Wednesday, 1 October 2014


With so much focus on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in belly dance, it's easy to forget that Greece has a shared cultural history through its time in the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Greece has its own style of belly dance, Tsifteteli, (similar to the Turkish Ciftetelli). With the Lampeter World Dance Festival coming up in mid October, I thought it would be nice to dance Tsifteteli, as an appropriately folkloric-based style. It's not the first time I have visited Tsifteteli, as something about the end of the summer seems to bring it out for me. Perhaps I'm trying to hang onto the last days of brightness and warmth, or wishing I'd managed to have a holiday ....

I picked up my still-unfinished notes and started thinking about music and choreography in earnest, with a view to basing the first half of the Autumn term classes on this. It contains a nice selection of easy footwork, hip moves and shoulder shimmies which are part of the building blocks of belly dance, but the movement vocabulary is more restricted than the variety of moves used in, say, Egyptian-style raqs sharqi. At the same time, Tsifteteli's cultural context of history and music is quite deep and occasionally dark. So it's interesting but accessible, just the job for new starters in the class.

However, I've only ever attended one workshop a while ago, which had more focus on the rhythm and footwork steps than the core-based belly dance moves or cultural aspects of it. Thank goodness, then, for the internet and YouTube, because if I had to try to research this through a library, I would probably get nowhere. The discussions around cultural (mis)appropriation are still in full flow. I'm bored stiff with the topic, so I won't go into it here. Suffice to say, I want to create something which respects the music and dance form. So that I feel I can teach with a little authority, I have been doing a lot of research to fill, well, not just a gap in my knowledge, more like a vacuum! I've immersed myself in it, become sidetracked reading about Greek history and listening to Tsifteteli and other Rebetiko music.  

Even so, I'm finding very little on the subject, so it's proving quite slow and difficult. I came across the predictable comments that 'you had to be born Greek to be able to do it' and conflicting opinions about what it was not, rather than what it was. I could see that someone else had asked the question on a (non-belly dance) forum, and the answers were a sort of off-hand 'it's Greek belly dance like they do in the clubs'. If you search for Tsifteteli dance on YouTube, most of the results are for modern DJ club mixes. The accompanying videos either show mash-ups of other videos of belly dancers who are dancing oriental or tribal fusion styles to other music, or shots of bright young things in very high heels, small tops and short skirts, gyrating away under club lighting. Anyone who can do wrist curls while doing hip lifts or asymmetrical horizontal hip circles turning on the spot would fit right in.  There are so many of these types of video, it's difficult to find something more authentic. However, there are a few leading authorities to whom I am immensely grateful; Chryssanthi Sahar, Athena Najat and Maria Aya. (Hmm, maybe you do have to be Greek?)

I've also been having an entertaining time watching extracts of the Greek TV variety show Στην υγεία μας (Stin iyeia mas - Cheers!) where they have the studio set up a bit like a bouzoukia club, with a platform for the live musicians and singers, dance floor and small audience who chat, drink, smoke, sing along, shout encouragements, get up to dance, break plaster plates or throw white carnation flower heads at the dancers and each other until the dance floor is so littered that an area needs to be brushed clear. I'm loving the music and party atmosphere (although it seems that only the young and very slender get up to dance!)

Current earworm: Tha Spaso Koupes. I can't stop singing it. 'Aaah, aaaah, tsifteteli, aman, aman, yaleleli ...'

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