In motion …

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(This is an edited update, as someone very properly pointed out that I should have talked a little bit more about what I actually did during my performance.)

In September, I was privileged enough to attend the Tapestry dance retreat in Rhode Island and perform in the Saturday evening salon. I am still hugely thrilled that Tempest accepted my proposal: an interpretation of what a dancer at the court of Roger II would have done. I’m still working on producing a more authentic outfit. I wore the prototype for my performance:

My cap is wrong, the pseudo-tiraz band is set too low in the sleeve, my headband is not of linen and is knotted on the wrong side, but my makeup and spit curls are looking pretty good!

I wish I could get hold of the video that was being recorded; also, there’s a better pic one of the attendees took that she hasn’t been able to share with me yet … I’ll ask her again.

And I will continue to work on this. Silk for tunic No. 2 is cut out, needs to be shaped and sewn. The pattern for sewn linen cap is drafted. I just have other things to work on first.

Oh, and here are the books that I want, need, and desire. Only $1,325!

The Firestone Library in Princeton will only let me look at this set if I pay something like $200 a year. Um, no. It seems like they have one copy and it’s always checked out.

I am proud of the spitcurls, which I wound up affixing with soap and bobbypins to set them. I am not making this up; I had forgotten my modern hair gel and I was desperate. Coating the locks of hair with just-wet soap and setting the curl with bobbypins until they were dry held them together long enough for the performance.

The makeup is based on the look of the dancing ladies and female musicians of the Cappella Palatina muquarna -the spot of blush low on the cheek and the three dots in the middle of it (which I think is indicative of some facial tattooing, especially likely if these ladies were Berber from the Maghreb); the darkened brows; and the heavily kohled eyes (modern eye liner); and lip stain. I did not use “period” cosmetics, mostly because I wear contacts and will not screw around with anything that could damage my eyes..

I’m still pretty proud of this tunic, the sari was an extremely good find and a great color and pattern. I will end up redoing the sleeves one day, though. One other thing I noticed, though, is the neckline is too wide and low; the collar really should be up closer to the neck. Hmmm. Another thing to work on for tunic No. 2.

Anyway, for the performance, I chose to dance to two very short songs, as the performance time was limited to 7 minutes. At first, I was going to dance to some songs from Calamus’ “Splendour of al-Andalus.” Though I love the CD and I theorize that the Muslims who emigrated from Sicily to Spain after the Norman conquest had influenced the music (as they did the poetry) of that place, and today’s Andalusian music of North Africa derives from the Arabs of Spain, none of the songs on the CD truly grabbed me or were too long, or not quite long enough.

I did wind up dancing to an Andalusian song, from Eduardo Paniagua’s “Tesoros de Al-Andalus. Música Clásica De Los Reinos De Taifa,” specifically an instrumental called “Me Visitó Quien Esperaba.” It was lively, it made a great intro piece, and Taifa Spain was in the same period of time as Arab Sicily and Sicily just after the Normans began to conquer it, plus the Sicilian and Spanish Arabs did have ties in trade and family. Additionally, the most costly slave girls were trained in music and dance and poetry in Seville. According to the source Habiba quotes in the article, the highly trained singing (and dancing) slave girls were high valued by the Maghrebi rulers of North Africa. Additionally, according to what I have read, it was actually illegal in Sicily to have native-born Muslims as slaves; thus the highly specialized singing/dancing girls of the palace in Palermo were certainly imports. Certainly, some of them might have even been gifts to Roger II, sent as tokens after his admiral George of Antioch captured Tripoli and Cape Bona.

My second song was one I had mentioned in a previous blog entry, Al Qantarah’s “Montedoro.” Though I had no documentation for it, it at least was Sicilian, had the Arab elements in it, and made a great piece to dance to, including a nice taxim at the beginning.

My prop is a long white scarf, a common accessory for dancers pictured in the muquarna of the Cappella Palatina, on Fatimid lustreware plates, and even the ancient dancing girls of Samarra.I used the scarf like a streamer or a half-veil, whirling it around and playing with it.

For dance movements, I actually looked much more toward Persian dance than modern bellydance. Standing shimmies, graceful poses with arm patterns and snakearms, sedate shoulder shimmies, small hops, spins, and grapevine foot patterns were mostly the moves I used. I may have thrown in some very large figure eights at the beginning of “Montedoro,” but truth be told, most modern bellydance moves get lost in the all-enveloping tunic. Floorwork is very much a modern American invention, so again, I didn’t include anything like that.

In the end, I was striving to give something that would bring the viewer back to a particular time and place, and I am hoping that the music, the costuming and makeup, and the motion did that.

About adelisasalernitana

This blog is the exploration of the life of a 12th century woman in the court of King Roger II of Sicily. Looking at the tripartite culture of the kingdom – Norman, Greek, and Muslim – how people dressed, the food they ate, the buildings that they lived in, and the remnants of Muslim culture in modern Sicilian language, food, music, and customs.

4 responses »

    • Miriam,

      A very good question! What we know today as Egyptian bellydance simply did not exist then. The reason for basing it on Persian dance is rather complicated; first, the figural art of the Fatimids was based on the ancient Persian pictoral style, exemplified by the palace fresco in Samarra of dancing girls. The dancers I have seen depicted on Fatimid lustreware plates, Fatimid and Siculo-Norman ivories, and the Cappella Palatina muquarna are not in postures reminiscent of today’s Egyptian dance or even dance as it was depicted by 19th century Orientalists.

      Second, today’s “Andalusian” dance in Tunisia has moves very reminiscent of Persian dance, and Habiba’s three-part article series, “Musk and Amber” (which I link to in the post) describes this style of dance very well. She was very surprised to find no hip work in it and lots of graceful hand/arm movements. That’s Persian dance in a nutshell. This is also not surprising because the “founder” of the Andalusian school of poetry and music, Ziryab, came from Baghdad, and the jawari he trained in the arts would have learned dance that went along to this formal music – and this dance was undoubtedly Persian in origin.

      Now, Berber dance is shimmylicious, and the Fatimids had Tunisian Berber origins. But they also traded widely, and when the Muslim kingdoms of Spain began to fall, the exiles went to Tunisia (this started happening evening in the late 12th century). As Habiba notes, in the 13th century, the Maghrebi kings still valued singers and dancers trained in Seville, in Ziryab’s style. Even if the dancer I am portraying may have been Berber in origin, as a court dancer, she would have had formal training in formal styles of dance.

      Today’s Egyptian bellydance really originates with the ghawazi, who came much later than the 12th century, ancient Egyptian dances (some aspects of which, particularly sagat playing, were preserved among the peasants), and probably even Greek dancing as it was preserved among the Byzantines.

      I hope all of this answers your question!

    • Alas, the non-academic libraries in my area do not have agreements with the universities that have the books I want. However, taking another look on WorldCat, it’s now available at the New York Public Library and the Frick Collection reference library. It’s in library use only, but the New York Public Library is FREE. I sense a day off in the near future and a trip to NYC where I will spend the day lovin’ these books and making sketches (and perhaps photocopies of some of the plates if allowed).

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