A blur of exotic dancing


Ann Blagdon at WI

Ann Blagdon at WI

When I saw that the prompt for the weekly photo challenge was the word ‘blur’, I was instantly transported back to a dance festival I attended in Russia some years ago.  It was the most amazing experience and included traditional dance from various ethnic groups which have settled in Russia over the centuries.  There was Greek dancing as well as Armenian, and both were wonderful.  But the most memorable was the cossak dancing.  With their boots, blousy shirts and billowing trousers, the dashing cossaks perform a truly acrobatic dance full of jumps, kicks and bends.  They really are a blur and photos are hard to take.  However, I have some super photos of a dancer that I watched closer to home.  Her name is Ann, and she gave up her day job to pursue the art of Egyptian Belly Dancing.

Ann came to our WI and gave a fascinating talk about the history, myths, legends and meanings associated with this type of dance.  She also told us about the costumes and how “Belly Dancing” got its name.  Her fascination with the dance started when her Lebanese friends in London inspired her to find a teacher.  She was learning classical Indian dance at the time. Over the last twenty years Ann has perfected her craft and she is now a very talented dancer as well as an inspirational teacher.  When Ann dances it is spellbinding, beautiful, graceful and charming. Every movement is significant and tells a story.

Her costumes were ravishing, colourful and exotic.  To cover up she wears the traditional Egyptian Galabeya.  She buys her costumes when she attends the Soukh or market at the Egyptian Hafla or party.  Most of her costumes are made in Thailand or Turkey.  According to Ann, Egypt is considered the birthplace of belly dancing, but there are variations in different regions.  She certainly takes her dance seriously.  In order to get to know and feel the spirit of the dance, she spent time living in a Bedouin tent in the Sinai desert!

She is an amazing woman and a beautiful dancer so I have picked her to illustrate this week’s post.


Waltz – The Permitted Embrace – Haiku

Today’s post is inspired by Haiku Heights and the word prompt is Waltz but I am using the Argentinian Vals for my inspiration.

Look into her eyes

Aroused by primal passions

Feel her body move 


Look into your soul

Stirred by sensual music

Let your spirits soar


Look into his heart

Alert to every movement

Lose yourself in dance


Duo dance as one

Exploring their desires

Stylish seduction


Now I used to think the Waltz was a boring dance, until I discovered Argentinian Waltz (Vals).  I saw it performed at  a very exciting WI meeting.   There was passionate, fiery and exotic music, rare footage of filmed Argentinian dances, a fascinating talk and beautiful dancing demonstrations.  Janet Earl and Adrian Barsby, who teach together but are not regular partners, did a double act chatting in a relaxed fashion and inviting members to ask questions or interrupt whenever they wished, rather than wait until the end.  The talk was really informative, explaining the background and history of Argentinian dances  such as Tango, Milonga and  Canyengue as well as Vals (Waltz),   I have written about Argentinian Tango in a previous post.

Now the Waltz as we europeans know it –  is much older than Tango Vals.  It was thought to be one of the very first dances in which the couple face and touch each other when dancing.  However, I have been listening to a wonderful programme on BBC Radio 4 about the history of dance and it seems there were dances, namely La Volta,  way back in Elizabethan times which shocked society because the men held the women around the waist and used their knees to swing them round!!  Indeed it is said that Queen Elizabeth the First shocked courtiers by dancing La Volta with the Earl of Leicester!  The programme is called Dance Nation and is by Deborah Bull.  The episode is called The Permitted Embrace.

By the end of the 18th century the European Bourgeoisie had made the Waltz their own and it became a symbol of their attitudes – self-assured, emotional, free, erotic.  If you read Jane Austen’s novels you will know that dancing was the most acceptable way for a young girl to flirt and court a possible suitor!  Yet when it became fashionable in Vienna around 1773, it was shocking to the masses and the aristocrats, and was considered ‘riotous and indecent’ as late as 1825!

I don’t know why it was considered ‘riotous and indecent’ but I certainly find Argentinian Waltz sensual, erotic and very moving.  It appears as if the goucho, or man, is leading but in fact he is just inviting her with his leg movements.  A confident lady will let him know by her responses with her legs whether she is willing or not.  It all appears very structured and rehearsed, but actually the dance evolves according to the signals each give with their legs.  It truly is wonderful to watch once you know this.  I recommend that you watch video clips of Anton and Flavia who dance on a BBC TV show in UK called Strictly Come Dancing and it is wonderful.  They do a sensational Argentinian Waltz.

Argentine Tango at the WI!

It was such an exciting evening at the last WI meeting.  There was passionate, fiery and exotic music, rare footage of filmed tango, a fascinating talk and beautiful dancing demonstrations.  Janet Earl and Adrian Barsby, who teach together but are not regular partners, did a double act chatting in a relaxed fashion and inviting members to ask questions or interrupt whenever they wished, rather than wait until the end.  The talk was so informative, explaining the background and history of the dance as well as describing the different types of tango.

They explained that Tango is a social partner dance which originated in South America.  In spite of its name, ‘Argentinian Tango’, Uruguay and Chile also lay claim to originating it. Argentine Tango should not be confused with ballroom tango which is a sanitised version of the dance developed in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s because the Argentine brand was considered a little too steamy.

Salon tango (the most social version) is a fully improvised dance, though it clearly follows rules which give it its appearance. The leader, who is usually the man, expresses himself by interpreting the music in his own steps and those which he invites the follower, usually the woman, to make. Historically, there is an element of “showing off” the woman by making her dance well. Their classes are generally based around this style of tango.  There is often a tragic story being danced out!

Another style of tango is called Canyengue, which has a slightly higher stepping characteristic (possibly due to its having been dance in the sawdust and blood on slaughterhouse floors).

Tango Fantasia is a show version of the dance which is more likely to be choreographed and includes aspects of jazz and ballet dancing.

Socially, dancers also dance Milonga, which is more uplifting and happy, and Vals (Waltz) which is more graceful. Tango is danced in bars of two beats each but phrased in two lots of two bars, giving a phrase of 8 beats. Milonga is also in bars of two beats each, but phrased two bars at a time. Vals is in bars of 3 beats (though usually fast enough to be in 1), where the first beat of each bar “corresponds to a whole beat in tango”.

Janet and Adrian explained the instrument used in tango traditionally is the Bandoneon which is rather like an accordion.   They played beautiful recordings of Tango music on the instrument.  They delighted us by showing a clip of Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry dancing in “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in 1921.

They explained how Tango spread to USA and came to Europe in the 1920s, mentioning lots of very famous singers, dancers and musicians whose names I cannot spell ~ Carlos di Sarli, Asto Piazzolla among them!

Janet showed us her beautiful dance outfits and her exquisite shoes, which she buys in Argentina.  They finished by recommending several performances of Tango that members may wish to see locally:-

Tango at the Music Festival on 11th July, Tango, Tango at the Roses Theatre in October, Midnight Tango in Oxford and Bristol in July etc.

A fabulous night out!