There aren’t too many films shown in the West that focus on Indonesia, so I was intrigued to see that a documentary about an American bellydancer’s travels in Indonesia was recently screened in the US.
The bellydancer, Tamalyn Dallal says she came up with the idea to visit five Islamic countries – Indonesia being the first – in a bid to “start to learn about life on the other side of the perceived divide, where for many, fear prohibits us from venturing”.
In Indonesia, Tamalyn Dallal, chooses to begin her journey in the staunchly Islamic province of Aceh.
So how could this be possible? After all, the clothes of a bellydancer pretty much resemble a bikini, revealing a lot of bodily flesh, which is in stark contrast to the conservative clothing norms in Aceh where all women are required by law to wear an Islamic headscarf in public.
Well, that’s the whole point really: she didn’t dance in Aceh because she wouldn’t have been allowed to. And she wouldn’t be allowed to dance in nearly all Islamic countries.
This is pretty strange when you think about it: why should Americans be the ones to preserve Middle Eastern dance traditions?
But besides the Acehnese, the far more liberal-minded Javanese can also get a bit steamed up when it comes to bellybuttons. In a much publicized incident a few years back, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono got so irate when he saw trendy young Indonesian women wearing navel revealing tank-tops in an upmarket shopping mall that he was moved to call their choice of clothing “immoral” and “not in accordance with Indonesian values”.
But even Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono can’t dictate the norms in Jakarta where money is king. And so the bellybutton show goes on – at least until it falls out of fashion.
After Aceh Tamalyn Dallal came to Jakarta. And it didn’t take her long to find out that Jakarta is one place in Indonesia where bellydancing is most definitely allowed. She writes:
Afterward, Devi and I went to a disco called "De Leila", that advertises on the internet that they have bellydance shows. We were looking for a type of Indonesian music called "Dangdut" that has a strong Arabic/Indian influence. What we found was a beautiful club with Arabic decorations, and a live band, all Indonesian, playing Arabic hit songs. They were quite good. Afterward, a DJ played Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti songs and the place filled up with prostitutes wearing skimpy, "South Beach" style outfits. The woman at the door informed us that it was "Ladies Night". The prostitutes far outnumbered the Arabic men, and men and women seemed to ignore each other as they danced in separate groups. It was common knowledge that most people would get lucky by the end of the night. Soon the music changed to hip-hop and three go go girls in bikinis took their places to do sexy American MTV imitations....
…We are a long way from Banda Aceh.
Yes, you can say that again. And even further from the Middle East…