Bellydance For Joy!

Can you imagine what it’s like to be in fear of your life from your partner? To be hit, burned, punched and told you’re ugly and worthless on a regular basis.

Can you even begin to imagine how it must be to have been sold into slavery as a child, brought to the UK as a domestic slave and never to have had a day off work in your life? Can you imagine never having had a moment of fun for yourself, to have only slept on the kitchen floor, and to be beaten if you raise your eyes when spoken to by your ‘owner’?

Maybe you can imagine the trauma of being told you have terminal cancer, and how it might feel to lose your breasts, your hair and your dignity as you’re poked and prodded and put into machines.

Now imagine you can help to give women who have suffered such trauma some fun in their lives – dancing to lively music, shaking their shoulders, swinging their hips and laughing as they shimmy and sway in the company of other women just like them.

We are truly thrilled to announce that in July 2017 Company of Dreams began taking free bellydance classes into women’s refuges, hospices, and organisations supporting victims of slavery, trafficking and sexual violence.

The response has been amazing!

The women are so excited and so happy to be bellydancing. And the managers have told us that what we’re doing is totally unique – that they’ve been looking for something like this for years, but there’s nothing out there. They say that just to bring even an hour’s joy to women who have suffered so much will make an enormous difference to their lives.

But we need your help!

We desperately need funds to help us do this vital work. In June we held our first fundraiser – a gala dinner in Charlotte’s home village in Kent. We raised £2,000 to help us start the work, but if we are to continue we have a major fundraising job to do! This is why, in September we will be joining a global fundraising challenge with charities around the world to raise funds for our work through international charity platform Global Giving. And, during August and September, bellydancers will be doing some wonderful things to raise money for our fundraising challenge.

  • On 23 September, London bellydancers Saffron and Sophia will climb Mount Snowdon in bellydance outfits to raise sponsorship for our fund! (sponsor them here)
  • On 16th September (tbc) we’re planning a sponsored shimmy relay in Trafalgar Square
  • On 24th September (tbc) we’re holding a glamourous Cocktails and Rhinestones event at a cocktail bar in central London. We will be asking bellydancers to donate costumes and props to be auctioned in aid of the charity. Come along, meet your friends and pick up a designer bargain!
  • watch out for our hashtag #bellydanceforjoy on social media

We’re going to have fun and we’d love you to join us!

Please support these fabulous challenges and events, or why not hold a fundraising event of your own? If would like to help, please email charlotte@companyofdreams.net or leave a comment below.

Check out all the info on our Bellydance For Joy page

#bellydanceforjoy

And in memory of the wonderful Yvette Cowells, today we are also launching a very special fund, specifically to take bellydancing classes into hospices. This was a project that was very dear to Yvette’s heart and she was really looking forward to being involved. Please read more here

Two, very different worlds of bellydance

A few days ago, someone made a comment on an old blog post I wrote three years ago. The post was about the two very different worlds of bellydance – the world seen by the general public in venues such as restaurants and the world inhabited by the bellydance community, including bellydance students.

As I re-read it, I was struck that I had written it a week before the very first rehearsal with the founding members of Company of Dreams! It explains a lot about my motivations for starting on the journey that has taken us to where we are today, so I thought it would be interesting to reproduce it here….

Blog post from 19 February 2013
I think ours is a schizophrenic dance form. Bellydancing exists, I would argue, in two very different worlds. On the one hand we have the world of dance classes and haflas. A primarily female world, it’s one where we learn about the fascinating dance and culture of the middle east. It’s a world where it doesn’t matter what age or what dress size you are, and where women are encouraged and supported and recognised as beautiful and special.

In this world, haflas and showcases give us the opportunity to perform a wide variety of styles grouped under the general banner of bellydancing. We dance baladi, saidi, khaleeji, sharqi. We whip out a stick or a set of wings, set the audience alight with a drum solo, or move them to tears with an Om Khalsoum number. We experiment with fusion: tribal, gothic, hip hop or samba. Or keep it pure, with none so pure as Egyptian.

It’s wonderful participating in these events. Our audiences are wildly appreciative. They whoop and zhagareet and clap along at the drop of a hip. Forgiving us when we go wrong, not caring about our age or our stretch marks. Every clever belly trick, every quivering shimmy, is recognised and applauded. We are given space and time and attention.

jump

A harsher world
Then there’s the other world. The world of the restaurant dancer. A world that (with a few notable exceptions) only the young, beautiful and slender may enter. A world where we have to dance whilst squeezing between tables, trying to avoid waiters and taking care not to step on broken glass or spilled humous. This is a world where the (mixed) audience cares not a jot for the authenticity of our performance, they just want to look at the pretty girl in the sparkly costume. Sadly, a few of them really wish we weren’t there and some just can’t bear to watch, especially when we get up close.

And, however appreciative the audience at a restaurant, in most cases we are never able to properly dance. There will only be space for a bit of undulating, a few isolations and pops and of course, some of our very best shimmying. Our job is to create a party atmosphere. A taste of the exotic. And, in most cases, to get up close and personal with the punters.

Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s because I’ve just been around too long; but I find myself increasingly uncomfortable when I’m in a small space and a dancer’s naked flesh is very close. I don’t think I’m a prude and I love the sight of a beautiful body, male or female. But the tight layout of many restaurants means that at times I find my eyes just a bit too close to a bouncing pair of partially covered breasts for comfort. I know that many men really don’t know where to look when a bellydancer comes up to their table. And actually I understand how they feel. I can imagine that for some men it might sometimes feel a little too near to lap dancing.

I’m sure that one of the reasons bellydance isn’t taken seriously as an art form is that most people only see a bellydancer in a restaurant setting. Where she can’t dance properly and where the flesh on show is not only close, but is highlighted by the costuming and by those few movements we have at our disposal. A bellydance bra really pushes the breasts up high. And then we do a chest bump! What’s a man to think? That it’s art?

But! Restaurant bellydancing is great! People love it. Most diners in a Middle Eastern restaurant really enjoy seeing a bellydancer – she’s exotic, she’s lively and she lifts the atmosphere wonderfully. People often ring me to book my gorgeous friend and colleague Chantel Phillips (photo below and above) to dance at an event. “She’s amazing”, they say, “we saw her dance at a restaurant and she was incredible!”

Chantel in restaurant

Because, of course, restaurants not only offer bellydancers regular income, but they’re also a public showcase. They are the only venues a professional bellydancer can perform for the general public and be paid too!

But we’re caught in a vicious circle. Our only public platform doesn’t enable us to dance properly. So we’re not taken seriously. Here in the West, no-one outside the world of haflas and monthly showcases sees our ‘real’ dancing, so no mainstream promoter is ever going to put on a bellydance show. And so the circle winds round and binds us in to the chest bumps and the belly pops and the association with pole dancing or worse.

How can we move beyond this?
I just wish that there were other opportunities for professional dancers to perform. In spaces where we can really stretch our legs and showcase our dance skills. And that’s why all my energies are currently channelled into trying to create a new bellydance style for the big stage. A style to thrill the general public and keep them coming back for more. A style to capture the attention of journalists and mainstream promoters. A style with drama and excitement and big ideas. Bellydance for the future.

I’ve started work on my dream properly now. In January I started to develop my new way of dancing in my Project Lift Off classes in London. We used far more drama, more dynamic range, greater extension in our movements – leg kicks, jumps, dramatic floorwork. My Extreme Bellydance classes are part of it too, of experimenting with different ways of moving – incorporating exciting footwork, jumps, leaps and spins. And the exploratory process will continue throughout the coming year, in all my classes in London and Croydon.

And, most excitingly, I’ve gathered together a small company of six superb full-time professional dancers who will be exploring the future with me. We start this Friday, working experimentally to create something that we hope will be really amazing. And we’re giving ourselves a year to create a show to thrill.

We premiere the show next January at the Cockpit Theatre in London and we are beyond excited about it. We believe it’s the future. That we can move bellydance forward and create new opportunities for dancers and new experiences for audiences.

Whatever happens, it’s the start of an exhilarating journey! Maybe to a different bellydance world…

 

Back to 2016. And look where we are now – about to have the London premiere of our latest production at Sadler’s Wells!

A new beginning

We’re launching our new website at a really exciting time for Company of Dreams and, we hope, for British belly dance. Here in London the belly dance scene is thriving again after a very difficult and unhappy time a few years ago. Teachers are seeing more new students coming to classes and our regular showcases like Arabesque Nights and the Arab Quarterly are attracting exciting new performers and enthusiastic audiences. Best of all there is a truly marvellous spirit of collaboration among the leaders in our community and a real desire to make belly dance the very best it can be.

Making history
And here at Company of Dreams we’re making history. We’ve just premiered our new theatrical dance production of Scheherazade, and the response was so overwhelmingly positive that in a few months time we’re taking it to Sadlers Wells, the home of British ballet and the most prestigious dance venue in the country.

That’s the public face of our work, but behind the scenes things are even more exciting. Firstly I’m proud to say that the company paid its professional dancers, not only for the performance, but for the full development process – over several months of rehearsals. This meant that we were able to create work of a far higher standard than is usually possible. We have nine professional dancers and it cost a lot of money, but that’s the way it should be – if dancers are to work to the highest professional standards they need to be paid!

company rehearsal

It was made possible by a lot of very hard work fundraising and through the generosity of the Arts Council and over 70 people who generously gave to our successful Kickstarter campaign. The fundraising took more than six months out of my life but it was worth every moment of that time to see the standard of the result. If you haven’t seen Scheherazade yet, you must. My aim was to create something that I would be proud to put alongside professional productions from the mainstream dance sectors and I believe we did just that.

Taking bellydance out into the world
But it’s not just in our productions that we’re breaking new ground, we are in the process of creating a proper, formal company to take British bellydance into completely new territory – beyond the bellydance niche and out into the wider world.

Company of Dreams is now a Company Limited by Guarantee, with a Board of Directors. Our directors are senior figures in the world of the arts, education, the law and business. In a couple of weeks time we will have our first AGM where we will resolve to approve our memorandum and articles of association and then submit them to the Charities Commission. If our application is approved then Company of Dreams will become a registered charity and our directors will become our trustees, responsible for supporting me in my work, ensuring we keep to the highest standards of probity, keeping us to our vision (see About Us page) and helping us make our way in the big wide world of the arts.

We’re on a very exciting journey and one which we hope will make a real difference to the dance we all love so much. We look forward to sharing our journey with you along the way.