Thursday, December 23, 2010

American Antiquarian Society.....almost

No, it's not the same as actually getting the fellowship, but I was selected as an alternate for this year's Fellowship for Creative Writers and Performers at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. Maybe next year?

In the meantime, I hope to travel to the Society in January to do research on my fiction project about Ralph Waldo Emerson's 19th century trip up the Nile to visit the famed Temple at Philae (left, from the Description d'le Egypte in Wikipedia) For travel reading, I also picked up Robert D. Richardson's excellent book on Emerson's writing process titled First We Read, Then We Write. Emerson's writing philosophy is best summed up in his own words: "...the way to write is to throw your body at the mark when all of your arrows are spent."

Class Videos for NYU Students

Happy winter everyone! Here are links to this semester's routines expertly filmed from a trusty folding chair tripod on a chilly December afternoon in the Village:

Level One classes at NYU:

Level Two classes at NYU:

Classes resume the last week of January. Dance wherever you are in the meantime....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mr. Beller's Neighborhood: How to Be a Staircase

My memoir/story about my harrowing adventures as a fledgling staircase while assisting my Butoh teacher Maureen Fleming is the "Story of the Week" on Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. Please read "How to Be a Staircase" and comment on their site! And also, go to Maureen's show "Dances from Home" on Dec. 25 and 31. (Photo by Lois Greenfield)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gilded Serpent: Mohamed El Hosseny

Gilded Serpent has just published my account of the workshop taught by Mohamed El Hosseny (sponsored by Nourhan Sharif) during this summer's heat wave. It was great fun! Click here for the story: Mohamed El Hosseny: "More is...More!"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Republic: Refuting (or Trying to Refute) Said

On New Republic blog, Martin Peretz's recent jabs at Edward Said are almost too annoying to highlight, and yet buried in Peretz's chest thumping is his pointing fingers at Arab collectors and enthusiasts of Orientalist art. Peretz claims it is ironic that Arabs are the newest fans and supporters of the Orientalism Said tried to identify. The problem for me is that Peretz falls into the common trap of assuming Said wished to vilify this aesthetic. My understanding is that Said wished to label and identify varying aesthetics so that commonalities between peoples become clearer and more accurate. The uneven power structures that he spoke out against were bolstered by the West's aesthetic habit and practice of making "the East" a romantic blur, easily understood, and simple. With this observation about the popularity of Orientalist art in the Arab cultures, Peretz makes a weird intellectual leap to this situation being a "refutation" of Said's theories. If Arabs buy this art, how can it be "Orientalist"? A simplistic argument on every level.
So here is the connection with Orientalish. Frequently dancers aspire accepted or applauded by Arab audiences, friends, or perhaps relatives as a way of achieving "legitimacy." There is a weird subservience to "approval." One group's support or admiration is different from the others; and at the same time, those seeking legitimacy (in dancing) are making money either way. Peretz doesn't go into who is making the most profit out of these traveling exhibits. He changes the focus instead to distasteful jabs at Said's place of burial. Creepy.
The article: Another Refutation of the "Orientalist" Disputations of Edward Said.

Here is the article:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yes or No?: Nine Year Old Belly Dancers...

A bit of a quandry, especially the part in the write up that says Zheng Ciling is so shy, she burst into tears during the interview portion of the contest:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gerome: The Charmer Seduces Himself

The Jean-Leon Gerome exhibit at the Getty last summer has already moved to Paris, but I stumbled upon a book review of the catalog in the LA Times "Beyond the Surfaces of a Glittering Imperialist." Jumping off from questions raised by essays in the catalog, Jorie Finkel asks two questions that struck my Orientalish vein : 1) Though Gerome's representations are limited by the social perspectives of his time and place, to what degree are charges against his images is drawn on assumptions and fantasies of the viewers themselves? And, 2) noting collectors of Gerome and other Orientalist artists in "orientalized" regions such as Turkey and Dubai, "Can a painting still be considered racist if members of the race depicted apparently take pride in it?" Or dancing? No answers here. Plenty of opinions and complexities. And what if the technique makes it aesthetically beautiful?

Also look at the comments for a considered reaction and a reference to one of the must-reads on Orientalist paintings, The Orientalists by Kristen Davies. The painting is Gerome's famous "Snake Charmer" that adorns Edward Said's seminal work Orientalism.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Adonis: "..always more beauty to be seen..."

Syrian poet and perrenial Nobel Prize contender Adonis offered a reading and discussion last Saturday (Oct. 30) at Alwan for the Arts. Though nothing was said about belly dance, but a great deal was said about the complications and anxieties of "globalization" and the Westernization of Arab culture. Marcia Lynx Qualey generously published my report in her excellent online mag--Arabic Literature (in English). Link to Adonis at Alwan: Always More Beauty to Be Seen. Also, read Adonis' new collection Adonis: Selected Poems with beautiful translations and an introduction by poet Khaled Mattawa published by Yale Press.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Readings: Colonialism and Belly Dance

I post here several articles I am using for research, all centered around cultural ramifications of belly dance. They're published in academic journals and can be found through the Project Muse search engine found in most public and university library catalogs. (Note: NYU dance students you have no excuse!)

Tina Frühauf's "Raqs Gothique: Decolonizing Belly Dance" TDR: The Drama Review - Volume 53, Number 3, Fall 2009 (T 203) , pp. 117-138. This erudite article explores "goth" style belly dance through the lens of an ethnomusicologist, academic, and dancer based in New York. From the abstract: "Goth belly dance—or "raqs gothique"—fuses the already Westernized interpretative dance style of the Middle East with Goth subculture. Goth belly dancers want to reject or transcend the obvious roots of belly dancing in Orientalism, but how successful are they?"

Donnalee Dox's "Dancing Around Orientalism." TDR: The Drama Review; Winter2006, Vol. 50 Issue 4, p52-71. From the abstract: "This article discusses belly dancing in the West and orientalism. Western belly dancers commonly interpret Orientalist images as celebration of alternatives to Western patriarchy, materialism and logocentrism. During the 1960s and 70s, belly dancing developed as feminist efforts to claim and express sexuality of women. The emphasis on the open display of sexuality as self-empowerment for women is a function of Western representational practices. The term oriental dance to refer to belly dance distinguishes belly dancing from other forms of professional Western erotic dance and stripping.

Finally, Maira Sunaina's provocative "Belly Dancing: Arab-Face, Orientalist Feminism, and U.S. Empire." American Quarterly. Volume 60, Number 2, June 2008, pp. 317-345
Volume 60, Number 2, June 2008. From the lengthy abstract: "Belly dancing has become especially trendy among non-Arab women across the United States since the 1990s and in the San Francisco Bay Area where it was popularized in the 1960s and 1970s with the emergence of female liberation movements focusing on body politics. This article reflects on what it means for American women to stage Middle Eastern dance at a time when the United States is engaged in war and occupation in the Middle East and there is intensified preoccupation with the figure of the Arab and Muslim “other,” and particularly with the image of oppressed Middle Eastern and Muslim femininity. The research is based on interviews with belly dance students, performers, teachers, and managers in the Bay Area that explore: why is belly dancing so popular among non- Arab women in the Bay Area? Why has it exploded at a moment when Arab Americans themselves have been profiled and attacked during the War on Terror? What does this embodied performance of putatively “Middle Eastern culture” reveal about post-9/11 U.S. nationalism? I argue that belly dancing performances are entangled with the imperial engagements that link the United States and the Middle East and reveal a deeper politics of imperialism, racialization, and feminism in this moment of U.S. empire. The article situates the massive appeal of belly dancing and its growing resonance with white American women since 2001 in relation to contemporary gender and nationalist politics, demonstrating that belly dancing has become a popular site for the mobilization of “whiteness” and “Americanness” in relation to Arab/Muslim femininities and masculinities. Belly dancing has become a site for staging a New Age feminism and liberal Orientalist perspective on Arab and Muslim women. I explore how belly dance performances are layered with the politics of liberal multiculturalism, sisterhood, and female entrepreneurship."

Go read...then dance.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Theatrical Belly Dance Review, Part Two

The second half of my review of this summer's Theatrical Bellydance Conference has been published in Gilded Serpent. This event pushed the boundaries of experiment and artistry in our field. Please read, please comment here or on the site. Part 2 of 2: The Performances
The NY Theatrical Belly Dance Conference 2010A
Five Day Exploration of Dance Styles, Intention, and Content . My review of the panel discussions appeared earlier in the magazine: Report from the Theatrical Belly Dance Conference Part 1: The Panel Discussions. .
(Photo credits: Jeniviva and Mystical Hips by Brian Lin; Kaeshi Chai and Bellyqueen Dance Theater by Sal Romano; and Dunya and the Core Alembic by Sal Romano)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thalia, Kaeshi, Sisters of Bast at Je'Bon on Oct. 13

Please join me, Kaeshi, the Sisters of Bast (dance students from NYU), and soloists Ninette and Allison at Je'Bon this coming Wednesday. Djinn, the band, always makes this event a fun one and the food is good too.

Wednesday, Oct. 13
7:30-10:30 p.m.
D'Jam Under Je'Bon
Je'Bon Noodle Shop
15 St. Mark's Place
between Astor and 2nd Ave.
New York, NY
Cover $10/ $5 min. per person

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

AUC Biography of Edward Lane

A new biography of the famed 19th century Orientalist, Edward William Lane (1801-1876), who translated Arabian Nights in addition to Manners and Customes of the Moden Egyptians was just released by AUC press. I have so many books to read, but this by Jason Thompson indeed seems necessary. A thoughtful review in Al-Ahram, "Pioneering Egyptologist and Orientalist," puts Lane in context as one of the prime European Orientalists identified Edward Said. Lane's fascination with the "Orient" manifests as such: he dresses, marries, speaks, and studies the culture with inensity. Is that the quandry, the more we study and try to perfect our craft, the more "expert" we become, the more we realize it is a dream? Or, as the article suggests, do we become seduced by our own research?

Suggested Belly Dance Reading: Fall 2010

What follows is only a glimpse at a growing body of work on belly dance. Each has its particular focus, such as anthropological/cultural, historical, or technical. In addition to the following recommendations, I suggest perusing the always changing material on: Gilded Serpent: Journal of Record for Middle Eastern Music, Dance, and Belly Dance. Thoughtfully edited by Lynette Harris and crew, Gilded Serpent's many offerings include articles exploring all topics in belly dance, international event listings and teachers, and reviews on shows and media.

Anthropological and Cultural Focus:
Currently, one of my favorite books is a compilation of essays:
Belly Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism and Harem Fantasy, edited by academic writers and dancers, Barbara Sellers-Young and Anthony Shay. Erudite and probing, these essays take belly dance seriously while exploring the ramifications of cultural appropriation and history.

Also, check out Dancing Fear and Desire: Race, Sexuality, and Imperial Politics in Middle Eastern Dance by Stavros Stavrou Karayanni. Another serious book that cares deeply about the dance, this Greek writer (and English professor) considers issues of culture, tradition, Imperialism and belly dance.
Historical Focus:
"A Trade like Any Other": Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt by Karen Van Nieuwkerk. A look at the ethnic history of professional performers in Egypt.

I personally love Edward Said's essay "Farewell to Tahia" Carioca, the famous Egyptian dancer Said fantasized about during his youth. (reprinted in Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper). A very different Egypt emerges in this essay that also captures how belly dancers have become unique cultural icons for all levels of society.
Looking for Little Egypt by Donna Carlton. A worthwhile, easy read with many pictures and tidbits about the first "belly dancer" of fame in the United States.

Technique Focus:
There are many great DVDs on the market; in the book department however, I recommend a classic that is half memoir and half technique: Grandmother's Secrets: The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dancing Rosina-Fawzia B. Al-Rawi.

Visual Art Focus:
Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930, edited by Holly Edwards. This book captures beautifully the visual artistry of the American Orientalists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Written as a catalog for an art exhibition, this book has prints interspersed with valuable articles.

Again, this list is just a sampling of my favorites; there are many more on the market. The next reading update will be focused on recent articles.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Belly Dance Clips: Tahia Carioca

Here is a clip from the legendary dancer Tahia Carioca.

Belly Dance Clips: Samia Gamal

Samia Gamal dances to Zeina...

Belly Dance Clips: Fifi Abdo

This Egyptian dancer is a classic in the field. This older clips shows the stage and live band and mesmerized audience

Belly Dance Clips: Didem

Several of my fall semester students have asked to be directed to dance clips for study. The first I'm presenting has been a favorite of students past. This is Didem, a young Turkish dancer who appears frequently on Turkish television.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NYU: Fall Belly Dance Classes Begin!

It's time to start belly dance classes once again! Whether you're new or returning, please check the schedule as class times have changed. A new Advanced Level class has also been added. Information for the registration times follows at the bottom of this blog blurb. Beginner Level dancers will learn posture and alignment and basic movements including hip circles, lifts, and drops; several types of shimmies; arm patterning; and combinations with music. Intermediate Level dancers will review all of the above and works on "layering" movements by adding shimmies and undulations underneath the basic movements, and a short choreography. Advanced Level dancers will incorporate all of the above with a choreography that incorporates finger cymbals and some performance skills. All classes will include lots of fun, extraordinary Middle Eastern music, and the camaraderie of others drawn to this unique art form. All classes take place in Coles Gym on Mercer Street at Bleecker. (The picture below is our NYU crew Sisters of Bast at last fall's Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon.)


CLS 230.1 Beginning Level: Fri., 3:30-4:25 p.m. (AB)
CLS 231.1 Intermediate Level: Fri., 1:30-3:25 p.m. A, B
CLS 232.1 Advanced Level: Fri. 4:30-5:25 p.m. (AB)


On-Line Registration:
Tuesday, September 14th 8:00am - Friday, October 1st 11:59pm

In-Person Registration at Coles Sports Center:

Tuesday, September 14th 8:00am-1:00pm and 4:00-8:00pm
Wednesday, September 15th 12:00pm-8:00pm
Thursday, September 16th 12:00pm-8:00pm

If you have any questions at all, feel free to contact me:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

New York Theatrical Bellydance Conference Review on Gilded Serpent

Gilded Serpent has just posted the first of my two part review about the panel discussions at the New York Theatrical Bellydance Conference. Take a look and comment. Topics discussed in the two topics reviewed included fusion vs. tradition, performance venue, technique questions, issues of ethnicity in belly dance, and body confidence.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert in Egypt 6 (Dance: The Bee)

Here follows the often mentioned “Bee” dance performed by Kuchuk Hanem. Karayanni pointed out Flaubert’s frequent use of pejorative words such as brutal and grotesque, likely in relation to this famous passage.

Kuchuk dances the Bee. First, so that the door can be closed, the women send away Farghali and another sailor, who up to now have been watching the dances and who, in the background, constituted the grotesque element of the scene. A black veil is tied around the eyes of the child, and a fold of his blue turban is lowered over those of the old man. Kuchuk shed her clothing as she danced. Finally, she was naked except for a fichu which she held in her hands and behind, which she pretended to hide, and at the end, she threw down the fichu. That was the Bee. She danced it very briefly and said she does not like to dance that dance. Joseph, very excited, kept clapping his hands: ‘La, eu, nia, oh! Eu, nia, oh!’ Finally, after repeating for us the wonderful step she had danced in the afternoon, she sank down breathless on her divan, her body continuing to move slightly in rhythm. One of the women threw her her enormous white trousers striped with pink, and she pulled them on up to her neck. The other two musicians were unblindfolded. (117)

Another dance. A cup of coffee is placed on the ground. She dances before it, then falls on her knees and continues to move her torso, always clacking the castanets, and describing in the air a gesture with her arms as though she were swimming. That continues, gradually, the head is lowered, she reaches for the cup, takes the edge of it between her teeth, and then leaps up quickly with a single bound.( 118)

Reading Notes: The Orientalists' "Scopophilac" Gaze

Continuing my reading on Flaubert and his trip down the Nile, I’ve read Stavros Stavrous Karayanni’s “Dismissal Veiling Desire: Kuchuk Hanem and Imperial Masculinity.” Karayanni’s take on Flaubert account I’m now reading is unusual among discourse on this text in that it focuses on “orientalism” in addition to the technical aspects of the dancing. Karayanni contrasts George William Curtis’ portrayal of Kuchuk Hanem in “Nile Notes Of a Hawajii (1850).” Locked up in the American view, Curtis remains detached, erudite, and bourgeouis according to Karayanni, when writing of Kuchuk Hanem. Karayanni points out his references to classical antiquity and Terpsichore as a way of keeping that safe detachment.

Of particular interest to me in this article, was the relation of a “scopophilic” gaze. Flaubert keeps drawing a wider net, according to Karayanni. This is true for all Imperialists seeking to “understand” landscape in a grander sense, and by attaching what he knows to a “larger context” (such as antiquity and the “knowledge” of the “West”), the Imperialist dominates and “knows” the subject more than the subject knows itself. Intellectual “Context,” having the resources and ambition to put “the Orient” into a wider or Western context becam a form of domination. Interesting.
Back to the dance aspects, Karayanni ends again with choreography. Her movements gave both men the option to be transformed by what they saw, where determined to see, as the anti-Western, native or savage side of Egyptian society. Flaubert succumbed and dismissed his emotions in a letter to Louise Colet and obsessed about Kuchuk Hanem for years. Curtis wrote that he had resisted fully succumbing to her power in order to assert his superiority. Her image remained in Flaubert’s “Salammbo,” “Herodias,” and the figure of Salome.

Great read:
Karayanni, Stavros Stavrou. “Dismissal Veiling Desire.” Ch. 4 in Belly Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism, and Harem Fantasy. Eds., Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young. Mazda Publishers, 2005.
Also his own book:
Stavrou Karayanni, Stavros (2004), Dancing Fear & Desire: Race, Sexuality and Imperial Politics in Middle Eastern Dance, Wilfred Laurier University Press, ISBN 0889204543
Photo taken just outside of Siwa, January 2010.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Getty Center Rethinks Gerome

(Image Gerome's "Police Verso" displayed in Duggan's article.)

A catalog for a current exhibit at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, "Thumbs Up: Reconsidering Jean-Léon Gérôme," receives thoughtful review by Bob Duggan in Big Think. The article discusses the curators' intention to spark debate about Gerome's traditional realism and modernist tendencies, but the essays listed speak mostly to his notorious stereotyping. "Genre work" is always considered a lesser art form. Of interest to me is Mary Robert's "Gerome in Istanbul," which discusses the Orientalists work in terms of contemporary hangups and ethnic tensions. The exhibit runs at the Getty until Sept. 12. The book is

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert Meets Kuchuk Hanem (5)

In Esna, Flaubert's famous encounter with the famed dancer Kuchuk Hanem:

Kuchuk Hanem and Bambeh begin to dance. Kuchuk's dance is brutal. She squeezes her bare breasts together with her jacket. She puts on her girdle fashioned from a brown shawl with gold stripes, with three tassels hanging on ribbons. She rises first on one foot, then on the other--marvelous movement, when one foot is on the ground, the other moves up and across in front of the shin bone. The whole thing done with a light bound. I have seen this dance on old Greek vases.

Bambeh prefers a dance on a straight line; she moves with a lowering and raising of one hip only, a kind of limping of great character. Bambeh has henna on her hands. She seems to be a devoted servant to Kuchuk...All in all, their dancing, except Kuchuk's step mentioned above, is far less good than that of Hassan el-Belbeissi, the male dancer in Cairo. Joseph's opinion is that all beautiful women dance badly." (p. 115-116)

Jean-Leon Gerome from Wikipedia
Flaubert in Egypt:A Sensibility on Tour. Trans. and ed by Francis Steegmuller. Chicago: Academy Chicago Ltd. 1979.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert in Egypt 4 (Dancers)

More on the male dancer Hasan el_Belbeissi in Cairo:

Saturday, December 29, 1849.
After our lunch on that same day, we had dancers in--the famous Hasan el-Belbeissi and one other, with musicians; the second would have been noticed even without Hasan. They both wore the same costume--baggy trousers and embroidered jacket, their eyes painted with antimony (khol). The jacket goes down to the abdomen, whereas the trousers, held by an enormous cashmere belt folded over several times, begin approximately at the pubis, so that the stomach, the small of the back, and the beginning of the buttocks are naked, seen through a bit of black gauze held in place by the upper and lower garments. The gauze ripples on the hips like a transparent wave with every movment they make. The shrilling of the flute and the pulsing of the darabukey pierce one's very breast.

Here is a translation of what the singer sang during the dance:

"A slim-waisted Turkish object has sharp and piercing eyes.

Because of them, the lovers have passed the night enchained like slaves.

I am sacrificing my soul for the love of a doe capable of fettering lions.

O God, how sweet it is to suck nectar from her mouth.

Is that nector not the source of my languishment, my wasting away?

O full moon. Enough of harshness and of torment; high time you fulfilled the promise you made to the languishing lover.

And, above all, make no end to the favors you grant him."

The dancers move forward and back. Expressionlessness of their faces beneath their cheeks of rouge and sweat. The effect comes from the gravity of the face contrasted with the lascivious movements of the body; occaissionally, one or the others lies down flat on his back like a woman about to offer herself, and then suddenly leaps up with a bound, like a tree straightening itself after a gust; then bows and curtseys; pauses; their red trousers suddenly puff out like oval balloons, then seem to collapse, expelling the air that's been swelling them. Now and again, during the dance, their impresario makes jokes and kisses Hasan on the belly. Hasan never for a moment stops watching himself in the mirror.

Meanwhile, Mourier was eating his lunch at a little round table on the left.
(p. 69-70)

Photo: Wikipedia: Kocek.
Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour. Trans. and Ed. Francis Steegmuller. Academy Chicago Limited. Chicago: 1979.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert in Egypt 3(Dancers)

Already in Cairo, this is Flaubert's first dramatic rendering of a dancer, mostly on the male dancer Hasan el-Belbeissi:

One day behind the Hotel d'Orient, we meet a wedding procession. The drummers (small drums) are on donkey-back, richly dressed children on horses; women in black veils (seen full-face, the veilsare like the paper disks that circus riders jump through, only black) uttering the zagarit;.....a male dancer--it was Hassan el-Belbeissi--in drag, his hair braided on each side, embroidered jacket, eyebrows painted black, very ugly, gold piastres hanging down his back; around his body, as a belt, a chain of large square gold amulets; he clicks castanets; splendid writhings of belly and hips; he makes his belly undulate like waves; grand final blow with his trousers ballooning." (38-39)

Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour. Trans. and Ed. Francis Steegmuller. Academy Chicago Limited. Chicago: 1979.
Photo: Kocek (male dancer) from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert (2) Landscapes with Slaves

Continuing my literary excursion with Flaubert, the slavery connotations disturb me far more than the prostitutes or the sexualized interpretations of the dancing. The dancers (almeh and bardashes) appear to have some agency, (Kuchuk Hanem employs her own servants and keeps her money in the bank), and are worth conversing with in Flaubert's view. The slavery system depicted--the ships from Nubia, the older women hired to console the young female slaves embarking on their dismal futures, and the man who got away--haunts because the people exploited have no voices, no direct interaction with Flaubert. Flaubert, in his southern most jaunt in Upper Egypt, sees a camel running through the desert with a Nubian man tied to him. Flaubert surmises that the slave is being pulled to freedom by the animal.

Flaubert reports these sights. The fact that he reports them perhaps says what he is able to at that time. But the cool reportage is unnerving mixed in with the detail of an idealized landscape and laced with the specificity that would become part of the future novelist's trademark:
Sunset over Medinet Habu: The mountains are dark indigo (on the Medinet Habu side); blue over dark gray, with contrasting horizontal stripes of purplish red in the clefts of the valleys. The palms are black as ink, the sky is red, the Nile has the look of a lake of molten steel.
When we arrived off Thebes, our sailors were drumming on their darabukehs, the mate was playing his flute, Khalil was dancing with his castanets; they broke off to land.
It was then, as I was enjoying those things, and just as I was watching the wave-crests bending under the wind behind us, I felt a surge of solemn happiness that reached out toward what I was seeing, and I thanked God in my heart for having made me capable of such joy; I felt fortunate at the thought, and yet it seemed to me that I was thinking of nothing: it was a sensuous pleasure that pervaded my entire being."

Hollywood Orientalism 2010

Mia Mask's story on NPR, "Eat, Pray, Love. Leave: Orientalism on the Big Screen, reviews the popularity of modern movies with Orientalist tropes, most egregiously with "Eat, Pray, Love," the story of a woman who "finds herself" while traveling in the East. We still associate the east with barbarism and female sexuality. It's the simplification of Eastern spiritual tropes and the "West"'s (I've been nudged for the vague use of that word too) eagerness to make everything a commodity.

How does this relate to belly dance/orientalish? See Deagon's Patriarchy article (below) or any of myriad articles promoting belly dance for women's empowerment, a theory likely created in the "West" for women in the "west." As an active yogi, I fit the bill twice. I have no plans to quit dancing, to avoid books I want to read (such as Flaubert's degrading but captivating trip down the Nile) or to give up yoga, point fingers at others doing the same. I just hope to take stock of what I do and to continue to carve out my own understanding of why I'm drawn to what I'm drawn toward. That is always a mystery to be pursued. (Note: I didn't read "Eat, Pray, Love" or go to the movie.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Research: Flaubert in Egypt

Continuing researching regarding early travels down the Nile for my Ralph Waldo Emerson project, I've been reading "Flaubert in Egypt." This book, with its fancy Orientalist cover, has been on my shelf for years. I love "Madame Bovary" and was worried this would repel me. Thus far, these accounts of his journey from France to Egypt in the fall of 1849 has proved a fascinating and aesthetically beautiful read. A collection of letters, journal notes, and sections from the memoirs of his travel partner Maxime Du Camp is very, very Flaubert, and very, very little Egypt. He sexualizes the men and the women and the children and even the street animals like that of a horny young artist. He goes of looking for splendor and fantasy and finds it precisely because he is seeing it through his own lens. As the translator and editor Francis Steegmuller states in her introduction he was sensualist and frequenter of prostitutes, male and female. He obsesses over the frequency of people hitting the lower classes, which is alarming. His visual impressions of the colors and scents and foods are worth the read.

Flaubert's literary influences in his perceptions of Egypt came from reading the romantic effusions of "The East" in works by Lord Byron, Victor Hugo's "Les Orientales," and the collected "Arabian Nights." He also, in a letter to his mother, refers to Lane's "The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians" (1836). Steegmuller juxtaposes a scene from Flauber's "pre-Egypt_ Orient and one from his travel account. That tomorrow....

Photos of Gustave Flaubert taken shortly before his Egyptian travels; Maxime Du Champ, his co-traveller. Both from Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Twtty Orientalism" in the New York Times

" She had so much." "But Will it Make You Happy?" The overwhelmingly popular column in the NY Times about a woman who stepped off the earn/spend treadmill and whittled her belongings down to 100 items hooked me. I still like it though I agree the article does oversimplify the "simple life." Among those who took odds with it was Adam Weinstein in "The New York Times' Twitty Orientalism " who criticized the Eastern religion references Hinduism, Sufism, Yoga, and other "eastern" paths that people flit in and out of in oversimplifed form when convenient (I see myself in that list). Weinstein is right in many regards. We're so mired by consumer society that sometimes our winnowing down of items ends up in buying more in the long run. Purge, binge. We use these other belief systems when convenient (and trendy) and just as easily take them off again. Spirituality is hard; commitment isn't popular in our society. Weinstein then moves into more serious territory that results from this winnowing down of that classic "Other." Orientalism exists, he says, with terrifying results though we live in an age that tries to educate ourselves away from it.

Also relevent to this Orientalish thing, Weinstein mentions his own youthful travels to Uzbekistan that made him a suden "expert" on Uzbek culture by local media when he returned. As I read Flaubert's 19th century travel accounts in Egypt, that point struck me as so much of what I'm reading seems Flaubert, Flaubert, Flaubert and very little Egypt. What also strikes me in this 100 items plan is the homes I saw in my last trip to Egypt where the economic situation is dire in the small towns. Some people would kill to own 100 things.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Maureen Fleming at Flushing Library in Queens

Axis Mundi and Other Works:
A Tribute to Kazuo Ohno

By Maureen Fleming
Artistic Director and

Saturday, August 21 7:00 p.m.
Flushing Auditorium, Lower Level
41-17 Main Street
(Directions below)

One of my favorite dancers and teachers performs and lectures this Saturday in Queens. This free show is a rare event. If you're in town, it's worth the effort to get there!

Maureen Fleming was born in Japan. After extensive study there with Kazuo Ohno, co-founder of Butoh, an avantgarde movement developed in post-war Japan, Ms. Fleming went on to perform with Ohno’s son, Yoshito, and tour internationally with performance artist/ choreographer Min Tanaka. This lecture/ demonstration includes excerpts of Ms. Fleming’s work and will be presented with intermittent videos, photographs and narratives that deal with the crucial relationship in her Japanese-influenced work to the changing role of art in society. Photography and visual design by Christopher Odo. Admission is free.
(Photo taken Aug. 2009 at La MaMa Galleria).

Train: 7 to Main Street (last stop) LIRR: Port Washington Line to Flushing-Main Street Bus: Q12, Q13, Q17, Q19, Q20A, Q20B, Q25, Q27, Q34, Q44, Q58, Q65, Q66, QBx1

Field Trip: King Tut at the Met Museum of Art

As the Times Square exhibit continues, the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a small scale sister exhibit, the Funeral of Tutankhamen. I attended a gallery tour with Egyptologist Phyllis Saretta. She started the tour with connecting look at Amenhotep the III and his son Akhnaton (credited by some for inventing monotheism in the ancient world) who fathered Tutankhamen. Tutankhamen, a young and relatively minor ruler who died at 18, paled next to the transforming reign of his father. I knew of the monotheism and that he changed the form of art into elongated figures, but what Saretta added to this was the "realism or naturalism of his artistic contributions." That period, known as the Amarna period, showed realistically drawn pharaohs with wrinkles and fat. After Akhnaton died, the priests, threatened by the monotheism that might put them out of business, managed to sway the boy pharaoh back to polytheism before he died.
What does this have to do with Orientalish? The fact that Tutankhamen was a relatively unimportant figure except for the fact that his intact tomb made the European explorers famous and wealthy. They researched and pillaged in the manner of their era (early 20th century), which was probably better than their predecessors did. The artifacts at the Met are modest in number at this exhibit but have beautiful detail. Soon...King Tut in Times Square...before it's gone.

Research: Emerson at Philae, Part 1

During research on Ralph Waldo Emerson and his voyage down the Nile in 1872, I spent this weekend reading his essay: "Napoleon, or, Man of the World." Yes, that Napoleon, Napoleon Bonaparte of the Egyptian Campaign, 1798-1801. Emerson's essay focused on this conqueror's character and will. For the sake of cultivating his personal philosophy and ethics, Emerson studied rigorously the character traits great men and women had in common--their nature-- and this is the focus of his essay. According to Emerson's study, Napoleon's strength seeps most from his ability to act, "the execution of ideas," never on impulse but on calculation. Emerson portrays Napoleon's unparalleled ability to gain power over men while gaining their respect; they saw in him a role model that a common man can conquer the aristocracy. Emerson, Calvinist and American and Transcendentalist, admired Napoleon's organic rise to power through his wits.

But from the beginning of Emerson's essay, a shadow lurks. Emerson deliberately shows how Bonaparte subordinated all of his great powers and vision toward the material. They hit the mark…and ended there. He set aside "sentiments" such as beloved wife and children. According to Emerson, Bonapart invested his powers into the world, "never weak and literary," he acted. (In an essay on Plato, Emerson states the philosopher's fault was that he was "literary;" Plato's greatness was diminished because he didn't invest in the world.) In his journal during his Egyptian Campaign he wrote: "I have conducted the campaign without consulting anyone…my actions were as prompt as my thoughts." The savants and artists he took aboard, though heralded for advancing culture, brought material ends as their catalog and works became propaganda machines immortalizing his name. Napoleon says of his own character: "My ambition was great, but was of a cold nature."

Napoleon's grasping turned on him at the end. France and Europe tired of his egotism and reviled him. I think of the derogatory cliche that remains, a "Napoleon Complex." Emerson says, "As long as our civilization is essentially one of property, of fences, of exclusiveness, it will be mocked by delusions. Our riches will leave us sick…Only that good profits which we can taste with all doors open, and which serves all men." (Paintings: Top, "The Egyptian Expedition under the orders of Bonaparte" by Leon Cogniet; center, "Bonaparte Before the Sphinx" by Jean-Leon Gerome both from Wikipedia, "French Campaign in Egypt.")

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Article by Andrea Deagon: Belly Dance in Patriarchy

"Belly Dance in Patriarchy: The Switzerland of the Soul," by Andrea Deagon on The Gilded Serpent, offers a considered view of many of fallacies consistent in the current belly dance scene. The use of goddess imagery is questioned, the uncomfortable conundrum between being drawn to belly dance for its acceptance of body types and learning quickly that what sells is typical slender good looks that meet a stereotype, the "dumbing down" of belly dance as it becomes more popular, and the belly dance scene's commodity driven belittling of Arab culture.

An excerpt: Also, we unfairly deny this sort of aesthetic expression to men in our own culture. We fail to acknowledge the aesthetics of the Arab world that created this dance, and we do that all-too-colonial thing: we feminize the Arab “Other,” which, in the metaphor of all patriarchies, aligns him with inherent flaws and inevitable defeat. In claiming that Belly dance is fundamentally feminine, we truthfully reflect the often-empowering ideals of our own culture. However, we also we fall prey to the limitations our patriarchy imposes on both genders, limit our own freedom of expression, exclude men, and repress Arabs all in one fell swoop. Deagon has several articles published in The Gilded Serpent that are well worth reading. Check out the Serpent!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

August 2010 Choreography at NYU

Here is our final dance class of the summer! How hot it was, and yet, how quickly it went. All of these dancers did amazing work in a very short amount of time. And now they leave to school, life, new faculty positions and beyond. Keep dancing everyone!

Monday, June 14, 2010

NYU Drum Solo: Summer I

This session's classes are nearing an end...we've finished one drum solo routine in our steamy fencing salle and start a new piece this week. We worked on the "Solo Tabla" from the Beata and Horacio's album "Oriental Fantsy 4." Enjoy, practice, send compliments to the dancers you recognize! And sign up for the next session of classes.....

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New York Times Obituary: Kazuo Ohno

The legacy of this dance legend will continue. Jennifer Dunning's obituary in the New York Times considers briefly his artistry and the ephemeral nature of the butoh form.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

King Tut in Times Square

King Tut in Times Square? Totally Orientalish. This recent review in the New York Times talks more about the show as spectacle and commodity in addition to its undeniable grandeur. It is a money making venture for the Egyptian Department of Antiquities and rightfully so. It's in Times Square because the Met couldn't afford it. The review in the New York Times is an educational first read for this event,"Mystique of Tut, Increasing with Age". But for a better exploration of the political and historical and comical profile of Hawass, the New Yorker's December article, "Letter from Cairo: The Pharoah".

PEN World Voices: Writers from Lebanon

Today PEN America is sponsoring three panels of Lebanese writers. At 1 p.m., the formidable Elias Khoury; 3 p.m., Rawi Hague; and at 5 p.m., Alexandre Najjar
Event specifics: Le Skyroom, French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), 22 East 60th Street, between Madison and Park, New York City

Friday, April 30, 2010

Performance: Mezzo Mezzo on May Day

May 1, 9:30 p.m.
Mezzo Mezzo
31-29 Ditmars Blvd (at 33rd)
Astoria, NY 11105
Reservations: (718) 278-0444.
Musicians: Elias Sakar, Chris Marashlian, Robert Boghosian, and Amir Noum
Table minimum: $25

Photo: Aristo

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hoopoe from The Conference of the Birds

This weekend's Venus Uprising show, "The Zoo" is going beautifully with many great dancers in a thoughtfully planned show. Because many people have asked, "What is a hoopoe?," I'm offering the following description. The bird appears in Farid Ud-din Attar's 12th century Sufi text "The Conference of the Birds." In that text, the hoopoe leads a band of birds in search of the mythical Simorgh. After discipline and travail, each bird learns the Simorgh must be found within her own yearning and within the yearning of those traveling alongside her. In the picture, taken from Wikipedia, the hoopoe is center right, a small bird with a blackish wing and a dotted crown.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sisters of Bast at Je'Bon, Part 2

Sisters of Bast at Je'Bon, Part 1

Thanks to all of you who performed and who came to support us. We had a great turnout and a great time!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Venus Uprising: The Zoo

Venus Uprising is presenting one of their fantasy belly dance events this April and I'm very happy to be part of it. I'll be the hoopoe, the guide in Attar's 13th c. work: The Conference of the Birds. Other dancers are choosing other animals to embody for the night.
Show: April 16-17th pm

Performance @ J'Bon on March 31

This Wednesday I'm dancing with my students from NYU at D'Jam under J'Bon produced by Kaeshi of Bellyqueen. Ninette, Carrie, and Allison will do solos and we'll have a group piece by the Sisters of Bast. Djinn is playing this week!
Showtime: 7:30-10:30 p.m.
at J'Bon (downstairs)
15 St. Mark's Place, New York, NY
Reservations: 212-388-1313; Cover $10; $5 minimum at the tables
For information on the show and Kaeshi:
For information on Djinn:

Monday, March 29, 2010

NYU D Quarter

Yes, a month has passed since I've updated--make that two--but here I am again. Friday classes started last week with online registration up and running! In the Intermediate Level we are working on our routine for J'Bon in addition to veil work technique.
Tuesday and Thursday classes start on Tuesday, March 30th.
Class times:
Tues./Thurs. 3:30-4:25 pm. in the Dance Studio
Fridays, 1:30-3:25 p.m. in the Fencing Salle.
Tues./Thurs. 4:30-5:25 in the Fencing Salle
Fridays, 3:30-4:25 in the Dance Studio.
I hope to see everyone soon!
(Photo by Wah Ming Chang)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Registration for NYU Classes

Yes, it's registration time again! New moves await inspired by classes with Mahmoud Reda, the Tannoura dancers, and dances performed impromptu by my Bedouin guides during a tea break while crossing the Great Sand Sea (see left and the separate blog post). Yes, this trip has been amazing..more of that later.

Thus far, I've received no information about on-line registration, so please sign up in person at Coles Gym. To make things even more confusing, I also received an unsigned email from the recreation department indicating that there will also be registration on Monday, January 25. The information I'm providing below is what appears in the official flyer. All belly dance classes are being offered, but we must have an adequate number of students enrolled for classes to run. The earlier you can sign up the better. I do hope to see you and dance with you soon!
Registration times: January
Tuesday, January 26: 8 am.-1 p.m. and 4-8 p.m.
Wednesday, January 27: noon-8 p.m.
Thursday, January 28: noon-8 p.m.
Class Times:

Beginning Levels:

CLS 230.1 Tues./Thurs.: 4:30-3:25 p.m.

CLS 230.2 Fridays: 3:30-4:25 p.m. (C/D quarter Class)

Intermediate Levels:

CLS 231.1 Tues./Thurs.: 3:30-4:25 p.m.

CLS 231.2 Fridays: 1:30-3:35 p.m.