Arabesque, Teacher Lee's dance
Bellydance Scene in Taiwan
Toss Hair Dance
I've arrived at No.240 Chong Hsio East Road, Section
4, in Taipei for my first "Toss Hair Dance" class. At
this class, instructor Lee taught a choreography
titled "Toss Hair Dance" as promised on the Bellydance
I had just cut my hair and now had very little to toss!
The 235 Taipei bus reeked of gas fumes, and
made me slightly nauseous during the thirty-five minute ride;
so, I was grateful for the three-and-a-half-block walk I took
while looking for the dance studio. The studio wasn't a studio
at all: after asking in a clothing store and two residential buildings,
I finally located the classroom, which turn out to be a tiny Japanese
style room located in the corner of a gym.
As I descended
the stairs and entered the gym’s basement, the broad back of a
topless, muscular man blocked my view. Beads of sweat glistened
on his back as he moved his thick legs on a tread-climber machine.
Similar machines, as well as a variety of weight-lifting equipment,
cluttered the room. Three or four foreign men and one Taiwanese
man were laboring on different, formidable looking machines, and
these men were so built up that they held their arms at a distance
from their sides like gorillas since their bulging muscles didn't
allow a more normal posture.
I saw muscles, sweat, and machines! Intimidated, I considered
going home. Then I noticed through a glass window some women
with veils in a small room to the left of me.
with veils were the people for whom I was looking. It was fifteen
minutes before class time, but already, five or six women twirled
veils and shimmied to Middle Eastern music. They went through
several choreographies together, dancing mostly to pieces with
quick tempos. The only song I recognized was a Tarkan song I had
danced to a year ago in Pennsylvania. The women were much more
skillful than I expected: just 3 years ago, nobody in Taiwan really
knew anything about Bellydance.
friends back home thought of Bellydance as a unskilled exercise
done by pot-bellied women who drew faces on their stomachs and
made the faces on their bellies change by shifting their fat.
(I was mildly insulted to hear this interpretation.)
a few years later, in this tiny basement classroom, real Taiwanese
women were doing hip shimmies, snake arms, veil dancing, and shoulder
shimmies, while revealing their bellies! They wore fluttery tops
with delicate sleeves and colorful Indian print dance clothing.
Each had a generously coined hip scarf and the scarves jangled
noisily as the dancers moved their hips in circles and shimmies.
Was this really Taiwan? I could hardly believe my eyes and gawked
stupidly from outside the classroom for nearly ten minutes.
Teacher Lee's dance troupe
When I finally
walked to the door of the Japanese styled room, one of the women
smiled at me.
"Are you a new classmate?" she asked in Mandarin.
"Are you the teacher?" I asked, using the respectable
form of address, “ning,” (the Chinese version of "vous",
rather than "tu," when addressing her).
"Hell, no!" she cried. "Do I look like a teacher
I didn't know what to say. (Perhaps she felt insulted because
she considered herself too young to be mistaken for a teacher.)
"Why don't you go change and come back," she said.
"Sure," I replied, eager to flee.
I had to slither between machines and greasy-looking muscular
men to get to the small restroom. This
being Taiwan, the toilet was one of those porcelain holes-in-the-ground.
Additionally, there was no toilet paper.
When the dance
teacher arrived, shortly after seven o'clock, I was bewildered
that the other woman had been insulted when I mistook her for
the teacher. Our instructor, Miss Chen, was a
lovely young woman who looked like she was still in her twenties!
At about five foot three, tall for a Taiwanese woman, she had
a sparkling head of wavy long hair that was perfect for tossing,
no doubt! She wore a lime green sports bra and had on a lovely
pair of dance pants that looked to me like a peacock's tail.
students have all been dancing the choreographies one after
the other with me for over a year," she explained, "but
you can stay for this class and decide whether you want to take
this choreography, something easier, or more difficult."
The Toss Hair
Dance was the seventh of fourteen choreographies taught in the
Bellydance classrooms owned by Teacher Lee, the woman responsible
for making Bellydance popular in Taiwan. The most impressive thing
about this system is that anywhere in Taiwan, whether one is in
Tai-chung, Kaoshiung, or Taipei, one can simply go to one of the
classrooms owned by Teacher Lee and can pick up where she dropped
off and continue doing the choreography. Alternatively, one could
learn the next one. This would only be possible if one person
single-handedly pioneered Bellydance instruction on a small island
and trained all of her own teachers, and that is exactly what
has happened in Taiwan.
The lesson started
immediately as our teacher began doing a series of fast-paced warm-up
movements that included shimmies, arm work, and isolations. Our
class of fourteen or fifteen women filled the little room entirely,
and it was difficult for students in the back to see themselves
in the front mirror. However, Miss Chen made sure to go around the
classroom to inspect everyone's movements.
next few weeks, I sped through the Toss Hair Dance choreography
by going to different classes taught by Miss Chen. Shamelessly,
I also followed along as other students went through all of
their previous choreographies.
I was impressed
with how well all the students could do shoulder and hip shimmies
at different speeds with control as well. They also had excellent
stage presence that (I suppose) came from practicing in front
of all those muscular men week after week! However, I was concerned,
that some of the shimmies (that the instructor specified as "knee-generated")
might hurt some students' sensitive knees.
At any rate,
the next choreography, Choreography Number Eight, has the title
“Cane Dance”! I look forward to learning the Cane Dance in my
next Bellydance class in Taiwan, perhaps sometime next year.
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Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
9-16-05 The Golden
Apple: Bellydance Stars of New York DVD Review by Eugenia
by WorldDance New York, this DVD provides an almost spiritual
Review of Princess
Farhana's Bellydance & Balance: The Art of Sword and Shamadan
by Eugenia Chao
may not be the most professional-looking bellydance video you
ever bought, but it definitely serves its instructional purpose
-- perhaps more so than many high-budget productions.
Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 12
Moved by the Music by Mary Ellen Donald
I did all this because those sudden shifts in rhythm
and tempo and the abrupt breaks in the music that were unfamiliar
to me could have made me look like a fool...
Tribal Fest 2006, May 19
in Sebastopol photos by Susie Poulelis
Performances from Saturday late afternoon including:
BlackSheep, Sashi, InFusion...
I Love Lucy: Confessions of a Dancer
by Yosifah Rose
Lucy does not believe that one can properly perform Oriental
dance with a set choreography.