Last night at the Birchmere, Bellydance Superstars put on a crowd-pleasing performance. The show included 16 energetic pieces that covered a wide range of the many styles of Bellydance, as well as stepping outside of traditions at times.
From slower, more melodic body popping tribal pieces to intense solo drum dances, the dancer’s background in other forms of dance was notable in the choreography yet resulted an eye-pleasing fusion of dance styles. Of note was one piece that was strongly classic ballet-influenced, while another was a Polynesian-themed Hula style dance called Bellynisian.
Many of the troupe of 14 dancers, aged 22 to 38, have a good amount of formal dance training in their background. But hip-hop, techno and other modern dance styles also gracefully blended with the traditional and tribal Arabic bellydance styles.
I spoke with the troupe’s manager and promoter, Miles Copeland, who’s a bit of a rock icon himself, having managed Sting, The Police, The Go-go’s and The Bangle’s, among others, as well as heading up a couple record companies. He told me that only 16 dancers made the final cut to join BDSS from over 3,000 who auditioned. And one might assume, the majority of the dancers come from the Middle East. But no, he informed me, most are American, due to the fact that America has become the bellydance center of the world.
The dancer’s stories of how they discovered bellydance varies. One dancer, Sabah, studied under one-time Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and New York City Ballet, prima ballerina, Maria Tallchief. After performing as a soloist for the Chicago Festival Ballet, and while working on a dance degree at Columbia College, she discovered bellydance. While another of the tribal dancers, Rachel Brine, fell in love with bellydance after watching a performance at a Renaissance Festival in 1988, and immediately started taking cabaret-style bellydance lessons. Another dancer, Hannah Nour, found bellydance while attending the Julliard School in NYC, after a knee injury ended a potential ballet career.
Even with over 100 shows per year with BDSS, many of the dancers have other gigs - dancing with other troupes, teaching, or creating instructional bellydance videos, but their on stage presence is where they connect with their audiences.
Judging by the audience’s reaction, one piece, Behind the Veil, which incorporated veils, scarves and Dervish-style costumes, was one of the crowd’s favorites. The lead dancer, Petite Jamilla, amazed the audience with her spinning show that had people cheering. Her whirling and spinning veils, scarves and body created a 5-minute flowing performance that conservatively, involved her spinning at least a couple hundred times, many twenty, thirty or forty spins at a time, begging the question, how did she not fall over from dizziness?
Other crowd pleasers included the solo drum dances which were passionate, rhythmic and powerful. And the somewhat edgy tribal dances which focused on body control and at times audience-connecting devilish glances and smiles.
Preferring 1,000-seat venues, BDSS recently toured Japan, China and Taiwan, where Miles said some of the dancers get rock-star like attention. As the popularity of bellydance increases, the earning potential for bellydancers also rises as well, moving up to what some lead classical ballet dancers earn.
He told me that bellydance appears to on the brink of a shift in dance recognition, owing to the fact that it’s one of the top forms of women’s activities. “And men are interested in attending performances as well.” he said. ”Now, men are saying to their wives, bellydance? Sure, I’ll come along.” Case in point, a table of 3 couples were sitting at a nearby table. For the first few numbers, the men chatted quietly among themselves, virtually ignoring the dancers. By the finale, one man, an obviously newly converted fan was on his feet yelling in Arabic “I love you! I love you!” to one of the dancers.
Playful and seductive, bellydance is able to remain wholesome and beautiful, yet sensual with a bit of innocent naughtiness.
Incorporating colorful costumes, fans, veils and a wide range of music, it delivers a solid and entertaining form of dance that was encapsulated in the final piece danced to a piece of Arabic music that lyrics translated to “make your body talk to me“.
And in June, this DC Traveler exclusive, BDSS will be returning to DC as part of a major three-day bellydance festival, including performances by not just Bellydance Superstars but other leading dancers, as well as classes in dance instruction, workshops, shopping and more.
Images – courtesy of BDSS.