Bellies building bridges

Bellies building bridges

Miles Copeland’s Bellydance Superstars bring ‘Bombay Bellywood’ to Glendale’s Alex Theatre

By Amy Tenowich 09/30/2010

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The Bellydance Superstars are a shimmying celebration of the softness and strength that is womanhood.
   “We are being strong, confident women onstage and presenting our art, and presenting our bodies as dancers,” says Kami Liddle, one of the BDSS. “But at the same time there is this soft, sensual, feminine side to it.” 
 
Have certain aspects of feminine mystique been slowly assassinated by a sleazy culture of pelvic-pumping pop divas, Photoshopped physiques, strategic wardrobe malfunctions and drunken media shout-outs?
 
“I think when you turn on MTV or YouTube and see these videos and women are thrusting away, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t really want to see a woman that way,’” says Miles Copeland, the creator of the Superstars. “I think our show shows women in a much more positive light.” 
 
Copeland knows star quality when he sees it; he managed The Police and Sting, and also founded I.R.S. Records. Perhaps his insistence on elegance over blatant sexuality for the troupe is what makes them so popular with women, who greatly outnumber male audience members.
 
Since their 2003 debut at Lollapalooza, the Superstars’ hips have set off Richter scales in 22 countries. The troupe, which will hit Europe and Asia in 2011, is gearing up for a 65-city North American tour with their new show, “Bombay Bellywood,” which debuts tonight in Santa Barbara and comes to Glendale Friday. The show isn’t like what you may have experienced while lapping up baba ghanoush with pita wedges at your favorite Middle Eastern eatery.  
 
“People get a taste that belly dancing is the kind of strange women that you find in restaurants that make you uncomfortable,” says troupe member Stefanya. “This kind of aggressive woman coming after you with some bills and some shaky things who gets in your face.” 
 
Belly dance performed by the BDSS is more of a grand spectacle, fueled by Middle Eastern classical and pop music and accented by dozens of vibrant, designer costumes. Syrian-born percussionist Issam Houshan joins the ladies onstage, inspiring 14 pairs of hips to move with such precision and speed it’s as if they are air-drumming the sounds he creates. 
 
Unlike past shows, “Bombay Bellywood” has numerous Bollywood routines, which incorporate multiple Indian dance styles in a high-energy, theatricality-charged presentation from that country’s booming film industry. 
 
But there are other forms of slink and slither that create a show as multi-faceted and intriguing as women themselves. There are also traditional, glamorous Egyptian-style belly dancers — the beglittered sirens you’d see in a casbah cabaret, perfumed with sweet yet spicy smoke and the alive with sounds of chiming zills. 
 
Then there are the bohemian Tribal Fusion dancers, whose style is more earthy and grounded, and whose arms move like snakes being charmed out of a basket. The often tattooed and pierced Tribal Fusionists blend Indian and Middle Eastern folk dance with flamenco, Western hip-hop, pop-and-lock, ballet and jazz, and often adorn their bodies with jewelry and headpieces that look like archaeological treasures.
 
“Bombay Bellywood” also throws a little male energy into the mix for the first time in BDSS history. Samir, who performed in Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Vegas Bellagio in 2003 and 2004, describes himself as a nontraditional Middle Eastern dancer who also incorporates styles from all over the world. “For one dance, it looks like you’ve traveled through every nationality,” he says. This son of a famous folk dancer in his homeland of Tajikistan will be doing a solo routine and also two harem-esque numbers with the ladies who will dance as human snakes and peacocks. He’s also a contortionist, blessed with the natural flexibility to have earned the nickname “Pretzel” by his friends. “I asked my Mom, ‘Was I in the right position when I was inside of you?’” he laughs.
 
Aside from dazzling audiences with mesmerizing moves and flowy costumes that veil and reveal the dancing hourglasses, Copeland feels the BDSS is serving a deeper mission than entertainment.
 
“We’ve created this very interesting bridge between cultures at a time when it’s really necessary,” he says. Copeland, who grew up in the Middle East as the son of a CIA operative, said he’s had ambassadors from the region applaud what the BDSS are doing for international relations. 
 
“Americans go to the show and see that there’s more to Middle Eastern culture than just terrorism, and then Arabs go to the show and see American girls dancing, and they’re going, ‘Americans don’t hate our culture, they appreciate it.  They’re up there dancing to our music!’” Copeland says.
 
Women have long been seen as social glue, gifted at opening the channels of harmonious communication. In this case, sending a clear, positive message isn’t something done in a straight line … but rather in a series of delightful curves that get even curvier when the music starts.

“Bombay Bellywood” is Friday at the Alex Theater, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Prices range from $21.25 to $45. Call (818) 243-7700.

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