Nerd to Belly Dancer [Mar. 16, 2011]

Dispelling the myth that professional dancers are immoral women.

Words usually associated with Rose Thompson (Reality): Quiet, soft-spoken, shy, reserved, frail, nerdy/geeky, ‘good girl’, delicate…what have you.

Words usually associated with Rose Lee (My stage name): Confident, energetic, a ‘storm’/hurricane/tornado, outgoing, dynamic, happy…’A completely different person’.

I’ve heard these words attributed to me a million times.

I have decided to make a video and photo series out of this idea as I’ve come to see, especially recently, that those who are accustomed to me in real life never expects me to be able to dance (especially with the energy and vigour that I do), whereas those who are accustomed to seeing me on stage would never expect me to be who I am in real life.

It’s very hurtful, being associated with images completely inconsistent with your entire being based on assumption… Being thought of as the complete opposite of how you actually are just by your appearance…on stage, for that matter.

It is a character. It is a façade. It is a stage persona for entertainment. People fail to realize that we are not quite the same in reality. I am certain that many of you feel the same way – tired of objectification and false assumption.

In real life, I am your archetypal geek/nerd. I was never the most extroverted person ever, to say the very least. I like reading, studying, science, puzzle games, comics, drawing… amongst other things. I don’t drink or smoke, and I’ve never kept boyfriends or have been very interested in relationships, as many people know by now (because I just don’t shut the Hell up about it, right?). I know it’s not ‘normal’ by most people’s standards…but I just don’t give a crap, really.

There have been times when I’d go out to a restaurant or event dressed as I normally do, a favourite song of mine would play, and I lose myself in the music. “When you said that you were a professional dancer, I never believed you at first. Boy, was I in the shock of my life,” I’ve been told several times.

For what use is beauty when intellect is underestimated? What use is hard work and intellect when talent and appeal is underestimated? Human beings were not meant to be unidimensional, so why are people surprised by multidimensional aspects? Why is it necessary to confine others in stereotype – and worse – confine themselves? If we were were truly meant to be unidimensional, then perhaps I am not human.

I vie to dispel the traditional, close-minded idea that dance performers are loose. If you want to argue with me on that, you’re already wrong, so don’t try =).

I’m sure you have heard these lateral-thinking puzzles before:

A father and his son were in a car accident. The father died. The son was taken to the hospital. The doctor came in and said: I can’t do surgery on him, because he’s my son. Who was the doctor?

You are driving with no headlights, no street lights, and no interior lights. How do you see where you are going?

Did you automatically assume that the doctor was a man? Did you assume that you were driving at night? If we were wrong to assume such things, then what gives us the right to assume something about people we do not know? If we continue to assume so easily, such quandaries, and other life situations, become impossible to solve.

In this world, I’ve come to see how shockingly assuming people are, believing to know more about something that they actually do. It is as though the world is neatly folded in their heads, and any aberration to the norm simply does not exist. This is a problem that I, and other professional dancers and entertainers encounter regularly – being assumed to be what we are not. It is frustrating at times, being assumed to be the complete opposite of your own true nature, especially as an Oriental dancer, more commonly known as a ‘belly dancer’, or even as an Indian/Chutney dancer and as a singer.

For some reason, in some societies, especially – and one I am very accustomed to, namely Indian-Jamaican society – the thought of a beautiful woman claiming to be a dancer invokes a certain connotation akin to being loose. It is not as if she said that she was a stripper, either, but she may as well have said it, based on the immediate false judgments that follow. It’s dancing in general – whether it’s belly dancing or ballet dancing. The perception that a woman who dances professionally is immoral still exists. It is ironic, as dancing is so prevalent in Indian culture, and dancing and dance performances occur in Indian functions regularly. Most young girls learn to dance and perform at family functions. However, if they are to recieve money from their talents, they are somehow ‘loose’. It’s a correlation that I’ve yet to figure out.

How many times have I tried to tip-toe around discerning ears, referring to my craft as, ‘Middle Eastern’, or ‘Oriental’ dancing, rather than simply, ‘belly dancing’ (the Americanized term, I’d like to emphasize), which tends to conjure a more stereotypical image? The true art and culture of the dance has been damaged by American media in ways irreversible, from taking an ancient dance form that was originally for the entertainment of women only, taught to their young daughters and forbidden to the eyes of men… to portraying it as a dance of seduction. It is an art form, truly misrepresented and no more ‘erotic’ than Polynesian dancing. But we see no one complaining about that.

At times, I’ve been pushed to think that I should quit performing. However, if I were to quit dancing on such a sad premise, not only would I disappoint all those who understand and respect my art, I would only further perpetuate the stereotype. Someone has to be out there, dispelling the myth, even though it is exhausting.

“But I’m sure men come at you all the time,” many say. Just because it is thrown constantly at a woman does not mean that it has to be taken (or wanted, for that matter). I’ve had to endure hostility from men many times who accuse me of thinking that I am ‘better than’ them, referring to me as all manners of profanity simply because I was not receptive to their advances. I do not like that type of attention in the slightest, but it is something that has to be endured as an entertainer as we do what we love to do.

No matter how one is, there will be those to support, and those who oppose – it’s always best to stay as true to the self as one possibly can, as there is no way to appease everyone.

I cannot readily explain this difference – why I’m exuberant on stage, an environment in which one may expect someone to be naturally timid to fear. I’ve tried to research it, tried to understand it, but I’ve come to accept that there are just some answers that I won’t be able to find in a book.

On a last note, please attempt to safeguard yourself from assumption. It’s impossible for any of us to prevent it at all times.

Srsly. Stop it.

Nerd to Belly Dancer [Mar. 16, 2011]

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