Monday, November 20, 2006


[posted by Callimachus]

This weekend the wife and I went to see a performance of Bellydance Superstars, a traveling revue featuring some of the top names in the American branch of the ancient art.

Somehow I came out of this getting praised for being one of the few husbands who would willingly sit through a series of sensual dances performed by striking and supple women in glamorous and revealing costumes. Some days I just feel lucky.

Seriously, though, I've been a fan of this art form for many years, and I was particularly impressed by the work of two of the dancers we saw Sunday, Petite Jamilla and Moria. Both impressed me, though they hardly could be more different, since each represents one of the two different paths of development in modern American belly-dance.

Jamilla exemplifies the older cabaret-based style of bellydance: outgoing, entertaining, welcoming. This type of dance is a performance for an audience. Here she is:

Moria, on the other hand, performs in the "tribal" style that has been percolating on the West Coast: tribal-style belly dance is more intentionally expression than entertainment. This approach to the dance turns it from the performance, toward the personal. When you watch it, you feel more like you're eavesdropping. Its costuming also sets it apart: goth-influenced, based in black, and dripping with chunky accessories.

Here's Moria in classic Tribal dance garb:

In general, I favor cabaret style, though Tribal, when it's done well, leaves me in awe of the artistry and athleticism.

Yet Jamilla and Moria were most impressive to me in dances that transcended these styles.

Jamilla performed a four-veil dance with dervish intensity, in which she seemed deeply tranced.

[Here she is in a more standard number. You'll get a sense of her complete, natural confidence]:

And Moria held me rapt with her share of a bellydance-flamenco fusion number.

Afterwards, I read Moria has a background in yoga, and realizing that made everything click. Tribal dance tends to be so focused on intense single motions, but when you string it all together as a dance, the effect can be mechanical in less capable dancers. Moria's motion flowed from hips to belly and up into her arms. It was literally fluid, where it might have been modular, and she allowed it to appear both intense and effortless.

Here she is in a different performance:

Tribal, of course, is heavily indebted to the delightful Rachel Brice, a genius of movement. She works herself into the performance so completely that she reaches the breathless height where the dancer becomes indistinguishable from the dance. Here's Rachel:

I can't find a good video clip of Moria. But I've seen many dancers try to follow in Rachel's footsteps. Moria actually can keep up with her, and not merely imitate.

Yet all this we saw in a private school auditorium, with a few dozen vocal fans in the audience. Afterward, we mingled with the dancers. Here's a picture of me with Petite Jamilla (on the right) and Colleen, another excellent veteran dancer in the troupe. How can I make this relevant to you? In the world of belly-dance, these are incomparable stars. If I were like many of my co-workers, and obsessed with late '60s rock, this would be like standing with Bob Dylan on one arm and Neil Young on the other. Take my word for it, though: My situation above is on the whole much more pleasant.