Bellydancers and Body Art

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Body Art.  That’s what dance is.

Sorry, I’ve been slacking a bit on the blog, but fresh from seeing BellyDance Superstars last night in my town, this is what you get.

I took my first belly dancing lesson in Berkeley in 1975, and I’ve been dancing for my own personal pleasure and fitness ever since. It represents and celebrates life and joy to me. Like body piercing, belly dancing in the West has risen in popularity since the 1970s.  It’s a polyglot, grassroots art form that has ricocheted around the world, from the Middle East, to the United States, and back again, and has absorbed influences from all over.  And like body piercing, much of what is being done today is new–innovative and experimental, and made up along the way.  It’s no surprise that women (and men) who express themselves with their bodies through dance would also appreciate the medium of body art.

As long as I have been involved in belly dance, body art has been a part of it. I remember taking a class in Oakland in the late 70s or early 80s, where the teacher had an enormous  snake tattoo on her abdomen.  She was extraordinarily gifted in abdominal movements, and the effect was amazing.  I also remember thinking how cool it would be if one could glue in a “navel jewel.”  Little did I know that years later it would be me with the tattoos and navel jewelry.

Now, there are many, many dancers with tattoos.  American Tribal Style is famous for encouraging tattoos, (including facial tattoos), bindis,  and other body art in its dancers.  Many ATS dancers, as well as Tribal Fusion dancers, are heavily tattooed.  Cabaret-style dancers sometimes have tattoos, but more often have pierced navels or nostrils. (Read about American Tribal Style dance at the FatChanceBellyDance site.)

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One dancer, speaking of a heavily tattooed protege, describes  prejudice against tattoos in certain traditional audiences, and wishes that the freedom that tribal dancers have to adorn their body could be extended to the more traditional styles:

. . . the average Middle Eastern audience would not appreciate her tattoos, resulting in [her] being unsuccessful in acquiring the jobs performing for such audiences.  . . . tattooing is not a Middle Eastern tradition and the Muslims strictly disapprove of it.  It is considered equivalent to disfiguring the body. . .

The only arena of belly dance in which tattooing is accepted and even encouraged is that of American Tribal. How liberating of women! It would be fantastic to have this kind of freedome for dancers of cabaret-style belly dance. . . .  every other form of dance and professional entertainment does not tolerate less than perfect skin on a less than perfect body.  Jasmin Jahal article.

Cautionary Tale: About a beautiful bellydancer and a “Fail” tattoo:

Speaking of less-than-perfect, I admit I have a dislike for tattoos that run all together so the overall design cannot be seen.  Dense images without any white space just make a big blob, especially from a distance.  Anyone contemplating permanent body art should think carefully about the total effect, on their body, and on their life.   For a professional dancer or any kind of performance artist, extra special care should be taken.  Would it affect your career?  How will it show up on stage?

One of the dancers at the show last night, Kami Liddle, had a tattoo which was, well . . . distracting.  She’s a beautiful girl, and a talented and accomplished dancer.  She has also chosen to decorate her belly with a tattoo.  Seems logical,  if you’re a belly dancer, right?  However, I’m very, very sorry to say that the placement and composition are, to be delicate about it, infelicitous.  You can see for yourself.  Here is a photo where you can see the tattoo (at least at one stage–she may have added on to it):

(Edit: Pic Removed.  The following section of this post has been been edited, on my own initiative, as a courtesy to Ms. Liddle–Cloud)

It looks okay in that picture (which belongs to Ms. Liddle and/or BellyDance Superstars), and you can see that there’s a skull and some wing type things there, but here’s what it looks like from the audience, at a distance (and we were sitting farther away than the viewpoint of this video):

youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPnVIW2d5vc

It’s a great video, by the way, but with sincere apologies to this incredible dancer,  my two companions and I left the auditorium feeling rather sorry for her.  It turns out we were all thinking the same thing: To put it as nicely as possible, the tattoo was not flattering.

That can’t be good. Kami, we suggest you either adjust your costume higher (or lower); or extend the tattoo around the back.  Or something!

More BellyDance stuff:

Here’s a fairly random selection of more belly dance links for the interested reader:

FatChanceBellyDance catalog:  Here you can buy tribal-style jewelry, including lots of hanging-style jewelry for stretched ears, henna and kohl, bindies and mung tikka (which goes on the head in the part of the hair.)

BellyDance Superstars website:  Includes info about shows and has a store.  A phenomenon is recent years, BDSS is well and heavily marketed by its brainchild, Miles Copeland (brother of Stewart Copeland of Police fame.)  Please buy something (I highly recommend the Belly Dance Superstars at the Folies Bergiere DVD) so they’ll forgive me for using the photo!  I don’t think the store part of the site works yet, but you can certainly buy their merchandise at Amazon.com.

More pictures of Kami Liddle.

Shira.net: A great compilation of instructional articles, reviews, and other info, which has been around the ‘net for quite some time.

YouTube: For a range of belly dance videoettes, from performances by top dancers worldwide, to instruction and drills.

What Were They Thinking. Here’s a fun/mean one–the “official home of the Goddess of Ugly Belly Dance Costumes.

Top image from Alaskan Dude’s photostream. Middle photo from Beige Albert’s photostream. Thanks, guys!

Now, excuse me.  I gotta dance!

5 Responses to Bellydancers and Body Art

  1. Kami Liddle says:

    Uh, well, I sure can say that I was quite sad when I read this. Although I’ve honestly have never heard any tell me the “pubic hair gone wild” feedback regarding my stomach tattoo, I don’t feel like publicly embarrassing me is necessary.

    • piercedconsumer says:

      I’m very sorry you’re embarrassed, but sometimes what your best friends won’t tell you . . . I want to make it clear that my comments are not meant to be malicious or denigrating to you at all. It was an honest, and very visceral reaction from someone who enjoyed your dancing and performance otherwise very much. We do not always know how or plan for our tattoos to be viewed at a distance, but in my opinion, a professional performer should take that into account.

  2. […] the unfortunate tattoo I highlighted in my post on Bellydancers and Body Art? Well, word finally got around to the dancer in question and she made a comment that she was […]

  3. Bela Z. says:

    Talk about weird comments! I think that tattoo is fantastic! Seeing the top half of it above the belly dance costume probably leaves many people wanting more, wishing they knew Kami personally and could see the whole thing. I’m also wondering if it was designed to hide a small surgery scar? Here’s a nice picture with that tattoo front and center. To me it looks like a nice “extension” of the costume. http://kami.tribe.net/photos/f29a5954-786d-4957-82a3-2e140294d151

    • piercedconsumer says:

      She’s a lovely dancer and I’m sure it’s a lovely tattoo up close. Even after looking at the picture you posted, though, I still do not like it from a distance.

      It’s not my skin of course, and I support people’s rights to modify their body how they wish, but I am a belly dance aficionado, and the tattoo kind of ruined her performance for me. It’s a valid opinion, even if an unpopular one.

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