From Shakira to Hillary Duff, belly dancing is an ancient art form that has recently received due attention in the mainstream media. This Thursday at 8 p.m. the Memorial Union Theater will be spiced up with a taste of some Middle Eastern flavor by the Bellydance Superstars.
The Badger Herald had a chance to talk to Petite Jamilla, one of the 15 members of the Bellydance Superstars crew. Jamilla’s stellar belly dancing r�sum� includes instructional DVDs, international tours and belly dancing workshops, all completed before she reached the age of 19. Since then, Jamilla has performed professionally for 10 years and is currently beginning her sixth year with the Bellydance Superstars.
“I started belly dancing as a child and I’ve seen people learn later in life. I feel that these movements are second nature to women in general. … It is something that most women have fantasized about doing, or thought about trying but never really had the courage to take a class,” Jamilla said.
Although belly dance is commonly misunderstood as a form of seduction instead of an artistic expression, Jamilla can attest to the reparative powers the discipline can have for some women.
“When I was younger and my mom was a teacher, there were a lot of women that got a second wind in life from it and used it as a form of self-discovery; it highlights the natural curves of a woman’s body,” Jamilla said. “As a teenager that was monumental for me because as most teenage girls, I had body image issues and didn’t like my figure, but being a belly dancer with people saying that it’s OK to have a shape helped me accept my natural femininity.”
The Bellydance Superstars highlight two variations in their performances: tribal fusion and cabaret. While the word “tribal” may lead spectators to imagine forms of African dance, it is really a conglomeration of belly dancing that began in San Francisco in the 1980s which borrows from myriad cultures, and even incorporates the pop-and-locks of hip-hop. Cabaret style belly dancing features the alluring snake-like moves that are usually associated with the art form. The elaborate cabaret costumes are designed to highlight and flatter the dancers’ personalities and the music they dance to. The tribal fusion costumes are a little more individualized.
“For tribal fusion, we pick our own costumes so it’s a very personal experience, sometimes we spend a whole month putting together one of the costumes. … I can’t even imagine the amount of our budget spent on costuming. We have a ton of luggage,” Jamilla said.
The fine-tuned performance of the Superstars can be attributed to professional choreographers as well as some of the troupes’ own creations. Jamilla specializes in the double veil, which as the name would indicate, features choreographed dancing with two pieces of fabric.
“In our show, I choreographed a piece with the double veil and taught it to my fellow performers, it’s really cool to be able to take that kind of ownership in a large troupe,” Jamilla said.
The group performance format is something that is incredibly unique to the belly-dancing scene. “The idea of multiple performers belly dancing on stage at once was formerly unchartered territory; it’s rewarding to be a part something so innovative,” Jamilla said.
While belly dancing originated socially with the family as an expression of celebration and vitality, it later evolved to performance. The Middle Eastern and Egyptian tradition crossed borders with the help of gypsies performing for profit.
Although the art of belly dancing is becoming more mainstream, outsiders still misunderstand its purpose.
“A common misconception of belly dancing continues to be the thought that it is a tool for seducing men,” Jamilla said.
Surprisingly, the Superstars’ audience is predominantly female because of the celebratory and embracing presentation of the female body. The show is for all those who appreciate the artistic expression of femininity.
Check out the Bellydance Superstars March 26 at 8 p.m. at the Memorial Union Theater. Tickets are $18, $24 and $28 and are available at the box office or online at http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu