“Doing” Belly Dance History – Post-Workshop Update

“‘Doing’ Belly Dance History” was such a fun seminar back in March!  I just want to thank all of the folks who attended. The replay is now available on the BDBA website.  If you missed this workshop, and want to check it out in replay, click here for more details Attendees to the “Doing” seminar got to peer “behind the curtain.” In this workshop, I shared all of my research processes, organization tricks, and digital tools.

Salomania: A Quest for Ephemera

During that workshop, I made an announcement. A portion of the proceeds is going directly towards the production costs of a future book. My current archival research focuses on the period between 1875 and 1925.  I’m looking forward to publishing a future book on the Salomania phenomenon.

Armed with this influx of funds, I’m now officially on the hunt for ephemera related to Salome in the first decade of the 20th century.  My goal is to find images of the Salomé character during the last quarter of the 19th century through the pop culture phenomenon we now call “Salomania.”  

La Bellincioni Dans “Salomé”

This lovely page pulled from an unknown French magazine of Italian opera singer Gemma Bellincioni is my latest acquisition.  In 1911, she performed in the title role of Salomé at the l’Opéra-Comique in Paris. This is an illustration/photo hybrid. Lean in and look closely. Can you identify the classic costuming features associated with the character Salomé?

Maud Allan, the Most Famous Salomé Dancer

Does this image look familiar?  This is due, in large part, to the costume. The top worn by La Bellincioni bears a striking resemblance to dancer Maud Allan’s in the same role. Is it possible the designer of this Salomé opera copied Maud Allan’s look?

If we compare these two tops, we can see the striking resemblance between these two ensembles. From construction details like the mesh base and beaded roundels to the pearl sags and bejeweled medallions, it’s clear that these costumes are iconic to the character Salomé.  For the early 20th century theatrical audience, the uniformity of the looks makes it easy to read who the character is from a distance.

I’m so excited to be digitally shopping from ephemera dealers and image-rights management companies.  I’m looking forward to investing in photos and illustrations to make this future book as lavishly illustrated as “Cloth of Egypt: All About Assiut.”

Now it’s time to head into the studio and get some sewing done!
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
May 22, 2021




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Dancers in Orientalist Art – 2021 Edition

Hello Gang! I’ve done a complete top to bottom renovation of one of my most requested workshops. This classic talk, “Dancers in Orientalist Art,” has been updated for 2021.  The first time I presented this material, this was a paper and presentation for a graduate seminar.  Back then, I was working towards an MA in art history at UC Davis in 1997.  Since then, this talk has evolved, changed, and grown.  I’ve continued to follow the changes in scholarship in the world of Orientalist art history and to integrate these changes into this talk. 

“Belly Dance Family Album”

One of the phenomena that I’ve seen happening over my 30+ year involvement in the world of belly dance is the identification of what I like to call the “Belly Dane Family Album.”  This is a loose collection of images that appear on websites, in newsletters, on blog posts (just like this one.)  And of course, we find these images all across social media. We use these images to provide historical context, to illustrate discussions on all sorts of topics, and because they are beautiful and evocative.

The 19th-century segment of this album includes imagery from a variety of sources. These pictures include oil and watercolor paintings, sketches from artist and traveler notebooks, illustrations from published books including encyclopedias, travel memoirs, and guides, as well as reproduction and original etchings in journals and newspapers.

Identifying Images

Many years ago, I decided to make it my low-key mission to make sure that images get properly sourced. Many of us have seen and know by sight these images from their repetition in the Belly Dance Family Album.  My goal is to help share information about the artist and the context in which these images were produced.  Are these great works, good works, or just hacks catering to a hungry art market.  

Another aspect of the web is the notion of relative size.  When looking at a screen, you don’t get a sense of scale. Paintings can vary wildly in size, and understanding how big a painting is can help provide some understanding of the impact of the work on the viewer.  Most orientalist genre paintings were actually quite small, excellent for display and house or home.  We sometimes think that Gerome’s masterpieces are quite large, when in fact, most are equivalent to the size of a modern poster.
Image right: drawing from “Sketches in Egypt” by Charles Dana Gibson c. 1899.

Painter Travelers

While our world is bubbling with conversations about cultural change and evolution, there’s been a sea-change in how Orientalist genre art is collected and presented. In this latest version of this talk, I’ll be sharing the latest scholarship that is impacting how these works are displayed and labeled.  I’ll also be talking about the latest exhibitions, publications, and the new era of collectors. This talk includes a discussion of separating the good from the bad in terms of subject, theme, and the artists themselves.  We will take a look at who are the masters and who are the hacks in our current world.

Visual Documents for History of Dance

And finally, during the last segment of this talk, I’ll be sharing some methods for looking at these works. We’ll discuss approaches for evaluating them not as great works of art, but rather, as documents of the history of our dance.   While we might not know when the first dancer put a sword on her head.  But thanks to the great French artist Gérôme, we know that he witnessed a sword dance during his travels in 1856. 

If all this sounds intriguing and, you can join me and my host Sara Shrapnell for a live 90-minute slide talk, but plan for 2-hours to include the live Q&A discussion. 

Dancers In Orientalist Art – 2021

Sunday, June 20th at Noon Pacific
90 Minute zoom-based slide talk with Q&A
$25 Registration includes
an informative handout and replay access
Hosted by Sara Shrapnell on the BDBA
Reserve your space

Maybe I’ll See You There!
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
May 16, 2021


Permalink: https://www.davina.us/blog/2021/05/dancers-in-orientalist-art-2021-edition/

“An Ouled Nail Tribal Dancer” c. 1895 by Georges Clairin (French, 1843 – 1919)

Q: What do these two paintings have in common?

A: The Painter!  Georges Glairin (French, 1843-1919)

  • Above left is a painting that fits into the Orientalist genre popular in the 19th century. It’s entitled “An Ouled Nail Tribal Dancer” c. 1985.
  • Above right is Clairin’s most famous work, “Portrait de Sarah Bernhardt” c. 1876 – now exhibited at the Petit Palais in Paris.
Clairin was best known in Paris in the late 19th century as a portraitist, with the ability to capture and render features, clothing, and perhaps more importantly, the personality of the sitter.

Clairin – Portraitist and Traveler

In an era of photography, Clairin was able to capture nuances and subtlety of his subject’s wit, charm, and gaze. Sara Bernhardt is unmistakably herself and her portrait was a favorite of the attendees of the Paris Salon in 1876.
But Clairin was also a traveler and visited North Africa many times during his lifetime, spending whole seasons there sketching and painting. The result of his insightful observations, married with his skill as a painter created images like our Ouled Dancer.

Left: Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra by Georges Clairin c. 1893

An Ouled Nail Tribal Dancer

In “An Ouled Nail Tribal Dancer” c. 1895, he captures the essence of this dancer. This painting is quite unlike the “naughty French postcards” sold in the tourist cities of Tangiers, Algiers, Tripoli, and Cairo.

Instead, what we have is a painting that captures the splendid grandeur of the Ouled Nail. We see her layers of fabric, the voluminous Turkish trousers, the sumptuous layers of adornment, and even her two bags, a small purse worn bandolier style and a larger bag worn on her hip.

He recorded a specific individual, a dancer perhaps in that moment of readying herself to take the floor, scanning the audience for the biggest tipper or the most enthusiastic audience participant.

When I was a working pro in restaurants and nightclubs, I would often stand just in the wings and make a mental map of where I wanted to go within the environment. I look at this painting and that moment resonates with me as a dancer, forging recognition and connection.

Do you feel that too?
What moment in her dance do you think the artist captured?

So what’s the lesson learned here? Not all artists working within the Orientalist genre are created equally. We should take the time to evaluate each painting with a critical eye that takes into account the individual experience, training, mission, and goals of each artist.

Dancers in Orientalist Art

If we simply jettison “Orientalist Art” we lose opportunities to gain information about clothing, the texture, color, and the swagger of how it was worn. But in addition in the hands of great artists, we can glean clues about the attitude of the subject, characteristic postures, poses and gestures, their taste and style.

If you are interested in learning more about how to separate the good from the great, the useful from the trivial, the celebrated vs subjugated, join me for my June Talk, “Dancers in Orientalist Art.” Sunday, June 20, Noon Pacific.  Click here to reserve your spot for the live talk with Q&A.
Thank you for all of your support of my ongoing research!
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
April 30, 2021

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