Tuesday, May 12, 2009

BA (Belly Dance)

Apparently there's talk of Egypt offering a university degree in belly dance...

While I have a feeling it won't ever get off the ground, this excites me analytically because it makes *total sense* for Egypt's higher learning institutions, and particularly the government, to get in on what Aida and Raqia have been doing, which in turn is getting in on what American belly dancers have been doing. Belly dance *learning* is a much better income generator now than belly dance performance. Egypt has a resource that has become desirable in a different way than before. They'd be stupid not to take advantage of it! This is also, of course, a really powerful way that Egyptian dancers can continue to grow their stake in globalised belly dance.

I do understand where the critics are coming from, and I suspect it's not merely that "belly dance" itself is so bad, but that belly dance like a lot of things now taught in universities is really a trade, and universities are not polytechs. Well, not if many academics have anything to say about it, anyway. Vice-chancellors and boards have a different opinion. Universities are now being pressured to produce vocational courses that make money, which is not the same as producing theoretical and philosophical thought and in-depth research. To differentiate themselves from technical insititutes and appease the "university is for brainy things" tradition they usually add theory and history; unfortunately, in some fields (like media for instance) you end with graduates who know a bit of Baudrillard and some media law, but can't actually write for newspapers, much like plumbers who can explain how plumbing intersects with wider social concerns but can't install a toilet.

The other intriguing aspect of a potential Egyptian belly dance degree would be who gets to do it, and who gets to control the curriculum. The article implies Egyptian girls would be the students, not foreigners - but it would be foreigners who would flock to such courses and make them genuinely economically viable. Not many Egyptians are going to send their darling daughters off to belly dance school. Fifi, like Souhair Zaki, obviously thinks foreigners *in* Egypt are taking jobs from local women and, I imagine, envisions such a degree as being for Egyptians and a way of improving the status of dancers in Egypt. But its potential applications are much greater.

It's also a different way for the Egyptian government to control belly dance: what is taught, what isn't, what's acknowledged and what's erased. It would be similar to what happened with Reda and, shortly after, the Firqa, interpreting, reworking and re-presenting a state-sanctioned vision of Egyptian dance.

I can't imagine any institution being able to put serious controls on Fifi and Dina though.

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