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Women’s History Month & Belly Dance History – Part 2

March is Women’s History Month – Part 2

Hello there!  Today I’m doing something a bit different.  In honor of International Woman’s Day, which falls in Women’s History Month, I’m sharing a bit of belly dance history each day over on my FaceBook page. I’ve decided to put up five posts this month that round up those entries for the week.  This is post #2. If you haven’t read the first post – check it out here.

Facebook, the site we love and hate

As I’ve worked on this project over on Facebook, I ran into a few troubles. One day in March, Facebook and Instagram had a global outage.  While it threw off my timing by a day, it was just a minor inconvenience.  A bigger problem was Facebook removing two posts due to the illusion of nudity.  While it was just an illusion, they are sticking to their guns and disallowing the images. Consequently, I had to change up some of my plans for later posts.  History is broad and deep and there are many, many images and anecdotes to share, so I just had to change things up a bit.

Day 9 – Nai Bonet and Shirley MacLaine

Back in the 1950s and 60s, many popular films featured belly dancers either as important characters or as part of the backdrop for the flow of the story.

Throughout the 1950s, belly dancing scenes appeared most often in quasi-historic “Sword and Sandal” flicks, spy films, or Orientalist Fantasy pictures. By the 1960s, belly dancers began appearing in more humor films.

One of these more humor-focussed films was “John Goldfarb, Please Come Home” of 1965.  In this film, Shirley Maclaine appears in a scene with a group of belly dancers.

To prepare for this film, she took some classes with then Las Vegas-based belly dancer Nai Bonet.  In this photo, you can see Shirley, an accomplished Broadway-style dancer, learning to do a classic belly dance move.

Nai, however, is the star of the belly dance scene.  But if you follow this link and watch this entire clip, you can catch Shirley’s shimmy!

Day 10 – Serena of NYC

During the 1970’s the first wave of belly dance instructional books hit shelves and every major publisher connected with a belly dance teacher to share the mystic art of belly dance with readers.  Belly dance had gone mainstream.

Serena of NYC published her book, “The Serena Technique of Belly Dancing: The Fun Way to a Trim Shape” in 1972.  This book went through several editions appearing in hardback and paperback versions.  My mum had this book when she was dabbling in learning the dance.  I bought my first copy from a Goodwill in San Diego for .25  Today you can pick up a vintage copy for as little as $3 on Amazon.  –

This photo was part of the publicity campaign for the book release. A photographer from Life Magazine went to her New York studio to photograph the celebrity dancer in action.  It appeared as part of a photo essay on the last few pages of the Feb. 4, 1972 edition.  It’s nice to know that “Perfectly Respectable” women were taking up the hobby.

After her passing, her studio, and later the NYC store Belly Dance America hosted an exhibition of her memorabilia.  Mahin of Phoenix  visited the exhibition and documented in this video:  

Day 11 –  Rue du Caire Poster,
The Exposition Universelle du 1900, Paris

Today’s image is a promotional poster from the Exposition Universelle of 1900, a world’s fair to celebrate the artistic and industrial achievements between 1800 and 1900. There was a new arts sensibility sweeping France called Art Nouveau and this poster really captures the essence of the style.

By 1900, the World’s Fair exhibition model was well established and codified. So along with the newest technology, like the telegraphone, the first magnetic audio recorder, and the escalator, there were repeat pieces such as the iconic Tour Eiffel and the imported Ferris Wheel.

During this era of Imperialism, there many cultural exhibitions, many of which were reimaginations of exhibits from the previous Paris exhibition from just 11 years before.

The Rue du Caire was an exhibition for the 1889 Paris Exposition and it was so popular it was reborn for the 1900 exhibition. In this poster, our dancer is in the act of a mighty hip thrust with arms held high. You get a real sense of what her costume looked like, with her transparent chemise and wide-legged striped pantaloons and cropped vest. These pieces are the iconic Turkish costuming elements worn by dancers throughout the lands once or still ruled by the Ottoman empire.

Artemis and Yasmin of put together a great video about the Rue du Caire from the 1889 Exhibition available for view on YouTube.

Day 12 – Özel Turkbas, “Music For Belly Dancing”

In the 1970’s one of the most acclaimed belly dance performers was the lovely Özel. And, very much like today, she worked hard to develop multiple income streams to support her career. In addition to performing and teaching, she also was involved in a series of albums, books, and back in her native Turkey, she starred in several films.

In 1977, Özel published a cookbook entitled “The Turkish Cookbook” and went on a book publicity tour which included several stops on the talk show circuit including the Dinah Shore show. Her appearance on this show includes a short performance, her teaching a few moves to the other guests (including the stuffy actor Ted Knight) and then a demo of how to prepare the Turkish Dish Lamb Papillote.

Her book, The Belly Dancer in You, is still on my bookshelf and I really enjoy pulling it down and thumbing through the pages.

Today I’ve included the front and back of her album “Music For Belly Dancing” so you can enjoy reading the blurb on the other side.

Thank you for sharing the obsession!

I appreciate you joining me for this 31-day series. If you have questions about belly dance history, and I know the answer I’m happy to share.  It’s been a pleasure to put together these posts, and I’ll be back next week with two more posts.

Happy Dance and Costume
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
March 22, 2019

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