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One of my favorite parts of visiting the Serena Belly Dance Museum was seeing all of her old albums. Take a look and listen to the belly beats playlist! Enjoy!

 

 

 

There are still several albums that I can’t find recordings of online, but you can order the vinyl if it interests you.

Here are some of the albums that were not on Spotify, but are on itunes.

The Greek Way – Gus Vali: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-greek-way/id979494971

Festive Dance Music From The Middle East – Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak & Hakki Obadia Orchestra: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/festive-dance-music-from-middle/id1004020686

Exotic Belly Dancers – Middle Eastern Ensemble: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/exotic-belly-dances-classics/id268865865

 

 

 

 

 

Interviews are back! Yay! Now they are in the form of podcasts – which I’m really excited about. Right now the first TBB podcast – an interview with Scott Wilson and Leni Cohen about the iconic Serena Wilson-  is available on soundcloud and will soon be available on itunes.

Listen to here:

 

 

You can follow along with the transcript below and also see photos, videos and listen to music! Enjoy!

ALL ROADS LEAD BACK TO SERENA PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Intro

Hey Everyone! My name is Sara Nazely and I have a blog called The Belly Blog. I post a lot of information about middle eastern music, dance history and dancers from the past.

But my favorite part about blogging is interviewing dancers and musicians that I admire. In the past I have done written or video interviews which you can find on thebellyblog.com, but now I am changing over to the podcast format.

My first interview in this format is with Scott Wilson who is the son of Serena Wilson and a fantastic oud player and his wife, Leni Cohen. Many of you may have heard of Serena Wilson who was fabulous dancer here in NY. She really helped to popularize and legitimize belly dance – specifically cabaret style. She owned her own studio, wrote books, had her own tv show – you name it…

Unfortunately, I never got to meet her, but lucky for us Scott is still very involved in the belly dance community whether it is playing oud, making sure Serena’s technique is still taught or setting up the wonderful museum in her memory where I got the chance to interview him and Leni  about her life.

If you live in NY or are visiting in the next week you have to make a stop at The Serena Belly Dance Museum is at Showplace Design Center: Gallery 110. 40 West 25th Street NYC. It’s running through December 30th  Open from 10 am – 6pm  Monday through Friday and 8:30 am -5:30 pm Saturday and Sunday and admission is free so you really don’t have an excuse not to go.

I apologize in advance for the sound quality. The museum is right next to a little cafe so there is some background noise.

I hope you enjoy and keep coming back for more podcasts from The Belly Blog!

  

 

 

SCOTT WILSON: So, I’m Scott Wilson, Serena was my mother and when she was around 17 or 18, my father had a dixieland band and he was hired with his band and they wanted a belly dancer for one of the jobs that he did, he played the drums and the piano, it was a full dixieland band, 7 or 8 pieces. So, my mother said she’d put on some veils and dance around with a jug  and she was sort of bitten by the bug of trying to learn more about Middle Eastern dance. And back then there were all kinds of clubs on 8th avenue on 28th street there was like 5 or 6 clubs – some in the village. They were usually owned by Greeks but they had Turkish musicians, some of them had Arabic musicians, Greek musicians, Armenian musicians – they played the oud, the kanoon the clarinet. So, my mother went there, and she put together a costume and she watched some of the other dancers who didn’t want her to steal their steps. So she developed her own style…

 

 

SARA NAZELY: Like who? Who did She watch?


SW
:  Jamila Omar, Minée (pronounced mee-nay) Coşkun, Soraya Melik

LENI COHEN: Özel Turkbas

SW: Özel came a little later and Nejla Ates

video by Scott

 

 

SN: Okay so – sorry, do you mind if I grab this? Let me rewind back to before you’re born. Did your mom dabble in other types of dance?

SW: Well she studied with Ruth St. Denis when she was younger. Ruth St. Denis was elder but she’d sit on a bench and do arm movements and stuff like that. So Serena…Was it Ruth St. Denis?

LC: Yea, Yea, she studied Modern Dance with Ruth St. Denis.

SN: So is that how she got into the whole Oriental…maybe? I don’t know…

SW: Well, living in NY you can find anything in NY and the bellydance wasn’t  – it was popular in the ethnic clubs, but tourists would go to those, and in 1973 –  ‘2? I thought it said ‘2…

LC: The life magazine? It’s ’73

SW: 1973 my mother had her own belly dance studio…

 

 

 

 

LC: You’re right Scott, ’72, you’re right

SW: Serena had her own belly dance studio and there was a very famous socialite Cassie Keirnan

LC: Cassie Kernan

SW: Cassie Kernan – was studying bellydancing with Serena, and the media found out about that and they were interested in where she was studying and why and everything. So …where is she pictured?[Looking at Magazine] This Life magazine 1927 February was published all over the world in many different languages and it really I feel helped put belly dancing on the map as an art.  That was the beginning for it.

 

SN: What else did she do to kind of make it seen more as an art?

SW: She wrote a book, (buy it here) he wrote several books and the first one was published by Drake Publishing and they sent her touring all over the country to promote her book.

 

SN: Wow, that’s really cool  – What did she sort of write about?

SW: The Serena Technique

SN: What is her technique? Can you explain it?

LC: Yea – Should I introduce myself?

SN: Sure! Yea – Absolutely!

LC: So, I’m Leni Cohen, and I got interested in bellydancing around 1995. I lived in Queens and I met Layla Mary who is a dance teacher. I started taking classes and I had such a good time and she used to talk so often about her teacher Serena and how famous she was and how great she was and how like part of the family she was and I knew one day I would get to meet her and I was very excited because she was so famous. And then as I danced with Layla I became better and better and she allowed me to start opening her shows for her. So, when I did my first live music show I met Scott Wilson, who is Serena’s son, and he was also belly dance royalty. I had a CD of his and I had him sign it for me and then before you knew it i was dating him and I married him. [laughter] And that is how I became Serena’s daughter in law.  So I learned the Serena technique through Layla, I didn’t study with Serena directly – but through Layla.

So The Serena Technique involves 9 basic body positions (show illustrations of the positions)and also an emphasis on good posture and beautiful arm movements and very clean isolations. So often you can tell a Serena dancer because she’s got beautiful arms, she’s got graceful hands  – almost balletic hands and she’s always aware of her posture and what her arms are doing and the alignment of her body. Not all belly dancers pay attention to all those things all at once but in the Serena Technique you do.

SW: She came up with her own 9 basic body positions for the foundation of her technique of the dance. So she was the first really to write a book on how to do the dance and the first to have an organized system of these basic body positions.

SN: A way to teach it

LC: A way to break everything down into small components to make some of these movements that seem very challenging if you’ve ever tried it – if you ever tried to do an undulation – a forward undulation, a reverse undulation or do your hips in figure 8s  – belly dancers make it look very easy but if you’re not used to isolating that body part it’s really challenging to do a head slide or a rib cage isolation. But she knew how to break it down into different parts to help you then put the parts together and make the movement look smooth and then to take all those different pieces and put them together into choreographies that look natural on a woman’s body.

 

SN: I read online that she had a t.v. show, is that true?

SW: Yes, [Louran studios?] and I forgot who sponsored it, it might have been Paley also sponsored this 20 minute show, mix commercials in it comes up to 30 minutes.

SN: Was it a weekly thing?

SW: They just taped the pilot for the whole thing and then it was just shown lightyears later on the internet

 

 

 

Every time there was a slow news day though, Serena was often on t.v. and I played a lot of times with her. Usually it was like a little 10 minute segment about bellydancing, who’s bellydancing, and Serena was also on “To Tell The Truth,” where you had to…

SN: Oh was she??? I LOVE that show! [*I was VERY excited lol*]

SW: Serena and two other women who were not belly dancers and they had to figure out…

SN: So she did the whole “ I’m Serena Wilson, I’m Serena Wilson…” [laughter]

SW: Yes, she did

SN: I love that! Is that online?

SW: And she was on What’s my Line also – there’s a little portion of it in black and white

Illustration of a belly dancer with zills from “What’s My Line”

 

*I spent hours searching for more footage because as you can tell from the podcast I have a slight obsession with What’s My Line and To Tell The Truth lol (I blame my mom). I did determine that this clip was from 1969 (based on the host and panelists) and my mom actually found this clip from a different website, which is from a film about television in the 60’s.*

LONGER CLIP HERE!!!!

LC: Unfortunately, years ago it wasn’t easy to record things. I mean now you can have video of everything you do. But back then it’s just such a gem when you can find a little piece of black and white footage from something from long ago. It’s so important.

SN: I guess I didn’t realize exactly how well known she was, but it seems like…she was on all those shows – that’s a pretty big deal right?

LC: I feel like almost every belly dancer you meet has a connection to Serena. If they didn’t study with her directly. Then it’s very possible that she studied with someone that studied with… Like in my case I studied with Layla who is a protege of Serena.

*Part of Leni’s response had to be edited because of a plate dropping in the background, but her full quote was ” Then it’s very possible that she studied with someone that studied with someone that studied with Serena, all roads lead back to Serena”. I loved that*

SW: She also I mean she wrote books, she had this school that was in the height of it’s popularity a few years ago, she brought groups over to Turkey – tour groups.

SN: Did you go?

SW: I went many times

LC: I didn’t go with Serena, but you know when Scott and I got married in 2003 of course we went to Istanbul on honeymoon. In fact, that’s where we got this costume. This red white and blue sparkle costume. So this really really fun costume that looks like the American flag. It’s all sparkly it’s red, white, and blue with stars and stripes and beaded fringe on it, and we got that in the grand bazaar in Istanbul. It was so funny because that man who sold it to us was laughing at it like “hahaha look  it’s the American Flag on a costume – everybody knows Americans don’t belly dance” [laughter] and we thought that was such a great joke so we said – oh we gotta get that and bring it to Serena.

SN: Can you tell the story about how Scott tricks people in Turkey?

LC: Yea, I was telling Sara how on our honeymoon..Well 3 times I went with Scott to Turkey and we would go to the grand bazaar or go into the music stores and Scott who is as un- Middle Eastern looking as a person could possibly be [laughter] would walk in, with cameras around the neck and obviously a tourist and ask about the instruments he would point to an oud, now of course Scott is famous for being an oud player, so he would point to an oud and say “what’s that?” and then they would explain to him – “it’s an instrument, it’s called an oud, it has a lot of strings, it looks like a guitar.” They’d play a little something and hand it to him they’d expect him to maybe pluck a string or two and he would pluck a string or two and sound like he didn’t know what he was doing and all of a sudden go into Bir Dimet or Rompi Rompi and start playing it and singing it in Turkish and they would go wild and my job was to hold the video camera [laughter] and tape the reaction to not only the person selling the instrument, but also everybody all around who started clapping and dancing along.

 

SW: But in 2000 I became a little bit popular in Turkey, I was on t.v. a number of times plus I had learned to speak Turkish and I had learned a lot of their popular songs and played them on the oud. I was on national television and news programs as an oddity – an American who has learned some of the language and to sing and play their popular music.

LC: Oh you know something else funny, do you remember a couple of years ago when you were in Turkey and you were recording music and just about when you came back to America President Obama took a trip there and for some reason they took it as you made the path for him and then the headline in the Hürriyet, the Turkish newspaper, was something in Turkish that translates to American musician Scott Wilson paves the way for President Obama to visit Turkey. [laughter]

SN: That is awesome! I hope you have that!

LC: We have a copy of that. I didn’t know what it said it had his picture on the cover of the newspaper even after he had returned back from Turkey and we asked one of our friends to translate it because we saw Obama’s name on and it translated to “American musician Scott Wilson paves the way for American President Obama to come to Turkey.”

SW: But years late we went there and people would come up to me and say “oh, I saw you on t.v. last night. I said I wasn’t on t.v. It turned out to be re-runs. They were playing re-runs of the original show.

SN: Wow! you’re famous in Turkey – that’s awesome! [laughter]

LC: People recognized the american oud player

SN: Can you talk a little bit about trips with your mom to Turkey? and what’ it’s like – what was it like to play with her?

SW: I played with her a lot here in the United States. We did a lot of shows together. Serena and her school never did anything like stag parties – no all men parties. It was often cultural events, weddings..

LC: Haflas too

SW: The only time I went to a stag party with a belly dancer was an anesthesiologist – they’re all 80 year old doctors and the dancer and I who did that show felt it was pretty safe and it was – it was in a public space and they were almost comatose themselves. [laughter]

LC: Serena went along on a lot of gigs where she hired a dancer to go play to go dance at and if Scott wasn’t accompanying them and it was just a dancer doing a show, if it was not in a restaurant that was very public, Serena would accompany them.

SW: My father played the drum – the dumbek it’s called and I played oud, my mother would perform. We were part of a show called 90 minutes around the world run by International House. So we traveled around quite a bit doing that too.

SN: I’m wondering more what your feelings were about playing as a family…it seems so special to me i guess… I’m just wondering how that impacted you …

SW: Well family bickering would go on but we were fortunate that we went to Greece in 1973, the three of us, my mother was going to teach dance, I was going to play for her, my father played the drum. It was one of the greatest summers of my life. We spent about 3 months in Greece at this school set up for American tourists who’d go there not only to see Greece but learn from different aspects. So she taught belly dancing, I played for her and I rode around on a motorcycle all day long.

 

LC: When you were growing up didn’t you idolize the oud players that used play for her?

SW: Oh yea, well when I was 12/13 –  which is a miserable age for boys – too old for toys and too young for girls, my mother had these oud players who were like 18/19 years old back then..

SN: Do you remember any of their names? Were they famous?

SW: Oh yea, I have a picture of one here his name is Bob Zakian

SN: The guy with the bow tie? [looking at photo]

SW: And he was something else

LC: That was Bob Zakian?

SW: Bob Zakian – yea, and he was Armenian a lot of oud players were Armenian because there was migrations from the 1930’s and 40’s escaping Europe who brought their instruments here and lived here and from WWI too.

SN: Right, that’s like the main Armenian influx [not being a know it all lol..just Armenian 🙂]

SW: I think in Ellis Island there is an oud hanging there

SN: Is there really?

SW: It was confiscated from somebody

SN: How funny!

SW: Who was probably up to mischief…

SN: That is too funny!

LC: Didn’t you used to pose with the oud when you were really playing with your mother?

SW: Oh yea, I could barely play and I was running around playing all over the place so I would spend more time posing in front of the mirror. [laughter] I went into music to meet girls basically and then later on fell in love with it.

SN: I appreciate your honesty [laughter]

LC: Don’t belly dancers do that too though? Buy a costume and ..

SW: Well John Lennon said the same thing

SN: Well if John Lennon said it…

LC: John Lennon’s mother didn’t have a belly dancing studio with belly dancers all around [laughter]

SW: He did all right for himself

SN: He did, I’m sure [laughing]. Leni, last time I was here you were talking about one of Serena’s favorite dances was the doll  – was it a doll dance?

LC: Yes so she created a dance

SN: Yes! that one! [looking at photo and costume]

 

 

LC: “The Kootch Dance” and it’s about a carnival doll that comes to life and this is one of the things she’s very known for. So she’s in what would you call it? Like a box  – like an enclosure – and she’s frozen and then the music starts to come on

SW: And it’s Calliope music

LC: Calliope music – little by little she starts to come to life and she really starts to dance and have fun and enjoy herself and then the music starts to get slower and slower and she gets slower and the music stops and then she goes back into her display and is no longer a live dancer but a doll once again.

SN: And that was one of her favorite pieces to perform right? Did you say that or no? Did I make that up?

LC: I don’t know if it was her favorite, it’s something that wasn’t exclusively a cabaret belly dance show, it was really special, there were several times in her life when she performed it so we have pictures here in the museum of when she was younger and then again when she was in her 70’s doing the dance and the actual costume she wore in it. One thing that she did win the Ruth St. Denis award for was the choreography to “Sisters”. So “Sisters” is a dance done without music just with zill playing, so two of her proteges did sort of a conversation in zills  –  and it was a little bit of dance and just a lot of music of the facial expression and fingers while they were zilling sort of telling the story of sisters who get into an argument and then make up all done without any talking and with minimal dancing mostly. So yea that was something that she also recreated over the years with different proteges from different eras.

SN: Do you think she had a favorite song to dance to?

LC: When she used to enter herself you mean? She used to have you play Gneega a lot didn’t she?

SW: Or the ha ha song?

LC: The ha ha song

SN: What’s the ha ha song?

SW: It’s an Armenian song

SN: It is??? I know Gneega but I don’t know the haha song

SW: *Sings*

SN: Oh yea….

 

LC: She liked up beat songs. She liked up beat energy songs and she liked to play her zills and really just come on in with energy and get the audience excited.

SN: Did she have a favorite memory of dancing that she would talk about – or ?

LC: She had so many…

SW: That’s it there? [pointing to photo]

SN: That one?

 

SW: She always wanted to be accepted as an artist connected with the ethnic world. And the feeling always was, well if you’re not Middle Eastern you can’t belly dance. And this this group behind her came and visited New York and they – they’re called the Ouled Naïl I believe, and they played a very primitive, very authentic type music and they wanted her to dance.

LC: She had a lot of really good stories though about how – there’s the one she likes to tell about when she tried to change her name.You correct me if I’m saying this wrong..

SW: You’re doing fine

LC: She used to say this all the time, she loved to tell people this story about how when she first started dancing  and she went into a night club and she said her name was Serena and the musician – the head musician was it that said to her, “Oh well you need to pick a more Middle Eastern sounding name and he said I think you should call yourself Fasolia and she said, “Fasolia?” And he said, “Yes – it means beautiful princess dancing in the night,” and she said, “Okay, I’ll make that my name.” [Laughter]So she was coming back to do the performance later that evening and the manager said, “Okay I’ll introduce you, what do you call yourself?” and she said, “Fasolia,” and he got HYSTERICAL and she asked him why and he said, “Fasolia –  that means beans [laughter].

not something you want to be named after lol…

SN: Yea beans with meat on it…[laughter]

LC: So after that she was Serena and that’s who she always was, just Serena.

SN: That is so funny [laughter]

LC: And she still liked to tell the story about you know Serena…

SN: That is so mean [laughter]

LC: Oh I think a lot of stuff happened like that over her career.

SW: Another highlight was that we got to perform many times on cruise ships in the late 70s and  early 80s. It was the Italian line and it was a real wonderful experience. I got so jaded after a while I didn’t even get off the boat [laughter] when it landed in some of the islands and mixed drinks, because they were duty free, they were like 25 cents for piña coladas so I certainly [indulged] [laughter].

LC: Serena was famous – one of the things she was very famous for was dancing with hand candles – doing beautiful motions, you know, around her head with them and one time she was doing a show and she did a back bend and her hair – her fall got caught in the flames – but the fire marshall was in the audience that night and he came and he put her out. But it happened a second time in that performance too, right, so he had to come again and put out her hair because it kept getting caught in the flames and then she just …

SN: My number one fear

LC: She didn’t do that anymore in that show [laughing]. she stopped the candles for that show then.

SW: Another show she did she came dancing out and she had a bra stuck to her back end.

SN: A bra?

LC: Yea her regular bra not her dance bra – her bra bra [laughing]

SN: That’s hilarious, how did she… get out of that? [laughter]

SW: I don’t know it was somebody must have run over. You went to school with [glue?] trap

stuck to your [purse?]

LC: Oh that’s another story

SN: Leni’s like “I’m not telling that story” [laughing]

LC: Things like that happen all the time. You leave home and you don’t realize or as a dancer, you know, you change and you don’t realize you’re still wearing something  – you know like sometimes dancers perform and they forget to take their glasses off so I guess a bra on your shoe is just something common that happens. [laughter]

Oh! and there’s the time when she broke the Guinness Book of World Records for dancing on a rug

SW: Dancing 9 hours straight on a carpet

SN: Wow!

LC:Yea somebody had a rug show and  – a display – and so she danced on their rug for 9 hours straight.

SW: I think there’s a picture

SN: That is amazing!

LC: Yea there’s a picture. She was in the store window dancing on the rug – maybe just a few bathroom breaks and food

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SW: We did a lot of rich peoples homes and some of the themes – they’d bring in animals like llamas and stuff like that and that was always very strange because these things would be chewing on furniture and pooping all over the place [laughing] and you’d be trying to perform

LC: A fantasy and a reality

SN: Yea –  right – exactly

SW: They had a camel and an elephant out on their lawn and they thought – ‘cause to make it a Middle Eastern theme you have camels and elephants and belly dancers and live music so…

SN:That is too funny

LC: I think a lot of belly dancing revolves around an orientalist fantasy and as we know fantasies and reality are not the same thing

SN:… Well – do you guys have any more funny stories to tell or should we talk about how the museum came about?

SW: I’m sure more will come to us..

SN: If you think of ‘em. But tell me how you put this together?

LC: Well, Serena had so many beautiful pieces just in her apartment just things she collected over the years from her trips to Turkey and Egypt and Morocco and her trips to the flea markets- she loved going to the flea markets so there are paintings and sculptures and tribal jewelry and record albums some of which have her picture on the cover. And she always wanted to have  people to come over to her apartment and see everything but there was just so much stuff she could never really set it up. So when she passed away 9 years ago, we started thinking about what would be a good way to honor her how can we keep her memory going and it didn’t seem as pressing at the time because the studio was still going the dance studio was still making lots of money, people were still coming for classes. And we started to realize about a year ago people who were coming to classes at Serena Studios didn’t even know who Serena was anymore because she’d been gone for so long. Didn’t even know that she was a real person  – they sort of think of her as a character – like when you go to McDonald’s you don’t ask to see Ronald McDonald, you know it’s just a name. And we didn’t want it to be like that – we wanted to make sure people understood there was a Serena and she was an important person and she was a trendsetter in belly dancing. And over the summer we started to think about getting together some of her items and trying to put them in a museum. So we contacted various museums including the gallery of FIT because Serena got her degree in fashion from FIT. We really couldn’t get anybody who was interested in having a showing. So then my husband said you know we can rent a place and just do that ourselves so we got a bunch of her things, Scott dusted them off, and we put them in a box and hired a truck, a moving truck and brought them here to the showplace galleries. We rented this space and then spent a couple of days decorating and putting tapestries on the wall and decided which pieces should go next to which pieces and also just deciding which ones we should take because there are still more things that aren’t even in the exhibit but Scott really wanted to give a flavor to different things she had. So we’ve got the jewelry, we’ve got the art, we’ve got pictures of Serena, books written by Serena, Album covers with her pictures, album covers with pictures of people from her era, and then scrapbooks full of photos  – one of just Serena and all the great things she did and photos of her and articles about her and then another scrapbook that’s just got great pictures of cabaret style belly dancing through the ages and you can look at the pictures and see how the women are dressed and get an idea from the hair-dos and the costumes whether it was the 50’s or 60’s or 70’s or 80’s. Another reason for the museum is there has been a trend to move away from cabaret style belly dancing and a lot of new people who are getting into the dance are going into tribal style or fusions and Serena was a cabaret purist and we want to make sure that people know what costumes looked like 20 years ago, 10 years ago, what beaded fringe looks like and the glamour and the glitz that goes with the cabaret style belly dancing so we thought it was really important to put it out there so people can see the cabaret style belly dancing which is a very important part in belly dance history.

 

 

 

 

 

SN: You guys did a fantastic job. It’s awesome. Okay my final question : what do you each of you think was the reason that she felt so connected to belly dance and the reason that it was, I guess, so special to her?

SW: Well, belly dancing and the art and the whole illusion of the Middle East is special to a lot of people. So probably because of the clubs in New York and seeing and hearing the music and even though people don’t speak the language the music just sticks in your head so it’s a combination of those things.

LC: One thing that I would say, of course Scott has known Serena a lot longer than I have, but, the femininity in cabaret belly dancing, even if you don’t agree with women putting on makeup and being glitzy and glamorous and dancing for an audience, even if you think that’s kind of old fashioned  – the femininity and the beauty of it was very important to Serena and is still very important to people who do cabaret dancing now. I think a lot of people like to put on a flouncy skirt and lots of Swarovski crystal and sparkly eyes and maybe a hairpiece and dress up. I think maybe from the time we were little girls we like to dress up, certainly in my era, I was born in the 60’s and back then that’s what little girls did and I think there’s a part of everybody that likes to play dress up. But I think another really important thing about Serena is she wasn’t just a belly dancer – she shaped belly dancing  – it really is who she was, she’s a person who is so important in the history of belly dancing, she couldn’t help the fact that she basically helped to create and promote cabaret belly dancing . So even though there were times especially when she was in her 70’s that  she said, “oh I’m just gonna go up to Woodstock this summer and not do any dancing and I don’t even want to be a part of it anymore. I don’t think i’ll do a show for a while,” but she couldn’t divorce herself from it because everybody knew who she was and so it was just always going to be a part of her life whether she wanted it to be or not.

SN: She sounds like an amazing person. I wish I could have met her.

LC: Can I just tell you something funny about the first time I met her?

SN: Yea, absolutely

LC: So I heard all about Serena from my teacher Layla Mary, and I’d seen pictures of Serena and she was always so glamorous and beautiful costume and beaded fringe and canes in her hand  – the glitter canes, and lots of lipstick and just that beautiful flirty face. And the first time I met her, I was already dating her son, and I thought, “oh my God what am I going to say to her when Ii meet her  – I’m so nervous.” Scott and I rode in the bus up to Woodstock to meet her at her summer home in Woodstock. And I was walking up the hill at the top of the hill is going to be Serena –  should i shake her hand? Should I put on more lipstick? What should I do? So I get up  to the top of the hill. She was wearing beat up dirty jeans with holes in the knees she was wearing a patchwork top, her hair was a mess, she had no make up on and she was holding an armful of guinea pigs [laughter] and that was my first vision of Serena and once I saw that I’m like it’s gonna be fine – I know the real Serena now so I know it’s gonna be fine.

SW: But also Leni is the daughter Serena never had. So I brought Leni up there and the two of them vanished [laughter]. And Leni was trying to call me on her cell phone – “help rescue me , Serena’s dressing me up in all this belly dance stuff” – and I had to come rescue you from her.

LC: ‘Cause I said to Scott make sure your mother knows I’m just a belly dance student. I’m not like a real dancer I’m just a student  – I’m a kindergarten teacher – I’m not like that I’m not glamourous-  I’m just a teacher. So the next thing I know she’s wrapping things on me draping things on me putting zills on my fingers – dressing me all up. So, so much for the “I’m just a kindergarten teacher”. Once she knew I was a student of Layla Mary’s who was her protege in her mind I was already a belly dancer. But also just so you know when Scott and I were first married back in 2003 even by that time there were so many hundreds of belly dancers in NY already I realized that if I didn’t want to be alone every Saturday night I was going to have to take up an instrument so I could be in the band with him. So I learned from his drummer at the time, Rocky, how to play the dumbek the darbuka, Middle Eastern drum, so I could travel along and do gigs with him which turned out to be a really good idea because there were hundreds of belly dancers but only about a dozen drummers.

SW: Last night

LC: Yea we played last night

SW: At the New Life Expo for Jehan

LC: Jehan and her dancers from Belly Dance America we played for them

SW: Leni played drummed, I played the oud..

LC: You have to be versatile because if there are a lot of belly dancers so you learn to play the drum or do something else so you can be a part of the world – a part of the belly dance world

SN: Thank you so much – oh! can you also say where the studio is now?

LC: So the Serena technique is now being taught out of Belly Dance America and also out of Champion studios, but if you go to our website which is serenastudiosonline.com you can see the whole schedule and which classes are being taught when and by what teacher.

SW: And I’m scottwilsonmusician.com

SN: Perfect. Do you have anything you want to..

LC: Well you can just visit us here at the museum because we’ll be here through December. So it’s at 40 west 25th street in manhattan and we’re downstairs on the lower level right near the cafe gallery 110 and if you come here we can show you all these beautiful things that we’re talking about, play a little music for you, you can throw on a hip scarf if the spirit moves you, we’ll show you some of the Serena technique if you don’t already know it and if you do already know it you can just come here with your friends and have some fun and reminisce with us about Serena Wilson who was arguably one of the most famous people in the world of cabaret belly dancing and also my mother in law.

SN: Awesome! Thank you guys so much!

 

 

Outro

Thank you so much for listening to the first Belly Bog podcast!

And a special thank you to Scott and Leni who were so accommodating and kind and shared so much.

You can read more about Serena on the serena studio website – serenastudiosonline.com or on my blog thebellyblog.com. I will be posting photos, music and additional information. You can also follow me on instagram and twitter @thebellyblog and like my page on facebook –  facebook.com/ you guessed it! The Belly Blog

I hope you’ll join me next time when I interview the legendary musician, Souren Baronian.

Thanks again for listening to The Belly Blog podcast!

 

So Here’s the Deal:

There’s not much out there on Boubouka. She is a Greek belly dancer who became well known in the 50’s and 60’s. She made appearances in several movies during that time. In 1956 at the age of 18, she moved to NY with her parents to pursue her dance dreams. And that’s it – that’s all I know!

If you guys know more, please share!

This is why I think she is so interesting:

Boubouka didn’t miss a single musical cue, she picked up on everything and translated the music into beautiful intricate movements or slow sinewy undulations . She was very uninhibited but somehow balanced her more aggressive movements with grace. What do you think?

xoxo

N

p.s. Happy New Year!!!!!!!

 

Music and dancing starts at 2:19 (in below video)

 

Videos were found on youtube.com. They are not my original content.

 

Okay so before we get started on Hoda, let me just tell you the back story about this post. I came across Hoda’s name a while ago and wrote it down on my list of posts to do. Yesterday, I picked her name at random and began to do some research, only to find there was nothing out there about her. This intrigued me more, so I searched through all kinds of sites – saw some things that I can’t un-see, lol, and finally came upon another blog that mentioned her name. The awesome/very informative blog is called unmundodeluz and it’s run by dancer, Giselle Habibi, who is a Mexican journalist, translator, belly dancer, and total sweetheart. The site was in spanish, but thanks to the interwebs I translated the page and my curiosity was heightened even more. Giselle wrote that Hoda was known for having clairvoyant dreams and that other dancers were superstitious and scared of her. I looked at the bottom of Giselle’s post and found that this information had come from a book entitled, “El Reinado de las Bailarinas” by Shokry Mohamed. So, I started trying to find the book. It doesn’t exist in America – obviously (*pulling out hair!*). I found out it was published in Madrid and I began searching for the title in Madrid library databases -Resultados de la búsqueda…0000. I looked for a bibliography so I could find out where Mohamed got his info – nada. Then I thought – why not just email Giselle? So that’s what I did, and literally minutes later I had a response and images of the section from the book about Hoda AND photos! I was so excited and it really reminded me of how tight knit our community is and how it and extends far beyond national borders  – so thank you, thank you, thank you Giselle for making this post possible! <3

SO HERE’S THE DEAL:

Hoda Shams El Din was one of the many amazing golden era dancers that performed at Badia Masabni‘s Casino Opera Club.

She was born in Damascus Syria in 1930, of Armenian parents (have not been able to confirm this). At an unknown time Hoda moved to Cairo, where her belly dance career began. She was an active dancer from about 1945-1965 and during that time was also featured in several films.

SO HERE’S THE DEAL:

Samara was born as Tahira in Baghdad, Iraq, 1963. She was born into a traditional Muslim family that wanted her to study engineering in Lebanon. They were not to pleased when she decided to do something more…creative. After moving to Lebanon, Tahira took the stage name, Samara, and became very inspired by Nadia Gamal, whom she asked for lessons. Nadia taught Samara three dances and advised that she develop a unique style.

Samara took that advice to heart and man did she come up with some unique stuff! She incorporated Polynesian, Greek and Indian and Spanish dance inspiration into her routines. She was also influenced by nature, for her NYE show in 1995, her concept was – the sea. “Her show opened with a huge clam shell on stage. As the music started, the lid was raised, and Samara slowly emerged, representing a pearl. Her costume was of the elaborate Lebanese variety, all in pearls,” (Samara: Sayyida Raks Sharqi, Best of Habibi). Even beyond incorporating different forms of dance, Samara had music written just for her (she also had her own band), and even used some American New Age fusion in her sets.

Samara’s distinct style gained her popularity and the name “Sayyida Raks Sharqi”(*) from the Lebanese press meaning, “Mistress of Oriental Dance.” After her first three years dancing in Lebanon (1981-1984), she began traveling and dancing around the world, ushering in her golden age from the mid 80’s-early 2000’s. She started out traveling to the cities of  Kano and Lagos in Nigeria and Abidjan in the Cote d’Ivoire. She later traveled to Europe and Arab countries as well.

Being so popular Samara had to regularly switch up her show, she would do this every 4-6 months, adding in new inspirations and music. She wanted to keep her fans on their toes and felt it was necessary for her to keep growing as an artist. She always wanted to out do herself, which in my opinion, is the best form of competition.

Learn more about Samara here.

Why I <3 HER:

You’ll see when you watch the videos! She is completely mesmerizing, I couldn’t stop watching video after video and I tried really hard to not make the longest youtube playlist of all time lol 😛 She’s very lively, incredibly creative and on top of that she has amazing technique. I’m also fascinated by her fusion of different styles, especially with all this talk I’ve been seeing recently about styles/categories of belly dance.

I hope you all enjoy the playlist!

xoxo

N

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLjrrLz1h329-zpqReULnJZZd7m61raLOc]

*I don’t know why Raks has a K and Sharqi has a Q…anybody?

Sorry for the delayed #TBT/ #FBF post guys! The inspiration for today’s post was found in a Facebook group called 1970’s Belly Dance! Which is a great page that promotes discussion about the art form and provides images and inspiration of dancers from the past. Anywayyyy…

SO HERE’S THE DEAL:

Lys (sometimes Liz) and Lyn Jamal, also known as Leila and Lamia were from (Cairo?/Alexandria?), Egypt. They were billed as the “Jamal Twins,” which they were not lol, and sometimes, more accurately, as the “Jamal Sisters.” According to 1970’s BD, the sisters lived across the street from Nadia Gamal and her family (jealous!!!!). The sisters were featured dancers in several films in Egypt and India. They came to the U.S. in the 50’s and they became a  “major sensation on the American cabaret scene in the 1950s, and a significant influence on many American dancers of the era (notably Morocco and Dahlena)” (Occidental Dancer). They were also close with Ibrahim Farrah and danced in his show at Fazil’s Dance Center in NYC.

Interesting fact : according to Moroccothe twins who had each been married for a long time, were still accompanied by both parents to their gigs. Their parents would even sit and wait in their dressing room between shows.

WHY I <3 THEM:

See for yourself!

From the film Anisa Hanafi – Skip to 22:45!!!! 

Her achievement was beauty, a delicate, fantastic beauty, created with brush and pencil. Almost unschooled in art, her life spent in prosaic places of the West and Middle West, she made pictures of haunting loveliness, suggesting Oriental lands she never saw and magical realms no one ever knew except in the dreams of childhood … ~St Louis Post-Dispatch

If you ever need inspiration for costume, mood, etc, definitely look up some art nouveau illustrators. Virginia Frances Sterrett is one of my all time favorites and she did an incredible illustrated version of the Arabian Nights (above).  She was born in 1900 in Chicago and unfortunately passed away when she was only 30. Just to put her in a little more context, she was illustrating in the same time period that  Badia Masabni was dancing, and her first commissioned work was published in 1920, the year after Tahia Carioca was born.

Hope you enjoy!

xoxo

N

gawaher

SO HERE’S THE DEAL:

There isn’t much info out there on Gawaher. I actually stumbled upon her when I was trying to find something about another dancer – Kawakeb, who I still haven’t really found anything about :/ Anyway, what I did find about her is from Academia de Danza Arabe Priscilla Adum‘s Facebook page. Gawaher was a golden age dancer born September 15th 1930 in Lebanon. She had a successful decade long career in Egypt where she made about 13 films. She retired from dancing in the 1960s when she married, her husband did not approve of her dancing. However, she came out of her retirement and danced in a few more movies after she and her husband were divorced. Unfortunately, she wasn’t allowed to have contact with her daughter after the divorce.

Academia de Danza Arabe Priscilla Adum posted a photo (seen above) that was from a vintage issue of Al Kawakeb Magazine (Egyptian celebrity/film magazine). The photo was accompanied by this article:

THE SAD GAWAHER

The Atomic Dancer Gawaher visited me at Kawakeb’s offices in Beirut. She was wearing a summery fabric dress made at Carven of Paris, and she asked me “What’s your opinion of me?”
“In regards to what?” I answered
And she said, “About {my} dance, art, beauty and elegance?
I swallowed hard and said, “Great!”
At this point, Gawaher raised her head and said, “Then why haven’t you written about me in Kawakeb Magazine? Am I not good enough or what?”
I swallowed hard again and said, “But today you live the life of a housewife and not of an artist, so can we ask you, what was the reason for your retirement?”
Gawaher stood up and said, “I understand, and you’re right. I’m torn between my love of art and my love for him.”
I disliked asking her who the lucky man was because it’s none of our business.
Gawaher continued talking and said, “He doesn’t want me to appear onstage in a belly dance costume.”
I asked her, “Do you love him that much?”
And Gawaher responded and said “Up to now, I’ve been unable to distinguish and I can’t decide which I love more. Him, or art.
And then the (former) Atomic Dancer left sadly.

WHY I <3 HER:

I love being a detective and going on the hunt to find dancers that I haven’t heard of yet. Although I can’t say Gawaher is one of my absolute favorites, here is what I love about her:

I love the way she holds herself and her facial expressions, she really exudes confidence. I also like the fact that she strips the dance down to it’s essence and focuses on each smooth movement. She is very poised and graceful and I find her story to be an interesting one.

Watch videos of her below and tell me what you think!!!

xoxo

N

Oh – and HAPPY FRIDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/105988835] [vimeo https://vimeo.com/103203102] [vimeo https://vimeo.com/103203309] [vimeo https://vimeo.com/103200839]

 

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAELfyc22Ek]

What do you think of her music???

Asmahanآمال الأطرش‎, the famous Syrian/Egyptian singer, was born Nov. 25, 1912 (the year of her birth is debated). She was born in a time of political turmoil into a very politically active family, the al-Atrash clan. Her father was Fahd al-Atrash of Syrian Druze ancestry from Suwayda. Her mother was Alia Al-Mundhir of a Lebanese Druze family from Hasbaya (wondering who the Druze are? click here). Her father’s family was well known in Syria for it’s role in the resistance against the French mandate. Right before Asmahan was born, her family was in Turkey as her grandfather was a governor in Demirci. Due to danger, her family had to flee the country and took a ship from Izmir to Beirut. Asmahan was born on board and named Amal, meaning hope.

Her family’s new home town of Al-Qrayya, Syria, was bombed circa 1923 and Alia, Asmahan’s mother fled with  her children to Damascus, then to Beirut, and finally to Egypt, where she knew she was allowed to enter the country due to her husbands ties with the prime minister Saad Zaghloul. In Cairo Asmahan attended a French Catholic school that was paid for by a mysterious benefactor.read more

SO HERE’S THE DEAL:

Tülay Karaca (pronounced Karaja) is a Turkish dancer who rose to fame in the 80’s. Her signature vivacious style and incredible zill playing combined with her famously revealing costumes brought her much success over the years. She has been credited as being very influential on the American Cabaret scene.

WHY I <3 HER:

You’ll see when you watch the videos… because- dang! She is amazing! Honestly once you watch her dance, you won’t even pay attention to her “risqué” costumes, I mean come on… the 80’s weren’t her fault…

Tülay’s style is so natural and elegant. In the videos you’ll see that she will be moving around so gracefully and then all of a sudden a kick will come out of nowhere, she’ll drop to the floor, or add in a very quick turn. I love that her dance is so unpredictable and dynamic. Karaca’s was famous for her zill playing, she would even play solos for herself on her zills, typically after a drum solo. You can see this in “Tulay Karaca on Turkish Television Part 2,” and you will be wowed!

Take a look at the videos below, and let me know what you think!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLjrrLz1h3298ia-R0mPwtEzNIfnDk3vur]

xoxo

TBB