The Gilded Serpent presents
Miles Copeland Responds

Miles Copeland, a famous pop music promoter, has been catching flack from our Middle Eastern Music and Dance community regarding his involvement in the scene. Most of us became aware of his company's involvement when we received the press releases sent to us last spring per email. Miles and his assistant Barbara Bolan invited us to collect questions from the community. Barbara wrote- "Don't worry....Miles can handle all questions, no matter how tough. "We asked you for the questions and here are his answers.

Click here to see initial email publicity releases sent out by Ark 21 regarding their auditions for their tour with Lollapalooza festival and beginning of production of their documentary "American Bellydancer."

1)Since you have come from a background in the music field, what attracted you to the belly dance scene? Was it the music or the dance itself?

There is no question that my entry point to the world of Bellydance was through music. Having become the principle company releasing Middle Eastern artists, to the mainstream market in the US, my challenge was first to identify what audience there already was and then find ways to expand that audience to the broadest range as possible.

On several occasions, I hired belly dancers for a promotion of a concert or a new CD. I soon learned that there was in fact a Bellydance scene all over the US thriving and VERY interested in the music I was putting out. I put the two together and presto I was into Bellydance.

What is interesting is that once I entered and got to know the dancers I actually became more interested in the dancers than my starting point, which was music.

Of course, they do go hand in hand but my emphasis is now as much the dancers as the music.

2) Have you been in touch with dancers all over the US or did you confine yourself to the LA scene. Are you going to document the stories of the pioneers of the dance in the US or are you telling the stories of modern dancers who are newer to the scene?

From the beginning I was intrigued by the world of Bellydance as an American phenomenon. Of course, living in LA I got to know more dancers here but never looked to this area alone. It was much more intriguing and exciting that Bellydance was happening in obscure parts of the US and Middle America.

Everything happens in LA, so what, but Lexington, Kentucky…now that’s exciting!

When we began filming “American Bellydancer,” a full-length documentary film, which we are just completing; our first filming was in Miami with the help of many in that community, especially Tamalyn Dalah, Tiffany Hanan, and Ansuya. Then we went to San Juan Puerto Rico for two days with Yashira. That was followed by two days in San Francisco with Suhaila and company- Rakkasah, and Mary Ellen Donald. Here we met Rachel Brice and asked her to join our show. THEN we filmed in Los Angeles a day (or night) in the life of a bellydancer with Jillina. We also have filmed in NY with Morocco- Washington D.C. with the two Rachels, and Lexington, Kentucky with Phyllidias; and of course all the Lollapalooza dates. Yes, I’d say we covered the US. How can you document Bellydance if you do not?

Regarding the basic brief of the film American Bellydancer, we soon realized that this was a BIG subject that couldn’t be captured in a two-hour film. So we had to focus (Leaving room for American Bellydancer II). Our focus became very much bellydancing in America TODAY, but of course a number of dancers we interviewed talked about the history. We do believe we have a nice balance that will satisfy the hard core Bellydance community, but also be captivating to a new audience. After all, one of our major goals is to open up a whole new audience to this wonderful art form- we can’t do that documenting every minute detail in Bellydance history.

The art of filmmaking is as much about what you leave out as it is about what you put in a film.

Not everyone and everything will be covered to the degree some people think they should.

3)Will you continue to do shows all over the US since your Lollapalouza tour was such a success?

We learned a lot on the Lollapalooza tour and especially the solo dates we did. What’s more important is that promoters in the mainstream concert business learned what we were all about.

My biggest challenge has been to convince legitimate professional promoters, and theatre and club owners that Bellydance has an audience and can make a great show.

Most of them think the audience can only be Middle Eastern or ethnic and that Bellydance is something you see in restaurants.

I’m sorry to say that many promoters have asked us about the “look” of the belly dancers, imagining them to all be fat. This may sound offensive to people reading this and let’s face it- it IS offensive but that’s what I have to put up with.

My job has become as much about educating as it has been selling a show. There is no question that the Bellydance Superstars and The Desert Roses dancers, on Lollapalooza, did a lot to change opinions about belly dancers all across the US. I take some pride in that so did they.

Early next year, we embark on a nine-week tour starting in San Diego on February 12th finishing in Los Angeles April 18th. We will perform in fifty-two cities in the US. The dates will be posted on the Bellydance Superstars Website. We will also hold workshops all along the way.

4) Are you interested in the history of the dance and how it is taught? Will you be working with qualified teachers who have retired from the performing circuit?

We are hoping that our efforts as a company and my personal efforts will become welcomed and appreciated by the Bellydance community- and all will benefit from our efforts to expand interest in this art. We are interested in working with everyone out there that wants to help us but we obviously cannot be all things to all people. No one can.

We also don’t want to encroach into areas better left to people better qualified and experienced than we are.

I can be interested in the history of the dance but I will never know what Morocco knows, or Fatim, Suhaila, or Tamalyn.

5) Are you interested in the American dance scene only or are you interested in the scene around the world, i.e. Cairo, Turkey, Greece, Germany and Europe?

I am very interested in the WORLD of Bellydance and who is who in Cairo etc. but I am an American living mostly here and here is where most of my efforts will be. The US is also very much in need of opening it’s mind to other cultures,

If we are to dominate the world let’s try to understand and appreciate the good in other cultures as we are trying to mitigate the bad.

Our documentary covers all sorts of people and all sorts of perspectives. One high point which, will appeal to many, is Suhaila yelling at me for many minutes telling me I have “No idea” about the art.

6) What are your priorities, what is your focus? Since most of the people in the Middle Eastern dance community are “dance enthusiasts” or hobbyists, will their voices be heard in your documentary?

My priorities are to help Bellydance be taken seriously as an art and a business by as big an audience as possible that will enable dancers in the future to dedicate their lives to it and be paid fairly for doing so.

Hopefully, we can do this without losing the sense of community that is so charming about Bellydancing in America today.

7) Do you see yourself continuing to support and bring attention to belly dancing?

YES YES YES

Feedback- Answering Some Questions:
Miles, can you address these issues?

  • The dancers were not the same in every city and some people were upset that their favorite dancers were advertised but were not present at a particular show.
  • The dancers were given second or lower billing and many people weren’t even aware there were dancers with the show.
  • Venues were too small, overcrowded, poorly lit and had bad sound.
  • Ticket prices were overpriced for such a poor show, i.e. venue, staging, inexperienced dancers.

We tried to keep the same dancers throughout but ran into several prior commitments, which couldn’t be avoided. We always tried to replace any missing dancers with an equally impressive one. As we are now more organized the dancers information for each show will be posted on our Website.

Our choice of venues depended on who was willing to book our show. Some venues were great and others were not. As what we are doing becomes better known, venues will improve. On the February-April tour we are in a far better class of venues than the last tour. This is because more promoters are willing to take a chance on us now and we have more time to prepare.

Ticket prices were reasonable in our opinion, if not cheap. It costs a lot of money to take sixteen people across America and pay them reasonably.

We had an unusually high caliber of dancers and a consistently high caliber show- that’s the overwhelming feedback I got. It is true we did not have a lot of staging and production value as we were not in a position to do so either time wise, or financially. The next tour will have far more to offer.

Eventually, we will be able to give Riverdance a run for its money but don’t expect ticket prices to remain under $20.00.

8) I think the most important point I can make is to say that I cannot be all things to all people; nor can the film possibly cover everything! The film is titled “American Bellydancer,” not “The History of Bellydance.” It’s also not about “Who Was First in Bellydancing.” It’s a snapshot taken at a fascinating time for Americans generally, and for Bellydance specifically.

I should also say its not my vision alone, if anybody it is that of Jon Brandeis, the director of the documentary. He is the one filming and editing, not me. I have great faith and trust in his ability and integrity to make an excellent film. I think 99% of people will be happy with it. BUT, neither he nor I are out to please the Bellydance world. That would be easy.

We are out to dig into what makes this art work; why and what it all means; why it is happening in America particularly after September 11th. Do we bring up controversies, show blemishes and ask tough questions? Yes.

At the end of the day I want all Americans to appreciate this dance and the people who support it, live it, and struggle for it. Their story is fascinating and needs to be told. It is sometimes the outsider who can do this the best. I hope I am that outsider.

9) February 12th launches our second tour of the US nine weeks, 52 cities. The dancers throughout the tour will be Ansuya, Amar Gamal, Sonia, and Kaeshi. Rachel Brice will do all shows but three. Jillina performs the first two weeks and the last two weeks. She will be replaced by Bozenka from Miami (Tamalyn Dallal’s partner who also taught Shakira.) Newly joining us, and both being discovered on the last tour is Yasmin from Charlotte, North Carolina and Petite Jamilla from Birmingham, Alabama.

Yasmin is an accomplished dancer and has a very successful Bellydance school in Charlotte. Petit Jamilla, aside from her dancing skills, is also a musician who will show her unique talent, playing the bagpipes. This will be interesting. Also joining the tour dates will be Dondi and her alter ego Marilyn.

The Desert Roses, Colleen, Georgianne, and Kaeshi will be joined by several yet to be determined roses; and two tribal dancers to work with Rachel Brice. I want to include a greater tribal element in the upcoming tour.

Our master drummer, Issam Houshan will also join us for the tour. Also we will be inviting local star dancers to perform in each city, as we did on the last tour.

We will be carrying with us a well stocked vending booth of CD’s, DVD’s, Egyptian imported hip scarves and our new Bellystar line of apparel.

More questions and answer to follow soon!

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

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