Men to make Blackpool shimmy this spring
by Aurore Jouanin
June 13-15, 2008 - Blackpool, England
As the long-awaited Blackpool event approaches, fans of the Bellydance Superstars are trying to book the last places available for the numerous workshops and shows scheduled for the weekend of June 13th to 15th. Both male and female dancers and spectators are welcome, as among the dancers will figure famous Middle Eastern male dancer Ozgen, as well as the acclaimed American Divas, who were last seen in the United Kingdom for the Tribal London event last February.
The number of spectators to Raqs Britannia events is constantly on the increase, with around 2,000 people expected in Blackpool this year, which confirms the Superstars' "ability to revive the art of bellydancing by adding other styles and cultures", according to UK event co-ordinator Rosie Morris. Morris added that the American dancers were "superb performers at the top of their game, incredibly fit", and that "the show as a whole is stunning to watch, with the colourful costumes, rhythmic music, and many varied styles of Oriental dance".
Bellydancing first became popular in the sixties and can nowadays be practiced in many places across Europe and America. According to male bellydancer Sharif from California, people who join bellydancing classes are often "looking for motivation to stay in shape" and for an "enjoyable and liberating" activity.
The sensual female-only dance, baptised "bellydancing" by Europeans in earlier centuries when the West first met the East, is in fact called Raqs Sharqi and is closer to a "celebration of the body" for both men and women than a sensual dance, explains Ozgen. Raqs Sharqi is danced by everyone in the Middle East, during important family events like weddings and other social gatherings, but is generally not performed on stage.
Ozgen learned Turkish folk dance in Turkey at the early age of nine, and he later became a professional bellydancer and choreographer in his home country, Cyprus, and throughout Europe. Ozgen is currently based in London but also travels internationally to teach Turkish style.
While in the Middle East Raqs Sharqi is traditionally part of festive celebrations for both sexes, the art of bellydancing has become an almost exclusively feminine professional activity in the Western world, still seldom practiced by men.
Ozgen's experience has taught him that although some women tend to be shy when learning with a male teacher, others have said to him that they "do not need a woman to teach them sensuality; they prefer to learn from a man". American dancer Sharif said: "I think the majority of female students are just fine with a male teacher, and some really seek them out".
Because bellydancing "is still considered a women's dance" however, a "culture phobia" has developed, and that is why men are still very few in the profession; but Ozgen urged "women to encourage men" and men "to try without judging the dance".
Raqs Sharqi is believed to originate from Egypt. The techniques used by dancers include circular motions and isolation of body parts, as well as various shimmies which make the body vibrate, all to the rhythm of Oriental music. The dance is known for developing strength and flexibility in the arms and legs, as well as hip, pelvis and chest areas, and constitutes an ideal cardio-vascular workout.
Beyond the traditional Middle Eastern rhythms, a new generation of bellydancers from the States have also recently introduced a new fusion style called Tribal Fusion, which mixes electro beats and gothic costumes with traditional moves. According to the Superstars event organiser Morris, Tribal Fusion is becoming increasingly popular as "it appeals quite often to an audience that would normally not be interested in the sparkles and glitter of the cabaret. It can have a gothic or punk element to it, and also appeals to those who are involved with yoga".
To use Ozgen's words, "art does not have a boundary", and as long as fusion dancers respect the traditional culture, innovation is always interesting. "Just as one cannot write poetry without learning English, a dancer should not do fusion without Oriental basic steps". Sharif also welcomes any form of fusion where "bellydance is still well recognizable", and added that there "is no 'pure' form of bellydance anymore as the purity ended when it was put on stage and isolated from its village background".
When asked about the Superstars' success, Sharif mentions their ability to meet what people are looking for, novelty, and to put "bellydance as the main act in a large staged show".
While male dancers in the US and Europe are slowly making their way onto the stage, "even the most talented male dancers have a hard time" in the Middle East, but another famous dancer, Tito, from Egypt, "is doing a great job breaking through those barriers though", says Sharif.
For more information on the Bellydance Superstars and online booking for the Blackpool event, visit: http://www.raqsbritannia.co.uk