Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Type of negative

Stereotypes: They exist for a reason. 
(Top tip, ladies. A costume always comes with a skirt or harem pants.)
(Pic from:
There are some hobbies that warrant keeping to yourself: collecting serial killer memorabilia, for example, or amateur trepanning. Compared to some of the more socially awkward or downright disturbing past times out there I think belly dancing is pretty unremarkable. (I’m thinking train spotting and Morris dancing.) Among friends and acquaintances I generally have no problem talking about my dancing, though not often on a first meeting. When I do mention it, far from shock or sniggering, the usual response is ‘My wife does that/I’m thinking of taking it up again/my friend dances at a Lebanese restaurant in Soho’. Perhaps, also, the rebirth of burlesque and the rise of, Mamie forbid, pole dancing, has made a bit of raqs seem almost quaint. Well, for the most part.

While there are a handful of people at the office who know where I dash off to on Tuesday nights (that large bag stuffed with hip scarves, water bottles and a change of clothes is kind of tricky to smuggle in), I have avoided telling my (female) boss.

Until now. Unfortunately she spotted me reading Razia’s newsletter ( the other night. “Um, excuse me?” she said. It took a moment for me to work out what she was looking at, but when I did I assumed she thought I’d been spammed. In retrospect, I guess I was just relieved that it was after hours because, as though having an out-of-body experience, I found myself blurting out ‘in my spare time I’m training as a belly dance teacher.’ No kidding – I could feel the tips of my ears burning. Why oh why, after nearly three years of keeping my trap shut, did I voluntarily give that information up?

It’s still a mystery to me as to why I was suddenly so chatty, but her reaction was about what I expected (and had feared). “Well don’t tell the boys that, they’ll get very excited.” There was then some comment about ‘the technically difficult’ moves she imagined were involved and that was that. Lest this makes you think that I must be some kind of Joan Holloway type strutting about the office, let me assure you that I do not have the kind of face (or body) that would launch a thousand ships. At a push I might be able to launch an inflatable kayak if the water was calm enough, but that’s about it.

Although telling my boss was no biggie in the grand scheme of things, it felt like an opportunity was missed. I wanted to tell her that, far from being ‘very excited’, if the ‘boys’ in the office ever got to see me dance they might in fact be bored, or underwhelmed, or impressed, or embarrassed – a whole range of responses might reasonably be imagined. What rattles my dangles most is that the clear meaning of her comment is that my male workmates would be ‘aroused’ in an icky, Berlusconi-esque way.

When I mentioned this conversation to The Man, he infuriatingly agreed with this assessment of my failure to act. ‘If you’re going to teach this stuff you’re going to need to step up and represent – you’re supposed to change groundlessly negative opinions and challenge assumptions. That’s what teachers do!’
He’s right, of course. And here was I thinking that my teaching function was going to begin and end at the studio door. Nuts.


  1. Hmmmm, so I am not supposed to mention my mold spores and fungus collection?
    Seriously, I have realized you can't change what people think. A lot of women ( maybe your boss too) are seriously intimidated by bellydancing and they are just as ready to slap a stereotype on the art as the horny guys jeering in the back. ya know?

  2. Fungus collection?!

    Yeah, I see what you're saying. I also think her opinions are formed by all that 'Dance for your Sultan' crap!