Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Update on the belly dancing ban at a church in Georgia

Here are a couple of updates on the belly dancing ban at a church in Georgia.

The first is a letter Jezibell Anat wrote when I asked for more info about her troupe being disinvited from that fund-raising benefit (which you can read about here:

Hi DeAnna -

Thanks for contacting me. I did not realize this was going to spark so much interest. So here's more info - I know the details may seem cumbersome, but I think it will clarify things for those outside the area:

The Miller is a historic theatre in downtown Augusta that has deteriorated, and restoring this building is part of the mission of the Symphony Orchestra of Augusta (SOA). Four high school seniors wanted to raise funds for the Miller as their senior project (seniors have to design and implement a special project as part of their graduation requirement). So in association with SOA and other mentors, they planned an event consisting of an afternoon talent showcase, with community judges. All the acts would pay $10 to compete, and the top ten would perform in a benefit in the evening. The location was West Acres Baptist Church - the church was not sponsoring or organizing this event at all but was simply renting the space to the students for this benefit.

Michael Ryan, the student who had started this project, contacted me in November about performing in the showcase. Half of Eastern Star was out of town that weekend, but the rest of us decided to participate because it was a benefit. So we put in our application and fee, and no one said there was any problem with the belly dancing. Joyce, a member of Eastern Star also submitted a belly dance she had done with other friends to"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", and a couple of other belly dancers were scheduled for the showcase as well.

On Thursday Michael called and said there were some concerns about what we would wear. We talked about belly dance costumes, and I said we could cover our torsos if that was a problem, but he said everything would be OK. On Friday afternoon he called again, and he was very upset. He said they'd just had a meeting at the church, and the church refused to allow any belly dancing, even if we were covered up. Michael said that they had known we'd be belly dancing for over a month, and he offered to refund our fee. He said it was very unprofessional of them to ban it the day before the event, and that he would never rent their space again, but for this event he had to comply. Other forms of dance were OK, just not belly dancing.

I don't know why the church people changed their mind on the belly dancing. The only thing I can think of is that there was an article in the local paper on Thursday mentioning that there would be belly dancers, so maybe that offended someone - http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2010/01/07/ent_562164.shtml

My first thought was to pull out completely, but the kids had put a great deal of effort into this, and not participating would only hurt them. Joyce and I talked - the other member of Eastern Star was sick that weekend, so Joyce reworked "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" into a lyrical piece, and I did a zambra in a dress to "La Isla Bonita." The other belly dancers made theirs lyrical as well, so everyone still danced. It was just very upsetting that our specific dance form was banned, and at the last minute.

I studied, taught and performed in New York City for many years, so I am used to a liberal environment, and a professional belly dance scene. Things are very different in Augusta, GA.


I really appreciate that Ms. Anat took the time to share more information about her experience. Many of the comments that have been added to her letter to the editor on the newspaper's Web site have also tried to implicate Ms. Anat's affiliation with the Wiccan religion as the reason the church barred her troupe. If that had been their concern, I don't think they would have barred the other belly dancers who were scheduled to perform. So it seems other forms of dancing were allowed, some of which even had dancers dressed in skimpier outfits than the belly dancers.

The second on is that there is now a letter from a member of the West Acres Baptist Church (http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2010/01/19/let_563697.shtml) that is worth reading. This member seems to have made his judgement that belly dancing was an inappropriate dance form to include in the benefit because he had seen it a few times when he was a young man. It's unfortunate that it seems he and his fellow church members who were in on this decision didn't take the time to view the performances of the dancers in question. If they had, maybe they would have a different view of our dance form.

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