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Overall Rating: (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars)
This is a 2-part video featuring an Australian dancer named Estelle. The first half consists of documentary about historical Egyptian dance, complete with demonstrations by Estelle of her interpretation. The second half consists of belly dance instruction by Estelle. Sort of.
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The above poll includes responses submitted since November 7, 2002.
|Formats Available||NTSC, PAL|
|Total Video Length||53:31 minutes|
|Performance Time||10:21 minutes (19%)|
|Teaching Time||19:04 minutes (36%)|
|Documentary Information||21:20 minutes (40%)|
|Amount Of "Other"||2:46 minutes (5%)|
|Number Of Models||1|
|List Price||$19.00 U.S. dollars|
|Cost Per Minute Of Teaching & Performing Time||37 cents|
|Cost For "Other"||95 cents|
This video is divided into two parts. The first part is a documentary about the history of Egyptian dance, based on the Pharaonic era. The second part is instruction in how to belly dance. In theory, I like the concept, but I was disappointed with Estelle's execution.
Much of the documentary narrative of Part 1 is filmed in a museum, in the exhibit on ancient Egypt. Estelle wears a beautiful gold dress in a style that somewhat resembles those worn in some of the artwork from ancient Egypt. The camera shows close-up views of some carvings and paintings that depict dance scenes while Estelle describes what is being shown. This discussion of lifestyle and dance is mostly good, but it has the occasional "Huh?" moment, such as when she uses the term "mascara" to refer to eyeliner.
My biggest quarrel with this section is that Estelle makes assumptions that (to my knowledge) have not yet been substantiated with hard documentation. For example, she assumes that belly dancing originated in Egypt during ancient times and states that we can draw conclusions about ancient Egyptian dance by combining our knowledge of modern-day belly dancing with statements made in the hieroglyphs. Well, maybe. But maybe not. In my own research into Pharaonic dance, I have not seen any documentation from hieroglyphs or other sources to suggest that the undulations and hip moves that we associate with belly dancing date back to Pharaonic times. You can't always assume that dances done today were done 5,000 years ago too. (The foxtrot is done in the U.S. today, but you can't use the foxtrot to draw conclusions about what kind of dances may have been done by the native American tribes 5,000 years ago.) I would have preferred clearer distinction between ideas documented with historical evidence versus Estelle's own conjecture.
I was also puzzled by Estelle's assertion that the term "belly dance" was given to this dance form by the Arabs. The Arabs refer to it as raks sharki, which translates to "dance of the East", or "Oriental dance." A U.S. event promoter named Sol Bloom claimed in his autobiography that he came up with the name "belly dance" for this dance form in the 1890's. Others point to the fact that the French used the term danse du ventre (dance of the stomach) to refer to a specific dance which involved stomach isolations done by the Ouled Nail in Algeria, and suggest that Bloom employed the term to promote his show of a different dance from "over there". I have yet to hear anyone other than Estelle suggest that the Arabs gave this dance the name "belly dancing". In fact, the dancer Morocco once told me that Arabic people found the term "belly dance" to be vulgar and offensive.
Sprinkled through Part 1 of this video are three performances by Estelle, intended to serve as illustrations for her commentary.
In the first performance, Estelle uses Egyptian-style music with a baladi beat, and does a belly dance performance wearing nothing but a light blue loincloth with black panels hanging down in center front and back. I'll acknowledge the historical validity of her topless performance and her choice of loincloth for costuming - it is consistent with drawings from the era of history that she was describing. I must confess that I found the black panels to be unattractive. However, it would have been more appropriate to the documentary if she had used music based on historical musicological research of Pharaonic times such as that composed by Ali Jihad Racy on his Ancient Egypt recording. I was a little puzzled at Estelle's decision to use belly dancing moves for this demonstration, because earlier in the film Estelle talked about the Old Kingdom dance looking like elegant walking, but that's not what she actually does.
In the second performance, Estelle uses piano music (?) to do a performance of a veil-oriented dance which she intends to illustrate the influence Greek culture may have had on the dances of Egypt following the conquest by Alexander the Great. (Cleopatra and her ancestors were descended from the Ptolemy's, who were Greek.) I haven't researched what Greek dancing was like around that point in history (the first century BCE), so I can't comment on the historical validity of Estelle's presentation. However, the costuming definitely contained some artistic license. It consisted primarily of wrapped veils, and on top Estelle wore a belly dance costume bra. Historically speaking, belly dance costume bras were invented in the 20th century, so this was a bit of a stretch. I was also not very enthusiastic about the decision to use piano music - again, in a documentary like this, I would have preferred to see a dance based on historically-researched music.
In the third and final performance, Estelle does a modern-day belly dance performance in full bedleh (bra/belt/skirt costume).
As a performer of belly dance, Estelle is not skilled enough to represent this dance form in a documentary. Estelle's dance skill comes across as that of a beginner who has taken only a couple of weeks of class. Her transitions from one move to another are abrupt rather than smooth, and her undulations are rushed, not fluid. I would be supportive of Estelle's performance if it were presented in the context of a student recital for beginners, but I expect a higher standard in a documentary.
In her third performance, which is supposed to represent modern-day belly dancing, her feet are frequently splayed far apart, she throws in the occasional leap (?), and her isolations aren't isolated. I've seen a lot of professional-quality belly dancing firsthand in Egypt, Turkey, and the U.S., and Estelle's presentation on this video is a far cry from any of them.
When presenting an educational video about Egyptian dance, one should dance in a way that is representative of how Egyptians do it. Although Estelle inserts a brief disclaimer by commenting that her third dance is a modern-day belly dance, it really isn't even that. Leaps? Huge striding steps? Oh my. Estelle prances all over the place with huge unladylike steps, leaps, and other puzzling interpretations. As a documentary that claims to represent Egyptian dance, this one shows no research into the moves and styling characteristic of Nadia Hamdi, Soheir Zaki, Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdou, Dina, Tahia Carioca, Samia Gamal, or any other 20th-century Egyptian artist, and the music isn't Egyptian either. The music from her opening performance in the loincloth would have been better suited to this number.
Part 2 is an instructional section, but it's very weak. Each move that it teaches is demonstrated once, with no description of how to break it down into its component parts. Several of the moves it offers (bounces, backbend, neck rotation) are actually dangerous and can cause injury. When I came to the section where she teaches the "skip" (the leap), all I could do was shake my head at how poor her understanding is of true Middle Eastern dance as performed by people who actually live there. At one point, she shows her third performance from Part 1 again, as an example of how you can create your own dance based on the moves she "taught", but she doesn't offer any tips on improvisation skills or commentary that explains what she is doing and why.
When I compare her finger cymbal instruction to that I've received from percussionists, I find her methodology puzzling. Let's just say Estelle's methodology doesn't resemble that used by any musicians or belly dancers that I've ever seen. At one point, she places a tambourine on her lap and beats it like a bongo drum. Having myself studied Arabic-style technique for playing the riqq (tambourine) which is held upright in one hand when played, I can tell you that she didn't research that, either.
I can live with people who combine Egyptian dance with other forms such as modern dance, jazz, etc. as long as they honestly acknowledge that what they're doing is fusion and as long as they set appropriate expectations about their level of skill. But Estelle's interpretation of raks sharki does not belong on a video that claims to be researched documentary of Egyptian dance.
|I don't recommend this video. The performance quality is at the level of a beginning dancer, and the documentary section makes some claims (such as the claim that the name "belly dancing" was given to the dance by the Arabs) that are absolutely false. Although there is quite a bit of good legitimate information in the documentary section that is consistent with my own research into Pharaonic dance, the fact that Estelle makes some openly wrong assertions and dubious assumptions about the history of the dance lead me to warn you away from the video. Unless you've done considerable reading of your own into the history of Egyptian dance including both Pharaonic dance and raks sharki (the name the Arabs give to "belly dance", which actually translates to "dance of the East"), you might have trouble differentiating fact from fiction. The instructional section does not provide explanations or breakdowns on how to do the moves, and it contains some techniques that could cause injury.|
|The only contact I have had with Estelle was when I asked her some questions over e-mail about purchasing a copy of the video and she responded.|
Contact Estelle as follows:
E Entertainment Films
Phone: +61 0418 676586
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