An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance
EEMED Audition

Warning: I am Going to Talk About Nude Female Bodies on Stage
- by Amara

In response to the editorial Regarding: An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance in the Autumn, 2001 Cymbal and a letter I received from MECDA Board Members that there were issues with the nudity in this year's show, An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance, I have decided not to wait several months for the next Cymbal to respond to these criticisms. I would like to state I enjoy being a MECDA member and think it is a wonderful organization which helps promote the arts, but I have discovered there are problems in our community which we continually try to keep hidden. I must start off with that I was unaware until recently that such a "controversy over the nude performers," as stated by the MECDA Board Members, existed. I have personally only received comments commending the show. They ONLY negative responses I have read are these two items.

MECDA Board Members have directed me to include an advisory regarding "sensitive or adult matter" in any future flyers. I chose not to put disclaimers on past flyers regarding ANY of the content in the show. I especially did not place one about nudity because I thought it would continue to perpetuate the notion that there was something wrong with the human form. I put one up at the show, much to the surprise of the Highway's staff, to make a few of the performers comfortable. But my question is then, where do the disclaimers end? Do I also need to include disclaimers that pieces may contain images of American Imperialism? That images in the show may go against your stereotypical ideas of Middle Eastern dance?

They also suggested that I change the name of the show to An Evening of Experimental Dance. I exercise my freedom to choose a name which I think is appropriate and to call it by this "new" name would imply to the rest of dance world that it is a Post-modern dance concert. And though my concert was the closest I have seen in which Middle Eastern dancers investigate issues which American Post-modern dancers are dealing with, we (as a dance community) are so theoretically behind the Post-modern dance world, I could not even consider calling it An Evening of Experimental Dance.

They continued to insinuate my show insulted Middle Eastern culture: "societies that are conservatively modest and would object to the linking of their dances with a venue using nudity." How can I tell if they are not the ones who are insecure about nudity and are not displacing their feelings, motivated by stereotypical ideas that people in the Middle East are conservatively modest, to attack me and the other performers? I am sure some people from the Middle East might object to the nudity, but all I am reading is the problems a handful of Americans have with it.

MECDA Board Members also questioned my fight for the legitimacy of Middle Eastern dance as an art form.

Legitimacy is part of my mission as an artist, and I spend all of my time performing in various styles and venues, teaching, directing, choreographing, and studying at a PhD program in Dance History and Theory. I am critically exploring my role and those of my peers, not only in the Middle Eastern dance scene but in relation to national and global positions.

I must admit I broke the MECDA dress codes and that am at fault for having signed the membership form without having read these codes. Because these codes are not readily available, I have asked MECDA Board Members to post them on their website. Since I do not have the policies at hand, I can only take issue with the small statement they included in their letter: "The MECDA dress code specifically prohibit(s) members from removing costumes in public performance." If this is truly the code, then they should also take issue with performers at our own functions like Cairo Carnival where dancers not only removed veils but also skirts on stage. Hopefully after reading these code, many MECDA members would want to alter them. I personally would fight any code which restricts and, or denies freedom of expression.

I would like to ask the writer of the editorial not to call people names. I understand their employment of the words "silly girls" refers to their "superior" power position as an "adult," but name calling just skirts around the issues. Since they completely disregarded the rest of the piece and its point, I will provide a brief review of Undulating Through the Cacti , performed by Desert Sin. It began with five female dancers wearing and moving in a hybrid style of Middle Eastern, Country Line, Stripping, and Indian dances. By the middle (not the end), two dancers were nude (the others had been escorted off stage by a sixth dressed as an Indian goddess). Their complete nudity quickly shifts what had been up until then a high energy and fun piece in which the dancers confidently displayed their comfort with their bodies into a serious section. Here they posed using Indian Karana and were eventually accompanied by the goddess. Their tranquil spirituality was then interrupted by the other three dancers now dressed in "gypsy" skirts and cholis. (Here I refer to a skirt based upon Western ideas of the gypsies and not the Roma). In a long battle using four veils, the three dancers attempted to cover the two resisting naked performers. In the end there was a compromise: the two dancers were half covered and half naked. Under the blessing of the goddess, the dancers performed in harmony until the end.

Rather than condemning the performers, I would ask the writer to question herself/himself: what are the precise issues you have with Strippers? What are the issues you have with the nude body on stage? Why do American-Middle Eastern dancers have a need to counteract the concrete body with spirituality? What are the power implications of women forcing other women to perform or dress a certain way? I also ask: why did not the writer discuss the purpose of the concert which was to push pass standard representations of Middle Eastern dance held not only by the general public but also by its OWN participants? And, what does this person gain by not writing about the whole piece?

Regardless of if you think Stripping is acceptable or that it should not be associate with Middle Eastern dance, there is a connected history (as well with other dance forms). At the turn of the twentieth century, aspects of Middle Eastern dance went into two, but overlapping directions. Parts of Oriental dances were used by upper- and middle-class, white, women to explore gender roles within their societal confinements. The result was Early Modern dance. There was also the move into the low-class vaudeville and burlesque circuit (yes, there was also an upper-class circuit as well) which eventually instigated Stripping. My point is that any dancer, regardless of style, has to explore issues with sexuality, the body, artistry, and making a living. There have always been conflicts between those who view Middle Eastern dancers as continuing patriarchal ideas of women and those who see and experience it as a means to break away from these same patriarchal restraints. We live in a very complicated world in which the intersecting positions of class, ethnicity, and gender affect the way one looks at the world. Use this time to explore your positions and to keep an open mind that people come from different places. Your position is not any more legitimate than another. Where an action may not demonstrate rebellion to one set of people is perhaps construed as freeing for another group. Performers of An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance were breaking many hegemonies. Anytime this occurs it should force people to think. It is a scary thing to disrupt the power structures in which parts of our dance resides because it forces us to look for power in new areas.

I would like to leave one last thought: some people see Stripping as a trade like any other.

Thank you for your time,

Amara