Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Around the world in 80 sways

Written by: Lina Das
Last updated at 8:00 PM on 27th September 2008

They've performed for crown princes and rock stars in a 'celebration of femininity and sensuality' that attracts dancers from 17 to 70. Meet the Bellydance Superstars who are back to shake up the UK.

A disused missile launch base overlooking Los Angeles is not the first place one would expect to find a troupe of exotically dressed beauties, but the Bellydance Superstars, currently pulling elegant shapes in front of a bemused mix of joggers, dogs and passers-by, have played to stranger audiences than this.

Petite Jamilla, a pretty 25-year-old, has done her time dancing in Turkish restaurants ('at times it was horrible – luckily my parents insisted on chaperoning me to every job'), while Bozenka, the dancer credited with honing the belly-dancing skills of hip-swivelling singer Shakira ('Every girl comes to me saying they want to dance like Shakira!'), performed for Hugh Hefner ('he was surrounded by beautiful women and I felt like I was part of some bizarre scene; I did my half hour and left').

Audiences, like family members, can't often be chosen. But in the case of the Bellydance Superstars, they are certainly expanding. The world's most famous belly-dancing troupe, they have performed to more than a million people since their inception six years ago.

Formed by Miles Copeland (the man who guided Sting's career for a quarter of a century), the group has taken a niche dance form and turned it into a worldwide business.

They have performed for luminaries as diverse as Prince Albert of Monaco and rock star Alice Cooper, and in a move akin to taking ice to the Eskimos, the troupe, consisting almost entirely of Americans, has even performed to rapturous applause in the Middle East.

This October sees them touring Britain – a country proving itself to be a surprising hotbed of belly-dance activity.

Recently, Cambridge graduate Emma Chapman made headlines when she decided to forgo her job as a research scientist to become a full-time belly dancer, and who can forget the look of rapture on Simon Cowell's face when contestant Sophie Mei got to last season's semi-final of Britain's Got Talent with her mesmerising belly-dance routine?

There are now more than 1,000 belly-dance classes dotted around the UK and what was once seen solely as a dance performed by largish ladies in restaurants of dubious repute is now viewed as a legitimate career.

None of this would have been possible without the canny guidance of 64-year-old Copeland, the troupe's manager.

'Initially, I got a lot of flak from the belly-dance community who were worried that it was all going to be about pretty young girls in revealing costumes. The way I see it, it's a celebration of femininity and sensuality; our audiences are roughly 70 per cent women to 30 per cent men.'

The girls themselves are at pains to stress that their performance is sensual rather than sexual.

Yes, the girls are young and pretty; yes, their costumes are cut to emphasise their feminine curves (low-cut bras and waist-revealing, floor-length skirts) and yes, the chaps around us are having trouble pulling themselves together, but it's hard to imagine any of these women allowing anyone to shovel notes into their bra straps (though, apparently, the correct etiquette for showing appreciation of a belly dancer is to sprinkle notes over her head).
FORMER JOB Worked in a café
SHE SAYS 'I cried when I first saw belly-dancing 20 years ago because it was so moving. I learned the moves by buying all the tapes I could find and copying the movements frame by frame'

KAMI LIDDLE, 27 (right)

FORMER JOB Manager in charge of loading aircraft

SHE SAYS 'We'd just got back from Taiwan and there were queues around the block for our autographs. It was like Beatlemania!'

MORIA CHAPPELL, 29 (centre)

FORMER JOB Make-up artist

SHE SAYS 'For my costume I wear about 34 medallions, seven bangles, five rings and four necklaces. It takes me about two hours to get ready for every show and about 100 hours to create my costume.
Samantha Hasthorpe, 28, from Devon – the only Brit in the troupe – scoffs at the idea that the dance is a sexual one. 'It's not the kind of dance where you see us going up to guys and sitting on their knees, which is the image I'd had previously of belly dancing,' she says. 'We dance as a group, not solo, and we couldn't care less if anyone's watching us. I feel completely empowered when I'm performing and I'm definitely not pandering to anyone but myself.'

The girl power message is one articulated by all of the dancers. Bozenka, a half-Czech, half-Cuban dancer, holds workshops around the world.

'Lots of my students get into belly-dancing as a way of getting back their self-esteem,' she says.

'One had been abused as a young girl. She was painfully shy, and her aunt brought her to my classes to try to bring her out of herself. It took some time, but the process of rehearsing, putting on make-up and feeling comfortable with her body during the classes helped to bring her out of her shell.' Samantha tells a similar story.

'The reason my mum took me to my first belly-dancing class was because I had low self-esteem. I was 16 years old, moody and had no confidence in my looks. Belly-dancing helped change that. I still have moments of self-doubt, but I'm more comfortable with myself and at my happiest when up on stage.'

Another key to belly-dance's appeal is its accessibility. 'I have a 70-year-old grandmother in my class,' says Bozenka.

'She doesn't feel comfortable going to nightclubs any more, but in my class she is welcomed and respected by everybody. That's the great thing about belly-dance – you can be any age or any size. It doesn't matter what you look like.'
BOZENKA, 32 (pictured left)
FORMER JOB Preschool teacher
SHE SAYS 'A friend and I once danced at a party in the Bahamas where Sean Connery was a guest. My friend dragged him and his wife up on stage to dance with us and he was so cute. He kept laughing at the fact that he had two left feet'


FORMER JOB Hod carrier

SHE SAYS 'The guys I used to work with are pretty surprised I've gone from hod carrying to belly dancing, but they're going to come and see me on this tour. The money's not quite as good yet, but I still wouldn't give up dancing for anything'

(real name: Jessica Parrish)
FORMER JOB Belly dancing in restaurants

SHE SAYS 'I started belly dancing when I was three and my mum was doing it till she was 67. It's one of the few dances where a woman can celebrate her body at any age'
It is a message echoed by Copeland, who insists: 'If I found a 60-year-old woman who was as big as a house, but could walk on stage and be alluring and captivating, I'd have her on the show in a second.'

Sadly, that has yet to transpire. The troupe members range in age from 21 to 39, but although they are slim, they are far from skinny.

As the girls undulate and ripple to drummer Issam Houshan's hypnotic beats, I glimpse some reassuring folds of belly among the sequins. And therein lies the success not only of the troupe but also of the dance form.

'As a teenager, I needed a dance that appreciated my curves,' says Petite Jamilla. 'With belly-dancing, it doesn't matter what body shape you are – but I think it helps to have curves.'

However, belly-dancing can also help you lose weight (you can work off anything up to 300 calories with a vigorous shimmy). It also relieves stress and even premenstrual tension.

More importantly though, it enables like-minded women to get together for a bit of a laugh.

'I get letters from women all over America who have formed their own troupes,' says Copeland. 'It's exciting, a bit of risqué fun, and like rock'n'roll in the sense that you feel as if you can get up there and try it yourself.'

And that is precisely the charm of the Bellydance Superstars – a group of normal girls getting the chance to live out their dreams and earn good money (a top-notch Bellydance Superstar can make anything up to £65,000 a year through workshops and DVDs).

Copeland thinks of his dancers as a kind of healing balm, showing America that Middle Eastern culture is nothing to fear and showing the Middle East that women can and should be a force to be reckoned with.

With instructional DVDs, a perfume line and even a Middle East reality TV show in the pipeline, he is not a man with limited ambitions.

'The days when a belly dancer would wobble into a restaurant, do a ten-minute set, then sit around till the following weekend have long gone. I want my dancers to become world famous.'

The Bellydance Superstars will tour the UK from 19-30 October. See bellydancesuperstars.com.

Source: MailOnline

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Hip Hop Grannies

A quirky look at the wonderful sporting habits of real Beijingers, in this case, some 70-year-old hip-hop dancing grannies.

American television correspondent and producer Adam Yamaguchi tries to pick up some hip hop dance moves from these ladies.

Monday, 15 September 2008

It's sport, not sex say Europe champion pole dancers

Published on Sat Sep 13, 2008 11:47am EDT
By Alexandra Hudson

A pole dancer performs during Chopper Night 2008 in Tokyo July 27, 2008. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - It was a busy time for pole dancers in Amsterdam at the weekend.

While the red light district's troupe were gyrating as usual on Friday night, a host of girls from Albania to Spain flew in to compete for the European pole dance championship title.

Wearing sportswear reminiscent of Olympic gymnasts rather than skimpy leotards, girls performed gravity-defying dance routines based around two 6-metre poles -- one rotating, one fixed.

"Everything which we do requires so much strength. You train your legs and your muscles. It has nothing to do with eroticism. You have no time to think of that!" said Jeannine Wikering, the 26-year-old competitor for Germany who came third.

"I think one day it should be an Olympic sport -- but that will take time. You would have to agree which moves on which to judge competitors, at the moment we all have such different routines," she added.

Galina Troschenko, a 36-year-old representing Spain, won the event judged by a panel of five with a virtuoso performance full of acrobatic feats.

"I've only been doing this for three years, but I suppose I have a background as a dancer," she said.

Enthusiasts say pole dancing has taken off in recent years, with a rising number of classes set up to show women how to pole dance safely -- without pulling muscles or falling from the top of the pole.

The 10 girls of different nationalities taking part had competed for the contest in their home countries and most donned tracksuits at the end, reinforcing the sporting image.

Kenneth Tao was in an audience of several hundred watching the event in a central Amsterdam night-club.

"I didn't see anything which I thought was erotic. It was gymnastic," he said.

"I was watching their choreography in particular."

Amsterdam is among many cities across Europe and the United States offering fitness classes incorporating pole dance inspired moves.

Women attending such classes are often advised to wear full makeup to boost their self-confidence, and businesses selling poles say they are frequently installed in bedrooms, showing pole dancing has not quite shed its image of sex and seduction.

(Additional reporting by Amsterdam bureau; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Source: Reuters