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!

1 comment:

  1. I've just downloaded iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers getting naked on my taskbar.