That’s what most Muslims think, said Alia Salem, a London-based imam who specializes in interfaith work.
“If anything, it’s considered spiritual, and is just beautiful and natural,” said Salem, who was inspired to teach belly dancing at the West African Community Center, a Muslim congregation in Greenwich Village, N.Y. “I feel like our tradition is more important than dancing,” she said.
The practice has become a more popular way for Muslims to demonstrate their spirituality; belly dancing was featured in the 2012 movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
But not everyone considers belly dancing to be “religious,” said Mark Wainwright, co-manager of the West African Community Center, which has been a community gathering place since 1972. He sees it as more of an art form — in that no religious requirement is required or imposed — and something to be looked forward to, rather than something to avoid.
There are several differences between belly dancing and dancing the traditional Islamic dances called dervishes.
“There’s nothing wrong with belly dancing, but the difference is in what it’s meant to serve and what it’s meant to do,” Salem said. “In a way, it’s like playing the role of a character, if that makes sense.”
The dance’s tradition — an intricate and painstakingly choreographed performance — comes from the Arab Middle East; it’s something Arabic-speaking cultures from West Asia and the Arabian Peninsula have in common, said Wainwright.
“They’re a great way to express yourself, make a living and a profession to your culture, and do it with lots of dance,” she said. “It’s more like being an entertainer. We do this because it’s one of those moments for cultural exchange.”
The dance can be performed without wearing a hijab, which Wainwright said is a requirement for belly dancers. She suggested that a Muslim woman choose a niqab during prayer, or if not comfortable with that practice, simply do what she does — go for the full body display.
In the United States, belly dancers are very prominent in hip-hop culture, “which is so very much a part of being on the hip-hop scene,” Salem said.
“We’re also just really inspired by hip-hop and hip-hop culture,” she said. “I think that just being a part of dance in any way is so unique, to be part of hip
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