Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Send Galit to the Fringe!

Ordinarily I wouldn't do a post like this, where I put a flat cap on the ground in front of me and start singing an off-key version of Wind Beneath My Wings.

[Why, thank you very much for your loose change, sir. God bless.]

However, Galit Mersand is unfairly talented and I would really like to help her out. How is it possible for someone to be both a great dancer and a hilarious comedienne? Eat your heart out, Margaret Cho:

For this reason, I am sharing with you the email Galit sent out over the weekend. We all know how tough it is for minority art forms like belly dance to get funding and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is Of Major Importance. (Flight of the Conchords is just one of the many acts who got their big break at the Fringe.) It would be nice to see Galit, who is a fantastic ambassador for the belly dance community, get a chance to realise her dream of going to Edinburgh. And she's right: it's extremely competitive and many shows close early after failing to attract an audience.

I know that times are tough all over - we're in the middle of a recession, after all, and dancers never really have any money after we pay for classes/costumes/day-to-day living, but if you do have even a tiny wee bit to spare we could make the dreams of a fellow dancer come true. Imagine! So let's crowd-source this thing and make it happen. From Galit:
"You may have already heard that Bellylicious is going to Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year (in August).

This is a very big deal for me and I am of course delighted, excited and a little nervous :) but very much looking forward to it.

Doing Edinburgh Fringe Festival is quite a big financial undertaking, there's a registration fee, venue hire, travel expenses, accommodation & food, paying an assistant (+ assistant's travel, accommodation, food as well) , advertising & publicity and probably a few more expenses that I haven't yet found out about (this being my first time at Edinburgh Fringe).

I will need all the help I can get.

Making a profit in Edinburgh Fringe is usually unlikely for a small show like Bellylicious and there is no guarantee of breaking even.

I have added a 'Donate' button on the Bellylicious website's home page - www.bellylicious.org.uk/ - and would like to ask that if you can (and I really mean only if you can) please support Bellylicious at Edinburgh Fringe Festival by making a donation, however small { I'm not Tesco but every little bit really will help :) }"

Monday, 30 January 2012

Good to meet you: Prince Erkan Serce

Today's post is dedicated to the totally brutal Rae. Were it not for her, I would never have discovered the wonder that is Prince Erkan Serce.

Although I speak neither Turkish nor German, the glory of the Prince transcends mere linguistics. To opt out of watching these clips because you don't speak the language would be kinda like saying, "Hey! It's a unicorn! Too bad that, because I don't understand the noises it makes, it holds no appeal for me whatsoever. Are there any clips on the YouTubes of teenagers whacking each other in the balls that I could watch instead?"

Even if His Royal Highness were not blessed with the lithe grace of a leopard, he would still be a mesmerising visual treat. Behold:

Now that you've watched these I think you'll agree that: (a) there are no words in any language to describe the Prince anyway; and (b) even if there were, you're too speechless to use them.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Pics du jour: Arab Spring graffiti

Dancing is the Solution by Gigi Ibrahim (some rights reserved and reproduced under Creative Commons License)
Many thanks to The Man for sending me the link to Gigi Ibrahim's flickr set, where Gigi has uploaded pics of graffiti taken around Tahrir Square and beyond. Verily, The Man has his uses beyond just cooking for me, doing my washing and generally keeping me alive.

You can check out the rest of Gigi's set here, but these two seemed most pertinent to readers of this blog.

Dancing to the Revolution by Gigi Ibrahim (September 2011) (some rights reserved and reproduced under Creative Commons License)
Kind of amazing that the stock silhouette of the dancer in the second pic is so widely travelled. (Among other places it crops up, it's also the logo for belly dancer-driven cancer charity Just Because.)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Lady Buddha with 1000 hands

Happy Chinese New Year! Let's celebrate. This isn't belly dance, obviously, but it IS Eastern dance and it is MIND BLOWING.

And that's even if you don't know that all of the dancers involved in this performance are deaf.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Happy Burns Night!

(Burns' Night? The editor in me always wonders.)

As Scotland debates the vexed question of whether or not to go the route of independence, this year's Burns Night promises to be one of the most politically charged in years. In honour of one of Scotland's favourite sons, poet Robert Burns (who would have been 253 years old today), Caledonians will be celebrating with whisky and haggis.

At The Occidental Dancer, however, we're celebrating with Scottish dancer Lorna of Cairo, and her magnificent green tartan costume by Eman Zaki. I'll leave it to Jilly to bust open the whisky. Och aye!

On stage with the Arab-Hebrew Theatre

Mideast: When Talks Fail, Try Belly Dance, Inter Press Service, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 (posted by Global Issues)

This article isn't written in the plainest English - or, if it means what it says, then what it describes is a bit unfortunate:
"The atmosphere evokes the dizzying abandon of senses of sex-craving male party-goers in a dingy joint. In the incense-filled space — smoking is appropriately forbidden, so please leave your narghile water-pipe in the club's cloakroom — the audience stands up in a roaring ovation at the sight of the exuberant 'Saydati wa Sadati' (Ladies and Gentlemen, in Arabic) cabaret show, clap their hands, climb on chairs, and emulate the actors enmeshed in serpentine and lascivious poses."
I think most of us could do without seeing our dance boiled down to "sex-craving male party-goers in a dingy joint" ogling "actors enmeshed in serpentine and lascivious poses", right? On the other hand, it's interesting to read a discussion of the geo-political facet of Middle Eastern belly dance, even if only at a very high level.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

"I'm not too fond of belly dancers"

Hat-tip to Mahin's Belly Dance Daily Quickie for today's clip from US reality show All-American Muslim.

Recently I witnessed something that made me more understanding of the point of view held by the woman who speaks at the end of this clip. If I can ever calm down enough to write objectively about it I'll let you know what it was! (The keywords are: tipping; teeth; bra.)

That said, I do think that the dancer in this clip does a good job of being charming, restrained and not at all hoochie. She doesn't have any control over the baggage her audience brings to her performance: that's their shit to deal with, not hers.

UPDATE: Apparently chain store Loew's has a problem with depicting American Muslims as, y'know, Americans who aren't also terrorists and/or religious extremists. They've pulled all their advertising from the show, prompting a boycott of their stores. To quote a book many Christians are (or should be) familiar with, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." Amen.

Hateful campaign targets All-American Muslim.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Harem dancers: Rosemarie Bowe

What peplum means to me

"Peplum" is a word that has been cropping up on the fashion pages with boring regularity at the moment - it's that weird, stiff frill whovawotsit that now adorns the hips of every fashion victim teetering down the high street. (Of course, 15 years ago I was one of those people who teamed Doc Marten boots with second-hand men's trousers and topped if off with Nana's old lace-edged polyester slip, so what the hell do I know about how to dress?)

However, I am not the only one to whom "peplum" means something else entirely. The more eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the appearance of the "Peplum TV" gadget on this blog a couple of months ago. This comes courtesy of the quite frankly mind-meltingly sutpendous blog Peplums, which is dedicated to a genre often dismissed as "swords and sandals". But peplum is a lot more than swords and sandals. Often it's also magic, and monsters, and evil kings, and wicked queens, and political intrigue. And, most importantly, pulchritudinous women dancing.

Those of you familiar with The Occidental Dancer's preoccupations with colossal squids and pretty ladies getting their groove on in old films will appreciate why peplum, with its chiffon-clad lovelies and abundance of sea monsters menacing sailors, strikes such a chord. It seems mad that I didn't discover Peplums ages ago, but it's where I found today's clip. Obviously, the guy who writes Peplums isn't so interested in the dancers themselves so I had to do a bit of digging as to who she is. Hopefully I've got it right! Ladies and gentlemen, I'm almost certain that today's post features the lovely Rosemarie Bowe.

Rosemarie didn't have much of a career to speak of - she appeared in bit-parts in a handful of films - and got into movies via modelling. According to scuttlebutt, she wasn't overly gifted in the brains and talent department, so that may have had something to do with her lack of real roles.

Her life post-acting was marred by a series of personal setbacks - her husband, Unsolved Mysteries host Robert Stack, died in 2003 (they had been married 47 years, surely a Hollywood record?), and in 1970 Bowe suffered serious internal injuries in a car accident.

In happier times, here she is as 'Ayesha' in one of the least fluid, most stilted examples of harem dancing (what I call the 'not belly dancing-belly dance' that appears in so many of these films) I've ever seen. What sets this apart from the majority of these harem dances is that she's using zills. Digging that 'upcycled curtains' costume!

Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Maelle's classes start TOMORROW

What is the point of having a blog if you can't occasionally use it to trumpet the services of your buddies, eh?

My friend Maelle is a champion belly dancer who knows her stuff, and is generous with her support and extensive knowledge. Plus, she is really friendly and can be approachable and charming in three languages.

If you know someone in London who wants to start belly dancing and you don't teach classes yourself, you could do worse than to throw them into Maelle's graceful arms.

You can email Maelle at maellebellydancer (dot) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk. Her super-stylish flyer was designed by Nancy Verthandi Fleishchhauer who is also, not coincidentally, a kick-ass belly dancer.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Stars of the c.1870s: Shafiqa Al-Qibtiyaa

This is definitely the earliest entry in the "Stars of" series of posts so far, and likely to be the only one from this period I can get a clip (mmm...sorta) and image for.

When your teachers tell you costumes are becoming more risque, they're not kidding

Shafiqa (or Shafika) was born in the Caireen suburn of Shobra in 1851 to Coptic Christians, but was orphaned early on - there is strong evidence that she was supporting herself by the time she was 12. Before she was very much older, she was a protege of Shooq's. I'm afraid I can't tell you much about Shooq beyond the facts that she reached the peak of her career in the mid-1870s and is widely considered the first "Oriental"-style Egyptian dancer.

Although she married young, Shafiqa was smart enough to use her considerable charms to improve her lot by courting some of the most powerful men in Egypt including, according to her biopic, the prime minister.

She was also a savvy enough self-promoter to carve out a niche for herself  by specialising in shamadan. (Some of the material I've read credits her with being the "first" person to dance with a candleabra, but I doubt very much any one individual can claim to have invented balancing stuff on your head while you dance.)

For many years, Shafiqa danced at the El Dorado before opening her own club, or 'salah', Alf Leyla (The 1001 Nights). Despite parlaying her success on stage into running a successful business and becoming one of the wealthiest women of her day, she died cocaine addicted and destitute in 1926.

Now, I promised you a "sorta" clip, and here it is. This is from Chafika el Kebteya (Shafika the Copt), a 1963 biopic starring Hind Rostom as Shafiqa. Here Hind gives us a taste of Shafiqa's legendary shamadan chops:

As an aside, I'm going to do a "Stars of" post on Hind soon. Hind, who was either the "Marilyn Monroe of the East" or "the Egyptian Rita Hayworth", depending on who you ask, was considered more of an actress than a belly dancer, but so many of her films feature her dancing (and she was good enough that Fifi Abdou tried to throw a party in her honour - more on that later) that I think we can claim her as one of ours.

Hind died last August at the age of 81, having famously refused to co-operate with anyone seeking to put HER life onscreen. Ha!

Wee bit more about Shafiqa here:


Monday, 16 January 2012

A gleam from Aladdin

Pantomime is one of the few English traditions that never made it to New Zealand. Wikipedia gets that charmingly and predictably wrong, presumably by assuming that all former British colonies are fossilised versions of Merrie olde England in the 1900s. Well ... that may be true to a point, I guess.

An absolute must for anyone with children at Christmas, panto exists only to introduce British sprogs to the peculiarly English obsessions with (a) men in drag and (b) bawling loudly in unison.

Audience:      Oh no, it doesn't!

The Raqasa: Oh yes, it does! And thank you for proving my point.

This vintage clip from ever-popular panto Aladdin stars comedian Charles Austin as Aladdin's mother, the Widow Twankey (pantomime dames are always played by either men, cf the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella, or animated blonde beehive Barbara Windsor). Austin was famous from the late 1890s until about the 1930s. British Pathe dates this 1926, which means that Austin's time in the sun didn't have much longer to run. It's a white guy playing an Asian woman - layer upon layer upon layer of socio-political readings to do here, like a big offensive Sara Lee cheesecake. BUT ... can you imagine what those stage sets and costumes looked like in colour?

Old-timey glamour aside, the dance routines in this are pretty slick.

Audience:      Oh no, they're not!
The Raqasa: Oh yes, they are!


Friday, 13 January 2012

I see Paris, I see France ...

... and oh, how I wish I could see a certain lady's underpants.

ill fitting costume
Instead, I'm treated to sighting of the Raqs Beaver, an animal that is not at all endangered (worse luck).

Thursday, 12 January 2012

2012: The year of thinking UP!

It's not too late to wish you all a happy new year, is it? 12 days is a mere blink of the eye, chums, although it does seem like the year is a lot older than that already. Hopefully you are all hale and hearty, and awash with that glow that comes from the feeling - however illusory - that the start of a new year is the same as the chance to start life itself again. May you have an absolutely kickin' 2012.

In my many, many years on the planet (I officially became middle aged over the holidays), I have learnt that new year resolutions are bootless things, fit for nothing except inducing guilt when they remain unresolved on 31 December. The prosecution cites exhibits A and B: The Raqasa's resolves to learn to drive and to achieve proficiency in French, both of which are now entering their second decade on the 'To Do' list. If I dwelt on it too long, no doubt I would weep at the vision I have of myself walking off the mortal coil and wishing the world "Farewell" instead of "Adieu".

But weep I shall not, thanks to my new approach to the whole irritating "New Year = New YOU!" school of thought so beloved of weekend newspaper supplements. Instead, I am henceforth adopting a Theme of the Year. This means that, rather than focussing on meeting specific aims by set deadlines, I will be trying to achieve my goals through stealth and with minimal perceived effort.

The Raqasa's spiritual guru shows how it's done
In this spirit, I have declared 2012 to be My Year of Thinking of "Up!". The idea is pinched off my friend Kath, who has been studying Alexander Technique. Her instructor told her that the easiest way to improve her posture was just to think the word "up" to herself at random points during the day and adjust her posture according to the principles she'd been taught.*

The posture thing is part of it for me because I do know that I have a tendency to resemble a hula hoop when I sit or dance. However, my real theory is that by invoking the word "up!" whenever I'm thinking negatively or about to make a choice I know is going to bug me later - e.g. electing to spend the morning in bed instead of going to the gym (a very literal form of "Up!") - I will have a positive, productive year without even really trying. This was the week that "Up!" kicked in and I've made three visits to the gym and two dance classes already (the looming date with Suhaila Salimpour's London weekend workshop has also been quite the motivator). Sure, it's easy to get out of the starting blocks but it's harder to finish the course. I'm not promising myself that I'll never have down days or always skip dessert, but "Up!" seems like a good place to start.

Yeeeaaaahhhh ... wish me luck with this. Meanwhile, I'm off to the third heat of Bellydance Trophies on Sunday and, as usual, I'll be tweeting the action in my customarily difficult-to-follow and not-particularly-informative style. Hope you can play along!

*NB - The Alexander Technique does not hold that good posture is a simple matter of sitting/standing "up straight" - in fact, just the opposite. "Holding yourself up straight" without proper technique often leads to all kinds of damaging muscle tension, and generally can't be sustained when fatigue kicks in anyway.