Sibling Rivalry: Bellydance and Burlesque

Darshiva

Moderator
She's actually right though. She qualified the discussion as pertaining to bellydance as it evolved in the US and burlesque as it evolved in the US.

Bellydance & Burlesque are both different 'over there' although the 'over there' in question is different for both - the UK/Western Europe for Burly & Egypt/Middle East for bellydance.

I know that we want to distance ourselves from the raunch in burly, but we can't do that by ignoring history - which is pretty much the entire point of her article. Better I think to focus on the middle eastern traditions in bellydance than to pretend that we don't have some shared history with burly. Sure there would be bellydance without burly, and vice versa, but one has definitely influenced the other in the US.

I'm saving the article for future reference, so thanks for posting it.
 

Aniseteph

New member
But what I don't get about the concept of tracking US belly dance back to Sol Bloom / Little Egypt, getting its skirts grubby trailing around in the burlesque tent and then reemerging tadaaah as American Art Form (and sister to now oh so cool burlesque) is that it seems to play down any ME input twice over.

First, OK it is hard to tell what if anything early imitators owed to the original World's Fair dancers, so maybe this is fair enough, there could have been scores of Little Egypts making up their own art form right there. But what about dancers later on working in immigrant communities and trying to be more ME-facing rather than making it up in their own image? What about now when Egyptian star teachers travel the world including the US? If bellydance in the US is an American art form, WTH are the likes of Tito and Randa teaching? A subgenre? :confused:


I know how to square it in my head - if I hear "bellydance" from those of a Tribal/ fusion persuasion that means The Umbrella encompassing the whole shebang. If I think it in terms of haflas and events here it covers a lot of mishmashery too. Neither are the same as bellydance the thing I am really interested in. Using the same word for a whole bunch of different things is going to keep confusing people forever.
 

Darshiva

Moderator
I think she's talking about the AmCab tradition, not Egyptian style though. Therein lies the difference.

I'm not terribly well versed on burly yet so I can't realistically discuss that side but so far all the literature I've read says that the US style of burly sprung from little egypt, the same way that amcab evolved from there - albeit amcab had more imput from middle eastern immigrants whereas us style burly (from what I've read so far) appears to have evolved more from vaudeville than from the uk tradition.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
I have not a problem in the world with burlesque or anyone who wants to perform burlesque; I readily recognize it as a legitimate art form that is recently enjoying increased popularity. I do have a problem with belly dance and burlesque being linked in any size, form, or description beyond saying that both involve moving to music.

The costumes are different, the music is different, the movement vocabulary is different and perhaps most important of all the intent is different. Middle eastern dance is a physical manifestation of emotional response to middle eastern music. Burlesque is a theatrical dance that deliberately appeals to prurient interest.

AmCab springs not from Little Egypt and the Chicago World's Fair but from the mid-twentieth century arrival of middle eastern dancers in this country, first in New York and later in the San Francisco Bay area. It is a recognizable style of belly dance characterized by middle eastern music, costume, and movement vocabulary and has about as much in common with burlesque as it does ballet or western swing.

Sibling rivalry? Horse apples. Burlesque needs to make its own way in the world without trying to ride to respectability on the skirt tails of belly dance by claiming a common origin.
 
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Aniseteph

New member
AmCab springs not from Little Egypt and the Chicago World's Fair but from the mid-twentieth century arrival of middle eastern dancers in this country, first in New York and later in the San Francisco Bay area. It is a recognizable style of belly dance characterized by middle eastern music, costume, and movement vocabulary and has about as much in common with burlesque as it does ballet or western swing.
That's what I was getting at (badly). Whatever the Little Egypts were up to in the name of belly dance - who knows? - I thought that American style belly dance, including Tribal, has its roots in the ME via immigrant communities and dancers. And at that stage burlesque is more a relation by marriage than a sister. Little Egypt may be the ancestress of the image of BD in the US, but as the ancestress of US BD itself, the actual dance? Not so sure.

I know the article was not about Egyptian style, but by not specifying what bit of US bellydance it's about, dancers who are at all ME focused (even AmCab is ME-facing IMO, as Shanazel pointed out) are kind of nudged out of the picture when in reality they are at the core of it, far more than anyone channelling Little Egypt.
 

Amulya

Moderator
"Bellydance, as it is known here in America, is in fact an American art form"

That's a direct quote. I'm sure not all belly dance in America is only Am cab. (I assume she is referring to that and ATS/ITS/Tribal Fusion?) plenty of people do Egytian, Turkish, Lebanese styles, folkloric styles.
 

Greek Bonfire

Active member
I think it's more her opinion. Little Egypt and Nina Nightshade were/are both "bellydancers" and burlesque dancers but that does not make them related. I also am a Polynesian dancer but that is not considered related to burlesque. Just because both dance forms were performed under one tent does not make them related. They sell apples and oranges in the same food bazaar but they are not the same or even related. Any backup she used to justify this thinking did not convince me; in fact, I would say CanCan and burlesque are more closely related. And AmCab? Please, I've seen an awful lot of "amcab" here in the USA that looks much, much more authentic in terms of Middle Eastern dancing than even remotely resembling burlesque.
 

Darshiva

Moderator
The fact that bump & grind was developed from bellydance moves (this is from my research, okay) is why she is saying they are related. If Burlesque isn't related then neither is tribal. You can't have one but not the other just because one is more "wholesome" than the other.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
The sexual source of bump and grind movements is obvious; no one needs a vocabulary of belly dance movement to execute those actions. ;)

Even so, wholesomeness has nothing to do with the lack of relationship between belly dance and burlesque or that between belly dance and tribal style. I don't regard ATS as belly dance but I do acknowledge the influence of belly dance on ATS whereas I do not agree that belly dance is a primary or even secondary source of burlesque.

Burlesque's trajectory began nearly a century before the cabaret style of belly dance developed in the middle east and over a century before the first American belly dancer shimmied her way across the floor of a middle eastern restaurant. It started out as quasi-acceptable theatrical parody in early Victorian England and rapidly spread to the US complete with scantily clad ladies and raunchy humor. It was generally considered a lower form of entertainment than vaudeville and eventually evolved (or deteriorated, depending on one's point of view) into hoochie kooch and stripping by the middle of the twentieth century. The current renaissance of burlesque is based largely on romantic nostalgia; if one truly is interested in the realities of life as a twentieth century burlesque dancer I suggest reading a few memoires and biographies. The image of a young and victimized Gypsy Rose Lee awaiting a cab with her mother post performance, shivering in the cold in her high heels and a blanket wrapped around her nearly naked body, is one that has stayed with me.

ATS style was advertised as belly dance in order to capitalize on the popularity of the latter in the second half of the twentieth century and perhaps to give credence to a new style of dance. Jamila Samilpour fused folk dances of the Middle East, northern Africa, India, and Moorish Spain, with her own fertile imagination and taught the results to other people. Several of her students branched out to teach their own forms of the style; Carolena Nerriccio formalized and cataloged movements that eventually resulted in AMT style. No, I don't consider the style belly dance (wrong costuming, music, and vocabulary) but I do think some elements of belly dance were utilized in creating the style.

That pedantic enough for everyone?:dance:
 

walladah

New member
I like the debate this uninformed article sparked

in both here and on FB.

I like it more because it is one very good example of reverse orientalism we face everyday concerning the modern styles of bellydance.

To my great amazement i realised that there are people in western-european or anglosaxon societies demand that all modern bellydance is their own inventions, let alone pros, costumes, etc.
This discourse, which i consider colonial in its essence, is very interesting because it is very good in neglecting evidence on the clothing, jewellery, dancing, women's empowerment, etc that already existed in the East during several historical contexts?

Now, the article takes the argument a step further, that all modern bellydance in US is american.

It is funny, because even if we despise all ancient evidence f.ex. on dancing with veils, on movement reproduction on vases, sculptures etc, we can find parts of our art to exist quite longer than the USA. I do not say that in ancient times people were bellydancing like we do, because we do not know. But from the position of the bodies of the ancients dancing scenes we can see some things or positions that are common with ours. Let alone that some findings give sequence of movements, but we have not many archaeologists specialising in dance, let alone in bellydance. Same with art historians, almost no-one specialises in bellydance. Till this situation of ignorance for all of us is reversed, any fierce statement on what is american invention and what is middle eastern is out of the question.

What i do say is that probably we miss sources. i found evidence, not orientalist paintings, but detailed description of bellydance with swords in early 19th cent. in greece, quite earlier than the commercial fairs. So who is she the one to tell me that this is an american invention?

I think that the american dancers have contributed vastly to the dance and to make the dance respectable and deorientalise it in the western societies, but how did it came that this contribution dismisses the social context of the dance and all the people who still dance it without the mediation of the western culture? no mediterranean dancer doubts the US origin of ATS or Tribal Fusion, we love that those styles emerged in USA and actually express a western society. I also love that we dancers exchange styles, ideas and techniques taking from our communities and giving them to the world, but, wait, how would the writer feel if i dismissed all ATS contribution to modern bellydance as a non-american dance? how would she feel if i danced tribal fusion (i do) and tell everyone, "this is local, americans never gave anything to bellydance than what existed already"?
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
All societies have ill-informed individuals. I've heard as much nonsense about Americans as I've heard from Americans. One can attempt to educate the clueless or simply allow their blather to go in one ear and out the other. Alas, the end result is too often the same: nothing changes.

Or am I too cynical? :think:
 

walladah

New member
Nothing changes! THe one who does not want to listen, will not!

Can you imagine that i was listening tonight the show of a colleague at the second radio station i am assigned with a show too on mediterranean music (oh yes, i have a second one at a very popular radio station now!) and he was talking about greek makams telling "everything is greek, it comes from the ancient greece, forget about turkish makam names, those are relics of the ottman past, everything is greek only".

I asked one of my mentors in the station whether i can open this discussion without mentioning my colleague in my own show, i.e. to discuss how music in the mediterranean is based on common makams, with differences of course depending on regions and historical contexts. And of course, even ancient greek people recognised that they took most of their makams from non-greek tribes.

But i know that my colleague in his show will continue his "greek-only" propaganda and i will be speaking to people who, but listening to my show, are already educated enough to recognise common musical tradition.

What can we do? i see my own culture are very embedded in the mediterrean and yes, we have also great western influeces as well. How can people believe that there is pure-borderlike culture? that's nonsense.
 

Aniseteph

New member
Whenever someone play the "everything is <insert name of pet culture here> card" it reminds me of a sketch show from a few years ago where one of the regular characters would insist that everything was Indian. So it makes me smirk inwardly no matter how intellectual the reasoning.

As for the "it's all Greek" thing...
[video=youtube;uxOANJ-sSu0]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxOANJ-sSu0#[/video]

:cool:
 

walladah

New member
hahahaha! that was really funny!!!

but it is not true that all those things are greek inventions.

the video is tooooooo flattering to be true.

Yesterday, i had a phone lecture by a very famous musician and philosopher who works on ancient music of the mediterranean and he explained to me in 2 hours where greeks took their music scales from.

Actually, greek people have always been copying things. Yes, copy was very creative to the point that the originals have been forgotten. Sometimes, it was disastrous, f.ex. they copied interest-bearing debts without regular debt-emancipation (western europeans were meant to copy this deficient copy).

There is a famous fairy tale among sufi philosophers, and also narrated by Mevlana Jalalleddin Rumi himself in Meshnevi. It shows that copying others is not an easy thing, let alone to copy and make the copy better than the original. I really laugh when people say that greeks never copied anything. Only those who cannot recognise beauty cannot copy ;)

http://www.mythfolklore.net/3043mythfolklore/reading/rumi/pages/05.htm
 

Kashmir

New member
My father was educated in Russian controlled eastern Europe and was very surprised when he came out to the West to discover Pythagoras was not a Russian!
 
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