, a result of that same collapse of sacred distance that was so central to Joseph Smith's thinking.
Instead of denigrating the things of the body in order to elevate the things of the spirit, Joseph always argued that it was the successful incorporation of both that culminated in a fullness of joy. And so dancing, I think, is in many ways, just an emblem or a symbol of a kind of righteous reveling in the physical tabernacle that we believe is a stage on our way to godliness itself.

Belly dance has had in the past, a reputation as a "dance of seduction" and the old stereotype of the sultan with his scantily clad harem dancers is still what a lot of people conjure up when they hear "belly dance".

Our church in particular is very conservative, especially when it comes to dressing modestly, but is a belly dancer's costume any more scandalous than a ballet dancer or ballroom dancer? For the most part, we belly dancers are revealing a lot less, but because of the bad rap our dance has gotten, people often assume we're doing something shameful.

Shara would always tell me, "Dance is an expression of your soul". That has helped me feel good about blending these two aspects of my life, and being proud of both of them.


Magirk said...

It looks like you enjoyed yourself at the festival.

I really enjoyed this post, though, it kindof expresses some of the things I feel in life. Not about belly dancing, obviously, but other things, and the worry about being ostricized or shunned in Mormon society.

Not that it's any comfort or anything, but you won't be ostricized for belly dancing by me. ;-) I think it's great that you have it and enjoy it, and I think you should continue to enjoy it. I think you can belly dance and still be 'prudent.' (if that makes any sense!)

hello, my name is amber marie. said...

glad i found you! this post just made me smile! :) i've been telling my husband for quite sometime that i've wanted to go take belly dancing classes... i've always been so drawn to it! but i shyed away caring too much what other members of the church [specifically my family + friends] would think. but i wholeheartedly agree! it's an art + in my eyes no different than taking on ballet or hip hop. thanks for putting this out there in the blogosphere! i'm going to look up classes right now! :)

Emy5 said...

I would not want to make any one feel ashamed of belly dancing. I have another LDS friend who is a belly dancer. I admire her skill and confidence. I know what you are saying about some people thinking it's "iffy", but I don't see a lot of differnce between belly dancing and Zumba, or any sports that require skin tight costumes. It all depends what your intent is when you are dancing, I think!

Holly said...

Terrific post. It's so hard for me to believe that people would criticize or ostractize you for belly dancing. But, I know that, unfortunately, it happens. I think it's wonderful that you've found something you enjoy. Why should belly dancing be any different than modern dance, or jazz or anything else?

I'd love to come and see you dance sometime!!

RoseE said...

Hi! I just found this post, and I'm so glad I did. I, too, am an LDS belly dancer (lifetime Mormon, brand-new belly dancer) and though I've been having a great time learning to dance, I've been concerned about costuming and my reputation in general. Fortunately, I knew a lot of wonderful dancers at BYU, both LDS and Muslim, who loved what they did and didn't see any conflict between their dance and their faith. I envied their confidence but only recently worked up the nerve to imitate them. (Which is odd, because I've never had much problem with shamelessly wearing medieval garb to church and manifesting other decidedly-odd-but-not-really-against-the-rules-per-say behaviors.)

Anyway, I'm glad to find another Mormon belly dancer! Thanks so much for posting this.

BohemianMama said...

If you search Mormon Bellydancer this is the only website that you'll find - though one day this year I may blog about my own bellydance experience as a member of the church. I know there are quite of few of us, is anyone interested in starting a group? Mabye on yahoo? I would love to explore issues associated with besing a member of the church and also the Middle eastern dance community?

Nancy r.

David C. Maness said...

You are great. Please keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Please I hope you can read this? has any of you received any piece of advice or somekind of guidance from a church lieader in this regards? I am really interested to hear an official statement about bely dancing in the mormon community. I really appreciate you post in this blog and give light to the topic.

Lesley said...

I don't know if there is anything official. I live in N. California and I would dance at public events and see my bishop and church members and there was never an issue. If you were in a more conservative Mormon area, you may be judged differently.