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  1. #1
    Senior Member Duvet's Avatar
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    Default History of dancing with snakes?

    When did dancing with snakes start? I've found information on the Hopi snake dance, but when did snake dancing get associated with bellydance/Eastern dancing?

    Articles that I've read by modern snake dancers claim it dates back to ancient India, but is this just wishtory? None give specifics, only vague talk about snake worship (which exists, but doesn't mean it involves dance). References are also made to the Cretan goddess figurines (but is there evidence that these depict a dance?), and to the Dionysian maenads (but these seem to be handling snakes as part of their frenzy, and are equally shown grasping cats, deer and other wild animals).

    I can find references to dancing with snakes as a formal stage performance in 1908/1911 Europe and America, and already fantasized as Egyptian/Oriental (Odette Valery's & Princess Rajah's 'Egyptian Dance' or 'Cleopatra Dance' - are they the same woman?), and earlier images of women posing with snakes in the 19th Century as fairground attractions, sometimes dressed in 'Middle Eastern' outfits, and billed as snake charmers (but no reference to dancing). Did snake dancing develope out of the fairground/theatrical tradition, or does it have an older history?

    I'm sure this topic has already been discussed on the forum somewhere, so wondered if someone knew any sources for information.

    I started thinking about this when I saw this picture of the San Quentin Prison Little Olympics of 1930 (an interesting topic on its own). Four male inmates dressed as female dancers - one with a rubber snake and a string of sausages! Presumably played for humour, but I wondered where he got his costume idea from and how much the headdress resembled the Maud Allen/Salome type costume (another photo shows a side view; csrcl_045 :: San Quentin Prison - Little Olympics Field Meet ? Dr. Leo Stanley Collection, 19).

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Duvet; 10-21-2013 at 11:57 PM.

  2. #2
    Member Afrit's Avatar
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    I read somewhere it started with Bal Anat. One of the circus performers gave the belly dancers his snake to look after but wasn't back by the time they had to perform - so they took the snake with them.

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    V.I.P. Aniseteph's Avatar
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    Have you seen this? Amina Mohamed in a Snake Dance

    Not that it means anything more than Egyptians were as up for using the snake schtick as anyone else.

    And now I have that stupid snake charmer Streets of Cairo tune in my head.

  4. #4
    Moderator Zorba's Avatar
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    Laughing because there was a herpetological component to a show I attended the other nite! My wife was VERY glad she wasn't there!

  5. #5
    Senior Member Duvet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Afrit View Post
    I read somewhere it started with Bal Anat. One of the circus performers gave the belly dancers his snake to look after but wasn't back by the time they had to perform - so they took the snake with them.
    Thanks for the cue Afrit. Found this about Bal Anat, written by Jamila Salimpour;

    "In 1969, I accidentally used snakes. I say accidentally because we had a magician who used a two-headed Indian snake as part of his act. He would show the audience an empty frying pan to which he applied flames, and after twirling it in the air a couple of times he would pull out a snake. I noticed that the reaction of the audience was repulsion and disgust as he put the almost unconscious animal in a sack until the next show. Since his treatment of the animal was lacking in compassion, and I felt the snake might be killed accidentally or not, I insisted that he give the snake to me. When he did, I simply stared back at the thing. What do you do with a snake? What would it do to you, if it had the chance? I soon learned that not all snakes are venomous, and that mostly they lay around until they are hungry. No one in the early troupe would handle the snake. When I suggested we add variety and “hokum” to the show, one of the replies was, “I don’t want to be a freak.” So I did everything. I sang, danced on water glasses while holding a snake in my hand, and played drums in between. I have never seen or worked with a dancer from the Middle East who used a snake. I only know of Indian fakirs who use snakes, but they do not dance with them. The snake dance was my invention, a culmination of the trials and errors after that first accidental possession of the snake. I never meant to suggest by our performance that it was or is done traditionally by dancers in the Middle East."
    From Many Tribes | The Best of Habibi

    I think she goes too far by claiming that she invented the snake dance. At the time perhaps she thought she had, but it certainly predates her use.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Duvet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aniseteph View Post
    Have you seen this? Amina Mohamed in a Snake Dance

    Not that it means anything more than Egyptians were as up for using the snake schtick as anyone else.

    And now I have that stupid snake charmer Streets of Cairo tune in my head.
    Thanks Aniseteph. What a cruel way to treat a snake - and then to actually receive condolences when it died! I hadn't seen this before. My first thought is that this was copying a Western fashion in using snakes as a novelty prop. The publicity implies Madame Badia invented the notion, and would indicate that snake dancing was something new to the Egyptian scene. But that could just be publicity!

  7. #7
    Senior Member Duvet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zorba View Post
    Laughing because there was a herpetological component to a show I attended the other nite! My wife was VERY glad she wasn't there!
    My brother used to keep constrictors. Don't know if this was the type of snake involved with your show, but the early snake dancers seem to have gone for the smaller reptiles. Perhaps they were easier to handle and transport, were easier to obtain and replace, and fitted better with the image of Cleopatra and her asp - the type of tragic dance that seems to have been the original craze. Modern snake dancers seem to go for the big boa constrictors. Wonder when this change started to happen, and why (or have I a misconception?).

  8. #8
    Senior Member Duvet's Avatar
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    This is a 1908 New York Times article about Odette Valery, newly arrived in America from performing her Cleopatra or Egyptian Dance in Europe, ready to perform in the 'Samson and Delilah' opera with her pet cobra, Sara.
    ODETTE VALERY HERE TO DANCE IN OPERA - With Three Picturesque Snakes That Eat White Mice and a Green Lizard. DEBUT HERE NEXT FRIDAY In an Egyptian Dance in "Samson and Delilah" at the Manhattan, with a Cobra About Her Neck. - View Article - NYTimes.c

  9. #9
    Senior Member Duvet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Duvet View Post
    Modern snake dancers seem to go for the big boa constrictors. Wonder when this change started to happen, and why (or have I a misconception?).
    Looks like its my misconception;

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    Not sure about dates, or if these are dancers, but have similar costumes to other dancers of the same era.

    Perhaps something like the first image was in the mind of the San Quentin inmate?

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    Last edited by Duvet; 10-22-2013 at 11:44 PM.

  10. #10
    V.I.P. shiradotnet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Duvet View Post
    I think she goes too far by claiming that she invented the snake dance. At the time perhaps she thought she had, but it certainly predates her use.
    I think it's okay to say "invented" if the person came up with the idea on her own, without having heard of it being previously done elsewhere. Sometimes the same idea is "invented" more than once.

    Even the movie camera was "invented" by more than one person (Thomas Edison in the U.S., the Lumiere Brothers in France).

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