Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Image of Belly Dance: The Performance and the Body

Zohra and Hadeeqa of TABLA had a performance for a group of social workers at ANU on Tuesday night. Planning to have one choreographed piece to open the show, each a solo, and the rest of the performance as improvisation, we were gearing up to be in our performer headspace. Having not had much experience in restaurant performances, I was a little unsure as to what to do. With coins on our hips, charcoal eye make-up, and a last costume check, we went on into the restaurant and performed our set list. The audience claimed, cheered, smiled, laughed, and some even got up to dance at the end. In my assigned week of blog posts, I'd like to explore the atmosphere belly dance brings; in particular, the divide between the performer and the audience member. I would also like to discuss a very important part of belly dance, and that is its broader transformative effect on the dancer.

The Performer and the Audience Member
            The division between performer and audience member depends on the space in which the performance is taking place. In my experience, a restaurant is different to a staged show at a festival, which is different again to paid show in a theatre. In a theatre, the audience in front of you is often family and friends; they have come to see you and they are only interested in you. Here, the performer comes on stage, lights are brightened, music comes on, and for 3 minutes, the performer is the focus and the audience stays quiet - often, in the dark. At a festival, it tends to be more casual; people drift in and out. They may stay, have a dance, ask you questions, or they may go to see what else is on offer at the festival. Here, the audience is fully visible, and the division between performer and audience member blurs as the performer feeds off the audience's behaviour and even invites audience members up on stage to join in.
            At a restaurant, it is different again; the performer is there as a prop. The audience is in full view, and even though you have been hired either by someone in the audience or by the restaurant itself, the audience member may choose to watch you, or to talk amongst themselves, eat, drink, or leave to use the bathroom or have a smoke. This is not in any way intended to critique the audience member or to grumble about not getting attention! This is merely the atmosphere belly dance creates within the restaurant. The performance itself, the music, and the sound of coin belts and other such signifiers of belly dance, is what changes the atmosphere of a restaurant, not the performer.    

The Professional Body
            Once considered grotesque and immoral by the West, traditional Middle Eastern belly dance was a signifier of the Other - "fetishised" as exotic (Keft-Kennedy, 2010). In many ways this idea still exists. By donning ourselves with dark eye make-up, elaborate costumes that are reminiscent of traditional dance, and signifiers such as coins, jewelery, and props, we as Western belly dancers transform ourselves into the exotic Other - an act labeled cultural appropriation. We transform into that fetish, the stereotype of a belly dancer. However, beneath the exterior, cosmetic transformation lies another transformation, literally - the body. And here is the division between the amateur and the professional, as we see the transformation at work.
            In the article, 'How Does She Do That?' Bellydance and the Horror of a Flexible Woman (2010), Keft-Kennedy discusses the transformation of the body within belly dance. Keft-Kennedy argues that key techniques in belly dance involving the isolation of various body parts creates a particular kind of flexible and muscular body - a body that may not be considered as such among other dancers and athletes. It is a body that may be considered grotesque in its abnormal skill, sensual in its focus on the hips, and exotic in itself. While many men around the world belly dance, it is often considered a female dance in the West, and I wonder whether this assumption is due to the particular display of the body - exoticness and sensuality are often associated with femininity. The professional belly dancer body becomes a signifier in itself; essentially, a body which is trained to do all these weird, strange, sensual, exotic, fun things... we see a body trained to perform all the hip slides, belly pops, undulations, and shimmies it wants! 
            To conclude, our restaurant performance went well despite nerves; it was a different experience, and it made me think just how atmosphere of belly dance is modified depending on the context, the space, and the audience. I found the article fascinating, and I encourage you to read more about belly dance from an anthropological perspective. I did not have time - or space - this week to go into other topics surrounding belly dance. Topics such as its feminist appeal (due to the female domain belly dance possesses), the various mental health benefits that have been found in belly dancers, and more thorough understandings of the exotic and the sensual, give a greater understanding as to why we love belly dance, and why we continue to do so.

Happy belly dancing!

Hadeeqa from TABLA


Keft-Kennedy, V. (2005). "'How does she do that?' Belly dancing and the horror of a flexible woman." Women's studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 34(3-4): 279-300.     

Friday, 16 May 2014

Raw Chocolate Brownies - a delicious mid-rehearsal snack!

TABLA's Inara Suri always has something healthy and delicious to share during rehearsals and between workshops. One of our favourites is this raw chocolate brownie recipe, and we're not alone! I know the dancers at the last Bahar Bayram enjoyed these treats as much as we all do. Not only do they taste delicious, but they also ease your PMS! Apparently, it's all that raw cacao, goji berries and brazi nuts! 




Preparation Time10 minutes
Equipment Required: Food processorSpoonBowl

1/2 cup of dates
1/2 cup of raisins
1/2 cup of almonds
1/2 cup of Brazil nuts
1/2 cup of cacao powder
1/2 cup of honey, rapadura or coconut palm sugar (optional. the mixture might be sweet enough)
1/2 cup of goji berries
1/4 tsp star anise (optional but it adds a nice liquorice flavour.)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

1. Simply blend all of the ingredients in the food processor until well mixed.
2. If you prefer, you can add in the goji berries at the last minute so that you still have some texture to the brownie.
3. Taste the mixture, if you would like a more chocolatey flavour, add a little more cacao powder. If you would like it sweeter, add a touch more honey or sugar.
4. Shape in to the desired shape, such as squares or balls.


Inara has recently started a facebook page called Healthy lunchboxes, healthy lives. There, you will find ideas to inspire healthy lunchboxes (& other meals) and to create healthy vibrant lives. It's certainly worth checking out!


THIS RECIPE IS REPRODUCED HERE WITH PERMISSION REQUIRING THE FOLLOWING CREDIT: Charlie Lagoa publishes "Happy Hormones" - a free weekly eZine for happy hormones, because happy hormones mean a happy, gorgeous and glowing YOU! If you're ready to look and feel fabulous every day of the month, get your free tips and recipes now at

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Why does it have to be so hard!? TABLA enters the Digital Age

This week we've been busy *trying* to set up our YouTube account ... There are lots of new rules about not using names that aren't actully personal names - I feel a bit bad for those celebrity babies ... Google will never let them have a gmail account!

In any case, WE NOW HAVE A YOUTUBE CHANNEL!!! Even if we can't add any actual information about us or a 'channel art' or our website, or blog ... *sigh* ... We're a bit late, but we're finally entering the digital age.

There are massive benefits to the "digital age", sharing videos, getting to know dancers from all over the place, getting to know the people who enjoy our dancing. There are downsides, of course, the main one being the tendency for computers (yes, in the plural) to die, taking all of your video, photos and other important dance stuff with it.

Fortunately we have backups (scattered between various troupe members). So we're opening Our YouTube Channel with a bit of a Flashback.

We're going waaay back to 2008 (that wasn't *that* long ago, was it?), when we made a very fancy video showing some of our choreography creation and rehearsal process, intermixed with photos (some with fantastically tacky photoshopped backgrounds - they looked good at the time, ok!), and bits of performance footage that wasn't on video (actual VHS video ... shhh! We're not that old!). Anyway, we thought it was awesome, so we're sharing it with you today!

Sam :)

Thursday, 1 May 2014

There's a First Time for Everything!

... and today marks the first time TABLA bellydance have created a blog post!

Welcome to our Blog. :)

We plan to share here our adventures in bellydance, from choreography creation through to performance, our love of improvisation and our passion for the dance. We enjoy creating quirky combinations, adding theatrical elements to our dance, as well as delving into the purely traditional ... well, as pure as we can make it! :)

You might also get to read about our struggles to create a left-hand tek, our successes in winning the 'name that rhythm' game and our further explorations of Arabic Percussion with our very patient drummer, Richard.

Our website is currently undergoing a rather large overhaul, and we'll be posting most of its content here first. That's right! You'll be getting a sneak preview! We'd love to get your feedback on what you'd like to know about our members, both past and present, so please leave comments!! :)

Screen shot from the Website rebuild. What do you think?

We look forward to sharing our journey with you!
Remember to subscribe!

Sam :)