Popularization of Culture: The Arizona Renaissance Fair and Contemporary American Belly Dance

Popularization of Culture: The Arizona Renaissance Fair and Contemporary American Belly Dance

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In this Chapter, I explore a contemporary venue for belly dance in America, the Arizona Renaissance Festival. I examine how belly dance functions at the festival and how the festival uses the past as an exotic entity. The Arizona Renaissance Festival creates a fantasy culture for entertainment and reinforces America’s ties to a European heritage. Contemporary representations of belly dance are examined, illustrating how this multifaceted dance simultaneously connects to and denies its Orientalist roots in America. I also examine how images of belly dance from the nineteenth century impact contemporary dance through costume inspiration. Due to the numerous styles of belly dance in America today, I focus on only two different forms of belly dance, American tribal style belly dance or as it referred to ATS and Egyptian cabaret.
Culture of the Renaissance Festival

Displaying a constructed view of predominately historical European culture, the Arizona Renaissance Festival loosely follows the format of nineteenth-century World’s fair’s midways. The festival is a fair that spreads over thirty acres with booths that sell goods, food and hold games of skill. The festival has eight stages which are the central focus for entertainment. The Arizona Renaissance Festival’s re-production of Europe’s culture and society of the past imparts nominal educational benefits. The festival’s central goal is entertainment and revenue. The participant is removed from the everyday and is placed in an alternate culture where knights, pirates, fairies and belly dancers exist together, generating a fantasy world. The Arizona Renaissance Festival does not have a specific area dedicated to Middle Eastern culture. The entire festival is a journe...


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...ese questions may not have complete or satisfactory answers.
The concept that belly dance is a constantly evolving dance might surprise most people, as the static Orientalist image of the belly dancer is the one that pervades American popular culture. I and other scholars attempt to remove belly dance from the ridged framework of Orientalism and the harem fantasy. By the following how belly dance arrived in America, and how images of belly dancers and harems became part of the visual culture of the West I have attempted to demonstrate that there are aspects of power and a different reading of images of belly dance is possible. Through continued scholarly inquiry and research I look forward to the emergence of a new image of belly dance, one that represents the power and beauty of this dance, an image that is respectful of the many cultures that it represents.

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