Gilded Serpent presents...
Miles Copeland, Dr. Hatem, & Sausan
BDSS Experience and Miles
Doing What He Does Best
Copeland's name, along with the
words "belly dance" and "super stars", initially came up for
me about two years ago when an email from a colleague flashed
across my monitor screen. At first, I had no idea who or what
Miles Copeland was or what connected a group calling itself,
"Belly Dance Super Stars" to this fellow, so I began to peruse
his name on Google.com and proceeded to do a little reading.
of us in our advancing years, I sometimes reflect on the days
of my youth, which offered me a gateway to California's exciting
nightlife. Such days - or nights as they were - found me driving
on occasion to the private homes of Eastern Onion Singing
Telegram Service recipients as the visual segment of a
singing telegram or to San
Francisco's Broadway belly dance cabarets or restaurants
on weekends, shaking it up to local live Middle Eastern tunes
for curious tourist-type patrons, where the miniscule income
from these gratifying dance jobs supplemented mine of a nine-to-five
secretary for the United States Postal Service and of a weekend
warrior for the United States Navy Reserves. And on those nights
when I wasn't bouncing around on Middle Eastern cabaret stages
or restaurant dance floors or for some lucky recipient of a
surprise birthday belly gram, I fortified my stamina and kept
up my vascular endurance by frequenting the San Mateo disco
clubs and dancing to DJ-selected pop tunes of music personalities
and groups of the day which included Blondie, The
Sex Pistols, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers,
The Cortinas, The Police, and many more. So,
you can imagine how surprised I was some 25 years later while
sitting in front of my Mac and clicking on a Google.com link
to discover that the name, Miles Copeland, a rock/punk band
manager/promoter of these DJ-selected pop tunes that saw me
on the disco floor through much of my young adult life was now
affiliated with the words "belly dance", a dance I had studied
since the early 70s and performed throughout the planet during
that part of my adult life; a dance I was now seriously teaching.
his name, several links popped up on assorted Yahoo! Groups
regarding Miles Copeland and the Belly Dance Super Stars, and
I came across one that told me of a belly dance "documentary"
he had produced and was ready for distribution. The word "documentary,"
with regard to belly dance, captured my interest, and so I sent
an email to the Copeland Group. You see, no one has really
captured the history and evolution of this much debated dance
form in a documentary, so while my email to the Copeland Group
commended its efforts for taking on this monumental task, I
was questioning its research insofar as Miles Copeland's background
consists specifically of promoting and managing individual pop
singers and rock/punk groups.
I was answered with an email several days later signed by Miles
Copeland, himself. He addressed each point I had made in my
initial email, adding a few of his own in his response, closing
with a suggestion to meet me at my restaurant,
Al-Masri, after the Belly Dance Super Stars show
on Sunday, January 30th for a discussion about our
different points of view. I accepted his challenge and added
that dinner and drinks were to be on me.
already seen the dancers his show was publicizing as well as
the quality of dancing from the various and sundry videos on
the market, I was not eager to go and watch the Belly Dance
Super Stars show at Herbst Theater, and therefore had not planned
to attend. The only thing that interested me, as I had written
to Miles Copeland, was this "documentary." However, a couple
more exchanges from him told me that it was important to him
that I attend the show as prelude to our discussion. I clearly
indicated that if I were to attend the show, it would only be
to enjoy the polish of a well-executed production and not for
the dancing. So, as Miles Copland's personal guest, I arrived
with an escort at Herbst Theater and took my seat.
the show was well done - not surprising of a Miles Copeland
endeavor as recognized in the music industry, the dancing itself
lacked what I call "nephis", the "thing" or "soul" that makes
the dance look like the Belly Dance Super Stars of Egypt's yesteryear.
there were far more numbers with Tribal and Fusion than I had
wanted to see, and the cabaret dancers, although extremely beautiful
and talented in their own right, looked more like Las Vegas
showgirls or the showgirls of Ziegfeld Follies rather than the
Belly Dance Super Stars I've studied in Egyptian film; stars
whose video performances were scarcely obtainable up until about
ten years ago and that are now readily available to the public
on VHS or DVD via Ebay.com as well as the more popular belly
dance web sites. A somewhat psychedelic lightshow similar to
the ones I had seen during the seventies and eighties music
concerts with amoeba-like light spots moving about on a Moroccan
tiled courtyard fabric print back drop augmented the show.
I guess I wasn't prepared to watch a belly dance show, albeit
American belly dance, with a 70's or 80's or 90's American/British
music concert flair. But then, it was Miles Copeland, manager/promoter
of many of the popular rock/punk groups and singers of the same
decades, who had orchestrated this show.
met Miles Copeland after the show and introduced myself, thanking
him for the show tickets and saying that I would wait until
he could pull away from his adoring crowd. And after about
a 45-minute wait, he pulled up behind my car in a rental and
followed us back to Al-Masri. A few minutes later we arrived,
and after a brief tour of the restaurant by Dr. Hatem,
we all sat down for some serious discussion, but not before
some appetizers, a plate of tantalizing food, and a show from
Al-Masri's own repertoire. It was after the meal and entertainment
that I began to see an insight into Miles Copeland.
shares the same vision as everyone else in the belly dance community.
He proved this by saying that he is in the market to elevate
the dance form and take it to the general American public and
abroad via his production know-how. His mission is to liberate
it from the hands of the fundamentalists who would want to see
the dance eliminated altogether, and place it on the stages
of performance theaters across the globe. He wants to see the
words "belly dance" included in the dance dictionary along with
the words ballet, tap, and jazz. He stated that belly dance
was not getting the respect it deserved, so in a word, he wants
to make belly dance a "respected" dance form.
bottom lines of all event managers and promoters, Miles Copeland
also has his bottom line, and that bottom line is money. And,
why not? As any belly dance teacher and promoter knows, the
bottom line for any business endeavor such as a workshop, a
hafla, or just classes, is in making enough money to cover expenses,
salaries, and rents with a little left over. Without a market
in which to produce his show, Miles Copeland, like many of us
teachers and promoters offering workshops, haflas, and classes,
would loose the shirt off his back.
the American public foremost on his agenda, Miles Copeland picks,
from the vast numbers of auditioning talented belly dancers,
only the slender ones similar to the showgirls of Las Vegas
or the Ziegfield Follies. Why? Because, from his experience
in show business, this is what the American public wants to
see, he says. And it is no wonder. Florenz Ziegfield's affair
with the beautiful young female figure set the standards for
the modern American female stage dancer, as did producer Don
Arden who followed suit by introducing glamorous showgirls to
the Las Vegas Strip thereby maintaining and upholding these
standards. And frankly, to a certain degree, I would agree
with him. I wouldn't expect any less from a Copeland production,
much less any by Ziegfield or Arden with female dancers as its
main attraction, and would rather see young beautiful slender
bodies on a theater or super stage, rather than old sagging
and wrinkled ones like the ones we are destined to become.
Ziegfield and Arden, Miles Copeland has discovered another entertainment
cult venue as new and exciting, readily available and eager
to be marketed as only he knows how, only this time it's not
about the modern pop music of today; it's about a dance taken
from the annals of Egypt.
discussion did not wane over the hours. At times it sounded
more like a heated debate rather than a calm discussion during
which he emphatically stated that since the term "belly dance"
is an American term then perhaps the words "Raqs Sharki" would
better define my dance curriculum, insisting at the same table
where Egyptian born and raised Dr. Hatem was sitting, that
the Egyptians should refrain from using the American term, "belly
dance" and stick to the Egyptian term, "Raqs Sharki" and to
leave "belly dance" to the Americans. In other words, his dancers
are American belly dancers, hence the appropriate term, "belly
dance"; my students are pupils of Egyptian belly dance, hence
the appropriate term, "Raqs Sharki." I'm still not sure if
he was insisting we use the Egyptian term "Raqs Sharki" specifically
to describe an Egyptian dance curriculum or venue or that the
entire Egyptian population - let alone the rest of the world
- should refrain from using the American term, "belly dance"
in their performance description. And if "Raqs Sharki," according
to Miles Copeland, should be used only to describe Egyptian
style belly dance, then what term would he use to describe those
American belly dancers in his show who claim to dance Egyptian
with Miles Copeland lasted into the wee hours. He inquired to
my knowledge what made American style belly dance different from
Egyptian style belly dance to which I explained the obvious differences
even though he had lived in the Middle East for a good part of
his life and had visual access to these differences. We discussed
"cultural expression" as opposed to "performing arts." He suggested
that I was closed minded when it came to the "new and exciting"
Tribal or Fusion style of dance, and proposed that these forms
were the way the dance was evolving, maintaining that only in
America could the dance
change and evolve this way. I pointed out that although Tribal
and Fusion may have evolved from American belly dance, which evolved
from "Raqs Sharki," it looks nothing like belly dance and should
be promoted as a separate dance altogether and not linked to the
term "belly dance." Dr. Hatem asked him that since American belly
dance evolved from Egypt
and not from America,
why not look at the dance from an Egyptian's point of view, and
asked him how Tribal or Fusion might appear to the Egyptians insofar
as these American off-shoots are connected to belly dance - I
mean, Raqs Sharki.
But then, Miles Copeland is known for his individuality
as further exemplified by his popular Hakim and James Brown
song called "Leila" as well as one soon-to-be released with
Hakim and Sting. And, that discussion was just that, a discussion,
and nothing more.
talking to Miles Copeland, innovator, marketing guru, and producer
of the next public sensation - in this case, American evolved
belly dance. An extremist, Miles Copeland, also presented Indian
and Hawaiian style dances along with Tribal and Fusion in his
"Belly Dance" Super Stars program.
spite of our vocal differences, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening
with Miles Copeland - a very engaging man, as did Dr. Hatem.
I was particularly amused when he stated that his dancers were
not allowed to dance in any restaurant or nightclub saying that,
if he found out they were, that they would be fired on the spot.
How odd, I thought. There he was sitting in a restaurant -
my restaurant - had just dined on the house, and watched my
graduates dance. Was he trying to tell me something about the
quality of my establishment and its dancers that his dancers
would be fired if caught dancing there? In fact, hadn't Chafiqa
Al Qobtia and later Badiya Masabny
availed this dance to the Egyptian public through their own
nightclubs and restaurants where the Egyptian Greats were discovered
and had gone on and made names for themselves in Egyptian film?
And, what is so terrible about all the other belly dancers that
enjoy dancing in Middle Eastern or Mediterranean nightclubs
said that the Al-Masri dancers - who were there to entertain
and not to audition - did not fit the image or
dance criteria he has set for his Super Star Belly Dance show,
to which Dr. Hatem responded that Mile's dancers did not pass
the image and dance criteria we have set for Al-Masri dancers.
So, my guest invited me to produce a show of my own to which
I responded that I already had; it was called Al-Masri, and
he had just seen my Egyptian style dancers performing in my
restaurant just like I had seen his American belly dancers perform
earlier at the Herbst Theater. And so, it went on like that
throughout the evening. At times it was comical, and at times
it was testy; I found myself keeping my internal primordial
instinctive reactions in check during some of our discussion
- after all, he was my guest and we were all professionals.
All in all, it was very educational. Like I, Miles Copeland
never faulted from his views, and he readily admitted as he
had done earlier in the show that he enjoys working with young,
beautiful, talented, slender women. What normal heterosexual
American male wouldn't?
is a very experienced and serious business savvy minded person.
Like Ziegfield and Arden, he has found a niche in a primarily
female dance sector, has seized it with a passion, and is doing
what he knows best with it, and that is to market it and place
it on stages across the country for the rest of the world to
enjoy. A successful businessman, it is apparent that Miles
Copeland is taking from his vast show knowledge and using his
experience in the making of his Belly Dance Super Stars show.
But, as is true of any business venture with such a global mission
paralleled with an equal global lack of relative knowledge,
there is a price to pay. What makes his Belly Dance Super Star
show appealing to the American public, Miles Copeland says,
is aesthetics first, then showmanship, and then the dance.
while I understand why this may work for him, it employs foremost
that which is ideal to Miles Copeland and the American standards
of beauty and theatrics and does not take into account the cultural
expression or the root of the dance, which is essentially the
soul itself as performed by Egypt's
great Belly Dance Super Stars.
one wants to continue to elevate this dance to its proper and
well-earned status more than I. Taheyia Karioka
was first to do just that followed by Samia Gamal,
Na'eema Akef, Nagwa Fouad,
Lucy, Fifi Abdou, and every
other Egyptian dancer in between; and in America I can think
of several respected female teachers including myself who are
on that same quest, as well as the vast majority of us who have
studied this dance seriously for some time. Dancing in restaurants
and nightclubs for customers can be just as prestigious and
rewarding as dancing on a theater stage for the general public;
it's all the same. It takes management to set down the rules
and to enforce them for the safety of everyone - including the
dancer, within the environment. It is evident that Miles Copeland
provides that for his dancers in his production of Belly Dance
Super Stars like Dr. Hatem and I do at Al-Masri. And,
while I can say that the majority of restaurants and nightclubs,
who employed me during my young adult life, followed a similar
set of rules, I do recall a couple (theater stage dance productions
included) where I neither felt safe nor respected as a belly
dancer, American or otherwise. Later, the following day, I
scanned the web sites of some of his Belly Dance Super Stars
and noticed one of them is still advertising her performances
in a couple of restaurants.
Miles Copeland's vision is similar to that of mine and the majority
of belly dancers I have canvassed in my lifetime, he and I differ
in our mission approach to elevating the dance, and this is
where the discussion became a heated debate. As I see it, Miles
Copeland approaches the dance as a commodity - an American product
made specially for the general public to enjoy, employing talented,
young, beautiful, slender women in the dance entertainment field
and marketing and promoting them with the same methods he used
in promoting singers and pop groups; I approach it as a field
of study - a way to inform and educate the general public about
Egypt and its culture, and to empower my female students with
the tools necessary to dance this dance the way the Belly Dance
Super Stars of Egypt's past Greats did; it is what I have studied
all of my life to do.
I told Miles Copeland, I will be first in line to see his "documentary";
however, I know now that his documentary may have little to
do with the actual history or evolution of belly dance beginning
with Egypt or of the lives and performances of Egypt's past
and present Belly Dance Super Star Greats but rather a documentary
on American belly dance and his personal involvement and participation
in it which is effected in his own rendition and ideals of American
belly dance and thus produced an end result called the Belly
Dance Super Stars show. And perhaps one day, someone with the
financial backing, with the status of someone like Miles Copeland,
will step up to the plate and deliver a historical documentary
on belly dance as it was and is celebrated in Egypt worthy of
National Geographic or the History Channel commemorating the
Belly Dance Super Stars of Egypt and acknowledging the belly
dance teachers around the globe who have dedicated their lives
with passion to the study of the most expressive, beautiful,
and time honored dance form. Perhaps someone may already be
doing just that.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
11-12-99 Sausan's Saga
at The Grapeleaf Restaurant by Dhyanis
arising from the ashes of a dreadful divorce and forced closure,
petite and spunky owner-operator Sausan has persevered and returns
stronger than ever with her new partner from Egypt.
in North Beach by Sausan
The Blind and Bellydance by Zaheea
had a genuine joy in her smile as she shimmied and swayed to the
music as her husband sat and enjoyed his wife's enthusiasm.
A Report of the 2004
Ya Halla Y’all Saturday Evening Show, by Leigh Allen
and Tamara Campbell, photos by Craig Campbell. Isis’
annual August shows are always great and professionally presented
but the show on Saturday truly lived up to its billing as ‘A
Gathering of Stars’. We can’t wait for next year!
Unity through Belly dance by Erica
If you are reading this publication, then you too have fallen
in love with belly dancing.
Taking Good Care of our Stars by
of all, as we now need them consistently; we have to free them
from financial worries by giving them job security including such
things as health insurance.