Thursday, 21 May 2015



I have finally got access to my blog again! Oh, happy day!

New posts coming soon, y'all...

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Occidental Dancer 14 DVDs in 30 Days Review System Vol. 4

For Vols 1, 2 and 3 in this review series, click here, here and here.

Shimmies with Khalida 

Bellydance Instructional Series Vol 2


Why do I own this DVD? 

Because Khalida is awesome and sent it to me to review. MONTHS AGO. This is therefore long overdue. In addition to being a great dancer who produces worthwhile instructional DVDs, I can now also vouch for the fact that Khalida has the patience of a saint because she hasn't chased me up about this at all.

Who the hell is Khalida? 

She was the Bellydancer of the World 2007. Do you know how many belly dancers there were in the world in 2007? Me either, but there were a lot.

You probably also "know" her, even if you haven't met her IRL (as the kids say). Like me, you're most likely following her blog, her twitter feed, her Facebook posts, her Instagram account, her YouTube channel and her Pinterest boards. She also has her own website. I wonder what her beef is with tumblr?

Basically, there is no way that Khalida is just a catfish. I've actually met her and taken workshops with her and she is very genuine.

What it promises on the box  

Well, this IS novel -- it doesn't "promise" anything. There's a description of what to expect (tips and techniques for different kinds of shimmies), a list of chapter headings and some photos of Khalida. There is no way you'll ever be able to accuse her of false advertising.

General observations 

The studio (which is in Canada, don'tchaknow) is very white. Like, literally white all over. The floor. The ceiling. The walls. White. All of it. There's even a clip in the extras of some poor shmo whose job it was to wipe scuff marks off the floor so as not to interrupt all the white. It's amazing. And the mirror does that work? She teaches in front of some sort of technologically advanced mirror so you can see all of her at once, but there has to be some sort of witchcraft involved because the reflection looks too clear.

Sadly, however, there are no black curtains.

There's also something a little off with the dubbing, but before too long I was so busy concentrating on just keeping up that that was only momentarily distracting.

The performance pieces at the end with live drumming from Issam Houshan marked the only time The Man actually sat down next to me to watch any section of a workout DVD. Well done, Khalida and Issam! I also liked the closing credits, featuring (spoiler!) Khalida and the crew shimmying their faces.

This is also old-school, cabaret-style shimmy technique. It's super-enjoyable.

Finally, I also have to give Khalida big props for her stretch section. Of all the dance instructional DVDs I own, this is the only one where the teacher gives tips on widening your straddle sit (my lack of range in straddle being a personal bete noire).


The timings on the main menu don't lie. The intro is 1:21 long. It really is. Khalida stands in the midst of all the nihilistic whiteness like a beacon of friendliness and explains that the DVD is not aimed at any particular level ("Choose the level of layering and adapt to your own level of training"), as it's designed to drill dancers for "stronger, more relaxed and effortless shimmies."




Main menu

The menu on this DVD is exemplary. Seriously. Each main chapter heading, when selected, opens up a sub-menu that tells you exactly how long each element takes. This makes planning a practice session to fit your day both easy and satisfying -- you don't have to feel like you skimped anything. This is what happens when your DVDs are produced by Aziza. Everything's just really well thought out.
  • Introduction
  • Posture and warm-up
  • Conditioning and stretches
  • Techniques and exercises
  • Extended shimmy drill
  • Cool down
For example, if you select "conditioning and stretches", you get these options:
  • Play all
  • Squats conditioning (4:37)
  • Standing stretches (3:51)
  • Seated shimmy drill (5:57)
  • Seated stretches (4:16)
  • Back to main menu
How slick is that? Under "Technique and exercises", you're given a menu of eight different shimmies to drill. You'll never again have the excuse that you're too time-poor to practice. Damn.

£/$ -- Hidden costs 

None. Khalida works out bare foot, and you only need a towel or yoga mat.

Any moves that were impossible?

Not impossible, but certainly difficult. If you're an absolute beginner, it's probably not advisable to attempt all of these in one sitting but it'll certainly get you ahead of the rest of your class.

Try before you buy:



My cat seems to really like this one, especially the looped clip on the main menu of Khalida dancing in a mirror. And The Man refers to this DVD as "The Sweet Belgian One" ("Do you need the living room so you can do that DVD with the sweet Belgian?").


This is not Khalida's fault in any way, but I think the chouchou shimmy drill drove everyone within a six-mile radius to distraction.


Travelling steps are a bit of a challenge when your living room is the size of a horse float, but one does one's best.


Currently out of stock at tax-dodging, worker-exploiting -- possibly the glowing five-star user review from Claude is partially to blame for it flying off the shelves (despite the fact Amazon was cheekily offering it for 440 euros) -- so that means you'll have the enjoyable experience of getting it directly from Khalida through her online shop for less than 20 euros. (Or from

Monday, 21 April 2014

Harem dancer: Winnie Lightner

Geek alert: The Origins of the Term "Silver Screen"

"Silver lenticular (vertically ridged) screens, which are made from a tightly woven fabric, either natural, such as silk, or a synthetic fiber, were excellent for use with low-power projector lamp heads and the monochromatic images that were a staple of early projected images. Other silver screens are made by taking normal matte sheets and adhering silver dust to them; the effect is the same.

True silver screens, however, provide narrower horizontal/vertical viewing angles compared to their more modern counterparts because of their inability to completely disperse light. In addition, a single projection source tends to over-saturate the center of the screen and leave the peripheries darker, depending on the position of the viewer and how well adjusted the lamp head is, a phenomenon known as hot-spotting. Due to these limitations and the continued innovation of screen materials, the use of silver screens in the general motion picture exhibition industry has mostly been phased out."

What all this means is that there's a wealth of movie history that's just lost and gone forever. Today's harem dancing clip is an example of that. It's from 1931's Kismet, starring Winnie Lightner. It proves an eternal truth: just because your audience spends your whole set on the phone, it doesn't mean they're not into you:

So many of Winnie's films haven't survived or have only come to us in bits. She was an absolutely massive Depression-era star in the all-singing, all-dancing vaudeville mode, and was often cast as a wise-cracking flapper (her most famous role was as Mabel in Gold Diggers of Broadway). Winnie was married four times and died in 1971.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Good Housekeeping

What a great photo! Apart from the fact that those swords -- which are meant to be the star of this show -- look less like shiny, lethal blades and more like they've been used to divvy up the world's largest bowl  of fried chicken. Tut, tut...

Image via me on Tumblr

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Can I get a witness?

A new, illustrated version of the Bible, written in idiomatic English and transposing many of the stories to present-day situations, has just been released. Written by Mark Russell and with artwork by Shannon Wheeler, God is Disappointed in You attempts to get the essence of the Old and New Testaments across to believers and non-believers alike, even though the title is likely to harsh the mellow of any first-time hearers of the Good News.

Certainly, my first impression of it makes me think I'll stick with the King James version. To whit:

If your eyes can't make that out, the cartoon is of a woman in a belly top and a skirt pointing accusingly at an enthroned king. The caption reads, "Furthermore, belly dancing is degrading, mysogynistic [sic], and devalues the intellectual contribution of women."

This snippet buys into at least three of the key stereotypes about belly dancers* that I encounter in one form or another all the time:
  1. We are not "nice" (i.e. moral beings and/or sexually continent).
  2. We are not "smart" (i.e. educated, resourceful people with functioning brains as well as bodies).
  3. We are not allowed to be "real feminists", because belly dancing and feminism are mutually exclusive, and, worse than that, we are actually anti-feminists whose mere existence serves to "devalue the intellectual contribution of women." 
Until my fingers go numb, I could sit here and type a refutation of each of these fallacies in turn, but why bother preaching to the choir?

This cartoon makes me very disappointed in GiDiY. Presumably, it illustrates a vignette from Russell's retelling of how Queen Vashti, wife of the Persian ruler Ahasuerus, refused his command to "display her beauty" before visiting dignitaries at court. Enraged by his wife's disobedience and worried that she might set a precedent for women throughout his empire, Ahasuerus removed Vashti as queen and replaced her with Esther. I am prepared to accept correction on this point, but I can't find a specific reference to "dancing" anywhere in the Book of Esther.

If GiDiY is truly a "modern interpretation" of the Bible, why doesn't the caption read, "Furthermore, snapping nude pics of me without my permission and forwarding them to your friends is degrading, mysogynistic [sic], and devalues the intellectual contribution of women"?

The answer, it seems to me anyway, is that GiDiY does not understand that, while there may be misogynists in a belly dancer's audience who treat her in a degrading way that devalues her intellect, the dancer is not responsible for how her audience reacts to her performance. Let's not get into the whole "Well, I've seen belly dancers who were little more than strippers" thing -- seriously, let's not, we all have lives to get back to -- because I could then show you umpteen YouTube clips of fantastic dancers in modest costumes where the comments beneath are as vile and woman-hating as you could wish.

It seems that while most of us are fighting against the truly appalling things men do to demean women (revenge porn, upskirt photography, online trolling and street harassment just for starters), there is still a small but vocal segment of the population who are more concerned with the things women choose to do and how those choices could jeopardise the moral health of men. (Of course, in this context what immediately springs to mind is Toby Hill's Never Hug a Belly Dancer and 99 Other Meditations for Men.)

Although GiDiY is emphatically not a straightlaced approach to the good book, it's this page from the Book of Esther that, to my way of thinking at least, drops a massive hint that the more things have changed, the more they've stayed the same. From the days of Vashti and Esther to our own, it's art and self-expression -- and specifically women's art and self-expression -- that's one of the things on the very long list of what makes "God", or at least the people who purport to speak for God, disappointed in you.

*And, arguably, dancers in general.

HT to

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

On the receipt of unsolicited, unwelcome feedback delivered with slightly too much schadenfreude

Last night I performed at Silk Route in a troupe with some of the other peeps from my class.

It went really well. The crowd enjoyed it. We enjoyed it. Sure, it wasn't the slickest performance of my life (there was a bar in the corner with a big mirror over it, and I got distracted by catching sight of all of us in mid-flow, lost my count and started a turn slightly too early before recovering), but a lot of fun was had by almost all. On the whole, it was not a bad inaugural performance to launch 2014.

So we came off stage, and were backstage while other dancers from our school headed out to perform, and our teacher was telling a couple of us what a great job we did -- true or not, she's obliged to say that, after all -- and we were standing there, still in full stage face and costume, when I see one of my other classmates beaming from ear-to-ear and making a beeline for me. Expecting to hear something generally positive, along the lines of, oh, I dunno: "That was fun," or, "We should do this again," or "That went pretty well," -- I readied own shit-eating grin in return. But what she actually said to me was (drum roll, please):

"You turned too early!"*

And suddenly I found smiling to be quite hard work.

*As you know -- and as you would think the woman in question would know -- you do not ever, and I do mean not ever, under any circumstances, need to point out to a dancer that they have screwed up. It is like pointing out to Lindsay Lohan that, career-wise, things don't seem to be going that swell.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Stars of the Millennium: Bozenka

I hope it's not too late to wish you all a very happy new year. A normal-yet-massively-improved service will resume once I have recovered from from my post-Christmas sugar crash.

Meanwhile, I had to let you know (in case you didn't) that the stupendous Bozenka is teaching in London on 23 February. I know! I started glowing in neon hues when I found out, and I didn't even know I could do that.

If you'll be in the vicinity, and can act quickly to secure a place, bookings can be made here:

Here's a taster of what the great woman herself can do: