Wednesday, March 21, 2012
FLIGHTS OF FANTASY
Like many Western belly dancers, before I even started practicing the craft I grew up on a steady diet of vintage Hollywood movies. While Oriental dance purists may turn up their noses at the whimsical, gloriously historically inaccurate portrayal of Middle Eastern dance that was the main stay of The Dream Factory, I embrace it wholeheartedly.
Those films may not be at all true to tradition, but then, what dreams ever are?
I can remember watching “The Brady Bunch” or “The Partridge Family” as a nine-year-old from a broken home, sneering at the totally manufactured, idealized television version of a divorced family…because mine-or any of my friends who came from similar situations never experienced anything remotely similar. I thought those shows were dumb.
On the other hand, in the days before Cable TV was ubiquitous, when I saw those old black and white or spectacular Technicolor visions, my heart-and my brain- melted, and my mind raced with fantastic possibilities that were as remote to me as becoming an Astronaut… but that didn’t negate one bit of deliciousness. The “Sword And Sandal” genre, or the Biblical epics or stuff like Greta Garbo playing Mata Hari or Hedi LaMarr swathed in Assuit as Delilah fed my fertile, prepubescent imagination like nothing else! Sinbad made me swoon, I wanted to follow Bob Hope and Bing Crosby on “The Road To Morocco” and seeing Claudette Colbert beautifully-lit (and with a wardrobe to die for) as Cleopatra still makes my heart sing.
I know many of you out there share my mania for these amazing, frothy confections…and instead of wincing when we see Rita Hayworth as Salome performing a spastic, crazed “Dance Of The Seven Veils” or Julie Newmar’s athletic, interpretive dance in “Slaves Of Babylon”, we go crazy with the kitsch and camp of it all.
When I first started belly dancing…and doing as much research as I could on the subject , I used to feel embarrassed that I had ever liked these movies. All I wanted at that point was to see The Real Thing, not some ridiculous, usually sexist re-enactment that got it all wrong… but after a while, the more I learned about REAL belly dancing, the more I started to realize that it was these movies that literally fueled my life-long obsession with everything Oriental. These films were the very things that, years and years after my childhood, made me want to take belly-dancing classes in the first place. And though much of the acting is stilted and many of the plots are really dumb, there’s no denying the beauty of the women, or the sheer opulence of the gorgeous costumes!
These films and their blatantly far-fetched portrayal of Hollywood’s Harem may not be genuine, but they’ve informed American belly dancing in many ways, and their implausible glory still lives on for us to enjoy today.
Rita Hayworth as Salome, Douglas fairbanks as Sinbad, Greta Garbo as Mata Hari, Hedi LaMarr as Delilah