Thursday, 21 August 2008

The sequined insurgents

And CAmel two three - and to the LEFT - and HIP circle, bottom OUT, half circle and SHImmy - and DUM diddy DUM diddy DUM diddy DUM, and CHEST, imagine you’re cleaning the windows with your bosoms - and other way - reverse tumble dryer - lovely - and chest-snap, snAp, snAp, and on-the-spot camel – reverse camel - fanny-over-the-fence and ShImmy. How was that? Any questions?

‘No,’ we mutter meekly, barely able to keep the pace never mind clean the windows with our bosoms. These, it may surprise you to learn, are all the highly technical terms for belly-dance moves bellowed out by the doyenne of Arabic dancing in Britain, the formidable Josephine Wise. This is just a taste of her class, which includes a ‘shit in the woods’ and ‘throwing up camel,’ among other choice examples of dance instructions. Weekly classes ended in June and, just as we were all getting fidgety, August came and we packed up our jangly hip scarves and high-tailed it off to Tring Park to a once-stately mansion, deep in the heart of suburbia, where the JWAAD annual summer school shimmies into action.

JWAAD, according to Wise, its director, is the biggest and most respected school of Arabic Dance (aka belly-dancing) in the UK. The summer school attracts eager students from all over the country and beyond for a week-long extravaganza of extremely high-octane, sequined suburban camp, with intensive classes, starting at 9.00am, and culminating in a string of performances and a fancy dress party with more performances. Oh and there are some more performances on other nights, because no one can quite resist strutting their stuff on stage or showing off their sequins. Btw, 'suburban' is often used a pejorative term, not in this case, it's a simple fact of demographics and probably economics.

Among the many fine qualities of belly-dancers, is the capacity to work extremely hard at their art, which they take very seriously indeed, while somehow managing not to take themselves too seriously. Performances included a sensational pastiche of a Nirvana- style, hard-rock, leather-clad, metal-spikes-round-the-neck, guitar-smashing, pelvic-thrusting-rock-hard-guitar-band, using plastic double-headed axes as guitars and complete with gormless rock chicks with dead pan faces who rounded off the performances by emasculating the front men with their plastic axes. Other outstanding performances included ‘Chav-Saidi’ –including seven-months pregnant ‘bride to be’ in lipstick-covered tee-shirt. This was a professional group, most of whose members teach as well as perfom. The saidi dance is originally a folk dance for camel herders and is performed with sticks, style and much jumping about. There were numerous beautiful graceful classic belly dances too, step forward and curtsey- Krystl from Belgium - and a particularly gorgeous one which seemed to be hybridising with some bharatanatyam moves (?) not sure, but imaginative mix of perfect moves, grace and humour. I have absolutely no expertise in this by the way, so I’ve remembered the slightly or very unusual ones. Next year I hope to able to comment a bit more lucidly on the ‘beautiful, graceful, classic belly dances.’

You may by now have gathered that I am a very fully paid-up member of the shimmying club. I don’t have the sequins yet, all in good time, for now I’m concentrating on improving my camels, arms-and-hands, and breathing, to say nothing of my hip-drops, chonks, figures of 8s - you do these with your hips, horizontally and vertically, Hagalla or Egyptian walk – that’s ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ in Wise-speak, and all the other things I have to work on.

Shared, very manky, boarding school ‘dorms’ were transformed into glittering palaces of camp, eye liner, and sequined festivity by a combination of will-power and sheer good nature. Even ‘school dinners,’ for such they were, were wolfed down gratefully in school dining room on wooden benches before the next gruelling techno-belly-dance-fusion of leaping about and snake-arms session. Yes I did perform. Pictures will be supplied if I can get hold of any.

I didn’t quite master the double combination of cleaning the windows with my bosoms – that’s upper body going round vertically in one direction – moving separately but at the same time as hip circle going round horizontally in the other direction. But I’m working on that too. These gloriously descriptive phrases are now being rationalised or made uniform so that, as belly dancing moves inexorably into the cultural main stream, classes up and down the country will use the same instructions. So, sadly, I suspect we’re going to lose ‘fanny over the fence’ and ‘reverse tumble dryer,’ both of which I find very helpful, in favour of something less descriptive but probably a bit more technical. Ah well, I guess we all know what a reverse undulation is really. At least I think we do.