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Negotiating Discursive Constructions of Belly Dancing in New Zealand and Australian Dance Communities

The belly dancing subject is contained within dominant historical, Orientalist and essentialist discourses. An existing body of literature examines the belly dancer as ‘subject of’ and ‘subject to’ social and gendered discourses within social contexts. However, the literature has failed to address the question of relationships between three spheres of meaning in belly dancing, these being 1) the social sphere and discourses of the social world; 2) the individual and personal sphere; and 3) the spiritual and inspirational sphere. Nor have previous studies examined how effectively women are able to articulate their experiences of these relationships within the available discourses. This research covers new academic ground by taking a more holistic approach to the exploration of experiences of the dance. An investigation into the meanings and relationships that 26 women from New Zealand and Australia attached to their experiences of belly dancing required the use of a combined theoretical paradigm to provide greater scope for the consideration of individual experiences of belly dancing. Therefore I developed a Poststructuralist, phenomenological and hermeneutical theoretical paradigm which allowed for examination of subjective experiences and consideration of the meanings that individual subjects may make of those experiences. As the women began to describe their experiences of belly dancing, dominant themes emerged relating to women’s perceptions of belly dancing, their experience of belly dancing in performance, their embodiment of belly dancing, and their resistance to the dominant discursive constructions. Analysis of the interview material indicates that these women situated themselves ‘within’ the experience of belly dancing and many offered novel descriptions of those experiences, defining an emerging personal sphere as distinct from the established discursively constructed understandings available within the public sphere. Participants’ literal explanations of their own experiences often included faltering or tentative attempts at articulating their experiences, and frequently gave way to spiritual and inspiration meanings and descriptions of altered states of awareness. These results may suggest that the established dominant discourses within the wider social sphere were insufficient in terms of providing terms and concepts with which dancers could adequately express their feelings, understandings, sensations and experiences. Furthermore, the women’s novel descriptions reveal previously unexplored spiritual and inspirational meanings and relationships to their experiences of this dance form, indicating an emerging spiritual or inspirational sphere. This research thus provides an opportunity for the discovery of new understandings of women’s experiences, as women who belly dance.
Type of thesis
Cowper, M. (2011). Negotiating Discursive Constructions of Belly Dancing in New Zealand and Australian Dance Communities (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5610
University of Waikato
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