"Make York Belly Dance": An Exploration of Feminism, Orientalism, and Embodiment in the Lived Experience of Belly Dance
Banasiak, Krista Nicole
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Belly dance is a popular form of exotic dance in the West. Dancers, who are primarily White women, partake in weekly classes and perform at recitals and festivals. However, 2nd wave feminism argues that belly dancing objectifies female dancers and is oppressive. Scholars of Orientalism argue that belly dance has been disassociated from its roots and is rife with Orientalist stereotypes. What can account for the discrepancy between the social scientific literatures denouncement of belly dance and its popularity among women today? Absent from these critical analyses is any account of the embodied experience of belly dance practice. The body, which ought to be central to any research on dance, is curiously absent from this literature. My dissertation asks: What is the relationship between the body, experience, and social structure? What can studying the embodied experience of dance offer that is not captured in critical literature? Informed by Merleau-Pontys (1962) phenomenology, I employ an ethnographic methodology, including field work at two popular belly dance studios in Toronto and semi-structured interviews, to explore womens first-hand, lived, subjective experiences of belly dance. My research suggests that lived experience and social structure are intimately intertwined, and the body is a mediating factor that reinforces the connection between the two. Dancers have internalized the heterosexual male gaze, but suggest the gaze can offer a source of pleasure. They speak of agentically using the male gaze to escape and subvert the objectification it imposes. Although dancers exoticize the dance in ways that could perpetuate Othering, they also think critically and work to resist reinforcing the tropes of Orientalism. Finally, dancers discuss how their felt-senses inform their experiences The somatic profoundly contributes to their lived experiences. My research contributes to the development of an understanding of lived experience that takes into account representation, discourse, and corporeality. It moves beyond the work of critical scholars, for it allows both felt sensation and the external life world to remain vital to lived experience. I argue for the inclusion of the body in studies of lived experience, in order to provide more fleshed out accounts of such phenomena.