Friday, 30 March 2012

Nick Andopolis: Not too tall to be a good dancer

Sometimes, life hurts so much that all you can do is dance.

This scene from Freaks and Geeks begins with Nick's friends finding out that he's gone over to the dark side i.e. forsaken rock for disco. Worse, he's about to compete in a dance contest. "You're too tall to be a good dancer!" spits Ken (Seth Rogen) in disgust. I'm five foot ten, so that line pretty much captured my secret fears - until Jason Segal started moving. Take that, heightists!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Stars of the Millenium: Sharon Kihara

Apart from Rachel Brice's Sanskrit, Sharon's peacocks must be the most distinctive tatts in the biz. I always think of Sharon as being the only truly 'tribaret' dancer around, but that's mainly because I'm an Oriental-style dancer who prefers Tribal-style costumes. In Sharon I see a happy medium.

This is from the second set at Salon L'Orient Gypsy Caravan Dreams on 3 July 2011:

... and this is from Mexico City's Festival Tribal Internacional 2011. Her costume is to die for, and she sure knows how to make an entrance (it's a full 35 seconds before she appears):


Sunday, 25 March 2012

"Fashion parade" from The Pirate and the Slave Girl (1959)

This one stars our old friend Chelo Alonso as an Arab princess, Miriam. As far as I can tell, this is from the scene in which Miriam and her beautiful female entourage are about to be sold into slavery at the Selim's palace after being captured by the pirate Dragon Drakut and the unscrupulous Captain Diego. Methinks a few historical liberties have been taken here, as I cannot imagine that an actual slave market was in any way this elegantly surreal.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Friday Night at the Movies: Om Shanti Om

Many years ago, as a struggling student, I was employed as a cleaner by a Sri Lankan family. The grandmother used to sit upstairs all day and watch Bollywood films, while I stood behind her and dusted the same spot over and over again. I was as transfixed as she was, but didn't have the benefit of being able to understand either the Sinhala/Tamil subtitles or the dialogue. But by god do I understand spectacle.

Thanks to all the musical numbers, I couldn't work out the basics of the plots either - and no wonder! For example, who'd be able to work out Om Shanti Om without the benefit of dialogue and plot?:

In the 1970s, Om, an aspiring actor, is murdered, but is immediately reincarnated into the present day. He attempts to discover the mystery of his demise and find Shanti, the love of his previous life ....
.... who is now 30 years older than him, a grandmother, and so completely freaked out by the reappearance in her life of a man she thought long dead, and who doesn't seem to have aged since she last saw him, that she drops dead on the spot [the blurb does not go on to say].

The dance scene that kicks in at around 1.17.09 is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. This is the whole film, so don't feel bad about skipping through to the musical numbers!

I once did a workshop with someone who had choreographed some Bollywood films, and learnt everything she knew about choreographing for movies from watching old Egyptian musicals starring the likes of Samia Gamal. She reckoned the trick was to get everyone to dance almost entirely on the spot and face the front as much as possible - it minimises the risk of screw-ups and retakes when time and money are both at a premium. Other than that, her workshop was a waste of $40...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Photo du jour: Tribal Smurf?

Y'know, I'm beginning to think I just don't make enough of an effort with my appearance.

via $h!t My Dadaist Says

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Mother's Day with the Salimpours

It's Mothering Sunday here in the UK, which must mean that tomorrow is Smothering Monday (just kidding).

What better way to mark the occasion than with this lovely clip of Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour performing together at a workshop weekend way back in 1977, the year punk broke:

I'm afraid that the font on the web address is too small for me to make out. If anyone can read it, let me know what it says. Am I allowed to say that the teenage Suhaila was already a better dancer than her mother? I'm not? Oh, OK...

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Flattering costuming for colossal squids. Also, hate.

Dear Jilly the Belly Dancing Colossal Squid and Agony Aunt,

I’m not after any advice, I just want to vent to someone who will understand. I love belly dancing, but am filled with rage by the following things:

• Dancers who won’t give you any space in class.

• Those black singlet tops with ‘Belly dancer’ written across the front in sparkly, curly letters. The trousers with the same print across the butt are worse. Where else are you going to wear them except to class, where everyone already knows you’re a belly dancer? They’re a rip off and it upsets me that other people don’t see this!

• Dancers who don’t bother investing proper time and/or money in a performance outfit. Only strippers dance in actual underwear – fixing an earring between the cups of your red satin T-shirt bra DOES NOT COUNT as decorating it!

• Unfinished costumes (see above). A bit of nice fabric wrapped around your waist is exactly that. It’s not a skirt. While I’m about it, yoga pants are for the gym, not the stage.

• Folkloric performances set to kitsch 80s pop power ballads. I mean to say, really?

• The blurring of the fine line between cheekiness and sleaze. Winking at the audience while doing a hip circle = cheeky. Performing to It’s Raining Men and running your hand suggestively up and down your furled umbrella = sleazy.

• Inappropriate tipping. If a man’s face comes into contact with your cleavage because he’s using his teeth to tuck money into your bra, then ... gross.

• Long tresses that look fabulous but get in the way. There’s no way to make repeatedly flicking your hair out of eyes and tucking it behind your ears into a ‘move’.

• Sports bras under bedlahs. Yep, we can see them. Just get your costume fitted, FFS.

• Those tan coloured foot-thong things. They do the job, but are they supposed to be flesh coloured? And if so, whose flesh? On that point, I’ve never seen a black or brown pair.

• All those pretzel poses you learn in yoga class. Very impressive, but not choreography.

• Teachers who take it really personally when you go and learn from someone else. News flash: Our relationship was based on a commercial transaction. I was paying you, we weren’t romantically involved.

• Students who take it really personally when teachers refuse to recognise them as The Best in Class: you pay to be taught, not have your ego stroked.

• Teachers who don’t teach. OK, you’ve showed me the move. Now tell me whether or not I’m doing it right.

• Dancers who perform in front of audiences but look as though they’re grooving out in their living rooms while doing the vacuuming. It’s nice that you’re enjoying yourself, but what about us? Don’t we count, goddammit?

• Rude audiences. No matter how sucky the dancer is or how little you’re enjoying her performance, you will pay attention now and bitch later.

• Unsolicited critical feedback. How very dare you.

• Hafla performers who leave immediately after their number’s over and take their friends and family with them, ensuring that the dancer who closes the show is performing to the MC, the videographer and their best friend who doesn’t like belly dance anyway.

God, Jilly, I feel so much better now. Thanks!

Yours sincerely

Sally Forth
(Hateville, Georgia)

P.S - I heard on the grapevine that you have new costumes. Any chance of a picture or two?

Dear Sally

So pleased to have been of service to you, m'dear, and in theory I can't say I disagree with any of the points you raise. However, I do hope that you don't spend too much time accentuating the negative. No matter what's getting you down, you should always make room for fun and joy - it could even save your life!

For instance, as you may know, until quite recently I was relentlessly pursued by marine biolgists. Despite being on the lam, I still found time to go and hang out with some old narwhal pals of mine from back in the day. Not only did we have a great time, just chewing the fat and knocking back more rum than was good for us, but it turned out that those unicorn-like horns of theirs are great for puncturing holes in inflatable boats and sending marine biologists to watery Arctic graves - particularly when said marine biologists have been relentlessly pursuing a certain colossal squid and finally catch up with her when she's partying with narwhals. Of course, Sally, the fate of Dr D'Or and his colleagues is apocryphal and strictly between you and me.
I may or may not be able to confirm that marine biologists taste like Chicken of the Sea. (They totally do.) The upshot, my gorgeous guppies, is that your Aunt Jilly is BACK!

You are also quite right about my new finery, Sally. To celebrate the end of my time in hiding, I went shopping at Amphitrite's Costuming and got these utterly adorable outfits that make me look about 1500 dress sizes smaller. If you're ever at the northern end of the Mariana Trench you should stop in and check out her stock. Here I am in my Hawaiian Bobtail Squid costume:

See? I look TINY!
This one is of me in my new favourite, the Striped Pyjama Squid outfit. I think it makes me look like a zebra:

I cannot believe the inches this takes off my width. Amphitrite is a genius - and I am hugely indebted to Princess Farhana and her Facebook page for tipping me off to her unique stylings.


Jilly xo

Squid pics from ScienceRay

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Siouxsie Sioux Tuesday

Siouxsie in 1985
A remarkable photo of everyone's beloved Fairy Gothmother and the biggest fan of eyeliner since Theda Bara, Siouxsie Sioux, dressed up as the ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet. If you ever need to get glammed up in a cat costume, this is how you do it.

The tenuous justification for posting Sioux ephemera on a blog about raqs continues with this video. I have always wondered about the 'right on-ness' of the lyrics to this song, but I get the feeling that The Banshees weren't that great on global awareness. Remember Hong Kong Garden, when they asked you to "leave your yens on the counter, please"? Yen! In Hong Kong! Ai-yai-yai.

*Enthusiastically does the 'Gravedigger'.*

Thursday, 8 March 2012

What would Florence Foster Jenkins do?

Florence in a costume she designed herself and called 'The Angel of Inspiration'.
Back on Episode 48 of the Yip Podcast, this blog got a bit of a shout-out, which was awesome. And then Tammy and Mary mentioned my username, 'The Raqasa' (a corruption of the Arabic for 'dancer'), which sounds 'very mysterious'. It is mysterious, because I am not a natural born dancer. And this blog was originally going to be called 'The Accidental Dancer', because I got into raqs by accident, but then I realised a pun about being a Westerner learning an Eastern dance style was irresistable and I loves me some pun.

Anything I am able to do with my body is hard-won and the result of considerable effort and concentration. This is why I do not smile in class and often look as though I am heroically soldiering on despite suffering from an agonising intestinal complaint. Cannot. Emote. Must...Focus.

I do not have an innate sense of rhythm. I am not at all flexible. I lack inherent grace and fluidity of movement. Musicality? Forget it. You can practically see my lips moving while I count the beat. My posture requires constant tweaking. Turn right now or left? And was that with a hip twist or a shoulder shimmy? I can't remember. About the only thing I have going for me is a good sense of balance. Whoop-de-shit.

Teacher, dear, I know I'm not smiling. You wouldn't be smiling either if you were working with this shoddy equipment.

This painful awareness of my numerous limitations was present when I went to my first belly dance class, and it has only grown with time. Even now I am surprised that I am still going to classes all these years after I first walked into Tamara Allerhand’s studio and warmed up to The Macarena (A-hai!). About every six months or so, I think, “Screw this. I’ll never be any good at this. Dammit, I'll never be halfway good at this. I’m going to quit and spend all the money I’ll save on not going to classes, workshops and haflas on revamping my shabby work wardrobe and getting decent hair cuts.”

Then a little voice, as quiet as the Queen's fart, murmurs, "What would Florence Foster Jenkins do?"
The answer is as clear as it is inexplicable: Florence would never have questioned her right to perform for a moment.

If Florence Foster Jenkins (19 July 1868 - 26 November 1944) had been a belly dancer, she would have been out teaching and performing and signing up for competitions after her very first class. Hell, what am I saying? Classes? Florence had no need for stinking classes. Nor did she have need for the terms "self-doubt", "being realistic", "room for improvement" and "accurately judging the response of an audience". Florence's given first name was actually Narcissa, and by god did she live up to it. Or, indeed, down to it. Florence lives on in infamy as The Worst Soprano Who Ever Lived, Or Shall Live, From Now Until The End Of Time Amen.

Florence did not just butcher some of the most beautiful music ever written: she hog-tied it, blindfolded it, drove it around in the back of a white van with tinted windows and then parked in a lonely, out-of-the-way spot and inflicted unspeakable indignities upon it before cutting it up into little pieces and distributing it like confetti along long stretches of a deserted highway. To call Florence 'deeply untalented' and 'pitch averse' (as she has been) is a woeful understatement. Those guys from Milli Vanilli were deeply untalented and pitch averse - Florence was aural napalm.

And yet, the best part of 70 years after her death, you can still buy recordings of Florence Foster Jenkins (David Bowie collects them). Florence was able to create this enduring cult around herself thanks to her epic delusions of grandeur and her access to huge amounts of money that she never had to go out and actually earn. If you want to be technical, sociologists now call fame earned in this manner the "Kardashian Effect".

Born into the upper echelons of New York society, Florence was by all accounts spoiled, monstrously vain, deranged, selfish and stubborn. When her father refused to pay for her to go on a musical tour of Europe, she simply eloped with a man who would fund her ambitions. She divorced him once he'd served his purpose and resorted to working as a teacher and pianist, until her father did her the great favour of dying and leaving her a packet. From then on, there was no stopping her. Her mother's death in 1928 provided a welcome top-up to Florence's performance kitty - understandably, she hired her own venues. Like the Ritz-Carlton ballroom. In an act of jaw-dropping hubris, Florence out-did herself and hired Carnegie Fucking Hall for her farewell show. That would be Carnegie Hall in New York, then. The show sold out weeks in advance, so great was the curiosity whipped up by the carefully worded reviews her previous outings had attracted.

The audience came to laugh, but utterly convinced of her own greatness Florence heard only the bitchy titterings of the jealous and talentless. Of course Florence was aware that she attracted pretty negative reviews - she just didn't care. Florence coined my favourite quote, and one I often apply to my own dancing: "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing." There's no answer to that. Hence - "The Raqasa". I'm not a great dancer, or a good one, but I am a dancer. I make no claims beyond that.

Some of Florence's listeners heard more than 'a cuckoo in its cups': behind the screeching, gasping and flat out screaming that characterised a typical Foster Jenkins recital, they detected what the French call joie de vivre (a love of life) and the Italians call il sacro fuoco (the sacred fire). Perhaps there were simply no words in the English language to accurately describe what it was like to sit in front of Florence for an hour or more while she belted through her repertoire. Or perhaps it was the only way to say that Florence had something better than talent. She had happiness.

Florence is my dance hero, not because she was a dancer, but because she reminds me that it's not always about being the best. I've seen a few Florence Foster Jekins-esque type dancers in my time, and while they could technically be better dancers and give the occasional clue that they know they're in front of an audience, they always at least look like happy dancers. And sometimes that's all it's about - being happy. Thanks, Flo.

Now, if you can bear it, here's a clip of Florence's most notorious recorded insult to the work of Mozart, her rendition of Der Hölle Rache (The Queen of the Night Aria), as illustrated with LOLCats:

Bear in mind that her accompanist, who rejoiced in the name Cosme McMoon, used to pull faces behind her back while she sang. Unlike Florence, McMoon knew that he was not a great pianist, and (allegedly) topped up his earnings from music by running a brothel-type operation from a Manhattan gym. Body builders there were paid for sexual favours, which makes the fact that he was once photographed with Arnold Schwarzenegger all the more interesting.

Now it's your turn. If you have any unlikely heroes and heroines who inspire your dancing, why not tell us about them in the comments?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Wonder Woman Wednesday: Calliope

Wonder Woman has always had a special place in my heart. As a wee one playing hopscotch, I would always make a special point of "Wonder Womaning" the turn at the top of the grid by imbuing it with as much drama as possible. Linda Carter's saggy baggy blue knickers were, to me, the very pinnacle of Glamma. A few years, ago, The Man gave me a pristine edition of a Wonder Woman comic for my birthday, which I was going to keep in its plastic shrink wrap until he insisted I open it. Tucked inside the cover was a voucher for a sky dive. Have I ever mentioned I'm afraid of heights?

Anyway, you can imagine the thrill that fluttered up my spine when I found this pic of Toledo-based dancer Calliope in her utterly smashing homemade Wonder Woman costume:

Calliope, who apparently specialises in 'character' belly dance, gets extra Brownie points if she took her name from the first volume of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series rather than from the Greek muse herself.

Unfortunately, however, this outfit is not quite perfect. As we all know from the Wonder Woman theme song, Diana cannot fight for anyone's rights without her satin tights:

Calliope makes up for that oversight with her improv in this number. OF COURSE there has to be spinning!

“Go in peace my daughter. And remember that, in a world of ordinary mortals, you are a Wonder Woman.” Queen Hippolyte

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Sha'abi Sunday: Sa'd El Soghayar's 'El Enab' feat. Dina

Last Friday's music vid (Zayne's Shake It) went down about as well as a helium balloon in a high wind i.e. not very well at all. At least everyone could agree that the dancing in it was of superior quality.

This week I am skewing the values: I actually like the song but the dancing - despite the presence of Dina - is not the primary focus of the clip. It's more about having a good time and giggling. We've been dancing to this in class a lot lately, and even though this song is a toddler (it's 3 years old) it's now one of my favourite earworms. Also, this charming ode to a life enriched by a steady diet of melons, dates, grapes, and bananas carries a message that our heart disease-riddled world needs to hear more often.*

As someone who spent the better part of the mid-90s peering at the world from behind a septum piercing and a Batboy T-shirt, what I really want for the Funky Friday slot is a doumbek-heavy remix of The Sisters of Mercy's This Corrosion. Dare to dream...

*It's OK, I know that this song is really about massive boobs and buttocks like beach balls. I get it.