Thursday, 23 December 2010

Happy holidays!

I am really busy at the moment - have just had the end of year hafla and am doing my dance teacher training foundation course (oh, yes ... more on that later) - and the computer has been sick lately. In all likelihood this is the last post of the year, because I'm off to Malta for the new year (it's a tough life, I know), so let's end with the lovely Galit Mersand and this very festive number.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

What. The. Fff

A synopsis of a 2007 short film, as found on

"My Own Private Belly Dancer" is a comedy about a fungus scientist, Jeremy, who is leading a rather dull and colorless life. He is in love with his co-worker, Angie, but wouldn't dare tell her. One day, a magical belly dancer appears. Though no one else can see her, Jeremy's new invisible friend forces him to live life to the fullest.

Here's a still from the film, in which the invisible belly dancer points out to Jeremy that, thanks to the reflection from his super-shiny worktop, she can see he's trying to look down the front of her bra*:

*My hypothesis: may not actually be what's going on at all.

Not to be a curmudgeon or anything, but what's the point of a dancer no one can see?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

I want your job

Back in 2007 The Independent ran a brief interview with London-based dancer Fleur Estelle (who I guess is now at least a creaky 25 years old!) about what being a professional dancer involves.

She doesn't make it sound like a picnic, but it doesn't sound dreary either. I'll be thinking about this as I ride the Tube to my sucky office job this morning, no doubt.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Splitting open the belly of the beast

Sooo ... weirdly, my throw-away post about 'Bad Names for Belly Dance Troupes' has been indexed on the site Xaxalaile along with much better and more thought-provoking writing on the subject of oriental dance. I particularly enjoyed this piece by Fatemah Fakhraie. I'm not linking to its original appearance on Muslimah Media Watch, because I think the comments over at are, on the whole, pretty interesting.

The bit of Fakhraie's piece that really made me straighten up in my seat was this:
"I take offense at the presentation of Middle Eastern “culture” through things like transparent veils, coin necklaces, and henna tattoos because reducing the Middle Eastern experience to some jingly coins and a scimitar takes the humanity right out of us. Elements of Middle Eastern/Muslim stereotypes are irreparably attached to the use of swords, snakes, and veils. These props serve to reinforce the idea of Muslim/Middle Eastern women as dangerous, sexually arousing, sexually submissive, and just plain different from women in the West."
Woah. Fakhraie explicitly states that she has no problems with Westerners belly dancing but I still couldn't help feeling guilty - after all, I dance with a scimitar and a veil. I own more jingly coin belts than I care to count. I don't own a snake, but I'm working out a piece of choreography set to an old sailor's shanty about a mermaid: and the green and black veil is kind of essential to it because I'm using it to represent the sea itself. Feel free to heap scorn on my lack of purist principles in the comments section.

That's my point really. I'm NOT a purist. I have no more attachment to, or understanding of, Middle Eastern cultures than your average member of the Somerset Anglicans Scone Making and English Speaking Society*. I don't pretend to in my daily life and I don't pretend to when I'm dancing. I'm not representing anyone but myself. But I do find the dance challenging, and fun, and it was a great way to get myself into a new group of people when I moved to the other side of the world. That Fakhraie, and people who share her views, could see me as some kind of clumsy cultural interloper is mortifying. I'm just dancing for crying out loud.

Which is why I'm not going to post about the treatment of women in the Middle East again, and haven't done for a while. Fakhraie was right, up to a point: I was on the verge of creating a blog that presented Middle Eastern women as "just plain different from women in the West", when all I wanted to do was acknowledge that I'm able to perform a dance that, ironically, is in danger of no longer being performed in the countries where it originated. I don't believe that Middle Eastern women are "different", any more than I believe that men in the west have anything to teach Middle Eastern men about the treatment of women. Check out British "actor" Danny Dyer and his advice in the UK's Zoo magazine to a heartbroken young man: "...cut your ex's face, and then no one will want her."

The truth is that gender equality is still a long way off, no matter where you live or what your ethnic background is. The truth is that we are all different, but that's to do with being human. There are plenty of people fighting the good fight for human rights, more intelligently and from a more informed point of view than I can hope to. I'm going to do my bit by not putting up with that sort of bullshit in my daily life and minimising the amount of bullshit I post online.

However, if Fakhraie doesn't want me to dance with scimitars and veils because she thinks I'm stereotyping her, I think that's just outrageous. Of course I'm not stereotyping anyone. And of course I want to be able to do this: 
*Society does not actually exist.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Guess where I've been ...

I'll give you a clue, don't worry. Along with the graves of Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde, I visited this one:

Got it? Well done! And if not, let's see if this helps. Here's an image from Frank Miller's The Spirit graphic novel, featuring "belly dancer" Plaster of Paris:

The movie version of this was absolutely terrible, but I did like what they did with Paz Vegas' Plaster of Paris costume:

It's hard to see at this resolution, but there are scimitar details on the bra and bra straps of this Plaster of Paris costume. Ahem. Can you guess where I've been yet, mes petits choux?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Lord and the Belly Dancer(s)

While browsing Corbis for images of belly dancers (as I do from time to time for costume ideas) I came across a picture of Princess Chirin Amina-Roshin-Geylani, with the following extraordinary caption:
The Dancing Princess. Twisting And Shaking Nightly... That's the life for Princess Chirin Amina-Roshin-Geylani who performs nightly in a Munich night club. Well known for her belly dancing, she earns $150. a night. The Princess is the estranged wife of Britain's Lord Moynihan.

I could find no information about her on Google, but had rather more luck finding the obituary for the third Lord Moynihan, who died in 1991. If, like me, you were an innocent on the subject of Lord Moynihan, prepare to have your mind blown. The Telegraph's beautifully sniffy elegy begins "The 3rd Lord Moynihan, who has died in Manila aged 55, provided, through his character and career, ample ammunition for critics of the herditary principle." And it just gets more appalled from there.

The photo they've selected from the Hulton/Getty archive with which to illustrate 'Tony's' in memoriam pretty much sums up the tone:

PS - as for the images of Princess Chirin herself, Corbis has snapped her providing a great example of why you should always get your costumes fitted.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Alla Nazimova dances Wilde's 'Salome'

This is so beautiful and eerie. The Oscar Wilde Society recently staged a screening of this film in London:

Although this was filmed in 1923, it's hard to avoid noticing just how much of a fashion debt Debbie Harry et al seem to owe Nazimova's look here!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

A trip to Scotland

Weeks ago, I was in Edinburgh at the tail end of the Festival. Among the many cultural treats on offer was a jaunt to Hilary's Bazaar, where I bought this beautiful Baladi Scimitar:

Now all I have to do is learn how to dance with damn thing.

As a side note, there are rumblings that next year the Festival organisers are going to attempt the unenviable and seemingly impossible task of regulating the reviews that get posted as the event goes on. It is remarkable, as you wander the beautiful streets of Edinburgh, just how many shows have received five-star reviews and it's tricky - if you've gone with an open mind and a full wallet - to choose just what you'll go to.

Fortunately, some citizen critics have taken to those same streets to help you decide. Behold:

If you can't read the scrawl, it says "A hateful night of spiteful misogyny." This same guerrilla reviewer had been busy down Cowgate, where the same poster was emblazoned with the legend "Not funny. Don't go."

His show was called something really lame like Alcoholopocalypse. Sadly, the identity of this polarizing 'comedian' is lost to me in the mists of time, but if it helps I can narrow it down: I'm sure it's not Omid Djalili, Shazia Mirza, Jennifer Coolidge or Reginald D Hunter.

UPDATE 24/10/10: I have just remembered the name of his show was actually worse (and more offensive): "Alcoholocaust". Through the power of Googling that name I can tell you that he's an Aussie called Jim Jefferies. Frankly, if you willingly go off to a show called "Alcoholocaust" and then are not amused by the content, you should congratulate yourself on not being nearly as terrible a person as you thought you were.

Chickpea soup for the dancer's soul

I've been waiting since 1999 (the year I took up dancing) for this moment: oriental dance is being used to shill soup. This was the label on what I ate the other night:

I am not sure why the red lentils are naked though. Maybe it's a cultural thing.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Finally - we have a winner. And a comic book!

Congratulations to Michelle from Perth, who was the winner of the Belly Dance Star competition in Australia back in August:

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the interweb, how could I not have known about this?!


Saturday, 18 September 2010

Super Troupers: Bad names for belly dance troupes #1

After more than ten years of learning how to hip drop, camel, shimmy and zill - with mixed success - I've decided to share my meagre talents with an indifferent world and join a troupe.

*Waits for applause that never comes.*

At my Tuesday night class my teacher mooted the idea of sticking some of us intermediate/advanced types into a performance group and I didn't rule myself out. This has been my boldest leap onto the stage so far, though admittedly I haven't actually done anything yet. There have been hafla student performances here and there but nothing requiring actual commitment, so it's a whole new world for me. Anyway, it was pointed out that we might need a name. Immediately, really inappropriate and/or unintentionally hilarious monikers began flying through my brain, and I'm lucky enough to share my life with someone who has a similar love of naff word play. Why not join in? It's a game the whole family can enjoy.

We decided that a really bad troupe name would either have sexual connotations and/or excessive punning, be culturally insensitive (see 'sexual connotations') or just be more suited to a rock band. The Man and I had a really good time coming up with some total howlers, and we proudly present:


  • Whores of Babylon                                            
  • Hip Drop A-Potamus†
  • Hipsters
  • Desert Foxes
  • Serial Zillers
  • Flaming Hips††
  • Rumbling Bellies                                             
  • Hip Parade
  • Hipocracy
  • Miles Copeland Presents: Nile Riverdance‡
  • Nile-ism‡‡
  • The Order of Salome*
  • Hell's Bellies
  • The Bitches of Anubis
  • Shimmy Sisters
  • Get Your Raqs Off
    Anubis (bitches not shown)
†With apologies to Flight of the Conchords.

††I'm not totally against this one.

‡Before all the Bellydance Superstars fans start howling, Bellydance Superstars IS a terrible name and also, in the doco 'American Bellydancer', Miles Copeland admits that he got the idea of forming a belly dance troupe to flog Arab music after seeing what Riverdance did for Irish music sales. So there.

 ‡‡Secretly, I think this is brilliant but I don't think anyone in my class is going to go for it. We're probably going to wind up being called Daughters of the Lotus or something equally pastel pink.

*This sounds quite uncontroversial at first sight, but bear in mind that the 'order' Salome gave was for John the Baptist's head to be brought to her on a plate. Might be good if we were a Tribal outfit doing lots of sword work ...  

Like this post? More terrible/terrific suggestions in Part 2...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Surf guitar for belly dancing to

Seriously. Michael Brennan plays Dick Dale's "The Victor" and his wife Amy provides basic zagat accompaniment:

The dancer is Babouka, in a clip from a Greek film called "Another in a Million" (1964). This just appealed to so many things I like - electric guitars, old films, belly dancers - that I kinda felt obliged to post it. What do the purists out there think?

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Joumana Haddad: "I killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an angry Arab woman"

On 7 September, Joumana Haddad appeared on the BBC's Woman's Hour programme to discuss her new book, "I killed Scheherazade". The podcast, when last I checked, is available here:
The Guardian, of course, also carries a lengthy interview with the fantastic Haddad.

Edit (7/5/11): The podcast is, malheuresement, no longer available.  BUT, if you have an hour to spare, here's this instead:

Wendy Buonaventura plugs 'Serpent of the Nile'

Oooh, what a treat. Wendy Buonaventura, the woman who literally wrote the book (writes the books?) on oriental dance has been given plenty of space on the Guardian's books page to promote the reprint of her seminal book, 'Serpent of the Nile'.

I know I'm an old traditionalist, but I prefer the original cover to the new one. This is the current incarnation:

And this is before the make over:

Excuse the low resolution images.

One of these days I'll get around to reviewing 'I Put a Spell on You', which has been on my 'To Do' list for ages.

Robert Fisk's series in The Independent continues

'The lie behind Egypt's mass suicides' is the third part of Robert Fisk's grim yet fascinating series in The Independent on honour killings. In the final part of his series, 'A place of refuge from fear and guilt', Fisk speaks to Nadia Shamroukh about her Jordanian refuge for women. There is a problem, apparently, in Jordan with Egyptian women courted in Cairo by Jordanian men, only to find when they arrive in Jordan that they've been duped:

"These men do not want to work and they expect their wives to make money for them by dancing in bars or by prostitution or begging," Shamroukh says with anger. "The women come to us for help and the Egyptian embassy here is very good and we find ways for a divorce and to get them back to Egypt."

The other kind of baby belly

Thanks to my sister, who sent me the link to this. Thanks also to [insert name of the deity of your choice] for the YouTube embed function, because you guys seriously don't want to read the comments on this one.

As it turns out, YouTube is awash in little girls belly dancing - either the real deal or just generally shaking about the way they've seen Beyonce do it on TV. I managed maybe three clips before the tinny sound quality on my laptop got insufferable, but I saw enough to know that some kids are more talented than others. And the more talented the kid, and the younger the kid, the more vitriolic the comments became.

Why? Because whether we like it or not, kids and adults are two different tribes. Once we were them and one day they'll be us, but the twain are not supposed to meet and when they do we freak out. I'm not talking about adolescence, either. That's the glorious bridging point, when you're both too young and old enough to know better. But very young, talented children? "Damn," we think. "I'm old enough to be her mother and I'm not that good. What the hell's wrong with me? I'm meant to be the more accomplished one, right? What with all my extra time on the face of planet earth. Maybe I'm meant to be dead by now. Or maybe -yes! She's being exploited! She's fodder for paedophiles! Down with this sort of thing!"

Or a thought process something like that, anyway. Self-doubt replaced by righteous anger. Anger at all those young folks with more tomorrows than us. Sure, age has its plusses. Kids don't have a lot of life experiences. They can't vote, drive cars or perform complex surgery. That's for us, the adults, to do. By way of compensation for living in a world we get to make all the decisions for them, kids get to do stuff like lie down in the supermarket and scream because we're not buying them ice cream, and pick their noses in public and eat whatever they find up there. Adults who do that kind of stuff are "childlike" and adults in calendar years only. Other adults get to make the rules for them, too.

Kids who behave like adults, however, are a bit creepy. Horror stories and movies have been based on them. Kids who behave like adults, and have talents that make them better than adults at some things - ie the prodigies - are just too hard for us to deal with.

Because I belly dance (badly, but I do) I can watch this without feeling like I'm watching a little girl play at being a ravening sexual beast. I can watch her and feel a bit inadequate, and be appreciative of her talent, but I don't feel uncomfortable. Plenty of people do feel uncomfortable watching this, as the YouTube comments show. That's a shame for them, and a shame for kids in general. Dancing is fun, and even the most innocent activity can be a come-on if you want it to be. Ever seen Nigella Lawson make a cake? That even sounds like a euphemism!

In this instance, it doesn't really matter to me that the dancer (Seda Sayan, but don't quote me on that) is Turkish and that this is "her culture". It matters more to me that she is obviously very good and enjoying herself. Let's ignore the fatuous line beloved of some YouTube mouth-breathers that because she's Turkish, this is fine. It is fine, but not because of where she was lucky enough to be born. The last time I checked, it was generally accepted as self-evident that kids like music and they like dancing. There are kids all over the world, and they are learning and performing all kinds of dances. If there's an ick factor it comes in when the adults get involved - no child would slather themselves in fake tan and body glitter, or smear Vaseline on their teeth, or wear kitten heels without parental help and encouragement.

When I was five years old, my mother enrolled me in tap dancing classes. (Stop laughing.) I wasn't very interested in tap dancing and my teacher could tell. She was very young and taught on the concrete floor of her parents' garage. While she was demonstrating basic heel-toe moves, I would gaze out the window into the garden until eventually she'd lose patience and pin her dad's dirty old drop cloth across it in a futile attempt to make me focus.

I assume she must have had words with my mother about my lack of commitment to La Danse de Bruit (I have no idea if the French really call it the Dance of Noise, but it pleases me to think that they do), because the next thing I knew I was dragged along to a draughty church hall or some such to watch an evening of student tap dancers clacking their stuff. The only performer I remember was a girl a few years older than me, who performed to "I Tawt I Saw A Puddy Tat" by that genius of late 20th century music, Tweety Bird.

Perhaps it was memorable because the song was age-appropriate to me at the time, but it's more likely to be because that was the show-stopping number that convinced my mother that Tap Dancing Was Not For Her Little Girl, After All. No indeed, my mother was not prepared to force me into an after school activity that involved slipping into a canary yellow leotard with feathers stapled to the rump of it, and then clambering into a plywood birdcage to mince around a stage while pulling coy faces at the blushing dads in the front row. Did I mention the full face of makeup? With false eyelashes and everything? Yeah, well, there was that too. And New Zealand in the 1980s was not a place where this sort of thing was common place:

Even if it were, my mum, of all people, would not have been into it. For which I am eternally grateful. Don't think I'm arguing that every time a child gets up in front of a group of adults and gyrates around that we should all just be cool and get over ourselves. As this post from April shows, there is often a good reason for us to be outraged by the sinister implications of children being used for entertainment. And it's not just dancing either: I'm not going to go off on another tangent here, but there are plenty of former child actors around who are lucky to be alive, let alone out of jail.

But let's be clear - it's OK for kids to be really, really good at at something, even if that something is dancing. It's also OK for adults to be supportive of, and enjoy the talents of, kids who are really, really good at dancing. It doesn't necessarily mean that the kids are being exploited, and it doesn't mean that the adults are latent paedophiles. Just remember: dancing is not always a vertical expression of a horizontal intention. Sometimes it's just a form of expression.

Now, please to enjoy in a non-creepy way, Fairuza Arteen:

More Fairuza (with bonus Tahia Carioca) here.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Robert Fisk on honour killings, "a crime against humanity"

The Independent is running a series by the legendary Robert Fisk on honour killings in the Middle East. In the first part he talks to 'Hanan', a Jordanian woman forced to marry her rapist in order to avoid being killed by her younger brother. In the second, he describes honour killings as "the crimewave that shames the world". And finally he talks to Hina Jilani, a Pakistani lawyer who runs a shelter for young women, only to see many of them murdered by their families when they leave anyway.

Elsewhere on The Independent, Julie Burchill fulminates about the Iranian paper Kayhan's treatment of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Bruni-Sarkozy and Isabelle Adjani have provoked ire in Iran by daring to state that they're against the proposed stoning to death of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, the 43-year-old mother-of-two accused of adultery.

Interestingly, she mentions what few other news outlets have: that among the other 'charges' levelled at Bruni-Sarkozy (prostitute, adulterer), she is a 'danseuse'! Well, I knew that dancers in some parts of the Middle East have a terrible reputation but are they really worthy of being killed? Oh, right ...

"The Afghan Star TV show caused a public outcry when a woman named Setara from Herat, a major city in western Afghanistan, danced energetically on stage, causing her headscarf to slip twice. She was no Beyoncé, but it proved enough to trigger condemnation from the powerful local warlord, Ismail Khan, as well as a flurry of chilling death threats.
“She brought shame to the Herati people. She deserved to be killed,” said an anonymous man in an impromptu street interview with Havana Marking in Herat."

Full article:

Anyway, now that you're thoroughly depressed, how about this Ignoble-worthy research into The Secrets of Male Dancefloor Success? All above the waist, apparently.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Come on if you think you're lard enough: a dance-off in three parts

I used to write a column for Wellington freebie Capital Times, so even though I'm now miles away I check in on the website from time to time to see what's shaking. In the last wee while it's been me, shaking with anger.

Before giving the background to this rather lengthy screed,* let me put my cards on the table here: 

First, I think that if you get up on a stage and charge people actual money to watch whatever it is you're going to do then you have to take your lumps. That is, it achieves nothing to get involved in a public slanging match with a reviewer who, let's be honest, (a) saw your show for free and (b) obviously didn't give a fat rat's arse about whether or not you liked what they had to say. If they cared, they wouldn't have put it out in the world for everyone, including you, to read. Responding to reviews, as a rule, is also not very dignified.

In the second place, I have no real love for The Real Hot Bitches. 

They describe themselves as a "NZ dancing phenomenon which is dedicated to real hot dancing, lycra, neon, raunch appeal and attitude". They're a bunch of people who have little shame and dance experience that extends no further than their living rooms/bedrooms. This is all fine and as a shtick it has legs (pardon the pun), because they now have a branch in Melbourne. If you can bear it, here are the original flava Real Hot Bitches in action:

Since this was filmed, the Real Hot Bitches (or "RoHoBos" for short) have developed into a 'proper' troupe who perform in proper venues and get reviewed by proper critics, ie not just the mouth-breathers who populate the comments sections on YouTube. And the RoHoBo-in-Chief is not pleased by this last part at all. Mainly because, as we'll see, sometimes even 'proper critics' can be a bit like the mouth-breathers who populate the comments sections on YouTube.

Part one

On 11 August, Capital Times published Wellington dance doyenne Deirdre Tarrant's review of the RoHoBo's latest show, The Fierceness. From the opening sentence, it was apparent that Tarrant was going to bring the fierce to The Fierceness:
This was so appalling it was actually appealing.
Nor was Tarrant prepared to concede that the RoHoBos had managed to get themselves booked into Downstage Theatre (one of Wellington's most venerable venues) because they have objective fans. Exhibit B:
A partisan audience greeted friends in the cast by name with cat calls and encouragement.
Translation: It was like going to a school play where the audience was populated with indulgent parents and grandparents. And then Tarrant really puts the steel-capped pointe shoe in:
Onstage The Real Hot Bitches (27 including three men who were arguably the better movers and certainly in better trim than most of the ladies) grind their way through repetitive routines in search of the dream to be “semi-professional”.
Since you've sketched a quick but evocative portrait of the 'ladies', what, pray tell, did these three men actually look like, Deirdre? It's one thing to criticise the dance – after all, that's what you're there to do – but to critique the bodies? Particularly when you know you're not off to see professionals? Low blow. And now the 'ladies' are presumably eyeing each other up and wondering who was excluded by the qualifier 'most of'.

But Tarrant isn't done. In her view, the lack of professionalism continues beyond the confines of the stage:
Casting is under the fierce eye of Cynthia Sachet (I was the hottest dancer alive, then…?). Loud music (not credited), loud costumes, loud voices and a script inspired by Chorus Line that was, of course, not clever nor [sic] catchy but had appal/appeal.
Gotta agree with you there, Deirdre. Not crediting the music? Uncool. Still, Deirdre didn't think it was all bad:
But there was a script, a structure, clear direction by Gabe McDonnell and Rosie Roberts and a context as six of the dancers were recalled to go through their audition paces.
So, in summary Deirdre, what did you think?
Imagination was not required. Provocative and gyrating in their gladiatorial g-strings, this troupe is enough to put you off dancing.
'Enough to put you off dancing'? Damn, girl, that's cold.

But just when you think that La Tarrant has no more left in the tank, that she has truly knee-capped the RoHoBos once and for all, she breathes deeply, resets her shoulder blades down and back, and launches herself into her final grande jeté:
Not for the fainthearted but definitely a sequinned step up in tinselled tackiness from the last RHB show I saw. Cynthia had the final say: “you’ll not make friends in this business – not if you’re any good”. The Real Hot Bitches certainly have friends. Downstage has opened its artistic arms to a new genre.
Heavens to Murgatroyd, Betsy. There is no way that a troupe called The Real Hot Bitches, built on 'raunch appeal and attitude', creators of a show called The Fierceness, is going to munch that shit sandwich and say 'yummy', is there? You bet your sweatbands it's not. 

Part two

Where most performers would recognise the futility of taking the fight to the pages of the very publication that saw fit to print such a scathing review in the first place, the RoHoBo-in-Chief fixes herself a nice big tumbler of gin n' hurt feelings and hits 'send' on her email machine. On the letters page of 18 August, Capital Times allowed Cynthia Sachet her right of reply, and it was pretty obvious which part of Tarrant's review had really got Cynthia's dander up:

Dear Deirdre, 
Darling you missed the point [Ugly unitard appeal, Capital Times, Aug 11]. I know sometimes it is hard to “think outside the square” and imagine a world where people with a few extra pounds on their chops are allowed to dance on a stage. Sweetheart, don’t worry we are not a threat to you and your wonderful svelte graceful gals, we have a sense of humour, a love of color and of course lunch. Yes, we had a story line and I know that contemporary dance is all about being a wee bit obscure and earnest so that would have thrown you. Chin up old girl, you are still dance royalty.

Cynthia Sachet
Real Hot Bitch
As stated, I don't think it's wise to respond to reviews. But in this instance I think Cynthia's right because:
  • She wisely elects not to argue that the RoHoBos are professional, full time dancers; in fact, she does the opposite ('we are not a threat to you and your wonderful svelte graceful gals') and instead focuses on Tarrant's unwarranted gibe about the appearance of 'most' of the women on stage.
  • Although it contains a trace of ageism ('chin up, old girl'), Cynthia's letter is, appropriately, a bit funny and rather bitchy.
And that, you think, is that. But you are oh so very wrong.

Part three

Dear Cynthia, 
I loved your letter [Write On, Hot bitch appeal, Aug 18]. Go the fierceness. I am so honoured – I actually think I am pretty “outside the square” most of the time, certainly on the edge of it. I enjoyed the evening but point taken and I will work on developing my regal horizons. Yes, I guess I am surrounded by wonderful dancers who work hard and have that svelte image but dance is always about the heart. Keep up the love and the looks ladies, and the sense of sardonic [sic] and I will do my bit to deserve the regal status you so generously endow. I suspect we are actually both on the same page at heart – fiercely passionate about dancing.
Deirdre Tarrant, Capital Times dance reviewer and director of Footnote Dance
Oh, dear. This delectably snobbish and vinegar-laden response makes Deirdre seem like the embodiment of the ruthless, competitive and rage-fueled stage pony depicted to such hilarious effect in Showgirls. If she did 'enjoy the evening', perhaps she could have said that instead of describing the troupe as being 'enough to put you off dancing'. Maybe, in spite of the body fascism hinted at in her review, this smackdown could have been avoided. Cynthia could have had the last word, been thought a soft-skinned luvvie by some and a heroine by others, and that would have been that.

But alas, unable to see past the physiques of the RoHoBos, Tarrant decided that if an insult was worth hurling once it was worth plating in lead and hurling again: 'Yes, I guess I am surrounded by wonderful dancers who work hard and have that svelte image but dance is always about the heart.'

In a nutshell, that comment is why I have spent literally minutes of my life posting about this tawdry exchange. Oriental dance is one of the many forms of dance you can work really hard at, for many years, and perform to an exceptionally high standard – and yet still you may never look like this:

Okay, Deirdre? Don't make me perform the Angry Dance made so famous by your son, Bret McKenzie.** Let's finish on a light note. Take it away, Bret:


*Lengthy by my standards.
**He really is Deirdre's son.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The curious incident of the dog on the vet's table

There's a kiwi book called With a Passion, that I can't find any reference to at all anywhere online(!) so you'll just have to trust me that it exists, in which Christchurch-based dancer Gendi Turner discusses her early performance career.* She relates an amusing anecdote about being hired as a surprise for a veterinary surgeon on his birthday. When she shows up at his clinic he has a dog anaesthetised on his table, so she just dances around him while he works.

In the 2005 documentary American Bellydancer, Philidas relates an amusing anecdote about her early career. She was hired as a surprise for a veterinary surgeon on his birthday, but when she showed up had a dog anaesthetised on his table, so she just danced around him while he worked.

Was this a thing? Were belly dancers all over the world performing for vets and the doped-up dogs they work on? Are there dancers in Egypt, Scotland, Denmark, Hong Kong and South Africa with similar tales? Or have I stumbled across a case of straight, um, "borrowing"? Perhaps it's just weird coincidence or it really did happen to someone and Gendi and Philidas have both adopted the tale. Man, this is going to keep me awake at night.

By the way, if you're the kind of sick baby who (A) has a small dog and (B) would like to dress it up in the 'belly dance' costume pictured, you can buy one from But if you do, I will never speak to you again.

*UPDATE: Thanks to remarkabal, who found the book I was looking for:

With a passion: the extraordinary passions of ordinary New Zealanders by Michael Fitzsimons and Nigel Beckford (ISBN: 0473078015), 2001.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Happy birthday, Sean Connery

On Wednesday, Sean Connery turned 80. 80! In tribute, here's the belly dance scene from "From Russia With Love", featuring Lisa (Leila) Guiraut. Leila, who now lives in Spain, was actually born in England as boring old Shirley Nelson, so there's hope for me yet!

Incidentally, the belly dancer in the opening credits to "From Russia With Love" isn't Leila but Julie Mendez (click the link and follow the thread until you get to the cringe-making clip of her 'On the Buses' performance). When last heard of, Julie was also still alive and living in Brighton:

Next week: the Bond Belly Dance Blow Up continues!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Cher-ly a coincidence?

Above are actresses Cher and Theda Bara. You have 20 minutes to decide who's who.

You're just "uncovered meat" - read it and weep

In 2005, some of my then-dance classmates and I went on a tour of the Middle East with our teacher. I do wish I'd had this article from the World Affairs Journal, "Twice Branded: Western Women in Muslim Lands" by Judy Bachrach to show the women in our group who variously: laughed when the local men verbally harassed us; submitted thoughtlessly to being kissed by a taxi driver in Cairo(!); were totally OK about peeing outdoors in full view of a group of Bedouin men; told the women in our group who were physically assaulted - as I was on a crowded train in Istanbul - that it was 'a compliment'; and generally were very poor ambassadors for Western women.

Let's not also forget that some Western men travelling alone in Egypt are also subjected to sexual harassment - as one hapless bloke of my acquaintance told me with undisguised horror: "I've never been to prison, but I imagine the sexual conditions there to be like Egypt on a small scale."

To which I can only say ... woah.

Bachrach's article is a long but morbidly compelling piece. If you haven't travelled to the Middle East before I hope like hell it doesn't put you off going there. HOWEVER:

"... it is no coincidence that women who must submit to Sharia law find themselves in a very bad place, wherever those women and those places happen to be. This includes France, where only last year a court in Lille upheld the right of a Muslim man to hold fast to his faith and annul his marriage when he discovered his bride was not a virgin. And it includes Germany, where in Berlin in 2005 there were eight murders of young women of Turkish origin, executed by members of their own families. And Australia, where, after a group of unveiled Muslim women were raped, the succinct Mufti Taj al-Din al-Hilali explained away the crime as an attack on “uncovered meat.” And it includes the United Kingdom, where Scotland Yard has probed 109 suspicious deaths of women, also likely slaughtered by relatives. Islam is an easy rider: it travels everywhere and often brings with it a lot of baggage.

But let’s start with Islam as it affects women in their home countries. Last year, in a poll of 2,000 Egyptian men, 62 percent admitted harassing women: an activity most of those interviewed insisted was not really their fault as their advances, however intemperate and offensive to their victims, had after all been provoked by the women themselves.

Nor is this sort of harassment confined to Islamic women in Islamic nations. Western women who find themselves in the Middle East come in for their own fair share of daily insults, owing to their double deficit as women and foreigners. Every step outside the home or hotel is an invitation to a carefully directed barrage of verbal assaults, their components familiar and unvarying: vulgar and offensive remarks, leers and snickers, the occasional shove, all accompanied by grins of triumph. When I lived in Egypt, everyone in Cairo avidly watched the television series Dallas, and as a result became expert on the sexual habits of American women. And not simply expert, but unrepentantly predatory."

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Retrospective: 2007 and the 1970s

The organisers of the Australian Belly Dance Star competition have been pretty slack - I can't find any information at all about how it went or who won. While looking around for that crucial info, though, I found a gallery on AOL's website for the 2007 Miss Belly Dance Hungary competition. For copyright reasons I can't provide any images here, but it looks like a good time was had by all. I particularly like image 5 (the woman in the lime green costume leaping in the air. Note legs of bod otherwise obscured by the TV).

So we'll have to make do with some out-of-rights images from a pair of 1970s Lebanese albums unearthed by blogger Scratchy Buckles. And I think you'll agree, it's a pretty fantastic compromise:

Your eyes do not deceive you

Beneath that tray and galabeya lurks none other than Jessica Simpson. Yes, Jessica "Chicken of the Sea" Simpson, seen here sporting typical fly-catching facial expression.

This still courtesy of her show "The Price of Beauty". I couldn't find a clip of this scene in motion on YouTube, but I suspect that's just as well.

UPDATE 05/11/2010: "There ain't nothin' flat about anything on top of my head." - Jessica Simpson.

The bit you're looking for is at 3mins 50secs:

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Australian Belly Dance Star Awards

If you're going to be in Sydney, Australia on 20 August, and you don't object to belly dance competitions, why not check out the Australian Belly Dance Star Awards? Tickets are available from Amera's Palace. Even if you've no vested interest in the performers, Dina is one of the judges so you might be able to get an autograph (cough, splutter ...).

A big zaghreet and good luck to Tais Derbasova, who'll be the only kiwi competing this year. This article, complete with an appalling pun of a title, should be taken with a grain of salt. It says Tais "was surprised to find negative attitudes toward the ancient dance in her new country" (she's originally from Russia) but neglects to mention that she lives in Auckland, which despite being New Zealand's largest city has one of its smallest raqs communities, proportionally speaking.

Tais could be in with a real shot, too: check out her YouTube channel and prepare to be impressed.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Sixties special!

I found this photo on Superbomba!'s flickr stream (check it out, it's awesome). It reminded me of I Dream of Jeannie -- a show that was at least twenty years old by the time I was watching it as a kid in the 1980s, but was probably my first exposure to harem pants.

NB: This will be the "last post" for the month. I'm off to the other side of the world but the usual erratic service will resume in early June.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Arts n' Crafts

That marionette at the top gives me the heebiejeebies. It's supposed to be a 'harem dancer' but it looks like Jocelyn Wildenstein. Amirite?:

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

More bellydance paper dolls

These are from Liana Kerr. Cute costumes -- but I would say that. I have a hip scarf quite similar to this one:

But I can only hope and dream that someday I'll have a costume like this:

Monday, 26 April 2010

Cleopatra paper doll

The blog gallimauphry musings illustrates the post on Bara's turn as Cleopatra with these adorable paper dolls:

Friday, 23 April 2010

Hakim and Olga Tanon - "Ah Ya Albi"

This is the first song I ever performed in public to. I might have enjoyed it more if I'd seen this video first!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Stars of the 1940s: Tahia Carioca

If the 1944 date is correct, Carioca (1915-1999) would have been about 24 years old at the time this performance was filmed.

This rather interesting article about her dancing from the Millicent and Carla Fran blog makes some of the classic assertions about belly dance (it developed as a means of assisting childbirth, for example, and Carla Fran trotting out the 'coin belts originated as a way of displaying a dowry' myth in the comments), but I really appreciated this post because its well written and includes clips -- always handy when discussing a visual art form!

From the 'Legends of Bellydance' DVD.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan

I know no one reads this blog, but if you happen to be in the UK tomorrow night with access to a TV, you could do as I plan to and watch a repeat screening of The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan on More 4:

"The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan reveals a dark side of Afghan culture which has up to now remained hidden. A tradition known as Bacha Bazi (literally 'boy play'), which was banned by the Taliban, is spreading through the country and exploiting the desperation of many poverty stricken children."

If you can't watch the doco, Reuters carries a story about the "bacha bereesh" (boys without beards), as does the dear old Guardian (where would I be without them?) -- though their take is, if anything, much bleaker.

Update: Wikileaks cables have now shown that foreign contractors working in Afghanistan were implicated in Bacha Bazi. Interior Minister Hanif Atmar was worried enough to approach the US and ask that the story be 'quashed' in case deaths followed the revelations.

Pic: Ghaith Abdul Ahad/Guardian

Friday, 16 April 2010

Nawa el Saadawi: Egypt's radical feminist

Nawal-el-Saadawi is profiled in today's Guardian and the piece opens with her declaration that she is becoming 'more radical with age'. Yeah, me too!

Image source: Guardian UK

Monday, 12 April 2010

Sex sells

Another disappointing example of the near-pornographic imagery used to sell belly dance albums in the 1970s.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Shake n' Bake

You wait ten years for bellydance cakes to crop up online and then two come along almost at once!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Just Because

Just Because is a UK-based charity set up by raqs dancers to help fund breast cancer screening and treatment for women in Egypt. As you can probably imagine, like many other countries Egypt doesn't tend to put women's health issues at the front of the funding queue.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Simplicity itself

Yes, you can get Simplicity sewing patterns for tribal costumes.  This rather takes the fun out of searching for hours for the perfect bits and pieces though, doesn't it? (Of course Simplicity's patterns look like basic circle skirts and crop tops - if you want the fancy stuff you have to go to a company called 'Really Complicated and Time Consuming'.)

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Edible camel?

Finally, one of my favourite blogs has come through with a belly dance cake wreck!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Dupiwu: the art of 'belly skin dancing'

You don't have to be an Occidental dancer to be dancing outside the borders, as this article from Al Jazeera proves. The reporter seems to have a rough idea what he's looking at, but doesn't delve into what the popularity of belly dance might mean in a country where female children are 'undesirable'.

I love that 'dupiwu' sounds like the noise your hips would make during a really smooth, horizontal figure of eight. All together now: Dupiwu! Dupiwu!

I gotta say, the women in my classes tend to be a little more, um, zaftig than this lot. Perhaps the photographer specially selected the women in this pic. So pretty, such lovely posture ...
(Image from China Daily.)

Monday, 8 March 2010

Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women

"Lazreg's fascinating book, Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women (Princeton University Press), tells us that the veil comes and goes, according to the rise and fall of ideologies and the change in male perceptions of women and women's beliefs about themselves. Algeria illustrates the point. After women helped achieve independence from France in 1962, many ceased to wear the veil. It lost its political force as a form of rebellion and became an archaic custom of an older generation. Lazreg remembers her mother discarding it.

The revival of the veil among Algerians in recent years coincides with economic failure, a regional cultural identity movement and the war between Islamists and the Algerian government."

Thursday, 4 March 2010

How cheap are women's lives?

Back in December, as a postscript to a post on Haifa Wehbe, I wondered how Egyptian billionaire Hisham Talaat Mustafa's appeal was going against his death sentence for the murder of his former partner, Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim (pictured). Well, now I guess I have my answer.

This news comes on the back of a Guardian/Observer campaign to bring to justice Farouk Abdulhak. Abdulhak, the son of one of Yemen's wealthiest and most powerful men, is the chief suspect in the rape and murder of Norwegian student Martine Vik Magnussen back in 2008. Her body was found in the basement of a flat Abdulhak had been living in in London. He is believed to have fled to Yemen, which has no extradition treaty with the United Kingdom, where he is now being sheltered by his father.

Call me cynical, but the level of justice these women [haven't] received seems to be directly linked to the bank balances of the men accused of killing them. That's not only true in the Middle East either; just ask OJ Simpson.*

*Oh yes, I did.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Occidental dancers in Cairo

McClatchy's has a 'tell us something we don't know' article on the economic and cultural importance of western belly dancers to dancers in Cairo. It's pretty interesting though, and paints a fairly depressing picture of what the locals are up against.

The case against heading to Egypt with your hard-earned dosh: I was once unfortunate/fortunate enough to do a three-day workshop with a world-famous dancer and teacher in Cairo. She did very little indeed, but her choreographer worked like a piston. Here's hoping he got a decent cut of her hefty fee.

Admittedly, (a) I did not move to Egypt to live and completely immerse myself and (b) I'm not a professional dancer.

The case for supporting the dance industry in Egypt, on the other hand, is rather more compelling ...

"Egyptians have had to suffer a lot to keep this dance alive. Many are disowned by their families; they suffer from the shame. It's a struggle," Mendez said. "We, a little link in the chain, need to respect it and learn it correctly so we can help keep it alive."

As a bonus, here's a pic of arguably the first occidental belly dancer, Little Egypt. At least, there's a good case to be made for saying it's her:

Sunday, 28 February 2010

You win some, you lose some

Al Jazeera reports that the Egyptian Council of State's vote to bar women from making judicial decisions attracted only 80 protestors to a demonstration against the unconstitutional ruling.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia (a nation not famed for its brilliant track record on women's rights), a tiny victory looks set to be won for women lawyers. The deeply conservative state is considering passing legislation to allow them to argue 'family related' cases in court for the first time.

[This blog has been on hiatus for a while as I thought about whether I wanted to continue with it and what I'd do with it if I resurrected it. Honestly, I'm still deciding so in the meantime I'm going to commit to updating at least once or twice a week. Wish me luck!]