Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year!

Thank you most kindly to all of you for your kind comments, continued support and readership over the course of the last three years. I literally wouldn't bother if it weren't for you.

2013 is shaping up to be a mega-dance year for me already and I can't wait to get going! It also means that there'll be a whole lot more fodder for the ever-hungry blog: yes, I am actually going to start properly writing posts again. Don't pull that sceptical face at me and my soon-to-be washboard abs.

Here's a photo of me* on Christmas Day. Sorry I didn't get around to wishing you all a Cool Yule, but I hope it was filled with only wonderful and happy moments. May 2013 bring you a whole lot more sensational shimmying.

*It's Ann Margaret, but I look exactly like this. And our living rooms are also eerily similar.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

12 Days of Christmas, Day 2: Oh, yes they do!

It's Christmas. For some reason, tartan is heavily associated with this time of the year. Pantomime is a staple of the English Christmas experience.

Tartan + Pantomime + Belly dancers = Scottish belly dancers doing belly dance pantomime:

Scrumptiously, they seem to do this every year. Visit Belly Dance Pantos for more.

More belly dance from a panto is here.

Friday, 14 December 2012

12 Days of Christmas, Day 1: Nutcracker: Arabian Dance

Royal Ballet performance feat. Cindy Jourdain, David Pickering, Fernando Montano and Johannes Stepanek (via I Dance Tribal At Night).

Ouch. Now THAT'S a nutcracker -- even if you don't have nuts.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Harem dancing: Vengeance of Ursus (1961)

Soon I will have the energy to blog about how the Thamesis Hafla went (damn well, actually -- we raised over £400 for Refuge and a good time was had by all. And no one did bloody Gangnam Style, even as a joke). In the meantime, Christina and I would like to thank all the wonderful dancers who gave so generously of their time and talent:

Hannah Mi
The Saidi Sistas
The Brixton Bellydancers
La Zingara

To tide us over, here's this lovely and haunting dance sequence from Vengeance of Ursus, via the Peplums blog. With bonus leopard!

IMDB summary: "The evil King Zagro has designs on the beautiful Princess Sira. He wants to marry her so he can take over her kingdom and add it to his own. When Sira is kidnapped, Ursus leaves his farm to rescue her and to eventually lead a revolt against King Zagro."

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Stars of the 1970s: Rafael and Juliana (pt 2)

I found it amusing to read this article
as though it were being read aloud by
Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy
One of the delightful things about writing a blog -- that no one EVER mentions -- is that people dig Googling themselves and following links to posts about themselves, so you can probably draw in people you've always wanted to meet by mentioning them a lot. (Michael Fassbender Michael Fassbender Michael Fassbender.) It's a bit like summoning up the Candyman by reciting his name into a mirror, but with a less bloody outcome.

In this manner, even a weirdo little shack like this, stuck as it is out in one of the lonelier badland fringes of the worldwide web, will occasionally be visited by Greatness.

The downside is that, once someone I've blogged about makes contact, I get struck with a case of Bad Housekeeping Nerves. "What did I say about that person? Was I polite? Was I too snarky? Was I too fawning? Did I spell their name correctly?"

But most often, people are utterly charming (see Calliope). A while ago I posted on the pulchritudinous Juliana, of George Abdo album-cover fame. In the comments, Feralhousecat and I indulged in some speculation as to whether or not Juliana was 'for real' because there is no video of her on the internet. Lo and behold, some time later Rafael emailed me with another article about her! And then he emailed me again to say that they'd put some videos on their website! Let me tell you, they are the nicest people. Ever. Hit the jump for a readable version of the article Rafael so kindly emailed me, and the chance to see him and Juliana in motion. I promise it's worth it -- among other things, the article is weapons-grade cheese and you get to see Juliana dancing in this little number:

Friday, 30 November 2012

Novembro: Ozgen

This is the last of the Novembro posts, but obviously not the last time I'll post on a male dancer. In fact, I unearthed so many Hombres of the Hipscarf that this thing could easily have become Decembro, Manuary, Febro-ary and Macho. And then I would have had to stop when a pun-averse reader came by house and smashed my typing fingers with a mallet.

A couple of weeks ago I took my first workshop with Ozgen and it was splendid. I've never really done any Turkish dance before, and thanks to London's notoriously patchy weekend public transport system there were only six of us in attendance so I got to take up as much space with my awkward gyrations as I wished. Score! He's also a super-nice person, so it was worth going just to meet him.

The theme was Turkish waltz, which meant that there was lots of floaty movement required. Tragically, this particular mama don't float, though it was still instructive to watch Ozgen do it. The man is built like a greyhound, a fact that is not so apparent in videos of him. Perhaps I am so used to seeing narrow-hipped whippets onscreen that it doesn't even register with me anymore.

His most recent show, One Night in Istanbul, is sold out. Guess who has to join the waiting list for a ticket?

Apparently, someone in New Zealand has invited him to do some workshops there but he's heard there's "not much of a scene" and that it might not be worth his while. I did my best to convince him otherwise, but if you're in Hobbiton New Zealand and want him to venture your way -- and obviously, you do -- make the best possible use of your internet connection and start lobbying him!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Novembro: Drakon

All I know about Drakon I learnt from The Pink Gypsy. His real name is Daniel, he lives in Texas and he's a Reiki master.

Here's Drakon with a sword:

Here's Drakon with a live band, somewhere called the "Eternal Way Center" on 7 February 2008:

Pink Gypsy is too polite to say it, but he also looks a bit like the Mormon Jesus:

Monday, 26 November 2012

Novembro: Happy birthday, Tito Seif

Happy belated birthday (7 November) to the inimitable Mr Tito Seif. Really, he needs no introduction, but just in case he does here's this rather impenetrable Gilded Serpent profile, that at times veers very close to becoming very penetrating indeed:
"As discreetly as possible, I study his body with great fascination. He is very striking and well built, his frame inspires a feeling of abundance, his arms are beautifully toned but, fortunately, not unattractively muscular, and his hands, even when resting idly, combine the strength and resilience of a manual worker with the dexterity of an artist. He is an imposing person but more attractive than anything else is his smile and the way his personality exists in his body; a way that is light, playful, kind, and generous."
Let us now move away as discreetly as possible from the heavy-breathing and sweaty palms of that profile to see, with great fascination, what has inspired such swooning adoration.

Because I am performing my first-ever solo next week (neurgh!), and it's a drum solo to boot, I have decided to indulge my fondness for completely psyching myself out by watching Tito's16-minute epic performance from this year's Nile Group Festival. Yea-ah. That was a mistake...I really didn't need to do that to myself. Check it:

Monday, 19 November 2012

Novembro: Vjekoslav Didović

Vjekoslav is not a star, which is sort of the point of this post. At some stage every star has to be a student, and not every male belly dancer goes from their first class to being Horatio Fuentes. Vjekoslav, for instance, is a 20 year-old agricultural technician(!) who has obviously been attending classes regularly and paying attention.

No flashy, overly revealing costume, no overly tricky moves (although the balancing on tea glasses is pretty impressive) -- this is just a guy who really enjoys what he does and does it very well. He seems like a chilled dude, even if half of his audience still look at least faintly unconvinced when he finishes. He also deserves some big ups for his classic choice of music, rather than opting for Western pop (though it must have been tempting when putting together a routine for mainstream TV).

Here he is on Croatia's Super Talent. You don't need to be able to speak Croatian to get the gist of the judges' reaction!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Novembro: Zadiel Samsaz

Today we celebrate the one-legged costumes and super styles of Turkish-German dancer Zadiel Samsaz.

At Italy's Marhaba Festival 2011:

At Oriental Night in Leipzig, 2010. Are head tosses effective if you have short hair? Yes. Yes, they are:

Zadiel on Facebook      Website      YouTube channel 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Was There Then

I interrupt Novembro to bring you this thing, which is a clip of the Stage School students in the Arabian Dance Theatre's show Be Here Now. That's me on the extreme right of your screen. We only had a few hours to learn this and then rehearse it, so it may not be the most technically challenging dance in the world, but I think we pulled it off. The choreography is by Tara Lee Oakley (who comes in at the very end) and Shafeek Ibrahim. Now I'm just going to post this puppy before I change my mind...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Novembro: Gamal Seif and Khaled Seif -- now with racially offensive content!

Dr. Gamal Seif is Egyptian, but now I think he lives in Brazil. Other than that...I'll be honest. I got nothin'. The only reason I'm posting about Gamal and Khaled is because I noticed Gamal's picture on Amir Thaleb's website and, like Alice chasing the White Rabbit, I decided to go down the hole. All I found is a whole lot of YouTube splendour and a private Facebook page.

Raqs assaya:

I'm a bit embarrassed. I feel like I should know more about Gamal Seif and Khaled Seif. Anyone out there like to enlighten me further?

EDIT (14 November 2012): I have just had the benefit of looking at this video -- previously posted as the first clip in the post but moved for reasons that will soon be clear -- on a screen that is significantly larger than my laptop's, and I am STUNNED. Do you guys see what I see? Am I imagining this? Are Khaled and Gamal dancing in *gulp* blackface? WTFUCK?!

Khaled Seif has a YouTube channel, and that's where I found this Nubian dance:

Monday, 12 November 2012

Novembro: Amir Thaleb

Please welcome boot-loving, spin-addicted Argentinian maestro Amir Thaleb to our Novembro Festival of Male Dancers.

Although I am not fit to tie his signature-range sandals*, I am as amused by Mr Thaleb's stage craft as I am impressed by it. Since I am a massive ham, this is intended as a compliment.

Here he is at Aziza's birthday bash in 2010, back when he didn't have a fear of the barber shop. This is a casual, relaxed performance and makes quite a contrast with the other epic performances highlighted in this post:

And listen to the crowd on the following two videos, man. It sounds like The Beatles are on stage! People shriek like this when I dance too, but their cries have an edge of panic and terror missing from those in these clips. Here he is at La Plata, Buenos Aires, 2011. I am unsure what to make of this costume. Without wishing to, I keep finding my attention drawn to the little Amir Jnr, if-you-know-what-I-mean-and-I'm-sure-you-do:

At the Dariya Mitskevich Gala Show, 2011. Never before has a live band done SUCH a good job of evoking the sensation of muzak. Or is that just me?:

*Oh, no -- really. You can buy some from his website.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Novembro: Eliran Edri Amar

Witness the fitness of Israeli tribal fusion dancer Eliran Amar:

At Israel's Eilat International Bellydance Festival 2010:

Is it hot in here?

YouTube channel        Brief bio and video clips (including a duet with Sadie!)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Novembro: Guo Wei

Guo Wei is one of China's pre-eminent raqs dancers and has more recently gained international attention thanks to his collaboration with the Bellydance Superstars. For those of us who struggle valiantly with the veil, this [heavily edited] performance is enough to make you either (a) start working on your technique for hours on end or (b) throw up with envy. It depends on your disposition, but for the record, I'm hurling chunks:

Can he barrel turn? Yes, he can:

His website is in simplified Han and emits lots of weird noises, but if you're just interested in watching him be amazing, his neglected YouTube channel (not updated since 2010) is worth a look.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Novembro: Shafeek Ibrahim

This was inevitable, really -- a Novembro post on my fabulous teacher, Mr Shafeek Ibrahim. Sure, he's a hard task master and pulls no punches (until the day I die, I'll be able to hear him barking "SMILE! You look horrible!"), but at least he makes hard work fun.

Apart from his indisputable chops, you have to grant the man his other monumental talent: looking as comfortable in an over-the-top costume as the rest of us do in our PJs. Dammit!

Nile Group Festival 2010:

Did I also mention that Shafeek holds the current men's world record for the most number of tanoura (Sufi) turns in an hour? (His wife, Tara, hold's the women's world record.) Sadly, this is not the tanoura costume he wore in the show this year, which had built-in lighting. Really.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Novembro: John Compton

Welcome to Novembro! As announced on Jilly's Facebook page, this month we're featuring male dancers. This first post is slightly poignant, because it features John Compton.

John died at 10 pm on 14 October this year after a long illness. Along with his dance partner, Rita 'Rebaba' Alderucci, John created the Hahbi 'Ru Middle Eastern Dance Ensemble. Both John and Rita had performed with Jamila Salimpour's Bal Anat in the 1970s.

Intensely charismatic, devastatingly handsome and with enough energy to power the national grid, John remained a much sought-after teacher, mentor and performer right up until the end of his too-short life.
Gilded Serpent has a wonderful memorial page if you need any further confirmation of how much he will be missed. There's a host of terrific photos, fond memories and clips -- both interview and performance -- posted there already.

Perhaps because the camera quality isn't too great, this clip isn't featured on GS, but it still shows John at the top of his game. This is from his amazing performance at Tribal Fest 7. Enjoy!

Rachel Brice, John Compton and Princess  Farhana at Tribal Fest 10 in 2010.
Best. Photograph. Ever.
From Princess Farhana's blog

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Halloween!

I am marking Halloween in style this year. Tonight I am going to see Fields of the Nephilim at the Shepherd's Bush Empire.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Stars of the millennium: Mark Balahadia

As announced on Jilly's Facebook page, next month here at The Occidental Dancer we will celebrate our brothers in arms hips as we mark NOVEMBRO. (Shut up, it was the best I could do.)

Because he's giving workshops in London this weekend, here's New York's Mark Balahadia in a foretaste of Novembro posts to come:

To paraphrase my friend Fiona on this performance, such clarity and delicacy of movement!

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Thamesis Hafla

Exciting news (which partly explains why the blog has been a bit dormant of late): I am co-hosting a hafla!

Yes, I have finally realised that if no one will invite you to dance at their event then you may as well hold your own. Seriously, though ... I am only kind of joking.

More importantly, it gives Christina and I a chance to do some fundraising for domestic violence charity Refuge. This all came about after Elisa Gamal's fantastic workshop in Croydon, when Christina and I got chatting on the train afterwards. Christina asked if I'd be interested in helping her sort out some kind of 'thing'. Since I had been filled with good intentions for ages, how could I say no?

We came to the conclusion that we should try and help Refuge pretty quickly: Christina pointed out that Christmas is particularly tough for underprivileged kids. This is a tacit acknowledgement that Christmas is a stressful time for most families, and if your relationship is a violent one then you're going to be more at risk than usual.

Refuge is also horribly underfunded. Their state support is now next to non-existent and voluntary donations don't fill the gap. In 2009, The Donkey Sanctuary got £20 million in charitable gifts. Refuge got less than £2 million. Donkeys are really lovely and all, but ...

On a happier  note, the hafla itself is coming together nicely. We were sorry when Roxana had to bow out because of family commitments, but are delighted that the delightful Sofeya (a fellow former student of Razia's) and the splendid Maelle, winner of this year's Bellydance Trophies, will be performing. And, erm, it looks like Christina and I will be too.

So we have stars, we have a date, we have a venue, we have a Facebook page, we have a Just Giving page, and -- thanks to the fact that I am married to the Greatest Bloke EverTM -- a really natty logo and flyer, as you see. We even have a gift basket that will be given away on the night at random. All that's left is to get some buzz going. Which is where you come in. Come one, come all and bring your friends etc.

Apologies for the Facebook linkage, but to stay up-to-date with goings on and enjoy photos of the event afterwards, you can 'like' the Thamesis Facebook page (where you can also find out what the hell 'Thamesis' means). For those of you in London on 6 December, this will also be an opportunity for us to meet if we haven't already!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Harem dancing: Goliath and the Vampires

In the lead-up to Halloween, here's a black chiffon and underpantastic scene from Goliath and the Vampires. It's a 1961 Italian film that seems quite confused about exactly what form of undead horror the hero faces:
"Goliath must save the kidnapped women of his village from an evil zombie leader who needs their blood to feed his soldiers."
So is it vampires or zombies? I would be confused even without the fact that this was produced by Hollywood legend Dino de Laurentiis. The dancer might be Annabella Incontrera, but don't quote me on that.

Whoever she is, I honestly can't see the "dog and lamp post" move at 0.49 catching on, can you?

Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn

Ted Shawn and Ruth St Denis in 1916
(Wikimedia Commons)
 They weren't Middle Eastern dancers, but if you don't know about Ruth St Denis, Ted Shawn and the Denishawn Dance theatre company please go here immediately. They're in the pantheon of American modern dance, and their dance school produced no less a personage than Martha Graham.

Ruth, in particular, is an obvious influence on the costuming of many a tribal dancer, and both she and Ted were pioneers in bringing Indian influences to Western stages. You may find the short clip of Ted performing as 'Shiva' rather quaint -- if not offensive -- but since Ruth was the one the "real" interest in East Indian dance, I would guess that he performed this at her suggestion and his heart may not really have been in it.

Ted's was inspired by the macho aspects of American culture -- cowboys, athletes, soldiers -- and he founded America's first all-male dance company, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers.

They're a fascinating couple, and here's a wee sampler of them in action:

Ruth was also a fantastic choreographer, and created the epic dance scenes from D W Griffith's epic film Intolerance (1916). It featured literally hundreds of people.

Here's a very brief, poignant clip of Ted speaking about the fragile nature of dance in 1963. He died in 1972, at the age of 81:

As an aside, today would have been Ted Shawn's 121st birthday. Happy birthday, Ted!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Be Here Now (Oasis-free edition)

OK, so the blog has been a bit neglected of late. Here's why:

(No, you don't have to sit through the whole thing.) I have been a bit pooped with rehearsals - as a woman who is officially middle aged I do not feel obliged to weather five-hour sessions waving a veil over my head with no ill-effects. So I don't. Sorry about that. It goes without saying that I really need to practise - at the moment I look less like I'm wielding gossamer wings and more like I'm about to start screaming "We can't stop here! This is bat country!" Anyways, regular service will resume when I stop feeling like this:

From Sorry I Missed Your Party

And am back to my usual self:

From Retronaut

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Triumph of Maciste dance sequence

It's been a long time since we've had some harem dancing -- far too long, in my humble opinion. The imdb synopsis hardly inspires me to look 1961's Il trionfo di Maciste up for my next movie night, however:

The evil Queen Tenefi, who's usurped the throne of Memphis, demands that a steady supply of young women be sacrificed to the God of Fire inside the Mountain of Thunder. Maciste intervenes and saves from this sacrifice a village's women including the beautiful Antea. Maciste then becomes involved in an effort to restore to the throne of Memphis its rightful ruler, Prince Iram. To accomplish this task Maciste travels to Memphis but is betrayed by the silk merchant, ETC WHO CARES?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Photo du jour: Eartha Kitt

Just because it's Monday, here's a picture of Eartha Kitt performing in Las Vegas in 1955. If that's not a good enough start to your week, how about this album of photos showing her teaching James Dean to dance?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Good to meet you: Kasia

Yowza. This is Italian dancer Kasia, who is now based in New York City. Hat tip to Alice Aisling over at I Dance Tribal at Night for flagging this up.

Check out Kasia's YouTube channel and website for more fantabulousness.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Be Here Now - 12 and 13 October

As long as I impress the teachers at Stage School, I'll be in this show. I know. It's amazing how they'll let any old trout have a shot isn't it? On the off chance that you don't have Superman's eyesight, here's the text from the image:

Arabian Dance Theatre presents their new show

Be Here Now

Supported by the Arts Council England

A bold new production by Arabian Dance Theatre...

Be Here Now is an explosion of Modern Arabic dance, music and culture.

A contemporary expression of the Arab world.

From Revolution to contemporary, youth, street and club culture.

Dance -- A synergy of Arabic roots with contemporary

Music -- A selection of the most recent Arabic music, including hip hop, rap, street, pop, contemporary and modern folk such as Shaabi and Debke.

Visual -- Digital media depicting street life and popular culture

Don't miss this unique and cutting edge show -- BE HERE NOW

Friday 12th & Saturday 13th October 2012, 8-10 pm

@ Bernie Grant Arts Centre

A multi-million pound, world-class arts centre in North London.

Town Hall Approach Road

Tottenham Green

London N15 4RX

Nearest Tube -- Seven Sisters (15 minutes from Oxford Circus on the Victoria Line)

Box Office 0208 365 5450

Learn more about Arabian Dance Theatre

If you could come along and support us, we'd be -- as former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach might say -- 'super psyched'. No, wait. SUPER PSYCHED!!!

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Self-Created Myth

“Please send me a bio, with lots of good info about why you dance and your experience. 500 to 600 words will be fine,” read the email in my inbox. “Look forward to hearing from you!”

I stared at those numbers for a long time. 500 to 600 words? Characters, surely. Truth to tell, I’d be pushing it to make 600 characters too. Come to think of it, I could tweet my “dance experience”. My deep cry of despair brought The Man in from the garden to see what was wrong. He peered at my laptop screen before emitting a brief snort that sounded for all the world like a suppressed chuckle.

“You could lie,” said The Man. “Well – not lie, exactly. You could ‘embellish’.”


“Well, there was that trip you did in 2005 to Turkey, Egypt and Jordan. We spent Christmas together in Morocco a couple of years ago. And we’re going to Miriam’s wedding on Saturday – she’s Moroccan. You can say ‘thank you’ in Arabic and Turkish. You eat quite a lot of falafel and drink coffee. Last week you came to Phoenicia Food Mart with me and we bought olives.”

“So what?”

The Man retreated to the comfy chair in the corner of the room and pulled the cat up onto his lap. His eyes drifted closed. “During my time living in the Middle East, I developed a deep understanding of, and love for, the language and culture of its peoples.”

“You did not.”

“No, no, my slow to latch-on love. That’s what you say in your bio. ‘During my time living in the Middle East, I developed a deep understanding of, and love for, the language and culture of its peoples.’”

“But I’ve never lived in the Middle East!”

“Were you alive during your holidays there?”

“What kind of a question is that?”

“If you were alive while you were there, you were ‘living’. You lived in the Middle East. It’s just grammar.”

“But –”

“Is there a photo of you dancing in a nightclub in Cairo?”

“Of course not, because there were dozens of us on the dance floor and –“

“Good. Then there’s no proof that you weren’t in costume or actually performing. Put this in too – ‘I have had the honour of being a guest performer at Cairo’s famed Shaky Credentials Nitespot.’”

“You are very naughty, and I can’t possibly say any of this,” I scolded, my fingers flying across the keyboard as I struggled to catch every word he said. “What else?”

“Who did you do a workshop with while you were there?”

“Aida Noor.”

“Is she famous?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Marvellous! Did she say anything nice to you? About your dancing, I mean.”

“Not that I remember. We did sit at the same table while she had a cigarette, but I don’t think she spoke to me other than to gesture for my lighter.”

“Ah hah! So she wasn’t repulsed by you. Excellent. Put this in – ‘With every performance, I strive to justify the faith shown in me by my mentor, Aida Noor.’ OK, now who’s a famous dancer who HAS said something encouraging to you?”

“At the International Belly Dance Congress in 2007, I did a workshop with Fifi Abdo. She looked off the stage in my direction and said ‘Good!’, but to be honest I think she was speaking more generally to all 100 people in the room.”

“Don’t try and obscure the facts with honesty. ‘I am one of Fifi Abdo’s favourite dancers...’”

“Absolutely not. No. There are limits.”

“Your limits are self-imposed. We’re saying ‘one of’ her favourite dancers, not ‘her favourite’.”

“Mm. You’re almost too good at this. No woman wants to know that her husband’s relationship with the truth is this flexible.”

“Come, my little kumquat, and unfurl your brow. This is all for your benefit, remember. How about we just say that Fifi Abdo ‘spotted your talent’ at the Congress?”

“Better. Keep going.”

“How many countries have you taken workshops in? If it’s more than one, call yourself ‘an international performer’. Come to think of it, there were French people at that hafla performance of yours, weren’t there? I saw them clapping at the end, which makes you an ‘internationally acclaimed performer’.”

“Wow. It does, doesn’t it? I am so much more accomplished than I thought I was!”

“You are this close to being able to quit your day job. Just stick with me and it’ll happen before you know it. Did you know that trying to show Colleen from Marketing how to do a head slide makes you a teacher? And that time at Sandeep’s party when you explained to his Swedish friend Anni how belly dance differs from burlesque. That makes you an international teacher. And a lecturer – no, not a lecturer. That implies you were talking to more than one person, so it’s not quite true. Say ‘academic’ instead.”

“I have an amazing depth and breadth of experience! Even I would take workshops with me based on this!”

“Now for the icing on the cake. Is there a clip of you dancing on YouTube?”

“Well...there was one that got taken down by my teacher because it got too many ‘dislikes’, and there’s one where I'm barely visible at the end of the frame in a workshop run-through. Will that do?”

“Of course. Just describe your performances as ‘boundary pushing’ and ‘avant-garde’.”

“I am very avant-garde, aren’t I? No wonder the belly dance world hasn’t be able to handle my awesomeness and I’m not stupendously, stupidly famous! Thank you so much for helping me to write my bio correctly.”

“You’re very welcome. Now that you’re all done, do you want to go to the movies tonight?”

“Sure. The Imposter looks pretty good. I’m always fascinated by con-artists who go to great lengths to convince people that they’re something they’re not. Doesn’t trying to live up to all the lies get exhausting?”

The cat jumped off The Man’s lap and padded out of the room. The Man gave me a long, thoughtful look and then stood up and stretched. “I don’t know,” he said eventually. “Let’s find out, shall we?”  

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Happy birthday, Raquel Welch

Today we celebrate 72 years of the woman sent to Earth to show female belly dancers how to dress.
More evidence after the jump.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Tracey Jones UPDATED

In honour of the opening of the Paralympic Games tonight, I am reposting this piece on mother, dancer, teacher, horserider, motorcyclist (and amputee) Tracey Jones.
It was originally posted on 15 August 2011.

UPDATE: Thanks to Lilith, who in the comments below noted that the original clip and one of the weblinks was broken. So here's an all-new Tracey clip. Enjoy!

This is Tracey Jones, in a clip filmed last year. In 2006, she was the winner of the UK National Belly Dance Competition. If, like me, you'd never heard of Tracey or you didn't know her story, you might watch this and think that at times there is something a little 'off', but you probably wouldn't be able to pinpoint what it is.

Well, as good as she is in this clip, Tracey is even more amazing than she seems. Several years ago she was in a terrible motorcycle accident and one of her legs was amputated. She now dances on a prosthetic limb. You are as stony-hearted as a stony-hearted thing with a stony heart if her story doesn't get you to at least the 'peeling an onion' stage of teary-eyes. I will never use cramp or bad weather as excuses to cut class again.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Stars of the 1920s: Gilda Gray

"I have to laugh hearing about Mae West, Bea Palmer and everybody else inventing the shimmy. I invented that and the Charleston and Black Bottom too, honey. Yes, sir!"
Gilda Gray 

This is an unusual entry in the "Stars of" series because its subject, Gilda Gray, was not a belly dancer. However, almost more than anyone else, Gray turned the Western world on to the joys of the shimmy.

As we all know (or ought to know), in 1893 the precocious (he was 23 at the time) empressario Sol Bloom unleashed what he called 'hootchy kootchy' on the Chicago World Fair in the form of authentic-ish Algerian and North African folk performances. The audiences were thrilled and scandalised in equal measure. Thus the awkward relationship between the West and belly dance was born, complete with the arguments over sexual exploitation and cultural appropriation which fuel the Bhuz forums to this very day.

Here comes the however. However, Bloom's show could, by its very nature, be seen only by those who could physically attend a live performance. For its influence to extend any further, that had to happen by second-hand eyewitness accounts, third-hand newspaper reports, and out-and-out lies. "Hootchie kootchie" was a thing many people may have talked and read about, but few actually did.

It was not until much later -- about twenty years later, in fact -- that those hip and shoulder movements found their way into mainstream popular culture. That was thanks to the magic of the movies, where the bright young things who danced their nights away in jazz clubs found a way to make a dollar as the shapers of public taste.

One of the brightest young things was a flapper named Marianna Winchalawska (or Michalska). Born on 24 October 1901 in Krakow, Poland, Marianna was orphaned during the Polish revolution. Her foster parents fled with their teenage charge to America just as World War I broke out, and found themselves in Wisconsin. It may have been more than the imminent war that caused the family to emigrate, however. According to Time magazine's obituary, at the age of 12 Marianna was already a married and a mother. It's more likely that the obituary writer confused the dates: at around 14 or 15, Marianna married concert violinist John Gorecki, with whom she had a son, Martin. These are pretty inauspicious beginnings for a Ziegfeld girl and movie star, but that's just what Marianna became.

It was her agent's wife, singer Sophie Tucker, who encouraged her to change her name to Gilda Gray on account of her golden hair. By this point Gray had shed John Gorecki as well (they divorced in 1923), to be replaced almost immediately by new husband Gil Boag. This marriage would later end, in part because of Gray's affair with her manager. The turmoil in her personal life -- combined with her beauty, European exoticism and willingness to shake her stuff on stage -- consolidated Gray as an "It Girl" in the Clara Bow mould: unconventional, slightly dangerous, and emblematic of a new generation ready to party away the horrors of war.

Here's the cute, and entirely apocryphal story, of how Gray became synonymous with the Shimmy:
...her shimmy was born one night when she was singing the Star Spangled Banner and forgot some of the lyrics. She covered up her embarrassment by shaking her shoulders and hips. Although the shimmy was already a well-known dance move, Marianna appropriated it as her own when she was asked about her dancing style. She replied in her heavy Polish accent, "I'm shaking my chemise," which sounded to the English-speaking audience like "shimmy." 
Despite being decorated by the Polish government for her services to the Polish people, her frantic love life and her astonishing work ethic, Gray is all but forgotten today. Even by the time of her premature death, shortly before Christmas  in 1959, Gray was almost destitute and scraping a living out of theatre performances. The Great Depression had already made the cocktails and fringe excesses of the early '20s both unsupportable and unpalatable. The studios wanted people to be uplifted and inspired, but not have their noses rubbed in the wealth and joy of others. Film is, after all, a fragile medium and more vulnerable than most art forms to rapid changes in taste, technology and style.

As proof, I present this clip of Gray hamming it up with the ultimate ham, Liberace, on his show. The word "brassy" was invented to describe this, I swear!:

This is a lovely and mesmerising stills montage, rather appropriately set to a string arrangement of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance:

At last, here's the guts: Gray dancing in Picadilly (1929) with Cyrill Ritchard. The "disgruntled diner" in this scene is the legendary British comic actor Charles Laughton:

Just as belly dance teachers around the world now advertise their classes to those dubious about the propriety of belly dancing as a great way to "get fit and tone up your abs", back in the day would-be Shimmy Dancers were assured that though this was not something they'd want to do in public, it was a great way to beautify their necks and shoulders!

The sources for this post were the Allure blog and the ever-reliable Wikipedia. A gallery of Gilda Gray images, most depicting her in dance costumes and from her time in the Ziegfeld Follies, has been uploaded to Jilly the Squid's Facebook page.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Photo du jour: Elvis the Pelvis remembered

15 August marked the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. I would have liked to have known him, but I was just a kid and his candle burned out long before his legend ever etc. etc.

Although Elvis' own hips were pretty famous, today's image is taken from the iconic '68 Comeback Special. The dancer is the multi-faceted, and still very much alive, Tanya Lemani.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Good to meet you: Mia Donna of Akron, Ohio

I stumbled across this on YouTube and was smitten. You know when people tell you to 'dance with your face'? This girl knows how:

Cool haircut, too.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Thought for the day

I felt like 50 shades of shit after my terrible performance at Arabesque Nights, but then I remembered my motto:

Thanks, Sara Connor's soon-to-be-murdered friend! Also, as my own good friend pointed out to me, and I paraphrase: "You're not new to dancing, but you are new to performing. You should have gone through all this crap years ago, but instead you went up there thinking you should be good because you've put in all this hard work. No. So not how it works." In other words:
"Choose to lose, prevail to fail, prepare to err, have the panache to crash, have the thunder to blunder, have the pluck to suck."
-- Joe Malarkey, "The Worst Motivational Speaker in America" 

With all of you as my witnesses, I swear I have that pluck! Now, who'd like to offer me a slot at their next hafla?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Curmudgeon's Corner

Dear Jilly the Belly Dancing Colossal Squid and Agony Aunt,

I would like to express my utter outrage at the disgusting display I was witness to this Friday last. All my wife and I were trying to do was enjoy our weekly outing to a local eating establishment and instead we were bombasted with a lewd display of writhing, uncovered flesh accompanied by deafening 'bongo drumming' and clanking metallic castanets.

To make matters worse, the "dancer" (though Heaven knows it is hard to credit the quivering motions we were subjected to as actual dancing) was very hard on the eyes. To refer to the so-called 'lady' as middle aged would assume that she is going to live to be at least 100, and her copious girth ensured that many diners were deterred from even looking at the dessert menu.

Not only did she seem completely unashamed at the way her manifold folds of blubber overflowed the bounds of her barely-there costume, she had the gumption to present herself as if her Caesarean scar, hideous tattoos, tan lines, stretch marks and broken veins were also invisible to the naked eye. I can assure you that they most certainly were not.

While I am sure that the PC brigade will no doubt defend to the death this "wombyn's" right to flaunt herself in my face while I am trying to eat, I appeal to the more rational readers of this letter not to indulge this person, and others like her, in these very public exhibitions of mental illness. The days of the freak show are well behind us and rightly so.

Yet, it saddens me to say that my fellow diners seemed swept up, up and away in the restaurant wriggler's madness and actively spurred on her embarrassing performance. One poor fellow, who is even now no doubt cringing at the memory, got up and joined in! (Presumably he was under the influence of drink -- refer my letter of last week on the evils of alcohol.)

I have been prompted to write because I have just discovered, thanks to the 'browsing history' on my international interweb, that my own dear wife is now searching for belly dance classes in our local area. This is quite out of character for her. If even the most sensible and sure of womankind can be seduced by this ludicrous and unseemly past time then we men must take this threat to our hearths and homes most seriously.

Enclosed please find a picture of me defending my castle against the threat from this appalling and insidious Moslem menace. Be warned that I shall never surrender. Never!

Outraged? Click here to write a letter to your local newspaper!
Yours etc.,

I Eastbend

Dear Mr Eastbend

You can kiss my fat, salty arse.

Hope this helps!


Jilly x

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Photo du Jour: Marilyn Monroe as Theda Bara (1957)

Today is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death.

Photo by Richard Avedon. More of his images of Marilyn as various screen legends over at Retronaut. She's unrecognisable!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Photo du jour: Prairie Caravan

We are a bit spoiled this week -- ten fantastic people in one photo. This is Canada's Prairie Caravan. Don't they look wonderful? That's Eilean kneeling in the front, in the green skirt.

Take a good look at her, because that is what a winner looks like. On Monday, the Royal Mail will take charge of Eilean's new fringed hipscarf and set it on its journey to her house. Lilith Noor's Isis wings have a shorter trip, but knowing Royal Mail they will probably arrive Up North at the same time Eilean's hipscarf lands in Canada. 

If you would like to receive a nice wee gifty in the mail and support your local postie, why not choose something from this list?

As an aside, why is the Canadian tourism board not using this photo in its materials? It clearly shows that Canada boasts kick-ass women and lovely weather!

Friday, 3 August 2012


Saltation brings together three dancers from the far corners of the Commonwealth who take their name from an obsolete word for ‘dancing’, now used mainly by geologists to describe the movement of particles by natural forces. Fifi, Ritu and Ramona are from Australia, Canada and New Zealand respectively and formed Saltation here in London after they successfully auditioned for Shafeek Ibrahim’s stage school. Saltation is dedicated to hard-core belly dance performed with a light heart.

So that was our nice crew bio that I spent literally MINUTES writing for our performance at Arabesque Nights last night, and it didn't get used. Maybe that upset me so much it explains why I missed all my cues, let my posture go to hell and danced into the wall.


I'm too depressed to post right now. Have a picture of some po-faced people practising the Raqs al Moza (banana dance):

I'm serious, you guys - the Raqs al Moza is a real thing.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Stars of the 1970s: Mona el Said

Mona was a fantastic dancer who, for whatever reason, never cracked the Fifi/Samia/Tahia pantheon and was always a bit second-tier. Who knows why? Let's not forget that the second tier from the top is a long way away from where most dancers get, somewhere on the bottom level of the multi-level subterranean car park.

Mona hanging out on a flying carpet. As you do.
Mona now lives and teaches in Hurghada. If you want the sharp technique of a mechanised whip and to look as at ease as on stage as Bukowski did in a dive bar, maybe you should look her up.

This costume/stage set combination rocks my world. The only thing that would make this more splendid is if Mona rode off down a rainbow on a My Little Pony at the end:

And check out this symphony in yellow:

Friday, 27 July 2012

Stars of the millennium: Elisa Gamal

Giveaway update
Thank you so much to those of you who have buzzed Jilly - things are now being given away on a first-come, first-serve basis because she's hardly been swamped with takers. The good news is there's still stuff available! (Unfortunately this rather wonderful "David Bowie as the Sphinx" figure by Mod Astrid is not among them, but this pic of it is cool to look at anyway. Enjoy.)

For those of you going to Elisa Gamal's first-ever London workshops this weekend, see you tomorrow! x I've never posted a melaya on this site before because, erm, I don't like it (which is why I'm giving a melaya away...), but this is as good a moment as any and this is ADORABLE:

And hellooo red costume o' my dreams:

Sunday, 22 July 2012

300 posts: You can win, small time!

If you're wondering why I suddenly have a new avatar that is actually of my own gurning dial*, it's because The Occidental Dancer today marks its 300th post. Amazing, innit? Look at how happy Gerard Butler is there, celebrating away for all he's worth, bless 'im.

To mark this auspicious event, and because I am moving into what is effectively a garden shed, I am offering you lucky people the chance to take some of my second-hand crap off my hands receive a heartfelt token of appreciation for giving me a reason to keep this daft contribution of negligible value to the internet going.
Because she has a lot of arms she's not using, Jilly the Belly Dancing Colossal Squid and Agony Aunt is doing the admin for me. Jilly will send the fortunate few their totally wicked booty at my own expense, to wherever in the world you like. Give her a 'like' or send her a message on Facebook (you'll recognise her avatar) and tell her which of the following things you want. If you want more than one thing, please give her an order of preference. And yo, try not to be too greedy:
  • Coined hipscarf (sorry - coinless is gone! Congratulations Eilean).
  • Suhaila Salimpour Bellydance Yoga Fitness Fusion DVD that, because of the obvious typos on the cover, I'm guessing is probably bootlegged (plays just fine).
  • A pair of slightly tatty gold Isis wings, perfect for practise but not for use in a living room only slightly larger than Mitt Romney's heart. They'd be perfect if you've never tried Isis wings before and are wing-curious. They are not performance standard, but I will package them for you as carefully as I can. On their way to long-time supporter Lilith Noor! x
  • A pair of black, flared tribal-fusion pants that I've never worn because by the time they arrived from China I'd eaten all the pies and they're too small for me -- if you're a size 10 I reckon they'll do you.
  • A never-worn purple velour and chiffon tie-front top from Farida Dance with matching hip belt (I can tell you through bitter tears that if you're larger than a C-cup you have no chance of getting into the top. If you're creative, you may find another use for the fabric). Why never worn? Because right after I bought them for a class performance, my teacher decided we were all to wear black. Now gracing the lovely Patricia!
Of course, there is one other thing you could do to make sure that Jilly's fickle tentacles address a package to you. Send her a video or picture of a dancer -- it could be you, or a friend who's cool with you sharing it -- that she's allowed to post here and she will gaze more favourably on your request. A hilarious joke or anecdote never goes amiss with her, either. No guarantees though; she is a squid, after all. She might pick you just 'cause she likes your name.

The house-moving happens this weekend, so I won't have a lot of internet access until we're all settled in. Posting my be a little patchy over this period, but rest assured I will let those of you who've scored some stuff know as soon as I can.

UPDATE: Please provide a second choice if possible. I also now have a few other bits and pieces to part with and I'll be posting pics of everything on her page. Thanks!

*And shoulders clad in my lovely new cover-up from Zara's Zouk.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Stars of the 1960s: Fatma Girik

*Don't forget that the next post is number 300: Seriously, I never thought it would live this long. Give Jilly a little thumbs-up on Facebook or drop her a line at architeuthis @ hotmail (dot) co (dot) uk to be in to receive a token of appreciation for supporting this odd little blog!

And now, on with today's main event -- the lovely Fatma Girik:

No brassiere could contain her!
Thank you to Anala of The Practical Dancer, who identified her from this post. I was all like "Fatma who?" but, as always, dear old Dr Google was on call with the answer.

Fatma, who turns 70 at the end of this year, was an actor in the Ozcan Tekgul/Hind Rostom mold. After starring in close to 200 Turkish films, like many actors, she had a late career switch to politics. From 1989 to 1994 she was the mayor of Sisli in Istanbul, but then went back to acting. Thanks to all the images of her done up as a kindly nana-type I found, I now picture her doing those really campy supersoaps a la Fifi Abdou.

I dig the inauthenticity of her hair in this clip:

For more Fatma clips and images (then and now), hit the jump.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Face me, babes

Hello darling clown fish!

Because we are closing in on 300 posts here on The OD, I have decided to get busy on this Facebook thingy. Initially I had a profile, but according to Facebook I am what is known as "a fictional character" and so am obliged to have a "page". So confusing! Humbly I wave my tentacles at you in apology if you were one of the people who befriended me because you hate 'liking' Facebook pages.

But anyway, if you'd like the chance to get your hands on some of The Raqasa's accumulated dance booty (no, not THAT accumulated dance booty, you naughty sea cucumber) you have to either "like" my Facebook page OR you can drop me a line at architeuthis @ hotmail (dot) co (dot) uk, once the list of goods up for grabs gets posted and you can tell if really want to be in it to win it.

At the risk of blowing my own conch shell, may I warmly recommend that you join me on Facebook. I've got oodles of wonderful raqs, harem dancing and sundry odd images to share, and I'm even compiling a "friends and family" album so you can get to know me better. Here's a pic of some old school chums of mine that I've GIF-ified so you know what to expect.


Jilly xo

Peter Pan (1924) dir. Herbert Brenon

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

It's not about the glutes

OK, so it’s just a little over a week since the Suhaila workshop and let me tell you that the lack of posting is not because of that. (I am actually in the throes of moving house again – farewell to our nuisance ‘neighbour’ Steve with his 3 am jam sessions and unnecessarily vocal girlfriend. Am I happy that I soon will not share a bedroom wall with him? YES! YES! OH, GOD, YES I AM!)*

Today, I am coming out as a Salimpour convert. It’s not that I hadn’t been exposed to the teachings before; one of my teachers in Wellington was Level 3 certified, so I’d done a fair bit of glute squeezing and squat pulsing and what have you. But like anything received second hand, there were loose threads and missing buttons. Perhaps it was a great example of tailoring, but it didn’t hang on my frame very well.

[That’s enough of that second-hand clothing analogy now, thank you – Jilly.]

Right, ANYWAY. For some reason** I had decided that Suhaila’s format was based on ego and athleticism – my two favourite turn-offs. When she announced to us that taking a workshop with her was the belly dance equivalent of a contemporary dancer getting to take a lesson with Martha Graham, I could feel my tall poppy syndrome flaring up. But she’s right, goddammit. Is that really ego or just a refreshing lack of false modesty? “You really don’t need to work this hard to be famous,” she pronounced, surveying the human debris scattered on the studio floor after the warm up (yes, just the warm up). “In fact, don’t. What are you, crazy? But if you want to be a good dancer then you do need to work this hard – either in my format or in some other way. My way is not the only way, but I truly believe it’s the best way.”

I’m paraphrasing. She said something like that – I concentrated as hard as I could over the din of my inner thighs, which were screaming very loudly indeed. “This is a bit like labour,” she murmured sympathetically. “Y’know? It’s awful at the time but before long you forget and you think ‘That was totally worth it. I’m doing it again’.”

She’s right about that too. Despite my misgivings about her cult of personality, I am won over. We were warned that we wouldn’t ‘get it’ over the course of a weekend, but oh my stars I really, really want to get it. At the ripe old age of none-of-your-business I think that, effectively, I’m about to start over as a dancer. Because I’ve been lucky enough to have had awesome teachers this doesn’t mean scrapping everything I’ve learnt already, but it does mean approaching my practise with more dedication and a new attitude. This is scary, but also exciting.

Here I go.

*Stay tuned to win my old stuff! – like Jilly on Facebook to be in with a shot

**Closely related to spending too much time reading bitchy forum threads.

Monday, 9 July 2012


Post-weekend-long Suhaila workshop I wanted to confirm that, Yes, I am still alive. Even better, I am alive in this way...

... and not in this way:

More news soon!