If you ever had the idea of enjoying a trip to the middle-east and especially to Egypt apparently for belly dance classes or when you’re just a woman wanting to enjoy other cultures by yourself or with friends, please take heed of the following post. Wear a weddingband, even when you aren’t married and learn to say that you’re married in the native language. It might just make a difference when you run into a situation as described in that post.
I’m posting this post because of raising issues between cultures. Maybe you’ve read about the cultural clashes in your country. Maybe you’ve seen this documentary (Femme de la Rue, about Sexism in Brussels, by Sophie Peeters) and you’re wondering that if M-E men behave like that in nations where it’s not custom, how they’ll behave when they -are- in their home nation? Maybe you’ve already experienced this sort of violent behaviour, maybe it exists where you live. I’m lucky to not have been in this situation, but I know what sexual violence can do to a person when it’s not due to cultural classes. And though I think it needs to stop it’s highly unlikely it will any time soon.. so we best prepare and just be cautious.
In preparation of our Halloween performances I’ve been looking at some make-up. From there on I was lead further into the world of tribal fusion, where facial and body make-up, tattoos en marks aren’t a very uncommon sight. When I searched on “tribal make-up” I couldn’t find all too much; most of it was semi-tribal new-time fashionable half-arsed non genuine attempts of making it look tribal, but not quite. A bit of a let down; I was kind of assuming I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do some research on the subject. There had to be something else out there.
Eventually though, my hopes were restored. Turned out the information certainly was there, but I was looking in the wrong directions. This is what I found:
“Harquus is a word for black facial ornamentation in North Africa and the Middle East. It can refer to both tattooing and skin painting. The patterns of harquus, tattooing, and henna often mirror each other, and were intended to enhance each other.”
“Henna and tattooing have been used in combination with black eye and eyebrow cosmetics since the Bronze Age. Eye paints were nearly universal across North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The black paint provided relief from the glaring sun and too reflection from the sand before sunglasses were invented.”
“Most women created their own cosmetics. Wealthier people used soot from burning amber or aloe wood to make their eye paints; poor women used common pot-black and animal fat.”
“The jaw line patterns are broken lines with a diamond at the end. These are situated over a muscle that flexes as a person grits their teeth, and they would enhance the expressiveness of unspoken emotional grimaces. The diamond shape is usually identified as an eye to repel the Evil Eye.”
“Nibbling the lower lip was a favorite sexual foreplay, so a tattooed lower lip was an
“invitation to nibble”.”
“The grouping of arm patterns was often called usada, pillow, implying that a woman’s lover would fall asleep with his head resting on her arm. Another term for arm patterns was kfafa, kfafet la-hlib, the end of suckling, referring to the way a woman wiped her breast with her forearm to catch the last drop of milk after her baby finished nursing, a reference to the belief that a mother’s milk was as precious
and beautiful as jewels.”
“Women were the tattoo artists in late 19th century Algeria and Morocco, and women wore the tattoos.”
It’s an interesting world we live in, right? And this sort of body modification; it isn’t/wasn’t just common in African and Arabic regions, it was also quite popular with the Maoris of New Zealand, the Indians, the Indonesians, the Japanese… It’s a very wide-spread cultural thing and only us in the “West” aren’t taking part of it. Most probably because of our Christian roots.
That they all know it and we don’t, paves the road for an entirely new set of challenges too; if the rest of the world has been using it for so long and we aren’t educated, we have to really make sure we don’t do anything silly. I don’t really want to end up with a pattern on my hands that has a complete awkward or weird meaning.. Like the western women who have Japanese signs tattooed on their backs or arms, to find out later that it’s the Japanese word for Coca Cola (or something far less innocent!)
If you’re interested, like me, in knowing more about these sort of tribal markings, there’s a lot to find on the internet if you just know what to look for (harhar). I took above quotes from harquus.com who have a couple of PDFs with much, much, much more information than only the tidbits above. And they also have a tutorial on how to apply henna tattoos and how to get them to look prettiest. Not too prone on using soot or pot-black and think applying henna is too much effort? Apparently MAC cosmetics has a good alternative: MAC cosmetics Fluid Line
During my adventures of diving into the world of belly dance and its history, the following has left me quite breathless today. I stumbled upon a movie made in 1896 by the Lumière brothers; a frame by frame hand coloured stunning piece of art.
The Serpentine is an evolution of the skirt dance, a form of burlesque dance that had recently arrived in the United States from England. Skirt dancing was itself a reaction against “academic” forms of ballet, incorporating tamed-down versions of folk and popular dances like the can-can. The new dance was originated by Loïe Fuller, who gave varying accounts of how she developed it. By her own account, which is widely reported, having never danced professionally before, she accidentally discovered the effects of stage light cast from different angles on the gauze fabric of a costume she had hastily assembled for her performance in the play Quack M.D., and spontaneously developed the new form in response to the audience’s enthusiastic reaction upon seeing the way her skirt appeared in the lights. During the dance she held her long skirt in her hands, and waved it around, revealing her form inside.
The Serpentine Dance was a frequent subject of early motion pictures, as it highlighted the new medium’s ability to portray movement and light. Two particularly well-known versions were Annabelle Serpentine Dance (1894), a performance by Broadway dancer Annabelle Whitford from Edison Studios, and an 1896 Lumière brothers film of Fuller performing the dance. Many other filmmakers produced their own versions, distributing prints that had been hand-tinted to evoke (though not quite reproduce) the appearance of colored light projection. (Source Wikipedia)
I think -this- is what genuine, bedazzling entertainment looks like. Isn’t just everything gorgeous about this?
Reading it, I was instantly very impressed and slightly overwhelmed. To be practicing an art that’s been dated way back to the 1st century AD, is quite a strange but powerful feeling. To be in a line of so many women that have danced, lived and breathed belly dance before me, is something I can’t quite comprehend. It’s massive and I’ve only begun to discover what it will mean to -me-.
It shows that there’s much to learn. Especially with me being Dutch and belly dance absolutely not being part of our culture, it makes me wonder how much else is out there that would’ve passed me by if I hadn’t finally just given it a go with all these other cultures. It also shows that it just takes time to develop. Back in those days it was mostly arabic, egyptian, you know.. those sorts. But look at it; nowadays ATS for instance is a relatively (understatement much?) new concept in belly dance, but it’s certainly a recognised form, right? So I think I’m going to introduce a whole new thing in the belly dance world. Belly Dance – the Dutch Way. And I’m going to call it Raqs Clog. Maybe in 19 centuries from now someone will find out about that age old tradition that once appeared so long ago in the Netherlands… Dum-dum-DUM! Think I might have found the path to Eternal Fame there?
But on a more serious note; finding writings like these and expanding your mind a bit more is also just another way of realising that we’re here for only a brief moment but that we’re never alone. And that many have gone before us and many waiting to follow.
Thank you lovely belly dancers from the past for giving me something to do!
On a bit of a tangent but not completely irrelevant: I ordered Demons and Dancers: Performance in Late Antiquity, also by Ruth Webb. Can’t wait to have a look. Once I’ve read into it I’ll let you know what it’s like; maybe other history-slash-dance-freaks like me would enjoy it too.
In about 5 weeks from now I’ll be making my way to Crete (Greece) to spend 8 wonderful days with the boyfriend on one of the biggest islands of Greece and the Mediterranean Sea. I can’t begin to explain how excited I am for this; it will be the first longer holiday we spend together and we’re both very much looking forward to just being the two of us and nobody else in this world. A bit of breath in hectic times; we can use it!
We’ve already begun doing the regular preparation: bought a little booklet and a map and we’ve browsed sites left and right to see which sight-seeing-spots are likely going to be on our to-do-list. But as a belly dancer I have more work laid out for me than just that. Because aside from digging up old sites and owning up to having the prettiest landscapes, Greece covers its piece in belly dance history too. And their specific style is named “Tsifteteli”.
The Tsifteteli (Greek: τσιφτετέλι, Turkish: Çiftetelli), is a rhythm and dance of Anatolia and the Balkans with a rhythmic pattern of 2/4.The dance is probably of Turkish origin and in the Turkish language it means “double stringed”, taken from the violin playing style that is practiced in this kind of music. However, there are also suggestions that the dance already existed in ancient Greece, known as the Aristophanic dance, Cordax. However it is widespread in Greece and Turkey, but also in the whole former Ottoman Empire region.
I’ve looked it up a bit to already have a taste of what I’m going to delve into and found Chryssanthi Sahar and her love for Tsifteteli. She’s a native Greek dancer and through the love of her grandparents for folkloric dancing and Tsifteteli she’s been practicing Greek native dances and belly dancing from early age on. And she’s written quite an elaborate explanation on Tsifteteli. Aside from describing the history (which I’m not going to go into a description of what the history behind this type of dancing is like but after having read a bit into it I think it’s needless to say that it roots from a deep, dark history.. Much unlike the music (or the dancing) in many cases would make it appear like maybe!) she also describes quite a detailed how-to.
This is an excerpt from the same website for your (and my own!) convenience about the more practical side of Tsifteteli:
Tsifteteli is mainly a social dance.People dance it together and mostly in pairs (man and woman, woman and woman, man and man, mainly though man and woman). They improvise together, they communicate through the dance. And if a man and woman dance together they even flirt through the dance. This is one of the reasons why Tsifteteli is immense popular also today and it will probably never stop being popular. It is the expression of the soul and the game of love.
The movements of Tsifteteli are a lot simpler than the movements of the Arabic Raks Sharqi. But this doesn’t mean that Tsifteteli is easier to dance. For non-Greeks it may even be more difficult to dance then Raks Sharqi, because it has no rules and it depends very much on the feeling for the music. In order to dance Tsifteteli right, one has to become very aware of the Greek Tsifteteli music. This is especially important for the traditional (Rembetiko) Tsifteteli.
The most common Tsifteteli movements are:
Vertical backwards figure 8
Hip circle. Hip semi-circle
Rotating around oneself with hip circle
Hip lift to the front
Hip lift in circle
Half camel step
Hands stretched out to the sides
Sniping with the fingers
Hands put at the back side of the head
Belly rolls (sometimes)
Hip sway forwards\backwards
Hip shimmies and particular steps are not used in Greek Tsifteteli.
Want to read the whole article? Link here. And here’s a link to a video she made:
If you want to see more of her moves; she made loads more videos. Check out the video section on her website. Talented lady, isn’t she? I love the loose playful attitude and bounciness. Looks too easy but I’m sure it’s quite some effort to make that look so effortless! As usual with the greatest dancers, of course. But hey, they started practicing at some point too so I suppose that if I start like they did once, I must be able too do this too at some point 😛 So I should really have a look into finding a workshop whilst we’re on Crete anyways. Would be great to add to my future repertoire, don’t you think so?
I’m sure she’s a great belly dancer and all that but if you ask me; she’s not as awesome as the comments predicted.. and that’s partially because she lacked the Show-Dancing aspect. She’s belly dancing ON STAGE without understanding show-dancing. Argh. Let me explain to you why this in my modest opinion, is wrong.
Warning: incoming pet-peeve:
I might be a complete, utter noob to belly dance but as a 6-year old girl I was dancing show dancing solo’s when none of the other girls dared to do so. I’ve had my share of performances and contests whilst I was growing up and was taught really well how to perform for an audience. Which stuck with me very well. Partially because I was so young when I learned it, I think.
Now with recent events, the auditioning and the upcoming Halloween performance all the old teachings about stage presence the parts to dancing of finishing moves and coming across to an audience seems to bubble all the way up again from that deep, dark place within where they were kept silent for years. And from that perspective I do not understand the praise to that video. I don’t care how Turkish you are; I don’t care how well you do belly rolls; I don’t care about the clothes you wear and I don’t care about the make-up you put on:
When you’re sloppy and don’t finish your moves, you’re a sloppy show-dancer. And when you’re a sloppy show-dancer you shouldn’t be on stage.
When you’re a sloppy show dancer, it doesn’t matter which sort of dance you dance, you’re not going to look pretty or convincing. You’re not going to entice your crowd. And you will simply not look like you’re good at what you’re trying to get across. They might cheer but it might not be because of what you think it is. Until you are able to dance -and- finish your moves you shouldn’t be on stage. Stage is for performing and entertaining. So make it count. You’re going to have only one chance to make that mind blowing impression so take it.
I’m sorry for sounding harsh there. But that’s just how it is. Not just for my stress levels but also for anyone who takes this advice. If you want to improve your dancing, do not underestimate stage presence.
After I’d done eye-rolling at all awkward comments, I luckily found this video that completely restored my faith in show-dancing.
Do you see what knowing your music, adapting your choreography to your music, listening and playing with your crowd and actually getting out of your shell can do for you?
So, please stop hiding behind all the techniques you learned during your dance classes. They might get you far but they will not do it for you. Technique and skill is one thing but believing what you do and making sure your crowd believes you is something entirely different. Don’t just dance to show how awesome you can move your body, dance because it’s the only thing you can do. Study your choreography like you are studying a new language. Learn to dance with the music instead of just with your body. Don’t be afraid of what I just said; don’t let it intimidate you. Don’t let any of this hold you back. But take it to heart before you decide to make your belly dancing performance a show dancing performance. Because it’s entirely something else to do.
When you decide to perform make sure you are prepared, get out there and knock. them. dead. Your crowd deserves nothing less.
Eager to see more another good belly dance performance? Look at this gem:
Last summer I took a workshop at Halima’s Bellydance School in Eindhoven about Sufi Whirling. I didn’t quite know what to expect but it was something new to experience so it was harder to say no then to go ahead and enter. The workshop was part of a set of three workshops that were given to pass the summer whilst lessons were laid off until the end of summer. I never heard of Sufi Whirling before but little did I know I was about to experience something that’s quite literally a life changing experience for many people. As I walked into the room the teacher invited us to sit down on the pillows and armchairs in the Morrocan styled room. Christmas lights were sparkling brightly, soft humming music in the background. And she started to explain what we were about to do.
Sufi whirling (or Sufi spinning), (Arabic: الرقص الصوفي) is a form of Sama or physicaly active meditation which orginated among Sufis, and which is still practiced by the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi order. It is a customary dance performed within the Sema, or worship ceremony, through which dervishes (also called semazens) aim to reach the source of all perfection, or kemal. This is sought through abandoning one’s nafs, egos or personal desires, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, which has been seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun.
As explained by Sufis: “In the symbolism of the Sema ritual, the semazen’s camel’s hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego; his wide, white skirt represents the ego’s shroud. By removing his black cloak, he is spiritually reborn to the truth. At the beginning of the Sema, by holding his arms crosswise, the semazen appears to represent the number one, thus testifying to God’s unity. While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God’s beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. The semazen conveys God’s spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love. Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi says, “All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!”
The quote above kind of says it all.. but I didn’t know that back then. To illustrate in motion what it is that I’m talking about, here’s a link to a youtube video: Sufi Whirling Dervishes
Prior to the workshop we’d gotten the information to bring 2 sets of clothes; one completely black and one completely white. Bit of an issue for me because I usually don’t wear a lot of whites but after some effort downtown I managed to obtain a lovely set consisting of a long white skirt and a wrapped top. The black was alright; it didn’t have to be quite all black so I just had to reach into my closet and take something out.
So there we sat with our clothes at hand. As we enjoyed some homemade delicacies and tea we got to understand that what we were about to do could look a little bit weird at first but it would be worth the experience. Some women in the group had already been to the workshop once before and nodded their agreement. The teacher explained it was a spiritual thing to do that could reach into the deepest of your soul and bring out all emotions if you were able to let go and go with the spinning motion and the music that would play in the background.
Then she explained the rules of the game we were about to play. Half the women in the room had to wear the black sets; these were going to be the accompanists, watching over the other half of the students dressed in white as they took their first steps into whirling.
We dressed up and got into appointed places, one accompanist matched with one spinner, neatly arranged across the floor. What the accompanists were supposed to do was help the spinners stay up straight. With both hands held out wide and facing towards the spinner they were going to send their energy and directions to support the spinner and help them to continue.
The women in white were explained what was expected of them too; they were told to hold one hand faced up towards the skies and one hand faced down towards the earth. As they would advance spinning, their focus should be on a ring on a finger or any other spot that would make focusing on one spot easy. And to find their own rhythm in the music. They didn’t have to be afraid but they did have to make sure they were doing it in their own pace for as long as they felt comfortable.
Reason for the teacher explaining this is that Sufi Whirling is a way to release stress or reach far into your deepest sense and emotions. Some people experience quite hefty emotions when they start spinning. Some may be merely impressed or in awe, others may be very thoughtful for a while. At the workshop I saw a woman who was completely distraught after a while. So distraught she broke out in tears and sat in one of the armchairs for a good half an hour just trying to recuperate. Heavy stuff, right?
Once everything was said and done the women in white started whirling carefully but quickly grew accustomed to their spinning trances. I say trances because it really is just that. Once you let go and start trusting your accompanist to guide you through, you can let go of fears and inhibitions. You concentrate on one spot on your hand and the world around you starts to face to grey with every so often a black spot flashing by in a clear moment. When you continue spinning, the entire room will become visible after a while quite brightly and though you won’t be looking at it, you will be aware of everything that’s going on. And at the same time, it will not matter. All that will matter is the motion of spinning, of the trance you find yourself in and how wonderful it feels to turn around so often and keep turning, keep spinning.
I spun for about 10 minutes after I gave up; I wasn’t entirely able to let myself go. My usual tendency to keep control at all costs interfered, unfortunately. But I tried it a few weeks later at home and it went a bit better there.
My friend whom I was accompanying spun for about 45 minutes. She didn’t feel it was that long, at all. That’s the strange thing in being in that trance; you don’t notice time anymore. You just get lost and let go.
The longest a woman spun in that class was one and a half hours. When you look at a video of Sufi Whirling it’s hard to imagine that this motion is so strong and captivating but to every one that is interested, I completely recommend visiting a workshop. Please be careful when you want to practice this at home though; without at least the first few times being accompanied, you might genuinely hurt yourself. It can be real hard not to slam into a wall.. Especially when you try to stop spinning! The women who spun for one and a half hours had serious issues stopping the whirling. She just couldn’t figure out how to do it. I know it sounds weird but that’s another truth of it; she genuinely couldn’t do it by herself and had to be helped by two others to come to a stand still. Partially because she’d gotten so used to the whirling motion but I think also because she simply didn’t really want to stop. Feeling good is addictive.
Once everyone had stopped and we’d all gotten our turns we sat down in the armchairs and on the pillows again and spoke about what had just happened. Unanimously we decided that this had been a mind altering experience. Words like “amazing”, “liberating” and “emotive” were used and we just couldn’t really grasp how it had played around with our beings. Once the daze of the trance had faded we drank some more tea. And eventually we returned to our homes again, feeling content and relieved of our stress.
Whenever I practice Sufi whirling at home these days I dance to “Semaname” by Mercan Dede (link to youtube). Obviously it’s not as quick paced as the music in the video I linked earlier but you have to use whatever you feel most comfortable with and I feel that if I’d use quicker music I’d literally spin out of control. I love how the narrator explains what Sufi Whirling does to him; it reminds me to why I do it too. His entire album “Sufi Traveler” (2004, link to amazon.com) is a wonderful musical journey to take. As I am not Turkish I don’t know about a lot of native Turkish music and I’m sure that some of my friends in that side of the world would be able to direct me to far more songs just as beautiful or far more beautiful. But until that happens I’ll recommend this! Coming year I’ll definitely join this workshop again to practice. I can’t wait.
If you are looking for more info on the history, the use and the idea behind Sufi Whirling please find out more on this wikipedia page.
One video to close this blogpost with: Sufi Whirling. Do you see the smile on her face and how relaxed and at ease it makes her feel? 🙂
I’d never heard of this before and google seems have no link between Turkish Coffee , spinning like this or belly dancing but I like what she’s doing regardless. The idea of loosening the wrists and training your coordination by not allowing this cup to break combines dancing and coffee; two of the most enjoyed concepts ever. For granted; I suppose that if you don’t like coffee you can use tea. Or wine. Or hot cocoa during the colder days. And it looks pretty swell too! Through the constant whirling of the cup it simply seems stuck to the plate. Being able to concentrate on doing this to a piece of porcelain plus being able to dance graciously at the same time; I’m going to imagine it takes some time and effort to master that art.
It looks not too difficult to start and if you’re going to start swinging things around and are trying to choose between Poi or something else to beat your head in with, this seems like a good, second best choice. Probably the most harm you can do is break a cup or two whilst you’re getting the hang of gravity or spill your drink, right? Which leaves me to say; I wouldn’t recommend using your best clothes first time trying..
Something to put on the list to try? I think so! For above mentioned reasons but also for having a good excuse to go out and taste a cup of what’s supposedly a coffee-lovers item. 😉