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Gilded Serpent presents...
by Monique Monet

When I first heard of the Super Stars of Bellydance - their tours, albums, feature films and their big-wig manager/promoter - I found it puzzling that Miles, a giant in the world of jazz, had become so actively involved in Middle Eastern dance. Years ago I had heard Miles play at the Monterey Jazz Festival and ever since then I've held him and his work in high esteem - - although recently I've felt troubled by the vague aura of bullying and intimidation that seemed to surround his presence in our dance. So, it was with a blend of disappointment and relief that I realized that the jazz legend, Miles Davis, was not the promotional force behind the Bellydancing Superstars.

Eager to remedy my obvious lack of knowledge about this contemporary chapter in bellydance show biz, I promptly went on-line to learn more about the other Miles. The following excerpt from a dancer's diary originally appeared (in the Spring of 2004) on the Belly Dance Superstars' web site:

"Fear reigns that Miles Copeland will change the face of the belly dance world for the worst. Maybe he will force all women to believe that they need to be 100lbs. and 25 years old to belly dance."

"Maybe he is money hungry and doesn't really care about the girls as long as they are youthful and beautiful and making a good buck for him.  I have had all of these fears. I have also feared that I am the only one really talking about this...that other dancers and teachers across the nation are still biting their tongues so they won't get on the "bad side" of Miles Copeland."

For more than a year I've heard similar concerns whispered here and there in the dance community. I'm happy to say my tongue is in a wonderfully agile and unbitten condition.  And while my fears are reserved for more formidable subjects, I do have a whole bus load of concerns, comments, and questions regarding Miles Copeland and his Superstars of Belly Dance.

Primary among my questions is: Who the hell is Miles Copeland? And, what is he doing in our ancient and sacred world of Middle Eastern dance?

Via the World Wide Web I quickly learned that long, long ago, in jolly old England, Miles began his career as the business manager of a band in which his little brother was a member. He did a good job and went on to manage other bands. In a nutshell, Miles Copeland is a businessman who made a lot of money in the 70's and 80's in the pop/rock music industry. On his web site he lists page after page of musical groups he used to manage and/or still manages. I'm not really up on the pop/rock scene so it's not surprising I didn't recognize most of the names and I'm not quite clear as to how many of his clients are of the past, and how many of them he currently manages. His site indicates that he somehow continues to manage the career of Waylon Jennings (who died in 2002) - - although the web site does state that no tours are scheduled at the present time.

In the interest of political correctness and some vague notion of the sisterhood-of -the-dance I've held my thoughts on Miles and the Superstars in check for too many months. But the time has come to break the chains of debilitating polite silence. Finally, like the little child in the fairytale watching from the crowd as the emperor parades past in his new clothes, I can't restrain myself from shouting out what appears so obvious to me!

The Bellydance Superstars is simply a marketing catch phrase - - pure unadulterated hyperbole. Miles Copeland is not a guru, svengali, or ominous Godfather, he is just a businessman. And the product he is selling is two hours worth of pretty dancing girls for $25.

Miles himself makes no secret of this fact. On the Bellydance Superstars website he freely admits, "I am NOT in the bellydance business. I am in the entertainment business. The Bellydance Superstars and Desert Roses is. . . . above all a SHOW that must hold attention for a full two hours. It must appeal far beyond the narrow confines of the bellydance community. . . ."

Miles Copeland introduces BDSS at the San Rafael Borders bookstore last year (Feb 2004?)

So, it's clear that even he agrees that he is, first and foremost, a businessman selling a product. And in our modern world the businessman/promoters' most useful marketing tool is hyperbole - - intentional extreme exaggeration. Thus, under Miles' verbal manipulation, a group of dedicated, hard working young dancers are instantly metamorphanized into, not just World Class and the Best of the Best, but SUPERSTARS!

Many people have been quietly troubled by this. How can a group of relatively unknown performers suddenly begin to advertise themselves as Superstars.

From his hyperbolic website, Miles responds, "My retort is simple - - my statement is obviously my opinion and I believe what I say. I go by instinct . . . ." The instinct of a sharp promoter to maximize his product and thereby also maximize his box office. From the Middle Eastern dancers' perspective, it's a sad reality that legitimate, professional performance venues of descent quality are very hard to find. So it's not surprising that Miles' original and very restrictive auditioning notice (If you are under the age of 23. . . .) was met with desperately eager response.

Kajira and friends at the BDSS show last year outside
of the DNA Lounge in San Francisco
But what about those automatically excluded from the onset by Miles' arbitrary and narrow criteria? Many very talented dancers found themselves instantly classified as unacceptable, hopelessly beyond the pale of the big promoter's restrictive perimeters. And some, being naive enough to actually care about his retro opinions, were crushed to find themselves without any hope of ever becoming Superstars.

As Kajira Djoumahna, director of BlackSheep BellyDance, reminds us, "It is up to us to buy into this or not. It is up to us to support our sisters and brothers in dance due to their achievements and not only their looks. Don't let it get you down, don't let it stop you from dancing, don't buy it... in the end, it's up to you."

And, speaking from his decades of experience, the father of American Middle Eastern Dance, Bert Balladine, tells us that "A woman has nothing to dance about until she's at least over 30!" I say, "When only business interests rule your dance, you cease being a true artist and become merely a performer."

In American Middle Eastern Dance it is magical artistry and true soul that begets the real superstar. And she is of an entirely different world from the glitzy, hyperbolic, superficial fantasyland of the MTV-oriented pop/rock industry.

Miles makes no secret of his allegiance: "I am NOT in the bellydance business. I am in the entertainment business." His primary concern is to turn a profit - - business is business; hype sells. But this whole Superstar promo is such a blatant and pretentious fabrication that I am unable to muster any shred of patience or benevolent understanding for the expediencies of Miles' business interests.

Jillina and Issam duo at Borders

"My statement is obviously my opinion," he says. "And I believe what I say." Of course Miles Copeland is entitled to his opinion - - but no more so than I am to mine. And, I must admit, I don't believe what he says. Honestly and truly, a real Superstar does not have to sit on the cramped seat of a crowded little bus hour after hour, bumping along the dusty Midwest highways from one honky tonk to the next.

When the bus rattles through your neighborhood, I believe I can safely guarantee you will not see Dina or Fifi Abdou peering out the bug-splattered window. And even if, through some masochistic urge, they applied to be Miles Copland's version of Superstars, both Fifi and Dina would be rejected as too old and too fat.

Miles' Bellydance Superstars are hardworking, dedicated young women, some of them are very talented. But they are not the ultimate representatives of our art form. Decent venues, recognition and appreciation, not to mention even paltry income, are often hard to find in Middle Eastern Dance. I understand their eagerness, anxiety, and even desperation. In an excerpt from a Superstar's diary she worries - - "Maybe he is money hungry and doesn't really care about the girls as long as they are youthful and beautiful and making a good buck for him." Her concern is well-founded.

I believe Miles' commitment to his dancers is as sincere as Foster Farm's commitment to their chickens.

As long as she is firm, fresh and marketable she will be a welcome member of his Superstars. But should she become too curvaceous or, as she inevitably must, too old for Miles, she will be cold-bloodedly plucked (Menuedo-like) from the tour and promptly replaced with a fresh new Superstar.

Our dance is too old, too wise, too sacred and magical for Miles to even begin to understand. Dancers beware of the real danger of Miles Copeland's little scam. I've said it before and I'll say it again: When business interests rule your dance, you cease being a true dancer and become merely a performer.

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Ready for more?
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12-26-04 Undercover Belly Dancer in Iraq- “THAAWUMPFF” by Meena
The women who work in the Ministry are brave women. At first they looked at me with suspicion, not sure of my ethnicity. I sometimes get thanked when they realize that I share the Arab blood.

12-23-04 We Shop, We Bathe, And We Eat! Justine’s Culinary Adventures in Turkey, by Justine Merrill
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12-9-05 New Dance Contest/Theme Party ”A Night at Casablanca!” Photos by Lynette
October 2, 2004 at the Benicia Clocktower Benicia, California Sponsored by Siren In Sanity






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