The Chinese film My Mother Is A Belly Dancer never got a lot of attention among U.S. bellydancers because it was never widely available here. That’s a pity, because I think most dancers would really enjoy it. Moreso than any other belly dance movie I’ve seen, this one captures the essence of what belly dance can mean in a woman’s life, especially as a hobby. It’s melodramatic at times, but very moving.
The role of belly dance in women’s lives
My Mother is a Belly Dancer captures the essence of how we are changed by our encounters with belly dance. In this way, it’s similar to the Tunisian film Satin Rouge, but in that film, the main character danced professionally and was drawn into a steamy underworld by the dance. In “My Mother is a Belly Dancer,” the students are hobbyists who only perform in a student recital, and while they may be set free by the dance in many ways, it doesn’t lead them into a cabaret lifestyle in any way.
The story follows a group of Cantonese women who live in the same housing project in Hong Kong. All of them have painful emotional lives — in fact, they are one shimmy away from a melt down. The women come together for a more traditional dance class, but learn it has been canceled and replaced by belly dance. The women, whose daily lives give them no space to be themselves, grow to find incredible freedom and joy in this new art form, but their community and their families bully and pressure them to give it up.
Great film for students and teachers
All of this will resonate emotionally with most dancers on some level, and teachers will be especially moved. Teachers of belly dance often feel pressure to turn out great dancers, but it’s good to be reminded of the trust our students place in us, how vulnerable they sometimes are, and what our classes and recitals can mean to them. Providing a safe space for women to explore their relationships with their bodies and souls is no small matter.
Where to buy “My Mother is a Belly Dancer” in the U.S.
The only place I’ve ever found “My Mother is a Belly Dancer” for sale is on e-bay in Cantonese with English subtitles. The seller says it will play in US DVD players, but I’d be prepared to test it in several players and on a computer just in case; foreign DVDs are always tricky.