by Robert Altman
Robert Altman’s 1969 In Utero Belly Dance Portrait of
Lou aka Doubie aka The Little Suitcase aka Melina
of Daughters of Rhea
story goes that I was conceived on a beach in Northern California
in 1968 while my mom was tripping on acid and my dad was under
the influence of cannabis. Unsurprisingly my parents’
“pull out” method of contraception did not work that starry
night as the cosmic forces of the universe conspired to create
me, ultimate love child of the 60s. I was born in the summer
of ’69 and went unnamed for 3 months. My first nickname
was a testament to my parents’ favorite pastime: I was
called Doubie, which is the smallest, cutest little stub of
a mostly-smoked joint. Ten months later, when my parents
amicably parted ways and I was equally shared between them,
I was called The Little Suitcase -- just put a handle on my
back and I was ready to go! My birth certificate was finally
filled in with the name Melinda Lou and I was included in all
aspects of my parents bohemian performance life, sleeping on
piles of coats behind the speakers at my dad’s Berkeley rock
n roll gigs, turning cartwheels in the circus ring when he
was bandleader of the Pickle Family Circus, and playing behind
tapestry curtains at the Renaissance fairs where my mom belly
danced and balanced swords on her head as part of Jamila
Troupe Bal Anat. My early childhood was full of love,
2nd hand smoke, communes and creative people. Even
after putting in way too much time in the Ivory Tower – Ivy
League college and a PhD in medieval French literature -- my
parents’ enduring hippy values and the primal drive (encoded
in my DNA?) to lead an authentic, independent-minded, out-of-the-box
life turned me from the academy and I now live a full-blown
creative life, making ends meet by working gig to gig just
like I was born and bred to do.
first photo that I have of myself bellydancing is in utero. I
am in my mother’s rounded belly, and that belly is dancing.
is a black and white picture from 1969 taken at the Berkeley
Fiddler’s Convention in California. My mom is six months
pregnant with me, belly dancing with a smile and arms outstretched
in a coin costume, surrounded by a beaming outdoor audience
full of hippies. My older sister Piper,
then 6, sits on our mom’s shoulders, her little hands reaching
out to match
mom’s. Mom is musically accompanied by my dad’s folk
band, the Pittsburgh Pirates, playing “Little Egypt.” Piper,
Mom and the as yet unborn, I form a unique belly dancing triumverate,
a reconstituted Pieta for the first dance of matriarchy. When
I finally emerged into the world, three months later, I was
primed for belly dance rhythms, impromptu performances, folk
music and rock n roll.
keep the original photo in a silver frame in my home dance
studio and meditate on it frequently. The image captures exactly
where I come from: the time, the place, the womb. It
speaks to all the powerful themes that inform my life today:
dance, performance, community, independent thinking, and the
primal power of mother and daughters.
here we are at the crux of the story: Last night after
teaching my Thursday night belly dance classes, my student
Regan came up to me with a magazine. “My father just
died the week before Thanksgiving,” she said. “I was
going through his things – he was a major packrat and collected
lots of magazines - and I found this. It was the only
one he had of its kind.” She looked at me with sweaty,
trembling anticipation. I felt a tingling, emotional
from Regan’s loss and from what she had found. I was
leafing through Peter Max magazine, volume 2 from 1970 and
came on the page….”LOOK” She said.
it was, the second of a series of black and white hippy
portraits --people raving, a woman blissfully breastfeeding,
couples hugging, dogs leaping – THE SEMINAL PHOTO OF MY
LIFE – only, I was cut out!
focus of the photo was on the coin bra, the smiling hippy mother
belly dancing with daughter on the shoulders. The belly
button, Mom’s rounded belly with ME in it wasn’t in the frame. But
it didn’t diminish the amazement, the tingling sensation,
the incredible cosmic coincidence of the whole thing. If
Regan hadn’t been my student for all these years and had opportunities
to come to my home studio to dance, she would never have seen
the original photo in its frame, she would never have known
the significance of her father’s single copy of Peter Max magazine
from 1970. And I would never have known the photo was
ever in the seminal hippy magazine of the 1960s, now a collector’s
item, and I would never have googled “Robert Altman, Photographer,
Peter Max” and found the website of the original photographer,
and searched for belly dancer on his site and found
there you have it.
you Robert Altman for taking the very first picture of me belly
dancing. You don’t know me but I’m honored to be
an in-utero subject of your beautiful body of work.
Mom and Dad for never selling out because my hippy inheritance
is worth more than money.
you Regan for belly dancing with me, for sharing your story
and for giving me the issue of Peter Max magazine (that is
worth $88 bucks on ebay but way more to me!)
you Regan’s Dad, who was fascinated with hippies but was never
is a pretty far-out and groovy story that I totally dig.
it says on the last page of Peter Max magazine: Volume
2 from 1970:
is one. God is one. Love is one.
are all the fruits of one tree
the leaves of one branch.
is God in the process of evolution.
yourself with everything that lives.
all God’s creation.
even the leaf;
the animals, love the plants,
that the one power
God works through all hands,
through all eyes,
through all ears.
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other possible viewpoints!
Cymbals by Melina of Daughters of Rhea
all this cross-cultural cacophony soared my mom’s perfectly
paced zills, right left right, right left right, right left right
left right left right. If you put me in a room blindfolded, I
could distinguish her playing from any other dancer on earth.
Dance by Melina of Daughters of Rhea
circle is a perfect, democratic & unending shape, the shape
of an energized community, the shape of this lovely round planet.
Kamal by Yasmina of Cairo
the film roles that I've been offered have unfortunately been frivolous,
or portrayed the dancer in the stereotypical way they always do.
The cinema has done enough to spoil the reputation of dancers,
without me adding to it by taking such a role."
April 2008 by Catherine Barros
was a late night as usual as we didn't even go out until midnight
to have dinner and watch Dina at around 3am . . . but who was
watching the time . . . It is CAIRO!
Winning Experience at Leyla Jouvana and Roland's 1st
Bellydancer of the World Contest by Khalida
is winner of the 1st place in the Solo Raks Sharki and 3rd Place
in the Solo - Fusion Fantasy Categories
Bellydance, A New & Ancient Reality by Jehan
trend has been growing steadily since I can remember, but caught
fire recently, due to the instantaneous broadcasting of ideas
and styles on the worldwide web and the proliferation and availability
of video for this generation of dancers.
Wa Sahlan 2008, Not So Welcoming this Year by Yasmin
have gone up everywhere, and Egypt is no exception. The reality
hit me as soon as I walked into the Mena House. Bottled water
was $4.00, where out in the street the same bottle was $.50.
A bottle of beer was $10.00. Internet connection was $30.00 /
hour. At those prices, life's little pleasures didn't seem important