Monday, 31 October 2011

Stars of the Millennium: Rachel Brice

OK, fine. I admit it: I don't know my Tribal and my Tribal Fusion from my tushie. Don't worry, though, because I am suitably embarrassed about my ignorance. At the moment I'm finding YouTube, The Pink Coinbelt Chronicles, The Bellydance Blog and Crumbs in the Costume Closet rather excellent resources in the ongoing battle against my lack of nous.

Since it is Halloween (happy All Saints Day/Samhain/Great Pumpkin Festival to you all!), it seems as good a time as any to bust the Tribal cherry with this completely splendibulous horror movie/belly dance mashup, entitled Whisper Hungarian in My Ear. Thrill to the beauty of Indigo Belly Dance (Rachel Brice, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes) vs White Zombie (dir. Victor Halperin, 1932):

The music is by Dan Cantrell and The Toids.

And here is Rachel all by her lonesome, performing at Salon L'Orient a year ago:

Is it so very wrong that her costumes always make me want to weep with envy? And just quietly, she was the best thing about American Belly Dancer too...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Man of the Day: Omar Sharif

This just in from the Dohar International Film Festival, where legendary douchebag and actor Omar Sharif was turning on the charm at a screening of his 1991 film An Egyptian Citizen:

The woman he strikes is a journalist who was presumably just going about her business. I don't know what upsets me more - his utter lack of remorse, as though he goes around hitting women all the time and thinks nothing of it, or the journalist's near-total lack of reaction, as though she's used to men she's never met before whacking her in the kisser. She keeps smiling, FFS! While I admire her grace in the face of this revolting old man's outrageous and insulting behaviour, the primal beast in me wishes she'd returned his slap in kind.*

*Perhaps my foul mood is because I moved on the weekend and my new neighbour likes to play electric bass IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAMN NIGHT. Verily, hell is other people.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Stars of the 1990s: Howaida Hachem

Howaida Hachem, or (cue deep, heavy sigh) Houwida El Hasem or Howaida Al Hacem or Howaidah Alhashem, was (is?) a Lebanese dancer famous for her drum solo performances. She's almost too inspiring: it's all her fault that I've bitten off far more than I can chew and am going to be doing a drum solo for my performance assessment with Razia next weekend. A drum solo, needless to add, that will look nothing like one of Howaida's.

Howaida rose to prominence on LBC Television in the late 1980s, had a very successful career during much of the 1990s and then, according to, sometime during the late ‘90s/early 2000s, Howaida just – and I quote – “disappeared. She is [no] longer performing any dance shows”.

There are numerous clips of her performances on YouTube, but as for biographical information ... well, I've just shared all that I could find. I've no idea how old she is, where she lives now or even if she's still alive. Mysterious is not the word:

Here she is in 1996, which makes this shortly before she “disappeared”:

Howaida was also famous for her Lebanese Beladi, a dabke-style solo with cane. I found this clip on Bellydance Adventures:

Bellydance Adventures, like Howaida's career, is now seemingly defunct. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.

{There is the sound of a breaking window somewhere in The Raqasa's flat.}

Hey, what's that noi ....

Friday, 21 October 2011

Libyan zokra

Yesterday, it was confirmed that Gaddafi is dead. Hopefully, the people of Libya will be able to reclaim their country (which is apparently beautiful) and rejoin the world community.

Apparently, this is a clip of a pair of Libyan women performing to 'zokra' music. Nope, I'd never heard of it but there is a lot available on YouTube. It was part of International Night at the Vivaldi Hotel in Malta, so hence the watermark on the clip.

It's very folkloric, the 'big dress' is apparently called an 'albdlah alkbirah', and I intend to direct people to this when they ask me if "belly dancing is like lap dancing" (true story):

Fingers crossed that we will now be able to learn a lot more about Libyan culture now that their country is not cut off from the world by an evil despot.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Happy birthday, Barrie Chase

Recently I wrote a retrospective of the Thompson and Scorsese treatments of Cape Fear for Filmwerk. In the 1962 Thompson version of the movie, Robert Mitchum's Max Cady attacks a drifter, Diane Taylor, who is played by Barrie Chase. Barrie Chase was born on this day in 1933.

This is what Chase looked like in Cape Fear. This is from the scene where she first encounters Max in a bar and gives him the glad eye:

The role of Diane is a small one, but Chase is so good in it (and, I admit it, so jaw-droppingly beautiful) that I wondered why she'd not become hugely, mega famous. IMDB went some way to explaining why:
"She was originally set to play Claudine in the movie Can-Can [1960] the part that made Gwen Verdon a Broadway star. But when the studio gave her two dance numbers - an apache dance and 'Garden of Eden' - to star Shirley MacLaine, she walked off the picture, and was replaced by Juliet Prowse. Barrie eventually bought out her Fox contract and left the studio that largely wasted her talents."
Wait. Dance numbers? Imagine my excitement when I found that Chase was, in fact, a professional dancer - a professional dancer who featured in 1960s movies! It's like she was born to have her career documented on this little-read blog of limited appeal.

Of course, I'm joking. Chase's career was far more successful than that. She was Fred Astaire's partner for a while - both on stage and off, despite their 34-year age gap - and she featured in four of his television specials. Here they are in a Pygmalion-inspired number from 1966:

(Her muscle control in that opening vignette is quite something.)

Even better, from The Occidental Dancer's point of view, is that in the 1965 Robert Aldrich film Flight of the Phoenix, Chase appears in a dream sequence as Farida, a "Berber dancing girl". Here are a few shots of her in that role and on set with Aldrich:

Perhaps not the most authentic Berber outfit we've ever seen, but she does have a small tattoo painted between her eyebrows that wouldn't look out of place on a Tribal dancer now (put 'Barrie Chase Farida' into Google images and you'll see what I mean).

Alas, try as I might I could not find a clip of her dance scene in that film, but I hope you'll find this, complete with MC Bette Davis and its live drummers, adequate compensation:


Now, you may have thought based on the IMDB quote above that Chase was being 'difficult' or just chucking a diva strop. But people, people, people. Barrie Chase could DANCE! She was Fred Astaire's dance partner! And the studio wanted to give her two big showcase pieces to Shirley MacLaine. The same Shirley MacLaine we see here, allegedly dancing in John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965) [Shirley's massive ball of Oh Dear God Someone Make Her Stop starts at around the 4.03 mark, but there's plenty of chiffon-on-girl action before then]:

The other featured dancers in this scene are Nai Bonet and Sultanna (more about them in future posts!). In an irony that has presumably been lost in the mists of time, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home was directed by J Lee Thompson, who only a few years before had directed ... Cape Fear, with Bobbie Chase.

There is no justice. Nevertheless, happy birthday Barrie.

PS - if you're interested, here's MacLaine doing (a) the 'Apache dance' and (b) the 'Garden of Eden dance' in Can Can:

Still think Barrie would've been better. Click here to see her in a rare public appearance from earlier this year, being interviewed by the Film Noir Foundation about the experience of making Cape Fear.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Julie Mendez in "On the Buses" (1970)

This is not safe for work. In fact, it's just not safe. Let's acknowledge the dire truth: it's AWFUL, laden as it is with sexism, racism, classism, xenophobia and polyester. BUT it does also have Julie Mendez and her snake Lulu! Remember them?

On the Buses was an English 'comedy' that ran from 1969 to 1973 - not exactly glory years for the on-screen depiction of anyone who wasn't a white, heterosexual male, it must be said. A US-version of the show, Lotsa Luck, ran on NBC from 1973 to 1974, so if you're from the States this might look faintly familiar to you. This was a whole new world of "What the hell?" to me, though.

If you're going to watch this episode, do it soon because I bet you anything these clips will disappear due to user infringement before long.

Although I'm aware I often let this blog go off on a Quixotic quest to document the careers of little-remembered female bit-players from days of yore, may I just say that, when Stan and Jack are being all leery, Julie's face (at 4.06) is such a picture of perfect sadness that to me it completely pulls the rug out from underneath all the laddish, sexist, racist "humour" and conveys a real human experiencing real feelings. Good job, Julie!

Not so much of a good job? Her dance costume and those regrettable pelvic thrusts. Proof, if ever it were needed, that "vintage" does not always equal glamorous and flattering:

And here's Part 2, in which Lulu steals the show:

And to think, the English once had an empire!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

You look like you need a hug

Well, hi there hot stuff! How is Your Royal Gorgeousness doing today?

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. It isn't right that someone as fantabbadosious as you should be in the dumps. Have a cookie ... hm? You've got no appetite and you don't feel like you 'deserve' a treat?

Ah. I see. Someone looks like they need a cuddle. Come back. COME BACK.
Sri Lanka the Belly Dancer
Now, don't you feel better? Aw, geddoffit. You do NOT feel 'skeevy, sick and wrong' just from looking at this. That's just your grumps talking. I mean, sure "Sri Lanka" is a totally inapt name for a teddy bear in a barely-there raks outfit, but that ain't no thing. After all, she can be yours for only $250 dollars! Yes, US dollars - a honey like this doesn't change hands for Belizean dollars, you know.

Of course you want to buy her. Yes, you do. Sure, $250 would buy you a decent bra and belt set, or maybe buy your groceries for a month, but you'd be a total moron - fabulous though you are - to pass this opportunity up. It's not a very nice thing to have to admit, but I will judge you for it if you don't buy this RIGHT NOW.

Now spank my butt and call me Betty - how stupid of me to forget! Of course Sri Lanka is not your cup of tea! You love cheesecake-style costumes! In that case, have you got £35?

Since when do you NOT love cheesecake-style costumes? Fine. How about a Rachel Brice-inspired bear?

No? Actually, you know what? Take this cookie anyway and stick it. I'm done trying to sell you stupid shit cheer you up.

The Raqasa x

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Om Kalthoum: "Enta Omri" vs Guns n' Roses: "November Rain"

This is not the two-hour version, alas, but here is Om Kalthoum (or Om Kalsoum, Om Koulsum, Om Kalthoum, Oumme Kalsoum or Umm Kolthoum depending on your transliterative preference) performing "Enta Omri" in Paris, 1967, and this video provides captions of the lyrics translated into English. Razia gave us a mind-expanding comparison between "Enta Omri" and Guns n' Roses' "November Rain" on Wednesday night - a seriously apt comparison.

Please now head through the doors of perception, where you'll hear Axl Rose's ode to his miserable divorce from supermodel Stephanie Seymour, "November Rain":

1992. Man. I remember forcing myself to stay awake until 1 am on a school night so that I could hear "Civil War" debut on commercial radio. Those were the days.

Can we also get a "Hell, yeah!" for the YouTube commenter who points out that those who were physically present on the ground with Slash during the filming of his climactic solo could actually hear nothing except the helicopter and the plinking strings of Slash's unplugged electric guitar. Now that, my friends, is a headtrip.

EDIT: Just to be clear - Razia wasn't saying that "November Rain" was influenced by "Enta Omri", just that you could often find the same sentiments from popular Middle Eastern music expressed in similar terms in popular Western music.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Friday Night at the Movies: "Lady of Burlesque" (1943)

There are many belly dancers who do a bit of burlesque on the side, so I thought I'd post a noir musical starring Barbara Stanwyck as Dixie Daisy, a showgirl with cool lines and hot moves.

"After one member of their group is murdered, the performers at a burlesque house must work together to find out who the killer is before they strike again."
Includes such deathless dialogue as this, when Biff (a comedian) tries to chat Dixie up:

Biff: What's the matter with comics?
Dixie: I went into show business when I was seven years old. Two days later the first comic I ever met stole my piggy bank in a railroad station in Portland. When I was 11 the comics were looking at my ankles. When I was 14 they were...just looking. When I was 20 I'd been stuck with enough lunch checks to pay for a three-story house. Naw, they're shiftless, dame-chasing, ambitionless...

Yes, this is the WHOLE FILM. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Weird Wednesday Woo (Part 2): Belly dance on tiny wheels Hatem:

Because I'm always searching out the weird for this blog, I banged "belly dance roller skate" into my internet machine and found that Pirika Repun had shared this on Belly Dance Forums. Do you love 'im or Hatem? Geddit? He he he he ... um.

UPDATE: Hatem doesn't always dance on roller skates! Here he is rocking a peacock costume and getting the party started with some friends:

Monday, 10 October 2011

Stars of the 1980s: Dina

Haven't done one of these "Stars of" posts for a while, so why not get back into it with a polarising figure? Dina Talaat Sayed Mohammed was born in Rome in 1965 and has been generating controversy ever since she first took the stage. A common complaint from other dancers is that Dina doesn't really "do" anything other than show up and look like a porn star very glamorous in a very in-your-face way. Love her, hate her or be mortally offended by her, you have to admit that there are not many people in the world who have so much charisma that they can get away with half of what she does (or, depending on your point of view, doesn't do) and be so hugely successful at it.

As this astonishingly florid piece I found on Worldcrunch shows, Dina can still move the occasional journalist to Victorian levels of purple prose. Here's a sample:
"... the last grand dame of Egyptian belly dancing has a toned figure that might tempt an imam. And with her black velvet eyes, sculptured silhouette, wrists adorned with bracelets and index finger sporting a diamond the size of the Ritz, Dina Talaat Sayed Mohammed is a picture of grace, beauty, luxury, serenity and voluptuousness. Sitting in the lounge of the Hotel Raphael, recounting her extraordinary life, she takes your breath away."
Ye gods. If you feel confident that you can handle that jandal, by all means follow the link. For my own part, I'm not bowled over by her style, but I am hugely impressed by her insistence on living her life on her own terms. So there.

Now, I know I've headed this up "1980s", but I tend to date the stars in the "Stars of" posts from when the dancers first became famous, not from when their careers petered out. With that in mind, here's a recent-ish clip of Dina performing in what the poster described as a "Xena, Warrior Princess" costume:

And here she is again in an older clip, not wearing one of the costumes that first brought her notoriety:

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Weird Wednesday Woo: "The Belly Dancer is a Sexy Spy"


Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to post this. Really, really, wasn’t. But the more time that went by, the more I thought about this clip, the more it became clear to me that I HAD to post this. Because it blew my freakin’ mind. I’m serious.

There’s a lot to waggle your eyebrows at here. Off the top of my head, I’m going to list my top head-scratchers as:

1. Why didn’t the costumier bother finishing the decoration on the dancer’s bra, or give her the rest of the front of her skirt?
2. How did this Marco Polo character convince so many people to partake in his peculiar form of egocentric madness?
3. The fact that this exists at all.

There’s no plot to speak of here – as far as I can tell, this is one episode in the ‘Crime Jazz’ series called The Spy from the Ghetto – produced by, directed by, written by and starring some geezer calling himself ‘Marco Polo’. It has its good points: The music is actually pretty cool, and the performances are unintentionally hilarious. At least, I don’t think they’re meant to be hilarious – as this write-up on Marco Polo’s YouTube channel proves, he himself is deadly serious.

I don’t know what else to say. It’s entitled The Belly Dancer is a Sexy Spy, but the dancer isn’t credited even though almost eight minutes are devoted to showing her dancing in various leery close-ups. Just before the eight-minute mark, the blonde woman at the bar lets go with what may be the greatest noise ever made by a human and recorded for posterity. The bartender doesn’t seem to think it weird that, in the middle of the day, the only people in his joint are four shifty characters – one of whom is obviously armed – and a belly dancer performing in front of a silver mannequin in a red scarf. And there’s no way that the tattooed woman is from Prague, unless there’s a Prague somewhere in New York. Other than that, please fix yourself a nice stiff drink or take several deep breaths before hitting ‘play’:

Your thoughts, please. Please.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Harem dancers: Maria Felix

Mexican film star Maria Felix was never as successful in the USA as she was in Europe, thanks to her refusal to start at the bottom and work up. She insisted that she should make her entrances through "the big door", and when Cecil B de Mille offered her small roles she contemptuously declined, sniffing "I was not born to carry a basket."

However, Spanish and French film directors adored Felix and in later years she earned the sobriquet 'La Dona'. In 1954, when she was 'already' 40, Felix was cast as the Egyptian belly dancer in Jean Renoir's Technicolor spectacular French Cancan:

Man, that is one verbal performance.

The film also features a cameo from Edith Piaf, and is being re-released on DVD at the end of this month. Yay!