Essay on Personal Profile of a Belly Dancer

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Personal Profile of a Belly Dancer

Professor’s comment: The personal profile is a standard assignment, but students often struggle with it since it requires that they not only interview someone who is generally a stranger to them but also become an instant expert on their subject’s particular talent or expertise. In writing the piece, the student resisted the impulse to talk about her own experience and focused squarely on Shakar. In doing so she presents a vivid portrait of her subject and demystifies belly dancing.

In the picture, Belinda Shakar wears a satin bra with sleeves and a split skirt that reveals the entire length of her leg as she lunges on the ground. Her eyes are swept in dark makeup, and on her lips sits a
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Now thirty-three, Shakar still finds belly dance an “earthy, natural dance” that celebrates and nurtures the female body. “It fits into any lifestyle and any body shape—fat, skinny, whatever.” Describing some performers she saw at a showcase, she says, “These women were really large. But they could still dance. They were beautiful.” Many women belly dance even while pregnant, with the help of special classes and videos. Overweight or pregnant dancers may seem incompatible with such a seductive, sensual dance. But while the dance is closely linked to sexuality, it is not necessarily seductive. According to Shakar, the dance moves originated as a way to ease childbirth. “I danced through two pregnancies, and both were short, natural childbirths. The moves strengthen your reproductive system,” she says. Belly dance evolved into a ritual dance for childbirth, performed for women, but emphasizing the effects of the motions on the dancers’ bodies. “Only in the last seventy-five years has it been performed for men,” she says. “It was not created for men’s entertainment.”

Unfortunately, Shakar finds that this distinction is frequently lost on American audiences. When Americans go to see a belly dancer, she says, they usually expect a “hootchy-kootchy, burlesque” show. “Others think the dance is very sensual and are curious about it,” she admits. But these people still have difficulty understanding such an exotic dance.

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