“One thing that we discovered very quickly is that it’s a very inclusive dance,” Copeland said. “You don’t have to be a particular body type to do bellydance,” he said. He cited a TIME magazine article last year describing the boom in bellydancing as a way to prepare for labor and delivery. Copeland believes the popularity of the dance is a revolt against all the pressure on women to use a particular lipstick or to look a particular way. The message is that every woman can be sensual and move her body in beautiful ways. The music industry is rapidly changing, and Copeland says now the focus is on live concerts and the sale of merchandise, as well as teaching workshops and sales of DVDs. “In the Middle East bellydancing does not have that great a reputation,” Copeland said. “But in America, it is a celebration of femininity, of sensuality, not sexuality.”
“What struck me and what got me excited in the first place was watching a beautiful woman without thinking about sex, Copeland said. “We were just watching a beautiful woman moving her body in beautiful ways and watching it from a purist standpoint. “You can bring your six year old daughter and your ninety year old grandmother,” he added. “And another thing to keep in mind is that 98% of our audience initially were women. So the girls were dancing for other women, not sexually for men.”
Copeland has talked with men before and after particular shows and found that their perceptions of bellydancing change radically after seeing good dancing. The dancers feel they have become the vanguard of this art form and they take it very seriously. There are 21 or 22 dancers all together, with 16 in each show. “In Barcelona we were doing a photo session for The Guardian,” Copeland said. “There were two Middle Eastern men watching us very dismissively. They said that American women wouldn’t be that good. I gave them four tickets to the show and they came up at intermission and said how proud they were to be in Barcelona and watching people love the m usic and dance of their culture.”
Copeland says that one of the great side effects of the show is that people are listening to Middle Eastern music and watching the dance and seeing another side of Arab culture.