Westerners are used to a very polite distance between themselves and a dancer. We’re used to sitting back in a darkened theatre with the dancer elevated on a stage. She or he can’t even see the audience. Most of us performers of Orientale dance/bellydance consider it fine for audience members to look at the parts of the body that are in motion — watch our hips when we shimmy, our belly when we undulate, our face when we do headslides, and so on. There is a much closer, warmer, more playful connection with the audience in Middle Eastern Dance. It is meant to be shared and actively enjoyed. In fact, the eyes, hands, head, and arms are all used to focus attention on certain parts of the body, as are props like veil and cane. We want you to notice!
There is an important difference between attentive watching and leering. Most of us can tell (and feel) the difference. By all means, show you are enjoying the show. Clap if you feel the desire to — especially if the dancer shows that she wants the audience to, tip if you are really enjoying the show (but not for a stage show, and never, ever throw money at a dancer), get up and dance if she pulls you up (don’t make her drag you), smile, and cheer. No cat calls or wolf whistles. You can call out “Aiewa” (AY-wah, approximately) which roughly translates as “Oh yeah!”, and means you really like the dancing and want to encourage the dancer. Personally, I love a really active, energetic audience, be it in a theatre or in a restaurant.
When it comes to your partner being in the audience, especially in a restaurant, be tasteful and classy. You shouldn’t sit in his/her lap or otherwise be overtly sexual towards your partner. Playful and lighthearted flirting is (to me) acceptable, but avoid being lurid. Do not rub up against him/her, or allow yourself to be touched. No bum smacks or pinches. I would not kiss or hug my husband during a performance. I might pull him up to dance, or drape my veil around his shoulders. Think about what you might see any other professional dancer do in performance, be it ballet, tap, or flamenco. You are dressed up to perform a cultural dance, not to satisfy or inflame your partner’s desires. Save that for your bedroom, and keep that to yourself. There is nothing romantic, sexy, or appealing about “harem girl” fantasies, in my opinion. Read about the actual, historical lives of women in harems (or any other kind of concubines) and you should get over any fantastical notions that it would have been fun.
I find very little appeal in a dancer who tries really hard to be sultry and sexy. I enjoy watching dancers who know their stuff, are having fun, who enjoy their music, who have great technique, who are sharing their energy with their audience.