Monday, 27 February 2012

Harem dancers: Chelo Alonso

Welcome to Monday, everybody! After today, only four more days until the weekend. Hold on.

Thanks to those of you who have already voted in the poll. Of the few votes so far, it looks like we're all OK with a bit of fake belly dancing from the movies, so before I lose your mandate let's enjoy the stylings of Italian star Chelo Alonso. Unlike so many of the harem dancers featured thus far, Chelo really was a dancer (rather than a model/starlet).

I say 'Italian star' advisedly. Chelo was born in Cuba in 1933 as Isabella Garcia, which explains her rather evocative nickname - "The Cuban H-Bomb". She started her dance career at 17, but her wild, sensual style was at odds with the more restrained classicism of Cuba's National Theatre, and she wound up in Paris at the Folies Bergère. (Allegedly, she was the resident "belly dancer" but I can't find anything to suggest she ever studied Middle Eastern dance.) Her exotic looks and unrestrained sensuality made her something of a sensation and had her favourably compared to Josephine Baker.

In 1961 she married production manager Aldo Pomilia, whereupon she went into semi-retirement. Her last film appearance was in 1969. When Aldo died in 1986, Chelo moved to Tuscany where she bred cats(!) and ran a restaurant. Her disappearance from showbiz was so neatly done that even her IMDB entry seems unsure as to whether or not she's still alive.

This first clip is from 1959's Sign of the Gladiator, and is another gem unearthed over at Peplums, who said of it:
I got hold of a beautiful print of the film which is a vast improvement over the faded and subtitled copy everyone was stuck with for decades. This film was impossible to get a hold of in English and widescreen. Now that I have it my life is complete.

Her Cuban jiggling is anachronistic though.
Be cool, everybody. I already took to the comments on that blog to express my disagreement with that final statement. This is the scene that cemented Chelo as one of the great sex symbols of late 1950s/early 1960s B-grade Euro-cinema. No mean feat, considering that the 'real' female star of this film was Anita Ekberg!

Here she is again, dancing with a gauzy veil in Son of Samson (1960). The bit where she hurls away the apple is pretty funny, but after that she launches into a series of vigorous hip twists and circles that look more like raqs than anything I've seen in one of these films before. Those of you strangely immune to Chelo's charms may instead be diverted by the presence of champion body builder Mark Forest in this scene:

In Goliath and the Barbarians (1959), Miss Alonso got two dance scenes (this is both of them). In the first, she gets a hysterically badass faux sword to dance with. In the second, she gets to dress up like Xena, Warrior Princess, play with fire and spin around until she collapses:

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