“Much, Much More”

by Margo Abdo O’Dell

Please do not call me a belly dancer.

Because for me, it is not just a flip of the hip, the wink of an eye.
It is not just the sparkle of jewels, the want of applause. For me, it is much much more. The dance began as Grandpa stomped and swayed to the music. He twirled his cane while the family clapped and sang the only verse they knew.

Please do not call me a belly dancer.

Because for me, it is a journey to discover the lost - a journey back to my roots. It is not the latest fad, a thing with which to dabble. No, for me, it is much much more. From girlhood to adulthood, I have always danced. To gain the confidence, to love myself, to know I can express what is in my heart. The dance has freed and challenged me. It is a gift from which I have lovingly indulged.

So, please do not call me a belly dancer.

Because I am well aware of the sly glances and easy images that provokes. From Salome, to James Bond to Xena the Warrior Princess, the negative images abound. Hollywood has smeared my art and pidgeon-holed women of the east. A sexy dance trollop or veiled subservient women, is all Hollywood allows us to be.

It does me no good and you no good to put me in that box.  I could have been a singer, a painter, a writer, a film maker, to say what I needed to say. But the choice was one that comes from the body – the arms, the legs, the hips the head. It is the same, just different. 
Respect the art, respect the artist.

Please do not call me a belly dancer.

Because it isn’t about my belly. Is the flamenco a foot dancer?
The ballet impresario a leg dancer? Do not dumb it down. 
As Dr. Said said,“….in many ways it is the opposite of ballet, its Western equivalent as an art form.”

I have talked to my ancestors, embraced universal pain, celebrated the feminine divine. I have fought it, questioned it and rediscovered it. 
I have crossed oceans to study and learn. The history is rich, the story is complex and the meaning is deep in the soul. The dance heals, the dance gives birth, the dance frees the caged. So don’t be fooled by the imposters – because they dress in my clothes, use my name.

Can you understand?

May heaven be my witness, I did not write this to start a discussion 
on what to call this dance. It has other objectives than any hip shaking, 
on any body, anywhere. 

Author: LaDonna 'Adara Din' von Stoetzel

LaDonna 'Adara Din' von Stoetzel is an American belly dancer and member of Al-Bahira Middle Eastern Dance Theater.

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