Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young in their study have

Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young in their study have traced a genealogy of the presence of belly-dancing in the American sphere as a performance culture from early 1940s when ‘ethnic dancers’ performed in nightclubs catering to people of Greek, Lebanese or Middle Eastern background. The performances came to incorporate American women, trained in other dances like Flamenco, who would acquire training from the ethnic women. By the 1970s, the dance reached a hundreds of thousands of American women and was recast into varying hybrids — ‘American tribal’, ‘spiritual’, ‘cabaret’, etc. A huge contribution to its widespread appeal was the entanglement of second-wave feminist movement with the notion of sexual liberation. Sexualised, as it was, belly-dancing became a powerful means of transcendence and was redefined on the lines of personal and sexual freedom. The focus was on the body as a site for both pleasure and discovery. It is not surprising that a major chunk of websites and online portals of organisations  dedicated to belly-dance actively construct and project it as a feminist performance art. Women’s rights and a notion of women’s rites intersected to create newer derivations — connecting belly dancing to childbirth ritual, female sisterhood, sensuality and spirituality. The connections drawn between belly-dance, ancient goddess and fertility cultures promote belly-dance as a celebration and awakening of feminine creative forces. In a series of interviews conducted by Sunaina Maira, she observes that most of the white women who were attracted to and learning belly-dancing were doing it because they felt it offered them a feeling of belonging to a collective, or a sisterhood. The belly-dance sub-culture does have this notion of female solidarity as a cornerstone, accompanied by the motif of a nomad — projecting a romanticised idea of nomadism, without even considering the political realities of statelessness and homelessness.
Of late, there has been significant increase in scholarly investigations into the meanings, significance, and ‘value’ of bodies. Many feminist scholars have taken up issues of embodiment especially in relation to ideology, social categorisation, representation, and power. In the mid-1980s, dance studies emerged in academic sphere as a legitimate approach to analyse the production of social meanings through performance and how dancing bodies are inscribed with and read through markers of race, sexuality, gender, and class. Before 1980s, the focus was on autobiographies of dancers, on the aesthetic assessment of dance style, on providing a historical context in which specific dance forms were born and flourished. There wasn’t an attempt to “investigate the operations of social power” underpinning the aesthetic structure of dance. Most of the critical inquiry surrounding belly dance ignores the contemporary shape the dance has taken, which effectively (and erroneously) limits the phenomenon of belly-dance representation squarely in the nineteenth century. 

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