I first joined the wired world in 1982, women were scarce in
cyberspace. The Internet was still a governmentally-funded network
of information about science and technology that required its
users to be proficient with the not-very-easy-to-use UNIX environment.
The company I worked for, CompuServe, was one of the early pioneers
in the private sector to offer an easier-to use way of access
information via modem. "High-speed" modems at the time
were 1200 baud, and using CompuServe at 1200 baud cost $17 per
HOUR. Scary, huh? CompuServe's "chat" area, known as
the "CB Simulator" because it followed the metaphor
of citizens' band radio, was populated with a community of almost
entirely men. When I popped in and identified myself as a "belly
dancer", they all went wild with their eagerness to talk
I pretty much spent all my online time in the CompuServe environment
until 1997, when I decided it was time to update my skill set
and get Internet-savvy. At that time, a couple of years after
the Internet had been opened up to the masses and the Worldwide
Web had introduced an easy-to-use point-and-click face on the
Internet, women were still definitely a minority in cyberspace.
And since the vast majority of Middle Eastern dance artists are
women, there were very, very few Middle Eastern dance web sites.
So, in July, I created mine. That was also about the time I discovered
the "med-dance list", a listserver that allows about
800 Middle Eastern dance aficionados to exchange e-mail.
Just over the last few years, I've watched the Internet transform
the belly dance community. The impact has been profound.
It wasn't so long ago that the only ways a dancer could advertise
her classes in her community were the local Yellow Pages, the
course catalog published by the institution that sponsored her
class, flyers, and word-of-mouth. It was expensive and time-consuming
to get the word out.
Today, a dancer with Internet access and a little computer
knowledge can quickly put up a web site that advertises her classes
and performances. Prospective students frequently search the
web when looking for local classes.
Whenever I begin a new 8-week session of classes, I ask my
students for a show of hands to see how many found out about
my classes through my web site as opposed to the course catalog
published by the Adult Education program that sponsors my classes.
Usually, 1/3 to 1/2 of my new students found me through my web
site. It works.
Even dancers without web sites can promote their classes on
the Internet. Online directories such as mine at http://www.shira.net/directory.htm offer
free listings to dancers worldwide.
Many belly dance teachers don't know much about dance history,
Middle Eastern culture, or even the music used for dancing. They
just know bunches of moves, where to get costumes, and how to
use props. From 1981 to 1997, I was very frustrated because I
took regular weekly classes from 8 different people plus attended
a number of workshops, and just couldn't seem to find the answers
to basic questions like what my favorite songs were about, what
role belly dance played in Middle Eastern society, etc. All these
teachers dismissed my questions as unimportant or unknowable.
When I ventured onto the Internet in 1997, I quickly found
two wonderful web sites with great dance information: Stefan's
Home Page, and Kimberly Cyr's Middle
Eastern Dance Resource Guide. Both sites are still worth
visiting, even though neither one is updated any more.
Another resource that I found to be tremendously helpful in
expanding the depth of my knowledge about Middle Eastern dance
was the "med-dance list". This is a listserver (a type
of discussion forum technology that delivers the messages via
e-mail). Even though many Yahoo clubs and other online discussion
forums have popped up over the years, the "med-dance list"
still has the largest membership and highest message activity
of them all. To join, just send a plain text (do NOT used the
"Styled" option in your mail software) e-mail message
to email@example.com whose only text says, "subscribe
med-dance" (without the quotation marks, of course!) You'll
get an automated reply asking you to confirm your subscription
request. Follow the instructions in that e-mail, and then you'll
start receiving about 30 e-mails a day.
Since then, of course, many additional interesting web sites
have appeared on the scene with information about Middle Eastern
dance. Today, there are hundreds of them. You'll find my favorites
listed right here on my Links
In addition to the dance-oriented sites, there are many, many
web sites put up by Middle Eastern people with information about
Middle Eastern culture. My two favorites are Al Mashriq and The
The communications-oriented corners of the Internet such as
the discussions on Suite101, the med-dance list, and the Yahoo
clubs bring dancers together who otherwise would never have the
opportunity to meet.
Thanks to connections with other dancers I have made on the
Internet, I have had the opportunity to:
- Form lasting new friendships with wonderful people like Morocco
whom I would never have otherwise had an opportunity to get to
- Party with dancers in other cities that I've traveled to
on business for my day job.
- Get to know other dancers in my own community better through
the more frequent contact.
- Find out about events in nearby cities that I otherwise wouldn't
have known were happening.
- Travel to Egypt with a small group of wonderful people.
- Get exposed to differing opinions on dance issues that I
hadn't even realized were controversial before I got on the Internet.
- Learn so much more about Middle Eastern music, dance, and
culture in general.
- Teach workshops in other cities, sponsored by people I met
on the Internet.
The Internet has opened many doors for belly dancers to attract
students, reach out to the general public, get advice, and make
new friends. It offers a lifeline to dancers in rural areas who
need the support of a community to keep their dance energy alive.
Many dancers have reported that the Internet has changed their