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Women’s History Month & Belly Dance History – Part 3

March is Women’s History Month – Part 3

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 #3 in this series. If you haven’t read them all start with the first post and here’s the second post.

Day 13 – Johanna and Turhan, 1960’s – Black and White Glossy Promotional Photo

One of the sources of 20th-century belly dance costume information is black and white glossies. For more than 40 years, from the 40s through to the 80s professional entertainers would supply venues with photographs to use for promotional purposes. These 8″ by 10″ photos might be sent to the press as part of a promotion, placed in signholders outside of the venue, or used as interior decor to share past stars.

These photographs were as essential for a dancer’s marketing and publicity then as a website is today. Black and white glossies offer the belly dance costume historian a wealth of information from eras before amateur video recording made it easy to document performances.

This 1960s era black and white glossy features a dancing duo from New York, Johanna and her dance partner and husband Bill who danced “Middle Eastern Style” under the name Turhan. Johanna founded “The Oasis Ballet” and the troupe performed in NYC and beyond.

Johanna’s daughter by her second husband, Belly Dancer Aziza Al-Tawil, wrote a detailed biography of Johanna along with lots of great photos.…/johanna-white-was…

Watch Johanna perform a Spanish style dance to Malaguena

Here’s a later performance of a scarf dance

Day 14 – Uknown dancer on Arcade Card c. 1918-1925

During the first quarter of the 20th century, before the advent of TV and talkie movies, people living in metropolitan areas would go to coin-operated arcades for entertainment. These penny arcades came in different styles and varieties and might be more child and family oriented. Others were more adult in theme and tone and might be attached to a bar or tavern.

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Coin-operated machines would include games, like pinball, flip-show action animation and in the 1920’s you could even see short movie clips. While there were dedicated arcades at pleasure destinations, individual or small groups of coin-operated machines could also be located in other entertainment venues. They were especially popular at early theme parks, especially those at sea-side pleasure Even in today’s movie theaters, small arcades are included, a tradition left over from the silent movie era.

There were three ways you could get a collectible photo at the arcade. The first was to buy candy, gum or cigarettes with a collectible card inside. This practice dates back to the very beginning of the penny arcade. Later, companies like the Exhibit Supply Company of Chicago 1900 – 1966, produced post-card sized images like the one I’m sharing today. Cards were produced in “Sets” and they often featured dancing girls, sports figures, Hollywood celebrities.

This lovely is from my collection. You can find these vintage postcards at ephemera and collectible shows, at antique dealers both in person and online.

Day 15 – Mata Hari

Well, Facebook didn’t want this post about Mata Hari on their site – apparently, they thought you could see her nipples or that the shadow in the image below didn’t obscure enough of her body. I only see jewels and strategic shadows, but ya know, it’s not their site, so here it is on mine!  Unfortunately, I lost the original text I wrote!  However, I wanted to share that she is probably the best-documented Orientalist dancer due in large part to her reputation as a spy. There are many movies have been made about her, television documentaries, and loads of books, both biographical and fictional.  I have quite a few in my library and recommend this one.

During more public performances, Mata Hari wore “Pinks” or flesh-colored body stockings that created the illusion of nudity. However, she became notorious for dancing in various levels of nudity.  We definitely know she frequently went nude for still photographs.  Compare the two shots below, both taken in 1905.  The left photo is from a public performance at the Musée Guimet.  While in the studio photograph below that became a widely traded post-card, she is partially nude, but with strategic shadows.

Mata Hari naked 1905

Day 16 – La Belle Otéro.

In Paris c. 1900, The Follies-Bergère was one of the most popular places to go for variety entertainment in Paris. The shows included music, singers, comedians, and dancers.

Between 1900-1910, the Spanish born, La Belle Otéro was considered THE star of the show. Though she started off her career as a dancer, she was also known for her acting abilities and her numerous love affairs with wealthy patrons of the art. During her career, she became fabulously wealthy and quite notorious.

She was best known for her sultry Spanish Gypsy style. We can get a sense of her style in the one surviving movie clip from 1898. In it, she’s performing one of her signature Spanish dances. You can spot this vintage clip as part of this informational video.

As Salomania swept the globe, Otéro also created a Salome dance. Due to her high-ranking status at the Follies, her costume was captured in a photo shoot for a series of postcards. Unfortunately, there’s no surviving video of her performing in this piece.

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In 1954, French actress Maria Felix portrayed the famous dancer. Notice how her Oriental costume designed for the movie reflects the style and taste of 1950’s bedlah sets.  Here is a clip from the movie of with Maria performing a Spanish dance.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, cloud, sky and outdoorSculpture of La Belle Otéro by Camilo Seira, located in Valga Spain. If you are interested in learning more about Caroline Otéro aka La Belle Otéro, many research libraries hold copies of her 1927 memoir.

I really hope that you are enjoying this series!
Happy Dance and Costuming, 
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
March 25, 2019.

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