Friday, 23 December 2011

The last post (for the year)

It's been a long, strange year hasn't it? Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful end to 2011 and a great start to 2012.

Playing us out, here's the Mirage Belly Dancers of Rochester, Michigan in a 2008 "hula-esque" performance. [EDIT in response to Tamsin's comment below: This dance is to hula what Julie Newmar's dancing is to belly dance.] This is to Bing Crosby's Mele Kalikimaka (there are no prizes for guessing what that translates to, sorry). It's the song I SHOULD have learnt a hula to at the Fantasia this year, but alas didn't. So this goes out with an extra serving of "aloha!" to Tamsin at Hawaiian Hula UK and to my dear friend Rachel, with whom I'm spending Christmas Eve and who knows all the words to this song by heart. And does a damn good version of it after a few festive sherries, too.

Joy and peace to all you occidental, accidental and oriental dancers out there! x

Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas Special: Wookie Woo

By the man-bits of Chewbacca! It's almost the end of the year already and it's Christmas this weekend - can you Adam and Eve it? Let's get into party mode with this mad French ballet/disco homage to Star Wars:

Are you feeling festive yet?


Then how about some more disco Star Wars-style, with Kris Kristofferson and Donnie and Marie Osmond?

How about now?

I went to the last Hafla on the Hill for the year in North London on Friday night. It was so much fun - not least because downstairs there was some kind of men-only Irish rock party thingee. We got lost and a bit confused, and wound up there first, but the nice lady from the bar ushered us upstairs to the right place. My friend Nicola performed beautifully (and you can follow her on Twitter - search @CreativeHarvey) and there were great performances from Sunny, Hadassah Stars, Setsuna, Bellydance Belles, Arabian Dance Theatre (well, two of them!), Anna Zaremba and the night's organisers Dunya Belly Dance. Many thanks to Rosy and Michelle for putting the evening together, and for the gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins and Christmas mince pies on the tables. Nom...

Based on the advertising for last Friday's event, it seems that there were a few last-minute no-shows (every event organiser's nightmare, I'm sure), so the performers deserve extra special kudos. Many of them stepped up to fill the gaps with unscheduled sets, some of which were improvised. Now that is the mark of the professional.

It would be remiss of me to wrap up this post without giving a massive zaghareet to Zara's Souk, because I won a hip scarf from them in the raffle to support Sure Start Camden! I never win anything so I was well made up. I've bought from Zara's online shop and had great service, so am only too pleased to give 'em some props.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Weird Wednesday Woo (Part 5): When Photoshop effects attack

Greetings, minions of Earth! I am Demonica, the Belly Dancer from the Eighth Dimension. Yes, mortal fools, behold the bizarre arrangement of my left leg and despair! Right leg? What is this "right leg" you speak of? I, Demonica, have only a fleshy, square plinth beneath my skirt, the better for balancing with.

The wonders of my body are what you with your pathetically limited number of joints and laughably extraneous number of limbs can only dream of. This foot is detachable, you know. Other anatomical differences between our kinds provide me with hours of mirth at your expense. The main joint for my right right arm is actually at the wrist, where it attaches to my skull, and I do not have a shoulder as such –  what you would consider the 'top' of the arm is actually the bottom of mine. It so amuses me to see your reactions when I deftly swing my scapula towards you like a club (a favourite party trick in Eighth Dimension speakeasys when foreigners are in the audience).

Your worship of the rounded breast confounds me, when plainly my own "twin soup bowls" arrangement is the pinnacle of desirability. Gaze deep into the shape on my chest that closely resembles a pair of outsize novelty sunglasses, and feel the shudder of fear you SHOULD feel when you realise that I am peering back at you with the eyeballs-cum-nipples my costume conceals. MWAhahahaha! While you are often compelled to say "My eyes are up here" to one of the many repellent males of your species, I, Demonica, need never waste my breath on such a fatuous instruction for I have eyes everywhere even in my barest suggestion of a navel.

Ah, I wish you could see as I do the looks on your repulsively mobile faces when I poke the two skewer-like digits on my left hand at your disgustingly moist eyeballs! Although it turns my stomach to be in such close proximity to you, how your yowling justifies my own permanent facial expression of malevolent glee! I, Demonica, the Belly Dancer from the Eighth Dimension, need never trouble myself with this "anti-wrinkle formula" and "Botox" your puny race is so enamoured of.

Your kind is so grotesque to me, and the light in this realm is so bizarrely un-nauseating, that out of sheer spite it is tempting to levitate out of the screen and clack my Zagats of Madness at you until blood streams from your nostrils. Instead I shall return to the infinitely superior Eighth Dimension, where I believe we are having Lobster Bisque for lunch.

So suck it, plebs. Enjoy your sandwiches. Demonica out.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas hells

Dear Jilly

My workplace is a very conservative one. It is in the legal/financial sector and everyone wears suits all the time. We do not have dress-down Fridays because our client base would not take kindly to it, and we have a company-wide dress code stipulating that women are not to wear long earrings or studs larger than a shirt button. Next weekend my company is having its annual Christmas party. Usually this is a smart affair in a nice restaurant we have booked out for the occasion, and we often have entertainment of some sort. To give you some idea, last year it was a magician, the year before it was a group of actors who got us to play charades.

However, business has not been very good this year and so the budget for the party has been cut. We will instead be having a meal in our in-house canteen after work on a Friday, although it will be catered and drinks provided. This has not stopped some people from feeling rather cheated and this is where my real problem lies. Senior management have asked if I will belly dance at some point between the main course and dessert. (Rather foolishly, I included my hobby on my resume when I applied for my current role. I thought it may give me some ‘edge’ over other candidates, because in my line of work I was sure it would make me memorable when it came to short-listing applicants.) I have declined, on the grounds that I don’t want to mix my hobby with my work, but my line manager has assumed that it is because I was not offered payment. In fact, I am concerned that my very straight-laced colleagues will make me the subject of spiteful, unfounded gossip.
My line manager has all but accused me of being selfish and greedy for depriving my colleagues of a bit of Christmas cheer. I did try suggesting alternatives – Andrew from sales is always looking to demonstrate his hand trumpeting skills, for example, and Danusha is a champion juggler – but this has fallen on deaf ears. Should I reconsider for the sake of my career? I do not want to be seen as someone who is not a team player.

The Pinstriped Pirouetter


Dear Pinstriped

You haven't got where you are today by being as dumb as a barnacle, have you? And I'm willing to bet that you've got gut instincts a ship's rat would envy. After asking around, it seems that refusing to dance for free at a work do is not a sackable offence. If your first thought was to leave your Bella at home then trust that feeling! Obviously, I've never been to an office party, but if what I understand from popular culture is true then at some point in the evening one of your workmates will dance for free anyway.

Hope that helps!

Jilly x

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A weekend of it

On Friday I was lucky enough to go to Amira's Christmas Hafla in Balham, London. Gotta say that it was the venue of the year so far: the sumptuous surrounds of the local Polish community's meeting hall, complete with gilt-framed mirrors, red curtains and Czech crystal chandeliers, are pretty tough to beat. It was also a night of fantastic performances - I can honestly say there wasn't a duff one in the bunch.

Although I tweeted the night's proceedings (oh, don't worry, that makes me feel a little squeezy too), here's the actual run sheet from the night:

First half
  1. Delilah
  2. Beckenham Improvers (Sakina, Jyl, Taneka, Anouf, Marrissa, Jill and Anna)
  3. Jenny
  4. Gilda's Students (Annie, Lani, Leah and Trish)
  5. Tooting Improvers (Jane, Carol, Danielle, Jo, Rita, Helen and Elaine)
  6. Desire [it's pronounced "Dez - ah - ray", actually]
  7. Beckenham Intermediates (Sue, Linda, Anna and Maddy)
  8. Amira
Unfortunately, Anais was unable to perform as scheduled.

Second half
  1. Nefiseh [Shamadan and zagat]
  2. Veil Dance (Jane, Sakina, Sue, Linda, Carol, Anna and Gilda)
  3. Maho and Students [ATS]
  4. Jane and Sakina [veil]
  5. Balham Intermediates (Jenny, Pauline and Rachel)
  6. Gilda [veil]
  7. Anna Kemper [of Small World Belly Dance, Brixton]
  8. Razia - in her last London performance until at least 2013. And she made sure we'll miss her, too!
Thanks to Amira and the organisers for such a fun night out.

This weekend also saw the Fantasia festival in Turnham Green. [Sidenote: aren't English place names the awesomest?] Alas, my plans to go and support friends in the competitions and attend a couple of workshops were thwarted by a combination of prior commitments on Saturday and generally feeling lousy today. HOWEVER, I do know that Hawaiian Hula UK had a splendid time, which makes me even more rueful because that workshop was on my wishlist, and that Rachael looked beautiful in the Isis competition (Facebook is good like that). Ahnemon took out bronze in the Palace Dancers competition, with only their second-ever performance together. This rounds out a great fortnight for Ahnemon's Maelle, who came second in her heat at Belly Dance Trophies last weekend. Phew! 

Next Friday, all going well, I'll be attending my last hafla of the year, Hafla on the Hill, where my friend Nicola will be performing. And then I suspect I'll be all hafla-ed out....

Friday, 9 December 2011

Faster. Higher. Stronger. Or not?

Today's burning issue: Should you do it just because you can?

The Olympic motto of "Faster, Higher, Stronger" has never been more apt. Olympic athletes today have more speed, height and strength than ever before. By way of example, the fastest man in the world today is Usain Bolt. His current 100 metre men's sprint record is 9.58 seconds (set in Berlin, 2009). Compare that with the first-ever official men's 100 metre record, set in Paris in 1891, when Luther Cary sprinted the distance in 10.80 seconds. To put that into perspective, if we could have time-travelled a peak-form Cary to Berlin in 2009 to compete in the final that Bolt set his record in, and have guaranteed that he would run the distance in 10.80 seconds, he still would have finished 0.46 seconds behind the slowest person in that race (who, for the record, was Darvis Patton at 10.34). That's right - all eight runners in that 2009 final were significantly faster than the 1891 world record holder.

Thanks to the virus my blog installed on your computer so that I can see you via webcam, I can tell you're wondering what on earth all this has to do with dancing.* It has A LOT to do with it, because the parallels are the same. Professional ballet dancers, for example, are now expected to be more flexible and have more stamina than the dancers of 100 years ago. This doesn't mean that the dancers of 100 years ago were terrible, but it's highly unlikely that a dancer of their standard would find work with a professional company today. Exhibit A.

It's not just ballet, either. You only need to compare clips of Egyptian Golden Age dancers with those of dancers like Randa Kamel and Suhaila Salimpour to see the difference. Crucially, however, there are still belly dancers who aspire to dance like the belly dance stars of fifty and sixty years ago. In large part, this is because belly dance has always had room for performers who can overcome their lack of training or limited physical range by connecting with the music and the audience (Egyptians, in particular, place a great emphasis on a dancer's emotional range, with some dismissing Kamel's style as "too Westernised". So cultural origins play a part too). Belly dance's roots are in folk dancing, which goes some way to explaining its continued popularity as a hobbyist pursuit, but in common with burlesque it has an element of populist "showbiz" that "high art" forms of dance can sometimes lack.

As far as sport goes, the changes in what's physically possible for humans to achieve is exactly what events like the Olympics are for. The measurements are wholly objective, even for sports with nominal elements of artistry like gymnastics and figure skating. In the context of dancing, the ability to execute technically difficult moves may well come at the cost of something less easy to quantify, such as emotional expression. There's not a lot of room for conveying nuance when your face is pinched with concentration.

It's a fact that art evolves, but I've seen student belly dancers do difficult moves badly, often for no other reason than to demonstrate that they "kind of" can do them. Quite often it will taint what is otherwise a really solid performance. It bothers me because it contributes to the idea that belly dancing is one of those undemanding pursuits that anyone can "kind of" do "well enough" if they have hips and the inclination.

The author demonstrates her "less is more approach" to costuming,
and how blogging has improved her strength and flexibility.
For many Western belly dancers (who, like me, often come to it as adults when the window for being moulded into a rubbery acrobat has long since closed), there is a perceived challenge to be seen as "real" dancers despite the fact that belly dance doesn't require the gravity-defying leaps and joint-straining positions of other mainstream dance forms. This is, of course, ridiculous. There are many professional, amateur and hobbyist belly dancers who work incredibly hard and are as or more accomplished than dancers in other genres. It's not the fact that I can't put my leg behind my head that makes me a bad dancer - it's that I don't breathe properly when I dance and have terrible posture that makes me a bad dancer.

Besides, there are belly dancers like Anasma who have come from other dance backgrounds to create something wholly new: belly dance, but not as Tahia Carioca would have known it. There are so many different kinds of belly dance now, and all so different from each other, that the fact there's still one umbrella term to cover all of them is frankly astonishing.

I say all this to clarify my position: I'm not anti-fusion. I'm not anti-physicality. And I'm not against people using belly dance as a spring-board for creative self-expression - though I still reckon that student haflas are not the place for that piece about how your mum gave you a gimp mask for your tenth birthday. My beef is solely with swapping out dancing in favour of nifty stunts.

A couple of years ago I saw an otherwise very good dancer attempt to do the 'bridge' yoga position in the middle of her choreography. Apropos of nothing in particular, she performed a perfunctory amount of floorwork and then pushed herself (with evident effort) into a back bend. It didn't fit with the music. It didn't fit with any of the other phrases in her choreography. The only possible reason she had for doing it was to demonstrate the flexibility and strength of her back. In the context of a dance, that's not a reason. In the context of a gymnastics routine, it's a very good reason. I have the same gripe about the splits. While sometimes it's a very useful tool, carrying the dancer fluidly from standing to floorwork and back again, more often than not it's done as a stunt - "Hey! Look at me! I can do the splits!"

It's fine to have a signature move, but not if it gets shoe-horned into every performance whether it needs to be there or not. This is never more evident than when you see a dancer who has made a demanding move a core part of each of their choreographies. I'm not just whinging about this because I have all the bend and flex of a concrete lamp post, although I'm not too proud to admit that I am impressed by the very flexible.

The loss of originality, grace, expression, artistry and sheer pleasure from dancing is a real risk for dancers who focus solely on their athleticism. Having said that, conditioning, strength and flexibility all make for better dancers, because they help to extend the range of motion and, hence, dance vocabulary. Knowing when to keep the party tricks in the box is as much a skill as being able to perform them.

Recommended further reading:

Ballet postures have become more extreme over time (via Science Blogs)

Simukova in a Nutcracker that's way ahead of its time

*Just kidding - you look great.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

She dreams of 1969*

When Israeli metal band Orphaned Land (gotta love that name) performed in France earlier this year, they were joined on stage - as usual - by Johanna Najla (also known as Johanna Fakhry). Johanna is a Lebanese belly dancer. Here is Johanna talking about her career and being on tour with Orphaned Land to French Metal in an interview posted online five days ago (clip is en Anglais):

All very interesting - what it was like to grow up in a conflict zone, what it's like to belly dance to metal and yaddayaddayadda. Search Johanna and Orphaned Land online, however, and you get a story that she doesn't even mention:

Yes, earlier this year she and the lead singer of Orphaned Land waved the flags of their respective countries of birth at a bunch of French metal heads. Peace, love and battle jackets, man. [Sidenote: does the lead singer of Orphaned Land know that he looks a bit like Jesus? Does he heck.]

Unfortunately, since The Lebanon and Israel are still officially at war, it is illegal for Lebanese citizens (even those who, like Johanna, have not lived in The Lebanon for a long time) to have any public dealings with Israelis. When the above clip hit the internet back in July, Johanna got death threats from her compatriots. How seriously she took those is probably indicated by the amount of time she spent discussing them in that recent interview.

*Today's post's title comes courtesy of Phil Oakey and The Human League:

The makeup! The shoulder pads! The hair! The earnest politics! God, '80s pop was fantastic.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Another weekend, another hafla

In a couple of hours I'm off to Wembley for round 2 of Bellydance Trophies. As with the hafla I went to last weekend, I'll be tweeting in between performances if you're remotely interested in finding out how it's going.

From its website, the venue looks the set of an early 1980s sci-fi show (i.e. worth going to whether there are dancers or not).

UPDATE (Tuesday 6 December): For those of you who did follow along on Twitter, I apologise for the misspellings of names! An especially humble apology to Zana, the heat winner, whose name I just couldn't catch no matter how I angled my ear trumpet towards the MC. My companion, the beautiful and patient Christina, receives extra props and abject expressions of thanks for spending the time between performances staring at my ear as I hunched over my phone.

For those of you who didn't follow my inane tweets, the Round 2 contestants and their placings in the heat were as follows (the numbers before their names are their competition numbers):

08 Amy

09 Bianca = THIRD PLACE

10 Chloe

11 Firuza

12 Maelle = SECOND PLACE

13 Keisha* (originally meant to perform in the March heat but swapped places with Saffron)


The judges were Nawarra, Anne White, Shafeek Ibrahim and some random dude from the audience. A huge congratulations to all seven dancers. They put on a terrific show and all of them looked like they belonged in the final. I think the judges made good decisions and I don't envy them being the ones to make it!

Heat 3 is, I believe but don't quote me on this, 15 January 2012. How nice for the dancers in that heat, to spend all Christmas and New Year in a state of panic. It will again be in Wembley, in the same tatty venue with its carpet of old black chewing gum. Ah, belly dancing. It's a glamorous business, innit?

Friday, 2 December 2011

Hair be drag-ons

Having broached the sensitive issue of depilation earlier in the week, it was total kismet that lead me to this:

I've seen London's Hurly Burly Girls* do a variation on this - while Polly Rae crooned I Must Have That Man, upstage a sailor with "his" back turned to the audience slowly stripped naked while most of the women present bayed like banshees. At the song's end, "he" whipped off "his" cap (spoiler alert!) to allow a cascade of blonde hair to fall down her back before turning around with her hands strategically placed in front of her crotch. It was the only truly "burlesque" moment in the whole show.

As for this piece - well, although I like the element of Crying Game-esque surprise, it could be meta. (Link supplied for younger readers who don't get the aged pop-cultural reference.) Who else thinks this would be awesome if we were seeing a woman dressed as a man in drag? And is it so wrong that I'm tempted to make it a reality myself?

(Please do excuse the lousy double-whammy of puns in this post's title. It's Friday and I'm a little low on inspiration.)

*Link NSFW. But I'm sure you'd figured as much.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Weird Wednesday Woo (Part 4): Dancing barefoot, but in heels

Some bright spark with a knack for Photoshop has been ruminating on the "meaning" of cosmetic surgery and where it might go next. If our fashion and body-obsessed culture is telling us that invasive surgeries and uncomfortable clothing are the way to attract love, success and happiness, why not combine fashion and surgery so that certain wardrobe embellishments can permanently become part of our bodies?

What they've come up with may be pushed into sick reality by an incredibly indecisive Oriental dancer who can't choose between heels and dancing barefoot.

If you are squeamish, then so sorry about this and so on, but really - what are you doing on the Intertubes? In any case, just remind yourself that these are brought to you via the magic of Photoshop:

via Geekologie

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Hair be dragons

This week my friend had a horrifying/hilarious trip to an over-sharing manicurist that got us talking about - of all things - dancers who don't whip off all their body hair.

I must confess that, given the rather limited exposure I give my armpits on a daily basis, I'm kind of relaxed about letting the undergrowth just do what it will when I know I'll be wearing sleeves 99.9% of the time. Only ever once has someone commented on this in class (when I was wearing a tank top and had to lift my arms over my head), and even then I know I wasn't supposed to overhear the horrified gasp of "Ohhhh kaay!". Puh-lease. I shower daily and wear deodorant - it's not like I was about to grab her by the back of the neck and push her nose in there.

Anywho, it seems there is at least one professional belly dancer in the world who doesn't shave or wax her legs either. She's fair and blonde, so I guess she can get away with it. All of which is a rather long-winded of way of finding an excuse to share with you the wonderful world of Maria Smedstad's Em cartoons.
Click to embiggen!
Is a full-body waxing session a compulsory part of performance prep or not? One of my former teachers insisted it was, arguing that no matter what your socio-political views on the subject of body hair, a luxuriant crop of sub-scalp follicles was simply distracting to an audience. If you wanted the crowd to walk away talking about your dancing rather than the perms in your pits, went her reasoning, then you'd best make friends with a razor. (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the gist.)

Friday, 25 November 2011

Photo du jour

"A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you."
Brigitte Bardot

It's just a shame that this photograph didn't capture for eternity what the dude in sunglasses behind (the now famously Islamaphobic) BB was looking at. This looks like it was one hell of a party.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Weird Wednesday Woo (Part 3): Can Can from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld

But there was nothing too weird about that, right? In fact, the 1970s-Bollywood flavour actually went down pretty well with me.

Oh, I see. Tough customer, huh? Well then, whaaaat aboouut ... Robert De Niro doing the Can Can in vintage ladies underwear?

(From Stardust (2007).)

Boy oh boy. Golly wow. NOW I'm weirded out.

Thought so. My work here is done!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

How I became a dancer

I'm always asked, "Jilly, how did you get into belly dancing, seeing as how you're a colossal squid and all?"

Well, it's not a very exciting story really. After I left school I went to work in a Lebanese restaurant as a dishwasher (pay attention in class, kids. That's all I'm saying). They had a dancer and she and I got on like a house on fire and soon became best friends. We bonded over the fact that we had similar names. I wonder whatever happened to Jillina anyway? If you’re out there, girl, holla!

Pic originally posted on Tribes, artist/freakazoid unknown.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Stars of the 1940s: Houriya Mohamed

Vane is right - yesterday's post was mean spirited. There's no getting away from it and I'm very sorry that I posted while in a bad mood, thereby breaking my own blogging cardinal rule. It's true that Alexandra is far from the worst dancer I've ever seen, and although I personally prefer dancers to wear longer skirts it's her prerogative to wear whatever she likes. The post won't be deleted (though it's pretty tempting), because unfortunately it's unlikely to be the last regrettable post I ever make. Plus, if I hadn't made it I wouldn't have got Vane's feedback. So ... rough with the smooth.

Now that the rough part is over, let's have some smooth.

Houriya Mohamed was one of the first stars of the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema: Edward Said claims that Houriya (indirectly) taught Taheya Carioca to dance. However, as Taheya's star began to rise Houriya and Taheya became bitter rivals - LebDancer's bio info for Houriya claims that either Houriya or her mother once destroyed one of Taheya's costumes prior to a performance, and that the relationship between Taheya and Houriya degenerated so much they wound up in a physical fight. You can read all about such undignified behaviour here.

Bohboh in Baghdad (1942) starred Houriya as Bedour, a Bedouin slave girl rescued from the desert. This is the celebration scene, in which Houriya wears a strikingly simple, modern-looking costume:

And here she is seven years later in Fatima and Marika and Rachel. The plot to this movie sounds a bit like a pub joke - Fatima is Muslim, Marika is Christian and Rachel is Jewish - but in this truly wondrous clip, as good as anything in an MGM musical, Fatima sings a song about "the brown skinned guy" a fortune teller has just predicted she'll meet. The costume is a lot more bling-bling this time:

Although, thanks to the different alphabets, Egyptians often wind up with many variant spellings of their names when they're transliterated into English, LebDancer advises that in Arabic "Houriya" means a beautiful heavenly woman - but Horeyya (as Houriya's name is often spelt) doesn't have any meaning at all. So there you go.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Mad, mad props

While looking for clips of famous Greek dancers, I took a wrong turn on YouTube alley and wound up meeting characters I wasn't looking for. I brought one of them home to meet you - everyone, this is Alexandra, who according to her videographer (if no one else) is the "most famous belly dance[r] in Greece".

To which, if this is true, we can only say, "Poor Greece. As if it didn't have enough problems at the moment":

You have got to be kidding me. She can't dance - and I say this as someone who is standing metaphorically naked in a proverbial glass house and hurling massive boulders of "look who's talking, stumble bum". Her snake arms smack of "will this do?" Her chou-chou shimmy is just a tired gesture towards one (probably not aided by the high heels) and her Isis wings evoke not so much an Egyptian goddess as they do a pigeon trapped against the windows of a disused factory.*

However, she is very flexible and strong and she radiates confidence, even if the blonde hair/blue costume combo reminded me of Smurfette. But the sword/wings overload is a classic example of losing the dance in service of the props - you see it all the time at haflas, where people are just really excited to be showing off a new toy. But at the Hilton? From a top-level pro? You may notice that the clip begins with her discarding a veil, so that's veil, double sword AND Isis wings in one hit. Paint me unimpressed in an impressed kind of way.

I was halfway through this post when I thought "Hold up. Give the woman an even break - maybe without props she's awesome." Unfortunately, when Alexandra loses her props, she also loses her costume - if you're at work, just be warned that the camera operator here is looking for a second career in gynaecology:

Give her back her swords, and her clothes reappear. It's like a truly crappy form of magic!

That's a nice costume, and the dance itself was better but ... I don't know that I'm utterly convinced that Alexandra is great. What do you think?

*OK, I know that's not strictly accurate: she wields those things like a ninja, even if it's like a very wired ninja after a speed ball with an espresso chaser. It's just that she looks quite frenetic with them, and to me there's always been something faintly "billowy curtains in a Meatloaf video" about Isis wings anyway. So I guess I'm a bit prejudiced.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The day in awesome: males in veils

Dangerous Minds reports that Egyptian student Aliaa El Mahdy has set up a Facebook page where men can post pictures of themselves wearing the veil. Some of the gents are taking it one step further and are also rocking a little kohl with a soupçon of coquettish smile.

via Masha Egupova @ Cairo Cat
Said El Mahdy:
"The girls I know who wear the veil do so because of their families or to avoid being hassled in the street. I don’t see why we should always dictate what women must wear and never what men must wear."
Aliaa has form for using the internet to challenge the perception of women - previously she posted nude pictures of herself on her blog (link takes you to an article about it, rather than the blog itself). However, this strikes me as a far more creative and engaging initiative, and far less open to misinterpretation or wilful misappropriation. Mad props to Aliaa and all the guys taking part.

Although it's in Arabic, the ability to "like" her page - called "Resounding Cries" - can be done in any language.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Thought for the day

The last post was so unwholesome and skeezy that I think we all need a palate cleanser:

It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn't a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is a sin.
Benjamin E Mayes.

"Sin" is a pretty harsh word there, fella. And also, while I admire Mr Mayes' sentiments, I am willing to bet that he wouldn't have thought it a calamity if the dream to create this had remained unfulfilled:

Mem-Art Ceramics and Gifts
Noble failure or outright disaster? Your call.

(Side note: if you want to be completely creeped out, you should A) check out the unpainted version of this and B) brave the horrors of Mem-Art's unicorn babies.)

Friday, 11 November 2011

Bo Derek learning to belly roll in "Bolero" (1984)

"In your belly is life's greatest treasure..."

Yep, that's particularly true in my case at the moment, where life's greatest treasure happens to be a good slice of chocolate brownie in the process of being slowly eroded by my digestive juices. Aiwa!

Oh. I don't think that's the kind of treasure that the writer of Bolero (1984) meant:
"[Bolero] follows the tale of a young woman's sexual awakening and subsequent journey around the world in pursuit of her ideal lover. Encounters include an Arabian sheik [played by well-known Arab actor, uh, "Greg Bensen" - The Raqasa] and a Spanish bullfighter. Her friend and butler accompany her and help to arrange her couplings. Moderate nudity and soft-porn."
In a review entitled "Not even Bo Derek's naked body can save this", IMDB user GlenGaryGlenRoss wrote:
"OK, I admit it. Bo has a beautiful body. And I will admit this too. Bolero is so bad that it easily ranks as one of the worst movies ever made."
I think I'll give it a miss.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

"Why yes, I AM a professional belly dancer!"
Helllooo my little limpets!

It has been so long, hasn't it? Well, truth to tell, your Aunty Jilly has been having a few problems of her own of late. Yes, my deadbeat ex-boyfriend tracked me down on Facebook and I foolishly agreed to meet up with him for a "few" drinks for old times' sake.

Next thing you know, we're drag racing pods of killer whales off the Southern California coast during the blue whale migration and five weeks later I wake up somewhere near Alaska, dressed up as an Orion Slave Girl and with the remains of a fishing boat wedged into what passes for my cleavage. My family always told me to stay away from him because he's a Kraken. "He's a drunk!" my mother would holler at me as I'd swim out to meet him in my longest tentacle extensions. "He's an artist!" I'd blub back. I thought the olds were just being species-ist, but it turns out there are good reasons they never liked Aegir: just ask the tattoo of a mermaid I now have on my butt.

But I was young, and he really is an artist. Look at that beautiful drawing he did of me on our trip, still wearing my Orion body paint and hauling some poor sailors to their graves. Of course, he made my chest a little bigger and gave me arms, but otherwise that's a pretty accurate portrait. Let it never be said that your Aunty Jilly doesn't understand the complex workings of the heart - people, I've known trouble. I'm sharing this sorry story of depravity with you so that you will be even more comfortable sharing with me.

Anyway, while I get around to answering some of my mail, please watch this depressing gem, entitled "Why yes, I AM a professional belly dancer!":

Hat tip to Dress for Bellydance!

Monday, 7 November 2011


Yesterday was performance appraisal day, and overall I'm pretty happy with how I did. I didn't fall over, I didn't stare at my feet and I'm pretty sure I actually did move around a bit rather than staring glassy eyed at my class mates. It was a real honour to watch everyone else's dances - not only was everyone just so much fun to watch, but the music selections were great and the atmosphere in the room was really "up". No mean feat, given there were fewer than ten people in the studio. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but ... I actually had fun, even though I ran a bit late thanks to a bit of a "cat-astrophe".* So thank you, Razia!

Watching back the video of my first performance later, however, I could see two things straight away that I'll need to do A LOT of work on: my arms and my footwork. Oh, the arms. How many times have I pratcised lifting with my back muscles and keeping my elbows elevated? Too many times to count. And what happens when I get in front of actual human eyes? My chest collapses in on itself and my elbows wind up somewhere near my hips. Pffft. Now I'm looking forward to receiving my feedback form, because at the moment all I can think about are my limp, inert upper limbs, dangling as uselessly as John Wayne Bobbit's original penis.

Luckily, help is to "hand" (fnar!): the Guardian's rather excellent "MoveTube" dance blog recently spotlighted the importance of arms to the performance of the Dying Swan.

The post is in two parts, the first featuring legendary ballet dancer
Uliana Lopatkina in a traditional interpretation and the second focused on a Brazilian hip-hop dancer, John Lennon da Silva, who self-choreographed a contemporary version of the Dying Swan when he entered a reality show competition. Magic begins at about 1.50:

As Luke Jennings says: "The city of São Paolo, where he lives, is one of the most dangerous in South America, and the closing moments of Da Silva's piece seems to speak of young men like himself, dying before their time." No wonder that judge is weeping.

Meanwhile, I'll be making myself weep by giving this a crack:

*I mentioned we moved - the new pad came with a resident elderly black cat we've named Bernadette. She's poorly at the moment and decided to leave some, erm, leavings indoors. Just as I was about to do my stage face! And then this morning she brought in a mouse and devoured it whole in front of my horrified eyes. Despite all this, I think she might be the greatest roomie I've ever had.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Bellydance Trophies

Apologies in advance for the late notice, but this arrived in my inbox only this afternoon.

If you're going to be in Wembley, London on Sunday - and frankly, if you're not there, you're not anywhere - then you could do worse than to check out the first round of the Bellydance Trophies competition.

A £12 donation to UNICEF gets you tickets to both the competition and the after party.

Plus, Brighton Orient and Zara's Souk will be "exposing" at the event. I am sure that the organisers meant to say that those august purveyors of costuming supplies will be "exhibiting", but maybe it's a burlesque fusion-type thingee.

Unfortunately, I can't go because on Sunday afternoon I have my performance appraisal and plan to spend the rest of the day curled up in the fetal position in a corner somewhere. If you are fortunate enough to attend, you can write down how you found it and slide your review under the door of my padded cell. While you're about it, if you could slip me a slice of processed cheese too I'd consider it most kind.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Stars of the Millennium: Rachel Brice

OK, fine. I admit it: I don't know my Tribal and my Tribal Fusion from my tushie. Don't worry, though, because I am suitably embarrassed about my ignorance. At the moment I'm finding YouTube, The Pink Coinbelt Chronicles, The Bellydance Blog and Crumbs in the Costume Closet rather excellent resources in the ongoing battle against my lack of nous.

Since it is Halloween (happy All Saints Day/Samhain/Great Pumpkin Festival to you all!), it seems as good a time as any to bust the Tribal cherry with this completely splendibulous horror movie/belly dance mashup, entitled Whisper Hungarian in My Ear. Thrill to the beauty of Indigo Belly Dance (Rachel Brice, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes) vs White Zombie (dir. Victor Halperin, 1932):

The music is by Dan Cantrell and The Toids.

And here is Rachel all by her lonesome, performing at Salon L'Orient a year ago:

Is it so very wrong that her costumes always make me want to weep with envy? And just quietly, she was the best thing about American Belly Dancer too...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Man of the Day: Omar Sharif

This just in from the Dohar International Film Festival, where legendary douchebag and actor Omar Sharif was turning on the charm at a screening of his 1991 film An Egyptian Citizen:

The woman he strikes is a journalist who was presumably just going about her business. I don't know what upsets me more - his utter lack of remorse, as though he goes around hitting women all the time and thinks nothing of it, or the journalist's near-total lack of reaction, as though she's used to men she's never met before whacking her in the kisser. She keeps smiling, FFS! While I admire her grace in the face of this revolting old man's outrageous and insulting behaviour, the primal beast in me wishes she'd returned his slap in kind.*

*Perhaps my foul mood is because I moved on the weekend and my new neighbour likes to play electric bass IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAMN NIGHT. Verily, hell is other people.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Stars of the 1990s: Howaida Hachem

Howaida Hachem, or (cue deep, heavy sigh) Houwida El Hasem or Howaida Al Hacem or Howaidah Alhashem, was (is?) a Lebanese dancer famous for her drum solo performances. She's almost too inspiring: it's all her fault that I've bitten off far more than I can chew and am going to be doing a drum solo for my performance assessment with Razia next weekend. A drum solo, needless to add, that will look nothing like one of Howaida's.

Howaida rose to prominence on LBC Television in the late 1980s, had a very successful career during much of the 1990s and then, according to, sometime during the late ‘90s/early 2000s, Howaida just – and I quote – “disappeared. She is [no] longer performing any dance shows”.

There are numerous clips of her performances on YouTube, but as for biographical information ... well, I've just shared all that I could find. I've no idea how old she is, where she lives now or even if she's still alive. Mysterious is not the word:

Here she is in 1996, which makes this shortly before she “disappeared”:

Howaida was also famous for her Lebanese Beladi, a dabke-style solo with cane. I found this clip on Bellydance Adventures:

Bellydance Adventures, like Howaida's career, is now seemingly defunct. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.

{There is the sound of a breaking window somewhere in The Raqasa's flat.}

Hey, what's that noi ....

Friday, 21 October 2011

Libyan zokra

Yesterday, it was confirmed that Gaddafi is dead. Hopefully, the people of Libya will be able to reclaim their country (which is apparently beautiful) and rejoin the world community.

Apparently, this is a clip of a pair of Libyan women performing to 'zokra' music. Nope, I'd never heard of it but there is a lot available on YouTube. It was part of International Night at the Vivaldi Hotel in Malta, so hence the watermark on the clip.

It's very folkloric, the 'big dress' is apparently called an 'albdlah alkbirah', and I intend to direct people to this when they ask me if "belly dancing is like lap dancing" (true story):

Fingers crossed that we will now be able to learn a lot more about Libyan culture now that their country is not cut off from the world by an evil despot.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Happy birthday, Barrie Chase

Recently I wrote a retrospective of the Thompson and Scorsese treatments of Cape Fear for Filmwerk. In the 1962 Thompson version of the movie, Robert Mitchum's Max Cady attacks a drifter, Diane Taylor, who is played by Barrie Chase. Barrie Chase was born on this day in 1933.

This is what Chase looked like in Cape Fear. This is from the scene where she first encounters Max in a bar and gives him the glad eye:

The role of Diane is a small one, but Chase is so good in it (and, I admit it, so jaw-droppingly beautiful) that I wondered why she'd not become hugely, mega famous. IMDB went some way to explaining why:
"She was originally set to play Claudine in the movie Can-Can [1960] the part that made Gwen Verdon a Broadway star. But when the studio gave her two dance numbers - an apache dance and 'Garden of Eden' - to star Shirley MacLaine, she walked off the picture, and was replaced by Juliet Prowse. Barrie eventually bought out her Fox contract and left the studio that largely wasted her talents."
Wait. Dance numbers? Imagine my excitement when I found that Chase was, in fact, a professional dancer - a professional dancer who featured in 1960s movies! It's like she was born to have her career documented on this little-read blog of limited appeal.

Of course, I'm joking. Chase's career was far more successful than that. She was Fred Astaire's partner for a while - both on stage and off, despite their 34-year age gap - and she featured in four of his television specials. Here they are in a Pygmalion-inspired number from 1966:

(Her muscle control in that opening vignette is quite something.)

Even better, from The Occidental Dancer's point of view, is that in the 1965 Robert Aldrich film Flight of the Phoenix, Chase appears in a dream sequence as Farida, a "Berber dancing girl". Here are a few shots of her in that role and on set with Aldrich:

Perhaps not the most authentic Berber outfit we've ever seen, but she does have a small tattoo painted between her eyebrows that wouldn't look out of place on a Tribal dancer now (put 'Barrie Chase Farida' into Google images and you'll see what I mean).

Alas, try as I might I could not find a clip of her dance scene in that film, but I hope you'll find this, complete with MC Bette Davis and its live drummers, adequate compensation:


Now, you may have thought based on the IMDB quote above that Chase was being 'difficult' or just chucking a diva strop. But people, people, people. Barrie Chase could DANCE! She was Fred Astaire's dance partner! And the studio wanted to give her two big showcase pieces to Shirley MacLaine. The same Shirley MacLaine we see here, allegedly dancing in John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965) [Shirley's massive ball of Oh Dear God Someone Make Her Stop starts at around the 4.03 mark, but there's plenty of chiffon-on-girl action before then]:

The other featured dancers in this scene are Nai Bonet and Sultanna (more about them in future posts!). In an irony that has presumably been lost in the mists of time, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home was directed by J Lee Thompson, who only a few years before had directed ... Cape Fear, with Bobbie Chase.

There is no justice. Nevertheless, happy birthday Barrie.

PS - if you're interested, here's MacLaine doing (a) the 'Apache dance' and (b) the 'Garden of Eden dance' in Can Can:

Still think Barrie would've been better. Click here to see her in a rare public appearance from earlier this year, being interviewed by the Film Noir Foundation about the experience of making Cape Fear.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Julie Mendez in "On the Buses" (1970)

This is not safe for work. In fact, it's just not safe. Let's acknowledge the dire truth: it's AWFUL, laden as it is with sexism, racism, classism, xenophobia and polyester. BUT it does also have Julie Mendez and her snake Lulu! Remember them?

On the Buses was an English 'comedy' that ran from 1969 to 1973 - not exactly glory years for the on-screen depiction of anyone who wasn't a white, heterosexual male, it must be said. A US-version of the show, Lotsa Luck, ran on NBC from 1973 to 1974, so if you're from the States this might look faintly familiar to you. This was a whole new world of "What the hell?" to me, though.

If you're going to watch this episode, do it soon because I bet you anything these clips will disappear due to user infringement before long.

Although I'm aware I often let this blog go off on a Quixotic quest to document the careers of little-remembered female bit-players from days of yore, may I just say that, when Stan and Jack are being all leery, Julie's face (at 4.06) is such a picture of perfect sadness that to me it completely pulls the rug out from underneath all the laddish, sexist, racist "humour" and conveys a real human experiencing real feelings. Good job, Julie!

Not so much of a good job? Her dance costume and those regrettable pelvic thrusts. Proof, if ever it were needed, that "vintage" does not always equal glamorous and flattering:

And here's Part 2, in which Lulu steals the show:

And to think, the English once had an empire!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

You look like you need a hug

Well, hi there hot stuff! How is Your Royal Gorgeousness doing today?

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. It isn't right that someone as fantabbadosious as you should be in the dumps. Have a cookie ... hm? You've got no appetite and you don't feel like you 'deserve' a treat?

Ah. I see. Someone looks like they need a cuddle. Come back. COME BACK.
Sri Lanka the Belly Dancer
Now, don't you feel better? Aw, geddoffit. You do NOT feel 'skeevy, sick and wrong' just from looking at this. That's just your grumps talking. I mean, sure "Sri Lanka" is a totally inapt name for a teddy bear in a barely-there raks outfit, but that ain't no thing. After all, she can be yours for only $250 dollars! Yes, US dollars - a honey like this doesn't change hands for Belizean dollars, you know.

Of course you want to buy her. Yes, you do. Sure, $250 would buy you a decent bra and belt set, or maybe buy your groceries for a month, but you'd be a total moron - fabulous though you are - to pass this opportunity up. It's not a very nice thing to have to admit, but I will judge you for it if you don't buy this RIGHT NOW.

Now spank my butt and call me Betty - how stupid of me to forget! Of course Sri Lanka is not your cup of tea! You love cheesecake-style costumes! In that case, have you got £35?

Since when do you NOT love cheesecake-style costumes? Fine. How about a Rachel Brice-inspired bear?

No? Actually, you know what? Take this cookie anyway and stick it. I'm done trying to sell you stupid shit cheer you up.

The Raqasa x

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Om Kalthoum: "Enta Omri" vs Guns n' Roses: "November Rain"

This is not the two-hour version, alas, but here is Om Kalthoum (or Om Kalsoum, Om Koulsum, Om Kalthoum, Oumme Kalsoum or Umm Kolthoum depending on your transliterative preference) performing "Enta Omri" in Paris, 1967, and this video provides captions of the lyrics translated into English. Razia gave us a mind-expanding comparison between "Enta Omri" and Guns n' Roses' "November Rain" on Wednesday night - a seriously apt comparison.

Please now head through the doors of perception, where you'll hear Axl Rose's ode to his miserable divorce from supermodel Stephanie Seymour, "November Rain":

1992. Man. I remember forcing myself to stay awake until 1 am on a school night so that I could hear "Civil War" debut on commercial radio. Those were the days.

Can we also get a "Hell, yeah!" for the YouTube commenter who points out that those who were physically present on the ground with Slash during the filming of his climactic solo could actually hear nothing except the helicopter and the plinking strings of Slash's unplugged electric guitar. Now that, my friends, is a headtrip.

EDIT: Just to be clear - Razia wasn't saying that "November Rain" was influenced by "Enta Omri", just that you could often find the same sentiments from popular Middle Eastern music expressed in similar terms in popular Western music.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Friday Night at the Movies: "Lady of Burlesque" (1943)

There are many belly dancers who do a bit of burlesque on the side, so I thought I'd post a noir musical starring Barbara Stanwyck as Dixie Daisy, a showgirl with cool lines and hot moves.

"After one member of their group is murdered, the performers at a burlesque house must work together to find out who the killer is before they strike again."
Includes such deathless dialogue as this, when Biff (a comedian) tries to chat Dixie up:

Biff: What's the matter with comics?
Dixie: I went into show business when I was seven years old. Two days later the first comic I ever met stole my piggy bank in a railroad station in Portland. When I was 11 the comics were looking at my ankles. When I was 14 they were...just looking. When I was 20 I'd been stuck with enough lunch checks to pay for a three-story house. Naw, they're shiftless, dame-chasing, ambitionless...

Yes, this is the WHOLE FILM. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Weird Wednesday Woo (Part 2): Belly dance on tiny wheels Hatem:

Because I'm always searching out the weird for this blog, I banged "belly dance roller skate" into my internet machine and found that Pirika Repun had shared this on Belly Dance Forums. Do you love 'im or Hatem? Geddit? He he he he ... um.

UPDATE: Hatem doesn't always dance on roller skates! Here he is rocking a peacock costume and getting the party started with some friends:

Monday, 10 October 2011

Stars of the 1980s: Dina

Haven't done one of these "Stars of" posts for a while, so why not get back into it with a polarising figure? Dina Talaat Sayed Mohammed was born in Rome in 1965 and has been generating controversy ever since she first took the stage. A common complaint from other dancers is that Dina doesn't really "do" anything other than show up and look like a porn star very glamorous in a very in-your-face way. Love her, hate her or be mortally offended by her, you have to admit that there are not many people in the world who have so much charisma that they can get away with half of what she does (or, depending on your point of view, doesn't do) and be so hugely successful at it.

As this astonishingly florid piece I found on Worldcrunch shows, Dina can still move the occasional journalist to Victorian levels of purple prose. Here's a sample:
"... the last grand dame of Egyptian belly dancing has a toned figure that might tempt an imam. And with her black velvet eyes, sculptured silhouette, wrists adorned with bracelets and index finger sporting a diamond the size of the Ritz, Dina Talaat Sayed Mohammed is a picture of grace, beauty, luxury, serenity and voluptuousness. Sitting in the lounge of the Hotel Raphael, recounting her extraordinary life, she takes your breath away."
Ye gods. If you feel confident that you can handle that jandal, by all means follow the link. For my own part, I'm not bowled over by her style, but I am hugely impressed by her insistence on living her life on her own terms. So there.

Now, I know I've headed this up "1980s", but I tend to date the stars in the "Stars of" posts from when the dancers first became famous, not from when their careers petered out. With that in mind, here's a recent-ish clip of Dina performing in what the poster described as a "Xena, Warrior Princess" costume:

And here she is again in an older clip, not wearing one of the costumes that first brought her notoriety:

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Weird Wednesday Woo: "The Belly Dancer is a Sexy Spy"


Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to post this. Really, really, wasn’t. But the more time that went by, the more I thought about this clip, the more it became clear to me that I HAD to post this. Because it blew my freakin’ mind. I’m serious.

There’s a lot to waggle your eyebrows at here. Off the top of my head, I’m going to list my top head-scratchers as:

1. Why didn’t the costumier bother finishing the decoration on the dancer’s bra, or give her the rest of the front of her skirt?
2. How did this Marco Polo character convince so many people to partake in his peculiar form of egocentric madness?
3. The fact that this exists at all.

There’s no plot to speak of here – as far as I can tell, this is one episode in the ‘Crime Jazz’ series called The Spy from the Ghetto – produced by, directed by, written by and starring some geezer calling himself ‘Marco Polo’. It has its good points: The music is actually pretty cool, and the performances are unintentionally hilarious. At least, I don’t think they’re meant to be hilarious – as this write-up on Marco Polo’s YouTube channel proves, he himself is deadly serious.

I don’t know what else to say. It’s entitled The Belly Dancer is a Sexy Spy, but the dancer isn’t credited even though almost eight minutes are devoted to showing her dancing in various leery close-ups. Just before the eight-minute mark, the blonde woman at the bar lets go with what may be the greatest noise ever made by a human and recorded for posterity. The bartender doesn’t seem to think it weird that, in the middle of the day, the only people in his joint are four shifty characters – one of whom is obviously armed – and a belly dancer performing in front of a silver mannequin in a red scarf. And there’s no way that the tattooed woman is from Prague, unless there’s a Prague somewhere in New York. Other than that, please fix yourself a nice stiff drink or take several deep breaths before hitting ‘play’:

Your thoughts, please. Please.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Harem dancers: Maria Felix

Mexican film star Maria Felix was never as successful in the USA as she was in Europe, thanks to her refusal to start at the bottom and work up. She insisted that she should make her entrances through "the big door", and when Cecil B de Mille offered her small roles she contemptuously declined, sniffing "I was not born to carry a basket."

However, Spanish and French film directors adored Felix and in later years she earned the sobriquet 'La Dona'. In 1954, when she was 'already' 40, Felix was cast as the Egyptian belly dancer in Jean Renoir's Technicolor spectacular French Cancan:

Man, that is one verbal performance.

The film also features a cameo from Edith Piaf, and is being re-released on DVD at the end of this month. Yay!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Story time

Yesterday I realised that I am still in holiday mode, because after putting on my mascara I forgot to apply my “Chuck Norris’ Extra-Strength Human Repellent (City Commuter Rush Hour Grade)”™ face. This is a vital topcoat for anyone contemplating a ride on the London Underground.

The Raqasa's audience had no idea what the fuck she was on about,
but soon realised that it could slip off to LOLcats without her noticing
But maybe my forgetfulness was just as well, because as a result I learnt a very important lesson about marketing yourself as an artist.

As the fickle fingers of fate had finagled it, yesterday was also the first day of Razia’s “Performance Prep Course” so such issues are more prominent in my noggin than usual. The course covers things like getting your stage face on (the subject of last night’s class – and yes, I have hi-larious pictures that I am trying to decide if I will share with you or not), how to structure a performance, booking yourself gigs and so on. Which, in a very tenuous way, brings me to The Story of the Paula Abdul-Loving Pamphleteer.

As anybody who has to contend with crowded public transport will appreciate, the only way of hanging on to one’s own fragile sense of self during all that unavoidable personal space invasion is to retreat behind an imaginary wall. This wall is often comprised of earphones, studiously avoided eye contact (usually aided by reading something or becoming absorbed in 'Angry Birds') and wearing a facial expression that conveys slightly less kindness and generosity of spirit than one of Anton LeVey’s publicity snaps.

The book I’m reading at the moment is Maximum Movies, Pulp Fictions: Film Culture and the Worlds of Samuel Fuller, Mickey Spillane and Jim Thompson by Peter Stanfield. Pithy title, and nothing to do with the work of Quentin Tarantino. I got on my train (no seat available, of course) and whipped the book out of my bag the moment I saw a guy cruising the carriage and trying to foist religious tracts on people. Undeterred by my iPod and book fortress, Religious Tract Man still had a go when he got to me. Dammit! I will never forget my “Chuck Norris’ Extra-Strength Human Repellent (City Commuter Rush Hour Grade)”™ face again.

Religious Tract Man (spying two words on the cover of my book): Have you seen Pulp Fiction?
Me (wondering what the hell he’s on about and trying to sound as unfriendly as possible): Yeah.
Religious Tract Man: I like John Travolta. Do you?
Me (having never thought about whether or not I like John Travolta before): Yeah.
Religious Tract Man (brandishing a pamphlet with a sunrise on the cover): Do you want a book?
Me: No, thanks.
You will notice that I made two crucial errors during this exchange: 1) I ‘engaged’ with him; 2) I said ‘No, thanks’ instead of ‘No, sod off’. Maybe this explains what happened about 20 minutes later when we reached my stop and he followed me off the train.

I was queuing to get into the lift at the station when I eventually became aware that someone was repeatedly and rather forcefully prodding me on the arm. Turning in the expectation of seeing someone I knew – or, at least, Clive Owen, come to his senses at last – I was dismayed to be confronted by Religious Tract Man, still trying to offer me his cheaply produced publication. Mercifully the lift showed up and we all piled in. That’s when Religious Tract Man got totally weird.

Do you remember the song Straight Up by Paula Abdul? No? Well, Religious Tract Man does. He started warbling it in the lift, acapella styles. It was actually kind of cool – because London commuters had to decide if they were going to pretend it wasn’t happening or start risking eye contact with each other. In the end (dude, it’s a long way from the platform to the street at Goodge St station), one brave soul took a pick axe to the icy layer of cool remove.

Brave Soul: Sounding good, man.
Religious Tract Man: You like my singing? I’ve got videos online – my name’s Neil.
There you have it – how not to market yourself as an artist. If you would like to hear a bonkers, but totally harmless, man with an average singing voice giving his all to minor pop hits of the late 1980s then get ready to hurl your Spanx in the air in celebration. You could have your prayers answered if you type “Neil” (or possibly “Neale”, “Neal”, “Kneel”, “Neel”, “Kneal” “N’eal”, “N’eil”, “N’eel”, “Nee-ell” or “Kneil”) into Google and hit “I’m feeling lucky”. Bonne chance!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


That's all I have to offer you with this post. Apologies. {sigh} You may have noticed that the posts have been a bit erratic of late - I did mention the 'auto-update' function a while ago. Well, for the last three weeks I've been away and I thought that the auto-update function would cover nicely for me in my absence. It did, up to a point, because I hadn't reckoned on having to respond to comments! I got comments while I was away! So thank you very much for those and I will respond to them all by Friday. I haven't been ignoring you, I promise. It's just that I didn't anticipate comments, so apologies for that.

Anyhoo, while I'm busy with the excuses, I may as well apologise to you all for posting this:

As Foodycat pointed out, you work your heart out trying to improve the image of your art form and what happens? +facepalm+

Meanwhile, in Trinidad and Tabago ...

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Ziller gorilla

Today is my sister's birthday. I therefore have the flimsiest pretext possible for posting this awesome party outfit:
Karnival House
Apparently this is still in stock (I know! I would have thought it was sold out too!), but you might have to purchase the jeans and work boots separately. You're welcome.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Don't believe everything you read

Hoohoohoo boy. Have I got a special treat for you today.

All of us, even if only occasional class attendees, will be aware to a greater or lesser degree that this dance form provokes some odd reactions and unearths some weird assumptions and prejudices. When I was attending RAKS in Belgium, my room-mate in the hostel was a Georgian woman studying for her MBA. "So I think this is a dance you use for exciting your husband, right?" she purred while giving me a laughingly flirty look. "If only it were that simple, I wouldn't have wasted my time and money coming here!" I laughed back. But really, I was bothered. She's 24 years old. Dancers have been working on changing that perception FOR DECADES. How many more years is it going to take before we leave all this Sonny Lester stuff behind?:

Had I known about it at the time, I would have been able to tell Anna that there's even a Facebook support group for men married to dancers: that's how delightfully mundane being shacked up with someone who thinks in terms of Figure 8s and zills practice is. Sometimes, when our relationships go bad, we turn utterly nuclear and wage eight-year "hate campaigns" against our exes and their new partners.

Plus – and I'm just going to go ahead and be bold with the banana here – despite what may be assumed from all those old album covers and the hoochie Bettie Page routines and whatnot, there are many, many belly dancers in the world that you would not want to see naked but are awesome at what they do. (There are also some, like yours truly, who have the double handicap of not being awesome at what they do and are certain never to trouble the pages of Maxim either.) The ugly, the elderly, the very young, the knock-kneed, the overweight, the flat-chested and bony, the dangerously buxom, the scarred and the scared: we're all in class together, trying to think kind, charitable thoughts about the willowy 22 year-old next to us with the perfect skin, flawless makeup and glossy mane who is effortlessly layering camels over her shimmies. The bitch. No, she's not a bitch, she's lovely. Shit.

Where was I? Ah, yes.

As bad as it is, that whole "make your man a sultan" shtick is benign compared to that (tiny) portion of the population who see the art form as downright immoral. I thought I had tripped over one of their number when I encountered Dr Toby Hill's new book, Never Hug a Belly Dancer:

Board member Dr Toby Hill recently published “Never Hug a Belly Dancer and 99 Other Meditations for Men.” A habitual journal writer, he decided to publish his writings in hopes they will be of benefit to others. When asked about the title, Dr. Hill said, “It basically means sometimes what you see and what you desire is not what you really want.” describes the book as: “Devotionals for men who seek strength, encouragement and direction in life. Toby Hill shares his life-experiences [sic] with every man and how he has dealt with many conflicts, situations and decision-making. It takes a somewhat humorous look at life and gives one man's views of resolution and how to achieve the ultimate.”
Here is an excerpt from the book: “Last evening was Anna Lee’s birthday. Our youngest adult daughter wanted to take her mom to a local Mediterranean restaurant so that we could all watch the belly dancing as we ate. The hidden agenda here was that our granddaughter likes to get out on the dance floor and belly dance with the dancer. The dancer was a nice, young, blonde, attractive lady. She entertained us well as she danced with a sword on her head and with flames in her hand. She gyrated and cavorted with us all and was especially gracious to our little granddaughter as she often let her leave the table and join her in her “belly” dancing. On the way out of the restaurant I gave the young lady a generous tip. As she took the money she turned to give me a hug. I admit, I was kind of looking forward to it. After all, she was young and pretty and blonde and she had few clothes on. Go figure. Well as we hugged each other I learned something else about my new young female friend. She was also sweaty! After all, she had been dancing all night long. The eagerly anticipated hug had not lived up to my expectations. So often being disappointed is the result of our expectations when we base them on worldly standards. It does not make any difference if we are looking forward to a new house, and new car or a new woman. Inevitably they fail to meet our expectations. The expectations of our world when seen through Gods [sic] eyes rarely disappoint. When we reflect on those things that God would have us yearn for – peace, patience, love, healthy relationships and most of all a relationship with him, we are never disappointed when we have obtained what he desires us to have. We should spend some time thinking about how many times in the past that the acquisition of possessions has not lived up to our expectations and what we could have done and should do differently in the future. With all of that said, I still think about the local Belly Dancer [sic] every once in a while. Maybe next time, I’ll tip her earlier in the evening.”
{Drumming fingers on the desk and staring out the window as I wonder where to start.}

'Kay, first off, that central premise is hard to argue with. We've all had the second helping that looked tasty but made us feel sick or whatever. Secondly, it's also not like he's arguing that the belly dancing is something that 'nice' women don't do (in fact, he uses the word 'nice' to describe the dancer in his anecdote) or that believers shouldn't be the audience for it – on the contrary, his granddaughter is allowed to get up and have a go, though part of me wonders if that will be allowed as she gets older – and he even talks about a return visit to the restaurant. So far, so good, Dr Toby. You and I could totally sit down and break bread together, though I would take you to task on that cover. What is that all about, eh? A picture of a candle or a sunrise used to do just fine for cover images on books about spirituality. But not now. Oh, no. Now men need bedroom eyes and old skool Orientalist fantasies with their efforts to become better people. Bah!

We might also have some tense moments when I point out to Dr Toby that he uses the same old tired adjectives that people who don't know what they're looking at use: 'gyrating and cavorting'. Go on, Dr Toby! Chuck in some 'writhing', and if you're feeling wild, why not a generous pinch of 'grinding and wiggling' as well? Why not? You think she was so young and pretty and blonde that you describe her that way not once, but twice! Plainly your vocabulary could do with some stretching. Or you just need editing.
Now, there is a chance that the dancer in question was doing exactly what the good “doctor” described and maybe her performance was less than ladylike. But I'm willing to bet that anyone who can cope with sword and fire dancing in a restaurant while entertaining small girls at the same time has racked up her fair share of hours of study and knows what she's about.

This brings me to the main concern I have with Dr Toby's interpretation of events. Given that this woman has a regular restaurant gig, how likely is it that she is going to hug a strange man just for tipping her? I cannot help but envisage a situation in which she merely stuck out her hand for a friendly, though formal, handshake to say thank you, and instead found herself dragged into 180 pounds' worth of Dr Toby-style bear hug. (A bit like someone sticking their hand into that dough-boy thing from Ghostbusters II.) Since Dr Toby closes his tale with a thinly veiled threat to start stalking her, we can be forgiven for thinking that maybe the sweaty hugger was wearing a tie rather than a sparkly bedlah.

I therefore eagerly await the dancer's version of events, perhaps to be titled Never Trust a Randy Chancer.