Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Stars of the millennium: Nabila Sabha

Nabila performed and taught at the last International Belly Dance Congress in the glamorous English town-like thingee of Frimley.* That was 2009, not long after I'd emigrated to the UK, and it was the first time I'd thrown myself into weekend-long intensive workshops. When the showcase came around all I wanted to do was sit and watch, but I was so dog-tired there was a chance I might fall asleep face-first on my plate of unappetising 'vegetarian lasagne'. Until Nabila came on stage - by the time she finished my face hurt from smiling. She caught me grinning like a loon and waggled her eyebrows at me. I thought she was just the greatest life form ever to be based on carbon.

This is a famous piece of music. I have no idea what it's called because my copy was pirated by a well-meaning teacher acquired years ago and if it had a piece of paper that identified it, well, that's long gone. Anyway, here's Nabila dancing to it:

Nice, uh, bell bottoms.


Anyhoo, here she is again, rockin' the party with a live band:

*Frimley is in no way glamorous. Though it does also host the world darts championships at the Lakeside Convention Centre, the same venue used to host the International Bellydance Congress. Just so's you know how deeply, truly, magnifique and opulent the surrounds at Lakeside are, here's a pic I took in the room where no less a figure than Fifi Abdou was hosting her workshops:

Yes, ladies. FEEL the suave-itude! (No, I don't know who he is either.)

It is, in hindsight, a bit odd that while everyone else was queuing to be snapped with Fifi, I was taking souvenir pictures of vaguely amusing portrait/toilet signage juxtapositions. There must be something wrong with me.

Details, details ...

Your costume is all very well: what about your makeup and nails? I'm a big David Lynch fan, so I think this will do it in the manicure department for me:

The owl! The Log Lady! Oof. You can find Ally on Facebook.

When your fingers (and toes?) are sorted out, let's take a look at your face. Hmmm. Belly dancer, eh? What about these "Aladdin Eyes" by Katie Alves?

Of course, you're going to have to dance with your eyes closed so as not to ruin the artistry. That won't be a problem, right?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Stars of the 1940s: Hagar Hamdi

Hagar was a Golden Age (1940s-1950s) star, along with Tahia Carioca, Samia Gamal and Naima Akef, but she's not quite so well known now. And by 'well known' I mean 'at least at the periphery of the conciousness of a handful of people who are quite geeky about the niche, arcane subject of belly dance and its history'.

("Famous" is a relative term, innit? Last weekend, some friends came over and the booze was flowing and somehow I wound up demonstrating a hagallah. Before I began my awkward journey across the living room I said "Please, don't think that this is a great example of belly dancing. Randa Kamel - she's a belly dancer, you know what I mean?"

I looked at the blank faces all around me and realised they had never heard of Randa and didn't know what I meant. Sigh. Still, at least you delicious companions in camels understand me, eh?)

Right! On with the dancing:

From 1947 comedy Abou Halmous:

From 1949's Bent al Omeda comes this surprisingly salacious number:

The mask is a disguise. This character is dancing for her husband, but he's a cheat and doesn't recognise her as his wife. That plot sounds .... ridiculous. But I'm sure I've seen that same storyline used in a music video for some English outfit recently.

Jilly's got your back

This week, Jilly the Squid and Belly Dancing Agony Aunt strangles the life out of "Low Self Esteem".

Dear Jilly

My ex-husband has asked me to perform at his girlfriend’s birthday party. She is ten years younger than me and a former model, so I think I’m being set up as an object of ridicule. On the other hand, I might be being unduly suspicious of his motives and it could be a genuine overture of friendship. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s occurred to me that it might also be a great opportunity to show my ex what he’s missing. What do you think?

The First Wife

Dear Firstie

By the mighty pointy trident of Poseidon, woman! We never learn to listen to our wise inner voices do we? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!?

You have already picked up on the most obvious motivation your ex and his hot bit of new totty might have for wanting you to perform in front of them and all of her friends. Your ex knows what he’s missing and he’s chosen to keep missing it. If that doesn’t tell you anything, then shimmy and be damned! If you do decide to accept this Gig From Hell, for Neptune's sake don't dance all sexy-sexy in a pathetic attempt to make the girlfriend jealous: You ARE going to make an even bigger fool out of yourself when, not if, the footage winds up on YouTube (complete with bitchy comments).

If you want my advice, and it seems you do, you shouldn't touch this with a barge pole attached to the end of of my longest tentacle.

Hope that helps!


Jilly xo

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A T-shirt design for all of us

Last night in a workshop, conducted in the world's tiniest studio, I was unlucky enough to dance directly in front of someone who, no matter how large my travelling steps or how far away I would move from her in between sets, would always wind up dancing right up my butt. I mean right up my butt. There was a serious risk that she might suffocate in there before someone could pull her out. It really put me off my stride, I can tell you.

Surely I am not alone in having to deal with the class limpet/leech? That one person who sticks to you as though their very existence depends on having access to either your locomotive ability or your warm, life-giving blood? These people are either vaguely vampiric or just lack proprioception.

For those who simply have no idea of where they are in relation to others, I have designed a T-shirt using a quick search of Wikimedia Commons all the artistic and design ability I have. The dream is that we'll all be wearing these in class as a dancer's version of the "Baby on board" bumper sticker or the "If you can't see my wing mirrors, I can't see you" trucker's mud flap. What do you guys reckon?:

Perhaps these could be printed up and stuck on Zazzle or something.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Underwater belly dancing

Mermaids are real! (Sort of.) And some belly dance! As part of my prep for The Mermaid (which may never be performed, but one day I'll have to start a Tumblr, at least, to make use of all the photos I've amassed), here's some stuff I've got about dancing underwater.

Not synchronised swimming; dancing. It's even on YouTube. Jilly was all like 'I told you so', but I pointed out that it's one thing to be born with the ability to filter oxygen out of water, and another to be a land-based mammal getting your boogie on sub-aquatically. To which she responded, "Pssssh..." and deliberately blew a nasty mix of ink and smoke in my face. What a squid.

In Wellington, New Zealand there's a strip club called Mermaids where nude women swim in glass-sided tanks. (On opening night, one dude was overheard asking how the women kept their hair dry underwater. True-ish story.) I'm told they even wear nasal plugs, which doesn't seem very sexy.Then again, I'm the wrong demographic for that stuff. What I'm interested in is a bit classier and a lot more skilful.

The most famous "mermaids" are those of Weeki Wachee, Florida. This pic is of Mary Darlington Fletcher, one of the first Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs, photographed in 1947. The financial fortunes of Weeki Wachee waxed and waned over the years, particularly once Disneyland opened, and it looked like the Mermaids might pass into legend themselves. BUT:

This is Lola Dutronic's version of Porpoise Song, as danced by MeduSirena who has a regular gig at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale, and a completely cool website.

So. Let's give this "isolations without breathing" thingee a go:

(FYI: I've taken a deep breath and launched into rib cage circles while I type.)

Less than one minute later:

OK, this is really quite difficult and I think I'm going to passoadnj  wpeojdsm ;;;a]pfjebn ..............

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Practising for the time-poor

Are you a professional dancer? Are you managing to do an hour's practise every day? Do you have a massive room in your house with a dance-friendly floor and a big mirror? Of course not! Me either. Thank the mighty missing bit of Osiris for YouTube, eh? Um, I didn't sit there for "20 minutes" after the clip had finished, but my intentions were good...

More Nika: YouTube Channel       Migraine-inducing website

Hand exercises were surprisingly hard to find, and it took me a long time to re-track down Nika's vid, so I'm posting it while I've got it.

Sabah: Zay al Assal

This is legendary Lebanese chanteuse Sabah performing her most famous song, 'Zay al Assal' ('Like Honey' - I don't speak Arabic, so help me out if I'm wrong). Razia used a stonking version of this in her class last night - lots of added bass - so here's the original flavour.

This is what it tasted like then...

...and now-ish:

It does go on a bit, so just enjoy the hair and clothes if you don't want to sit through both clips in their entirety. There's no shame in that: skip to around the six-minute mark on the second video for a classic shot of a bored audience member.

PS - I must apologise for Jilly's post yesterday. She turned 7 on Sunday (her life expectancy ran out three years ago), so she was feeling a bit emotional. I've already had people tell me they find her "confusing" even when she's on form [they've obviously not read her profile], and now they're offended by her posting of 'pornographic' images. Unfortunately, I made a deal with her that I wouldn't edit her posts. It was a deal-breaker when I was negotiating with her to write for the blog, so what can I do? I'm taking her on a nice belly-dance based holiday in August, so that will be something for us both to look forward to.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A case of mistaken identity

Jilly would like to remind you what she looks like
Most beloved peeps,

This week, instead of addressing an issue from one of our dancing readers, I have to defend myself from allegations of what TidalWave098 described in an email to me as 'sluttish, disgusting carry on'.

I had no idea what TidalWave098 was on about, but at first I put that down to all the ouzo I'd had the night before.

Here is an excerpt from the offending email (I have tidied up her[?] spelling and grammar a bit):

"Other belly dancing squid rely on you to provide a good example to our sisters on land and represent our community. What you have done totally undermines our good name and makes people think that the belly dancing performed in the world's oceans is only one step away from a live sex show," raved TidalWave098, before really putting the hooked tentacle in. "YOU ARE A ONE-SQUID SADIE AND KAYA ROUTINE AND I AM ASHAMED TO SHARE A SUBSPECIES WITH YOU! ASHAMED! ASHAMED!"

Shaken, I stubbed out my cigarette and stared at the screen for a long time. That was a mean thing to say about Sadie and Kaya, I thought. I'm sure they're very nice girls. Then I wondered what the Davy Jones TidalWave098 was on about -- and noticed the attachment. With trembling tentacle I opened it. What I saw shocked me to the core, I don't mind telling you. Be warned; the following image is NSFW:

Let us get this straight, OK? That isn't me. It's true that the salty sea dog looks familiar, but it's a big ocean and the odds that this is some past paramour of mine are slim. In any event, I can assure you, gentle readers, that what you are looking at is a picture of some other squid -- not me! Are we clear about that? The only reason I am giving this distasteful image any bandwidth is because now it is on the internet the rumour that this is me, Jilly the Squid, belly dancer and agony aunt, is spreading like wildfire and a stop must be put to it. Just look at the picture of me at the top of this post. I'm obviously orange, and mad as hell.

AnimalsWithStuffedAnimals.com, you'll be hearing from my lawyers.


Jilly x

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Theatrical swords: also good for real-life drama!

"Instead of getting her purse as the robber had demanded, Moody, a professional belly dancer whose speciality is dancing with swords, grabbed her 25-inch Turkish scimitar sword. She held it up to his stomach and asked, "You still want my purse?""

There are no words.

The Dance is a Weapon

Happy birthday, Martha Graham - one of the midwives of modern contemporary dance and indirectly responsible for hundreds of dance injuries over the years thanks to her rigorous methods.

Martha and students: Bennington University c. 1930
Also, a massive thank you (again) to RetroKali of the always entertaining and insightful Belly Whisperer for the re-pimp(!) and hello to Foxy, HipMix, Lilith Noor and Raw on the Dancefloor (now that is a username to conjure with...) If you have a blog, I love following back. A lot of my close friends don't belly dance so it's fun to have other people to share this with. Thanks! 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Legless in the bar

Say to anyone: "London pubs in the 1960s" and you will conjure up an abiding image: a hot woman in a coat, dancing with a massive snake.

This is Julie Mendez, the dancer who features in the opening credits of From Russia With Love, and her snake Lulu. If you click on the image you'll be taken to the film clip on British Pathé's website, where you can view the pair of them getting down. Alas, the clip is silent but I'm guessing it's an outtake from a TV sitcom or movie, rather than documentary or news footage -- despite the rather random collection of scenes that follow this one.
If you would like to see Julie giving Lulu a bath (and why wouldn't you?) you can do that here.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Costuming considerations

For AGES now, 'The Mermaid' has been a work in progress. And she still is a work in very, very slow progress. At this rate, the poor wench is going to be lucky to ever make it out of the tadpole stage. Although I'm settled on choreographing for veil (for a while there it was going to be scimitar, but, eh. It's heavy, and I'm puny. Also, it isn't as hard to evoke stormy seas with a silk veil as it is with a sword), the choreography and the costume are still an elusive mystery.

The intricacies of costuming are revealed to the belly dancer piecemeal, and unfortunately most of us find out that our dangly earrings are going to get tangled in our melaya leff/our bracelets are going to snag on our skirts/the clasp on our bra is absolutely not going to withstand a barrel turn etc only once we are out there in front of an audience comprised of total strangers and, much worse, the people who know and love us. And in these days of camera phones and the internet, that audience can increase exponentially.

I think I'm pretty sussed on what will and won't work (a silk veil will not play nice with a coin bra). All I know for sure is that I don't want a 'cabaret-style' mermaid. The song is an old sea shanty about being drowned by an evil siren, so 'prettiness' is definitely out. Methinks she'll have a harder, almost piratical edge. In any event, a mermaid skirt is just too obvious. So I'm going with pants. (And for you Brits out there, I mean that in the sense of trousers, not underpants. So stop giggling.) But do I want Sinbad the Sailor harem pants, or 17th century sailor-style trousers? Y'know the ones, fitted and flared, and usually with a vertical black and white stripe? I do like the idea of implying that she's knicked her clothes off her victims, but there's something about that particular item of clothing that's niggling at me.

I wonder what it could be?

Pic credit: www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Jilly sorts you out

This week, Jilly confronts her own mortality. (NB: Not as grim as it sounds.)

Dear Jilly

My friend has invited me to go to belly dance classes with her. I would dearly love to but worry that my 50 year-old body, after three children, a couple of minor surgeries and numerous weight changes, isn’t up to it. The idea of wriggling around with a group of girls half my age also makes me feel nervous, and I don’t want to look like an old lady. I don’t feel old, but what do you think? Will I look foolish?


Dear BB

Oh honey, you think YOU’VE got problems? Hah! When I started dancing I felt like a fish out of water. Although come to think of it, that’s not surprising!

Not only do I not have a belly button, hips or a spine – which has made mastering back bends very difficult, let me tell you – I also have eyes the size of footballs (‘Cleopatra’ eyeliner looks totally wrong on me), and eight tentacles instead of two arms and two legs. Costumes never fit me.

To make matters worse, land-based gigs are out. But what could have been limitations I have made my strengths. For example, there is no one else in the industry who can play two sets of zagat and tabla and do a full-body undulation and snake arms all at the same time. Yes, it takes concentration and I don’t do it perfectly every time, but even when I screw up the audience loves me just for trying. Think of all the things that have happened to you in your life that you could bring to the stage.

The life expectancy for a colossal squid is about 4.5 years, BB, and next week I turn 7. You do the maths. But I plan on sticking around: in the words of the late, great Bert Balladine, “You have nothing to dance about until you are over the age of 30.”

My advice to you, BB, is to take what you have and work it! Life is too short to miss out on something you ‘would dearly love to do’ just because of a few stretch marks and wrinkles. If you can move, you can belly dance. If you still don’t believe me, check this out:

Enjoy your first class!


Jilly x

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Stars of the millennium: Jim Boz

I don't know why people don't call Jim Boz 'The Boz', 'cause he totally is. The woman who gasps "Oh my God!" at about 1.40 when he starts doing snake arms knows what I'm talking about:

Here he is performing to Wahashtini (Rakkasah East, New Jersey, 2008):

And this was just too much fun to ignore:

According to the YouTube note, Dondi found this music in a bargain bin in a middle eastern petrol station (that's a gas station to our Stateside friends). It took a lot of cleaning up and remixing for the show but no one knows what it's called or who it's by.

YouTube Channel          Website

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Style vs Substance

The worldwide belly dance community, thanks to the internet, is very small. Even this blog, with a 72% visit length average of 0 seconds, is likely to be found by someone who knows me or knows my teacher. That is partly why my number one blogging rule has been Thou Shalt Play Nice. The other part of that rule is that there are enough haters out there already. If I find a performance I don't like on YouTube, I don't link to it (if I violently dislike a clip I find on YouTube, I'll Twitter the link to it instead. Heh heh). If I'm not into your particular style but you're really famous and students of this dance should have heard of you, then I'll post clips of you dancing. It's worked pretty well so far -- I have never had to delete a comment or get involved in a slanging match. I like to think that that's because everyone who visits this blog is either (a) not really reading it or (b) Good People.

So I've thought long and hard about whether or not I should post what I'm about to because it might hurt some feelings. But the odds of those concerned ever finding this blog are slim (check that visit length average!). Also, more importantly, I think this is an issue that amateur dancers need to think hard about, and when you perform in public you run the risk that someone is going to give you a bad review. So here goes.

The Fantasia Festival takes place in London at the end of the year. It is a weekend of workshops culminating in a hafla where both international teachers and students from around the city perform. Needless to say, the programme is pretty mixed. There are improver/intermediate classes (like the one I'm in) where some of the students are actually semi-professional and some are have-a-goers, so even within a single number performed by seven or eight students the quality varies. There are performances by professional soloists and teachers, and routines done by beginners. There is no typical style -- some set pieces are more contemporary dance than belly dance, and even the belly dances cover the full gamut from folkloric raqs assaya to steampunk/burlesque fusion. Last time there was a number done by a dancer called Rumi (?) Romy where she sat on the floor and danced using only her arms to TLC's Unpretty (it was cool, but it wasn't belly dance!).* I described last year's show to the organiser as "the usual mix of the absolutely amazing and the frankly unbelievable" and she just laughed.

In 2009, there was a massive controversy over a performance by Mihrimah Ghaziya. I don't know why everyone in this forum is being so coy: you can check out the number for yourself on YouTube. Angry letters were written to the organiser and the forum link I've provided is not the only place online where the community got its righteous indignation on. But as you can hear from the applause at the end, those of us who were there were, in the main, OK with it. (Obviously not everyone was, but most of us.) For what it's worth, my opinion is that Mihrimah is a wonderful dancer with technique to die for and I don't think that this performance showcased that, although it was a great piece of theatre. I much preferred her "Spirit of the Peacock" from last year's Fantasia (and you can see a clip of that on her website). Also, I think that since the Fantasia hafla is comprised of so many student performances -- and therefore attended by a lot of friends and family who may or may not be dance literate -- that maybe this piece was not the best choice for the setting. But I understood what she was doing so I wasn't offended. She had substance.

I was shocked that a performance from last year's festival didn't create the same level of outrage.

Backstage, the dancers in question had looked amazing. AMAZING. The costumes were elaborate and beautiful, and obviously bespoke. It was a duet, and each dancer was clearly playing a character. They'd put a lot of time and thought into their hair, makeup and costumes. They were using props. I was really keen to see what they were going to do.

Their piece was set to some godawful bit of late 90s industrial techno that I recognised at the time but can't recall now. The choreography was predictable and they screwed it up anyway. They quickly lost control of their props and got tangled in them. Rather than try to retrieve the performance they just started giggling. They didn't even try to finish with dignity and their technique, if they'd had any to begin with, went out the window.

Look, shit happens, right? You trip on your veil, your belt starts sliding off, you forget whether your next turn is right or left. Whatever. I understand because it's happened to me often enough. But if there are people sitting watching you (people who have paid to be there, let's not forget) then you owe it to them and yourself to get it together as best you can and perform. It's a student hafla, so your audience gets that there are students on the bill. They get that not everyone has the charisma of Fifi Abdou and the technique of Rachel Brice. Honestly, your audience is not comprised of arseholes. They are not rooting for you to fail. They will forgive you for stumbling. But they do want to see you do your best. That way, everyone avoids embarrassment.

But on this occasion I was embarrassed by what I was watching. If it had been a class performance, well, OK. That is part of the learning curve and that's happened at Fantasia too, where someone turns the opposite direction to everyone else and suddenly the whole company is in disarray and they can't get it back. But this was just two people presenting themselves as though they had moved beyond the beginner level -- and it was as much of a mess as I've ever seen. I can only assume that they'd invested so much in their outfits because they cared more about how they looked than their actual performance. That spectacularly backfired because the glitz only highlighted how far short the actual dance fell. I understand how much fun dressing up is: as a student, I would say that 40% of my performance enjoyment comes from getting to cake my face in more slap than a clown and dress up like a Christmas tree.

But please don't subject an audience to little more than a fashion parade. If you are dead set on dressing as a tribal-style angel, complete with enormous wings made of real feathers, chuck a theme party. Give me substance over style any day.

*Edit (9 May 2011): Or maybe it kinda was -- thanks to Princess Farhana for giving me the inkling that it might have been a Persian Raks Al Bezak, where female dancers mime putting on makeup.