Thursday, 29 September 2011

Story time

Yesterday I realised that I am still in holiday mode, because after putting on my mascara I forgot to apply my “Chuck Norris’ Extra-Strength Human Repellent (City Commuter Rush Hour Grade)”™ face. This is a vital topcoat for anyone contemplating a ride on the London Underground.

The Raqasa's audience had no idea what the fuck she was on about,
but soon realised that it could slip off to LOLcats without her noticing
But maybe my forgetfulness was just as well, because as a result I learnt a very important lesson about marketing yourself as an artist.

As the fickle fingers of fate had finagled it, yesterday was also the first day of Razia’s “Performance Prep Course” so such issues are more prominent in my noggin than usual. The course covers things like getting your stage face on (the subject of last night’s class – and yes, I have hi-larious pictures that I am trying to decide if I will share with you or not), how to structure a performance, booking yourself gigs and so on. Which, in a very tenuous way, brings me to The Story of the Paula Abdul-Loving Pamphleteer.

As anybody who has to contend with crowded public transport will appreciate, the only way of hanging on to one’s own fragile sense of self during all that unavoidable personal space invasion is to retreat behind an imaginary wall. This wall is often comprised of earphones, studiously avoided eye contact (usually aided by reading something or becoming absorbed in 'Angry Birds') and wearing a facial expression that conveys slightly less kindness and generosity of spirit than one of Anton LeVey’s publicity snaps.

The book I’m reading at the moment is Maximum Movies, Pulp Fictions: Film Culture and the Worlds of Samuel Fuller, Mickey Spillane and Jim Thompson by Peter Stanfield. Pithy title, and nothing to do with the work of Quentin Tarantino. I got on my train (no seat available, of course) and whipped the book out of my bag the moment I saw a guy cruising the carriage and trying to foist religious tracts on people. Undeterred by my iPod and book fortress, Religious Tract Man still had a go when he got to me. Dammit! I will never forget my “Chuck Norris’ Extra-Strength Human Repellent (City Commuter Rush Hour Grade)”™ face again.

Religious Tract Man (spying two words on the cover of my book): Have you seen Pulp Fiction?
Me (wondering what the hell he’s on about and trying to sound as unfriendly as possible): Yeah.
Religious Tract Man: I like John Travolta. Do you?
Me (having never thought about whether or not I like John Travolta before): Yeah.
Religious Tract Man (brandishing a pamphlet with a sunrise on the cover): Do you want a book?
Me: No, thanks.
You will notice that I made two crucial errors during this exchange: 1) I ‘engaged’ with him; 2) I said ‘No, thanks’ instead of ‘No, sod off’. Maybe this explains what happened about 20 minutes later when we reached my stop and he followed me off the train.

I was queuing to get into the lift at the station when I eventually became aware that someone was repeatedly and rather forcefully prodding me on the arm. Turning in the expectation of seeing someone I knew – or, at least, Clive Owen, come to his senses at last – I was dismayed to be confronted by Religious Tract Man, still trying to offer me his cheaply produced publication. Mercifully the lift showed up and we all piled in. That’s when Religious Tract Man got totally weird.

Do you remember the song Straight Up by Paula Abdul? No? Well, Religious Tract Man does. He started warbling it in the lift, acapella styles. It was actually kind of cool – because London commuters had to decide if they were going to pretend it wasn’t happening or start risking eye contact with each other. In the end (dude, it’s a long way from the platform to the street at Goodge St station), one brave soul took a pick axe to the icy layer of cool remove.

Brave Soul: Sounding good, man.
Religious Tract Man: You like my singing? I’ve got videos online – my name’s Neil.
There you have it – how not to market yourself as an artist. If you would like to hear a bonkers, but totally harmless, man with an average singing voice giving his all to minor pop hits of the late 1980s then get ready to hurl your Spanx in the air in celebration. You could have your prayers answered if you type “Neil” (or possibly “Neale”, “Neal”, “Kneel”, “Neel”, “Kneal” “N’eal”, “N’eil”, “N’eel”, “Nee-ell” or “Kneil”) into Google and hit “I’m feeling lucky”. Bonne chance!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


That's all I have to offer you with this post. Apologies. {sigh} You may have noticed that the posts have been a bit erratic of late - I did mention the 'auto-update' function a while ago. Well, for the last three weeks I've been away and I thought that the auto-update function would cover nicely for me in my absence. It did, up to a point, because I hadn't reckoned on having to respond to comments! I got comments while I was away! So thank you very much for those and I will respond to them all by Friday. I haven't been ignoring you, I promise. It's just that I didn't anticipate comments, so apologies for that.

Anyhoo, while I'm busy with the excuses, I may as well apologise to you all for posting this:

As Foodycat pointed out, you work your heart out trying to improve the image of your art form and what happens? +facepalm+

Meanwhile, in Trinidad and Tabago ...

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Ziller gorilla

Today is my sister's birthday. I therefore have the flimsiest pretext possible for posting this awesome party outfit:
Karnival House
Apparently this is still in stock (I know! I would have thought it was sold out too!), but you might have to purchase the jeans and work boots separately. You're welcome.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Don't believe everything you read

Hoohoohoo boy. Have I got a special treat for you today.

All of us, even if only occasional class attendees, will be aware to a greater or lesser degree that this dance form provokes some odd reactions and unearths some weird assumptions and prejudices. When I was attending RAKS in Belgium, my room-mate in the hostel was a Georgian woman studying for her MBA. "So I think this is a dance you use for exciting your husband, right?" she purred while giving me a laughingly flirty look. "If only it were that simple, I wouldn't have wasted my time and money coming here!" I laughed back. But really, I was bothered. She's 24 years old. Dancers have been working on changing that perception FOR DECADES. How many more years is it going to take before we leave all this Sonny Lester stuff behind?:

Had I known about it at the time, I would have been able to tell Anna that there's even a Facebook support group for men married to dancers: that's how delightfully mundane being shacked up with someone who thinks in terms of Figure 8s and zills practice is. Sometimes, when our relationships go bad, we turn utterly nuclear and wage eight-year "hate campaigns" against our exes and their new partners.

Plus – and I'm just going to go ahead and be bold with the banana here – despite what may be assumed from all those old album covers and the hoochie Bettie Page routines and whatnot, there are many, many belly dancers in the world that you would not want to see naked but are awesome at what they do. (There are also some, like yours truly, who have the double handicap of not being awesome at what they do and are certain never to trouble the pages of Maxim either.) The ugly, the elderly, the very young, the knock-kneed, the overweight, the flat-chested and bony, the dangerously buxom, the scarred and the scared: we're all in class together, trying to think kind, charitable thoughts about the willowy 22 year-old next to us with the perfect skin, flawless makeup and glossy mane who is effortlessly layering camels over her shimmies. The bitch. No, she's not a bitch, she's lovely. Shit.

Where was I? Ah, yes.

As bad as it is, that whole "make your man a sultan" shtick is benign compared to that (tiny) portion of the population who see the art form as downright immoral. I thought I had tripped over one of their number when I encountered Dr Toby Hill's new book, Never Hug a Belly Dancer:

Board member Dr Toby Hill recently published “Never Hug a Belly Dancer and 99 Other Meditations for Men.” A habitual journal writer, he decided to publish his writings in hopes they will be of benefit to others. When asked about the title, Dr. Hill said, “It basically means sometimes what you see and what you desire is not what you really want.” describes the book as: “Devotionals for men who seek strength, encouragement and direction in life. Toby Hill shares his life-experiences [sic] with every man and how he has dealt with many conflicts, situations and decision-making. It takes a somewhat humorous look at life and gives one man's views of resolution and how to achieve the ultimate.”
Here is an excerpt from the book: “Last evening was Anna Lee’s birthday. Our youngest adult daughter wanted to take her mom to a local Mediterranean restaurant so that we could all watch the belly dancing as we ate. The hidden agenda here was that our granddaughter likes to get out on the dance floor and belly dance with the dancer. The dancer was a nice, young, blonde, attractive lady. She entertained us well as she danced with a sword on her head and with flames in her hand. She gyrated and cavorted with us all and was especially gracious to our little granddaughter as she often let her leave the table and join her in her “belly” dancing. On the way out of the restaurant I gave the young lady a generous tip. As she took the money she turned to give me a hug. I admit, I was kind of looking forward to it. After all, she was young and pretty and blonde and she had few clothes on. Go figure. Well as we hugged each other I learned something else about my new young female friend. She was also sweaty! After all, she had been dancing all night long. The eagerly anticipated hug had not lived up to my expectations. So often being disappointed is the result of our expectations when we base them on worldly standards. It does not make any difference if we are looking forward to a new house, and new car or a new woman. Inevitably they fail to meet our expectations. The expectations of our world when seen through Gods [sic] eyes rarely disappoint. When we reflect on those things that God would have us yearn for – peace, patience, love, healthy relationships and most of all a relationship with him, we are never disappointed when we have obtained what he desires us to have. We should spend some time thinking about how many times in the past that the acquisition of possessions has not lived up to our expectations and what we could have done and should do differently in the future. With all of that said, I still think about the local Belly Dancer [sic] every once in a while. Maybe next time, I’ll tip her earlier in the evening.”
{Drumming fingers on the desk and staring out the window as I wonder where to start.}

'Kay, first off, that central premise is hard to argue with. We've all had the second helping that looked tasty but made us feel sick or whatever. Secondly, it's also not like he's arguing that the belly dancing is something that 'nice' women don't do (in fact, he uses the word 'nice' to describe the dancer in his anecdote) or that believers shouldn't be the audience for it – on the contrary, his granddaughter is allowed to get up and have a go, though part of me wonders if that will be allowed as she gets older – and he even talks about a return visit to the restaurant. So far, so good, Dr Toby. You and I could totally sit down and break bread together, though I would take you to task on that cover. What is that all about, eh? A picture of a candle or a sunrise used to do just fine for cover images on books about spirituality. But not now. Oh, no. Now men need bedroom eyes and old skool Orientalist fantasies with their efforts to become better people. Bah!

We might also have some tense moments when I point out to Dr Toby that he uses the same old tired adjectives that people who don't know what they're looking at use: 'gyrating and cavorting'. Go on, Dr Toby! Chuck in some 'writhing', and if you're feeling wild, why not a generous pinch of 'grinding and wiggling' as well? Why not? You think she was so young and pretty and blonde that you describe her that way not once, but twice! Plainly your vocabulary could do with some stretching. Or you just need editing.
Now, there is a chance that the dancer in question was doing exactly what the good “doctor” described and maybe her performance was less than ladylike. But I'm willing to bet that anyone who can cope with sword and fire dancing in a restaurant while entertaining small girls at the same time has racked up her fair share of hours of study and knows what she's about.

This brings me to the main concern I have with Dr Toby's interpretation of events. Given that this woman has a regular restaurant gig, how likely is it that she is going to hug a strange man just for tipping her? I cannot help but envisage a situation in which she merely stuck out her hand for a friendly, though formal, handshake to say thank you, and instead found herself dragged into 180 pounds' worth of Dr Toby-style bear hug. (A bit like someone sticking their hand into that dough-boy thing from Ghostbusters II.) Since Dr Toby closes his tale with a thinly veiled threat to start stalking her, we can be forgiven for thinking that maybe the sweaty hugger was wearing a tie rather than a sparkly bedlah.

I therefore eagerly await the dancer's version of events, perhaps to be titled Never Trust a Randy Chancer.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Special Feature: Star Trek's Slave Girls of Orion

Rachel Nichols as the most recent incarnation of the Orion woman.
Today's Orion woman is in the military rather than a slave,
but she still has to gad about in her smalls. Of course.
I hope that you’re blessed with a strong constitution, because we’re about to go into the outer reaches of the universe and the women there do look rather peaky. I suppose warp speed travel will do that to you.

Star Trek was default mid-Saturday viewing when I was a student. It’s not that I’m really, creakily old – it’s just that weekend television tends to be repeats, and New Zealand TV had a more retro echo than most because it screened shows that were ancient even when Methuselah was teething. And so it came to pass that there are probably generations of kiwi men out there whose first crush was on a scantily clad woman with green skin and freaky dance moves: today’s post is all about Star Trek’s Slave Girls of Orion. (In a nod to the changing political climate they eventually became the ‘Women of Orion’, but they were still fodder for viewers who wanted to embellish their Lt. Uhura fantasies.)

It would take a stronger pop culture muscle than I possess to out-geek the Wikipedia entry on the Orions of Star Trek, so I won’t try:

Orions are a green-skinned, humanoid alien species. An Orion was first portrayed as an illusion in the original Star Trek pilot, but was not seen in the broadcast series until this original pilot was incorporated into the two-part episode "The Menagerie" in the first season. Orions have also been portrayed in Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise. Rachel Nichols played Orion Starfleet cadet Gaila in the 2009 Star Trek film [but she did not dance – The Raqasa]. The Orion Syndicate is a criminal organization operated by Orions [No! Really? Operated by Orions you say? How fascinating! Do go on – The Raqasa]. The culture initially was shown with Orion males dominating and enslaving Orion females, said to be some of the most sensuous female humanoids in the galaxy. The reality is that the Orion females control Orion culture, with Orion males co-operating with their "mistresses" to promote the illusion. [The women] appear to exert their control through sex, and it is a rare male of any species who can resist one. On scant evidence, the Orion females appear to do this through telepathic rather than biochemical means, as do Elasian women (see TOS episode Elaan of Troius).
“The reality is that the Orion females control Orion culture, with Orion males co-operating with the “mistresses” to promote the illusion.” ^Throws back head and laughs long and loud^. Oohh, yeah. It’s just like how the real world operates, isn’t it! Gah. Anyway, if you think that rather desperate piece of apologetic revisionism was truly, outrageously far out then you ain’t seen nothing by way of truly, outrageously far out yet. Strap yourselves in:

Here’s Susan Oliver as ‘Vina’, the original woman of Orion, in the 1965 episode ‘The Cage’. (Vina is the ‘illusion’ referred to in the Wikipedia quote above.) Poor Captain Pike looks like Bambi at a barbecue where they’ve just run out of meat:

Jump forward four years, and things haven’t changed much in women’s fashions on Orion. This is Yvonne Craig as ‘Marta’ in the 1969 episode ‘Whom Gods Destroy’. I believe the over-used, vaguely patronising word we’re looking for is ‘feisty’:

By the time this episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, ‘Bound’, went to air in 2005, the Orion women have shed even more clothes and their dancing is distinctly Salimpour-esque – in my humble opinion. The featured dancer here is Menina Fortunato as ‘Maras’:

On the off chance that all that green skin hasn’t made you feel a bit queasy, you might want to challenge your tolerance level with the megamix:

If your lunch is still settled, you cast-iron gutted traveller, you, and you're feeling inspired to do your own cheeky cheesecake version of an Orion slave girl routine feel free – but you should know that you’ve been beaten to it by, among others, Amira:

AND Oasis Bellydance (seen here at BabelCon 2009, going completely OTT by fusing Star Trek with Michael Jackson’s Thriller):

AND too many other cos-playing, Comic Con attending femmes vertes to mention:
Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space. Live long and prosper.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Cassandra vs "Cattandra"

To paraphrase former US President George W Bush: "Often is the question asked, 'why are belly dancers liking the cat so much?' But seldom is the question asked, 'why is cats like belly dancers?'"

Unless, of course, it's simply that Cassandra of Minneapolis is exuding something through the screen that we humans cannot smell:

Friday, 2 September 2011

Good to meet you: Ebony

In yesterday's post on Bettie Page, I made a rather snide comment about how her moves were comparable to those you might see from drunken party animals when the DJ in some godawful club starts playing that stupid Akon song about "shaking your body like a belly dancer".

Then I got to thinking (I know, I should have done that BEFORE I posted). It dawned on me that maybe there was a dancer out there who not only knows what's what but would, you know, take that song and own it. And whaddya know:

Oh, she looks GOOD. Great outfit, great smile, fabbo moves. I could do with some more of that:

These clips aren't here in service of a fusion debate. I really enjoy watching Ebony dance no matter what style she's doing (she also does straight up raqs, and you can catch that on her YouTube channel). She toured with the Bellydance Superstars in 2008 and doesn't need to prove her chops to anyone. Of course, that hasn't stopped the mouthbreathers from chipping in with their insightful criticisms of the "fuk this this sux" variety, but Ebony is gracious enough to rise above it. "i understand if you don't like it. i'm sure you're not alone. but it makes me happy, so i do it!"

As long as no one uses that line as a justification for rolling on the floor like they're at the Badda Bing when the tips are flowing and calling it 'belly dancing', all I can say to that is Amen.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Bettie Page 'dancing'

Hello, my name is The Raqasa and I'm not 'into' burlesque {dodges all the rotten fruit and coins being hurled at her}. It's not like I don't know that I'm missing the zeitgeist by not having even a passing interest.

Because it's not something I know a lot about beyond the fact that it's come a long way from its roots in the bawdy, political and social satire of the musical hall I even went to see Miss Polly Rae and the Hurly Burly Girls in the West End, to see if maybe I just hadn't seen the 'right' kind of burlesque to spank my plank yet. The answer, sadly, was No. They were beautiful women, very talented dancers and they put on a slick show, but I still walked out feeling a bit ripped off. (Though it was cool to see a live version of Siouxsie & The Banshee's Peek-a-Boo, even though as a choice of song it was a bit ... obvious. As burlesque tends to be.)

As you may know if you've been here before, you will be aware that I do like vintage pin-up girls and cheesy dance routines from old movies and TV shows. And who would blame me when that Bettie Page was so gosh darned purdy? At the risk of turning this into some sort of hideously embarrassing 'Post Secret'-type thing, I gotta tell ya that I once made a cover for a mix CD of my Arabic dance music that used this picture:

Calm down, everyone. This was YEARS ago (a CD! When now it would be a playlist!) and I now know that this image sends totally the wrong message about Oriental dance. Still have the CD with this cover, though. {smirk}

Seeing as how you've had a chance to straighten your tassels after that shocking revelation, I'd now like to share with you a clip of Bettie doing an endearingly lousy approximation of 'harem dancing' in the outfit pictured above. Now don't you worry, she's going to keep her costume on right until the end:

Granted, our girl here can't dance for nuts and if I saw this routine at a hafla I would totes be among the first giving her a good-ole dose of stink-eye. This is the kind of stuff that novices do on pub dancefloors at one in the morning when that stupid Akon song comes on, and is no more 'belly dancing' than is what goes on with Princess Kashmir at the Maison Derriere in The Simpsons episode 'Homer's Night Out':
But I'm right about Bettie's costume being really cool, aren't I? Aren't I?