Dancing away stereotypesOregon Daily Emerald - Eugene,OR,USA, Friday, 21 March 2008
A troupe of curvy females is going to war with a social taboo, armed with the arsenal of the way their bodies shimmy.
The Bellydance Superstars, a group of 13 bodacious females, is sending the message to American society that belly dancing is a creative art form.
Stigmatized for years, belly dancers are often perceived as malicious gypsies and classy pole dancers. "It got a bad reputation when people started associating (belly dancing) with stripping," said Petite Jamila, a member of the all-female dance group. "The tipping system just makes everything cheap," she said, noting how most belly dancers in the U.S. earn a living from dancing at restaurants and clubs. "No other dance form works that way."
But Jamila and her fellow ladies are prepared to elevate the art form of belly dancing and prove that the popular dance demands technique, expertise and professionalism.
Entertainment guru Miles Copeland, former manager of The Police, formed the Bellydance Superstars with the belief that the group would thrive in mainstream culture. Now, other countries are emulating the women's style. Jamila just returned from Beijing, where she said the dance form is booming.
What sets the Bellydance Superstars apart from traditional belly dancing is that the women cross train, learning jazz, ballet, cabaret - the inspiration for flamboyant costumes - and tribal dance.
"We're a fusion belly dance company. So, we take belly dance and infuse it with other dance forms more familiar to an American audience."
Belly dancing was born in Roma culture and emerged in the U.S. in the 1940s. Each geographical region shapes its own interpretation of the dance, so for years it lacked the professional quality standards akin to most other dance mediums.
"It just caught on from imitation," Jamila said. "Really, belly dancing has become its own art form."
Now, there are more belly dancers in America than anywhere in the world. Just to make the cut for the Bellydance Superstars, Jamila said some girls had to audition six times. Because the dance troupe has been so popular, touring in more than 19 countries, Copeland envisions it transforming into an act with several different groups, like Cirque de Soleil.
Jamila believes there is a higher reason behind why each woman becomes a belly dancer, whether it is used as a workout regimen or means of free expression, because the style of dance has been disregarded for so long.
Jamila, who learned the moves as a child, said that as a teenager, she reveled in nothing more than adapting belly dancing to pop culture. "I could belly dance to Janet Jackson, and I was accepted."
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