Friday, 29 April 2011

Jilly's mailbox

This week, Jilly counsels a lonely heart. She also finds a flimsy excuse to post some 1950s movie dance scenes, and a recipe for deep-fried calamari. Um, what?

Nice To Meet You,

Miss Rita, 26 years
(artist's impression)
How are you today? I hope you are fine. My name is Rita, 26 years. I am single girl looking for honest and nice person. Somebody who care and fear God whom i can partner with. I don't care about your color or ethnicity.

I would like to know you more, most especially what you like and what you dislike. I'm sending you this beautiful mail, with a wish for much happiness.

I am looking forward to hear from you.

Thanks and God bless.

Love from,

Miss. Rita

Hello Miss Rita, 26 years

Thank you for your beautiful mail, even if you say so yourself.

As an agony aunt, I am more used to dealing with specifically stated problems, but I sense you're shy. Perhaps you are lonely -- even so, it is not wise, Miss Rita, 26 years, to send out emails announcing that you're single and that your only criteria for a partner is a pulse and a love of God. Some recipients might get the wrong idea, and there are some awful ne'er do wells out there who would happily pretend a love of God to get some love of Rita.

Have you also considered how disappointed a genuine respondent to your beautiful mail might be if they took you at your word? For example, what if your message were the kind I had been waiting for all my life and I eagerly responded, anticipating that I will spend the rest of my, admittedly very short, life span with the lovely Miss Rita, 26 years? Although you say you don't care about colour or ethnicity (FWIIW: I am orange-ish and don't claim membership of an ethnic group so much as I do a subspecies), are you hoping to enter into a blissful lesbian union with a colossal squid? Something tells me, Miss Rita, 26 years, that it is not what you are looking for. At all. LMFAO, if I had an A to LO in the first place.

As to the rest of your mail:

What I like: smoking (even though it is very bad for me, what with having to come out of the water and all to do it); Greek ouzo; belly dancing; toothfish; jellyfish (mm-mm); and this:

What I dislike: plastic bags; sperm whales; oil spills; climate change; raw sewage; Japanese fishing fleets; and this:

Leave the giant squid for me to eat, buddy.

Good luck in your quest to find a sucker life partner, Miss Rita, 26 years -- though I'm sure I don't know what all this had to do with belly dancing, I am grateful for the excuse to post thatStingray clip! Actually, the Marina puppet was allegedly based on Julie Newmar, so to get back to what The Occidental Dancer is all about, here are Julie Newmar's dance scenes from Serpent of the Nile and Slaves of Babylon:

I hope this helps!


Jilly x

Pic from

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Joining the Twitterati

As you'll see from the new gadget at the top of the right-hand side of your screen, I've given in and joined Twitter. There's a lot of stuff I come across while researching posts for this blog that makes me think 'hm', but I don't want to devote posts to - either because it's not really relevant or it's so, um, 'unique' that I'm not sure what I'd say about it. So I'm going to clutter up Twitter with all this ephemera instead. Yay?

My first tweet is a good example of the kind of thing I mean. I'm offering it up without comment, but I would LOVE to know what you all think of it. Because you're bound to have an opinion...

As an aside, there'll be a few Tweets that are not belly dance related from time to time. Just so as you know.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Arabic Music and Arabic Musical Instruments

A riq
pic from
Never before have I encountered a website so straightforwardly named. Where has The Arabic Music been all my life? Every Arab nation is represented and so is almost every Arab artist who ever had their music recorded. Mumtaaz!

Also, if you're unfortunate enough to be like me and are cursed with tin ears, then you might find Maqam World's guide to the most common Arab instruments a bit of a godsend. It provides useful links to further reading and a little speaker icon you can click to hear what the instrument sounds like. Brill.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Stars of the millennium: Aziza

There are a lot of Azizas in the belly dance world - this is the Canadian one.

The music is 'Solo Tabla 2' from Millenium by Amir Sofi. That travelling step ... ai yai ai!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Happy Easter - you're going to Hell

In celebration of one of the holiest events on the Christian calendar - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - I thought I'd try to find all of y'all a bit of Christian belly dancing to mark the event. Even though Jilly and I aren't Christians, we here at The Occidental Dancer like to be inclusive.
Jilly has even been busy painting turtle eggs for the seaside hunt on Sunday, and the benefit of having four sets of arms is that she's already finished hundreds of 'em. We thought we'd show some love because being a committed Christian and a belly dancer must be a lonely business (as this thread at The Pink Gypsy, uh, 'testifies').

Another evil Jezebel wreaks havoc on the populace
Against the odds I did find some Christian belly dancing on YouTube, but the music that went with it was that bland, pop-ballad stuff. There are all kinds of belly dance sub-genres these days, so why not Christian?

Well, to tell my heathen arse exactly why not here comes Tetaun Moffet of exministries. Tetaun is here to warn his brothers and sisters in Christ that raqs sharqi is "an ancient pagan practice" (a bit like Easter and the celebration of Christmas, which were both co-opted from religious events on the ancient Roman calendar) that makes many references to the serpent. As in the serpent in the Garden of Eden. As in ... domdomdomDOM ... Satan!!!

I am not going to laugh at Tetaun or his point of view - to give the man his props, he references Wendy Buonaventura's Serpent of the Nile (though not in a way she would have imagined, I'm sure) and that great bastion of infallible information, erm, Wikipedia. It's not like he just sat down at his internet machine and pulled the idea that belly dancers are akin to prostitutes and strippers out of his butt: he actually did some rudimentary research and misinterpreted some key facts before arriving at that conclusion. Newsflash, Tetaun - belly dancing does not actually turn a woman into a temple priestess/whore. Really. At best, it turns her into (big breath in) a dancer! Who'd have thought, eh?

In fairness, Tetaun seems like a very level guy, pointing out that belly dancing is 'not inherently sinful' but in his view this is not a dance that women should be performing in public, particularly if they're unmarried. "But it's just belly dancing," is his reasonable conclusion. Obviously Tetaun and I are never going to agree on this. 

Tetaun sees lustfulness, licentiousness, and women "displaying their headship by the use of their body to control and dictate the roles and rights of men" [sic - anyone out there who can translate that into English for me?]. In the same places he sees that, I see women having fun, making friends, expressing themselves, creating art and, in some cases, doing a class just to get themselves out of the damn house. Though I guess that Tetaun would argue that we should get ourselves back to the house quick smart, before we start dictating the roles and rights of men to them and reducing them to quivering piles of useless, lusty flesh. 

Feminism aside, I can see where Mr Moffet is coming from: a Christian perspective. [Edit: NB 'a' Christian one. Not 'the' Christian one. As the reference to the thread on Pink Gypsy shows, Christianity includes a broad spectrum of people and viewpoints.] It's just that I think he's wrong, and that his arguments tell me a great deal more about his low opinion of weak-willed men than they do about the respectability, or not, of belly dance. You need only check out the eye-popping images he selected to illustrate his article to see what I mean. (Though I'm sure he had an awful lot of fun finding them.) All in all, his article got my hackles up about 30%, which is not very far when you think about it.

What really fizzed my soda were the comments. Here's a choice selection for your delectation, and you may agree that they tell us quite a great deal about the people who wrote them:

Spiritualwarfare: "You got young ladies striving to become strippers or vixens! Marriages destroyed because men opening their eyegate to destruction".

Striving to be a female fox is a noble aim. Why, even on my street here in London, urban foxes scavenge the rubbish bins for food - they are nature's recyclers! Stripping is a different story. I once spent a summer taking peeling paint off our house. It was hard work, and I have not disparaged a paint stripper since. 
As to men opening their eyegates to destruction, well, what can I say? The merciful Lord has not made eyegates a part of the female anatomy, so I cannot imagine how much of a struggle this must be for poor married men, what with their wives constantly threatening to leave them because of those gaping male eyegates that allow all that destruction to just wander through the house leaving muck on the carpet.

Taura Helms: "I can't bring myself to watch this at all".

I know what you mean, Taura. Last week I was going to watch a movie but I was just too tired. Didn't stop me from forming an opinion about it though. Peace!

Standing Up 4 Holiness & God's Word: "REAL Christians WORSHIP Christ, NOT try to seduce (even through Christ is all knowing and powerful and that this IS NOTHING to Him but sin which He {and I} cannot stand) Him with bellydancing!!!!"

Pithy user name there, SU4H&GW! It's great to know that you and Christ agree on this issue and that you're allowed to speak for him. I thought the official line was more of a "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone/judge not, lest ye be judged" type deal - but hey! I'm sure you know better than the Holy Bible and I stand to be corrected. I do agree with you on one thing though: I too wish women would stop trying to seduce Christ with belly dancing. We all know that is one drawbridge that ain't never comin' down.

hvinismyhome: "I knew something didn't feel right about this."

A lot of beginners forget to brace their abs to support their lower backs, hvinismyhome. Don't sweat it. Woah - I just twigged to your user name. Are you a ghost?

Wise Angel: "As for Christian married couples who do this in their privacy of their homes, I say don’t. Stop bringing worldly seductions into the your Godly union. Seek God in all areas in your life including the bedroom. That’s my view on it."

Wise Angel, that is so wise. And angelic. And intrusive into the sex lives of married couples everywhere. And really freakin' kinky in ways that I can't even begin to -- ah. You're thinking of the crucifix scene in The Exorcist, aren't you?

Marlon: "Over the past 10 years, I have watched Eastern culture slowly, but strongly creep into the houses of American Christians. It has always been in Hollywood, but there were some things that Christians would not accept. Our people are really allowing themselves to be deceived."

FINALLY! Someone talking sense. Know what this world needs, Marlon? For America and the west to go to war in the Middle East! It's about time that our lazy tolerance of Eastern cultural influence in the form of dressing modestly and extending generous hospitality was stamped out.

Tiffany D: "We must be careful Saints. What if I were to do that for my husband and it sparked a desire in him for porn or strippers???"

I couldn't agree more. What a blow to the ego that would be for the New Orleans Saints NFL team: trying to spark desire in their husbands only to find they'd rather have porn or strippers with really skeezy names, like Tiffa ... oh.

Stephanieb: "The person would have to be doing it to arouse others because what other purpose would it serve."

Meet Stephanieb: a woman devoid of imagination. Please give generously.

Krystal Herrera: "Come on my Christian brothers and sisters there is better music out there than this pagan Rythmitic music and dances come on now do I have to show you it’s obvious.I now listen to more Melody Christian music.Orthodox chants,Catholic chants are the most beautiful music I have ever heard better than this Pagan stuff.Give it a try you’ll love it!!!"

Yeah! These jungle rhythms belong to a savage, wild, primitive, godless culture! Except they don't! What you're saying is both racist and xenophobic. You're getting confused with the arguments that racists used against rock n' roll in the 1950s: with such outmoded thinking it's a miracle that you can use the internet at all. Praise the Lord?

KGore (in response to Krystal): "I agree yet disagree. Anything that comes from the Catholic church should be carefully watched because Catholicisim itself is made up of pagan beliefs and especially derrived from Babylonian ancient religions. From the Mitre of Dagon that the Pope wears on his head to Mother Goddes worship of Mary. Catholicism is a perversion of christianity. So is eastern orthodoxy. We aren’t to be “CHANTING” anything. Chants are basically prayers or or saying names of gods in vain repetition. Please search what I’m saying. You’re leading people from mud to mud."

Please, someone, search what KGore is saying. For real. The Catholic Church was the first of all the organised Christian Churches, and that's perverted. Chants are basically prayers and that's wrong. You know who agrees with KGore about the perversions of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches? Nazis, David Icke and the KKK. Search it.

Stephanieb: "There are alot of Christians who are really into that Zumba stuff. I know of quite a few who go to the classes on a regular basis and I almost joined one myself, but something (the Holy Spirit I believe) kept me from doing so."

Look who it is! Our old friend Stephanieb, the woman devoid of imagination and, apparently, will power as well. Or maybe you DO have an imagination after all, because it's not the Holy Spirit holding you down on the couch, Steph, it's your fat lazy butt! 


photo credit: mangpages (found on the Belly Dancing Secrets blog)

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Ask Jilly the Architeuthis

Today, Jilly answers the cries of a dance troupe who are being put in the shade by one of their members.

Dear Jilly

Thanks in advance for reading this.

We are four dancers and for the last few months we have been performing with one of our friends as a group of five. At first it was fun and we enjoyed the collaborative process. But our fifth dancer is very definitely eyeing up a career as a Solo Performer and her diva-ish insistence on doing everything herself (costumes, music selection, venue bookings, etc etc) means that we barely get a creative look-in. If we are lucky we will each get a turn – a few seconds per show – at the front of the stage leading the troupe, but this doesn’t happen very often and is happening less and less.

The four of us are planning a mutiny against Solo Performer and asking her to leave, but none of us are brave enough to do it because we all socialise with each other outside of dancing and don’t want to ruin our friendship. On the other hand, we are sick and tired of being made to feel like drab hens shuffling along behind a strutting peacock.

What should we do?

Always the Bridesmaids

Dear Bridesmaids

Sounds to me like your Sex and the City clique has got a Carrie in its midst! The question is are the rest of you Samanthas, Charlottes, or the other one? If you’re all “Charlottes” then you’re probably happy continuing as a nice inclusive group of four where everyone gets a turn and plays nice. Over a few cocktails let your friend know that you’ve noticed her solo ambitions and would like to support her. Suggest becoming her “backing dancers” or offer her help in finding haflas/gigs where you perform on different parts of the bill.

That way you still have the fun of going to these things together, doing your makeup backstage and having the post-performance natters together, but with none of the bitterness that goes with feeling like you’re in Blondie but you’re not Debbie Harry. Plus it might actually lead to you and her getting separate work and recognition.

If all of you are like that other one, the lawyer with short hair who was grumpy all the time, then your careers as dancers are likely to be similarly forgettable so don’t fret too much.

If you’re all “Samanthas” it’s a bit trickier. If that’s the case I suggest using my cousin Humboldt’s trick of luring your friend into a harbour where she may be injured by a boat propeller or similar. Then the four of you can turn on her in a feeding frenzy until only her mantle remains. Good luck!


Jilly x

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Miller in zill-er thriller: the Black Swan in a bedlah it ain't

Tremendous news from the bowels of Hell for everyone who hates movies and dancing: Sienna Miller is currently working on a film about a Chicago housewife who 'runs away' to Las Vegas with her belly dance teacher in order to enter a belly dance competition. What does that mean, 'runs away'? That in a subplot her husband keeps her locked in a basement? Not all belly dancers are escapees from their daily lives - in fact, for most of us it's part of our daily lives. See the difference there, movie makers? Hm. Thought not.

For those hoping that this will be belly dance's own Black Swan except, y'know, not really unsettling, please bear in mind the following:
  • This film will not be any good at all.
  • Sienna Miller.
  • I'll bet my hip scarves that belly dance will not be afforded the same modicum of respect as ballet, in as much as no 'body double' who actually knows how to do the dance justice will be employed to make Miller look good. Luckily that doesn't matter because belly dance is one of those cute little folk dances that anyone can do to professional level after only a few lessons. And, why thank you - the incandescent rage I'm expressing there does bring out the whites of my eyes. How sweet of you to notice.
  • Sienna Miller.
  • It is likely that, as in every other movie that featured belly dance as a plot device, raqs will be used to take our heroine on a journey of 'self-discovery'. This journey will involve some skimpy costumes.
  • Sienna Miller.
  • It's set in Las Vegas. Miller's character is from Chicago. I smell a Mob caper!
  • And, last but not least, Sienna Miller.
The worst part about this travesty-in-progress isn't even that, according to Film School Rejects, Miller didn't bother reading the script before signing up. Oh, no. 'Tis the title, good people. Yes, the name chosen for this abomination is what will really put the steam in your chou-chou shimmy. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to poke out your minds' eyes lest, unbidden, they conjure up the possible film poster for Just Like A Woman.

Oops, too late!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Belly dancer behaving badly

When you are sponging off your ex-husband to the tune of $850 a month because you are disabled and can't work, you'd better not blog about "belly dancing vigorously for several hours a day" and post photos of yourself doing it.

Just a tip.

Stars of the 1980s: Lucy

Lucy then - looking A LOT like Fifi Abdou:

Lucy now(ish) - looking A LOT like Vanessa L Williams:

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Ask Jilly, the belly dancing colossal squid

Dear Jilly

You may think my problem is silly but it is totally driving me nuts.

One of my students has started stalking me, I think. She has started dressing like me when she comes to class and even though I know she lives miles away from me she takes the same bus as I do after classes just so she can “chat” to me. Seriously it must be about 10.30 at night before she gets home because then she has to get another bus back the way we came to get to her own place.

The other night she said that this was a big pain for her and that she was looking for a new flat in my area so that she wouldn’t have to spend so much time on the bus after class. That seemed strange to me – I mean, just don’t follow me all the way home every week!

Her new boyfriend looks a bit like my husband, which is not surprising because he's my husband's brother, and for the last three weeks she has emailed or texted me nearly every day (sometimes more than once a day) about really stupid stuff she doesn’t need to. Like if I like ducks, or what time I think she should go to bed so she can get enough sleep to be a better dancer. Those questions are weird, right?

Jilly has had a lot of experience in dealing with overly-familiar students
I have no idea what to say as an answer but not answering seems to make her mad. What has finally made me write to you is that just as I was getting off the bus last night, after another one of our long post-class trips home, she showed me a new tattoo on her wrist that is the same as one I have in the small of my back, except she has had a pair of devil horns added to it. I must have looked a bit freaked out because she said it was just to thank me for all the inspiration I have given her.

But I told my husband about all this and he is now super-spooked and wants me to stop teaching, which made me think maybe I had totally over-reacted and was making a big deal out of nothing. Also if I am honest, I am a bit afraid of what my student might do if I told her I wasn’t teaching anymore and didn’t want to hang out with her.

Am I being really paranoid? Or is my student actually stalking me?

Nervous in London

Dear NiL

Of course I don’t think your problem is silly, silly! To me there’s no such thing as a small problem; after all, I’ve had more near-death experiences than I can remember after swallowing plastic bags I’ve mistaken for jellyfish. Good thing all those reverse camels have helped my gag reflex LOL.

Anyway, to answer your last two questions: No. Yes.

Hope that helps!


Jilly x

Jilly the Colossal Squid is a belly dancer and agony aunt who sometimes answers questions submitted by readers of The Occidental Dancer, but mostly deals with stuff that's totally made up. If you have a dance-related question for Jilly or just want to know how she manages to dance underwater, email her: architeuthis(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk.
Pic of Jilly battling a whale by Sitron via

Friday, 15 April 2011

Is live performance dead?

The Smart Set: Send in Whatever Clowns Are Left - March 24, 2011

Stefany Anne Golberg wonders whether the days of live performance are numbered - in an age when most of us have all the entertainment we'll ever want on tap, what has happened to the relationship between the audience and the performer? It's a thought-provoking piece but I'm not sure I agree with her conclusions.

CGI graphics can be very impressive, and filmed performances have the benefit of editing to ensure only 'the good bits' make it to the final cut, but the point is audiences know that. We know that Gandalf isn't real and nor is the dragon he's battling - so isn't it more impressive when a flesh and blood person, standing right in front of us, does something that either (a) we know we can't do or (b) stirs our emotions or (c) makes our jaws drop? Isn't that what's going to save live performance? If Golberg's right, Beyonce shouldn't be selling out stadiums, Cirque du Soleil should put away their leotards, the burlesque revival is an anomaly, and fuck you, stand up comedians.

On that note, I'm braving the wilds of London's theatre district tonight to see a ballet (a revival of Diahgilev's Firebird Thamar and Sheherazade). After this post, I hope it's brilliant.

UPDATE (17/4/11): Oh noes! Aren't belly dancers lucky that we don't attract 'fans' and critics like Ismene Brown? For the record, I did not see any evidence of a 'paunch' on Mr Tsiskaridze but he certainly panted a lot. My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the Sheherazade but the Thamar did look a bit slap-dash. I would not go so far as to say that it was "a nadir of nadirs", but I have seen a lot better by smaller, less famous companies. The review provided at the link just smacks of 'ballet ain't what it used to be' doesn't it?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Hello, Dolly!

My birthday happens to fall very near to Christmas. Yep, it sucks. Through childhood and adolescence, I was compensated for the fact that I got a combined birthday/Christmas gift by virtue of the fact that this gift was either something I had specifically asked for or TOTALLY FREAKIN' AWESOME. For example, one memorable year I got a bike. Deprived I was not.

In the run-up to the Christmas before my landmark 16th birthday, a large, rectangular box appeared under the tree. (In our family the gifts were part of the decorations disguising the ugly bucket the tree stood in, okay? There was none of this 'gifts magically appearing on Christmas Eve' stuff.) Anyhoo, I was convinced that said box contained the CD player I was desperate for. Further proof, if any were needed, was the fact that when I went to shake it my horrified mother stopped me. Ohmigod, ohmigod! I was going to be able to play Ritual de lo Habitual in my room!

On Christmas morning I ripped into the box to find ... a doll. A large, porcelain doll adorned with blonde ringlets. She was wearing a green velvet dress with a matching hat. Bloomers were involved. I did my best to look delighted, but 15-going-on-16-year olds with Doc Marten 8-ups and dreams of shagging Perry Farrell are not the kind of girls who are stoked to receive dolls.

Happily, this disappointing (and quite creepy) gift did not poison me against all dolls. Behold!
The Vamp - Theda Bara by Robin Sweeton
There are quite a few more dolls that would appeal to the average belly dancer on the Imitation of Life Construction Company website. You can swoon over Zeba at the Oasis by Mona Ledwin, thrill to Susan Barmore's Jean E, or experience intense lust for Barbara Baker's very bendy Miew the Egyptian Dancer. Oh, so many fantastic follies.

Alas, it seems that there has been no activity on the IoLCC's site more recent than 2009, and nothing seems to be for sale. Noooooo! However ...

Time to be honest - I've selfishly been keeping this link to Lizjul's website to myself because I want, I want, I want but I cannot afford. Elizabeth is a belly dancer. She makes and sells dolls wearing belly dance outfits. Dolls like this:
Yasmeen by Elizabeth de Almeida
If you've got some money you don't want you should buy a doll from Elizabeth at once.

And finally, hello there to 'naamahwnc', Allyse and Manuela who are now following this blog [waves at you]. It's a pretty sure thing two of you found me thanks to RetroKali, who was a total sweetheart and pimped me out this blog recently on The Belly Whisperer. I promise I'll try to make that kind gesture worth her while, but it's unlikely I'll ever attain the heady heights of her hilarious and memorable "Who is gettin' the crotch?" post.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Meet Jilly!

Hi everyone,

I am finally here! I know The Raqasa promised my first column a while back but you guys have really kept me busy. It took me quite a while to choose the first letter I'd respond to. Plus, there was that whole 'collision with a cruise liner' thing - but hey, we're here to talk about your problems, not mine! Who would ever have thought that the land-based belly dance community had so many disgruntled little twinkle toes on it, hey? So without further ado, let's hear from our first unhappy shimmy sister:

Dear Jilly

I have been belly dancing for six months and really feel I have found the one thing in my life that I want to dedicate myself to. It feels like I have a natural affinity with the music – my heart adjusts its rhythm to every beat and I feel my heart chakra like the force of the whole universe flowing through me and out through my face and fingertips when I dance. Truly it is a magical feeling and it reflects in my dancing. I move through my classes like water. Like Wind. Like Fire. When I pause I am as ice. As Stone. All time is in me. All humanity is in me. My womb is the space in which all begins and ends. From my letter I know you will be able to tell that all I do and create is ART.

Jilly, my movements are so beautiful when I dance that I move myself to tears. But my teacher, the graceful one that I have come to regard as my true mother, cannot see how glorious my connection with this dance is – how truly I embody it. Her jealousy saddens me and it is poisoning the other members of the class against me. They should be my supportive sisters but they refuse to learn from me, to see how to be honest and true to the music and the rhythm of themselves by watching me. They will not nurture me.

It would break my heart to move on from them but I cannot be constrained anymore. It is time for me to take my gift to the world and show others how to live the dance, to be the wisdom-giver and love-bringer I know I am.

I live in [address redacted], where the average studio hire per hour is [redacted]. How much do you think I should charge per class?

With much love,

Earth, Wind and Fire

Dear Windy

With gifts like yours you are obliged to teach and perform for free. No price can or should be put on the kisses the muses have bestowed upon you – and it would be immoral to keep your world-enhancing talents to yourself. Good luck!



Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Kodak moment: photographing belly dancers

Back in 2005, my then-teacher (who was Iranian/Iraqi) organised a trip through Jordan, Egypt and Turkey for her students. It was a couple of months at Easter time, so I guess the six-year anniversary is coming up - yikes... Anyways, the "highlight" was a series of classes in Cairo with Aida Noor. I was having a nostalgia trip the other night and wound up watching a couple of sketchy videos featuring Aida attempting to teach us choreography. Two things dawned on me: 
  1. I am an infinitely better dancer now than I was then, even though I still suck.
  2. It is HARD to look consistently great when captured on 'film' (or digi), be it a moving or still image. 
To back this second point up, I found a series of photos I'd taken of three dancers who performed the night we went out in Istanbul to this über-cheesy cabaret restaurant, The Orient House. Think bus loads of tourists with their national flags parked on the tables. Yeesh. Not my thing. At All.

Let me be clear about what follows: these women were fantastic dancers. Amazing. And, as these pictures prove, drop-dead gorgeous. Though the crowd behind them may look a bit indifferent, you can take it from me that, in general, these are faces of rapt attention, not abject boredom.

But here are some things to bear in mind the next time someone pulls out the old Polaroid while you're shaking your stuff. First up, lessons from The Yellow Dancer:

Are your breast implants about to make a desperate bid for freedom?

Does the ornamentation on your costume make it look as though your breasts are crying/vomiting?

How's that deodorant working out for you?

Nothing bad to say about this one - I wish it was of me!

When dancing on the table, make sure you keep your balance. (N.B the towering perspex platforms she was wearing are sadly not visible in any of these photos.)

To sum up, even though these photos may not be the most flattering or professional The Yellow Dancer has ever had taken of her, let's learn the lessons: A great costume (with or without nipple pasties), good grooming, excellent posture, honed technique and an easy smile that makes you look like you're having the best time ever will ensure that even the lousiest tourist snap of you will make you look phenomenal. Which she was, and that's why I have more photos of her than the other two dancers. Thank you, Yellow Dancer!

Next up, The Red Dancer. Let's give her a big hand:

Great costume? Check. Mesmerised Korean guys? Check.

Even in a still photo, this is obviously a hip drop in mid-drop. Got technique? Check. How those mesmerised Korean guys doing? One's smoking, but they're still paying attention. Double points!

That is the smile of a woman happy in her work. Good job! And the Korean guys seemed to have turned to stone which is, uh, unsettling...

Body glitter coming off like a sheen of perspiration? Yeah, but who cares? Not that Korean guy.

Toothache causing an involuntary shoulder hunch? Oh no! It was all going so well!

And now it's time for our final act, The Pink Dancer. Come on, we know you'd rather not but dancers who don't dance don't get paid:

I didn't say anything. Please don't come over here and cut me. Your costume looks lovely, though I'm not much of a one for pink. No, no - don't hit me! I love pink. Honest. Please do keep dancing.

I didn't mean to make you cry, Pink Dancer. I'm sorry I upset you.

For a serious take on how professional photographers feel about photographing belly dancers, please check out the thread on the Pentax Forums and the excellent series of posts on Peter Phun's site. My friend Maëlle recently had some beautiful photos taken of herself dancing, and when I complimented her on them she said, "Yes, there are a lot of photographers who know how to use Photoshop to make you look good, but not many who understand belly dancing well enough to know when you're going to turn, when you're going to do something beautiful with your arms and hold the pose. I've had so many so-called pros give me a series of shots taken just when I look at my most awkward and graceless."

Good tip for those of you looking to pay good money for studio photos, no? And also, if you have some bad photos of yourself dancing, put them to good use by sharing them with the delightful and vanity-free women who set up the very funny Bad Bellydance Pictures page on Facebook.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Salome slices

The Dance of the Seven Veils is not mentioned in the Bible, and it's not a traditional belly dance either. Although Strauss uses it and it had existed in various forms in Assyrian and Babylonian myths, we can thank a brilliant, gay, Irish, Victorian writer for introducing it into modern Western pop culture:
No, this isn't Oscar Wilde in drag as Salome. As Shantell (the 'Shanmonster') correctly points out, this is the Hungarian opera singer Alice Guszalewicz, who was unfortunate enough to look a lot like O.W.

The 'Seven Veils' dance was lifted out of the strip clubs and burlesque theatres by film makers early on in the 20th century. In a more socially and morally conservative time, the Biblical story provided an acceptable way for studios to showcase the physical beauty of their female stars, and titillate the audience, without compromising their reputations or falling foul of the censors.

Nowadays, major Hollywood stars can, and often do, film nude and love scenes without worrying about wrecking their careers. This has lead to a related decline in the number of pictures set in "exotic" lands where the director has a good excuse for flaunting the lovely female star in a dance sequence.

These vignettes have taken on an air of romantic nostalgia, but it's worth remembering that these were the raunchy sex scenes of their day and had absolutely nothing to do with dancing. While ballet dancers may be absolutely outraged about the quality of Natalie Portman's dancing in Black Swan and the lack of credit given to her double, as belly dancers we can't have any such complaint. These scenes may have tarnished the image of our chosen dance form, but they were never meant to be depictions of authentic belly dancing.

Arguably the most famous film star to play Salome was Rita Hayworth. To me, this performance is a good example of 'not belly dancing'. Hayworth's Spanish father was a famous Flamenco dancer, and from a young age she had dance training at the Carnegie Hall complex and from her father himself. You won't see a camel or a rib cage circle here:

Here's teenage Brigid Bazlen in King of Kings, where the veils have been all but dispensed with before she even starts:

If this looks more like belly dancing then here's Bazlen herself on this scene:
"A fantastic amount of research went into King of Kings and it seems that Salome was in her teens when she demanded the head of John the Baptist. She may well be the first juvenile delinquent on record. Some people are surprised that I used no veils in my dance, but it is a false assumption that Salome did a strip tease. I had to form my seductive charming of Herod with a pure Oriental-African dance movement of the period."
Bazlen had been slated to be the next Elizabeth Taylor, but she made only three films and died in 1989 at the age of 44.

For an even older film version of Salome's dance, see the post from October last year with a clip from a filmed version of the Wilde play, featuring Nazimova. It's from 1923, and again the number of veils involved is considerably less than seven!

EDIT 13/4/11: The Bazlen clip that originally featured in this post is no longer available, because the YouTube account holder has been naughty and had their butt smoked by YouTube. FamousFeline of The Pink Coinbelt Chronicles has suggested that I do some posts on copyright, the ethics of using other dancers' choreography and so on, so I guess now I have something else to cover!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Saturday morning cartoon special

That was the They Might be Giants version. Here's the original, more relaxed 1953 version from The Four Lads, complete with lovely vintage images of Turkey:

PS - yesterday's post was obviously an April Fools joke. I hope.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Shakira to trademark 'belly dance'

Shakira is moving to trademark the terms 'belly dance', 'belly dancing' and 'shimmy' , as well as copyright the use of the sequinned bedlah in stage performances, in an effort to both 'manage her image' and raise money for her various charitable endeavours.

Suhaila Salimpour is reportedly 'furious' and has threatened to take legal action should the Colombian singer's applications be successful.

EDIT (6/4/11): Because this post is getting a lot of views, I'd just like to point out (a) the date this post went up and (b) the label. In the UK, 1 April is April Fool's Day and is celebrated with stupid jokes and pranks. This post was my lame attempt at an April Fool's gag. Shakira is not, as far as I know, looking to trademark 'belly dance', 'belly dancing' or 'shimmy' and you can keep wearing your bedlah without worrying she'll sue you.