We Are All 'Exotic'

My experience of being considered exotic.

iana komarnytska sultan's tent morocco

Hair piece: from Tibet Lungta (Kensington market in Toronto)

We Are All 'Exotic'

I remember the feeling of being perceived as exotic during my trip to Thailand about 8 years ago. My parents and I visited an eleven-level waterfall, which was not a common touristic spot. Once we reached the top level, we found ourselves as the only white skin visitors there. Local people got really curious, and kids were even laughing and pointing at us. Later our guide explained that white skin was considered exotic there.

Special thanks to The Sultan's Tent & Berber Social for providing space for this photoshoot. The Sultan’s Tent and Café Moroc evokes a nostalgic romantic vision of an exotic French Moroccan environment, and transports its guests to a magical, unforgettable experience.

Special thanks to The Sultan's Tent & Berber Social for providing space for this photoshoot.

The Sultan’s Tent and Café Moroc evokes a nostalgic romantic vision of an exotic French Moroccan environment, and transports its guests to a magical, unforgettable experience.

If we turn to a subject very close to me, belly dance, we see it very often being described as something ‘exotic’. When I first started practicing this dance form, I thought about it the same way. Most belly dancers in the West were driven to their first class by notions often exaggerated and stimulated by the media of fantasy and mystery for an ancient ‘exotic’ dance from the Middle East. Only a minority of us came already with a deep understanding of the history and culture of this dance form. Can I say now that I still consider belly dance as something exotic? Not at all. Today, more than ten years after my first class, belly dance is a part of my everyday life, more common and familiar to me than traditional dances from my own country.

Here is another interesting example: along with belly dance, I study and perform a number of folklore and traditional dances of the Middle East, such as Turkish Roma and Persian Classical dance. I am very active in events of the Persian community in Canada, and Iknow that some hosts prefer to hire me exactly because of my background. Even though I don’t’ speak Farsi, I always hear an emphasis on 'Ukrainiana' in MC’s announcements prepared by event hosts. What was considered surprising and exotic to that audience, was the combination of my background and my profession - a Ukrainian person that knows and performs both Persian and Arabic dances, something worth bringing attention to.

The word ‘exotic’ as in common everyday use is basically a description of novelty, or the surprising quality of a subject, or something simply out of the ordinary, which quite often would be related to things introduced from abroad. From this perspective, absolutely anything or anyone could be described as exotic. To some, wearing Tibetan hair jewelry may be exotic, and to others it may be wearing an American baseball cap. 'Exotic' is not a matter of the subject itself, but rather of attitude and novelty from the observer’s point of view.

 

What do you find 'exotic'? Share below in comments :)

Author and model: Iana Komarnytska

Photographer: Pedro Bonatto

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