One might think that someone from an area that's recently experienced upheaval or violence would be less drawn to eroticized images of death. But then there's Weimar Germany, that outpouring of creative angst and sexual freedom that lasted from the turn of the century until the Nazi Party came to power in the 1930s, and wait, don't the Tantriks of India embrace both eroticism and death? Hey... Goth Tantra! Oh wait. Already been done, although not under that name.
And what about older Goths? If Goth is an attitude, what about Grandma Goth? Would she be a wild harridan in black leather, or would she be a sweet little old lady with a gentle smile, reading glasses, and suspiciously long black knitting needles? Also, a lot of Goths are apparently Vegan, but maybe that's a local San Francisco thing. The thing is, I missed out on both Goth and its predecessor, Punk. As a moody teen, I listed to The Doors and King Crimson—the one being an acid-inspired LA lounge band, and the other being surrealistic art-rock.
and Emotional Realms
This openness is a nice change from the we-all-want-to-be-just-like-Ultra-Gypsy individualists who look right through you if you don't know their moves or kiss their ass enough. Tempest even makes fun of Gothy coldness by saying that old-school Goths are the toughest audience you can have. They stare coldly and standoffishly at you... and that's if they like you!
Is Gothic bellydance just old wine in new bottles? If it is, it's a beautifully designed bottle, with an elegant label in a dark-looking font.
Aesthetics are a huge part of it. Dance technique, so highly prized in other genres, is seen as important, but not required, and I can't think of any unique Gothic bellydance signature moves. It's really the costuming and the mood that makes it special.
Another improvement is the mood. Yes, it tends towards the dramatic, sultry, and sometimes depressive. However... they're working on an emotional level, going beyond stone-faced Tribal or glitzy cabaret into a more personal realm of myths, fantasies, and visions. The word "storytelling" is misleading, since there is little plot development or character interaction. The dance on these DVDs is not based on sequential thinking. Its impact is visual, symbolic, and emotional.
Goths as Outsiders
Here's a quote from a feedback page from one of Tempest's workshops:
Tempest's DVD was like having a big sister, someone to coach you up for dancing at clubs and help you through the beginner "gotchas" –like dancing in platform boots or doing undulations safely while wearing a boned corset.
I got curious and poked around the Internet. I found the term "Gothla" as a substitute for "hafla", and references to a Durga Tour, which was a workshop tour with Tempest, Sashi, and several other dancers.
I knew Tempest personally. She was very accessible in person and way too nice to be a Goth. When she announced her new web site on "Raks Gothique" on the now-almost-defunct MED-dance list, the flamage shocked even me: "Puh-leez!" shrieked one writer. None of the protesters took the time to describe exactly what it was that was wrong with it; they just exploded like a pile of loose grenades. One of the Durga Tour organizers writes, "We took no end of s*** when we announced the tour—pot shots and digs and disparaging remarks...mostly, I think, for the sheer audacity we showed in not asking anybody else for guidance or...permission to have an event."
I guess I'd have to support them in that.
But Is Their Technique Any Good?
On the other hand, Tempest is clearly filling a need for someone accepting and supportive who has crafted a charismatic image that beginners can step into. Apparently, she has traveled "all over the planet" (her web site) giving workshops to women who are just dying for this kind of creative outlet. They love it, and they love her performances.
On this DVD her technique is okay. It's got a slight awkwardness and innocence to it that might be more accessible to a beginner dancer than the ultra-isolated, super-athletic pops and locks from someone like Ariellah. It's more lyrical. On the Revelations DVD, several of the dancers had absolutely gorgeous technique, particularly Ariellah, Sashi, and Neon. The dancing on the Darker Side DVD was more uneven in quality. It had some big names on there who were good: Ariellah, and Neon, but also some performances that frankly, I skipped over—after the first few minutes.
Goth and the Occult, Burlesque, and BD/SM
There was no girl-on-girl almost-naked lesbian floor action under the name "bellydance", and no scenes of overt torture or violence. (Sashi's piercing performance at Tribal Fest, which was not at all PG, was not featured on any of these discs.) I didn't see any advanced references to astrology, alchemy, medieval grimoires, or mystic pantheons.
One way in which these were stories was in their vocabularies. Instead of developing a choreographic vocabulary, and taking a choreography-centered approach, some pieces had unique visual and symbolic vocabularies. The symbolism might best be described as Romantic/Classical (cups, roses, robes, pillars, urns), Anne Rice (vampires, roses, blood), Catholic-school (crosses, cups, references to Hell), the shadow side (death, Hell, rage, desolation) or a mise-en-scene (sci-fi/fantasy cover art, speakeasy). I didn't see any references to the so-called Dark Arts in these performances. Although there were no overt occult references on these DVDs, in actuality, I've seen considerable interest between Goths and some of the “magickal” communities. (Note: that's magic spelled with a "k".)
There's also some overlap between Goths and the leather/fetish crowd. In San Francisco at least, it almost seems like they're one and the same—white skin, black leather, red blood—heavy on the visual. BD/SM [bondage, domination, sado-masochism] was not featured on any of these DVDs.
Gothic Bellydance Revelations
This one's almost 2 hours long! It contains series of 23 performances from dancers, including Ariella, Sashi, Jenivivia, Sera, Neon, Tempest, and Ayshe. All the numbers were filmed on a large, bare theater stage with professional lights—but no scenery. The majority were solos, with a few troupe performances. The styles vary from Tribal Fusion to Cabaret. Some of them didn't seem very Goth.
Best dance technique: Ariellah, Sashi, Neon.
Here are some sample notes: Vampires, candles, roses, smoldering stares, masked balls... A tender-faced innocent is initiated into the vampire cult at a club. A-hah! —finally: a costume that solves the old "but I can't bellydance in a corset" dilemma.
The lighting was much better than you'd find in an actual club. You can see what everyone is doing and the costumes look great. All white looked good in the blue, focused light.
My roommate came in while I was in the middle of watching this one and quipped:"Expressionist modern dance for tortured souls who know how to belly dance..."
If you use this DVD as background entertainment a la MTV, you should put it on shuffle with some other collections that aren't all bellydance, for variety's sake. The striking imagery might be even better with the sound turned off. You could even run it on fast-forward for a stop-motion effect.
Musical choices ranged from mainstream to metal: Jehan, Xymox, Corvus Corax (bagpipes with a back beat), Velvet Acid Christ, with song titles like '"My Dear Ghoul" and "Initiate Among the Forsaken" (an outsider theme). Question: With all these musical styles and themes, why are they sticking with just bellydance? Answer: They don't, they just use the word "bellydance" in their descriptions because most of these dancers seem to identify as a bellydancer first, and then add in other styles. It's hard to say whether they've had formal training in choreography as a discipline, but I don't think so.
Even the brilliant technicians didn't develop their choreographies. (Getting up off the floor is not "development".)
“Experimental” doesn't always work, but I'd rather see an experiment that doesn't quite work than the same old tried and true formula. Mavi did interesting sword passes, instead of just head balancing; she was one of the few who explored the physical properties of her prop. I didn't think every idea worked, but how will you know unless you try it first? All of them could have used more development, could have gone beyond the use of dramatic items as mere props. There was a shamadan with red candles. Hmm. Where's the wedding? Many of them could have focused on using their props better, as in manipulating them rather than just presenting them for visual effect. There was a snake dancer too, who seemed a little rough with her snakes.
One seemed a joke. A woman came out doing poi spinning with spiked balls, in Conan the Barbarian style. I wish she'd actually mastered poi spinning instead of using them as a prop. She was the only one over 30, and I honestly don't know if that was intended as a joke, too.
Watch for: costuming ideas, dance
dance for Beautiful Freaks
Ah, but true freakdom comes from the inside out, does it not?
First, she leads a very basic warm-up. By "basic", I mean that if you are someone who's never, ever taken a fitness class in your entire life, and who always hung out on the sidelines during gym class, you might like this warm-up. It will get you back into your body. It hits the right stuff, and Tempest's remarks on taking care of your body did, too. Four combinations, shown one right after another, follow the warm-up, and then Tempest breaks them down into drills. Finally, there's a performance and some credits (which did not include crediting the music.)
The performances included several different archetypes, from "French Cabaret Singer" to "Greek Priestess" (my monikers). The priestess one looked great on the 4x fast forward, which turned it into a series of stop-motion paintings like a graphic novel. (A very long-winded graphic novel with no dialogue or plot, but a graphic novel nonetheless.)
She mentions Ruth St. Denis and Theda Bara as her influences. I wonder how she'd do as an actress in a silent film? She talks about "dramatic embodied storytelling". In the first Revelations DVD, I had seen themes, but no actual plot, no character interaction, and no outcomes. Hip-hop videos often have humorous themes, mini-subplots, like commercials. These didn't go that far. It's ironic to hear Tempest stress over and over again how important technique is, but she doesn't have much. If you want that fabulous serpentine Tribal technique, you won't find it here.
Tempest says, "This is an art. Don't try to count it out or fit everything into 1-2-3-4. You don't want to be in your left-brain. Make it a story rather than thinking about movements." Also she said, "It's not about looking Goth and dancing to bellydance music or dancing to Goth music in regular bedlah. Instead, strive for a deep sense of drama, a theatrical presence or a ‘strange presence’.” The attitude is conveyed through facial expression. Tempest suggests that a typical Goth bellydance facial expression could be playfully evil, an "I'm going to eat you for lunch" expression. (See Ariellah's performances on Revelations and Darker Side.) However, Tempest is not evil, she's cuddly, and that's actually a good thing. There are people out there who really are evil, who will suck the life out of your body to feed their own egos, but she's not one of them.
"Think about an archetype but don't take your self too seriously" was another piece of great advice.
Bellydance: The Darker Side of Fusion
Unlike Revelations, the dancing numbers here weren't shown on a stage. Instead, the first few numbers were superimposed over a series of images, mostly of winter trees and gravestones. I don't know if that makes it "darker" –darker than what? There was nothing creepy or inhuman or evil really, and I'm just as glad that it wasn't deeply disturbing. Overall, the dancing is not as good as on Revelations. Some of the performers were not quite ready to be professionally filmed. Although many used veils or other props, there wasn't much mastery of the props.
I played it straight through. The lack of titling between numbers made it hard to know whom I was watching, although they're listed on the menu.
The most interesting to me was an ATS duo who did a knife dance. Their 4-count cadences, which sometimes looked a little too regimented, were probably improvised. The dancers used a backward grip that I'm guessing was inspired by a type of Egyptian knife dance (demonstrated in passing by Sahra Kent many years back), but I don't think their actual movements were. The two dancers had very good intensity, excellent rapport with one another, and nice classic ATS technique.
Ariellah once again stood out as the most accomplished and charismatic dancer. She's got the internal strength to make the Tribal Fusion style look good. Her best power pose is with arms overhead. She has gorgeous stage presence, and a nice body; so why's she hiding her beautiful tattoos? She looks like a minx or a little vixen: very piercing gaze, coy sweet smile, plays to the camera. She's a little too hip-hop; it's distorting her stance, and the chicken-wing arms with elbows tucked in should be more of a transition and less of a home base. Sometimes I found her constant hand movements a little distracting.
Ending credits include dancer contact information, making me think "Hey, I just paid $12 for a self-promotional piece."
Links for Further Study
Author's additional note: I had said that there was nothing vulgar or in poor taste but apparently there's a lesbian BDSM scene on the "Gothic Bellydance- the Darker Side of Fusion." You might have to re-think the idea that you could buy it for a teenager. See Amulya's review linked below.
Ready for more?
Fusion, Bedouin, What's the Difference? 4 DVDs reviewed and
compared by Rebecca Firestone
of Goth Fall Upon Belly Dance Gothic Bellydance: The Darker
Side of Fusion DVD Reviewed by Amulya
Darkly: The Phenomenon of Gothic Belly Dance by Laura Tempest
5-26-06 Sashi -
Kabob by Lynette, Warning, possibly disturbing graphics!
Spirit of the Dance: A Response to the Criticism of my Tribal
Fest 2006 “Pierced Wings”Performance by Sashi
Ancient Art of Keeping Your Mouth Shut by Neon