Bwitchs, the International Belly Dance Fusion Festival, will present a refreshing take to the dance form, with fusion versions using Kathak, Lavani, Odissi, and much more. It also busts several myths with workshops on belly dancing for men and for pregnant women
The history of belly dance is a much-debated topic and shrouded in mystery to some extent. Belly dance consists of a mixture of different dance styles with different origins. Many experts say belly dancing is the oldest form of dance, having roots in all ancient cultures from the orient to India to the Middle East. A popular theory is that belly dance began as a traditional birthing practice to help ease the pains of childbirth.
Leena Viie at the Hipnosis International Belly Dance Festival, Bengaluru
Throughout history, this ritualised expression has usually been performed for other women, generally during fertility rites or parties preparing a young woman for marriage. In most cases, the presence of men is not permitted. The term “belly dance” is a translation of the French term “danse du ventre”, which was applied to the dance in the Victorian era, and probably originally referred to the Ouled Nail dancers of Algeria, whose dance used more abdominal movements than the dances described today as “belly dance”.
Daniell at a performance
Mumbai will soon host Bwitchs, International Belly Dance Fusion Festival that will give people a chance to attend various workshops where belly dancing is fused with other dance forms like Kathak, Lavani, Flamenco, Burlesque, Tribal Belly Dance and many other influences. For this festival, dancers from France, Portugal, Russia, and Spain will collaborate with Indian dancers to create unique dance experiences. The festival has been conceptualised and curated by Leena Viie, a Mumbai based belly dancer who left her corporate lifestyle to pursue dance.
On: March 7 and 8, 9.30 am
At: The Hive, 50-A, Huma Mansion, opposite Ahmed BakeryChuim Village Road, Khar (W).
Log on to: bookmyshow.com (for schedule and tickets)
Arun Bhardwaj started dancing at the age of 16 in Pathankot. He learnt belly dancing, Odissi, Jazz, and Ballet. Today, though he loves belly dancing in its original form, he tries to fuse it with different art forms. When he started out he faced a lot of challenges, including opposition from his otherwise supportive and broad-minded parents. “Belly dancing, In India, is not acceptable for women; and men have it even tougher,” he admits.
“People judge you as soon as you tell them you are a belly dancer. However, if you practice Indian classical dancing, they are not as judgmental. I have learnt both, and the fact is that just like Indian classical dance, in belly dancing too, men and women play different roles but the steps and the process of learning is the same for both. Why then should we create a bias based on gender?” he asks. Nowadays, Bhardwaj sees a change; people watch his performance, applaud and congratulate him. There, however, is a long way to go. “None of my students in Pune, where I am based and hold my dance classes, are male. Men feel shy because of how people will perceive them. With workshops like this, I am hoping to begin to change that mindset,” he concludes.
Belly Dancing for mummies
Chaitali Soparkar, who is the mother of a newborn child, will be conducting the belly dance workshop for pregnant women. The workshop targets three kinds of women – those who are trying to conceive, those in their pregnancy period (post 13 weeks) and post pregnancy.
“Every time a woman goes through stress, different body parts get stiff. While trying to conceive, you are advised to swim and exercise. Our routines have similar movements. It strengthens your core, by strengthening the muscles with hip movements. It creates space for the baby, feel-good hormones are released and better posture is achieved,” she explains. “Women who are pregnant, after getting good rest for the first thirteen weeks, are advised to practice yoga and walking. Belly dancing is absolutely safe at that time and can be continued till one delivers. We have specially designed soft, mild movements that can be done in one flow, including shoulder shimmies. Post-delivery too, as soon as you settle in, to resume work, you can restart belly dance sessions,” she suggests.
'Belly dancing is a body-friendly dance form'
Q&A with Leena Viee, Curator of Bwitchs, International Belly Dancing Fusion Festival
Q. What attracted you to belly dancing?
A. I am a gypsy soul. I travel a lot. I quit a corporate job to do what I loved the most — dance. While focusing on belly dance, I cross-trained in other contemporary and classical forms like Ballet, Odissi, Kathak, which lends flair and solidity to one’s technique while serving as a resource for fusions. Belly dancing is natural to a woman's bone and muscle structure with movements emanating from the torso rather than in the legs and feet. The dance often focuses upon isolating different parts of the body, moving them independently in sensuous patterns, weaving together the entire feminine form. It’s what attracted me to the form. I discovered my passion for dance in my mid-twenties, which is very late for many classical forms such as ballet. Belly dance is body-friendly and welcoming for any age group and shape. Belly dance came to India and gained popularity via reality shows and then, Bollywood. Though Bollywood does, at times, showcase a rather garish version of it.
Q. What challenges did you face when you chose this unconventional career?
A. It’s different from the corporate world that I stepped out of. The dance form is seen only as an entertainment form by the industry. Belly dancers are employed to entertain in weddings, parties, and corporate shows. Phrases like, ‘we need Russian Belly dancers’ come to mean that blonde or blue-eyed tall girls are mainly the best bet for a client’s requirements. It’s quite infuriating to know that agents still tout white skin as superior! You’d notice it in Bollywood songs too. Agents need to seriously wake up to the talent within the country, among us Indians who take the form seriously. Hence, this festival is to awaken people into the reality that this form is ultra-feminine and maybe sensuous and entertaining but it is an art form, and a serious one.
Q. Are there any pre requisites to learn belly dance? How long does it take to master the art?
A. It’s welcoming for anyone! That’s the best part of this form. Mastering the art is a continuous process but it takes at least a few years to get set.
Bust the myth
"Probably, the greatest misconception about belly dancing is that it is intended to entertain men. It is likely that men will get attracted to graceful dancers in their full swing, but that is not the purpose of the dance. Belly dancing helps one get in control of their body and mind, and not necessarily titillate someone," explains Viie.
Music for Belly Dance
Music for tribal belly dancing includes a wide range of sounds, usually with a lot of percussion instruments. An Egyptian orchestra typically consists of violins, accordions, frame drums, finger cymbals, and flutes. Tribal belly dancers tend to favour music based on folk songs, or songs from past decades. Mohamed Alnuma, a French musician, who will be playing the Oud for the belly dance performance of his wife Daniell Alnuma, says that they are trying a different take from the usual music meant for belly dance. "We are not using any percussion for our performance which is characteristic of belly dance performances," he reveals.
Workshops to pick from
>> Yoga for Dramatic Tribal Moves with Katerina Jiva: This workshop works to strengthen the muscles of the back and spine. These exercises will help you do backbends safely, without misalignment or injury.
>> Thai Nails Fusion with Mar Gonzalez: This will focus on hand and arm movements inspired by Odissi and Tribal Fusion.
>> Lavni Bellydance and Kathak Bellydance with Yagna & Smita: Lavani is a popular form of folk dance in Maharashtra. In this workshop the students will be taught a Lavani Toda (entrance piece) choreography wherein Middle eastern and Marathi folk. Moves will be fused to the enchanting beats of Ghungroo, Dholaki, Dhol, Daf and Lezim.
>> Yoga Belly Fusion with Dipika and Sanjana: This will fuse fitness and belly dance.
>> Persian dance and Sufi Whirling with Chantelle: It will focus on teaching basic lyrical movements and poses, various techniques for turning, dancing while whirling, all fused with belly dance.
>> Flamenco Tribal Fusion with Mar Gonzalez: This workshop will explore key details such as tribal-flamenco posture, grand flamenco arms, eye contact, cues, and expression, articulate hand movements ‘floreos’.
>> Awaken the Kali Goddess with Archana
>> Fluid Tribal Bellydance with Arun Bhardwaj: This explores technique and styling of Tribal Fusion with and emphasis on musicality and fluidity of movement. He is India’s first tribal fusion male belly dancer.
Hafla is an Arabic word meaning a party or social gathering. In belly dance lingo, it is used to describe an event where students, professionals, and members of the public come together to immerse in the art of belly dance. It is also used as an open performance platform for dancers of all levels to showcase their skills in front of an encouraging audience. While in early times it was only for and by women, this event will be kept open to all.