Monday, 28 February 2011

Oscar alternative

The Oscars was the snooze-fest we’ve come to expect and made safe choices. I mean, really, nothing for True Grit? And while I can appreciate that The King’s Speech caters to an audience often neglected by mainstream film makers (i.e. people over 50), is it really a more original, emotionally engaging and boundary-pushing film than The Kids are Alright or Toy Story 3?

Let’s wash the sight of James Franco dressed as Marilyn Monroe from our collective retinas with this three-year old piece from The New Statesman on women’s film making in the Middle East. Dunia sounds worth looking out for:

Dunia/Kiss Me Not on the Eyes (2005), directed by Jocelyne Saab, offers a far glossier, more commercial vision of Cairo. Starring the craggy pop star Mohamed Mounir and, like Cut and Paste, Egypt's sweetheart Hanan Turk, this story of an aspiring belly dancer and poetry student is so rich in funky hairstyles, vest tops and honed bodies that it looks like a pop video. Dunia has a camp dance master with a bleached fringe who pouts "Dance - the universe dances!" at her. Mounir, as a professor of Sufi poetry and master sensualist blinded by an extremist attacker (a similar incident happened in real life to the novelist Naguib Mahfouz), is equally over the top. Both of them - and Dunia's taxi-driver aunt, who gives as good as she gets in the knockabout street banter of Cairo's endless traffic jams - draw on the traditions of popular Egyptian films and soap operas.
But, however pop its style, Dunia is frank in exposing the destructive power of tradition over women's bodies. Dunia's dancing brings shame to her family - "I learned to sit like this so no one could glimpse my body," she says, curling into a ball. She battles, and fails, to save her young cousin from female circumcision by a backward village grandmother. And it emerges that her marriage has been crippled by her own mutilation.
The mixture of lingering body shots and female genital mutilation was too much for Egypt's censors, and after being heavily advertised the film was barred from general release on a technicality. Paradoxically, for a tale of a woman's search for physical and social liberation, it was the last film in which Turk starred before publicly adopting the Islamic hijab. This decision, made by one of the region's most adored young stars, marked the growing power of religion over popular culture - a power that will make it increasingly difficult to fund and screen relatively explicit films such as Dunia.
The trailer wasn’t that easy to find, but here it is:

(The piece of music on the soundtrack is El Ward by Mohamed Mounir.)

Thursday, 24 February 2011


Obviously the Christchurch earthquake has devastated many people's lives. So far as I know most of my loved ones are safe but I'm still waiting for news from my uncle and cousins.

As dancers though, let's spare a thought for the School of Contemporary Belly Dance. They recently moved into new premises on Montreal Street - just 1 kilometre from the now ruined central city.

Very best wishes and much love to Gendi, her team and students at this time and I hope you and your loved ones are all safe.

Kia kaha, kia toa.

UPDATE (9/3/11): According the ever-knowledgeable Kashmir, Gendi moved to the North Island years ago! Shows how out of touch I am. Still no word on how the school or students fared, but I have now accounted for my family and they're fine.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Beau Geste promotion

Yesterday I danced like a cow on crutches. Nevermind - the only way is up, eh? At least I am still a better dancer than these two:

Despite the sexism, the racism and the cultural cringe (Ali Bubu? Feast your eyes on these creatures?), I still think that this is totally far out and groovy. Not to mention quite funny, in a 'you'd never get away with that now' kinda way.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

"Look at you! You call that dancing?"

Tomorrow I have a technique assessment with Gwen Booth as part of the final part of my teacher training foundation course. I am going to perform a range of 'basic' belly dance moves and be graded on a scale from 'beginner' to 'advanced'. Then I will have to dance (improv, of course) to a piece of music of her choosing. Unsurprisingly, for about a month I have been having dreams based on this scene:

Alas, there's no way this is a premonition. Anyway, lest we forget it took three people to dance that scene. I'm going to wind up looking more like Fatty Arbuckle in "The Cook":

Buster Keaton. Yes.

The title of today's post is taken from the unforgettable scene where Alex Owens, the heroine of Flashdance, berates her friend Jeanie when she finds Jeanie working in a strip club. In tribute to both Flashdance and 'Let's Dance for Comic Relief' (which started again tonight on the BBC), here's last year's deserving winner, comedian Robert Webb. Enjoy:

Friday, 18 February 2011

Björk and Omar Souleyman to release an album!

Pitchfork has confirmed that Björk and Syrian singer Omar Souleyman are going to release a collaborative album later this year.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go away and hyperventilate with excitement...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Super Troupers: Bad names for belly dance troupes #2


This time up - names based on body parts! Featuring:
The Navel Manoeuvres
were dismayed by their new costumes
  • The Torso Tornadoes                                                    
  • Torsolettes
  • Abdominations
  • Abominable Abdominals
  • Abdominatrices
  • Midriff Sultanas
  • Flailing Limbs
  • Trembling Tums
  • Hippy Hippy Shake
  • Hip Hip Hoorays
  • Waisted Talents/Waisted Potential
  • Yellow Bellies
  • Navel Manoeuvres
  • Belly Button Pushers
  • Muffin Tops
  • Gut Feelings
*(Part one is here.)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Type of negative

Stereotypes: They exist for a reason. 
(Top tip, ladies. A costume always comes with a skirt or harem pants.)
(Pic from:
There are some hobbies that warrant keeping to yourself: collecting serial killer memorabilia, for example, or amateur trepanning. Compared to some of the more socially awkward or downright disturbing past times out there I think belly dancing is pretty unremarkable. (I’m thinking train spotting and Morris dancing.) Among friends and acquaintances I generally have no problem talking about my dancing, though not often on a first meeting. When I do mention it, far from shock or sniggering, the usual response is ‘My wife does that/I’m thinking of taking it up again/my friend dances at a Lebanese restaurant in Soho’. Perhaps, also, the rebirth of burlesque and the rise of, Mamie forbid, pole dancing, has made a bit of raqs seem almost quaint. Well, for the most part.

While there are a handful of people at the office who know where I dash off to on Tuesday nights (that large bag stuffed with hip scarves, water bottles and a change of clothes is kind of tricky to smuggle in), I have avoided telling my (female) boss.

Until now. Unfortunately she spotted me reading Razia’s newsletter ( the other night. “Um, excuse me?” she said. It took a moment for me to work out what she was looking at, but when I did I assumed she thought I’d been spammed. In retrospect, I guess I was just relieved that it was after hours because, as though having an out-of-body experience, I found myself blurting out ‘in my spare time I’m training as a belly dance teacher.’ No kidding – I could feel the tips of my ears burning. Why oh why, after nearly three years of keeping my trap shut, did I voluntarily give that information up?

It’s still a mystery to me as to why I was suddenly so chatty, but her reaction was about what I expected (and had feared). “Well don’t tell the boys that, they’ll get very excited.” There was then some comment about ‘the technically difficult’ moves she imagined were involved and that was that. Lest this makes you think that I must be some kind of Joan Holloway type strutting about the office, let me assure you that I do not have the kind of face (or body) that would launch a thousand ships. At a push I might be able to launch an inflatable kayak if the water was calm enough, but that’s about it.

Although telling my boss was no biggie in the grand scheme of things, it felt like an opportunity was missed. I wanted to tell her that, far from being ‘very excited’, if the ‘boys’ in the office ever got to see me dance they might in fact be bored, or underwhelmed, or impressed, or embarrassed – a whole range of responses might reasonably be imagined. What rattles my dangles most is that the clear meaning of her comment is that my male workmates would be ‘aroused’ in an icky, Berlusconi-esque way.

When I mentioned this conversation to The Man, he infuriatingly agreed with this assessment of my failure to act. ‘If you’re going to teach this stuff you’re going to need to step up and represent – you’re supposed to change groundlessly negative opinions and challenge assumptions. That’s what teachers do!’
He’s right, of course. And here was I thinking that my teaching function was going to begin and end at the studio door. Nuts.

Sunday, 13 February 2011


Oriental Dancer has a short piece by Morocco on Guedra - it's not a dance you're likely to learn from a teacher who wants you to 'shake it like Shakira' and, like most folk dances, it's intended as either ritual or for participation (i.e. not for audiences). The other problem with its accessibility for most belly dancers in the West is that it's not Arabic or Middle Eastern (Morocco, of course, is in North Africa) so the music and the style often doesn't 'fit' naturally into a term on, say, Oriental fantasy.

You can buy Guedra-specific music; I found this vintage album for sale on a French website:

Click here to buy
Disclaimer: I've never used this site so can't vouch for them!

And here's a couple of very different examples of Guedra in action. First up - a woman-free, dancing-free version, performed in someone's front room:

This time we've got women, we've got dancing, we've got a funky soundstage and giddying camera angles. You'll also notice we've got a tiny image of a creepy bloke in sunnies in the lower left corner, but he's not looking at you, honest:

Far from the Pink Chiffon: FatChanceBellyDance

Stumble Upon took me to this interesting interview with Carolena Nerricio, the mother of ATS, conducted by an associate professor of religion(!). It appeared in the Spring 2005 edition of Whole Earth Review.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Stars of the 1970s: Princess Banu

I learn Egyptian Oriental style, but that's no reason for this blog not to occasionally detour the same way the dance has over the centuries, right? Liberties are also being taken with the dates here because I suspect at least one of these clips dates from the 1980s.

Massively successful in her native Turkey during the 1970s and 1980s, Princess (Prences) Banu earned notoriety for the overt sensuality of her performances and it's a reputation time has yet to revise -- as the rather brief, sniffy biography and chosen image of her over at the Belly Dance Museum attests:

Indeed, that is a smokin' bod. Here's what it looked like in motion:

Belly Dance Museum describes her as the 'best Turkish interpreter of the Egyptian school', but I think it's safe to say that there's still a strong Turkish influence at work in her style.

UPDATE 4/5/11: Here's an interview with the Princess herself, as conducted by Salome for Oriental Dancer [a site that has no relationship with this blog]. Verily, she gives good quote: "The physical aspect is also important, an Oriental Dancer requires breast and hips, long hair, these qualities assist in bringing out the figure. It is very important to take dance classes but from good teachers and it requires long hours of serious work." (Sorry, FamousFeline, I guess you're out of luck in the breasts department!) She also reveals that the pasties were part of her gimmick. Well, baby, if you got it... 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Stars of the 1970s: Najwa Fouad

I've been rather blathery lately, so in an attempt to redress the balance let's have some visual treats. At the moment I'm working on a 'belly dance timeline' that's turning into a bit of a monster. So, over the next few weeks and in no particular order, I'm going to do a retrospective of the belly dance stars. Feel free to chime in if I miss anyone or there's a not-so-famous-yet-very-influential dancer you'd like to see included.

Up first - the belly dance of the 1970s. The film quality will be terrible. The hair will be dodgy. The moves will be awesome. Najwa/Nagwa Fouad (depending on how you want to transliterate) will be first because I posted Fifi some time ago.

#1 Hair will be tossed. Arms will be all over the place:

#2 Hair will be big. Behaviour will be inappropriate:

#3 Hair will have 'the Fawcett flick". Plates will remain mysteriously free of food:

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Snakes on a stage

Johanna Cassidy as Zohra in Blade Runner
Although I love (LOVE) Blade Runner I would never perform with a snake. Call me an old flake, but I think it's unfair to the animal - nevermind the risk that your snake will vomit a partially digested rat all over you and your expensive costume.

I don't doubt that Serpentessa here (the self-proclaimed 21st century 'snake priestess') is sincere about the spiritual dimension of her work, but that doesn't stop me from finding it cheesy and kinda boring to watch:

What exactly do the snakes add here? If anything, as Serpentessa says, they look like a hindrance.

Despite her cautions about bearing in mind 'the culture of your audience', let's face it: women dancing with snakes can't help but conjure up a dimension of cod-exotic sexuality that belly dance can well do without. (Sample YouTube comments from around the traps: "I'm turned on"/"its kinky i like it" [sic].) More evidence of the dodgy bestialist overtones - the lovely Debra Paget in Fritz Lang's Indian Epic:

Oh, yeah, and this girl:

Instead of buying a snake to fling around, why not donate to the Performing Animal Welfare Sanctuary, PAWS, or the excellent, recently-hit-by-a-hurricane Belize Zoo?

If you insist on snake dancing, go for gold and be really literal about it. Check this out from 1958's The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad:

If you think this is impossible for a human, meet The Snake Girl (Nokulunga 'Lunga' Buthelezi). We belly dancers go on about snake arms and hips all the time but we've got nothing on Lunga. I first saw her on a kids' television show where the tykes voted for their favourite acts. Be warned - by the end of her performance several children were in tears:

How can you not love that dude slumped on the couch in an attitude of 'seen it all before' nearly the whole way through her act? It's true: no matter how good you are, there's not much you can do to win over a jaded audience.

17/02/2011: And mad love to satirical site The Daily Mash for backing up my concerns by using this image and this caption:
The Queen of Sheba was a dirty bitch


Many people loathe Fry's Turkish Delight with a passion that surpasses all reason. Although I've not seen it advertised anywhere for years, perhaps it's not so much the product as the lingering memory of ad campaigns like these that leaves the bad taste in the mouth.

From the 1980s:

Seriously, you guys, when that scimitar came down I thought he was beheading her.

For a one-minute ad this throws up more questions than eaters of Fry's Turkish Delight throw up gelatine-laden confectionery. Why is she crying? Why is Turkish delight being advertised by Europeans in sort-of Arab costumes? What is the point of the snake? How does that guy turn that lump of sand into a lady with a Bjork-ish hairstyle? Why does he sniff her? Why does this whole thing look like a Roxy Music album cover? What the hell does any of it have to do with chocolate? OH MY GOD MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE!

At least the 1960s version featured someone demonstrating that the crap is edible:

My apologies to anyone Turkish who happens upon this. Try to see the funny side(?).

Monday, 7 February 2011

Dancing with the devil

Johann Hari (yep, I'm a fan) wrote this piece a couple of years ago for The Independent and it stayed with me.

This was written before, you understand, the Saudi royal family threw open its doors to ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. If anyone can explain to me what it is that the Saudi Arabian ruling elite get out of being so hospitable to the likes of Idi Amin Dada (The Butcher of Uganda) and Nawaz Sharif please do so. Apparently these welcomes are extended in spite of opposition from a significant number of Saudis:

Although there must be a lot of professional dancers who bust their butts working for well-paid residencies at big hotels in places like Dubai, surely no-one could voluntarily move to such a corrupt state without some pang of conscience?

Most dancers in Dubai are not local, as this piece in Australia's The Age makes clear (I've just quoted the bit about the dancer here):

The belly dancer's stomach is writhing about as though she's swallowed a bunch of snakes. She's an exotic apparition in a sequin-studded brassiere and diaphanous harem pants.
She not only seems exotic, she turns out to be Egyptian - and no more a Dubai native than I am.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that belly dancing is not indigenous to Dubai. One is lucky to see an ankle belonging to a local woman, let alone an exposed navel.
Our Arabian Adventures guide Ahmed, a pock-marked Bangladesh-born wide-boy, explains belly-dancers "make tourists happy" - that is, they pander to Westerners' romantic vision of the Middle East.
"But this one, she is not so young," he says with a dismissive gesture toward the somewhat matronly dancer. She has managed to lure on stage one hapless male whose game attempts to mimic her pelvic thrusts are slightly impeded by his fluorescent bumbag and complete lack of coordination.
"At another camp I saw a young belly dancer, maybe 19 years old, very beautiful," the guide reminisces, his beringed hands describing voluptuous curves.
"I felt bad because why would a beautiful girl dance like that in front of men she doesn't know when she could have a rich husband?"
"Maybe she doesn't want to get married," an American fellow traveller suggests, at which Ahmed laughs and slaps his thigh as if it's the best joke ever.
As well as belly dancing, our Desert Safari includes such authentic cultural experiences as a spine-jolting four-wheel-drive expedition over dunes, a 10-metre camel ride to pose for photographs, traditional henna painting for the women (by an elderly Indian woman) and a sit-down banquet under the stars at the "desert camp".
Like our "desert experience", much of Dubai is essentially fake.
May I just splutter: "pock-marked Bangladesh-born wide-boy"? And "belly dancing is not indigenous to Dubai"? FFS! (As the kids say.)
Dubai Travel Guides

But, y'know, moralising aside, this is a belly dance blog after all:

Sunday, 6 February 2011

A slidkran where your mödomshinna used to be

Today is International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation. The Guardian has a short piece to mark the occasion: they talk to Senegalese musician Sister Fa.

Queen Elizabeth I, 'The Virgin Queen': reputedly kept her corona all her life 

On a related note, did you know that we don't have hymens anymore? The Swedish Organization for Sexual Enlightenment (the RFSU) has renamed that most mythologized of female body parts the 'vaginal corona'.

In a press release entitled 'Time for a more accurate terminology', the RFSU sets out why they felt the change was needed:

In Swedish, the hymen used to be called mödomshinna, which translates literally as 'virginity membrane'. In fact, there is no brittle membrane or curtain, but rather multiple folds of mucous membrane. A vaginal corona, in other words. [The new Swedish term is 'slidkran'.]
"The vaginal corona is a permanent part of a woman's body throughout her life. It doesn't disappear after she first has sexual intercourse, and most women don't bleed the first time," said Ms Regnér. "The myths surrounding the hymen were created to control women's freedom and sexuality. The only way to counteract this is by dissmenating knowledge."
To find out more about the RFSU, visit their English-language site.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Beata and Horacio: May the beat go on

When I started dancing in (hacking coughing fit), the internet was just becoming the norm so file sharing, torrenting and piracy weren't quite the issues they are now. However, I do have a lot of unlabelled belly dance music in my collection thanks to well-meaning teachers. In fact, I'm so old one of my first teachers gave me our class music on cassette! For the benefit of younger readers, they looked like this:
Although I was/am quite poor, pirated music usually has one massive disadvantage, quite apart from all the bad karma: when you get music you like, you have no idea what the tracks are called or who the artists are. Finding more of the same becomes nigh-near impossible and that alone leaves you with a massive gap in your dance education.

For what it's worth, I don't personally know any of the people embroiled in this controversy and I have no interest in becoming the Lars Ulrich of eastern-influenced music. So I'm just going to leave this here for whoever stumbles across it to make of what they will.

pic credit:

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


This controversy sprang up a year ago, but I was reminded of it when my class started learning a melaya leff:

For the record, I think the skaters weren't intending to offend but they were incredibly ignorant and thoughtless: purporting to represent a 'melange of ethnicities' is beyond arrogant, and the brown body stockings and suspiciously dark face makeup are breathtakingly crude.

So how is it different when I, a kiwi, 'drags up' in a melaya leff or a galabeya for a hafla performance? Does the fact that someone's taught me a folkloric dance or a melaya to go along with the outfit make it any better?

In my opinion, Carl Bridge is slightly wide of the mark there when he describes the patterns on their costumes as being like something from New Zealand (i.e. Maori). They look more like Keith Haring to me:

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

"Little Egypt" and her contemporaries

I would recommend watching these the way the original footage would have been viewed - without sound!

The precursor to Isis Wings looks blimmin' difficult (and more like sails!), but well worth the effort of mastering. How much hard work would be involved in just making a set?

EDIT (11/02/11): After doing a bit more research I'm now pretty sure that 'the wings' is Auguste and Louis Lumière's 1896 footage of an unknown dancer performing Loie Fuller's Serpentine Dance. That astonishing woman who balances the chair in her teeth is Princess Rajah as filmed by Thomas Edison's American Mutoscope and Biograph Co at the 1904 St Louis Exposition.

Footage of the Ballet Russes performing 'Festival of Narcissus' unearthed

This scrap of silent film - all 30 seconds of it - may well be the only footage of Diaghilev's famous ballet company in action:


There is film of individual stars, but this clip (almost certainly filmed without the impressario's knowledge or permission) is all we have of the whole company. Very exciting! Jane Pritchard of London's V&A has dated it to June 1928 and thinks it was part of the flower festival in Montreux, Switzerland.