I swear on my little dog’s life, my Nadia Gamal original costume, and everything that’s sacred in the world, I don’t believe in following the rules. But I’ve always subscribed to these four Fundamental Axioms of Belly Dance:
1. Don’t mix bellydance with striptease.
2. Legs no more than hip-width apart.
3. NO backbends with your crotch facing the audience
4. Semper ubi, sub ubi. (That’s “always wear underwear” to you non Latin scholars).
Then, this morning, I was caught off guard when I Googled “non cheesy belly dancer” for ha-ha’s and came upon this hilarious account of a bellygram gone awry, as told by my friends Jeff and Stephanie of The DJ Solution. After 5 minutes of pure schadenfreude and hyena-like cackling, I created a new Fundamental Axiom:
5. “The Electric Slide ≠ bellydance music.”
Unfortunately, for trained professional belly dancers, many of our prospective clients like yourself or Stephanie – bless her heart, as they’d say down South – take the Fundamental Axioms for granted. It is assumed, no questions asked, that if you’re hiring a belly dancer, you will get a performance full of exotic sights and sounds. Good news is, most belly dancers will give you just that.
As for the rest? You may head off an embarrassing dance-off to “Rock Lobster” (or Raqs Lobster) by asking the dancer if she uses traditional belly dance music. While names like Warda or Myriam Fares might escape you, a “no” answer followed by Shakira, or a playlist of 80s one-hit wonders is a red flag that you and your guests just might not get the Real Deal.
My music and performance credo is simple: “never underestimate American audiences.” American musical tastes range from Justin Bieber (why?) to classic rock to Baroque compositions and Italian arias. I, myself, was classically trained in clarinet and voice throughout my youth, and have since channeled my Band Geek Fever in a more corporeal and sparkly way. I approach all of my gigs bearing in mind that Uncle Bob may actually be a classical maestro. Or perhaps, he’s simply a cool cat who appreciates complex music with starts, stops, tempo and dynamic changes, and lush instrumentation in exciting new keys and time signatures. When you dumb down your music, you effectively dumb down your audiences.
Of course, an American audience might enjoy a slightly more “polished” orchestration and shorter, more dynamic songs. There are some beautiful contemporary belly dance compositions, as well as condensed, danceworthy versions of the classics. Sometimes, for audience participation, I will break the ice with an Arabized version of an American song before I get everybody dancing to Arabic pop. (Algerian rocker Rachid Taha’s cover of “Rock the Casbah” is incredible). But you will never hear straight-up American pop music, and you will only hear Shakira at the occasional quinceanera, if the birthday girl requests it.
Great things happen when I use traditional music. Once, a local hip hop artist approached me after a party show to get the title of my drum solo so he could look into sampling it for one of his songs. Just recently, I caught a couple audience members singing along to a Myriam Fares song even though they didn’t know the words. People tell me, “I didn’t know belly dance could be so artistic. I thought it was just cheesy entertainment you see at bad restaurants.” More people get up and dance, fewer sink in their seats and squirm.
Now, before I start rambling about the quivering qanun:
A Quick PSA to DJs on Honoring Axiom #5:
Sometimes, belly dancers are forced to violate Axiom #5 through no choice of their own. A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, some smart-aleck of a DJ thought it would be funny to swoop right into my Americanized-Egyptian set and replace my originally scheduled sword dance with – wait for it – the Macarena. To add insult to injury, I had forgotten how to do all the “proper” steps and was a dancing fool in front of my crowd. Palms up, cross…no, wait, hip. #$%&@!
So DJs, let this be your lesson: when a belly dancer hands you her CD or iPod and says, “Just press play,” please honor her wishes.
As with everything, we get over these dance floor fiascos. But you know what they say about an ounce of prevention! ‘Til next time, keep it classy and cheese-free!
About Carrara: Carrara is a professional belly dancer offering elegant, authentic entertainment for weddings and special events in Central Florida (Orlando, Melbourne, Daytona). Learn more about Carrara or follow her on Twitter @CarraraNour.