Letters to the Editor

Email the Snake--editor@gildedserpent.com

December 2004 up through April 2005


4-28-05 re: BDSS Auditions

In response to comments regarding auditions, let me say that I do not enjoy 90% of the process, as I know I will disappoint most of the dancers who come. It is not easy or pleasant passing out rejections. Who wants to tell someone they are not good enough, or pretty enough, or have the right training for our show? I don't. The lady who was "too tall" definitely had something, but she was not comfortable with her height, as she clearly shows in her review of the audition. She has the height problem, not me; that is pretty obvious. Meanwhile, I am not a ballet fan and I have totally resisted the advice to find ballet dancers and teach them belly dance. I want dancers who love belly dance first and foremost, not ones who are just looking for a dance job. But I have come to learn that ballet training helps greatly in choreography, which is what makes our show so strong and unique. With the limited rehearsal times we have now, we need dancers who are quick learners and adaptable. The other thing, and essential to the smooth running of a troupe of 16 dancers, is attitude, ego in control, team thinking, and coolness under pressure. Any read of Dazzel's audition comments gives a clue to what attitudes were lurking under the surface and I must have picked up on that as well. A brilliant, beautiful dancer with a bad attitude will spoil the experience for everyone, so we prefer not to have such a dancer.

I am sorry to have to say NO to any dancer, but I have to. It's a job I must do.
Miles Copeland


4-18-05 re:SF Screening of American Bellydancer by Miles Copeland
   Like many people I have followed the controversies of Miles Copeland and the BellyDance SuperStars with great interest and while I too am happy that Belly Dance is gaining acceptance with the general public I am also concerned that we are losing that connection with our heritage. And so I am respectfully submitting to Miles Copeland some changes to the BDSS show.
   First, many dancers perform bellygrams and I think we need to honor their contribution to the scene. Could Miles hire a cheesy dancer to go out into the audience, put a glass of water on a man's head, and shake her breasts in his face while his friends laugh? A nice touch would be to wrap her veil around his neck and lead him onstage and force him to dance in front of all his friends while they take pictures. This is such a good idea I'm surprised he has not thought of it already.
   Second, we need to represent the dancers who perform at restaurants and nightclubs. A lot of people don't know that you can tip a dancer by thrusting dollars bills into her bra! They need to be educated and I would love to see a middle eastern casbah scene recreated on the BDSS stage with men trying to cop feels while the dancers did their best to fend them off. If this is too racy you could show families at dinner ignoring the dancer as she does her best to be tasteful and unobtrusive while dodging waiters carrying plates of food. Remember, ours is the only dance form that aspires to be background entertainment for diners!
   Third is the name- BellyDance SuperStars is good but it could be better. A number of successful shows have words like 'shimmy' or 'shake' or 'wiggles' in their titles. There are also contests that use 'galaxy' or 'universe' in their names. I would like to suggest 'Wiggle Wise SuperStar Shimmiers of the Inner Solar System' or better yet 'Belly Shaking SuperStars of the whole Time Space Continuum Thing'. It's so important that people know that we take ourselves seriously!
   Miles, it is with great humility that I offer up these suggestions and I don't expect any reward or remuneration for them. However if you do use any of these ideas could you send me a box of your BDSS thongs? I know that I and all my fellow drummers would wear them proudly knowing that we had made some small contribution to our scene.
Rick Fink


4-16-05 re:Friday Photos from Rakkasah by GS Staff &Friends
I can't begin to tell you how weird it is to look at the photos of Rakaassah....I attended the very first Rakassah, geez, when was it....sometime late 70s I think...held in a tiny, tiny community center in the East Bay. I kept going to Rakassah each year after that and gradually saw it grow, and grow, and grow. The way we used to have to sign up to dance was to madly start calling a phone number at some ungody hour and talk to...what were their names who started it????....Robaire and his wife. Are they still in charge? Sometime it took several hours to get through, sometimes when you got through there were no more spaces left. My troupe and I danced at Rakassah a few times, which was a blast.
I remember taking classes from Jamila Salimpour when she had classes in some dinky upstairs studio in San Francisco, right down the street from some great dance clubs, where some (now) big names used to play. Some great dancers, a real scene. I remember Suhaila when she was about 4 or 5 years old. I also remember when she first started teaching. Also remember when Susu started drumming, and when MaryEllen was alive [Ed-is alive and well!] and would give drum classes in her home. Mimi Spencer was a gift to the M.E. dance/music world. I took private and class lessons in kanun anad singing. I also took drum classes from Vince Delgado waaaay back when (late 70s). So, this is really dating me.
Anyway.....I just wanted to respond to how these photos took me down memory lane. At this point, I am not involved in the scene, even musically...but I miss it...or at least I miss how it was! Thanx for the photos!!!
Jo Chavez,
formerly Bahia of Troups Dar Ta Izzah


4-16-05 re:?
Having a long experience with several belly dance communities, I can only say that there is something about this art that brings about increases in the emotions of the participants. Gossip, divisions and strident opinions are not uncommon. Divided communities and cliques are not uncommon. This is at its worse. At its best, wonderful people from all walks of life honor those that are at all different levels of performance. There is more of the "good" than the "bad."
While many get concerned about the "product," I believe the spirit is more important. What is going on in the dancer's heart and connection, is more important than the medium. The same is true with music. As someone who presented synthesizers into middle eastern "influenced" music, there was a positive response and a backlash by purists. As if this artform is going to proceed for hundreds of years, and the instruments will never change. Once again, the "heart" of the dance and the music is more important than the medium.
There are two distinct attitudes that I notice, with perhaps some or many in the middle. One attitude is to preserve an art. The other is to enhance, modify or alter it either a little bit or drastically. Just take a look at the universe. It is infinite. Of course, in a modern light polluted environments we often do not get to see how vast the universe is, and that is only a small part that we can even see! There is plenty of room in it for everything. There is enough room for all forms and expressions, from those that claim a "traditional" emphasis to those that drastically alter it. One does not knock out the other. All can coexist.
Quite frankly, I believe that "purity" is ultimately a delusion. All art started with innovation. A violin is accepted in middle eastern "traditional" bands, but the violin was certainly not used in the middle east a thousand years ago, like the doumbek was! Just like the violin was introduced BECAUSE IT SOUNDED GOOD, so will many new sounds and dance moves be introduced because they are good, people are alive, and evolution is a good thing! When you go to the Symphony and hear a Beethoven Sonata, you will likely hear it on a modern piano that has nothing to do with the piano Beethoven owned. Why? Because the original piano of the 18th century generally sounds awful compared to today's pianos! In any event, I am not opposed to preserving that original piano. (In fact, I am one of the few people that actually like it) But the point is, we can honor the past and traditions while at the same time honor innovations and creativity. We can have it all.

The bottom line is that we all need to learn to love one another, respect the differences, enjoy the variety, and recognize that virtually anyone who comes close to this artform has something to offer. Most of the disputes arise from being too close to the situation. I hope all involved in a dispute take a step back and work on a friendly relationship, especially for the sake of the art form itself. When two people are fighting, the third person wins. In the belly dance world, the third person will be those that belittle this artform in all its aspects.
Warm regards to all,
Alan Bachman
Desert Wind
Salt Lake City, Utah


Dear Titanya,
As a veteran performer of some 20 years in the various restaurants, clubs, festivals and concerts in the Bay Area, I find your statement that "some of us feel that once again a man has received credit for a woman's art form because he has more power and more money" an interesting take on the situation to say the least. Personally, I would not care if the "entity" who promoted "the dance" (don't want to get into semantics here) had four heads, nine tentacles and was covered in slime from another planet, as long as this entity presented "the dance" in a positive environment for the dancer, paid his dancers well, and actually cared even a little bit about the dancer's training and potential!

I also want to say that my experiences dancing as a "paid professional" in North Beach and other Bay Area venues were fun and I treasure those memories of dancing to that wonderful live music; it was an incredible experience. BUT I never, ever lost sight of the fact we dancers in general were (and still are) notoriously underpaid, have no health benefits, no contracts and no agent representation, and trust me, if a dancer didn't work, it was their groceries! Granted, some club and/or restaurant owners were nicer/fairer to work for than others, but the overall "employment" arrangement of all of them was and is still ridiculously insecure. I mean, picture me as I walk into a club/restaurant, with at least $1,000 in costuming to perform two shows for the princely sum of $25; on a poor "tipping" night, this barely covered gas and parking! I hear the "going pay rate" now is around $40. Still ridiculous! Add to this the fact that the "competition" for dance jobs resulted in some dancers "undercutting the pay scale" or even volunteering to "dance for dinner" just to be dancing. We all need to recognize that as a "profession" Middle Eastern dance has been limping along for decades and figuring out why isn't rocket science!

And, it's true there was some wonderful dancing in those clubs and wonderful music, but it was so confined to mostly the Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern dance "afficiados", the mainstream could not "get it" about this dance form, the way they got it about "Tahitian" or "Hula". Can you imagine trying to place a tip on a hula dancer's pau skirt? The kumu hula of the halau (director of troupe) would probably clock that audience member into tomorrow! The respect for Polynesian dancing has been around and been developed, perhaps that's why Miles Copeland included it in his BDSS? And, although our very own S.F.Ethnic Dance Festival has for many many years included various styles of Middle Eastern Dance, few dancers are enthused about performing or supporting this cultural event. So, along comes Miles Copeland, and the dance community is disturbed on all sorts of artistic levels but to complain because he's a MAN strikes me as just well, silly!I

I say, give Miles Copeland a chance to develop this more fully, now that he's got the attention of the mainstream. And in the meantime, if there are any club/restaurant owners out there or alien creatures from outer space who think they can do a better job than Miles, they should just do so! And while they are "elevating the art", they should remember to pay their dancers as well as he does and take care of them the way he does.......... THAT is "elevating the art"

Pacifica, CA


4-10-05 re: Unchained! by Monique Monet
A few months ago, there was an article in Gilded Serpent by Monique Monet about the Bellydance Superstars and Miles Copeland. It garnered quite a bit of attention, positive and negative, including an open-minded response from Miles Copeland himself. There have been a handful of people who have taken the time to write about the fears and concerns that so many of us have about BDDS. I must commend Monique and others, such as Horatio Cifuentes and Sausan on their honesty, strength and courage to passionately put out what many Belly dancers were already thinking and didn’t want to say. Before this, people were only talking and wondering about the tour and it’s Hollywood producer behind it. Thank you for opening Pandora’s box.

There is no doubt that the Superstars are a talented group of women and Miles Copeland is the master magician bringing them to the masses. Yes, it is a shame that a woman didn’t go forward so long ago and create a tour of this magnitude. Some of us feel that once again a man has received credit for a woman’s art form, because he has more power, and more money. I have seen the show several times and it is non-stop entertainment. The Bellydance Superstars, among others are putting Bellydance on the map. This is great! We are finally getting the recognition we want to stand next to other dance forms such as Jazz and Ballet and Tap dance. Our classes are filling up with little girls wanting to become “Bellydance Superstars” when they grow up. Wow!

Yes, the BDDS are at the brink of this universal shift in dance recognition, but are they truly representing us.
I question this along with Dondi and Horatio Cifuentes and others that the show is not representing the true overall culture of the art form called Belly dance. Where is the Turkish, the folkloric, the “Gypsy”? Miles says he knows what the public wants, and I don’t doubt him. He made Superstars out of Sting, The Police, The Go-go’s and The Bangle’s when others wouldn’t. One of my favorite pieces in the BDDS show is the Indian piece, which breaks up the monotony of the plethora of Pop-Egyptian dances. The Marilyn Monroe fusion and Techno-Tribal, are also are my favorites in the show, but they still don’t give the public a full-rounded image of belly dance in our communities. American Techno-Tribal arrived on the scene less than 5 years ago and many refuse to call it Belly Dance.

Rumour has it that Miles cut some beautiful Flamenco, Turkish and Persian pieces out of the BDDS show, and left in the Polynesian, which according to my history has very little to do with Bellydance. What? Not only is Polynesian not connected to Bellydance in any way, but it seems very out of place. So many traditions and so much cultural history is being lost these days due to the fast pace of our media and what is available to us through the Internet, rather than a first-hand experience. Of course our dance should evolve and should move into the future and not get stuck in the past, but can’t we show a true representation of the art form rather than getting lost in the glitz and glamour, like a Las Vegas show.

Titanya Dahlin (notation: Titanya is Dondi's sister)
Bellydancer and Polynesian dancer
Boulder, Colorado


3-29-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
This is an open letter in response to Lynette's statements for being asked to not to attend RAKKASAH Festival.
In late December (well after the date for vendors to reserve space for RAKKASAH West 2005 ) Shukriya called Lynette to ask if she was planning to vend at RAKKASAH West 2005 and she left a message on her machine. Lynette called back some days later and said, "I can not afford to keep the space and have all those cookies for everyone as well." (The booth for Lynette is $280 with electricity - I don't know how much the cookies cost.) Shukriya said that she agreed - it was too costly for her to be there to take photos since she did not sell enough to cover expenses.

Lynette said she would come and take photos for the Gilded Serpent at RAKKASAH West 2005 - That's Great. In years past, Lynette has come to let us know that there were vendors in the building selling from bags or baskets. Lynette has been a RAKKASAH vendor for more than 5 years and knows the rules for vending.

We had vendors approach Shukriya regarding Lynette on Saturday, March 19, trying to sell ads to the vendors while they were working with customers. I personally saw Lynette attempting to sell ads to a vendor.On Sunday morning Shukriya gave Lynette a courtesy call at home and told her not to come to the festival to keep her from any embarrassment at the door. Lynette chose to come anyway.

Lynette has admitted that she was removed from the festival because of selling without being a vendor. Then, brings up the Aziza article as a reason for being told not to return to the festival. The Aziza article has nothing to do with this situation. Please go back and read Lynette’s comments again. You’ll see the truth is there buried amongst the fantasy.

For the sake of the vendors that pay for their space, we will always remove people who try to sell without being an "Official Vendor" at our festivals and shows.

Michelle De Vine
Assistant Director - Rakkasah

[Ed response]
Thank you Michelle (and Shukriya) for responding.
I find that I have more confusion regarding this misunderstanding as time goes by. Hopefully you can help clarify a few of my questions. It is interesting what gets remembered of past conversations. I believe what I told Shukriya in December was that the goal of the booth at Rakkasah was to publicize the existence of Gilded Serpent and that that goal had been accomplished. We could now focus on photographing the performances. I also expressed that we would buy many entrance tickets for the volunteers with what a booth cost. She also said she never understood why I rented a booth anyway, and that now I could enjoy the show. No mention was made of rules, prohibitions, or expectations as I transitioned to a paying attendee. I do not recall witnessing nonpaying vendors selling out of a bag. In the conversation on the Sunday morning of Rakkasah, Shukriya specifically mentioned the article by Aziza saying that "you don't like Rakkasah." I assured her that was not true and that GS has been promoting the festival to the world for years.

Another issue that I think deserves exploring is what is soliciting versus networking. A flyer table, now replaced by hanging pockets, is generously provided for the community at Rakkasah to publicize events and services. We all exchange information and business cards. So which of these tasks is not allowed to do at Rakkasah?
• discussing promotion on Gilded Serpent and PRICES (this one I now know is forbidden),
• accepting checks from advertisers on existing business established before Rakkasah,
• returning graphics to writers and advertisers,
• saying thank you to possible new advertisers that come up to me telling me they will be advertising soon,
• discussing business with existing advertisers,
• giving a biz card to a person who asks me about the magazine and explaining how to get there,
• asking people to call me about a question or giving instructions on how to send a graphic through email,
• collecting products for review from vendors and artists, or

• arranging a barter of goods for advertising (i.e. a pretty dress!)
The past support of Rakkasah by myself and GS would seem to warrant at least a notification or clarification of doing something forbidden before being summarily expelled. Michelle, it would have been especially helpful if you had corrected me when you saw me committing the offending act. I would have complied with your wishes. Shukriya, we have resolved several issues in the past between us successfully and I am confident we can do it again. Let me know if I can take you to lunch so we can attempt to resolve this one! Thank you for responding, let me again say that no disrespect of your contributions to the community was intended by any of GS’s actions.


3-29-05 re:re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
Dear Gilded Serpent...
I was so sad to read about the ban on you taking photos at Rakkasah. I am an Australian now residing back home after living for an extended period in Northern California, where i quickly found Middle Eastern Dance. I attended three Rakkasah festivals while living there, and now i am back home, always eagerly check your website for the photos from the festival, looking for familiar faces and remembering the good times. The ban on your wonderful photo feature has really upset me, since where else will i see such a great range of the performers who were there on the day?
Very sorry indeed...


3-28-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
I waited until now to write in about this disgusting episode, because I wanted to see what the rest of the dance community thought about Shukriya's retaliatory act in banning Gilded Serpent from taking pictures at Rakkasah, simply for printing Aziza's article! So far the dance community overwhelmingly is expressing extreme disappointment in Shukriya's high-handed treatment of you and the Gilded Serpent staff. A week was plenty of time for Shukriya to simply write a letter in response, stating her views and policies, but instead, she let her "knee jerk" anger reaction to criticism totally overcome her good sense. However, I don't think Shukriya would have written a response even if it was two months before Rakkasah; she certainly didn't bother to respond to my article about Rakkasah last year that focussed on issues I saw as a performing dancer at this event in 2004. The bottomline is that just like any other event producer, Shukriya needs to view public criticism as an golden opportunity to promote herself in a professional manner, exactly as Miles Copeland has done! Instead, and this is very, very sad, Shukriya's choice of action reflects the all-too familiar back-biting, bickering and closed-mindedness of the Bay Area dance community that, until Gilded Serpent, effectively prevented opposing views to be shared in a safe environment in the dance community. I may not always agree with the opinions published by Gilded Serpent, but I will always defend the right of these opinions to be published!
Vive le press!


3-25-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
Okay, hold it hold it hold it. Gilded Serpent published an article by Aziza that accused the head of Rakkasah Security of being a criminal, which he is not. No facts were checked before publishing this tremendously potentially damaging allegation, which was TREMENDOUSLY irresponsible for Gilded Serpent to do.

From what I understand, in the final phone calls Shukriya warned Lynette, editor of Gilded Serpent, after there were complaints by vendors who said she was soliciting advertising in the event without paying for space, as all the other vendors have to do. The vendors also don't like it if you sell costumes out of your bag or in the parking lot to other people at the event if you haven't paid for space.

Following that call, Shukriya called back and BANNED Lynette from entering after Shukriya received a separate call that invalidated Lynette's claim she had been ASKED to come into the workshops on Friday.

And truly from the point of view of the event staff working the workshop registration and security on Friday, crashing the workshops coming for pictures on Friday corresponded to crashing the most popular and crowded workshop at the event: the workshop and lecture by Jamilla and Suhaila Salimpour.... which we ALL would love to go to for free. Coming right on the heels of that nasty article full of inaccuracies, spins and exaggerations (shame on you, Aziza), published just DAYS before the event (clearly likely to be a calculated time choice), Lynette was already incredibly unpopular with everyone on the staff when she showed up. Trying to crash the workshop didn't sit well with ANYONE there.

Soooo... in a nutshell, Gilded Serpent published slander, tried to crash a popular workshop, then attempted to vend on site without paying. Shukriya SHOULDN'T be uncomfortable with that????

BTW, I have a festival in Portland, OR and have had to deal with very similar situations. And a privately run and funded event isn't a democracy.

Seattle, WA

[Ed response]
Thank you Saqra for expressing your point of view. Bert Balladine had requested that I come to take pictures of what could possibly be his last workshop. The separate call that Shukriiya received was from Bert. I just spoke and confirmed with Bert again and he states that he DID validate with Shukriya that he had requested me to come on Friday.

I was not present nor had the time to come that morning to the Salimpour workshops. I was not there.

My conversations with current and interested advertisers were in no way an attempt to avoid paying Shukriya a vendor fee. Though I could see now, how what most would call "networking" might be interpreted that way.

The timing of posting Aziza's piece had no malicious intensions. Aziza's column was #23 in a series of her experiences as a respected member of our community. Our willingness to publish what she has written is important to fulfill our "Mission Statement." Here again is a clip from our "Mission Statement":

With articles ranging from historical research to up-to-the-minute news, reflecting the full spectrum of viewpoints without fear or favor, Gilded Serpent's mission is to become Middle Eastern dance's journal of record.

Thank you again, Saqra


3-24-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
Maybe the dance community should take a page out of South Africa's book & establish a Truth & Reconciliation Committee that promotes resolving stuff like this. No one expects perfection in relationships but we do expect EFFORT (especially in our "leaders"). And Life'll give us lessons 'til we "get it"!

Feuds no - friends yes! http://www.kawakib.com/articlesZAG21.html
In the archives: http://www.gildedserpent.com/articles26/anthearealtionships.htm
Anthea (Kawakib)
Fredericksburg, VA


3-24-05 DVD Review of Bellyqueen’s Bellydance Jam by Mara al-Nil
Dear Gilded Serpent,
Mara al-Nil's review of Bellydance Jam by Bellyqueen includes a sentiment I've been seeing a lot lately, particularly given all the discussion of the Bellydance Superstars. She seems to take direct umbrage with Bellyqueen's statement in their video that bellydancing is "made for every body type". She retorts: "It’s too bad that this was not validated in the DVD by actually showing dancers of every body type! Without exception, all of the dancers shown are young, thin, and beautiful."

I am probably one of the dancers Ms. al-Nil would consider "young, thin and beautiful". Ms. al-Nil's statement, and the statements of others I have heard about "equal opportunity sizeism" are very discouraging. Should I not make an instructional video that tells the truth about bellydance -- that is is indeed designed for all body types -- because I and my dance partner are both thin? Should I refrain from saying this to people in my classes, because I myself am not "of size"? No! Of course not! I don't understand why Ms. al-Nil is bringing Bellyqueen to task for making a statement of fact in their video, merely because they themselves are of a similar body type.

Ms. al-Nil's statement makes it very obvious that she thinks someone who is "young, thin and beautiful" has no business encouraging dancers of all sizes to dance. That only larger dancers can encourage other larger dancers to dance. This is unfortunate.

Claire Litton


3-23-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
Dear Sahara Jen,
Were you really expecting a story in a features magazine with the word "viewpoint" in the title to be a balanced gem of journalism? Did you mistake Aziza for a professional journalist and the Gilded Serpent for hard news? Shall we call this "SerpentGate"?

Lord knows Miles Copeland has been bashed enough on the Gilded Serpent. But he took the time to tell his side of the story and GS published it, just as they publish all viewpoints. If Shukriya wants to weigh in on the discussion she can... that is what makes GS so wonderful.

I have been going to Rakkasah (and spending money there) for years and years. I, for one, would like to know why GS was not allowed to photograph my show. Part of the reason why I performed was so that I could be included in their photo spread. Either people are allowed to photograph or not. How dare Shukriya say that GS can't publish my photo!

Michelle Joyce
Oakland, CA


3-22-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
The Gilded Serpent decided to run Aziza’s one sided anti-Rakkasah article, less than 1 week before the Rakkasah. This timely article happened without anyone taking any action to get the other side of the story. There are always two sides, but only one side was presented, as if it were factual news. The title alone “Rakkasah From a Vendor’s Viewpoint” does not make it seem less like news, as it is presented in the “New Articles” area. As with any news, once printed, the damage is done, and it is hard to retract or offer a rebuttal, as the readers may never see it. If the Gilded Serpent were truly operating as a news magazine, it would have sent a reporter to get Shukriya’s side of the story before allowing these accusations to go to print, especially since the Rakkasah Festival was just days away. Perhaps the Gilded Serpent crossed the line, and transformed from press to propaganda, and should be treated as such. That being the case, Shukriya has every right to refuse to offer preferential “Press Pass” treatment to the Gilded Serpent. Shukriya should be honored for all her contributions to the bellydance community! What possible
motivation could there be for raining on her parade 1 week before her big event?
Sahara Jen
Jewels of Cairo
Vallejo, CA

[Hopefully Shukriya will respond soon!-Ed]


3-22-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
A professional, such as Shukriya, needs to let critizsim roll off her back. If she didn't agree with points in the article by Aziza!, she should've addressed those issues in a professional, non-defensive manner. GS is fair and would've posted her article. There may be good
reasons for doing the things the way there done. It would've been an opportunity to enlighted us. But banning GS from the event, which is nothing short of trouncing on First Admendment rights, she is only supporting the views in Aziza!'s article.

I'm glad there are other large belly dance events in California. Some of the owners and operators of those events may not like some of the critism GS has given in the past, but they take it. I respect and support such events. I even respect it more when they can make use of the critism and make the event better. That's what critisim is for, to evaluate what needs to be improved.
With Love and Magic,
a.k.a. Shayloe
a.k.a. Za'Zahn the Dragon


3-22-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
I was surprised to learn that the Gilded Serpent was barred from Rakkasah, one of the most prominent festivals worldwide. It seems that the organizers don't quite appreciate the role of the press. Although there was a recent article on the Gilded Serpent about a longtime vendor no longer finding it a worthwhile event, the opinions of journalists and of the e-zine as a whole must be regarded seperately. Like any respectable news source, the Gilded Serpent should be a portal for a whole range of opinions, and in past years it has provided a great deal of positive coverage for Rakkasah.

This rash reaction to negative press seems very ill-advised. Knowing that this blacklisting has occurred doesn't enhance my opinion of Rakkasah. Such actions can only contribute negatively to its reputation.

Santa Cruz, CA


3-22-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
Lynette, I have just read your article on Rakassah and the uncomfortable welcome you had. This is my fourth rakassah, and I can honestly say that I was very dissapointed with it this year. I love going to these festivals, I love DDF, Moon Over Morocco, and Tribal Fusion Faire. It's a great chance to see performers and purchase gobs of just... stuff. But I also look forward to your responses and most especially your pictures after each event. The fact that you were so rudely banned from this event is well, bullshit. I read Aziza's article before going this past weekend and thought well, just a disgruntled vendor I guess. That was definately not the case. The cost to get in to the actual festival is way overpriced, and so was the food (not to mention horribly disgusting, I didn't mind walking down to the pizza place). The thing that irks me the most is the cabaret room. Only 3 people on the floor at a time! Are you freakin kidding me! It looks disorganized and sloppy and way embarrasing for the troupe to have 3 people in the center and 8 people on the sides. This needs to be fixed!
I might just finish this email now, for fear that I might be banned from next year's rakassah for speaking out my mind. Shukirya needs to get her act together, or in other words, find that huge creature that crawled up her you know where. I do give you huge props however on your great smile and to be able to take this abuse so well. I am a dancer, but I hate politics.. they just don't mix.

-Elise (Mehrnoosh)
West Covina, CA

-Everybody bring your cameras next year, and make sure it's also a videocamera!


3-22-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
Bellydance Wars: Rakkasah, Gilded Serpent, Aziza
I don't know the particulars, but I know it's tough running a business and you can't always control the people who work for you. You also can't please all the people all the time. Shukriya undoubtedly has a tougher job than anyone realizes, but I would also say a thick skin comes in handy when you're working in the world of belly dance. I have faced all sorts of criticism, more often than not from people who are simply prejudiced and uninformed, but I don't let that bother me unduly. I have some spare thick skin that I would be happy to loan to Shukriya so she can put up with some flack, as I must do. I have come to realize that the vast majority within the belly dance world are not negative, prejudiced or mean-spirited, and that criticisms, if thoughtful, can be useful and constructive. Criticism that is not will be treated as such by all the people that matter. Gilded Serpent is more valuable to everyone if there is no fear to publish conflicting views. None of us should be too upset if we are on the receiving end of criticism, fair or unfair. In the end, truth always prevails.
Miles Copeland,



3-21-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
Hello Lynette;
Just read your blurb on Rakkasah. Shukriya is losing it. I wondered why I didn't see you and your free cookies this year! She needs to step back and think about how she is doing things, because Rakkasah is a wonderful thing and I'd hate to see her micromanage it into the ground.

Aziza is not the first vendor who has given up on Rakkasah. I know at least one other personally who is VERY fed up and has vowed NEVER to darken Rakkasah's door again.

As a previous letter has already stated: You don't shoot the messenger. One of the many things I really like about the Serpent is the balanced variety of opinions. This e-zine is a safe, friendly place where people are free to disagree and that is very healthy. I thought Aziza's article was well-written and not in any way shrill or petulant. She illustrated her reservations without getting nasty and pretty much just gave her opinion on the direction she has seen the festival going. What's so terrible about that? When you are in the public eye and holding public events, you must expect public opinion. This sounds like the Gilded Serpent getting hit by shrapnel from a firefight between two other parties. Watch out for crossfire, ouch...!
(Stockton, CA...for another month, then WA!)


holy cow!!!!!!!!!! this is ridiculous. if aziza's article was printed in the san francisco chronicle would the chronicle be banned from covering rakkasah as a news event?? you didn't write aziza's article, aziza did!!! take care lynette, for all you have done for the dance community and presenting bellydance to the general public through your performances and internet magazine this is unreal.

Ellen Cruz
PO Box 182
Occidental, CA 95465


3-21-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
Dear Lynette:
Let me get this straight: you were asked by Rakassah to pay for a workshop at which you were not studying, in order to take pictures at the request of the workshop instructor, Bert Balladine?

If I hadn't seen visual evidence that GS was unwelcome, I might not have believed it, as this situation is truly unheard of at conferences and events of diverse kinds. A "press pass" is usually given that allows members of the media who are writing articles, taking pictures, or both, to enter events gratis. Not only should you not have been asked to pay for the workshop, your entrance fee to the festival should have been waived.

Sadly, this lack of professional consideration further underscores the argument that "belly dance" is not a professional domain; even more ridiculous is the fact that dancers who contributed their performances for free, helping festival organizers in a material way, did not have the advantage of your photography to publicize their endeavors.

Barbara Grant
Tucson, AZ


3-21-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
Hmmm...sounds like a case of, "killing the messenger". Even tho hearing or reading the opinion of others can sometimes be downright excruiciating, isn't that the chance we take when we fight for the right to free speech? I've heard some pretty harsh words from people who attack me and my motives for even setting foot in Iraq. Whether I agree or not, they have the right to state that opinion in the same open forum in which I CHOSE to be heard. If I give Lynn the right to publish my words in this type of publication, then ANYONE else has the right to voice opposing words of their own. I will not hold this against Lynn. Let truth be self evident, one way or the other.



3-21-05 re:Rakkasah Democracy Skips First Amendment, report by Lynette
The desicion that Shukriya took this year about not letting Gilded Serpent this year is a sad and unwise one. Might not reflect this year or the other, but life goes around in circles, it can turn on you and make you fell flat on the face.

It is true that most of the events always have in small letters somewhere "we reserve the right of admission". But, this sounds like deniying Rolling Stone Magazine to a Rock Concert. Simply unbelievable.

If the case was Aziza's article about vending at Rakkasah. It would have been professional from her to just simply answer Aziza's article, with a letter, another article with her reasons and points of view. Like professionals and civilized people do. Not simply banning the Gilded Serpent for posting. Example: Horacio Fuentes & Miles Copeland's letters to each other. Like the article Sausan published about Miles Copeland and their different points of view.

With her actions Shukriya simply proved that she unfortunately, is becoming greedy, and incapable of accept criticism and faults. Like a child she justs wants more, if not given... Tantrum!!! Everybody has to pay!!! This happens when people get too famous, or rich, and they forgot all the people that helped them to become what they are.

The press in the USA is free to publish everything. Don't ban it. It reaches people. Use it in your favor, don't turn it against you.



3-9-05 re:The Blind and Bellydance by Zaheea
Zaheea's story about the young blind couple who enjoyed her bellydancing was so very touching! So many people wouldn't have known how to deal with a blind audience and would have shyed away from interaction. I think it's really cool that she got creative about how she could involve them. Inspiring! If I'm ever in a similar situation, I now have a lovely example of a beautiful way to share the dance to even those who can't see it. Thanks for sharing this story!
Holly Shaw


3-9-05 Comments on American Bellydancer by Gregory Burke
I read Gregory's review of the "American Belly Dancer" and still don't know if it's a video or a film as he kept referring to it as a video. I assumed it was a film as some assistant of Miles Copeland sent out a general BCC email recently (and I got one), asking what theatres to contact for a premiere of the film in Denver... ... as if I know? But I'm resourceful and already knew the perfect independent theatres to choose from and included the contact person and the prices of the theatre rental for her. But I asked this assistant, "What do I get out of this work" that I just did for you? She offered me some comp tickets to the film. .. at least something, I guess. I knew I'd be hardpressed to get paid for work she should have done but was offered 4 tickets. I wanted to warn other dancers to avoid doing things free for folks like this, whether these folks are just being lazy, clueless or trying to take advantage of the many enthusiastic dancers who will do free promotions, marketing and yes, even dance in the SuperStars local shows for free. Anyway, I still don't know when the film is premiering or if it's actually just going straight to video after a couple of showings. And Gregory's review was unclear as to what the show is about. If it's anything like the SuperStars DVD, I can imagine a mishmash production with the usual typical male camera operator angles of female dancers. That said, I really enjoy the SuperStars shows and am very impressed with their grueling tour schedule.. something I'm too lazy and spoiled to have done. Thanks for your dedication and great shows! Hope the film is a success!


3-7-05 re:The Blind and Bellydance by Zaheea
A big applause for Zaheea. I can only agree a hundred percent!!! If we only have known. But on the other hand it was a great experience. It was great to meet other belly dancers and to discover that it didn't matter which part of the world we came from, we all had one thing in common; BELLY DANCE. So a big thanks to every dancer, I had a great time........
And to Miles: Be Honest! next time, say you need some kind of acrobats not just great dancers. Saves a lot of trouble. By the way, river dance is also folklore, maybe something to keep in mind??? And folklore is the heart of oriental dance. Take it out of oriental dance and there's nothing left but tricks.And everybody can learn the tricks you want, but not everybody can put the E into the motion to become Emotion. A loud zaghareet to all who appreciate the ART of belly dance.
Berkel & Rodenrijs, The Netherlands.


3-7-05 re:The Blind and Bellydance by Zaheea
Zaheea's "the Blind & Bellydance" brought tears to my eyes. What an amazing story. Zaheea is more than just a beautiful dancer: she is a warm and lovely human being. We are lucky to have her representing the dance!
Los Angeles


3-5-05 re:Doing What Miles Does Best by Sausan
Hi Lynette and Gilded Serpent:
Great article from Sausan, a very balanced view on the man, Miles Copeland. I have read all about him, read about his dancers and their experiences, heard his point of view which seems very credible. Overall, I see him as very dedicated to his dancers and his vision. I believe he has a love for the art of middle eastern dance and music the same way we dancers, producers and musicians do that read and contribute to Gilded Serpent. He may prefer a certain type of dancer for his shows to balance the dance talent he admires with the physical image preferred by the public. My opinion, give him some latitude and understanding.
Reno, NV


3-4-05 re:Doing What Miles Does Best by Sausan
Sausan's article about her recent discussion with Miles Copeland raised a number of interesting points, which I believe deserve further thought and discussion within our community.

First, however, I believe it is to Copeland's credit that he takes the time to read e-mails and articles and respond to criticism. Though many dancers may find Copeland's recent emergence on the Middle Eastern dance scene challenging, he is certainly in a position to say "the heck with you" to the larger Middle Eastern dance community by virtue of his financial stature, past successes, and demonstrated promotional ability. This may not be fair, in some minds; but it is reality within a free-market system.

Second: it was clear to me, from viewing the photographs of Sausan's dancers, that they are not of the "slender" variety who become Copeland's Bellydance Superstars. Yet isn't "slender" in the eye of the beholder, to some extent? What BDSS promotes as "slender" I'd call "skinny," perhaps in some cases "emaciated." Emaciated dancers will not do well in the Middle East; but many of us are in America. Yet I've suggested before, and I'll state again, that U. S. perceptions of women are changing due to women's increasing economic power and ability to function as decision-makers in important venues. In 2008, for example, a two-woman race for the Presidency (Condi Rice vs. Hillary Clinton) seems likely. Against this backdrop, how long are American women going to stand for perceptions, within our dance community or outside of it, that cast the ideal woman--dancer or not--as a waif? American women are certainly among the audience BDSS seeks to attract.

Third: Sausan renders her opinion that the BDSS dancers lacked "nephis" or "soul." Correspondent Heba, of Middle Eastern background, opines that the BDSS dancers were missing something, though she doesn't exactly express what that "something" is. Monique Monet, quoting Bert Balladine, noted that dancers have nothing to dance about until they are beyond the age of thirty. I've not yet seen the BDSS show, so I can't offer a knowledgeable opinion. But I wonder: might an expression of "soul" in a dancer's performance correlate with life experience? And if so, might it be possible that this quality cannot be fully expressed by a dancer still in her twenties? Might it indeed be possible that this expression does not fully arrive, as noted above, until one is over a certain age? The great Egyptian dancers seem to exude "soul," and they are certainly not young women!
That a dancer in her twenties can deliver a technically flawless performance is beyond dispute, and perhaps this is what the BDSS are seeking. But those who are not awed by technical excellence alone have much to ponder. Is life experience not only a desirable, but a necessary ingredient in the making of a superb dancer?
This question, and others, should receive some thought.
Barbara Grant


3-4-05 re:The Blind and Bellydance by Zaheea
Dear Editor,
It does not happen very often, but there are moments when a writer's words can give us a glimpse into the Divine. "The Blind and Bellydance" by Zaheea captured the merging of beauty and compassion through dance like no other article I have ever read. Thank you!

Carol Heath
Phoenix, AZ


3-3-05 re:Doing What Miles Does Best by Sausan
Brava!Brava! points taken!!!! All of what Ms.Sausans letter states, was proved correct in Fresno Ca. on Jan.29th, 2005! When the self proclaimed bdss hit Fresno, Ca. The venue was less than 1 3rd full.Why? Because Fresno, ca is full of ETHNIC peoples, who find not only his show offensive, but the way the "dancers" were picked. We have a venue we perform at the last sat of every month...it was standing room only!..(and a lot of ethnic peoples) Brava,Brava, with her comments on "tribal" dance! Call it what you will, BUT IT AINT BELLY DANCE!!!
Its American!!! Get it? American!!!!!!! those of the blood get it!...
blessed be,
Cory zamora, zamoras
Fresno ca


2-24-05 re:Reflections from a Christian Dancer by Barbara Grant
I think that this erotic belly dance is a counterfeit by the enemy of God.

I think it seeks to counterfeit dance which comes from deep within our souls, our very guts. A soul which notes that the word used in the Bible for the Compassion of Jesus which motivated and moved Him is the same word that is used for the guts, bowels and the womb.

A soul which longs to please God, a soul longing and thirsting for God, a soul which longs for the Compassion of God, a Compassion so Passionate which expresses itself as a gut emotion giving birth to the fruit of God as the womb gives birth to God's fruit in the form of a child.

Many thanks,
Miryam Nahar


2-22-05re:Reflections from a Christian Dancer by Barbara Grant
The dance is what the dancer makes of it and expresses through it. All emotions all motives all moods – definitely not every dancer is for every audience…never apologize just explain and educate. Your own brand sounds perfect for your community. Shine On.

Adorned and jeweled I undulate
But naked is my soul
Watch my silent language
Read the secrets never told

I sway my hips and armies fall
I conquer with a glance
In this dream where rhythm rules
And Love is the only dance

New York


2-18-05 re:Taking Good Care of our Stars by Miles Copeland
After reading Sir Miles' latest contribution to Gilded Sepent, I'm left wondering why he's bothering to send his girls to Egypt learn from Egyptian dance teachers, when he's so fond of expressing that all the best dancers are in from USA?



2-15-05 re: Isabella's Dance at the BDSS show in San Francisco
[photos of this show coming soon!-ed]
Dear Editor,
I'm a student of bellydancing and recently was thrilled to have the chance to see the Bellydance Superstars in San Francisco. I only had one concern.
At one point in the evening, little Isabella Salimpour performed a dance. I am not sure of her age; she could be anywhere from 6 to 8. My concern: here is this little pre-pubescent girl dancing, doing belly dance moves-- fingers in the hair, sultry hip circles, etc., that are sensual, and, to me, appropropriate for a woman of sexual age, not a pre-adolescent with eye makeup, undulating in a show where the women clearly are, in a sense, parading their sexuality. This isn't 19th century Istanbul or a culture that has had this ancient art woven into their fabric for centuries. This wasn't even the Red Tent night, an exclusively female event, where this would not have bothered me, at all. This was, in essence, a Vegas-style dance show of women with gorgeous bodies looking pretty sexy and they happen to be in bellydance outfits. The Bellydance Superstars, though fabulous eye-candy, was a combination of commercialism, glitz and authentic bellydance moves. It [the show] was not intended to be about authenticity. It was about the glamour and sexiness of the craft.
Now, don't get me wrong: The dance is a beautiful art form, and in a different culture, in private, perhaps in the company of other women, aunts, etc. I am sure it is practiced by the very young, to learn to express and enjoy one's inherent sensuality, one's divine right to dance. We don't do enough of that here, because we are, though loathe to admit it, essentially pretty uptight in this culture.

But out of context, in this culture, where we have a strong, insidious streak of pedophilia, a child bellydancing, in a public forum as this was, however cute or talented she is, it's inappropriate, not because of the intent of the family, but because of the way it might be received.

A paying audience of men and women is a different thing than a family celebration in Syria or Egypt. This felt viscerally wrong, and I was uncomfortable, as was the man who sat next to me. I am sure the family was innocent in their intent, enthusiasm and pride of their beautiful little girl. The producers even joked about being prejudiced toward young dancers. The girl, in this context, runs a chance of being objectified and puts herself in a dangerous light. I think of Jean-Benet Ramsey, and it occurs to me: this, somehow, isn't right.
Bellydance needs positive press; it deserves it. I would hate to see it draw attention that would take away from its beauty and appropriateness. We need to be aware of the possibility of harmful exploitation, of carelessness. Isabella should be applauded for her hard work, her obvious talent, her desire to carry on a long tradition. But let us be cautious and aware. This culture is a deeply wounded, deeply haunted one in regards to sexual issues.
We NEED the bellydance. We just don't need it to be vulnerable to the nefarious undercurrents that plague our society.
Sheridan Wyoming


2-12-05 re:BDSS Auditions by Michelle, Zaheea & Lynette
I'm not sure what Myles---(or is it Miles) was looking for. I was there at the final audition on Saturday, January 15th. I know nothing about the art of belly dancing however, as a potential customer of a performance, I know what I like when I see it. All the girls were wonderful! If it really had to come down to who was a little tiny bit better than the other----what a hard choice.

I must tell you that I flew to L. A. from Oregon to support my daughter that was flying in from China. She has been interested in cultural dance for quite some time and is currently a Yoga Instructor in China. Of course you're going to hear that I feel she should have been chosen and was better than any of the other tribal dancers. (Oh my goodness--again--hard choice) She gave it her all and was not disappointed when not chosen. She took it better than me. She said she knew she was good and tried her best but she was just not the type Myles was looking for.

My goodness, Myles could only choose so many. There was a girl chosen that was the daughter of someone Myles knew. She was not great, I was surprised she was picked and someone like the girl from Barcelona, Spain was not. Again my choice. When three tribal dances performed together, two were picked and one not. I would have picked the one left out instead of one of the dancers that were picked.

To sum it all up----I feel this was a GREAT OPPORTUNITY for everyone of those dancers that auditioned. It gave them all the chance to follow their dream of performing in something they loved. Because of that I thank Myles Copeland for the opportunity given to my daughter to take a chance to do something in life she truly loves.

Thank you for this chance to express my appreciation, I will be traveling to Thailand to see both my girls that live in China this March. Nanci will stay in China teaching Yoga but the other one that teaches Kickboxing will be returning home this summer. (Did I mention they also teach Chinese children how to speak English as well?)
Thank you for your time, effort, and energy.
Katherine Knapp



2-8-05 re: Thong picture with letter below
Dear Gilded Serpent Editor,
I don't know where you got that picture of the BDSS thong but I can assure you they do not come with a condom nor do they have a pocket in them for one. I have been to two of the BDSS shows last month in Sacramento and San Francisco and I've seen those thongs up close and personal and they are just regular panties with a logo and a brass coin on them. In the interest of unbiased information sharing, please remove that picture from your site immediately and replace it with a true and accurate picture of the thong in question or just leave it off all together. I'm sure that most of your readers know what thong panties look like these days anyway......

I shudder to think that you or someone on your staff would stoop that low as to post a picture like that to deliberately mislead your readers in to thinking that something like a "condom pocket thong" would be sold at the BDSS shows. Whether you are for or against the BDSS shows, posting negative propaganda like that is unacceptable.

Lodi, CA USA

[This is really funny! I have no idea what you are talking about! A condom? Where did that come from? That's the tag, silly! I can only guess that all of you on those discussion boards are really talking yourselves into some pretty juicy fantasies! Enjoy!- ed. PS- you inspired a new product!]



2-6-05 re:Reflections from a Christian Dancer by Barbara Grant
I wanted to thank Barbera Grant for her article "Reflections of a Christian Dancer". As a Baha'i, I am exploring similiar issues that arise with the dance, how to "walk the line". For me, bellydancing has opened my eyes to a new way of viewing and experiencing the human form in a healthy way, enjoying the beauty and joy of the body and the dance without over-sexualizing it, while also not going to the other unhealthy extreme of stripping it of its wonderful, God-given sensuality.

I whole-heartedly uphold the right of each dancer to wear whatever she wants to wear, to express whatever she wants. We all have our own lives to live, our own paths and beliefs to explore and express. But I guess I personally can relate to what Ms. Grant is trying to on her own path. Thanks for expressing it so clearly - not only is this article useful for students and dancers, it should be read by audience members and "would-be" dancers who have unfortunately closed their minds against such a beautiful and empowering art-form.


2-4-05 re:Reflections from a Christian Dancer by Barbara Grant
GS Editor;
Thank you for "printing" this well-written and thoughtful piece. Ms. Grant hits the nail squarely on the head as far as I am concerned, or at least she seems to have been reading my mind! I am another dancer who happens to be a Christian, and her article touches on many of the issues I have contemplated over the years, reaching the same conclusions. In other words, no matter who we are and why we are dancing, our artistic choices must be carefully made to accurately represent our world-view and beliefs.

I found one of the choices of graphic illustration particularly interesting, that being the image of Suhaila's troupe performance of two years ago at Rakkasah (at least that's where I saw that particular number performed). I remember cringing when I saw it, not because it was bad theater (it was a fabulous show!), but because it projected a vibe that I strive against, preferring a more "G-rated" approach. This is not in any way to say that I think raqs sharqi should be cold, mechanical, fluffy, or cutesy...but the overtly sexual moves would seem to lend this dance form a tone that I for one would prefer to avoid.
Stockton, CA


2-4-05 re:Comments on American Bellydancer by Gregory Burke
Dear Gilded Serpent
What is this: "Mothers of America, throw away your ten-year old daughters' glittery top hat and tap shoes, dump the tutu, here comes pre-adolescent hip-shimmies. Crank up the DVD, it's training-for-Superstars time."??? Is the purpose of the video to train dancers? Is it an instructional video? Is it geared toward children? Or is Greg just another Monique Monet? My guess is that he is married to a dance diva who is bent out of shape about not being invited to be in the Superstars show.
New York


2-2-05 re:BDSS
Dear Gilded Serpent Readers,
I have had experience with the BDSS show when they came to Boulder/Denver area twice on their tour. I was asked to be the guest dancer at each show when they were in town. I gladly accepted, and enjoyed my experience. The dancers in the show were friendly, professional and treated me as an equal. I met Miles briefly during the first show and he was friendly and professional.

I did not mind helping promote the show, after all, it benefited me, and it benefited the show. I had a large number of students, friends and colleagues from the dance world attend both shows. They were very impressed with the overall quality, and of course, loved that their friend, a local dancer, was in the show. My mentor, who has been in the modern dance world since the '60's, and in fact, started out dancing with the founder of Cirque de Soleil in Canada, loved the show, thought it was intelligent and fun. And she has definitely "Been there and done that" in the dance world!

Because of my position as event manager/producer in town, and I also tap and do modern, I have respect and lots of friends from the greater professional dance/music community in town. They have all supported me in whatever shows I am in, even when they have no part of the show. This is a great town to be in. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the local bellydance community. The uproar over me being picked to be a guest dancer shone a very unflattering light on some of the bellydance community (not all) in this town with respect to other professional dance companies, to the detriment of us all, and especially to the detriment of those individuals.

BDSS is a show, that's all it is, a great fun entertaining bellydance show. No producer, to my knowledge, wants to lose money and put on a show to an empty house. So of course, they are going to market it to the best of their ability in the way that it will sell the most tickets. "Bellydance Superstars" is a catchy name. The general public will go see a show named "Bellydance Superstars". Should Miles have named the show "Bellydance Almost-known dancers" or "Bellydance Mediocres?" Would that sell tickets? Of course not. As far as dance critics, when you put on a show, you have to take the good with the bad, and take the criticism. BDSS - at least to my knowledge - never pretended to be anything other than entertainment - after all, any show that sells thongs in the lobby cannot purport to be taken seriously by dance critics, who are known in the community to be a bit uptight!
It is human nature when something is done "outside the box" for people to criticize. Constructive criticism is good. It is what pushes us to be our best, but negative criticism just to be negative and for jealousies sake is destructive. It is destructive to the object of the negativity at first, but in the long run, it harms the person spewing it, instead of it's intended target.
There are a few quotes I am fond of repeating by Bill Cosby, "I don't know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone". And, "Criticism is easier than creativity" Zeuxis 4000 BC.
My students, friends, dance/music colleagues and myself cannot wait for the show to return, it was a fun, intelligent and entertaining show.
I believe we all need to lighten up a bit in respect to the show and just enjoy it for what it is, ENTERTAINMENT!

Boulder/ Colorado


1-05 re:My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco, by Sadira
I can see by the letter response that my review/article on myexperiences at the Luxor restaurant drew interesting feedback. First, let me clarify....yes I do know enough about the cultural differences in a Egyptian/Middle Eastern style nightclub. I have been in this dance field for over thirty years and have been involved with many of the top venues, restaurants etc. in which to performt. I also know personally many of the owners and musicians. Every one has their own personality and way of handling their establishments.

Another fact I did not mention was that in our group that night (all who are or were professional dancers, two who the owner personally had hired in the past), was a very well known dancer of over 30+ years, who lives abroad and frequents Egypt often. She also is well known in Egypt and contracted to dance at many of their well known night clubs and hotels. She was furious at the treatment we received that night at the Luxor.

What I don't understand is why some dancers do not understand the difference between respect and knowledge regarding the nature and culture of the dance they represent, verses becoming enmeshed in it. By that I mean, that they think
that through this dance they have some how become the embodiment of the culture themselves and believe that they are viewed in the same regard by the people from that culture. Wrong! While many Middle Easterners are very excited and happy to see people embracing their culture and loving it, they do not view anyone outside of their culture as somehow adopted/rebirthed Middle Easterners. You may also get the reverse reaction which is suspicion and anger. Respect vs cultural appropriation.
When we romanticize and accept every aspect of any culture (including our own) that is negative, exclusive, elitist, racist, or sexist then we have become the stereotypical tunnel vision aparthist. If the Luxor wanted to be an exclusive Middle Eastern/Egyptian club that expected only patrons from their own country to come or at least adhere to strict guide-lines that are naturally inclusive in their own country, they should make it a private club. Also they do not advertise as a Middle Eastern or Egyptian restaurant, they advertise as Mediterranean cuisine. When I have danced at parties, events or restaurants that followed strict codes of ethics, I was always told in advance and I stayed within those limits and respected them. Such as no alcohol in a Muslim owned establishment, and many times dancing at events where the women were in a different room from the men. I knew this as their custom and was respectful. A restaurant open to the public....is just that....open to all of the public regardless of cultural identity. It doesn't allow for poor service, rude behaviour, and ostracizing of patrons. In Egypt at the nightclubs where this type of "format" is well known, those who frequent the night club scene are those in the upper classes economically, politically and socially. It is an form of socio-economic elitism. If you were to attend a party, cafe, restaurant from within the local areas, you would more often be treated with warmth, excitement and quickly become surrounded by the people, musicians,and patrons.

The "cultural" nightclub scene that some of you refer to, is a elitist, sexist minority of the whole culture. In this context there is also the practices of female genital mutilation, extreme poverty and apartheid towards people of the fellaheen or village class, the cruel practice of having to wear the burda and severe punishment if not followed. So when you blandly use the word "culture" in your letters as to why we should accept and embrace the blatant discrimination at the Luxor, you forget and disrespect the entire Egyptian people who are treated in worst ways, and give in to a patronizing form of self-victimization. You think it's o.k. to pay between $30 and $40.00 to be abused, sat in a location where you are hidden and treated disrespectfully because you are women. Be my guest....and know that you are fooling yourself to believe that any form of belittling and abusive behaviour is acceptable....because of the "culture".
Sadira 1/2005


1-27-05 re: Unchained! by Monique Monet
For people who don’t know Miles Copeland and read Monique Monet’s article “Unchained,” her line about “Foster Farms chickens” might induce laughter. For those of us who know Miles, the line strikes us as inaccurate.

I cannot accuse Monique of being wrong. These are her views and I actually do agree with the underlying concern of her article, as people can plainly read in my diaries. I still yearn to see more variety of body types and Middle Eastern dance technique in BDSS. However, my quotes were taken out of context of a much bigger body of work.

Monique writes about a man (Miles Copeland) whom she has never met (as she told me last December), has listened to numerous rumors about and taken her pen to paper with unfounded statements.

I don’t agree with what Miles Copeland sees as beautiful, sexy or even artistic and we have certainly had our arguments about what talent is. There were BDSS auditions in Europe and Spain when I couldn’t believe which dancers Miles liked and which ones he decided were “nothing special” and it made me downright mad. But, Miles keeps me on his tour knowing that I disagree with him. He doesn’t “throw me out of the company Menudo style.” He treats us well, flies us to places like Barcelona and Milan, buys us lavish dinners out of his own pocket, sleeps on the floor when there are no seats left on the bus, schleps our bags and merchandise, and pays us more than most belly dancers have ever been paid. I am not the only dancer in the company who disagrees with Miles but we stay with BDSS because, whether anyone likes it or not, BDSS is reaching the mainstream more than any other Belly Dance show ever has. And, it is because of Miles Copeland (who, at times, has lost thousands of dollars flying fourteen dancers around the world.)

Monique states, “When business interests rule your dance, you cease being a true dancer and become merely a performer.” Does that mean that because with BDSS we can pay our rent, book workshops all over the globe, do radio interviews in Germany, be splashed on front pages of magazines in London and dance on large stages like, the legendary “Follies Bergeres” in Paris rather than “Pete’s Kabob Deli,” we are merely performers and not dancers?

Monique writes that Miles took relatively unknown performers and we suddenly advertised ourselves as “Superstars.” What? Names like Ansuya, Jillina and Amar Gamal weren’t relatively unknown before Miles came along. Neither was “Dondi” for that matter. Some have even said Miles is using our well-known names to boost his tour. But, Miles doesn’t need us…he can choose anyone he wants and make them a star. He is dealing with the American public who sends in more votes for “American Idol” than they do our own presidency. Miles is not stupid. He knows what the public likes…
Dondi Simone Dahlin
~Belly Dance Superstar
San Diego, California


1-26-05 re:BDSS
Regarding all of the controversy surrounding BDSS, it makes me wonder if Miles Copeland could be Saul Bloom reincarnated....


1-26-05 re: Heba's letter below, and comic, Intruder Beware!
i can answer Heba's question "how did a ... dancer ... become ... a Superstar?" Easy: Miles hired her for his belly dance show called "Belly Dance Super Stars." "Super Stars" is a brand name, not an FDA grading. Deal with it.

As for the "Intruder, Beware!" cartoon, although the Big Frog-Small Pond syndrome certainly exists in the belly dance community (as it does in any subculture), it's simplistic and petty to think that anyone who doesn't like everything about BDSS is motivated only by jealousy and territorialism. i'm sure some people are merely "threatened" Big Frogs, but the controversy surrounding BDSS is not that black and white. Some people like the show, but dislike Copeland. Some people liked the show in the past, but think it needs work now. Some like the theory, but dislike the practice. Some like Copeland's stated goal, but don't like his actions. Some like the overall concept, but dislike the dancing. Some like the show, and don't think anything more about it. And of course, some like everything about BDSS and what Miles is doing, and some don't give a darn one way or the other.

los angeles


1-25-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
Dear Gilded Serpent,
UNCHAINED! is the funniest dance article I've read in a long time.
At first I thought Monique Monet was a little too
rough on Miles Davis (oops! I mean Copeland). But then I read an interview with Copeland in the January 14th LA Times* (" 'Belly dancers are all fat and ugly . . .' "), and Gilded Serpent's article about the new Bellydance "Circus Girl" auditions. And it became clear to me that Monique Monet was, if anything, much too kind and patient in her treatment of Miles.

I am amazed at his single-minded and short-sided determination to cash-in on every aspect of belly dance (after the shows, he actually sells Bellydance Superstar panties, new ones of course). That is certainly a long, long way from my, and most other dancers I know, relationship with our dance.

Earlier, I had heard rumors and jokes about Miles' most recent Bellydance Superstar auditions. But, until I read the Gilded Serpent article, I thought people were kidding about his "tackily innovative" plans for the new BDSS tour: Miles the Clown and his one-bus circus of stilt walking, sword swallowing, fireball juggling, acrobatic, Bellydancing Superstars.¿Que Pasa?

Has Monique Monet put a Gypsy spell on him? Or is Miles self-destructing all on his own?

Shahana Cartahi
Portland, Oregon
[* I'll try to scan this in somewhere and make it available to see for GS readers-ed]


1-25-05 re: Unchained! by Monique Monet
Dear Ms. Monique,
I have to disagree with your feelings on Mr. Copeland. What's the difference between the belly dance superstars show and you performing at restaurants? You're saying Mr. Copeland is wrong for putting dancers in respectable performing arts centers? How is that wrong? He has formed a troupe that is being paid real and consistent wages - THE HORROR!

Yes, many of his dancers are young, but did you ever think that he believes in them and wants to give them a chance to become great belly dancers? Look at Petite Jamilla - she's danced since she was 4 , but yet you still think she can't be any good because she is only in her 20s? Mr. Burt Baladine says dancers have "nothing to say" until at least 30, but Mr. Copeland feels that even young dancers should be heard. You're criticizing him for giving these young girls a chance and yet you agree that dancers should be over 30? Aren't you as guilty as he is then?

You're judging these dancers commitment to the sacred art of belly dance and you haven't even seen them perform. You're attacking Mr.Copeland when you should be applauding him for helping to bring belly dance to a wider audience so that you and others will receive more work and more recognition. Mr. Copeland has brought these women around the world and have people raving about belly dance - isn't that horrible? You're right Ms. Monique. Let's keep belly dance in small clubs and restaurants. Who wants to perform at Madison Square Garden when you can perform for the dinner crowd?

Chatsworth, CA


1-21-05 re: Heba's letter below
Thank you....bless you...you were so correct.
Since most of us are attempting to represent another culture, why don't we ask "What do Middle Eastern people think of all this?"

Simi Valley, CA


1-21-05 re:Heba's letter
Dear Heba,
Thank you for your comments; you raised an excellent question from a Middle Easterner's point of view: Why do American dancers criticize and fight each other over a dance form that did not even originate in US.! As a "American Cabaret" style dancer with many years performing in Bay Area, my response is that given the human tendency to criticize and even be a bit jealous what is not understood, and knowing that for decades mainstream American has had all kinds of unfortunate misconceptions about belly dancing, it's not surprising that so many belly dancers have claimed, fervently, that they are "authentic". Besides the obvious competitive edge of "authenticity", dancers seriously wanted to avoid being mistaken for an "exotic dancer" or even worse, "stripper". Unfortunately, it's a very short leap from claiming to be "authentic" to then insisting that every else's belly dance style is "not authentic and therefore all wrong."! Hence the harsh criticisms and fights between dancers you observe in your letter, which have not benefitted any dancers over the years and have been the subject of many panel discussions in the belly dance community. "Authenticity" comes from being actually born into a culture, speaking the language and being immersed in the music for years, which of course is extremely difficult for most American dancers to do! My sincere hope for the future of Middle Eastern dance in the U.S. is the acceptance of other and newer belly dance styles as valid and innovative interpretations of a dance art form from another country's culture, not the constant bickering over "authenticity".
Yours in dance,


1-20-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
Hello Everyone,
I was reading some of the responses to the article Unchained! by Monique Monet. I come from a Middle Easten background, and I am astonished to find out there are so many belly dancers in the United States. I began to conduct a research on Middle Eastern dancing in the U.S., after a American friend of mine who took up bellydance classes recently showed me clips from the Bellydance Superstars DVD. All of these women look the same to me dancewise. Their dance movements are almost perfect, just like any professional belly dancer should be. But, there is something missing in their dancing which I couldn't figure out. However, I dont understand what is the fight about. This art is not American, so, why are American dancers criticizing each other and fighting over an art that originally is not theirs? The lady who said Dina and Fifi did not become superstars by themeselves, that is true. However, I would like to say that each of these dancers has had over 25 years experience before they were called "Superstars". They were chosen by the entire Arab World, and not only those within the dance field. Apparently, this is the current situation with the Bellydance Superstars, and a rock concert promoter who is not looking for authentic dancers, but rather anyone fit to become a circus performer. My question is, how did a jazz dancer who didn't discover Arabic dance untill she reached her mid-thirties, and while she's dancing pretends to sing along to Egyptian songs, knowing that she doesn't understand a single word, become and out of nowhere, a Superstar?
Boston, Ma


1-19-05 re:What Would Fifi Do? by Michelle and Sandra
Dear Gilded Serpent
I am a long time reader, but this is my first time writing to you. I loved the story about the dancers who traveled to India! It was an interesting topic, but also it was written with personality. I would love to read more work by the younger dancers and their experiences. Their enthusiasm and punchy style give the magazine life.
Julinda Banac
Tampa Bay - Florida


1-16-05 re:What Would Fifi Do? by Michelle and Sandra
Michelle and Sandra - that is hilarious! You're right, Fifi wouldn't take that from anyone and neither should you. You are so adventurous, thanks for letting us live it vicariously. And I can't believe that Michelle caused a RIOT last time she was in India.

I love that you two were slightly making fun of yourselves in the article and not egotistic even though you are obviously both very lovely and accomplished dancers.

Keep it up, I can't wait to read about what you do next!

Launa Lovell
Spokane, WA


1-12-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
...Though we have never met, I feel compelled to write again. I do not know others experience with the miles copland front men..but I would like to expand on my experience here in Fresno ca.
We are the only middle eastern dance school, agency, in the yellow pages, so they e mailed and called me! They REALLY have no concept or tact when dealing with those not a self proclaimed "super stars ". They expect you to receive their posters, flyers, etc in the mail, and then be their front men!
They have absolutely no concept that there are others in this world who dance, teach, coach,have ren guilds, troupes, FULL TIME !
Personally, im not dropping everything in my career to promote a passing fancy!do they feel those of an older age certainly could not dance and have time to schlep for them??
How does the promotion of young, limited experienced dancers..with girlish, not womanly bodies,help promote our art, as an ART?
ill be glad when its over, those of us who run our businesses on a full time schedule do not need another rude client to deal with!! we are busy here, bayla zena, annette federiko ,gay marie fontana, and i, cory zamora, have our lives, thank you!
fresno ca


Dear Gilded Serpent,
Thank you for inviting me to write about Magana Baptiste. [Coming soon!-ed]

I was a member of Magana's Royal Bellydance Troupe and have been her student since my start as an oriental dancer so I think I am the right person to comment about her. It was Magana's late husband, Gurudev Walt Baptiste who conducted our wedding ceremony at the Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Enclosed please find the photographs of our wedding. I danced with Magana who replaced my mother since she was unable to attend from South America.

It has been an amazing experience for me to know this remarkable lady who's dance is an extension of her spiritual philosophy and yoga. I could write a entire book about her, so many are her incredible achievements and people she has affected in a positive way.
I sincerly hope that gilded serpent readers will enjoy the article.



1-14-05 re:My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco, by Sadira
I must enter this fray. To all who belive that women in this country have equal rights, and are to be treated equally, you are correct. And I agree. However, please understand that many of the owners of these new restaurants are recent immigrants to our shores. They have not yet totally assimilated the American way of life, but in the meantime, are simply trying to make a living. Let us have some tolerance with them during their assimilation period. My grandparents came from a foreign country, and it took them a long time to grasp many of the things we, as women, take for granted in this country. It was hard. It was a culture clash. But by the time my parents were born and living here, things started to change. It is difficult for the first generation to change. Instead of bashing these Middle Eastern immigrants, we should go to their restaurants. This way they will eventually learn that women in this country go out unescorted, expect to be treated equally, and can bring them business. Instead of lashing out at them, we should be extending our hands to help them learn how things are done in their new home, America.

Maureen Dixon (Neran)
Knoxville, Tennessee


Dear Gilded Serpent, Dear Lynette:
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the wonderful articles, pictures and letters you have provided for the dance community in 2OO4. I always enjoy reading the pages of the Gilded Serpent, there is always something new to read and learn. The contributing writers are wonderful and it is greatly appreciated that you have a separate page of each writer! Your online magazine is very unique and valuable. Thank you!

Adry Svraka
Hayward, CA


1-13-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
Monique Monet:
You are.....absolutely fabulous.I loved the Gilded Serpent article ("Unchained!").Amazing work. I'm in awe.

The BDSS issue is quite a sacred cow in our field, and you tackled it head on. Your negative opinions are strong and well expressed, but you didn't denigrate, devalue, or dismiss the dancers involved in the project -- god knows I've seen people already putting words in your mouth to the contrary on Bhuz.

People who show intelligence, the courage to state their view, and a sense of humor will ALWAYS get my admiration. Many people strongly agree with your opinions, many people strongly disagree... no matter what anyone's personal stance may be, you wrote a clear, well-thought-out statement with one of the funniest lines I've seen in ages in the "Foster Farms" bit.

You are probably destined to get a lot of flak over this primarily by the great unwashed masses of very young women with low self esteem and high ambition because you dissed the only route they can see to immediate
"stardom" (of dubious value).

Still giggling over the chickens...



1-13-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
I've been following the controversy in re: Miles Copeland and the BDSS with great interest. I believe it is the "hottest" issue within our community today, and has the potential to dramatically alter the way the general public perceives our dance.

I think that Ms. Monet makes some good points, as does Mr. Copeland. But I'd ask this: in order to "sell" his show, why would Copeland say anything other than that his dancers are "superstars?" Might we expect him to say, "beautiful and highly-talented twenty-somethings who are not generally regarded as 'the best of the best' by the Middle Eastern dance community at large?" That line will not sell many tickets.

Copeland sometimes refers to Riverdance, which draws from ethnic Irish forms and was marketed successfully to a worldwide audience. Prior to the success of Riverdance, Irish dancing had a much smaller, though fervent, following. Copeland has chosen a far more ambitious project in promoting the arts of a culture viewed as "strange" by most Americans. If he can "mainstream" belly dance and Arabic music, he'll have achieved a singular feat. If that occurs, I believe the net result will be increased interest in the dance, greater class attendance, and greater willingness on the part of the public to seek out other Middle Eastern dance venues.

That being said, it's quite clear that Copeland's dancers do not represent the variety of ages, sizes, and body types that many teachers strive to attract. While I understand the concern that Copeland's potential success might leave some thinking that "I have to be 25 years old and 100 pounds to do this," I believe the fear to be ill-founded. Women have gained greater economic power in America over the past few decades, and the American population continues to age; but many remain willing to try new things. I've found that some of the most supportive belly dance audiences are comprised primarily of women, who are thrilled to see someone who looks "not too different" from them executing the difficult movements we've worked so hard to master.

Perhaps Miles might consider including an "older, established" dancer among his lineup of Superstars? Someone on the order of--to name a name--Morocco (who, for the record, I do not know, and to whom I have neither spoken nor written.)

It might be worth trying. Betcha dollars to donuts that an "older dancer" would bring down the house.

Barbara Grant


1-13-05 re:My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco, by Sadira
Hello all;
I'm wondering if part of the problem there might have been that the owner/manager identified a couple of the women in the party as dancers? If there was already a bias, as has been speculated, against them as unescorted women, I wonder if the "performer" stigma only exacerbated things? I have only run into this kind of "old world" discriminatory treatment as a dancer in one venue so far in my short dance career, and it was certainly an educational experience. Needless to say, it should not be tolerated and we should not dance for or patronize these kinds of places if we want to discourage this kind of treatment.Just my two cents!
Stockton, CA


1-13-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
If you have been in this business for 25+ years as myself you would know that Bellydance IS a business in an odd way, there are investments to be made in costumes, transportation, classes, advertising and the list continues with little or no monetary gain, especially in the beginning….. basically the best a local Superstar can hope for is a steady restaurant gig, a steady teaching gig and hopefully a few workshops a year…..it is a tough, competitive field we are in……it always has been! In this field NOTHING is given to you, you work your way up to the top, often time spending money and time you don’t have to invest. So what is wrong with someone who comes along that is willing and interested in investing their money in a vision they have and helping out a few dancers along the way? No one is “making” the dancers stay in the company……….and as for the conditions of the tour………hey it is touring, they are not comfortable, touring is difficult for everyone especially for the dancers…..but obviously each of the Superstars and Roses must think it is worth it or they would quit. Trust me if I was a young woman I would have my costume on and at the auditions just begging to be picked to be on the next tour! This is an opportunity of a lifetime, this is something our dance field has never before experienced, this is “new” for all of us and my hat goes off to Miles Copeland for having the faith in our meager little dance scene that has never been recognized like this in our history! Miles has actually got the general public looking at bellydance like never before! Ballerinas, that in the past would not have walked into a bellydance class, in fact would have laughed at bellydance instructors, is now lined up and trying to learn this ancient dance form…….hip hip hooray for Miles Copeland and everyone of the hard working people involved in this new venue of Bellydance! And YES each of these dancers in this company are SUPERSTARS, each have earned a place in this company for their talent and dedication to our dance form we call Bellydance.

Oh yes and one last thing, Dina and Fifi and all of the Egyptian Superstars we love and admire, didn’t become Superstars by themselves! Talk about being marketed, they had (maybe still have) managers, and talent agents along with many supporters with visions and money to help them become the Superstars they are today. With this said, I would strongly encourage bellydance enthusiast to support this endeavor, each Bellydance Superstars show you attend remember you are watching history in the making, and you never know maybe YOU will be the next Superstar on that stage and in that tour bus.

Thanks for listening…….
Jamilla Rasa
[promotes Petite Jamilla videos on her site, PJ is part of the BDSS, is this writer her mother?-ed]


1-11-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
[edited for length, to read the full letter, please visit theBDSS website]
Dear Monique,
Let me first say you are obviously a woman of strong opinions and love the art of belly dance.

Perhaps you are wrong about the show as "2 hours worth of pretty dancing girls." Have you ever seen the show? Since many, many well-known and respected dancers have and given it rave reviews, not to mention highly respected dance critics, why trash something without doing your homework? Are you seriously classifying Jillina, Ansuya, or Rachel Brice (to name a few) as mere pretty dancing girls? No, Monique, this is not a show about pretty dancing girls. Hey, here's an idea: how about coming to see a show? Then you can critique all you like and I will be glad to listen to your every word.

You make lots of references to me being all about business. Well, let me let you know there is one truth I learned very early on. You can't fool the public for long. If you try, you will be found out and eventually fail. Since you don't have to be a musician to appreciate music, a ballerina to appreciate ballet, or a belly dancer to appreciate belly dance, then why would a serious promoter or businessman out to make money push an inferior product? Does anyone seriously think that the public will be satisfied with a dance and music show where the girls are talentless, but pretty? That doesn't even work in nude shows. Forget about the public- what about the professional dance critics out to spot imperfections and pounce on them? Why would someone like me want to make a fluffy no-talent show? So I could be ridiculed and laughed at by my peers? The answer is I do not relish the thought of being a fool and I NEVER underestimate an audience's ability to spot a sham. Put it this way: it is bad business to make a bad show and it is good business to make a great show.

I can readily understand why you and anyone else who has lived and breathed belly dance for many years may be highly suspicious of me and my intentions. An outsider is always under the gun to prove himself and I accept that. I ALSO get this from the mainstream world of promoters, venues, and even dance (ballet, etc.) who have resisted the thought that belly dance was anything to pay attention to, or imagine as a show that could work on a real stage in the open market competing with the likes of Riverdance. If you are suspicious, they are REALLY suspicious.

So, Monique, you appear so worried and concerned to speak out- imagine the power of your words if you had actually seen the show, talked to the dancers, talked to me, and saw firsthand what we are doing. Maybe you should know that I have talked to Dina about working with us when I saw her in Cairo in October. Maybe you'd be excited about my ideas for the future. Take your concern one step further- find out the truth firsthand. Come to the show.
Miles Copeland
Los Angeles, CA


1-11-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
The question “Who the hell is Miles Copeland? And, what is he doing in our ancient and sacred world of Middle Eastern dance?” took me by surprise! Firstly, I have talked to so many Arabs and Persians who feel the same way about American Tribal!

As Americans, it seems silly for any of us to say that the world of Middle Eastern dance is OURS and to assume that it is sacred to everyone. Bellydance is not a religion, it is a dance. As with any type of dance (and art in general), it can be used to worship the sacred… or it can be used as entertainment. Even Tibetan monks have performed at Lollapalooza!
Michelle Joyce
Oakland, CA


1-9-05 re:My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco, by Sadira
What a wonderful article, because it points up the differences between
"the American way" and "the Mideastern way". Just like dance styles, business styles differ as well. All dancers who wish to work in ethnic clubs should read this to begin to understand & appreciate the cultural attitudes they'll encounter.

Anthea (Kawakib)
Fredericksburg VA


1-9-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
Soul Beyond the Sparkle
Wow, Monique, that was a good point that you made. You know, I got those Ark21 emails looking for belly dancers between 18 and 23, and I think I wrote back saying there weren't any! That we are all in our 30's, 40's, 50's or more!!!

But look at what the show is doing for us. Tons more people are interested. In order to reach most of the "general public," performers have to look attractive in a way that is accepted by the current fashion. And in order to create paying venues, we have to have lots and lots of general public want to pay to see us. I think the Belly Dance Superstars show has opened the idea of belly dance to the mainstream.

Of course, belly dance has so long been sacred to all women of all ages and sizes, now suddenly the fear is that it may become like so much else, “only the thin need apply.” But I don't think that will happen. We are all going to keep dancing and doing our performances and classes regardless. I am hoping that the "general public" will become more accepting of a variety of figure types, once it accepts the idea of belly dance at all. By the way, the "superstars" are not all so young; many of them are in their 30's. Looking like 20's, perhaps, but in their 30's.

I think the show is a good thing. I am very interested to find out, as they expand this thing, if they will include a wider variety of dancers. Now that Mr. Copeland knows it will sell. I think this has created more venues for us, and will continue to do so. Belly Dance goes mainstream. It has to be a good thing. More people intrigued by it, more people seeing that it is indeed an art.

After all, a dancer is an athlete. The look and shape of the body is important. While I certainly don't think it has to be a young body or a thin body, it should be a healthy and fit body that is attractively clothed. An obese body wouldn't be that. And no doubt everyone's opinion of what constitutes obese or unattractive is most certainly different. A business man has to be careful if he wants his product to sell, and if we want to make a living as dancers, which many of us do, our product has to sell. That would improve the venues, too.

When compared to likes of Egyptian dancers such as Dina, I think American dancers as represented by the Superstars are more athletic, but with less soul. That is ok, athletes are wonderful to watch. But so are those of us with feeling and soul. It is a matter of taste and preference, and I think there's a place for us all in the dance world.

In the end, I am glad you said what you said. That side is important. Mr. Copeland’s dancers are not the be all and end all of American belly dance. But they certainly are a big presence which has made more of the world see us. It is history. I would go even so far as to say that Copeland's promotion of Arabic music and belly dance has put us on the map in the eyes of the general public. Now let’s see how far the general public can look at us, to feel the soul beyond the sparkle of belly dance.

Layla Katrina
Savannah, Georgia


1-8-05 re:Unchained! by Monique Monet
Hello Gilded Serpent,
First off, I want to thank you and the author profusely for revealing the proverbial pink elephant in the room regarding Miles Copeland and the BDSS.

I believe that few of us “sisters” of dance have tried to legitimize this dance by unionizing or consolidating our rates to get the mainstream pop culture exposure and big money. Hence, Miles filled part of the hole bored
wide open by our constant bickering and small-timing. Someone was going to!

I do believe the “Superstars”, as they are dubiously ticketed, are an L.A. / Hollywood born phenomenon. I believe the BDSS was started with very attractive dancers coming out of the Southern California area. Southern Cal
clubs are frequented by all sorts of famous producers and entertainers, and you'll notice that this region of dancers were the first to get the attention.

BDSS did reach out to other parts of the United States for talent, but all the current BDSS dancers, (like the core L.A. group of dancers) have made it to the top by their dance talent COUPLED with their very attractive
facial features, physical fitness and youthful quality (not all of them are in their mid-twenties, I‘m sure).

I have seen great dancing on the BDSS videos, but also occasional weaknesses in the performances of the dancers, such as weak handwork and poor musical timing -- issues that many professional-level dancers have. Again, these women from BDSS are talented dancers that have a strong look, equivalent to what is expected of a fashion model. There are many equally talented dancers and much HIGHER level dancers out there.

If the standards change where the quality of the actual dance movement and musical "coordination" is the main requisite of stardom, and we learn to work with each other on that level, then we shall be where we want to be as
a group. Easier said than done, I agree.
Thanks again for this revealing article.

R. Pierre


1-2-05 re: re:My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco, by Sadira
I must respond to the letters re: My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco, by Sadira.
A successful restaurant is one that makes all of its customers feel comfortable and welcome. As a person whose family is in the restaurant business, we would never dream of treating customers, whether they were our "culture" or not, in such a rude and dismissive fashion. After all, aren't we all human, and deserve to be treated with respect, whether or not we were born in the same country as the restaurant owners.

If the restaurant wanted to just serve Middle Easterner's, the advertising should have clearly stated so, which, of course, is against the law in this country. It is called discrimination. As to Nisima's assertation [see letter below-ed] that it was a "culture clash" that caused Sadira and her women friends to be dismissed as uppity women - I can only say to that, "please!" the restaurant is in America now, and women are entitled to equal rights under the law. And to Barbara's assertion that unescorted females are not to be treated the same way as escorted females, well guess what? It is against the law in this country to discriminate against women. Their restaurant is in this country, and women have a right to be treated with respect and equality. It's only a restaurant for goodness sake, and it wouldn't have taken much to smile at them, respond to their questions with good humor and not ignore them!

If I moved to Cairo and opened up an American Burger Joint, I wouldn't dream of treating customers with anything but the utmost respect. I would never want to be thought as an "ugly American". I would answer customers questions about the food, and look at it as an opportunity to educate people about our food and culture.
I feel Sadira is in her right not to frequent that restaurant, and to let others know of her experience.
When one owns a restaurant, or any business for that matter that caters to the public, one must be polite and treat the customers properly, or that restaurant/business will not be in business for long, and deservedly so.
People are the same all over the world, and I would conclude that the owners and staff at the restaurant were just rude, and it has nothing to do with their culture. I have lots of friends from Morocco and a very dear Egyptian friend, and have never been treated by them or by any of their restaurants/business with anything but respect, friendliness and kindess, even though I am most of the time "unescorted" by my husband.

Boulder, Colorado


12-22-04 re: re:My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco, by Sadira
Lynette, I must chime in here; I completely agree with Barbara Grant's views on Sadira's experience at the Luxor. I haven't dined at the Luxor yet, but when I do, I fully intend to sit back and let myself absorb the culture as it is; not the way one would expect an American version of a Middle Eastern restaurant to be! Worst case scenario, I'll have the wonderful food in a beautiful restaurant, and experience the great music Sadira talked about in her article; if I'm somewhat ignored and seated at a back table, so much the better for the opportunity to observe it all! I once took a management course in "cross-cultural communicating" which dealt with various subtle gestures, types of questions, body language, etc. that can be construed as polite or unbearably insulting, depending on the culture on happens to be dropped into. Knowing Sadira, I'm quite sure her requests to the Luxor staff as a paying restaurant customer were very polite, to an American's way of thinking, but obviously the perception from another cultural viewpoint was that her and her group of women were just way too demanding! It was not discrimination against Americans or women, it was simply a culture clash. I'm sorry that Sadira's experience was so negative, but the fact that the clientele at the Luxor was almost exclusively Middle Eastern should have been her first clue to take a much lower-key approach to the entire evening.

Now, I can hardly WAIT to experience dinner at the Luxor and I'm going with a couple of my non-Middle Eastern friends, without a male escort, and I'll let you know what happens.......

Yours in dance,


12-21-04 re: Raven of the Night: Dancer’s Allegory for New Year’s Eve 2005 by Najia Marlyz
i don't get it. is it really supposed to be an allegory? if so, can you please provide the key, because, well, i don't get it.
Los Angeles, California


12-19-04 re: A review comparison of Mini-kit gift items: -The Art of Belly Dancing: Box Set written by Valerie Rushmere and Jennifer Worick, -Facial Expressions for Dancers by Natica Angilly, Review by Sadira
Dear Editor,
I read Sadira's review of Natica's book, Facial Expressions for Dancers, and felt she really didn't get the message of the book. Contrary to her opinion I thought that the prose was very descriptive and evocative, showing in words how one can experience the different moods of the muses. And contrary to Sadira's review, I do think the book can add a great deal to a belly dancer's performance. How many of us has seen a lovely, skilled dancer who forgets to smile and communicate with the audience? The book makes us all the more aware of the importance of our complete immersion into our performance.

Regarding the quality of the paper, etc, the form it was published in is considered a chapbook, and it qualifies as one. Chapbooks do not have the same binding or quality of paper as bound books. They are usually stapled and can be computer generated. While I respect Sadira's opinion, I beg to differ with it.


[Ed- definition of "chapbook": A small book or pamphlet containing poems, ballads, stories, or religious tracts.
[chap(man) + book(so called because it was originally sold by chapmen).]


12-17-04 re:My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco, by Sadira
Sadira wrote:
"...I understood immediately that this club did not want to share its cultural style with non Middle Eastern people."

Actually, Sadira and her party had an excellent opportunity to observe Middle Eastern cultural style. Culture is more than food, music, and dance: it is also behavior and social organization. "Out-of-group" females, without male escorts, are simply not going to be treated the same way as "in-group" patrons, who may arrive with or without men (but typically, with.)

Sadira's experience underscores a notion that I find particularly ludicrous: that people are "the same" the world over. No; cultures are different, and the fact that Sadira has not witnessed such behavior before is probably due to the "Americanization" of many club owners, or their desire to do business with an American as well as a Middle Eastern crowd.
Barbara Grant (bio. on file)


12-16-04 re: NABILA METWALI
Dear sir
Seems to be little information on this lady. Your spread on her performance is great. I have a video with several of her dances and that is it. Is there any info you can extend to me? Her in Lebenon? Dances on DVD or VHS? CONTACT? She is perhaps my favorite dancer.
Stan Terlitsky
Seattle area


12-15-04 re: My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco! by Sadira
This article has inflamed me becasue the writer of the the article obviously knows nothing about the middle eastern culture. That is how it is at these places..there are no menus, everyone "knows" what the food is..also its unheard of that a patron would want to take the left overs home, its just not done. And I cannot believe she came to the conclusion they were discriminated against becasue they wernt middle eastern. Rubbish! Its just a case of not getting what you "expected"

Sydney, Australia


12-15-04 re: My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco! by Sadira
Dear Editor;
I just finished reading Sadira's article about her disturbing experience at the Arabic nightclub the Luxor and had to pipe in with my own experience here in Detroit.

A group of friends and I (all women) wanted to see our friend Azziza dance at the Arabic nightclub The Prestige Club in Detroit. She was going to be dancing at about midnight so it was going to be a special trip for us. There was only a $5 cover charge and they did have a menu to order from but the prices were absurd. While Azziza was great, we didn't get to see much of the show since we were sat so far from the stage (heck, when we first walked in we thought they might not seat us at all!). The other tables around us were getting served but we constantly had to try and get attention from a waiter and constantly had to ask where our drinks/appetizers were.

The difference between our table and everyone else's? We weren't Arabic and we were three women alone. Also sad to note was that my two friends are black and I, as a white woman, was the only one that the servers even minimally responded to. Needless to say, we never went back there.

I suppose that the owners are very happy to have only "their kind" of people there and feel no need to reach out to or even acknowledge others.

Detroit, MI


12-13-04 re:Hakim’s Washington DC Concert Rates a “C” A Review by Taaj
Judging by the 'Sound Off' Taaj sent to WAMEDA's newsletter last month, I would take everything this woman says with a bag of salt. She has a personal agenda and doesn't mind stepping on toes or insulting people just to be noticed. We were offended by the 'critique' she did of the main dancer in our pages as the many replies in the upcoming issue will indicate.

Think twice before you publish anything by her again.
Best wishes,


12-9-04 re: Horacio's letter below reviewing the BDSS show in Berlin
Dear Horacio,
I appreciate very much your supportive words on the Bellydance Superstars show. Lord knows it is not easy doing this and I need all the help I can get. Bellydance is so often misunderstood, if not disregarded by both the public and the other dance arts.

Regarding my taste in music, you should know this. I grew up in the Middle East ..... click here for more


Older Letters  

Archives Pg 17- January through December 2007!
What's in a name, self acceptance, Men in Belly dance, Yasmina's new column, MECDA Ellections, Tajikistan, AWS fest, Arabic Idioms, Professional Presence, Suhaila in Phoenix, Music recording, Vegas IBDC, Egyptian Code, Jodette, Journey to Womanhood, New York Dance Scene, Amy Sigil, Tito Seif, Arab Defamation, Gothla, Neon's Keeping your mouth shut, Valizan Ozgen, Toronto IBCC, Burlesque, DVD purchasing, God Bellydanced, North Beach Memories, Princess Farhana fan article, Cabaret to DJ by Nina, Raqia Hassan, Serpentessa, Cover-ups, Criticism, John Bilezikjian, Certificaation, BDSS, East too West?, Vendor's View, Lynn Zalot & Habibi,

Archives Pg 16 -June 2007 through December 2007
Tatseena's Belly Bully piece, Amina's writing, IBCC coverage, Review on Tirbal DVD's, Barbary Coast and Bellyqueen, Cover-ups, Non-Profits, lifting the Veil by Yasmina,
Mona Said's letter, Music Copyrights, Ethics of Fusion, Egyptians being too Western?

Archives Pg 15- December 2006 through June 2007
Interview with Nakish, Sashi-kabob, How to charge what yo'ure worth,Tribute to Rhonda, Marliza Pons, Party booking, George Elias, "I dance you follow". Ethics of Fusion
Archives Pg 14- June 2006 through December 2006
Ethics of Fusion, Queen of the Bay, Territorialism Undermines Event Sponsor's Efforts, Greek Flavor, What ME Audiences Expect , Taxsim, Gothic Dance, Gyspy Dance, Sashi Kabob, Wierd Rituals

Archives Pg 13- November 2005 through May 2006
BDSS, Burlesque, Gig rates, Sashi's piercings, Sex shows on Rakkasah Fest stage, God Bellydanced, Sima Bina, Devi Ja's passing, Jamie Miller's Passing, BDSS reviews and Mile's reponse, Michelle and Sandra's Adventures, Turkish Baths, Muslim Cartoons, Working together, Review of Shareen El Safy's DVD, Spokane's Festival Coverage, Articles by Keti, Michael Baxter, Zar article and racism, WHEW!

Archives Pg 12- May 2005 up through October 2005
BDSS, Burlesque, Gig rates, Competing Cairo Fests, Israel Fest, Untaught Teacher

Archives Pg 11- December 2004 up through April 2005 you are here
Copeland, BDSS film and auditions, GS kicked out of Rakkasah, Zaheea's dancing for the blind, Christian dancer, the THONG, Luxor club review, Miles vs Horacio

Archives Pg 10- May 2004 through November 2004
Mena in Iraq, AWSF, Desert Dance Festival 2004, Biblical Accounts of Bellydance in Ancient Near East, Bellydance in Israel, Festival of the Nile review, Suhaila’s Sheherezade review


Archives Pg 9- December 2003 Through April 2004
Myopic view of BD by Sadira, Belly Bus, Queen of Dance Contest, Rakkasah West photo teaser, Comparing and Contrasting, Jillina DVD review, Dancing inside out

Archives Pg 8- May 2003 - November 2003
San Leandro Fest photos, Reflections on North Beach, BD and healing from sexual trauma, Dina in Dallas, Searching for your new dance teacher, BDY pageant

Archives Pg 7- October 2002 - April 2003
Najia’s Real Critic article, Back in the Holy Land, Glass dancing, Casbah and Bagdad Club, Reflections on North Beach

Archives Pg 6- March 2002 to September 2002
Vendors, Dance certification, BD and strippers, Jamila Al Wahid video review

Archives Pg 5- March 2001 - March 2002
My uncle Yousef, BDY pagent 2001, Dancer attitudes - BD gossip and back biting

Archives Pg 4- November 2000 - March 2001
Criticizing and reviewing events, “Where’s the hook when we need it?” Desert Dance Festival review

Archives Pg 3- March 2000 - October 2000
Entertainment or art? Sicilian bellydancers, Rhea, Review of Giza Academy Awards

Archives Pg 2- November 1999 - Febuary 2000
Living Goddess review, Fred Glick travel, Fanana of Bellydance

Archives Pg 1- Febuary 1999- September 1999
Shira’s advice to “Offended”, North Beach memory, George Elias & Bagdad Cafe



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