Experiment 1: “Mata Hari Wings”

Princess Farhana is in town in March and Alia is hosting a vintage belly dance show. Visit Princess Farhana in Melbourne for more information.

If all goes well, I might work on a group choreography for it. Aside from Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal and their ilk, for me, vintage calls to mind two directions – 1. dancers of early last century like Mata Hari and Ruth St Denis and 2. showgirls. One prop that makes a showgirlesque spectacle is Isis Wings. And so, my first experiment I’m dubbing “Mata Hari Wings”.

Here are some sources of inspiration to start.

From just across the ocean – Tais from New Zealand. If you’re going to do Isis Wings you should do it well, and she does… they make a spectacular entrance – great barrel turns and a nice seamless way of going from two arms to one arms to abandoning them for the drum solo.

Second, Eva Sampedro. I like that she doesn’t launch straight into turns and expansive movements, but takes a more soulful approach. The wings are put to good use to frame body movements.

Third a dance company called Adasha. Since I am imagining a group choreography I wanted to see how wings could be put to good effect with more than one dancer. I like the shape created with the two dancers at 1.30. At 2.15 there is a soulful section where the wings are used to create some nice shapes that have the added impact and dimension of multiple dancers…

Among her performances, Mata Hari claimed to do “erotic Javanese dance”. I thought I would forgo the “erotic” bit and just go for a beautiful traditional Javanese dance. I like the idea of substituting Isis Wings for something smaller and the use of the sash in many traditional Indonesian dances is elegant and interesting. I also love the way this group travels together. At 1.55 they do a shuffling circuit of the floor that makes me think of a flock of birds. I also love the movement that starts at 1.16 where they turn their heads slightly to look and follow with a turn that includes head and whole body together. They look like a troupe of marionettes.

Here’s the lady herself posing with a chiffon veil and a costume which captivated the imaginations of her audiences and their idea of the exotic East.


And again, this time looking somewhat Pharonic, particularly in her pose.


Fast forward more than 100 years where a young French man Illan Riviere, graces the stage, similarly with fabric flowing around his feet with a new contemporary take on the “exotic” through Tribal Fusion. I like the way he moves to shift the fabric at 2.40. Then at 3.06 he picks up the fabric and uses it like a veil which brings me back around to the wings effect. Funny that there is an echo of that marionette style of Javanese dance in the Tribal Fusion style movement, though less subtle and more muscle driven.

Back to Indonesia to another traditional dance “Tari Merak – Peacock Dance”. One limitation of Isis Wings is you can’t easily let them go. I like that the wings used here can be dropped leaving the dancers free to use their hands or flick their sashes. I also like the sequence that starts at 3.22 that includes a turn with the wings outstretched and inclined. The shuffling movement at 4.47 is nice as is the the two dancers turning smoothly at 6.00.

Finally Miriam Peretz with a Persian Peacock Dance that starts at 1.40. The design of the wings are such that they drape on the floor similarly to the Illan Riviere footage. She is brilliant at turning and stopping at just the right point to create beautiful lines not only with her body but also the fabric. At 2.54 the peacock reveals the full glory of its wings! I love it!

Stay tuned… I’m off to do some experimenting with wings and sashes to Fares Men Al Chark by Amad Fouad Hassan. Here is a little taster.

Fares Men Al Chark

I’m hoping to create something that can be identified as vintage belly dance – maintaining the style and aesthetic of the dance form – but with echoes of all of the above inspirations. Check back for updates to see if I manage it!

3 thoughts on “Experiment 1: “Mata Hari Wings”

  1. One of the Mata Hari dances as featured in the book I rendered into English, uses a lot of arm movement, being inspired by the Siva sculpture. I thought the chiffon batsleevves would work with the arm movement

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