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.