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Authored by Zaina Brown

I had been working as a bellydancer in the Arab world for years, when an opportunity in India popped up in 2014. For three months, I would be based in Delhi, performing in shows at different venues every night.

Sometimes our shows were as far as eight hours’ drive away – unless we were taking a plane. Hungry for a challenge, I took the leap. And I made sure I traveled with a camcorder to document the experience.

Stories of a Traveling Bellydancer in India

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On arriving in Delhi, I found myself in the midst of a fascinating world of entertainment, unlike anything I’d seen in the Middle East or the US. Indian weddings are lavish productions with non-stop performances. The acts could be anything from human fountains and fire shows to dance groups and Mujra numbers. Even better if you slap some LED lights on it!

I danced inside an inflatable ball, played bridesmaid, and joined a Bollywood dance group as a soloist. I was flown into Kathmandu for a samba performance. I was an extra in a Punjabi movie, playing the part of a foreign girl at the club.

While I had the time of my life, I was disturbed to witness the blatant racism – which worked to my benefit – in the industry. Clients pay top dollar to have white women on the stage, and while that rendered me a commodity, it meant I received far more respect than local dancers. Regardless, I had the good fortune to meet one young woman who is single-handedly changing India’s mind about women, dance, and color.

Stories of a traveling Bellydancer

An Exercise in Trust

Dancing in India was also an exercise in trust. Delhi has a reputation of gang rape. I was putting my safety in the hands of the local agent I worked for. Often I was accompanied to shows by his associates. Time and again I got in a car with men I did not know, and we drove to faraway towns, returning to Delhi at the crack of dawn.

Working for a trustworthy person is paramount when accepting a contract like this one, not only for safety’s sake, but to avoid unpleasant situations. One such agent was slapped with human trafficking charges for smuggling in prostitutes across the Nepalese border.

Having the protection of an agent, as opposed to freelancing, can make a world of difference. Going that route, a dancer has to be smart and not make enemies. There have been incidents of violence between foreign dancers and disgruntled agents. Last year, an Uzbek bellydancer in Delhi was murdered over a money dispute.

Taking My Chances With India Paid Off

For me, taking my chances with India paid off. Not because everything went smoothly, or I was never frustrated with the way things did and did not work. Indians in the entertainment business are no yogis – there’s always some drama, and fights break out easily.

Though I had the opportunity to travel around the country, and see and experience so many things I wouldn’t have as a tourist.

India has a way of getting under your skin and tugging on your heart strings all at once. Delhi showed up as a surprisingly welcoming, livable city. I forgot all about the scary headlines, and happily lost myself in its nooks and crannies.

Full Documentary

Screened at Ridgewood Guild Film Festival in New Jersey, the Festival of Colors in Brooklyn, New York, and winner of the Canadian ACCOLADE AWARD, “Traveling Bellydancer in India” offers a glimpse into the dance and entertainment world of India, both the glamour and the grime.

Bellydance, a Middle Eastern art form, is highly popular on wedding stages and in upscale clubs alike. Additionally, the documentary shows India from an angle rarely seen in international media. Behind the harsh headlines, and off the beaten tourist path, lies a fascinating world of performing arts that is surprisingly cutting-edge and competitive.

Full documentary runs for 1:16:51.

Traveling Bellydancer in India-HD from Zaina Brown on Vimeo.

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Zaina Brown is a New Jersey based bellydancer, travel blogger, and filmmaker. She began her dance career in her native Finland before relocating to the US. After years of dancing in the New York area Zaina took her career overseas.

Zaina is the author of “Stories of a Traveling Bellydancer“, available on Amazon, in which she recounts her experiences of bellydancing and traveling overseas. She has worked as a bellydancer in Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia, Mali, Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, and India.

Her documentary “Traveling Bellydancer in India” has screened at Ridgewood Guild Film Festival in New Jersey, the Festival of Colors in Brooklyn, New York, and is the winner of the Canadian ACCOLADE AWARD. She is currently writing a memoir.

Photo credits: Blue Pinterest photo by Mohamed Iujaz Zuhair. All other photography courtesy of Zaina Brown.

    17 Comments

  1. Sounds like an amazing experience dancing in India. Glad you were able to feel safe in a country that is a not always friendly to women.

  2. Wow! What a neat opportunity! India is such a diverse country.

    • Neat may be the wrong word though :D

  3. Sounds like an exciting, and sometimes scary adventure. I would love to hear more about your experience. Is the movie above your full documentary? Checking it out now.

    • Hi Tara, yes that is the full doc. Would love to hear your thoughts on the Vimeo page, or on FB! :)

  4. WOW, this was one of the first posts I’ve read all the way through, how interesting…I was hooked reading about the racism, the danger and how you handled everything. Thanks for a great article!

    • Thanks Andrea! :) Please check out my FB for future blog posts, travel stories, etc.

    • This is such an exclusive post! I’m watching and sharing the documentary as I type.

  5. A very interesting story. You are very brave.

  6. Interesting post. I’m sure it was intimidating going into that culture, but I’m so glad you didn’t let it scare you, just like all the other amazing solo, female travelers! Cheers!

    • Thank you Paige! Few places intimidate me at this point… ;)

  7. Very interesting and very courageous story.
    Not everyone leaves India with happy thoughts.
    Proves you are special.
    Thank you.

    • So glad you enjoyed Zaina’s story Nicolas :) Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.

  8. Interesting post, We spent 4 weeks in India on a whirlwind itinerary visiting 6 different regions yet only really scratching the surface of this complex and diverse country.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Dave :) You could spend a lifetime exploring India, it’s definitely one of the most diverse country’s on the planet!

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