Saturday, May 30, 2009
In late Seventies Los Angeles, Santa Monica Boulevard was notorious. It was a trashy, miles-long strip of liquor stores, lurid Atomic Age signage, pothole-pocked asphalt and aging $5.00 whores. Santa Monica made the Sunset Strip look like a posh resort, piercing the sun-bleached slums of Hollywood like a low-rent Route 66: everybody went to Santa Monica Boulevard to get their kicks. It was home to dozens of seedy porn emporiums like The Pussycat Theater and Institute Of Oral Love. Shirtless rent boys in white jeans and feathered Sun In-streaked hair lurked at bus stops; leather daddies in full regalia frequented The Pleasure Chest. At night, punks flocked to The Starwood, a massive barn of a nightclub on the corner of Santa Monica and Crescent Heights. Owned by the notorious Eddie Nash (he was involved in the infamous “Wonderland Murders”) The Starwood was hands-down the best club in LA. I spent a good deal of my delinquent teen days and nights hitch-hiking up and down Santa Monica. One of my favorite things to do was to visit The Undie World of Lili St. Cyr, which was directly across the street from the Starwood.
I was familiar with Lili St. Cyr from the vintage men’s magazines I’d buy at garage sales back in those days for, like, a quarter. I didn’t know much about her except that she was a famous burlesque vixen and pin-up. The inside of her store looked like a frou-frou powder blue boudoir, with astel-toned shag rugs and tiny golden vanity stools. Cases of sequined, tassel-dripping pasties, G-strings and crotchless panties were on display, and the sales women with false eyelashes and champagne bouffant do’s would humor me as I tried on lacy brassieres, never buying one…but not because I didn’t want to- I just couldn’t afford them. I was really there to try to catch a glimpse of Lili, but alas, that never happened. And I somehow never bothered to find out too much about her, even when I joined the Velvet Hammer, the troupe that kicked off the Neo Burlesque movement in the mid-90’s. In fact, the only thing I really knew about Lili St. Cyr was that she was gorgeous and a burlesque vixen… until I read Kelly DiNardo’s excellent biography.
But whether you’re interested in striptease and it’s current revival or not, this book is worth reading. Not only does DiNardo paint an intimate portrait of the famous burlesque queen, she manages to include a highly descriptive time-line so that the reader can really have a true feel for what was going on in the world in the middle of the last century. DiNardo’s writing is facile and juicy without being sensational, and reflects a huge amount of research. Bringing to life a fascinating sub-genre of a bygone era, the book explores a time in which “The Golden Age Of Striptease” -the 1940’s through the early 1960’s- not only titillated audiences, but also inadvertently set the scene for the Sexual Revolution and the birth of the Feminist movement. At a time when most American women were still fettered by their own apron strings, these showgirls not only supported themselves, but also in many cases, their husbands and entire extended families. Many of them became internationally known and iconic, though ironically, none of the female performers achieved the lasting fame that the men of burlesque- such as Abbot Costello, Burt Lahr and Jackie Gleason- did.
As with many famous-or infamous, as the case may be- women, Lili St. Cyr lived life on her own terms. And what a life it was! Born Marie Van Schaack, St. Cyr was already married, divorced and working as a chorine (Alongside a young Yvonne DeCarlo, a burlesque star who later played "The Munsters" Lilly Munster!) at Hollywood’s Florentine Gardens, before she was out of her teens. Morphing into the quintessential platinum-tressed bombshell, Lili’s knockout physical attributes, and raw carnality couched in “can’t-touch-this” elegance left the rest of the Burley peelers in the dust. Sources quoted in the book believe that Marilyn Monroe was directly influenced by St. Cyr’s performances studied them intently to hone her own screen persona - and others insist the two sirens actually had a torrid affair!
Lili’s famous dance numbers were not merely the average bump’n’grind, but actually raised the bar on the typical grindhouse fare, featuring lavish costumes and sets. Her routines were heavily influenced by myths, historical figures like Salome and Cleopatra, as well as classic literature. Her on-stage “Bubble Bath” became legendary. The press from that act alone garnered her Tinsel Town fans such as Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan, and Betty Grable, and some of her famous lovers included Anthony Quinn, Orson Welles and Yul Brynner. She also dated Howard Hughes, who not only wined and dined her but cast her in his feature “Son of Sinbad”, which lead to a role in Norman Mailer’s “The Naked And The Dead”.
Eschewing a movie career, St. Cyr took frequent, long-standing bookings in major cities like Los Angeles, New York and Montreal, which was then the freewheeling Sin Capital of North America, soon to be usurped by Las Vegas. DiNardo’s delicious descriptions of the nascent days of Vegas- the martini-soaked pioneering spirit, stage spectaculars and mob activity, not to mention the Atomic bomb tests that became bona fide tourist attractions- are alone are worth the price of the book.
For a woman whose artistry and iconic beauty so greatly impacted American culture, Lili’s life was also constantly chaotic, and ultimately tragic. She racked up six husbands, ten abortions, and four arrests for obscenity. She struggled with addictions, and reportedly attempted suicide a number of times. After her retirement, she became a recluse. Ultimately, she discovered heroin, and it became her sole companion towards the end of her life. I was utterly shocked when I discovered that a long-time rock ‘n’roll scenester acquaintance of mine was her drug dealer!
Quite obviously a labor of love on the author’s part ( in addition to writing for many mainstream papers, DiNardo is also the brains behind the popular neo-burlesque blog “The Candy Pitch”) this work is not only a snazzy literary debut and interesting piece of showbiz history, but also a fascinating page-turner, perfect for a summer read. Even if one has never cared for burlesque, the book is so intriguing and well written that any reader ought to devour it as voraciously as the post-War audiences received Lili herself.
GILDED LILI: LILI ST. CYR AND THE STRIPTEASE MYSTIQUE
By Kelly DiNardo (Backstage Books $24.95) Available at www.kellydinardo.com or www.amazon.com
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
For decades, floor work was an integral part of most belly dance shows in America. Usually performed in the middle of a dance set, the floor work segment of a dancer’s show was typically performed to a slow, moody taxim. The dancer’s hypnotically sensuous and fluid movements appeared almost effortless, belying the strength and flexibility needed to perform them. Whether done in a cabaret, fusion or fantasy context, or during folkloric dance while using a balanced prop - such as a tray - well-executed floor work is always a showstopper.
In modern cabaret and stage shows in Turkey and Lebanon, most shows feature floor work. Many North African folkloric dances include floor work , often combined with balancing trays, jugs, swords, and baskets on the head of the dancer. The Moroccan Guedra, (a trance dance) typically includes a portion performed on the knees. Here in the USA floor work was always a highlight in shows performed by American cabaret style belly dancers .
Sadly, floor work began to wane in popularity in the late 80’s and early ‘90’s as the Egyptian style of Oriental dance gained favor in America. This is because in Egypt, floor was and is considered “dirty” and “suggestive” and is actually against the law, unless it is performed in a folkloric context, say, as part of raks shamadan, where the performer balances a huge candelabrum on her head while dancing, frequently sinking to her knees or performing various other movements on the floor. Word has it that years ago, in one fun exception to the law, the legendary world-famous Egyptian star Nagwa Fouad figured out an ingenious- and legal – way to include floor work in her Cairo shows. She did an “historical tableaux“ number where she performed as a Turkish harem dancer from the Ottoman Empire. Done as a staged a folkloric dance, in this context, she actually passed muster in the eyes of the Egyptian Vice Police while she gleefully worked the entire the floor!
More recently, though, with the rise in popularity of newer belly dance styles like Tribal and Fusion, as well as with performers experimenting with ritualistic or sacred dance, floor work has once again gained popularity. Dancers perform with and without balanced props, and many mix in extreme level changes, interesting descents and ascents ( Turkish Drop, anyone?) ,and even some gymnastic or circus-style tumbling.
There are many well-known dancers performing today who have always incorporated floor work into their routines. To name just a few: Suhaila Salimpour, Ansuya, Atlantis, Lee Ali, Cheri/Cherchez La Femme, Tempest, and the troupes Fatchancebellydance and Urban Tribal , as well as fabulous male dancers John Compton and Jim Boz, both of whom balance huge brass trays loaded down with full tea-sets on their heads. John Compton even does tongue-in-cheek athletic push-ups onstage with his tray on his head!
If you are interested in learning some great floor work technique, there is a definitive DVD on the subject released by IAMED, called “Classic Cabaret Floor Work With Anaheed”.
Anaheed, a veteran Los Angeles based teacher and performer, not only demonstrates a number of excercises for flexibility, but thoroughly breaks down a number of popular “old school” moves. Responsible for training and inspiring practically an entire “generation” of dancers in Los Angeles ( including me!) Anaheed is a jewel and has a wealth of knowledge to share. The DVD ends with a spectacular live performance and is a must if you want to learn to work the floor like pro.
If you are considering adding floor work to your repetoire, here are a few things to consider:
Floor work really could be performed anywhere, but ideally, it should be done on a raised stage. Performing floor work in restaurants (among the tables, without a stage) is iffy at best. The dancer runs the risk of both safety and aesthetic issues: who wants to see a dancer writhing around with waiters and customers stepping over her? Plus, a stage is a far cleaner (and safer) than a restaurant floor which may have spilled food, dirt from foot-traffic and even broken glass on it’s surface.
Always remember to think of your costuming: fuller skirts are better as far as freedom of movement goes, and also a more modest wardrobe choice; many dancers wear pantaloons beneath them. Decorated jazz pants or Melodia pants or even stretchy bell-bottoms are another good choice. Some dancers even wear knee pads beneath their trousers or voluminous skirts- your knee-caps can really take a beating during floor work, and you may even get friction burns on the tops of your feet.
The style of belt you wear also figures in- long fringe will probably get tangled, the beads can break, and it actually hurts to kneel or roll onto long fringe. Rayon fringe, coined or tasseled belts and/or hip scarves are a much better costuming option.
It’s a good idea to take a few moments to adjust your skirts periodically to keep them from bunching up under you, or between your legs. Try to perform as gracefully and tastefully as possible- never face the audience with your knees spread open, it just looks vulgar. Presenting your body to the audience at diagonal angle is more flattering to you, anyway.
Don’t forget your pedicure, and do remember to keep those toes gracefully pointed at all times! Your feet are even more visible than when you are standing on them, so if you are working barefoot, make it a habit to swab your soles clean with a baby-wipe or towel before presenting them to your audience. There’s nothing less glamorous and illusion- wrecking than dirty feet!
And of course, always remember to warm-up thoroughly before you dance- it’s the law!
Saturday, May 23, 2009
In honor of the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, I offer you, dear readers, An Adventure I experienced- and wrote about- eleven years ago...everything you read is true; in some cases the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Enjoy!
I’m sitting in the airport lounge at Orly, waiting for a plane down to Nice. I’m on my way to the Cannes Film Festival because I have a song in a movie that’s premiering there. This is a long-anticipated trip to the French Riviera for a week of glamour and glitter and the languid turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, endless parties, shots and yachts and Bain de Soleil-covered Euro-trash slime with expense accounts, their pockets full of designer drugs. The only problem is, I’m a basket case, a complete and total wreck.
I have just been cruelly abandoned by my Swiss lover in Paris,left in a tiny Eighth Arrondissement hotel room with a broken shower,and I can’t stop crying. As Murphy’s Law would have it, on the plane I’m seated next to a woman with a squalling toddler who won’t stop screaming and throwing spit-covered cookies the entire way, no matter how many times she slaps him and yells, “ARRETE!” .
I’m feeling like screaming out loud myself, chain smoking in the lav and popping what little crumbs of Xanax I can find left in the bottom of my make-up bag.
The only good part of this situation is that I am meeting Steve, the film’s director, and even thought I don’t know him that well, we had an instant rapport—more like a psychic bond—when we’ve met before, he can make me laugh, and we both have the exact same taste in men. Steve’s waiting in Juan-Les-Pins at some tony hotel with most of the cast and crew of the movie, plus his entire family who are adorable, genuine folks from Kansas. Tonight there’s supposed to be a huge birthday dinner for Steve’s brother at the hotel’s Five Star restaurant. It’s the only shred of hope I can cling to.
Upon landing, the glaring Riviera sunlight seems to mock me, and I have a choice of taking a cab for, like, ninety bucks, or a bus that costs around six. I opt for the bus, and am treated to an hour and a half ride with no air-conditioning, stopping at every tiny village between Nice and Juan-Les-Pins. Needless to say, the crying hasn’t abated. The bus dumps me and my suitcase off in the middle of the town square nowhere near the hotel so of course it’s ninety degrees at four in the afternoon and I have a hoof it. By the time I finally get to the hotel drenched in sweat, the crying has stopped, having been replaced by a growing rage, a by-the-book classic case of “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned…”
A mere twenty minutes ago, I’d been contemplating suicide, but now I’m having a miraculous epiphany similar to what Helen Keller must have experienced at the pump when Annie Sullivan spelled out the sign language for “water” into her hand. It dawns upon me: what I need is another cock in me as soon as possible to erase any trace of my beastly beloved Assassin. I mean, if one can’t get laid on the fuckin’ French Riviera, one must really be a loser, baby! With game resignation, I steel myself for what is sure to become a one-woman slutfest, “Debbie Does Cannes”! If I can’t get a tumble or two during the Festival, there’ll be plenty of time for suicide later.
The hotel is sumptuous, a converted old villa surrounded by wildly colorful exotic gardens, and my room has a view of the water with a massive yacht on the horizon. A good omen, I think, as is the huge bathtub with a working shower. I run a bath, guzzle a couple of cocktails from the mini-bar, lick up the Xanax dust from the bottom of my pill box, and relax on the gigantic soft bed, a cool washcloth over my tear –swollen eyes, the sea breeze from the open French doors gently caressing my body. With utmost care, I apply super-vixen make-up and select a skintight, midriff-baring royal blue crushed velvet dress with a hip-level slit up one side, earrings that would put any chandelier to shame, fishnets, and disgustingly high platforms. I feel like Brigitte Bardot on a lost weekend and get down to dinner just when everyone is being seated.
We have our own private dining room with a full staff of tuxedoed waiters just for us hovering anxiously, pulling out the chairs for each woman present. There are freshly cut, sky-high bouquets of flowers everywhere—the room is redolent with their heady fragrance. The place settings feature nine million forks, fine china plates stacked on top of each other for each course,and an assortment of variously-shaped crystal wine goblets. On top of the floral notes in the air is the tantalizing aroma of Provencal cuisine. I’m a ringer for Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: “A girl like I could get used to this!” In fact, I’m feeling so good, all thoughts of murderous revenge on The Assassin have temporarily been banished from my head. I’m actually participating in small talk, able to put aside my obsessive, pathetic psycho-drama and be the scintillating dinner conversationalist I was pre-Paris. Steve is being brilliant, sarcastic and witty, and as the encyclopedia-sized, calligraphed menu finds its way into my hands, I’m not even forcing myself to laugh at what he’s asking for: a “dangerous” vin rouge.
When I look up to see the wine stewards’ reaction (when, if ever, is expenseive wine referred to by a diner as dangerous?) I’m momentarily stunned. Isn’t a sommelier supposed to look like a French W.C. Fields, a fat, balding old man with a Dali-esque mustache under a gin (or perhaps vin rouge) blossom nose? Well, this one didn’t. Mais non! This one couldn’t have been a day over twenty-four and, to be perfectly frank, adorable can’t begin to describe him! He has a shiny midnight pompadour more elegant than hoody, a swarthy sun-kissed complexion, slanting liquid black eyes, dazzling white teeth, and excruciating cheekbones. His lips are full and it’s clear he’s amused at Steve’s comment, trying unsuccessfully to maintain decorum and not let his mischievous smirk show. My menu fell—by accident?—from my hands onto the table and knocked a couple of forks onto the marble floor with a loud clatter, which happily focused the wine steward’s attention on moi! Steve immediately shot me a knowing glance which no one at the table caught, but which the wine steward didn’t miss. Thus begins a three-way flirtation, a ballet of veiled glances, raised eyebrows, lightning-quick smiles and half-French, half-English double entendres, which lasts for the duration of the dinner.
Halfway through the third course, I get out a cigarette and, just as I expected, the wine steward is, at the speed of light, holding a flaming match before me. Like a 1940’s movie star, I steady his hand with mine, and gazing into his eyes, slowly French (how utterly apropos!) inhale.
“Man, what’d ya do to rate that?” asks Steve’s sister, the star of the film, sounding vaguely annoyed. “I’ve been lighting my own smokes all night!”
Steve beams approval from across the table, then gets out his own cigarette, to see if he warrants the same kind of service. Happily, he does.
After dinner, stuffed to the gills and more than a little tipsy due to the endless variety of wines Steve just happened to order, we repair to the hotel’s bar to drunk more. As luck would have it, our gorgeous sommelier is our server there, too. In between his bringing little wire baskets housing bottles of aged wines for Steve’s approval, we speculate upon the sexual orientation of our mutual crush, exclaim over how dashing he looks in his tux and crisp, starched’n’spotless white calf-length apron, and make good-natured bets on who can pick him up first. Much to the amusement of the film’s entourage who’ve by now picked up on our hi-jinks, this goes on for three nights of us sitting in the bar, giggling like maniacal sex-crazed teens, flirting and being flirted with shamelessly. Midway through the third night, I’m just impatient (and drunk) enough to make my move.
“Encore de vin rouge, Mademoiselle?” asks the sommelier, his eyes intent upon mine, one eyebrow raised in a question I’m surely not imagining.
“Oui merci, Monsieur,” I reply, breathlessly, daintily holding my empty glass to be filled, the very picture of finishing school etiquette.
Then, momentarily abandoning my pidgin French and turning into Ms. Hyde, lapsing into the All-American hoarse whisper of a john soliciting a hooker, I say,
“So… what’re you doing later?”
Steve practically chokes on his vin rouge, while Mssr. Sommelier’s eyes open wide, and he whispers back, “I am off, eh…at eleven, but… eh… we must meet in the park across the street.”
Fortuitously, it’s 10:30, so Steve and I finish our wine and to go lurk in the shadows, under a eucalyptus tree shrouded in fog for our liason dangeruese. Presently the wine steward appears in his street clothes—Euro-Trash Au Go-Go—and we walk to a nearby tiki bar called Pam-Pam. Seated on rattan chairs with Hawaiian print pillows, our conversation nearly drowned by the incessant techno pounding from the speakers, we order Perrier menthes because we’re too drunk to ingest any more liquor. We grill our conquest, discover that his name is Gregory, he’s been working at the hotel for only a few days, has two tattoos, and is straight. With that last detail revealed, Steve gracefully bows out, with a “you win” shrug. Greg and I hang out for awhile, conversing mostly in pantomime, halfway due to the techno, but mainly because neither of us is too adept at each other’s native tongue. We leave the bar and walk along the beach, then go back to his car so he can drive me to the hotel.
By now, the ocean fog has become thick and murky, I’m wearing Greg’s jacket over my slinky dress to ward off the chill. It’s so damp that the windshield of his car is covered in condensation, and he can’t get the motor stared. We sit inside as he tries over and over to fire the engine, the whole time muttering “Aaaah, merde!” under his breath. To me, the car sounds suspiciously like my own back home when the weather is wet. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I’d called AAA because my car wouldn’t start, and when the tow-truck arrived, the driver told me to turn my key in the ignition, and whacked my distributor cap sharply with a wrench, which started the car immediately. Just inebriated enough to think I could save the day by employing this technique, I rummage in Greg’s back seat and discover a kid’s wooden baseball bat. Grabbing the bat, I get out and open the hood.
“Try starting it now,” I instructed, miming a key turning in the ignition, and as he does, I wallop the distributor cap as hard as I can. A shower of sparks worthy of Bastille Day sprays up from the engine, and the car starts immediately. Amazed, Greg jumps from the car.
“Incredible!” he says. “How… eh… how you do this?”
Tottering on my red patent leather heels and hefting the bat like a crazed cross between Babe Ruth and Mamie Van Doren, I yelled victoriously,
“I’M FROM AMERICA, BABY!”
We head off to my hotel, and just inside the heavy iron gates, he stops the car and we engage in what is known in archaic American slang as “parking.” Greg gently traces the contour of my jaw line, caresses my hair, and then draws my face towards him in the first genuine French kiss I’ve ever had. His technique is so good, it’s all I can do not to burst into rousing rendition of “The Marsaillez,” or at the very least, “Frere Jacques.” After a few more breathless moments, he asks if I’d like to go back to his place, and although tempted, I realize that even though The Assassin didn’t kill me, I’ve been severely maimed. Perhaps I’m not anymore quite the harlot I’ve always thought I was, maybe I should think this thing through, sort out my feelings before leaping into bed with yet another, years younger Euro-Trash Don Juan. All emotions aside, my experience tells me that waiting always makes things hotter. We make a date for the next evening.
Staggering through the lobby, high on mixture of liquor and lust, I have to wake up the night clerk to get the key to my room. It’s not until I’m about to brush my teeth that I notice the reason why the clerk gave me such a strange glance: there’s crimson lipstick smeared all over my face and chin. “Coquette the Clown,” I say to the mirror, right before passing out.
Word travels fast—over petit dejeuner, everyone involved in the movie is snickering, elbow nudging, and grilling me for details. Apparently, I’m the only one of the entire lot of us getting any Cote D’Azure action. Even Steve’s mom, a perky mother hen with a Pixie-cut, shakes her head and comments upon how cute Greg is. Now, it’s almost like I’d have to follow this thought even if I didn’t want to. The think is, I do want to, and right now, I’m kicking myself for not having cast caution to the wind last night.
My rationalizations—as if I need them—are many: Greg is tres jolie, The Assassin can go to hell. I will definitely not get attached to Greg and probably never see him again after this week, The Assassin can go to hell. I will undoubtedly be merely the first in a long line of summer flings for Greg, so his feelings won’t be hurt, The Assassin can go to hell. I’m on vacation, goddammit, and it’s de rigeur to give into whims like this, The Assassin can go to hell. I’m not getting any younger—or richer, for that matter—and there is, therefore, a limited window of time when tryst like this will still be available for me to take advantage of, The Assassin can go to hell.
In fact, The Assassin can eat shit and die before going to hell, and I’ll be wearing a skimpy bikini with lots of clunky jewelry, high hells, Jackie O. sunglasses, my shoulder blades itching from the angel wings about to sprout there from. There will be a Cartier halo over my head, and I’ll be sipping a champagne cocktail while cheering loudly as The Assassin fuckin’ fries for his transgressions against me. I cannot wait until tonight!
Greg and I meet in the same place but immediately take off for his pad in Golfe Juan. He lives right on the water, the marina in front of his building is a veritable forest of sailboat masts. His apartment, in a quaint old house, is furnished in bare bones, simple bachelor pad accoutrements: heavy carved ‘70s furniture, a few pieces more modern and nondescript, a smallish collection, of CDs, mostly techno and reggae, many books on wine. Not too many clothes in the closet, nothing interesting in the medicine chest. He immediately fires up a huge spliff, puts on some music, and begins opening wines for me to sample, telling me about his recently completed thesus on the vineyards of France. We engage in a bit more small talk, smoke a little more hash, and taste more wine before settling onto the couch, which, in my state, has me mentally singing the chorus LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” in my head. “Voulez-vous chouche avec moi, ce soir?”
I hold my camera up and snap a photo of us looking stoned and beatific, and he finishes seducing me, not a difficult task at this point. Fondling me and whispering in French, we move to the bedroom, have a great little romp in the pitch darkness, and fall asleep.
I wake up with sunlight streaming into the bedroom, no sheets left on the bed. Greg grabs me from behind and asks in a husky, sleepy voice, “Ca va?”
“Oui, ca va bien, merci!” I answer, running through pretty much the extent of my French vocabulary.
“How about you, are you okay?” I ask, twisting around to look at him.
He grimaces, and simultaneously lighting a cigarette and slipping on his shades groans insolently,
“I hate to speak English in the morning!”
Far from being an off-putting remark tome, I consider this the sublime epitome of Euro-Trashiness, and have to conceal my delight at his heartfelt statement.
“Oh, me, too!” I assure him in perfect English, amending it to “Moi aussi!”
Casting me a baleful glance, he begins to get ready for work, offering me first the use of the shower in a gentlemanly way.
Back at my hotel, everyone is eager for details, which I’m far too much of a lady to give out, although I do tell them about Greg’s fabulous early a.m. comment, which results in the entire cast and crew groaning over breakfast every day, “I hate to speak English in the morning!”
We see each other a couple of more times before I leave, and it’s fun—a perfect little vacation romance. The morning after I arrive home, I hear French being spoken on my answering machine, and pick up, amazed he’s calling me, especially so soon.
It turns out to be The Assassin, God only knows why, and with satisfaction I inform him that the only reason I answered was because I thought he was someone else. Later that day, I get my photos back and send Greg a copy of the one I took of us on the couch, along with a first-grade/primary-reading-level note about what a good time I’d had with him.
The Assassin continues calling, and even though I’m ignoring his many contrite messages, one day I pick up the phone accidentally without screening, and we have an illuminating conversation. I can’t fight the fact that I’m still desperately, ridiculously in love with him, and a few weeks later, we have a glorious face-to-face reconciliation.
As for Greg, naturally, I never heard from him. Our little rendezvous was mutually beneficial, lots of fun, and I’m endlessly grateful to him for helping restore my injured self-esteem. Not only that, I have to point out that he made me realize a profound fact of my own life: I, too, hate to speak English—or any other language for that matter—in the morning.
Shameless Plug: If you like this story, you can order my book of short stories ( including this one, and others equally as demented) from my website www.princessfarhana.com or from www.amazon.com .
The name of the book is "Escape From Houdini Mountain" by Pleasant Gehman, published by Manic D. Press
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
At first glance, these two books may not seem to be connected, but Wendy Buonaventura’s “Midnight Rose” about Edwardian dancer Maud Allan, and Lawrence Morgan’s “Flute Of Sand”, detailing Morgan’s experiences with Ouled Nail dancers in 1950’s Algeria have more in common than anyone might guess.
To begin with, both books are released by Cinnabar Press, Wendy Buonaventura’s publishing house, which focuses on women’s history with an emphasis on the arts. Belly dancers, aficionados and dance scholars may recognize Buonaventura as the author of the extremely well received and gorgeously illustrated Oriental Dance reference book, “Serpent Of The Nile”, which is scheduled to be re-printed in late 2009. She is also a working dancer- performing, teaching and lecturing internationally, as well as the founder of the popular UK dance festival Sirocco.
Both books, each in their own way, focus on female dancers, their relationship to mainstream society, and the double-edged sword of their artistry and sexuality as it challenged the social mores of their times.
Buonaventura’s “Midnight Rose” is based upon the life and times of Maud Allan, the Orientalist performer of the Edwardian Era, who, along with the likes of Mata Hari, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Dennis, both delighted audiences and caused uproarious scandals with their performances, which typically involved at least partial nudity. In a time when stage actors and dancers were considered to be not much better than “gypsies, tramps and thieves”, Allan’s (at the time) wanton “Vision Of Salome” made her a celebrity, but also created such a scandal that she was widely and publicly reviled alongside all the adulation her audiences and fans bestowed upon her. In 1918 a newspaper article entitled “ The Cult Of The Clitoris” insinuated she was a lesbian and Allan sued for libel. The ensuing trial illuminated the ignorance and hypocrisies of the time period. Painstakingly researched, this fictionalized account of the life and times of Maud Allan is deftly stylized, and an extremely engaging read, bringing to life the feel of a by-gone era.
Morgan’s “Flute of Sand”, on the other hand, is a first-person non-fiction account of his life among the Ouled Nail in Algeria’s Bou Saada Oasis, originally published in 1956. If you are not familiar with the Ouled Nail, they were a nomadic matriarchal tribe ruled by female dancers, famous the world over for hundreds of years due to their dance skills. Many of them had a number of husbands-or bona fide male harems- which they supported via their dancing (sometimes clothed, sometimes naked with blindfolded musicians) as well as with prostitution… something they were proud of and not even remotely ashamed about. The Ouled Nail were the living embodiment of strong-willed and empowered women, confident and comfortable with both their performance skills and sexuality. This account of Morgan’s life among them as he traveled through North Africa is beyond fascinating- I literally could not put the book down. The descriptive passages describing their performances, the intrigue among the women themselves, their relationships to audiences, clients and lovers; and the minutely detailed takes on their every day lives as well as what they wore are breathtaking. Though authentic photos of these amazing women are few and far between, just take a glance at the Ouled Nail dancers pictured on the book’s cover to see the influence their unique look has had upon ATS dancers!
Kudos to Ms. Buonaventura for the work she does as a dancer, author and publisher- I highly recommend both books-they are a must for any serious belly dancer’s library…. and civilians might like them too!
“ MIDNIGHT ROSE” by Wendy Buonaventura
“FLUTE OF SAND” by Lawrence Morgan
(Cinnabar Press) available at www.cinnabarbooks.co.uk
Sunday, May 17, 2009
It’s hard to believe it, but I am FINALLY backed in LA after three weeks on the road!
I’ve done “hard time” on Death Row on the set of the “Stuck!” shoot in Macon, Georgia; been in a Tornado Watch, taught and performed Egyptian Cabaret and Burlesque in Buffalo, Missouri, and I just came from Tribal Fest 9 in Sebastopol, California.
Tribal Fest is one of my all-time favorite dance events, and it’s the largest and longest-running alternative belly dance festival on the planet. Located in the wine country of Northern California, the sleepy town of Sebastopol always explodes into a manic, hip-shaking riot in the third week of May when Tribal Fest rolls into town. Dancers come from all over the world to participate, and the place is humming with beautiful women and unbridled creativity all week long! The general atmosphere is kind of like a gypsy encampment mixed with a circus back-lot. Belly dancers from all pop-culture genres- Goth, Steam Punk, Pirate, Ren Faire, Burlesque, cabaret and plain old Tribal were represented. The fashion parade was awesome, as usual- everyone dresses to the nines even if the temperatures are soaring.
This year marked my fifth anniversary of teaching and performing at Tribal Fest. I taught two sold-out classes, one called “Drama Queen” which was all about theatrical presentation I the context of belly dance; the other one focused on all-abdominal belly dance technique. My students came from Taiwan, Netherlands, Italy, UK and all across the USA… and one can only guess what other countries were represented by f the other attendees!
Friday, May 15 was the first of the weekend’s shows, and the dressing room was brimming over with dancers running their numbers and changing into elaborate hand-made costumes. I performed a vintage-inspired fan dance/belly dance fusion, and my set went great. I shared the stage that night with many of my favorite dancers, including the delicately gorgeous Indian dancer Colleena Shakti, elegant in an embellished red velvet costume; awesome sword duo Romka; the ever-gorgeous Rachel Brice; Kiki Kuan, who does Tribal mixed with classical Chinese dance; Tempest, Asharah (in a fabulous duet with a live cellist) and Suhaila Salimpour. Suhaila’s company closed the show in an 18-minute number that brought the house down, including an awesome segment with some fierce Fosse-style chair dancing.
When I wasn’t dancing or teaching, I hung out sipping wine in the hotel hot tub with my travel-mates Natasha and Kelly of Skellramics and our pal Andrea Ferrante. I got to visit with old dance-pals who were also attending, like festival organizers Kajira Djoumahna and her hubby Chuck; Blume Bauer of Belly Dance Gear, Politti Ashcraft of Dancer’s Oasis; Julia of Blue Scarab, Rachel Lazarus-Soto and her hubby Jeremiah Soto of Solace, amazing Bollywood artist and Tall Ship sailor Samantha Riggs; the Tribal Tique gals from Colorado, and the Midwest Tribal Mafia! Those Mafia gals were so impressed with my stories from the “Stuck!” set, they gave me a bottle of wine called “In The Slammer”! Also spent some quality time with Kajira in the closet of the Sebastopol community center, while she simultaneously got a winged skull tattoo from Natasha and Skellramics and gave an interview to Theresa of belly dance magazine "The Chronicles"...all this while Karim Nagy was teacing a class on Egyptian Tahtib right outide the door! I also got an incredible massage from LA-based dancer Heather Shoopman, and got to hang out a lot with two of my favorite UK dancers (and party girls extraordinaire) Tree Russell and Heike Humphreys, who come to Tribal Fest every year!
Now, I’m home for three weeks before more teaching and performing in Salt Lake City Utah for Electric Circus and in Cairo, Egypt for the Ahlan WA Sahlan Festival.
My baby kittens have gotten big and calendar-quality cute…and it’s sooo nice to be back in my own bed. I have a dancing workshop this coming weekend, but it’s here in Los Angeles at Dance Garden. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tear myself away from the baby kitties long enough to un-pack and do some laundry!
**pictured: Princess and UK dancer Heike Humphreys
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
The past two weeks have been a whirlwind for me, and it's not over yet!
I taught belly dance and burlesque workshops and performed in Buffalo, Missouri, sponsored by Judy Cunningham and Maharet. the classes were chock-full with about fifty dancers from Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois and Kansas, and we had a blast! I stayed at Maharet's gorgeous and peaceful rural mini-ranch, lounged in her hot-tub and enjoyed her wonderful hubby and brand new baby kitten, an orange tabby named Pete. I laughed along with everyone else when we spotted the signs on the way to the workshop at the Buffalo Community center: "Princess Farhana Workshop" right alongside "4-H Goat Camp"....uh, yeah, whatever! Guess that's dancing in the heartland for ya!
I met a lot of great new women, and saw some of my favorite dance pals including the fabulous Queens Of Chaos from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was insanely impressed with Kitty Sparkles' amazing goblet dance- which she performed on three tiers of balanced brass trays and delicate glasses-whew! Crazy!
Left Missouri in a ragin' rainstorm to fly to Macon, Georgia, for the "Stuck!" movie shoot. "Stuck!" is "Underbelly" director Steve Balderson's homage to cinema noir women-in-prison films, so I got to fulfill one of my crazy life dreams of being in a women-in-prison movie. I spent the entire week in my movie "cell", which I shared with my "cellie"- cult movie star Mink Stole, whom you probably know from her starring roles in John Waters' films-it was SUCH an honor to work with her! So it was cell-life as well as scenes in the rec yard of the Bibb County Jail- a working jail with 900 inmates!
Every day on set there was either a cell-block riot, abuse from the guards, violence, insurgence, assault...I even got to scrub the floor with a toothbrush, beat up my corrections officer Amazon ( played by Stacy Cunningham) and sob as my my jail girlfriend Daisy (Starina Johnson) was escorted to the gallows! I literally cried off four pairs of false eyelashes! Also got to spend time with some old friends, also in the movie: awesome actress Susan Traylor, and Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Go's , whose jail house character was named "princess". Every time someone called her character's name on-set I whipped my head around thinking I was the one who was being addressed!
In Macon, we met some amazing folks, including my gracious hosts Tony Long Jr. and his awesome partner Michael, and others involved in the making of the movie as well as the Macon social and arts scenes, like Terrell Sandefur of the Sochi Gallery, and Mary, a Macon belly dance performer/instructor, whom I've been corresponding with via email.
I've been home for exactly twenty hours and tomorrow morning I am off to Tribal Fest 9 to teach and perform....so I'm sure there will be, as they say, "No Rest For The Wicked"....
The photos posted here are of Mink and me in our movie cell, dancer Naima and me backstage in Missouri, and yours truly inside the Bibb Couty Jail- razor wire and all!
Maon was beau