Monday, 30 April 2012

Harem dancers: Linda Cristal in "Legions of the Nile"

And it's a big thank you once again to Peplums for sourcing today's post! Today we feature Argentinian actor Linda Cristal as Cleopatra in Legions of the Nile aka Legions of Cleopatra. (Not to be confused with either "Cleopatra's Lesions", a skin condition contracted by those who bathe in goat's milk, or "Legions of Cleopatras", a group of Vegas cosplay enthusiasts.)

For those who grew up watching Linda in 1800s period costume on TV Western The High Chaparral, seeing her like this must have been quite the eye-popper.
Cleopatra enters a tavern and dances for the peasants, who don't know she's their Queen. Ettore Manni tosses her a coin.
It all ends in a riot.

Not based on a historical event, in other words...

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Photo du jour: Snake-bodied woman

Crypt of Wrestling  

"SEE A Beautiful GIRL With the BODY of a SNAKE - She Talks to you - TOTALLY AWESOME"

And then, in a much harder to read colour on the door, "Illusion". 

I like that you're warned before going in that what you're about to see is an illusion, so adjust your expectations accordingly. I wonder how Snake Girl manages her "illusion" of talking? Does she communicate with well-timed hisses or is she voiced by a ventriloquist? This is very important, people. Anyone out there who understands the vocal limitations of human/herpetofauna hybrids, please clarify.

This is not really anything to do with raqs, obviously, but I wanted to show you guys what I'm going to get painted on the side of my panel van. TOTALLY AWESOME.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Comedy harem dancer: Joan Davis

Remember how I posted those clips from The Conqueror and said that if I could find a clip of Sylvia Lewis in 1952's Harem Girl that I'd post it? Well, unbeknownst to me I already had a clip from Harem Girl lined up to post, but it doesn't feature Sylvia. There's my dirty secret: I will often draft several posts at once and then save them up to publish. So sue me! I do have a life, you know. God.

Anyway, my stockpiled post features the film's star, comedienne Joan Davis. (Yes, Harem Girl is a comedy.) Joan made Lucille Ball possible, although Joan was a lot saucier, and was most famous for her very I Love Lucy-ish TV series I Married Joan.

Nine years after Harem Girl was released, in 1961, Joan had a massive heart attack and died suddenly. This may have been a small mercy, because in 1963 Joan's mother, daughter and her two grandsons were killed in a house fire. At least Joan didn't live to see that tragedy befall so many of her loved ones.

The plot line for Harem Girl is that of a film with no pretentions to being high art. Here's the IMDB synopsis:
A wise-cracking, uninhibited American girl, Susie Perkins (Joan Davis), is hired as a secretary/companion to Princess Shareen (Peggie Castle), a Middle-East ruler of a small desert kingdom. Soon after her arrival, Susie learns that Shareen is in great danger, as a wicked sheik desires to get a hold of both the Princess and her oil-rich lands. After some wild adventures, aided by Majeed (Paul Marion), Shareen's sweetheart, Susie cleans up the situation, and is last seen joining the French Foreign Legion, which is 'for men only'. This suits Susie just fine - because she's for men too!
And here's Joan in action. This is a really charming, old-time funny bit of physical comedy. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Stars of the Millennium: Suraiya of Poland

Last Thursday Fiona and I were meant to practise at my place, but instead we were so distracted by my neighbour having noisy sex (and accidentally glimpsing him through his open window in act of same) that we wrote the whole evening off and began a session of "Have you seen this?".

"Have you seen this?" involves looking up YouTube videos of dancers who are hugely famous among a small-ish group of people, and then marvelling that they are not even more famous. My "share" was Suraiya of Poland, and Fiona's will be the subject of the next "Stars of" post.

I first saw Suraiya at the 2009 International Bellydance Congress. We were in a Leyla Jouvana workshop.

*The screen goes a bit misty and the room starts to ripple as we move back in time....*

Suraiya was unmissable: she's one of those dancers who is always "on", by which I mean I've never spotted her looking like she couldn't just head out on stage at the drop of a hat. Even in class, she was wearing a big smile and looked totally delectable in a matching top and yoga pants combo. She's a qualified Pilates instructor, apparently, so she looks as though she can balance swords on that glossy mane of jet black hair of hers in zero gravity.

In short, she would be loathsome were she not so gosh darned lovely.

Lovely, and also so unbelievably gifted that I think she's an alien from Planet Raqs. Just look at the speed and accuracy of those hip and chest combos. Here she is with Mansour, at Hannover's Oriental Superstars Made in Europe Festival 2011. Adjust your speakers for crowd noise!:

And here they are in Latvia:

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Still thinking up

Back in January, I declared this year the Year of Up. Instead of the choices that make me feel good-in-the-short-term, shitty-in-the-long-run (the fourth glass of wine; an extra half hour in bed instead of going to the gym; the evening spent cocooned on the couch instead of going out and doing something), I have – so far as I am able, and within the scope of my puny human powers – tried to do The Right Thing.

I am not beating myself up about my lapses. After all, at heart I’m a lazy, greedy thing with all the willpower of Imelda Marcos in a Louboutin warehouse. Any time I choose exercise over a bit of a lie-in, the rip in the space/time continuum gets a bit longer. With that in mind, I would have to say that on the whole it’s not going too badly. I’ve had a couple of weeks of erratic-to-non-existent gym attendance, but then I’ve had quite a few late nights or weekends where I literally couldn’t make the scheduled classes. But I’ll get back on track. It’ll be fine. Honest.

What has been particularly interesting are the moments when – without knowing they’re doing it – other people have called me out on “thinking down”. This almost always happens when I’ve said No in a situation where a Yes would have cost me nothing but time.

A few dance-related instances will do to illustrate what I mean:

1. My friend Fiona and I are going to be performing together soon. This is part of my drive to perform more often - but if Fiona hadn't said yes when I approached her about doing this, and if she hadn't actively worked on the choreography and scheduled regular practise sessions, then I have to be honest. I would have wussed out. Yay Fiona!

2. I was meant to go to the last round of BellyDance Trophies with my usual date Christina. When she bailed, I decided that (A) Wembley is a bloody long way away and (B) my possie by the heater was very warm and comfortable. Then another friend sent me a Facebook message to say that she’d decided to go at the last minute, but only if she’d know someone there. Reader, I dropped everything and went. Sure, I wound up at Watford and was nearly half an hour late, but since the show was an hour late starting it meant I had time to buy a drink. Plus, when the show (inevitably) ran way over time and we missed the last trains home, my friend and I got to navigate London’s notorious Night Bus system and have a darn good natter. Did I also mention that I bought a gorgeous green cover-up from Zara while we waited for the show to start? No? Because that segues nicely into:

3. I do two classes back-to-back on a Tuesday night with Shafeek. A couple of weeks ago, after the first class, I went to pay for them and was handed half of my money back. “There’s no second class tonight – instead we’re holding auditions for October’s Stage School.” Oh, right. So, after wishing everyone luck, off I went to get changed and go home. As I left the studio, Zara spotted me. “WHAT? Where are you going? You don’t get to blog about this and be too scaredy-pants to audition! Besides, if you don’t get in your position is no worse than it was before. Treat it as a free class.” (Zara is very persuasive.) So I auditioned. And, much to my enormous surprise, I got in.

I tell you this last story partly because I’m excited and showing off, and partly because it’s slowly dawning on me that other people have a higher opinion of my ability than I do. Surely that isn’t right? And surely, if I really were thinking up, I wouldn’t have needed either my friend or Zara to give me the push I needed to get going? It’s only been four months so far, but I’m wondering how long it will take to make thinking up a habit, rather than something I have to choose to do. Changing yourself is hard, y’all.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Harem dancers: Susan Hayward and Sylvia Lewis in "The Conqueror"

Careful with that sword, Dr Freud
I recently reviewed Karla Rae Fuller's excellent Hollywood Goes Oriental: CaucAsian Performance in American Film for FilmWerk. (You can read my whole tedious ramble here.) One of the films Fuller singles out for shaming is the Howard Hughes-produced epic folly The Conqueror (1956), and it sounded so batshit insane that I just had to look it up. Also, it promised not one but TWO instances of harem dancing.

Fuller focuses on the horrifying spectacle of John Wayne in yellowface as Genghis Khan (I shit you not although he lobbied hard for the role at the time, when asked later in life what he was thinking when he accepted it, Wayne purportedly replied "I was drunk"), but I was delighted by the clips I've got lined up for you today.

The Conqueror was thoroughly vanquished at the box office, and went down not only as one of the biggest flops of the 1950s, but as one of the worst films of all time: which would have been bad enough, even if making it hadn't given cancer to nearly half of the people involved in making it.* Hughes, ever the man who would not be denied, insisted on filming in St John, Utah even though it was known to be just downwind of a nuclear test site.

Of the 220 people in the cast and crew, 91 of them went on to develop some form of cancer (including the director and stars Wayne, Agnes Moorhead and Susan Hayward) and, by 1981, 46 of them had died from the disease. A guilt-stricken Hughes, convinced that it was The Conqueror's location that was responsible for the spate of ill-health, bought every copy of the film for $12 million and watched it obsessively until the end of his life.

You put your right leg in, your right leg out...
And who could blame him? Despite the casual racism and stomach-churning misogyny (Wayne spends much of the film threatening Hayward with rape), The Conqueror does dance scenes in the way only CinemaScope extravaganzas from the 1950s can.

The lovely and hugely talented Susan Hayward died in 1975, from pneumonia that she contracted while battling a brain tumour. She left behind an impressive body of work that saw her win a Best Actress Oscar for the brilliantly titled I Want to Live!, a biopic of murderer Barbara Graham. (She won an Oscar for playing a real killer before Charlize Theron made it cool.) All up, she was nominated for five Academy Awards over the course of her career  not all harem dancers were flash-in-the-pan starlets or B-grade eye-candy! We can blame/thank John Wayne for dragging her into The Conqueror; they'd worked together before.

Here she is as Bortai, dancing with a sword. (The pic at right is from the excellent Peplums blog.) I love it when these cheesy scenes are enlivened with props!:

Sylvia Lewis appears in an uncredited role that we'll call "The Sultan's Lady from Sarakand." From the 1950s to the 1980s, Lewis was one of Hollywood's go-to choreographers for TV and variety shows. She retired from dancing in 1971 and is now in her 80s. Her filmography lists Harem Girl (1952) and Siren of Bagdad (1953), and if those movies don't see her harem dancing I'll eat my fez. If I can find clips I'll be sure to post them! 

This next scene from The Conqueror was actually cut from the original theatrical release because it was too raunchy. It's too bad so few people have been able to see this scene. Her costume alone is a thing of wonder. I could be wrong, but it looks Ballets Russes-inspired:

As an aside, one of the other uncredited dancers to appear in The Conqueror was a very young Barrie Chase, who I've posted about before.

*In fairness, I should note that there's no empirical proof to support a causal link between the The Conqueror and the cancers developed by the cast and crew Moorhead and Wayne, in particular, were famously heavy smokers.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Good to meet you: Naima of Spain

As long-time  readers may have gathered, I like old-school-film-dancer-lady-types. *wipes nose on sleeve and leers at you in an unsavoury way*

This has paid off in a way I never imagined - on an old post dedicated to Leila aka Lisa Guiraut, I got the following pulse-raising comment (translated from the Spanish):
Hello! My mother was friends with Leila when she acted in Mohammedia (Morocco) in the 60s. I am very interested to contact her on behalf of my mother so they can be reunited.

I too am a bellydancer and I just performed a tribute to Leila. My video "Naima - Raks Mustapha" is on Youtube.

Leila we miss you! Write to naimabellydancer @
Wow. The odds of Lisa Guiraut finding this blog are slim-to-nil, but let me tell you all right now that I found Naima's tribute to her on YouTube and she's done Lisa proud.

Raks Mustapha is by George Abdo. Here's Naima's video. It's slammin':

Monday, 9 April 2012

Monday Mind-Melt: Sherihan

A short while ago I posted about Florence Foster Jenkins, and put her forward as an unlikely dance inspiration. Then I got a clip on my Facebook wall from a reader of this blog who may or may not wish to remain anonymous, with the comment, “Do you know about this WONDER of the world? Sherihan is one of my top 10 inspirations, always!” 
This is the picture they use in the dictionary under '1980s glamour'
This lovely lady is Sherihan Ahmed Abdul Fattah Al Shalaqany (spelt any way you like, but generally as Sherihan). Obviously, she’s a vintage superstar and it shames me to the bow on my La Senza that I had never heard of her. But it’s like Perry Farrell said (and I paraphrase) – “Don't go around being all like, ‘I was into peace before you were.’ Just be glad other people are getting into peace.”
A star is born

As befits a mega diva, Sherihan’s autobiography is a litany of tragedies, scandals, dark rumours and family intrigues. I'm basing most of this potted bio on info from – if it’s a load of old cobbler’s, then it’s their fault.

Sherihan’s an actress, born 9 December 1964 to an unmarried mother, Awatef Hashem, who died in 1987. (As an adult, it would take Sherihan seven years to prove her paternity in court.) Her brother was renowned actor and guitarist Omar Khourshid (d. 1981), and she has two sisters – Hwaida, whose husband is film director Karim Diaa El Din, and Gihan.

At the ripe old age of 12, Sherihan made her first movie, 1977’s Ketta Ala Al-Nar (A Cat on Fire). She played the grand-daughter of Farid Shawky and the niece of Pousy and Nour El Sherif.

In addition to appearing in more movies and film roles than you can shake a sai’idi stick at, she was famous for her dynamic dance numbers aired during the Fawazeer shows of ramadan. These are the sources for the jaw-dropping extravaganzas that are the guts of today’s post.

Despite what you may think from the clips you’re about to enjoy, her life was not all cheap special effects and lavish khaleegi dresses. In 1989, she had a serious car accident and it was feared she’d be permanently paralysed. She spent three years in a Parisian hospital recovering.

Dark rumour number one
Here’s the first of two, very-dark-indeed rumours I uncovered in the shady backstreets of the internet: Sherihan’s car accident may not have been a car accident at all. She was thought to be romantically involved at the time with Alaa Mubarak – son of the recently ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni – and that the Mubarak family had her thrown from the seventh storey of an apartment building. For the record, Sherihan denies both the relationship and the allegation that she was the victim of attempted murder. On the other hand, if the Mubaraks had thrown you from a window and you’d survived, you wouldn't want to tempt fate again, would you?

Things get even stranger and darker in 1997, when Sherihan was accused of being the driver in a hit-and-run that killed young girl, Marina. Conveniently, however, Sherihan was able to provide a cast-iron alibi because she was in London for medical treatment at the time and all charges in relation to the case were dropped. [Reports that the whole awful affair, including Marinas death, was organised by the Mubarak family are products of The Raqasas fevered imagination and could not be confirmed at press time.]

A veiled threat to the Mubaraks
At some point (sorry, gang, I don’t know when), Sherihan was diagnosed with cancer after a tumour formed on her face, which was removed with 17 hours of surgery. Perhaps deciding that the Mubaraks/vehicle manufacturers and her own mutant cells were trying to tell her something, Sherihan turned her back on showbiz and adopted the hijab. (It’s happened before – remember Nadia Hamdi?)

She married a wealthy Jordanian businessman, Ala Al Khawaja, and they have two daughters, Loulwa and Taliya.

Appropriately enough, after a saga like that, her last movie was 2001’s Al-Eshk Wal-Damm (Love and Blood). To the great excitement of fans everywhere, however, in January this year reported that she will be returning to television in Cinderella's Tears, to air during ramadan.

This announcement coincided with a return to public life. She was seen protesting with anti-Government demonstrators in Tahrir Square, and apparently no longer wears the hijab [see pic below]. Here’s the second dark rumour: on 27 May 2011, she was “stalked and harassed in a disgusting way” by police in Tahrir Square. Kinda glad I don’t know any more on that one.

Anyway – onward! Or at least – backward, to the recent past!

This first clip is the one that started it all on my Facebook wall. I think that if Nina Hagen had been an Egyptian pop star with the sensibilities of early Madonna, her stuff would have looked a lot like this. There’s a delightful kitchen scene that appears to have nothing to do with anything and is over in the blink of an eye, more costume changes than you can count, lots and lots of neon, a reference to the legend of Cleopatra rolling herself in a rug to be delivered to Caesar, and, presumably because the director didn’t want anyone getting bored, some polka dots:

As for this second one ... the whole Disney-Princess shtick followed by the guru-like father figure who crushes the young lovers in his palm at 2.59 could provide fodder for psych students’ PhD dissertations for years to come (and has -- thanks to "Anonymous" for pointing out it's labelled "1001 Nights"):

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Happy Easter!

From almostfamous's Flickr stream
Please do celebrate the blessed miracle of baby Jesus being pushed into an egg and transformed into a chocolate bunny with this splendid image. I searched for a "bellydance egg" without much hope of finding one, but she who has no faith in the internet may as well trade her laptop for an Etch-a-Sketch. Amen.

Having featured a zombie belly dancer and threatened you with the fires of Hell last Easter - yes, you, with your wanton hips and your love of moving to music! How very dare you - I thought this year I'd give you something nice. On that note, those of you who have had the post on Sherihan pop up in your feed, only to click the link and find it gone, despair not. I took the post down and have rescheduled it for Easter Monday because I found out some more mondo-bizarro, amazeballs stuff about her that NEEDED to be included.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Stars of the 1950s: Hind Rostom

Ages ago, on 17 January, I promised a post on Hind Rostom, and here it is. (You'll find a clip of Hind dancing with a shamadan at the link, along with a bit of extra info.) Technically Hind was a movie star, but her roles generally relied more on her abilities as a raqasa than her acting chops.

Hind was born in Alexandria, Egypt on 11 November 1929 to a middle-class father and an aristocratic mother. At 16 she made her first film, Azhaar wa Ashwak (Flowers and Thorns).

In 1955 she hit the big time when famous director Hassan Al Imam offered her a role in Banat el Lail (Women of the Night). I'm pretty sure it was about women working the night shift at an orphanage. Ahem.

She then starred in a huge number of films (detailed on her Wikipedia page, where I've sourced all her biographical information).

She all but retired in 1979, and once refused a huge amount of money to release the rights to her life story, but she did make this television appearance in 2010. There are a lot of clips from her film career and show an 80-year-old Hind looking as lovely and vivacious as you can imagine. Since this includes scenes from Struggle on the Nile, with Omar Sharif, I won't include them below:

Hind died on 8 August 2011 following a heart attack.

Here she is with the just-as-legendary Farid Al-Atrache in the classic Inta Habibi. Hind has a lot of dance scenes in this film, but this is one of the most fun:

Hind could bust a move but wasn't much of a singer. Whenever a role required her to sing, Nadia Fahmy supplied her voice. Here's Hind channelling Nadia for Eldonya Kasaat, from the film Al Jassad (note the castanets):

And now here she is dancing in 1957's Oshaq Elleil:

Finally, here's a longer clip of Hind busting it out Baladi-styles for 1958's Touha. You can see why Fifi Abdou was a fan!

If you are hungry for more Hind, there's more than you'll ever be able to cope with over at the YouTube channel dedicated to her.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

April Fools' Day with Cihangir Gümüstürkmen

A tip of the hat to the lovely Anthea Kawakib who originally linked to this on Twitter (find her: @TribeO).

Today's umlaut-heavy dancer is the spectacular Mr Cihangar Gümüstürkmen, performing as his alter ego Sibel Istanbul. It's immediately obvious - even behind all the gurning and pratfalling - that Cihangar is a raqs performer par excellence. Every time I thought that I'd got the gist of this and was going to stop watching, Cihangar pulled out another great move or clever gag that kept me watching to the end. This is a really affectionate piss-take without a mean bone in its body - you'll recognise this dancer, but not as anyone you actually know!

If you dug this, you can keep up with the multi-facted artist, musician and performer via his Facebook pages and his website.

And if you're in Dresden on 2 and 3 June, you can catch him in performance and do a drum solo workshop with him too. Lucky you!