Saturday, 11 September 2010

The other kind of baby belly

Thanks to my sister, who sent me the link to this. Thanks also to [insert name of the deity of your choice] for the YouTube embed function, because you guys seriously don't want to read the comments on this one.

As it turns out, YouTube is awash in little girls belly dancing - either the real deal or just generally shaking about the way they've seen Beyonce do it on TV. I managed maybe three clips before the tinny sound quality on my laptop got insufferable, but I saw enough to know that some kids are more talented than others. And the more talented the kid, and the younger the kid, the more vitriolic the comments became.

Why? Because whether we like it or not, kids and adults are two different tribes. Once we were them and one day they'll be us, but the twain are not supposed to meet and when they do we freak out. I'm not talking about adolescence, either. That's the glorious bridging point, when you're both too young and old enough to know better. But very young, talented children? "Damn," we think. "I'm old enough to be her mother and I'm not that good. What the hell's wrong with me? I'm meant to be the more accomplished one, right? What with all my extra time on the face of planet earth. Maybe I'm meant to be dead by now. Or maybe -yes! She's being exploited! She's fodder for paedophiles! Down with this sort of thing!"

Or a thought process something like that, anyway. Self-doubt replaced by righteous anger. Anger at all those young folks with more tomorrows than us. Sure, age has its plusses. Kids don't have a lot of life experiences. They can't vote, drive cars or perform complex surgery. That's for us, the adults, to do. By way of compensation for living in a world we get to make all the decisions for them, kids get to do stuff like lie down in the supermarket and scream because we're not buying them ice cream, and pick their noses in public and eat whatever they find up there. Adults who do that kind of stuff are "childlike" and adults in calendar years only. Other adults get to make the rules for them, too.

Kids who behave like adults, however, are a bit creepy. Horror stories and movies have been based on them. Kids who behave like adults, and have talents that make them better than adults at some things - ie the prodigies - are just too hard for us to deal with.

Because I belly dance (badly, but I do) I can watch this without feeling like I'm watching a little girl play at being a ravening sexual beast. I can watch her and feel a bit inadequate, and be appreciative of her talent, but I don't feel uncomfortable. Plenty of people do feel uncomfortable watching this, as the YouTube comments show. That's a shame for them, and a shame for kids in general. Dancing is fun, and even the most innocent activity can be a come-on if you want it to be. Ever seen Nigella Lawson make a cake? That even sounds like a euphemism!

In this instance, it doesn't really matter to me that the dancer (Seda Sayan, but don't quote me on that) is Turkish and that this is "her culture". It matters more to me that she is obviously very good and enjoying herself. Let's ignore the fatuous line beloved of some YouTube mouth-breathers that because she's Turkish, this is fine. It is fine, but not because of where she was lucky enough to be born. The last time I checked, it was generally accepted as self-evident that kids like music and they like dancing. There are kids all over the world, and they are learning and performing all kinds of dances. If there's an ick factor it comes in when the adults get involved - no child would slather themselves in fake tan and body glitter, or smear Vaseline on their teeth, or wear kitten heels without parental help and encouragement.

When I was five years old, my mother enrolled me in tap dancing classes. (Stop laughing.) I wasn't very interested in tap dancing and my teacher could tell. She was very young and taught on the concrete floor of her parents' garage. While she was demonstrating basic heel-toe moves, I would gaze out the window into the garden until eventually she'd lose patience and pin her dad's dirty old drop cloth across it in a futile attempt to make me focus.

I assume she must have had words with my mother about my lack of commitment to La Danse de Bruit (I have no idea if the French really call it the Dance of Noise, but it pleases me to think that they do), because the next thing I knew I was dragged along to a draughty church hall or some such to watch an evening of student tap dancers clacking their stuff. The only performer I remember was a girl a few years older than me, who performed to "I Tawt I Saw A Puddy Tat" by that genius of late 20th century music, Tweety Bird.

Perhaps it was memorable because the song was age-appropriate to me at the time, but it's more likely to be because that was the show-stopping number that convinced my mother that Tap Dancing Was Not For Her Little Girl, After All. No indeed, my mother was not prepared to force me into an after school activity that involved slipping into a canary yellow leotard with feathers stapled to the rump of it, and then clambering into a plywood birdcage to mince around a stage while pulling coy faces at the blushing dads in the front row. Did I mention the full face of makeup? With false eyelashes and everything? Yeah, well, there was that too. And New Zealand in the 1980s was not a place where this sort of thing was common place:

Even if it were, my mum, of all people, would not have been into it. For which I am eternally grateful. Don't think I'm arguing that every time a child gets up in front of a group of adults and gyrates around that we should all just be cool and get over ourselves. As this post from April shows, there is often a good reason for us to be outraged by the sinister implications of children being used for entertainment. And it's not just dancing either: I'm not going to go off on another tangent here, but there are plenty of former child actors around who are lucky to be alive, let alone out of jail.

But let's be clear - it's OK for kids to be really, really good at at something, even if that something is dancing. It's also OK for adults to be supportive of, and enjoy the talents of, kids who are really, really good at dancing. It doesn't necessarily mean that the kids are being exploited, and it doesn't mean that the adults are latent paedophiles. Just remember: dancing is not always a vertical expression of a horizontal intention. Sometimes it's just a form of expression.

Now, please to enjoy in a non-creepy way, Fairuza Arteen:

More Fairuza (with bonus Tahia Carioca) here.

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