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  • Writer's pictureby Zara Dance

Is our Western/British RESPECT actually DISRESPECT?

So last year I was at a hafla with another dancer and drummers - all of Middle Eastern heritage. We hadn’t seen each other in ages and the conversation was in full flow. It was bliss, great music, lovely dancers performing and our friendships were flowing and growing. Hey, we could have even been in the Middle East…. but not for long !!!

We were asked, by the organiser, to keep it down; essentially to shut up. Why? Well as I said the conversation was flowing, we were laughing, giggling, talking loudly and me in my true Egyptian way, was very loud and animated. We were essentially, in the eyes of many, being rude.

I can empathise COMPLETELY and agree with the organiser because well, YES, we were being rude BUT I can at exactly the same time COMPELELY disagree and say we weren’t.

HOW? How can I say, “Yes we were being rude” and at the same time completely disagree? Well it essentially comes down to whether I look at the situation as an Egyptian or as a British person. (For those who don’t know me – I am mixed race English – Egyptian and spent my childhood growing up in both countries but you don’t need to be this to think like or empathise with an Egyptian’s point of view).

All us Brits know that, like jumping a queue, talking during someone’s performance is RUDE – no debate. But hey – in Egypt you don’t queue (well not in the way we know queuing) – you shove your way to the front and in a similar manner, talking through a person’s performance isn’t considered rude!

For those who need convincing watch videos of Fifi performing in massive formal (as formal as a belly dance show in the Middle East could ever get) theatre settings – look at the audience they are chatting throughout. They are eating, drinking and ordering food. Even when Oum Kalthoum - one of the highest respected ARTISTS (singer) from the Middle East - performed people would clap throughout and shout praise, sing along in the audience – even to serious songs about death and heart break. Also, at the world famous Tanoura Show at Wikala al-Ghaun, Cairo, I have heard some folks say that it is spoilt by Egyptian families chatting loudly and milling around! But that is how Egyptians enjoy their arts! It is different, may appear disrespectful to some but really it is just different.

A side story: I remember once being told off, when watching Grease at a West End Theatre, for singing along! I mean, GREASE! Compared to Oum Kalthoum’s music it is hardly serious, LOL Also if you are ever in Egypt and get the chance, go to the cinema – they clap in films YES THEY CLAP. It is so different to here in England.

So, back to the hafla, we went from talking - to sitting quiet. The energy died for me and my friends; the LIFE, the excitement and the JOY of the event and essentially the dance was KILLED.

And so I ask, with our British manners and in trying to show respect are we actually killing the essence of the dance? In Egypt the arts are performed with people talking, having fun and enjoying themselves. It is not something to be studied in complete, dead silence.

And what other attitudes are we in the West IMPOSING on to the dance in an attempt to RESPECT IT and ENSURE IT IS TEATED AS A RESPECTED ART FORM - like ballet (A typical comparison, I see so often made) some examples include:

  • Sitting silently during a performance and only clapping at the end

  • Not talking through the performance, not getting up walking around

  • Being so scared to put a bit of sexiness in your moves and dance (IF YOU FEEL IT DO IT )

  • Disrespecting the Cabaret style, wanting only theatre style belly dance – should bellydance even be this far displaced from the audience?

  • Not daring to walk into the audiance or interact with them (talking / clapping at them)

  • Talking down about restaurant dancers

  • Doing moves tooo perfectly and technically correct that the feeling goes

  • Generally applying RULES to the dance


So let’s look at ourselves and think, are we actually slaying elements of the dance by trying to show it respect? Are we actually disrespecting it? I know it is genuinely out of LOVE that we do these things BUT treating it like ballet or other Western art – isn’t necessarily showing it respect. It disrespects its origins; the fact that it is from other lands; that it is enjoyed in other ways. Ballet and Bellydance are both beautiful dance forms but different. Bellydance, in all its forms, has its roots in Baladi, a dance which is part and parcel of everyday life for Egyptians – male, female, young and old – everyone dances Baladi. Ballet is not like that.

So how do we show respect to this dance? Well, like the Egyptians and Arabs do! I can hear some of you already shouting MOST ARABS DON’T RESPECT BELLYDNACE!!

But I shall tell you how the Arabs, despite everything in their cultures telling them they shouldn’t, show respect towards bellydance…..

They sit back, relax, give it no rules and


I leave you with that thought and a video of me dancing in a shisha lounge where the majority of customers are from the Middle East (Turkish, Arabs, Iranians… ).

Sometimes I dance there and everyone is up dancing, clapping, shouting – other times they are all chilled out, laid back, relaxed on their shisha – and they sit around chatting as I dance. I don’t mind. I don’t mind that they are talking ..

I sometimes play the role of an extrovert centre piece and other times a beautiful artistic back drop that just assists to take them on their own personal journey of enjoyment, relaxation and even possibly a journey of tarab.

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