Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My new hobby, inspired by WIP research

For some reason there's a lot of dance in my writing. In Lharmell there's a Pride and Prejudice-inspired reel, in another WIP there's ballet and in book two of the trilogy, The Harmings, there is sword dancing, courtly dancing and bellydance. I love to dance and took lessons in jazz, tap and ballet for about eight years as a child. I was never any good, really, and never got higher than a credits in my exams. I remember when I attended one ballet school, one which I loved and actually pushed the dancers to excel--it being the only time when I could almost, almost do the splits--the girls who got high distinctions for their exams were awarded these magnificent golden trophies with a ballet dancer atop a crown. Needless to say, I hankered after the pretty, pretty things. But never got one.

YouTube is one of my favourite places to research things like glassblowing and castles and dance. When I was researching bellydance, a video I came across was this one, featuring famous US bellydancer Sadie:

I mean, wow. How do you make your diaphragm vibrate like that? I showed Zapp this clip and he said bellydance had always made him uncomfortable as he thought of it as a purely for the entertainment of men and likened it to stripping. He was surprised that I, who bristles over pole dancing going mainstream, was interested in it. Hollywood has certainly depicted the dance in this way: slave girls and harem girls in classic films entertaining men, wearing very little. But I've done some research and the iconic bra and belt combination (know as a bedlah, Arabic for "suit" pictured below) is actually a Western invention that has been picked up by not only dancers in the west, but Middle Eastern dancers as well.

This is the sort of outfit that springs to mind when someone mentions belly dance. The bra and belt combination is actually a Western invention that has been popularised in the last hundred years or so by both Western and Middle Eastern dancers. The girl in the picture is Sadie again. Lord, but she's stunning!

I was curious as to the history of bellydance and couldn't find much about it that was comprehensive on the net. I borrowed two books from the library that were very helpful, Tina Hobin's Belly Dance: The dance of Mother Earth and Bellydance by Keti Sharif.

Both books are highly informative and give a history of bellydance. Hobin's is the most comprehensive, going back over thousands of years of history to discuss depictions of dance in rock paintings and in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Sharif's book is shorter but contained the best explanation of the the "cabaret" style of bellydance that Westerners are familiar with compared to the localised forms of Middle Eastern folk dance. She also has a very good description, and pictures, of traditional dress. To comply with Islamic law, the costumes are high necked and long sleeved, and always include a head scarf and a covered belly, but are often as glitzy as the bra and belt combinations.

Hobin discusses with great detail the origins of the dance. In Ancient Egypt, dance was performed at weddings, funerals, religious festivals and private feasts. Throughout antiquity and into modern times, the dance has been linked to prostitution, but also with birthing rights. The snakelike movements were meant to ease the baby into the world and were performed by the mother and the women close to her. Women were allowed to dance until they were married, but not afterward. During the Ottoman rule in Turkey, around 500 AD, women in the harem practised the dance to alleviate boredom. "Harem" is the name for the women-only part of the household, the room to which the wives, daughters, concubines and slaves of rich men were confined. It sounds like a very tedious, catty existence.

Many contemporary bellydancers reject the idea that the dance had anything to do, at any time in history, with prostitution or the entertainment of men. Rather they claim the dance evolved exclusively as a birthing ritual. Some of these dancers can be seen on YouTube in skimpy cabaret outfits dancing as men tuck money into their belts. The performances seem to have remarkably little to do with birth--the latter stages of, at least.

Bellydance's diverse history has allowed the evolution of many styles. I love Rachel Brice's fearsome take on the dance, and the many sword and candelabra dances that I have seen.

Rachel Brice performing a heavily stylised drum solo. I love how she manages to convey grace and beauty with a sense of touch-me-and-I'll-break-your-arm.

To complement my usual yoga and pilates, I've enrolled in bellydance classes at Azura's Oasis in Brunswick. I had my first class last week and it was so much fun! Yoga and pilates are all well and good, but conquering a particular pose was beginning to seem rather dull. Pilates is hardly a skill, whereas learning a new style of dance is. And bellydance is one of the very few styles of dance that grown women can learn. Also, you can do it by yourself, unlike partnered dances like salsa and flamenco. Having a new hobby is also helping to take my mind off Lharmell being on submission!

Does anybody else take dance lessons? What sort of dance do you enjoy? Also, has novel research flowed over into a new hobby for you before?


  1. Yay! Another bellydancing fantasy writer!!! Ive been belly dancing for like 10 years or something, taking classes, traveling to workshops, teaching and performing at faires and in restaurants. Its SO much fun. You did a pretty decent job with the history. Now the bedlah is only adopted by caberet dancers. Rachel Brice is my Hero! Ive watched that dance like 1,000 times. Rachel's particular style is tribal fusion, based off of American Tribal Style or ATS which began in California in the 1970's by Carolina Nericcio of Fat Chance Belly Dance. They incorporated folkloric moves from all over the world and perform in a group-totally improvised using their own secret language to communicate what move to dance next. Tribal fusion takes that earthy style-as well as a more conservative and culture clashing costume and translates the dance into a solo performance. I studied caberet for about 5 years before switching to tribal fusion and ATS. You'll love it! It's soooooo much fun!!! Also, I totally own those books:-)

  2. Yay Frankie! Wow, ten years. I'm so impressed! I'm starting out with the cabaret style too, and then will think about moving on to others. Gotta learn the basics, right! Bellydance is so huge in the US, you must have awesome workshops and stuff. There's a Middle Eastern dance festival in Sydney at the end of April that I'm just dying to attend. I should be just beginning to be competent in a figure eight by then!

  3. Nope, never tried belly dancing, but you make it look enticing. And what beautiful costumes! Best of luck with the new hobby!

  4. I was going to suggest you hook up with Frankie, but I see I'm a little late - I should have known you'd find each other! :-)

    Fascinating post, Rhiannon !

  5. Wow I loved those videos--what fantastic dancers. I was especially impressed with how graceful the arm movements are in comparison to the musculature of the body movement. I took a few belly dancing classes years ago just for fun.

  6. I've been wanting to try bellydancing for a few years now and I should just buckle down and go and try it out. I love watching it though, especially at Ren Faires.

  7. Wow, it originates in birthing rituals? That's incredibly interesting! Research sure is fun.

    Enjoy your dance classes. I've taken a little 1940s jitterbug with my hubby. Sadly, it was not a success--he has a terrible sense of rhythm, despite 13 years of piano.

  8. I always thought belly dancing was so classy...I know its never really supposed to seem that way, but everytime I see someone belly dancing I'm like, "now thats on classy lady".

    Good luck with your lessons, and I'm looking forward to the inevitable YouTube vid :D

  9. I'm surprised you don't like the idea of poledancing dude, its amazing for body strength and for body confidence, and the classes aren't usually done in front of the average groping male! I feel about it the same way as I feel about burlesque dancing (Dita Von Teese/ Pussycat Dolls-style), which I did last year - it could be seen as something sexist, but I found it to be extremely confidence building (even hula dancing was involved!) - it gets you "in touch with your feminine side" and I find myself thinking about posing more attractively during every day life, now that I know what post to strike! :) I'm sure belly-dancing is similar in that confidence-building way, do you think?


  10. My daughter does belly dancing. I never thought of putting it into my manuscript, but wowiezowie, what a great idea. She says anyone can learn it, even I could. (HA!)

    Have fun.

  11. Okay, I just found something I thought you'd be interested in...

    Or perhaps you've already seen this? In any case: what are your thoughts?

    Dystopian Challenge 2010

  12. Oh yes, definitely. Research is fascinating. My AP English teach taught us belly dancing (of all people). Sadly she said I could never do it professionally because I have no hips. Alas. My dreams shattered at such a young age.

  13. It's great that your research has lead you to such a great new hobby.

    I have been saying for a long while now that I would love to take up belly dancing lessons. However, first I need to get some advice from my doctor on whether or not I can do it as I popped out my right knee cap a few years ago. Second, all the places that do classes around here are in town and I think they are all at night too so I might wait until I have my own car first. Getting public transport there and back at night is always a bit scary.

  14. Man, I would LOVE to learn to bellydance! I would probably never do it with another human in the room, but still! It's so mesmerizing and awesometastic.

  15. So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Egyptian Gods but i want to say thing to u Ancient Egypt not that only ... you can see in Ancient Egypt Ancient Egypt Map and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,