Gilded Serpent presents...

Becoming the Object of Your Own Fantasy

Diane Webber and the "Perfumes of Araby" in the 1970s, Part 2

Diane Webber

by Stasha Vlasuk
posted August 8, 2011
Part 1: posted here
Part 2: posted here You are here!
Part 3: posted here

From Part One: This article will focus on the iconic 1970s “Perfumes of Araby” belly dance troupe, lead by the almost mythical performer/actress/teacher Diane Webber, my teacher.  I was there!  Through a selection of our performances in that era we’ll explore dance and costuming as becoming the object of your own fantasy.  The article also touches on paradoxes of our art form: the performance setting creating a artificial boundary within which we feel free to have intimate exposure (and how costuming facilitates that), and the seeming female accommodation of male sexism actually a proclamation of autonomy and a pathway to power. 

The Perfumes moved on to several other outdoor festivals for the rest of the 70s.

At the Calabassas Pumpkin Festival, during the month of October, twice a weekend in often 100+ degree weather, more than a dozen dancers and half a dozen musicians put on an hour long show before quite a lively audience!  Each of us had a signature costume color, mine was yellow.  One memorable event happened during our performance of a serious North African Guedra dance.  The company all lines up stage front to create a screen while our Guedra dancers position themselves mid stage. 

We are packed tightly shoulder to shoulder, impulsing to the dramatic beat with great solidarity: traditional hand gestures, chest drops, all very serious and trance like.  This mood was broken however by a guy at the back of the 200 plus audience, who stood on his chair, raised his beer glass and shouted "The one in the yellooooow…." then actually fell completely backwards like a tree that had just been cut!  I hope he was OK!

pumpkin fest
1973 Pumpkin Festival

 

pumpkin fest
 1973 Pumpkin Festival Snake Dancer Teresa Davis

 

pumpkin fest
 1973 Pumpkin Festival L to R : Rhonda, Anaheed Mary Ann Cappa, Khadija Cynthia Beck, Ann Graca,
Yvonne Partidge, Margaret Turner, Sam King, Stasha Qamar Vlasuk, Donna Bella, ?
 
pumpkin fest
 Perfumes of Araby 1974 Pumpkin Festival, from R to L this time : Rhonda, Yvonne Partridge, Maryann Krakow, Margaret Turner, Shirin,
Pat, Ann, Jann Goldsby, Stasha Qamar Vlasuk (the one in the Yelloooow!), ?, Maya Knight, Ann Graca, Khadija Cynthia Beck, ? , ?
 Photo J. Webber
 
 
pumpkin fest
 1974 Pumpkin Festival,  
Photo J. Webber
 
pumpkin fest
  1974 Pumpkin Festival,   L to R: Stasha Vlasuk, Yvonne Partridge  
Photo J. Webber
 
pumpkin fest
 1974 Pumpkin Festival,
 Photo J. Webber
Photo actually from the H'wood party that was asked to "tone it down"
"One private party experience performed in the vast
back yard of a Hollywood mogul’s estate got so loud
and rowdy that the show was stopped mid way and
we were asked to tone it down!
"

Beginning in 1973 the prestigious Pasadena university Cal Tech invited the Perfumes of Araby to perform annually the week before finals in order to “relieve student tension”.  How delightful now to look at the audience in the background of these pictures: love that 70s fashion.  We also starred in the evening entertainment at the very first Equicon Science Fiction Convention, another bastion of brainiacs.

detailLos Angeles being a media town our performances often had “stellar” spectators. One Pumpkin Festival afternoon, off to the side of the stage stood David Carradine, star of the popular “Kung Fu” TV series, with his jaw dropped.  Although I didn’t see him, I’m told George Harrison, my favorite Beatle, attended one of our Beverly Glen Art Festival performances (he had a house in the neighborhood at that time).  One private party experience performed in the vast back yard of a Hollywood mogul’s estate got so loud and rowdy that the show was stopped mid way and we were asked to tone it down!

During the the mid-70s we added a costumer to our roster: Kathy Sanders added her expertise in helping us manifest Diane’s vision with continuity.  We all avidly scoured historical sources to create our “Turkish court costumes” and some of us included jeweled pillbox hats.

By 1975 Diane designed a bold new costume element inspired in part by Jerome’s “Woman of Cairo at Her Door”: an “under the bust” vest with a sheer blouse.  Because our outdoor festivals were so hot, most of us opted to create sleeveless versions.  Some of us varied the “peek-a-boo” factor by doubling the fabric or building the blouse on a sheer fabric bra.  In an almost archetypal will to power, Diane encouraged us to utilize our costuming – and our dance – as a way to search out and expand our own unique spirit, fantasy and physique, something I try to continue with my students today: become the object of your own fantasy.

How were we as a group bold enough to appear in public in these spicy outfits?  We achieved this confidence through combinations of sociological perspective that are most probably endemic in your performing troupe as well.  We brought all these factors to our shows.  Read all about it in part 3!

Logo by

Logo drawn by Alicia Austin
perfumes
 Cal Tech 1973
perfumes
Cal Tech 1973  with Louie Sayeg, drummer
perfumes
Beverly Glen Art Festival poster:

Regarding the festival poster: Shira Jane contributes, "
Suzanne Dunaway was the artist for the Beverly Glen Fair poster. She used to live in the Glen but now she lives in Italy with her husband. She is a really cool lady. – www.suzannedunaway.com/

Suzanne’s response to Stasha note regarding this article and our use of her artwork:

"Dear Stasha,
I am honored and touched that you used the dancer (I love it, too, I have to admit) in Diane’s tribute. She was one helluva woman and belly dancer, and my years in the Glen as editor of the Glenite and Glen Fair worker, and simply resident of the Glen, would never have been complete without her dancing each year at the fair. We adored her music and style and looks and personality and kind heart.
Thank you again for going ahead and using the symbol of her wonderful talent.
Affectionately, and sad to hear of her death,
Suzanne"

perfumes
 Beverly Glen Art Festival 1975, L to R : Teresa Davis, Anaheed Mary Ann Cappa, My Lucky Dad, me (Stasha Vlasuk) and Maryann Krakow

 

 Interesting links
Costume inspirations
Orientalist books to read online:
Author’s Photo Credits:
Most of the pix come from my personal archive; I supply the links for the web sites of other photos in the "interesting links" section.    I encourage you to visit these sites as they contain further (and interesting) information plus exciting video montages for which there’s simply not enough space in this GS article!  
 

 

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Ready for more?

  • Becoming the Object of Your Own Fantasy, "Perfumes of Araby" in the 1970s, Part 1
    The Belly dance scene in 1970s Los Angeles: It is difficult to spotlight succinctly even one portion of a vibrant, vast and quickly growing community of Middle Eastern dancers, their enthusiasts, and the ethnic communities, musicians, festivals and supper clubs that supported the dance arts. The abundance of inspiration in that era was almost beyond understanding; yet once upon a time before the Internet, music, imagery and information was less readily available.
  • We Will Rak You! My Dance Experience with Queen
    I’ll admit I wasn’t too familiar with the music of the British rock group Queen. The year was 1977, the month of December, in Los Angeles. I was invited to perform at a dinner party where Queen, in Los Angeles for several concerts, was the guest of honor. The job came to me through Dianne Webber.
  • 10-9-08 A Big Picture Book Review: Martha Burns’ "Belly Dance, Celebrating the Sacred Feminine" Reviewed by Stasha
    Every page is a work of art, a truly astonishing array of images. The content is very inclusive and features all age ranges, body types and styles. You will see yourself, your best self, in these pages.
  • 12-3-02 “Adventures In Belly Dance Costuming” by Stasha Vlasuk, Vol 1 book review by Robin Alnisa Wood
    This is a good book for both sewing veterans and beginners alike.
  • Carnival of Stars, Page 4: O-Z Photos
    The Carnival of Stars Festival is produced by Pepper Alexandria and Latifa at the Richmond Auditorium each year at the beginning of August. The stage at this facility is hard to beat. The wonderful lighting and the large stage make every dancer feel like a diva! Once again, Carl has done an amazing job catching the character of each dancer.
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    Ahmet is a sexy and masculine dancer who combines a sense of playful humor and has the dedication and drive of a consummate professional. He pushed us hard, laughed, and encouraged us.
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    The Carnival of Stars Festival is produced by Pepper Alexandria and Latifa at the Richmond Auditorium each year at the beginning of August. The stage at this facility is hard to beat. The wonderful lighting and the large stage make every dancer feel like a diva! Once again, Carl has done an amazing job catching the character of each dancer.
  • Incredible Helena Vlahos! Magic, Mojo and Inspiration
    There was this beautiful, magical Belly dance woman who was bold, confident, and paving a wave of inspiration and independence.
  • Dancer Cancer, Part Two: Who? Me?
    Still, the human heart is woven with threads of hope, and mine did not doubt that if I could make it through the onslaught of doctors, surgeries, pain, and gymnastic therapy, I would, someday dance again.
  • Carnival of Stars, Page 2: D-H Photos
    The Carnival of Stars Festival is produced by Pepper Alexandria and Latifa at the Richmond Auditorium each year at the beginning of August. The stage at this facility is hard to beat. The wonderful lighting and the large stage make every dancer feel like a diva! Once again, Carl has done an amazing job catching the character of each dancer.
  • Dance Festival Warms Oslo Winter, Oslo Oriental Dance Festival 2011
    This competition is not open to professional dancers, and judges are required to give constructive feedback to encourage growth.
  • Bellydance ‘n All that Jazz, Trends in Tribal Fusion
    For some dancers, it can be easier to relate to music from one’s own culture than it is to music from halfway around the world.

   |       |    2 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    tracey farmer

    Aug 20, 2011 - 11:08:42

    Thank you! Thank you!  I was priveleged to be one of her students!  I work with Anaheed today with her Cafe/Cabaret Beledy shows and Swap Meets!  I hope she’s seen these photos!

  2. No Gravatar
    kathy

    Sep 22, 2011 - 05:09:21

    Maryann Krakow, on the right side of  the group photo with Stasha’s dad passed away earlier this month.

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