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My friend Tamsyn has written a fantastic blog post about the connection between physical movement and emotional memory, including the implications of this if you are instructing people in movement.

http://tamsynbellydance.posterous.com/dance-happiness-and-physical-release-the-role

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Edinburgh has a great many Egyptian or Egyptian-esque bellydance teachers; next weekend we will be treated to something a bit different, a bit special… Artemis Mourat, a world expert on Turkish bellydance, is coming to town.  She’ll be teaching three workshops, and there’ll be a hafla – see the flier below for more details, and also see the events on Facebook.

You may have read Tamsyn’s blog post (that had a lot of input from Artemis) about  Turkish and Egyptian dance – if not I recommend it.  I also recommend having a look at the clips below – they’re both of Artemis dancing, the first is from her DVD, the 2nd is a recent performance from Tribal Fest (and watch right to the end – she finishes with something very impressive!)

 

 

I recently asked Tamsyn, who is taking over my classes, if she would write up a blog post for me on something that interested her, and she has!  Note: given the subject matter some of the links are not safe for work (NSFW) unless your employer has a particularly liberal attitude towards nudity.  The embedded video links are as safe for work as any standard bellydance video clip. Enjoy!

Tribal Fusion and Velvet Hammer Burlesque

Meeting up with my friend yesterday, the popular burlesque dancer Leyla Rose, got me to thinking about something Donna Mejia (a choreographer, teacher, and lecturer at Smith professional dance college in Massachusetts) and I talked about when I was last States-side: the Velvet Hammer as one of the first influences for modern tribal fusion, starting back in 1995.

For anyone who doesn’t know the Velvet Hammer, it’s a burlesque performance troupe based in Los Angeles created by Michelle Carr. Focusing more on the “tease” in striptease than the “strip”, it emphasises the joy of style, strut and imagination in performances that are designed to be sexy rather than sexual. It’s been described by Princess Farhana, one of the troupe’s founding performers, as “a reproduction of old fashioned burlesque, filtered through a savvy, witty, post-modern feminist point of view, not to mention Michelle’s totally twisted, politically incorrect sense of humour.” Think modern day Mae West, Lilli St. Cyr and Gypsy Rose Lee. The troupe is legendary for lavish costumes, over-the-top sets, and kick starting the “Neo Burlesque” movement with a healthy dose of punk, tattoos, glitz and thrilling excess. It was so popular, that by early 2000 neo burlesque was a full on craze throughout North America, inspiring events such as Tease-O-Rama, The New York Burlesque Festival, Miss Exotic World Pageant and Viva Las Vegas.

Looking at the glamour and pizazz in one of these shows, do you think the first tribal fusion dancers on the cutting edge of performance art just a bit further north in San Francisco didn’t catch the buzz? When there was a belly dancer on the show? Let me say those fishnet tights, pants cut like suspender belts, flamboyant head-dresses, theatrical staging and feather fans came from somewhere. Even the tattoos fit right in. Here’s a clip of Zoe Jakes with one of her feather fans in action.

Perhaps in part due to the fact that Princess Farhana was on the show, the popularity of neo burlesque reached such heights that you can now find numerous examples of belly-burlesque fusion springing up all over the world, ranging from almost pure oriental performance with ostrich feather fans, to the opposite end of the spectrum with tacky costuming and only a camel or two and some snake arms to bear a passing resemblance to belly dance. One thing you can say about Princess Farhana: she may not be the best dancer out there today, but she is accessible, having fun, and very popular with a broad base audience. In case you missed it, here’s a promo clip for the documentary-style “Underbelly” featuring Princess Farhana, released in 2008. And to see an example of just how far the neo burlesque movement has spread, another clip which is practically belly dance goes Broadway!

Now before anybody jumps up and down about associating belly dance with stripping, let me just say that I see your point. Belly dancers spend enough time and effort managing ill-informed public perceptions that belly dancing is just about shaking it on stage, or is somehow akin to prostitution or stripping, that any reference to burlesque might well be regarded with suspicion. But I distinguish between raqs sharqi, or classic Egyptian and folk dance, and the rather more broad category of belly dance. In no way am I suggesting a connection between raqs sharqi and burlesque. Neither do I mean to suggest that general belly dance is any less about art than raqs sharqi – it just has new fusions and styles arising from it, while raqs sharqi remains firmly grounded in the style and sensibility of the Middle East.

And finally in passing, despite scanty clothing, burlesque is an art form itself, one involving slapstick humor, social parody, musicality, feats of magic and circus acts. Timing and audience appeal are crucial. Saying that a burlesque is merely stripping is like saying that a professional comedian just tells jokes – there’s more to it, and when you take costuming and theatre into account, a lot more to it! Talk to a burlesque dancer and they are as likely as an oriental dancer to bristle in indignation when an incompetent or beginning performer is held up as an example of an entire art form.

With that I’m back to thinking about my lovely, down to earth friend, and all the cool costuming ideas for the taking. Now I’ve got to run off and sew something glittery onto a bra.
Tamsyn will be starting her classes at the Yoga Room next week, and is also starting her own blog. For details of both visit www.tamsynbellydance.com

As many of you know I have now stopped my regular classes to allow me to concentrate on my on Counselling training.  The wonderful Tamsyn (pictured above) is taking over my Wednesday evening classes at The Yoga Room.  The new 8-week term starts on September 15th and you can book your places here.  Have fun!

To brighten up this rainy summer day, allow me to introduce you to Tamsyn:

I first met Tamsyn at a tribal fusion workshop where I couldn’t help but notice that she had a scar that was almost identical to my own. We were scar buddies! So we got talking. Over time I’ve learned that, as well as being an enthusiastic bellydance aficionado and a great dancer she’s a very knowledgeable (and thoughtful) teacher. We share a love of tribal fusion, but also both have broad tastes in bellydance and appreciate lots of different styles. I feel lucky to have her as my dance buddy and friend.

Which is all lovely, but why am I telling you about Tamsyn? Well… she’ll be taking over my classes at The Yoga Room from September onwards! She’ll be coming along to a class or two in my next term so if you’re thinking about continuing you’ll get the opportunity to meet her then.

And to finish off this post, here’s another gorgeous picture of her from a recent performance in her newest outfit (made by her own fair hand – where do her talents end? 🙂 ).

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