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Ask The Gypsy

If you have a question or an answer about bellydancing, dancers, costumes, Middle Eastern Culture, Gypsies, etc., send it to Email and we will try to find an answer for you, and post it on these pages. Thanks.

Questions and Answers: Topics:

Christian Belly Dancers

Hairstyles for Belly Dancers

Dancing into the Ocean?

Figure 8's?

Looking for Fatima

Voluptuous Bellyddancers?

Snake Dancing

Styles of Bellydance and Origins?

Any books?

Are Belly Dancers Jewis or Arabian or both?

Use of Light in Bellydance Shows

Zills in the Bible, high sounding cymbals??

Use of belly dance props, i.e. swords, canes, candles, flowers, veils, zills, glasses, tamborines, and scarves?

Folk Dances of Yemen: Costumes?

Is it Cabaret, Middle Eastern Dance, Raks Sharki, or bellydance?

Should dancers be tattooed, and how does that affect their image?

How do I perform undulations?

Coin Flipping, Dollar folding, Rolling quarters on the stomach

What is Bellydance?

Scars on the body

Toe Nail Polish

Hairpieces, wigs and falls

The Four Elements

Costumes for Men

Zills: How Big?

Gypsy dance - bellydance - politically correct or not?

What about Male Belly Dancers?

Can I lose 25 lbs. in 30 days with Belly Dance?

Can we hire a snake charmer with a Cobra?

Arabic Movie with Belly Dancing

Mechanical Snake?

Hi, I found your web-site looking for information on different hair-styles for belly-dancers like the styles that tribal bellydancers wear. So far I have trouble finding anything about how to style my hair. I would also like information on clip ins and how well they stay in for "big hair toss moves" My hair used to be down to my hips and it was aggravating so I cut it short. I've wrestled with the idea of having to have long hair as a bellydancer for a long time. The long hair seems to add something to the impression that is made. So, I'm interested in clip ins that won't go flying in someones face while I'm dancing or become partially undone. Preferably ones that are tribal. I really like the style where the dancer wears some kind of bun on each side at the back and to the top with strands of hair coming down. Or even at the back. It looks awesome and very regal!
Thank you! Siobhan
Topic:
Hair styles for Belly Dancers?
Greetings! I was wondering if anybody can give me tips or advice about dancing into the ocean. I encountered this on Delilah's website, but the article talked mainly about the process of costume-making for this. I'm wondering if anyone else has ideas for how to go about this, and if it would work in a lake. (I'm 1500 miles from the nearest ocean). My thanks! Mandy

Topic: Dancing into the Ocean, or a Lake?

Hi, I'm relatively new to bellydancing and am having a hard time with the chest figure 8.  Specifically doing it without moving my shoulders.  Any suggestions? ~ Paulissa aka Shalimar

Hi, Shalimar, We have several videos that cover figure 8's pretty well. Carrie Konyha's The Dance, Volume I is one of them. Also the book by Neffertiti gives some illustrations and instructions. Below is a link to a page from her book that gives instructions for doing a Figure 8. -- Penny Figure 8s

Topic:

Doing Figure 8's - any suggestions?

Question: "Gypsy, My question to you concerns fashion. I've been learning bellydance for about six months. I love to dance barefooted. I'll soon be performing to my first audience, and I was wondering if it matters what color of nail polish I wear on my toes? I've seen some videos where the dancers are wearing dark reds and purples, and some wearing light pinks or no polish. My costume is dark blue and although blue nail polish is the rage today, I think it would look ghastly on my toes. My husband thinks it should match. Do you have a preference of toenail color or does it depend on your costume? Please respond asap. I'm very nervous and don't want to look foolish. Thank you. Sincerely, Esther L"



Reply:

"Skip the blue polish. BUT choose a red or pink with a blue undertone. No tomato or orangey reds (CLASH!), and no orange. If it's a light blue, stay soft with the pinks. If it's strong and dark, use one of the fuchsia or blood reds. Soft and sweet needs the lighter touch. Dark and intense can handle the darker, more dramatic colors. Esthetically speaking, the trendy American colors don't translate into ethnic arts."

Answer thanks to our costume expert, Catharae

Topic:

Toe Nail Polish

QUESTION: Can we hire a snake charmer for our Festival of India Exhibit? Debbie C., Curator of Education, Port Huron Museum, MI

Answer: "We work with a mechanical cobra which is sound activated or with any one of several non-poisonous snakes of your choice. Otherwise, you may want to call around Hollywood for animal extras and trained handlers to avoid any problems since East Indian snake charmers work with venomous snakes and would be legally required to have what is called a "hot permit"- especially in any event where the public at large is concerned. I believe live cobras are illegal in public and if not, anyone with one would have had the poison glands and fangs removed- or the mouth will be sewn shut for the show. Not so nice for the snake either way. Or - Contact some reptile breeders through reptile magazines found in any pet store. There are people who specialize in venomous snakes. They might tell you more than I can." M.

Topic: Cobras and Snake Charmers

Question:

Greetings Gypsy,

I have a question about belly dancing I haven't yet found the answer to anywhere. Is it really true that some dancers can move objects, like glasses and coins on their stomach, using their stomach muscles alone?

I've seen various styles and performances, but never anything like that, I've only read rumors. If it is a fact, is it a sort of a virtuosic skill or a common talent? Yours truly, Mikko P

Reply:

Hello Mikko,

Great question - and what it boils down to is - is this easy or not? A resounding NOT! Yes, I have seen some exceptional dancers, who used to do this routinely in their dance performances, demonstrate for those of us who attended their workshops/retreats. Of all the women in my sessions, only one seemed to be able to QUICKLY imitate with any success. It takes concentration and practice of muscle isolation to get this to even look like a feat of agility or fine motor response, and not an agonizing, writhing contortion of a would-be Houdini.

Coin flipping, dollar folding, rolling quarters - all mysterious skills that seem to be from performers and performances long past!! I think perhaps we are truly not seeing much of it now BECAUSE of the Egyptian style influence that is currently popular. Egyptian style is very upright, and elevated - not performed on the floor, and less and less performed with a bare "belly."

Coin "tricks" require both floorwork and bare tummies, so....

Regarding who is still available to see these amazing skills demonstrated: check out Delilah, of Seattle, WA. She includes a "how - to" segment in her instructional videos - just in case you feel inspired to continue this legacy!! I have watched her turn quarters, laid in a row of three on her belly - all at once, one at a time in order, AND on request (which one now, the middle or the end?) She is terrific at snapping the diaphragm and popping a silver dollar into a small cup on her abdomen. But, remember, regardless of her natural abilities as a dancer, she has years of experience and practice behind her, and she has dedicated a good portion of her life to advancing this art form. So she can make it look easy!

Personal note: tried for awhile, and was able to turn the quarters, but believe me, it wasn't pretty!

I have also seen Suzanne Del Vecchio execute some marvelous belly maneuvers, but am not sure where in her videos. She is another dancer who carries on many of the dancing traditions that Americans fell in love with during the 60's and 70's. I have seen her belly rolls that look like tidal waves. She does floorwork with her sword on top of the belly rolls, ending with a muscle pop that bounces the sword high enough to clear her body and land in another spot! Quite impressive!!

So, I guess the message here is : Yes, Mikko, there is still a faction amongst the dancers who do this, and will continue to pass the skills along.

Unfortunately, for most of us who love floorwork, we must seek these performers out, and bring it back to center stage. Perhaps you will be one to join the ranks of the performers, and help preserve this part of our art....Thanks for the intriguing question.

Catharae

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Topic:

Coin Flipping, Dollar folding, Rolling quarters on the stomach

Question:

May I ask you a question about dance style and terms? Are Delilah and Del Vecchio cabaret style dancers? In my surfing, I haven't come across any articles discussing what the different dance styles are. Is "belly dance" an appropriate term or is it degrading? I have gotten some mixed feedback. I do not mean to offend but I do not know if Middle Eastern Dance Oriental or Raks Sharki is the "belly dance" that I mean to refer to. Why is "belly dance" a bad term for some people?

Thanks again, Khrystynne

Hi Khrystynne! (great name)

Please forgive me for returning your message now as I have had problems with my computer - but all is fixed now.

Thanks for your great and informative comments regarding our video. We will be coming out with more videos series - instructional. The last set was more fitness oriented; they should be released by x-mas.

The term belly dance was a misconception and mispronunciation - it was really called "belady dance", which means "dance of the people." It was a dance of celebration for women, and by women. We have family in the Middle East, and we're not offended by the word "belly dance." Some Egyptians prefer the dance to be called oriental dance. I'm sure the other dancers explained alot of your questions by now. Hope it helps!

Love Veena & Neena (The BellyTwins)

Topic:

Is it Cabaret, Middle Eastern Dance, Raks Sharki, or bellydance?

Question:

"I was just wondering if you could help me with choosing my first pair of Professional Finger Cymbals. I have been asked to do some Belly Grams for people that I know. I am just starting out Professionally and feel I can start performing. Anyway, I need a pair of Professional zills. My hands are very small. I know small ones don't have that great of a sound, but do you know of a good size for professional use for a Dancer with small fingers? They can't be too large because of the size of my short stubby fingers. My fingers are like a child's, except they are chubby. I am an adult. Which sound is the most preferred by Dancers, high or low pitch, bell-tone, or mellow?

Anyway, do you know of any finger cymbals that sound like bells, are not too large, and that you would recommend for me? Is there any such things as a bell sounding tone in a finger cymbal? Like the bells worn by East Indian Dancers? Which size would you recommend for me to get with the consideration that I want quality Profession type Zills, but they can't be too large as my fingers are really short and they can't over power me. Thank you for your help.

Thank you and please reply soon"..Diana

Answer:

Hello Diana,

Your question regarding zills for small hands that can be used in professional dance jobs has many answers. Don't worry too much about needing really big zills for your dancing, especially if you are just starting. I really would only recommend large zills for performances in large spaces or outdoors. If you are starting with bellygrams in restaurants, private homes, then consider only the zills with the sound you like, that feel comfortable and feel easy to keep the rhythm to speed.

Saroyan carries a variety of zills of the intermediate category, (don't be fooled by the term "intermediate," you can easily use them in paid gigs....) that are almost as small, probably about 2 1/4" diameter, and light as the beginner weight. You can order in the same diameter, with either the light or heavy metal content. Weight of the zill, as well as SHAPE of the bell on the zill, affects the sound, tone, pitch of the zill. Heavier and/or larger also equates to more advanced, more difficult, "more" professional. (The Pink Gypsy carries beginners zills)

I personally like the sound of the ones with the ridges in a flared bell. One of my students only buys the ones with the concave bell shape. I continued to use my Saroyan Nefertiti beginner intermediate zills for several years of performing, and enjoyed the sound and the feel. Now I have 3 very different sets from which to choose.

But, bottom line, you will overpower your audience with BIG zills in the intimate setting. The larger the room, the larger the zill you will need to be heard. Out of doors makes for a sound vacuum - no surfaces to bounce the sound waves back to your ears. In those venues, feel the need to exceed.

One final note on size: small zills are easier to play; larger ones are harder. When you are first beginning, you may prefer the smaller for performing - they will make you sound good, until your zills are second nature to you. BUT, practice with the big ones - your fingers will simply fly when you switch back to the smaller ones in your performance.

If you aren't sure which tones are best, trust your own ears. I gave away a set of zills because *I* couldn't stand to hear them for the whole performance. A good place to test them - one of the local events sponsored by associations like MECDA, SAMEDA, etc. You will find vendors like Harry Saroyan, with his complete arrange of bells, or Ali of Turquoise International, who has a line as well. PLAY with all of them. Trust your ears, and try them on for size. Sometimes you can find used ones that are perfectly good - give them a ring.

Hard to use: imported sets with beautiful curved edges and (here's the problem) one single hole for the elastic to thread through. These have less control of the bell, and they wobble around on the finger, sometimes causing needless and unexpected contact with each other - CLANG! Later, they can be a fun challenge (truthfully, I enjoy the sound of these butterflies, but they are tough to learn to control).

Thanks for the question, hope you find some answers here.

Catharae

Topic:

Zills: How Big is Big Enough?

Question:

My question concerns hairstyles and the belly dancer. Is is absolutely necessary for the serious belly dancer to grow her hair long and flowing. In my search of internet sites I have yet to see a short haired belly dancer. I worry that a wig would fling off and headscarves make me appear even older than I am. If you know of a website that features a short coifed belly dancer I'd love to view it.

Sincerely, Janice



Reply #1:

"Try shoulder length or upper back with bangs - curly and full around your face - sort of a gypsy look. Add a scarf and beaded head bands to hold wig on and frame your eyes. Go to a wig store and play. And don't buy a cheap wig, it will soon look like a wet cat. If you are going to do it, check into falls and real hair. That is danger zone to skimp in. Have an expert fasten it on, and show you how. There is someone at Cairo Carnivale and was at Rakkasa who does wigs for dancers. Lots of them wear wigs. Get a good stylist who will listen to you. Interview them, cut pictures out of magazines, etc. Remember, its a fantasy. You are a fantasy." M.



Reply #2:

Dear Janice,

No need to wait years for the hair to catch up with the burning desire to dance! Many dancers have worn wigs, falls, various hairpieces, for years without mishap. Our own Marta Schill carried her flowing locks in a dance kit to each performance. One of my favorite dancers, Dyan, is virtually incognito without the mane of curls she wears at showtime. Ditto Michelle Fornier, (ex-CA), as I saw her in a major competition a few years ago, now in Washington, D.C. For some insight, check out Morocco (the DANCER, not the country), from New York. She's been a valuable resource for M.E. dance for years, AND, she has short hair.

Depending on your dance style, costuming can enhance the overall look. American Tribal and ethnic dance forms can incorporate the turban and other head wraps. Look at FatChanceBellyDance - No hair is visible, at all! These dancers do floorwork, sword work, drops, spins. No problem. Short, and sleek, the hair is very dramatic. I think you can use it to your advantage to create the persona of your dancer. Take a tip from the flamenco dancers - try keeping it close to the head, and embellish with simple adornments. A local (So Cal) dancer, who chooses the elegant Egyptian style Raks Sharqi, has a pixie-type cut, and wears a simple, sequined head band. She keeps her whole look smooth and close to the body - from dance form to costuming.

Keep looking, and keep using the styles that are most becoming to you in general. Some of us just don't look our best in long hair. It's just the 'stereotype' we all see. Dance for the inner dancer, whoever she is."

Answer thanks to our costume expert, Catharae

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Topic:

Long Hair, vs. Short Hair; Wigs, and Falls

Question:

"Hi, gypsy. I'm a Brazilian belly dance student and I should like to ask you about the relation between the belly dance and the four elements (fire, water, earth and air.) Thanks, Ra-ma"



Reply #1:

"Many dancers have invented a relationship for ritual or theatrical purpose. Middle Eastern dance is no exception. Specific examples of possession, wards against the evil eye, imitations of the movements of animals, war, hunting, fishing, exorcism, etc. in folk performances only. Remember, invention is the key word here. Sufis, in their turning with left hand to earth, right hand to sky- are conduits for spirit. Kuwaiti dance has references to waves and nets in the motion of the thob nashal- a women's dance specifically. None of this is belly dance. All folk. Modern belly dance everywhere but in America is a sensual expression specifically- there is much discussion about whether it reflects childbirth, lovemaking, etc. Some East Indian dancers claim it originated from temple dance in India- but these are origins, not modern uses.

Belly dance is classicized, eroticized, de-eroticized, etc. and many choose to believe that if one is Egyptian, studying in Egypt, or emulating any middle eastern teacher of the dance that this is the correct form. Ask an Egyptian woman about ritual belly dance and she will look at you cross-eyed or worse- and then possibly agree with you and charge you big bucks to study her own invention of the "elemental" dance.

But make of it what you will. Ultimately on top of its beauty, sensuality and exhibition of women's flexibility it is fantasy and invention." M.

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Reply #2:

It suppose you could say it's both a spiritual and ritual thing. In many Pagan religions, "calling the quarters" (the North, South, East and West) and acknowledging the associated elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water...not necessarily in that order.) and any deity/ies is part of "casting the circle" . Opening or Casting the circle is simply opening a safe, ritual space within which spiritual work is performed.

In some Pagan rituals, oftentimes the practitioner will turn in a circle, or walk in a circle to do this. Most times counterclockwise to open the circle, and clockwise to close it when they're done with their work, again acknowledging the elements and thanking the "higher power/s" for being present. Sometimes a practitioner will simply look in each direction and/or visualize a circle of light around them to accomplish this task.

Sometimes the ritual can be extremely elaborate, involving many people and ritual tools... but it depends on the person and the goal. Either way the elements are usually involved, even if only in thought.

There are many, many, many, variations between different practitioners of Pagan religions so not all rituals will be the same, even between two people who follow the same path. Each is tailored to fit that person, persons, or the need of the moment. It's very personal, but in general, that's the readers digest version.

In non-Pagan religions, you could kind of compare it to holding hands at the dinner table during a prayer... It creates a kind of recognition of purpose and a spiritual space.

Many people feel a strong connection between Middle Eastern dance and Paganism. IMO, because most forms of Paganism ( in general ) acknowledge and have equal (if not greater) respect for the Female and the women's solo dance form can be conductive to that for some. Plus there's lots of ancient connections between women and dance and worship. Of course, that's just my opinion, YMMV.

Either way, many people use dance as a form of spiritual work... and/or they may be spiritual in all aspects of their life and include that in their dancing, so they may include that "opening of sacred space" when they perform or practice.

It should be noted that not all dancers are Pagan and not all Pagan's include their spirituality in their dancing but some are and some do. So,that's probably what you observed.

Hope that helps explain things...

Shanna, Sunnyvale, CA

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Topic:

The four Elements and Belly Dance

Question:

"Hi there!

I was invited to a fancy dress party. But my partner needs to be dressed accordingly! Please could you help regarding an outfit for my boyfriend?

Thanks,
Bronwyn James"



Reply:

"Belly dance costumes for men! What a striking image that request conjures up! Depending, of course, on the venue, it can be very basic with harem pants, a fringed hip scarf, full sleeved shirt or tunic, and maybe a vest to top it off. The costume can be created from different FABRICS to change the look. Basics, again, would be the simple, natural fabrics. Rayons, lightweight cottons in solid or ethnic looking patterns all make splendid combos. Make the vests and belts from flexible upholstery yardage, and you'll be surprised at how it adds texture to the look. Step up the glitz with shiny fabrics, including lame's and jersey lame's, sequined fabrics, or fabrics with metallic threads. Add coins as trim, and, closely sewn together, for SOUND - great addition to the belt and the vest. Another terrific costume pairing - loose caftan top, harem pants, with fringed hip belt on top. Striped fabric caftans have that ethnic look; shimmery metallics are great stuff for cabaret. Toss in a twisted fabric headband across the forehead, (or turban, if you're really into it), and the look's complete. Plain or fancy, you can make the male dancer a treat for the audience's eyes! And we all know, you just dance better when you're in costume....."

Answer, thanks to our costuming genius, Catharae

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Topic:

Costumes for Men

Question:

"I'm a student who is researching different styles of dance, particularly belly dancing and was hoping you could spare a few moments of your time to send me a few words describing your personal definition of belly dance and what it represents to you.

Thank you for your prompt response."

Leitesa



Reply:

"Belly dancing is possibly the last frontier of improvisational dance, and properly performed, represents a glorification of female sensuality and strength rather than the debasing of it." M.


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Topic:

What is Belly Dance?

Question:

"My name is Melissa,my fiance just told me I need to lose weight and I'm not sure how. I saw a show about belly dancing on Lifetime's New Attitude. I'm 5' 3 and weigh 140lbs. Alot of my weight is from a steroid Prednisone that I have to take for Chron's disease. Is there a way your dance can help me? Is it possible for me to lose 25lbs in 30 days. I am also doing Tae Bo daily.

Thank you for your time, I'm desperate."


Reply:

Dear Melissa,

Keep the Tai Bo (carefully - unless done gradually, you can seriously injure yourself with too much jarring too soon), change your diet and dump the fiance. I'm 5'4, about 132 lbs, have an attitude, and people like it. You will lose weight with the Tai Bo, but do the dancing because you would like to learn to enjoy your body. Find yourself, then find a man. M.


Another Opinion:

Dear Desperate,

I don't believe that any exercise will cause you to lose weight if you eat too much food. But it will tone up your body and give you more energy and belly dance especially gives you self confidence and poise as you learn to hold your head high, throw back your shoulders and proudly project your chest as a woman and a feminine goddess.

If my boyfriend told me to lose weight I would get a new boyfriend. He should love you just the way you are.

Penny The Pink Gypsy


09/05 -- I agree with the first 2 replies to your question.  A REAL man would not tell you to lose weight.  Losing weight should be something to do FOR YOURSELF, not for some 2-bit ape high on himself and body image.  I am 5"2" and weigh 145.. and I dance!  It's time to do things for YOU.. Forget about him!  He obviously has a self esteem problem which you do not need to carry on your back for the rest of your life.  If he is saying things like that in this stage of your relationship, RUN!! It will only get worse as time goes on.  I know. -- KG

Can I lose 25 lbs. in 30 days with Belly Dance?


Belly Dancer
Sketch Cards:

Belly Dancer Sketch Card Art

Some of you may be aware that I have been doing lots of Art and Art related projects over the past few years. In fact, I now sign my name Penny Lee StewArt!

I recently painted 25 sketch cards of belly dancers, 2.5 x 3.5 inches in size. They are very collectible and make great gifts.

Please visit my Daily Paint Works Gallery if you are interested in purchasing. Thanks.  

Penny StewArt
aka The Pink Gypsy

 

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