Saturday, 26 January 2013

Sayonara, Saroyan zills

Yesterday my Twitter, Facebook, blog roll and email was awash with the sad news that Harry Saroyan is retiring and the company that bears his name will not continue.

Anala over at The Practical Dancer has already compiled a handy list of online traders who still have his zills in stock.

If you're in the UK and don't want to pay international shipping tax, when I checked yesterday Aladdin's Cave had some. (Hat tip to Razia Star for the tip-off.) Be aware, however, that they were already down to "1 item left" on some sets, and as of this morning had created a whole new category for Saroyan zills (yesterday they were still filed under 'accessories').

Clearly, this is the belly dancer's equivalent of an oil crisis. I am off to class this morning with my own, now very precious, brass Arabesque Saroyans (pictured) and will try to play my best for Harry.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Our resident agony aunt brings the pain (again)

After some months spent spawning, shimmying and feasting in the depths of the Southern Ocean, Jilly the Belly Dancing Colossal Squid and Agony Aunt triumphantly returns to sort out the dazed from the confused.

'Vilified in Vermont' can't understand why belly dance and lap dance can't coexist in the same routine (at the risk of giving away the ending, Jilly is less than impressed), and Busty of Amersham has a costume query.

Dear Jilly the Belly Dancing blah blah blah

My friends have reacted REALLY BADLY to a recent performance of mine that I uploaded to YouTube, and I wanted to warn your other readers that their so-called ‘friends’ may also desert them in a heartbeat.

Basically, I was doing a restaurant performance when I noticed a younger man (17 or 18-ish) deep in conversation with his parents. I hate that – my attitude is that when I am working you’re going to pay attention to me. So I pulled his chair out, straddled his lap and gently licked his earlobe before swinging my leg over his head to give him a good view of Paradise. I then resumed my routine. It was literally over in 1 minute and 15 seconds. Big deal, right?

Well, I have fallen foul of the Shimmy Stasi, apparently: according the self-appointed Guardians of the Dance I am not ever supposed to touch my audience. WTF? I have been using the ‘lick and display’ to focus audiences for years and no one has said Boo. More fool me for uploading that clip to YouTube! If I hadn’t done that, no one would have been any the wiser. Instead, I have lost several workshop sponsors and numerous Facebook ‘likes.’ I had no idea that this alleged ‘community’ was so prudish and judgmental. Prudish about some things, that is; I cannot bring myself to tell you the names hurled at me.

It doesn’t seem to matter that I have spent the last 5 years building up my good karma and belly dance cred through shaming other dancers for their slutty costumes and skanky moves on the Bhuz forums. Now I’m ‘little more than a stripper’, and ‘have lost all claim to being an exponent of the dance’. Why? Because I want to make a living? That guy wouldn’t know belly dancing from bologna so who gives a damn what I did.

If these lemon-lipped haters want me to be sorry, I’m not – they can go **** themselves. My only regret is making use of YouTube for something other than cat videos.


Vilified in Vermont

Dear Vilified

First of all, HOLLA at my girl Roshanna, who is the only one of you who bothered to lament my absence during my long confinement. That's cool; I'm a squid and therefore don't crave affection. Which is lucky for everyone except Roshanna, otherwise I would warn you to be very cautious next time you go boating. I mean, do be cautious next time you go boating, but only because boating is inherently risky. Not because large tentacles may suddenly drag you to a watery doom.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes...Vilified in Vermont and her controversial dance moves.

Perhaps I’m just a stupid squid, Vilified -- OK, a colossally stupid squid, boom boom! -- but I can’t see the part of your letter that asks for advice. As best I can figure, the Belly Dance Police has issued you with a sleazing ticket and you’d like to appeal, would you? Well, tough luck Toots, because you’ve caught me in a prudish and judgmental mood and you lost your case at ‘straddled’. Even had you chosen less evocative language, you may be hoisted by your own petard on the following grounds:

‘Licked his earlobe’. Who taught you to dance? An anteater? Do you know why he was deep in conversation with his parents? Was it because one of them was disclosing a terminal illness he may inherit himself one day? Sorry to be so heavy, but I have a feeling that it's going to take blunt instruments to make you see how oh-so-very-wrong your behaviour was.

‘A good view of Paradise’. Oh, please. ‘Paradise’ is where many people would like to think they’ll go when they die. It’s not a stranger’s genitals, and it’s not somewhere anyone -- let alone a teenage boy -- wants to go when they’re eating dinner with their parents. C'mon, girl, were you raised by sea otters? Because let me tell you, those guys are shameless.

‘1 minute and 15 seconds’. Translation: An eternity. Especially for a 17 year old at dinner with his parents. I seriously can't get over this. Legally he's a CHILD, woman!

‘Lick and display’. By all the souls in Davy Jones’ Locker, please tell me it’s not even worse than it seems and somehow related to ‘scratch and sniff’.

You spent years shaming other dancers for letting down the image of raqs, while all the while you were performing a move you’d christened ‘lick and display.’ I’d call you a hypocrite, but I don’t think you’ve read this far.

“That guy wouldn’t know belly dancing from bologna so who gives a damn what I did.” Oh, honey. Again, I would explain why this attitude is wrong on every level, but you’re probably not here anymore.

All I can really do is hope that you’ve realised that a skin-crawlingly sordid performance is a skin-crawlingly sordid performance whether it winds up on YouTube or not. (The younger generation really do seem believe in ‘It’s online or it didn’t happen’, which is rather mystifying to those of us over 30 who wonder whether our lives pre-1995 were some sort of Philip K Dick-esque implanted dream.)

Finally – you needed to perform ‘lick and display’ for years to focus your audience. Did it really never occur to you that (a) you’re just not a very engaging performer and maybe need to work on that? or (b) there are people in the world who hate belly dancing, and no amount of licking them and humiliating them in public places will make them like it?

Hope this helps, but doubt it does.


Jilly xo

PS: I wondered if my response to you was a bit hysterical, so showed your video to my friend Wanda the Walrus and photographed her reaction. I think it's worth 1,000 words, don't you?

Dear Jilly the Belly Dancing and so forth

Scored myself this totally awesome bra and belt set on ebay, my teacher says the bra will never fit me because of the way it’s made and I need to sell it. I guess she thinks I’ll sell it to her cheap HAHA but it’s a really tasty set, so I’ll just use a bit of tape or something to hold on the bra and if I have a nip slip it’s just too bad. I have great boobs LOL, but obvs would rather not have one flop out randomly so what kind of tape do you recommend?

Lots of luv

Busty in Amersham

Dear Busty

You're not serious, are you? I need a drink.

Hope this helps!


Jilly xo

Friday, 18 January 2013


Wherein the blogger formerly known as The Raqasa goes to her first photo shoot.

The first proper post of the year! FINALLY. In my defence, however, I have been extremely lazy.

You may notice I have retired The Raqasa as a blogger identity. It was all getting too much -- one alter ego will do fine. So 'Ramona' it is from now on; on Twitter, the blog and in front of an audience. Now that I am getting serious about dancing in public after the modest success of the Year of Thinking Up, I’ve had a couple of requests for photos and I didn’t have anything suitable. Ramona needs a bit of help becoming a real person.

So I took a half day off work, and on Wednesday I went to my first-ever photo shoot. Because I was using a gift voucher, it was not at a studio I would have chosen or with a photographer I would have picked (in fact, because of the rather cookie-cutter nature of the enterprise, I got no say in the photographer at all) – but the voucher was for a ‘deluxe makeover and photo shoot’ and, goddammit, I needed my split ends seen to.

I used to find this photo hilarious.
Now that I've seen 100 photos of myself pulling this same face, however,
I feel nothing but sisterhood with this woman.

Apart from the eye-watering, unexpected expense of the whole exercise, it was pretty fun. There were several moments beforehand where, I have to admit, it seemed like a good idea to scoop up my costume and high-tail it to Oxford Circus Tube station before the door could hit me on the butt. The first of these was the studio’s website, where the gallery labelled ‘dancers’ provided image after image of ‘dancers’ of the private variety.

The hair stylist and I had a long, far-too-involved conversation about the future survival prospects for pubic lice. I like to think that I am quite a friendly soul, and comfortable in most social situations and with most people, but I was also brought up with a relatively sound grasp on the concepts of ‘dignity’ and ‘appropriateness’. I relaxed my grip on those concepts. “I guess I would rather have crabs than Chlamydia,” the stylist finally decided, to the obvious distress of the woman in the next chair, who seemed immediately to develop an itchy scalp. Although maybe this wasn't because of the pubic louse conversation, and more to do with the fact that the stylist had just bawled at me over the noise of her hairdryer that my scalp was ‘a bit scabby’. Gee, thanks. Even better, it turns out it's a miracle I'm still alive. ‘Oh, wow! You’re only six years younger than my mum!’ trilled the stylist.

Duly reminded of my impending mortality, after I had had my hair and my scabby scalp sorted out – it was very dry, apparently, so I consented to a treatment at an extra cost of ‘only’ £15 – I was ushered downstairs to makeup where a woman who looked spookily like a young Courtney Cox worked her magic on me. There are no smartarse comments or snide remarks to be made here. She complimented me on my skin, especially given my advanced age, and she didn’t even laugh when I produced pictures to illustrate how I imagined my makeup would look. “It’s OK,” I explained hastily, lest she think I had some reverse form of body dysmorphic disorder, “I know I don’t look like Sophia Loren or Claudia Cardinale. I just like the style.” She did, however, charge me an extra £5 to apply my false eyelashes, and give me a list of all the products she’d used on my face along with their prices. At this point I was feeling less like I was being made over and more like I was being done over.

As I waited for my turn in front of the camera, I could vaguely make out my blurry reflection in the shiny black door of the studio. With my heavy black eye makeup and bright lipstick, my face was reduced to an abstract depiction of two smudgy tarantulas advancing in parallel on a large chilli. I began to doubt the wisdom of wearing the false lashes. But I'd just paid £5 to have them implanted, so they were bloody well staying.

All trace of the many, many decades I have survived erased from my puss under several layers of concealer, my hair lustrous, and my scalp de-flaked, it was time to fill in the form to let the photographer know what I was after. From memory, the options were something like:

·         Contemporary (lots of modern backdrops and funky poses)
·         Portrait (3/4 length and head and shoulders)
·         Nude/lingerie*
·         Fashion
·         Photographer’s choice

I need these photos for:

·         CV/LinkedIn profile
·         Family album
·         Performance/professional use (dancer/actor/etc)
·         Private
·         Fashion portfolio

*All our photographers are fully trained professionals and our studio areas are private.
Try as I might, I couldn’t imagine stripping off to my smalls-or-nothing-at-alls in that very chilly basement studio. Based on the photos on the walls, however, many other people could.
The photographer had a very strong Italian accent, which is not material except that it adds a lot of colour to the story if you bear that in mind. His name was Spanish, so for the purposes of this tale I’m going to call him Juan. Juan, who, as the form promised, was totally professional and really likeable, thought my surname was hilarious. I am OK with that – ‘Moody’ is a pretty evocative surname. Despite me making it very clear that I was a belly dancer, he seemed to believe I was a stripper from the 1950s.

“OK, my belly dancer, you are going to shake it for me, huh?” he winked, swinging his shoulders around in the universal gesture for Hoochie Coochie. (Yes, but he was obviously joking.) I gave him what I hoped was my best tolerant smile. “I’m just going to pose. I’m not going to dance for you; there’s no music and I’m too nervous.” Hoping to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible, I went off to get changed.

“What if I pay you?” Juan called after me, but I figured I could get away with pretending I hadn’t heard him. Unfortunately, my folkloric outfit was not what Juan had in mind either. “What is this?” he pouted when I appeared clad head to foot in an Assuit dress. “OK, well, still, with the pose, think ‘Out of the cake!’”

Freezing him with my eyes didn't work. And then something great happened. “Mooo-ooo-dy! You are so moody, c’mon. Smile at me, don’t be angry. And shoulders back and down and tilt your pelvis please,” and at this point I laughed until I got the stitch because I realised that Juan was actually just every teacher I have ever had IN DISGUISE. After that the whole thing was a lot more fun.

“You look like something out of Aladdin!” he laughed when I appeared in my ‘tribute to Jamila Salimpour pantaloons and coin bra’ outfit.

“Well, maybe that’s good, because I feel like a drag queen.”

“Ah, Mooo-dy. I did not like to say...”

So to the aftermath, in which I had to pick one photo out of the 170 taken in order to avoid paying any more money. A photo that I would not own the rights to, and that I would not be given a digital version of.

“Can I not pick some at home and buy them later? I mean, just one photo is pretty hard to choose out of all these.”

“No, because we don’t keep them. Sorry. You’ll have to choose now. And the smallest package we have will cost you the naming rights to your first child, a sample of your DNA to use however we wish and 10% of whatever you make from now until the day you die.”

Reader, I fell for it. And although I kinda bargained, I still feel a bit ill that I am on the first direct debit payment I have set up from my personal account since 2005. And yes, telling The Man when I got home was a bit awkward. (As it turns out, I was ‘just meant to enjoy the experience’ and not buy any photos, but that’s easier said than done when someone is pushing you to make an impossible decision on the spot and you have just spent literally three and a half hours of your life trying to get a good snap of yourself for the Hafla on the Hill website and ohmygod you are really sick of looking through all the photos you have of yourself and realising that in nearly all of them you are either eating or hiding behind someone else.)

BUT. BUT. BUT. I do now own these photos. The poses are generically cheesy. (No, I didn’t buy the ones where he had me recline on a couch with one arm up over my head. *shudder*) The lighting is flattering to the point of too much. The makeup is heavy. And as happy as I am with the results, I will organise my own shoot next time so that I am not taken aback by anything. Just as soon as I finish paying for this, of course.

So, to paraphrase Tyra Banks, my best shot's after the jump.