I am a belly dancer. I am a student and performer of a dance that is native to the Middle East, particularly Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. It has ancient cultural roots in these regions and was originally a folkloric dance.
There are different theories as to what it was originally intended for, ranging from a dance that prepared women for childbirth to a type of religious ritual.
No, I don't give lap dances and no, I don't take my top off. Not until I'm changing out of my costume in the privacy of a dressing room, at least. When I tell someone what I do for a living, I usually brace myself for their response, which often goes something like: "Oh, kind of like a stripper?"
I guess if ballerinas, Broadway dancers and choreographers are also "kind of like strippers" because their jobs entail moving to music, then yeah, I'm kind of like a stripper, because I move to music too.
But unlike stripping, Middle Eastern dance requires years of training before it can be performed professionally. In this sense, it is much more similar to ballet, jazz and other forms of dance that usually aren't considered erotic whatsoever.
Like most forms of dance, belly dance requires classes. It's nearly impossible to isolate parts of your body, understand proper technique, learn rhythm patterns, differentiate between various types of Arabic music, or decide which steps to incorporate into performances without either growing up in the Middle East or taking belly dance classes.
If you'd like to read the whole essay, you can find it here.
I love that this young woman is doing something to address this popular misconception. I wrote a Letter to the Editor to show my support. If you'd like to do the same, you can do it online here.