{April 27, 2009}   LinuxFest NorthWest

this weekend me and pete rode down to bellingham for LFNW. :) it was a lot of fun. I was kinda nervous about riding my bicycle to the conference, but it turned out well… we took the bus to white rock, and getting to the border from there probably only took half an hour. once we were through, it was mostly country roads, with more birds than cars. :) there was a bit of confusion in ferndale because google maps was out of date – but we asked directions from some locals and got back on track quickly. it took nearly 3 hours to get from the border to the hotel, and it was dark by then, so we were quite ready for bed.

saturday morning I was sore from friday’s ride, but still managed to cycle the two miles to the conference. bellingham is lovely and flat – it was a nice easy ride. :) at the conference we found our table easily, and there were two monitors on it… but nothing else. jeff, blauzahl and the others were still at the hotel. I set up my laptop, we talked to one of the organizers and got the box of booth stuff, and started setting up. I think the rest of the gang showed up not long after we had that done.

I didn’t get to see much of the presentations on saturday because I spent nearly all my time at the booth – first answering questions, then trying to finish my presentation. :) it was frustrating to listen to people who came to the booth to vent about 4.0/4.1, but it was nice to hear from people who were enjoying 4.2 or interested in hearing more about this linux thing. when I went around to all the distro booths to see if they had cds we could give out, one of the ubuntu guys said he’d just switched to kde, and had it set up on hte monitor at their booth – sadly he hadn’t brought kubuntu cds, though.

at lunchtime I started trying to ignore the world and focus on fighting kpresenter and openoffice impress – I hate office software in general, and presentations especially. there was a talk I was interested in right before mine, but of course I wasn’t done in time to go see it. :/ my talk went surprisingly well, though. :) I explained the scripting plasmoid stuff, answered some questions, then we all rushed back to the other building for the raffle. :)

after the raffle was over it was time to head to the after-party… nobody knew if there would actually be vegetarian food there, so we stopped at a nice co-op grocery store first and had some yummy dinner. oh, but getting there wasn’t trivial – the intersection I’d wanted to turn at turned out to be a bridge, so we had to ask some passing cyclists how to get down to the road we wanted to be on. once we got on it, however, it was a lovely quiet road. :) and the weather was just wonderful.

the after-party was fun – and had vegetarian pizza after all – although the entertainment was a bit of a faux pas: bellydancers. I heard quite a lot of people complaining about this sending the wrong message (they want women to write code, not just dance for their entertainment). at the end, some guy decided to run on stage in BSD underwear to entertain the ladies – that was nice. :)

much beer and pizza and beer later, we headed back to the hotel. apparently there was a bit of an after-after-party in hte lobby, but I was probably asleep then. sunday morning we had to check out before heading back to the conference… there were very few people there that morning, so I decided to leave with pete (he had to head out at noon to get home for his brother’s bday dinner). I didn’t really want to cycle home alone anyways. I did get to see some portions of some presentations before I left, though. :)

the ride home was beautiful. the weather continued being perfect, there was a nice cool breeze, and time was passing quite easily. unfortunately there was a detour at the border which fdelayed us, then eight blocks downhill from the bus stop I realized I hadn’t eaten in far too long… but somehow made it there, and got on hte bus, and then we had a delicious birthday dinner to end the day. :)

I’m still exhausted from all that cycling. it was fun, though.
oh, and it seems there are photos up now. I completely forgot to bring my own camera…

TLAC says:

Bellydancing is not just for men’s entertainment, and most women find it very liberating and empowering. Not to mention, most of the bellydancers at Linuxfest NW were working professionals (teacher, legal supervisor, healthcare professional). It’s unfortunate if people decided to take the dancing the wrong way; and we would have thought that getting Monty to dance would be enough for the ladies. ;)

TLAC says:

Would male dancers have been a faux pas (male bellydancers do exist, believe it or not)? Would any other type of performer (the Blue Man Group, ballet dancers, salsa dancers, circus performers, contortionists, modern dancers, etc.) have been a faux pas? People may believe that bellydancers are simply socially-acceptable strippers, but this could not be further from the truth. Bellydancing takes a lot of skill and control and is an atheletic art form just like so many others. It should not be a mark of shame for a woman to be a bellydancer, nor should it be awkward for an audience member- male or female- to enjoy a bellydance performance. I am a bellydancer, and to be perfectly honest, most of the people who really enjoy and get excited about my troupe’s performances are women. I also happen to be a techie by day. I know my feedback is unsolicited, but it tends to irk me when people take performances to a personal level instead of enjoying it for what it is: a performance.

Chani says:

that’s not the point. a lot of people saw it as sort of “hey, linux conferences only have guys, so let’s hire something to entertain guys”. I do wish the performance could have been enjoyed as just a performance (the sword-balancing bit was pretty cool), but with so few women in open source, a lot of people were concerned that this would just perpetuate the male-centric environment.

it’s a shame, really, but a bit more effort needs to be put into making sure open source is PC until it’s not an issue any more. hopefully once there’s a critical mass of women (well, if that ever happens) then we can all relax a bit and not need to worry about equality.

you mention that male bellydancers exist, but still, all the performers hired were female. maybe it would’ve been different if there was a guy in the group, I’m not sure. I’d really rather ignore all this stuff myself and enjoy in blissful ignorance, but it does upset people.

TLAC says:

I see your point; it’s a disappointing sort of scenario, but I definitely see where you’re coming from. If male bellydancers were more common, I’m sure there could have been male bellydancers there as well. ;)

My point is that, say, if there was an all-female cast of ballet dancers or jazz dancers or another type of dance group, I don’t think people would have had that perception. The concern for me is that people sometimes tend to perceive bellydancing as a male-oriented dance form (i.e., they see it as a dance form that is meant to entertain men in a purely seductive manner). I don’t think having strictly female performers was the issue, but moreso the issue was that people have misperceptions about bellydancing as an art form.

I reject the idea that having bellydancers as performers at Linuxfest is un-PC any more than having any other type of performer would have been. It’s a shame that there aren’t as many female Open Source users, but it’s also a shame that people typecast bellydancers as something other than professional entertainers on par with other types of socially-acceptable entertainment. If it is important that Open Source events are not seen as completely male-centric and important that Open Source is not seen as a man’s playground, it is also important that bellydancers are not typified as a man’s entertainment.

Seeing bellydancers as un-PC is just as unfair to women as seeing science as a man’s pursuit or seeing women as unsuited for programming and development. Granted, there will always be a few bellydancers in the world that might reflect poorly on other bellydancers just as there will always be a few women in the world that have the “thinking is hard” mentality and reflect poorly on women’s ability to learn and achieve. The group as a whole should not be judged based upon the few, and should not be judged based upon a general misperception or stereotype.

Not wanting to start an argument, and I certainly hope I don’t come off as argumentative. I just want to put these thoughts out there when I encounter misperceptions about bellydancing and bellydancers. Members of this particular troupe also recently performed for a large feminist rally. They are performers, plain and simple. It would be a shame for people to avoid having them as performers because a few people might mistakenly perceive bellydancers as male entertainment and thus un-PC. It would also be a shame for people to avoid hiring female computer programmers because a few people might mistakenly perceive women are illogical and uneducated. The same issue is at hand in both scenarios.

Blauzahl says:

Just to make this clear at the beginning: I’m female.

Now I’m not anti-dance, I’ve done dance non-professionally. I’ve probably even bellydanced. Yes, many women do correctly consider it an empowering thing to do for various reasons. But I’m not sure if they would consider that performance and context empowering. Something about it was just “off”.

Having said that, it was a good performance, and I could certainly recognize the skill it took. I just felt weird watching. I think there were two different sets of possible perceptions there, which didn’t overlap. Calling it a PC-thing is being way too simplistic.

TLAC says:

We’ll have to agree to disagree on this point, I think, as I have been to many shows where that exact set list has been used by the dancers and most of the women in the audience enjoy it even more than the men and gush about how empowering and fun it was. One thing that I love about that dance troupe is that they try to be playful and fun and light-hearted with their performances and are generally seen as very non-threatening to- and positive for- women. They usually have something for everyone, and a very well-rounded show. People don’t like the really traditional stuff? The troupe usually tosses in a couple of modern songs with a unique flair. People don’t like the modern songs? The troupe will usually do at least one or two more traditional songs. People aren’t really into typical belly dancing and aren’t enthusiastic about just watching a dance performance? There’s usually a trick or two tossed in as well- whether dancing with swords or weighted poi veils or dancing on goblets.

Perhaps this was simply the wrong type of set list for the specific audience, but most of the feedback I heard was incredibly positive. I guess that’s why I’m so shocked by this performance being seen as threatening to the women at the convention, or catering only to the men. Everyone has their preferences, though, so if it didn’t hit the mark for you or for someone else, that’s a shame, but it’s inevitably going to happen. As long as the myth of bellydancing being male entertainment isn’t being perpetuated, or that of bellydancers at a convention being a faux pas, I’m perfectly content with everyone having their own opinions about the performance, even if I don’t agree with them.

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