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.