A qualitative exploration of a selected sample of South African women's experiences of belly dancing
This mini-dissertation reports on a study that aimed to explore a selected sample of South African women’s experiences of belly dancing. A qualitative, exploratory research design was used. The study is contextualised in sociology through the theoretical lens of Symbolic Interactionism. The sample consisted of 15 belly dancers purposively selected from the belly dance community within South Africa. The ages of the participants, who are from several different South African provinces, ranged from 30 to 59. The data were collected through telephonic semi-structured interviews during July and August 2017, and subsequently analysed by means of thematic analysis. The findings were that the experience of belly dance occurs through four stages and that each stage has within it various realms. These stages with their accompanying realms are described as follows: * Preparatory stage – personal realm * Observer stage – personal realm * Student-practitioner stage – personal, public and communal realm * Teacher/ performer/ practitioner stage – personal, public and communal realm. The first stage, the preparatory stage is characterised by the shared preparatory non-belly dance past experiences of the participants, which significantly contributed to their susceptibility to future participation in belly dance. These preparatory past experiences were diverse in nature and had major impacts on the participants. The second stage, that of the observer, took place during the participants’ initial exposure to belly dancing and consequent Symbolic Interaction between the belly dancer and the observer as well as the exposure to the ambiance of the dance stage. It is during this process that a highly positive meaning is constructed by the participant around the symbol of belly dance. The decision to participate in belly dance was mostly inspired through the initial exposure to the art form, either via the media, or a live performance. This initial exposure was experienced as a strong emotional experience which, along with the preparatory past experiences, were pivotal in their decision to pursue belly dance. The third stage, that of the student practitioner, is characterised by experiences in the personal realm, public realm as well as the communal realm. It was mostly described as experiences of belly dancing in terms of enhanced well-being on not only a psychological, but also a physical level. It also included the experience of the sexual nature of belly dance, the experiences of reality versus fantasy as belly dance practitioners as well as the sisterhood within the belly dance community. Psychological well-being was mostly reported in terms of the enhanced confidence that the participants experienced as belly dance practitioners as well as an increase in self-love. The enhanced physical well-being experienced by the participants was reported as relating to matters pertaining to the improvement in mobility and flexibility as well as weight loss. Urinary incontinence resulting from the birthing process was also reported as a physical aspect which improved as a result of the participants engaging in belly dance. A fundamental dichotomy that emerged in the participants’ experience of belly dancing was their implicit acknowledgement of the sexual and sensual elements of belly dance on the one hand, and their insistence that belly dancing is not a sexual dance on the other. It was hypothesised that the comparatively conservative Afrikaner culture which tends to eschew any form of overt or public sexual expression by women and the innate desire of women to express their sexuality has caused an incongruence in the symbolic constructions of the participants in relation to the sexual aspects of belly dancing. This appears to have resulted in participants forming an alter-ego when they performed on stage or in public in an effort to deal with the incongruence. The participants reported that this formation of an alter-ego allowed them to be anything they wanted to be on the stage without feeling personally conflicted about engaging in such an overtly sensual dance. Despite the formation of an alter ego as a means to cope with the expression of their sexuality, the participants reported that there was still an element of controversy where the public was concerned. Specifically, most participants were of the opinion that the general public held different constructions of belly dancing than that of the practitioners, and hence the practitioners experienced what they perceived to be negative and uncalled for treatment from certain audiences. This compelled many of the participants to engage in educating the public through various means of communication (through media, interviews and articles) to reconstruct the audiences symbolic meaning of belly dance. Within the communal realm the participants reported experiencing a sense of sisterhood and attended feelings of belonging within the context of belly dancing. However, negative experiences were also common within this group context and were reported to be attributed to factors such as competition, the lack of belly dancing regulation and standards in teaching within South Africa. The fourth stage, that of the teacher/performer/practitioner, which included the experiences of the participants within the communal and public realm, was characterised by experiences of the participants as belly dance teachers and/or professional performers. Many of the participants stated that since becoming practitioners of belly dance, they have opened their own studios and now teach belly dancing to students of their own. This implies that belly dancing is a vocational avenue with an economic value for some South African women. The findings have significant value to the field of (medical) sociology and specifically to expanded understanding of the social determinants of health. The latter term conveys the notion that social practices and conditions, class position, economics, politics as well as religious factors exert a significant effect on the health of individuals and social groups. Social determinants were in the distant past considered secondary influences on health. This view has changed substantially. Social determinants not only cause health problems but can also advance the prospects for coping with or preventing disease and maintaining health (Cockerham, 2011:4). The findings clearly show that women in South Africa who belly dance, experience and interpret belly dancing, not only as a social practice, but also construct the symbol of belly dance as one of enhancing their well-being, fitness and even sexual expression as women within the South African context. The mini-dissertation is concluded with a chapter that outlines the conclusions and limitations related to the study, as well as recommendations for future research and practical application of the findings.
- Humanities