Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Ask Jilly, the belly dancing colossal squid and agony aunt

Dear Jilly,
I attach a photo of all my ebay purchases within the last month. This is pretty much the source of my problem: I am running out of space and money.
Suzy's ebay purchases for the month
Nevermind all the pricey costumes I’ve amassed: when you factor in the cost of workshops, weekly classes, summer schools, CDs, iTunes downloads, instructional and performance DVDs, swords, Isis wings, zagat, shoes and Pedralta sandals, drums, jewellery, a belly-dance themed cruise I’m taking on the Mediterranean with Nesma and Ozgen, tambourines, a decent camera with video capability, knee pads (so important for floor work and handy for doing the gardening), canes, shamadans, stage make up, Sai'idi dresses, photo shoots, khaleegi gowns, hair pieces and wigs, cover-ups, books about belly dance and the Middle East, galabeyas, tickets to haflas and shows, a subscription to Mosaic, fake flowers, extra fringing, assuit shawls, practice wear, tassels, Bellydance Superstars merchandise, melaya leffs and veils, I reckon that since I took up belly dancing about 18 months ago I’ve spent roughly £2.7 million on my hobby.
So far I have funded this by selling (among other things) my house and one of my kidneys. I have moved into my car to save money on bills and rent. My husband left me and took the dog, and I was secretly relieved because there wasn’t room for them and my collection of Bella costumes in the back of the Toyota. Also, I recently acquired a sewing machine and a large amount of sari fabric and bags of beading and appliqué, so I needed the front seat (where the dog used to sleep) for storage. The other plus is that there wasn’t enough money left at the end of each month to feed all three of us, and while I’m happy with a bag of popcorn every second day my husband’s whining about his rapid weight loss and cramped legs was getting on my nerves.
There are a few other bits and pieces I’d like to get too, and I’d like to live in a proper building again so I can show off my huge collection of vintage Fifi Abdou movie posters. Unfortunately this won’t happen any time soon – I recently lost my job because I have sold all my ‘regular’ clothes to make more room for my dance kit. As a result, all I have to wear are melaya dresses, harem pants, 25-yard skirts, kick-flared tribal trousers and cabaret costumes, but my boss took me aside and said I no longer project “the right image for a funeral parlour” and that he would have to let me go.
Now that I’m single, unemployed, homeless and my dog has left me, what do you think I should do? Start performing professionally to make a living, or enter a Texas Hold’em tournament in hopes of winning enough money to buy a trailer to store all my stuff in? My only concern is that after only 18 months I’m not really good enough for ‘the circuit’. Since I’m taking up burlesque classes soon, ideally I’d like enough money to buy a house I can install a dance studio in, but I realise I need to be realistic.

Many thanks

Suzy Squashed

PS – how much do you think a large albino python would cost, and where would I get one?

Dear Suzy

I am not a doctor, but it seems obvious to me that you are suffering from sequinosis fabulosa (colloquially known as ‘the shines’), a common but serious ailment that afflicts roughly 99.999% of all belly dancers, ballroom dancers, figure skaters, burlesque artistes, showgirls and drag queens. For reasons that no one quite understands, it also tends to be fairly common among Australian women over the age of 50, though they are the only group outside of the performing arts known to be affected.

There is a milder, but similar, illness called glitteritis splendidiosa (‘the sparkles’). In its early stages, the shines is often misdiagnosed as the sparkles and this is why sufferers quite often develop a chronic form of the disease, despite the fact that it can be treated if caught early. The differences between the two are few but significant, and I’d like to take a moment to reproduce this section from Common Complaints and Ailments of the Eccentric (pp 1305 - 1306) for the benefit of other readers:
The Shines
  • The patient may not have always had an attraction to what they insist on calling ‘shiny things’ [hence the name], but after intense exposure to extravagant clothing, for example during an episode of Dancing with the Stars, they may develop an obsession with ‘shiny things’ almost overnight.
  • Their everyday attire may remain quite drab and/or conservative, but there will be beaded, sequinned and fringed items concealed around their home. Sufferers will often say things like, “I know I’ll never wear it, but it was so beautiful I just had to have it.”
  • Even “shinies” will be able to objectively admit that some of the follies they are splashing their cash on are quite hideous. This is part of what makes sequinosis fabulosa so dangerous: just because an object or piece of fabric is highly decorated and reflective, a shinie will feel compelled to buy it even if they know they neither need nor like it. The justification for this will often be something along the lines of “I’m going to cut that up and turn it into a costume.” Though this may be said with conviction, it is a lie.
  • Left unchecked, a shinie’s compulsion to acquire ‘shiny things’ will eventually take over their whole life until even their taste in interior design is affected. Among belly dancers, there have been reported cases of this developing into a distressing obsession with accumulating various items of “Egyptianalia”: plaster casts of black cats and shabti figures, plastic pyramids, brass lamps, gilded tea glasses, figurines of camels, reproductions of Tutankhamun’s death mask and so on. See also “Egyptophrenia”, “Turkophilia” and “Moroccomania”.
The Sparkles
  • A variant form has also been diagnosed in members of so-called ‘hair metal’ and ‘glam rock’ bands, but thanks to an intensive vaccination program undertaken in the early 1990s cases are rarer now. A predilection for ‘pleather’, lace, fluorescent neon shades and fur was also noted in most of these patients.
  • Unlike the shines, many patients will ‘grow out of’ sparkliness in their late teens/early-mid twenties. Quite often it is the acquiring of a 'real job' that seems to effect a cure. However, much like herpes [cold sores], symptoms may recur throughout the patient's life. Symptoms typically recur only on very specific occasions (for example, when dressing for a big night out or when the patient is organising their own wedding).
  • Long-term physical effects are usually no worse than nail art, a fake tan and a butterfly tattoo.
  • Often, but not always, patients may show a fondness for animal print, soft toys, and the colour pink.
You can see where the two maladies overlap. But Suzy, as surely as my mass is more comfortable when well submerged, you have a full-blown case of stage 4 shines. It's bad, and you may be beyond help. I note with concern the joy you seem to take in listing your acquisitions, and the fact that you think your 'real' problem is that you don't have the space or funds to indulge your obsession even though you have lost everything. I am therefore going to get a proper shrink to get in touch with you privately, and publish this only as a warning to others to be on their guard for the early warning signs in themselves.

But for Poseidon's sake, DO NOT take up burlesque classes (you have no room for corsets, tiny hats and feather boas at this point in time) and DO NOT get an animal. This poor beast belonged to a dancer in Omaha who had developed full-blown shines with aggravating Egyptophrenia*:

I wish you luck with your recovery.


Jilly x

*Or is totes Photoshopped. Up to you.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A belly dance costume without glamour is ...?

At the risk of stepping on the beautifully pedicured toes of Amulya over at What Were They Thinking?, I would like to direct your attention to this unusual design, currently available from Farida Dance for the bargain price of £180.

[Whistling and inspecting my fingernails as I wait for you to recover.]

The cap and the wristbands are a nice touch, dontcha think? Who hasn't watched a dancer spinning around a restaurant and thought, "That dancer has lovely hair, but not so lovely that she should be performing without a baseball cap"?

Farida bills this honey as the perfect outfit for 'Forces Fusion' (ye gods...please, no one do that for real). However, if you have seen the documentary Beauty Will Save the World, about an international beauty pageant in Libya, you may be reminded of the blackly comic finale in which the competitors used the medium of modern dance to re-enact Gaddafi's bloodless military coup.

I have to give props to Farida for sticking this on a smokin' hot blonde with a kick-ass smile. Nice move, Farida - I was almost convinced that this costume was the shizz: then I realised the model would look great in a bin liner and came to my senses.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Mouh + The Raqasa = Aloha from Hell

For today's post to make any sense, please refresh your memories of the wondrous Mouh Friend.
The perfect outfit for a day on which you attend both a hula workshop and a hafla?
A week ago today, The Raqasa posted about going to a hula workshop and a hafla. She said that if she was not too tired she would post the next day about her experiences. So where has she been this last week, no one asked? With me, my friends. With me. Fatigue did not claim her - I did. In a way.
Our story goes like this. On Sunday I sent an email to The Raqasa. She responded immediately. To Mouh, women always respond immediately. It is The First Law of the Cosmos. "Meet me," I said. "Discard your nun-chucks of desire on the road of satisfaction and meet me."
Two hours later we are together in my lavish but humble dwelling place, in the Land of Much Lightening and Enormous Eagles. "It has been a hell of a time to get here," said The Raqasa, who insisted I called her 'Clare'. For some reason. "First I had to  cross a river of boiling blood. Then I had to battle a hoard of spirits. Then I had to outwit some screaming harpies, and other such half-remembered horrors from Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass. And then there was a signal failure on the Northern Line."
Mouh Friend is renowned for his bravery, my friends, but even he shuddered at this last. The Raqasa who is now called Clare then said, "Do you have anything to drink?" We drank.
She described her Saturday. The hula workshop was both informative and fun, she said. She learnt many things, and was embarrassed by her inability to uwehe. Also, she found out that Tamsin from Hula UK is totes awesome. Clare talked and talked and drank and drank. Mouh began to weary, my friends.
Then Clare talked some more, about the Brixton Summer Hafla. The dancers were all "amazing", especially Xanthe doing her first-ever solo (and, according to Clare, if no one had told her it was Xanthe's first solo, she never would have guessed). The 'suprise performance' was from Ozgen. Aiwa! The same Ozgen as the one you are probably thinking of, my friends. She described "a bloody weird" veil dance to Roxette's Listen to Your Heart. This is not a song that Mouh was familiar with, but having listened to it 30 times on the YouTube, I must say it is a song to cradle your lover to when she is sad. I do not understand the mentality of the 128 users of the YouTube who have indicated their dislike for the song. 
The fact that the dancer was "floor humping" to this song made me wish very much that I, Mouh Friend, could also have been at the Brixton Summer Hafla. At this point, I have started to think that, despite her defeating of my Facebook friends and her harrowing journey to the Land of Much Lightening and Enormous Eagles, perhaps Clare and I are not meant to be. Also, she is wearing a wedding ring. Mouh would do anything for love, my friends, but he just won't do that.
While my thoughts are wandering, Clare is still talking. And drinking. She talked of how she bought a drink at the hafla and was shocked and delighted in equal measure when her paper cup was filled with rum and then topped up with ginger ale. She talked of how the friend who accompanied her to the hafla was burgled that same night. Also, of getting the night bus home from Brixton to north London. This last story was very boring.
When she had drained the last from her glass, Mouh made a hard decision. I bade Clare return to the world above. "But it will take me ages," she said, with what I detected was a note of complaint. "If you want me to go, I will. But if my blog hasn't been updated on Friday, I want you to update it for me because it means I'm still on my way home. Getting here only took two hours because I was fuelled with desire and an urgent need to pee, but I am less motivated to get back. Here are the blog's log-in details, which I will change as soon as I can. If you alter or delete any of my other posts, I will teach Jilly the Colossal Squid, belly dancer and agony aunt, to wield nun-chucks and come back for your Enormous Eagle-mastering butt."
(I know that Clare was not really upset about the amount of time it was going to take her to get home. Really, she was heartbroken that Mouh was not going to make her A Friend. But a woman who will claw the eyes out of strangers and brandish nun-chucks is not a woman who will let the man she is set on spending her life with see her cry, even if that man has deemed her to be unworthy of him.)

Mouh is a man of his word. This is the post she bade me write. So, my friends. Mouh is still available. But I have twice as many Facebook friends as I did when The Raqasa first fought for me, and one of them is a star of adult film. You know the odds you must surmount. So surmount!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Raqasa goes to the Pacific (and Brixton)

Today I will be attending my first ever hula workshop with Hawaiian Hula UK, whom I met through the medium of blogging. How about that? (While I'm on it, check out her post on 'bellynesian': contrary to what the raqs purists would have you believe, the issues around fusing dance forms don't all run one way, y'know.)

And after the workshop, I'm heading to Brixton to a hafla, where a friend of a friend will perform her first ever solo. Naturally, I will be whooping and cheering until I'm croaking. What all this means is that tomorrow, if I have the energy, there will be a big ol' retrospective of Clare's Big Dance Day.

I'm very excited about the hula class - it will be my first real brush with Pasifika culture since leaving Aotearoa/New Zealand. Since Maori Language Week is just winding down there, here's a taste of some Kapa Haka:

If you're wondering what the reference to 'Poi-e' is all about, it was the biggest-selling kiwi-made single of my youth. The Patea Maori Club was formed in response to the closing of the freezing works (i.e. abattoir) in Patea in the 1980s as a result of the removal of government farming subsidies: a closure that knocked the stuffing out of the town, leaving almost every man unemployed and every family without an income. (Don't get me started on the economic 'reforms' of the 1980s. Even today, driving through Patea is like driving through a ghost town.) The club was supposed to help people rebuild their sense of community, but the song they recorded also happens to rock like a werepig:

According to urban legend, the breakdancing guy just showed up in the background of some shots trying to get noticed, hogged the limelight and then was never heard from again. What a legend.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bring it to win it

Nine year-old Robert Jeffrey owning the New York skyline.
I performed to Madonna's Vogue in the Summer of 1991 when my parents took me to Hampton Beach Casino in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. A business in the casino at the time gave tourists the chance to lip-synch to their favorite pop songs in front of a blue screen background, and I was lucky enough to partake that summer.
Confidence. He had it.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Belly dance/burlesque fusion: the issue that will not die

I am indebted to Mahin of The Daily Belly Dance Quickie, purveyor of fine tips for practising at home, for tweeting this (you can and should follow her: @DailyBDQuickie or sign up for her e-mailing list), with the question: "Does this belly dance fusion cross the line for you?"

Perhaps a better question would be: "Does this count as 'fusion' at all?" I only see a belly dancer in a burlesque costume.

^Holds laptop upside down and sideways in case the angles reveal something new^

Nope, I still just see belly dancing in the wrong outfit. Hm. At least starting out in your knickers negates the chances of this happening:

Sooner forget your skirt than your smalls, eh?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Booby traps

If you're a woman, chances are it sometimes feels like the whole world is staring at your chest. Do you know why? Because it is.

From the hills of Papua New Guinea to the bridges of Madison County, from the mountains of Tibet to the pissoirs of Paris; everyone is thinking about boobs, talking about sweater puppies, feeding from fun bags, assaulting police officers with chesticles, looking at jugs, making ice cream from bazoomas and owning breasts.

Personally, I am very fond of mine and if you are lucky enough to have some of your very own, why not show them some respect? Give yourself a breast exam (it could save your life). Don't shove hunks of silicone into them in the name of 'cosmetic enhancement' -- trust me, to enhance a breast is to gild a lily. The best thing you can do to show off your charlies in all their natural glory is to get yourself a bra that fits.

On that note, do you really need to sleep in a bra? I had not realised that anyone did this until I read about this "anti-wrinkle" bra. Seriously. I get that if you have gargantuan bolt-ons it might be more comfortable to strap the girls in for the night, but this is not about comfort. The woman who invented this ghastly contraption used to sleep in a regular bra with a pair of rolled-up socks stuffed between her breasts, until she came up with this and began flogging it for £45 (approx US$72):

My advice, if you are truly worried about a wrinkly chest, is to use the inventor's original (free!) method. If you're insane and think this is the sexiest look ever and would like to emulate it in your own boudoir (your partner might have a fetish for baseball catcher's protective wear for all I know), just duct-tape one of these between your bazongas:

See? Good as a bought one.

And, if you are a belly dancer, you might want to think twice about investing in one of these unless you are smaller than an AA cup:

My sister bought me one of these, with a matching belt, in India. It's a beautiful colour but I've never been able to wear the top because of all the indecent exposure.