Belly Dance & Politics: When To Take A Stand
Artists use their creative instruments to convey complex ideas, even internal emotions. As dancers we interpret songs through movement to illicit many different responses from the audience. Sometimes we are actors playing a humorous role, or entertainers encouraging interaction. Sometimes we can be mirrors, showing the audience themselves, or even glass doors to reveal our own life experiences.
One Lebanese dancer, Johanna Fakhry, decided her role as an artist was to use the stage to show her resolve for peace. At the 2011 Hellfest music festival in Clisson, France, she took stage with an Israeli metal band, Orphaned Lands, to dance. This act alone is illegal in her homeland, as having public dealings with Israelis has been forbidden since the two nations are still technically at war. As if her dancing weren't enough to stir the pot, she raised up a Lebanon flag next to an Israeli flag being held by the lead singer from Orphaned Lands.
The performance was over a month ago but personal videos have only just begin to hit the Internet, causing delayed yet still volatile remarks. In videos, the audience in France appears to be receptive, but Lebanese individuals seem to think Fakhry's time in France has dulled the edge of her memories with regards to the reality of life back home. As one Lebanese individual writes "Clearly the dancer involved has no idea what it is like to live in Lebanon today [Johanna Fakhry is based in Paris]. We hear the drums of beating from Israel every day. It is pointless to fly our flags together, that only adds fuel to a constantly burning fire."
More than that, he argues, "There is a path for peace, but this is not a step in the right direction. Real, useful steps would be Israeli leaders around the negotiating table willing to acknowledge – and compensate for – all the lives lost, the human suffering, the damage done."
I certainly don't want to comment on the political situation, nor whether her performance was appropriate. While there are many times where we feel compelled to take a stand, and many times when it is appropriate and beneficial to do so, it's often rare when the two coincide. When it comes to taking a political stand on matters that don’t involve me, like the Southern Lady I was raised to be I often have to say, "Hey y'all, let’s all just be friends."
As dancers, we tend to be emotional creatures. When we see the suffering of others, we want to step in and help in whatever way possible. We raise money for cancer cures, hospital bills, wildlife conservation and more. Life is to be experienced through the joy of dance, a message we are all quick to share. And so we should. But when it comes to something as complicated as peace in the Middle East, we find ourselves horror stricken at the disaster that falls on civilians, but are unable to help. No amount of shimmying at the local events center can change the stalemate imposed by generations of conflict.
At times, we can only hope that by creating art we can inspire life to mimic our actions. When tired of the constant debate, negotiations, and complaining involved in guiding politicians to act in a manner we find favorable, we simply want to shut up and shimmy.
Fact is, we aren't all born politicians and leaders, policy makers and negotiators. Some of us are dancers, and when conflict arises, that is what we have to offer as our voice. This doesn't make us pointless, or our actions futile. Often it is music and art that can change the tide of war where politicians seemed to have lost their vision.
For example, Bono has been able to weave politics with music to bring awareness and money to nations in Africa desperately in need of both. Many celebrities serve as UN Peace Ambassadors and lend their voice to commercials asking for donations. Pamela Anderson literally lent her body to help PETA. And the transition from artist to politician is not all that uncommon: just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronald Reagan (so says the girl who is in Cali).
But the artist who spouts political ideologies to the world is not always looked on kindly. The Dixie Chicks and Jane Fonda are artists whose public criticisms of wars and presidents greatly impacted their careers, and not for the positive. The most famous example of an artist who took it too far was Sinead O'Conner, who ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II live on television.
It’s not always appropriate to take a stand. Our time on stage is a gift given to us by the audience, and we should always think of their needs before our own. But in those rare moments when desire and opportunity collide, sometimes all we can do is dance and hope for the best.