After a career as a flamenco dancer, Marisa turned to belly dance in her retirement and loves sharing her knowledge of the art form.
You'll find many "belly dances" in Western movies, but sadly, some of them are far from authentic. They are a Hollywood choreographer's vague idea of how a belly dancer moves, dressed in a Hollywood designer's idea of what's exotic.
Here, we look at some of the good and bad in the movies.
Rita Hayworth's Salomé is a good example of a "belly dance" that isn't, even though Salomé and her dance of seven veils is synonymous with belly dance for most non-bellydancers. Funnily enough, we never dance with seven veils - we might use two at a pinch! Salomé's dance is actually a strip-tease, and bellydancers never remove any item of their clothing while performing.
In this clip, Rita Hayworth uses some classic bellydance veil moves at the beginning, and there's a glimpse of hip bumps at one point. Otherwise there is no Middle Eastern influence on the dance at all.
Son of Sinbad
Thank goodness, real belly dance did make its appearance in some movies. The next clip is an authentic Turkish belly dancer, Nejla Ates, in Son of Sinbad in 1955.
Sad to say, Sally Forrest gets the big dance number in the film, dressed in a Princess Banu-style, barely-there bikini. I'm not sure what style she thought she was dancing, but it certainly wasn't belly dance.
Curse of the Mummy's Tomb
Another real belly dancer appears in Curse of the Mummy's Tomb in 1964. She isn't credited (nor is the band) but it's clear from her movements that she is a trained professional. One source claims her name is Dura, but I haven't been able to verify that:
Les 1001 Nuits (1001 Nights)
This is a French movie, but I couldn't resist including it because of Catherine Zeta Jones. 1001 Nights was her first movie role and a very good job she did too.
She is not a belly dancer, but she is trained in ballet and tap, so she carries off the dance scenes with panache. The only belly dance move she has mastered is the horizontal hip circle, but she looks so convincing that I can forgive her...
From Russia With Love
Perhaps the most famous belly dancer in movie history is Lisa Guirat in From Russia With Love.
Like many belly dancers of that era, Lisa fell into belly dancing by accident. She was an air hostess and was asked to fill in for a dancer at a show in San Francisco. Within a few months she was dancing professionally and never looked back.
The Man With Bogart's Face
I must include the Blue Fez scene in this movie because it's one of the longest belly dance scenes in movie history, featuring professional dancers. However, I'm uncomfortable with it because of the striptease by the femal guest. I would've expected the average belly dancer to walk off the stage if that kind of thing had happened.
However, I wasn't a belly dancer in LA in the 1970's. Who knows what the attitude was then?
Charlie Wilson's War
I almost couldn't bring myself to include this next video. The dancer in Charlie Wilson's War is not a belly dancer - she's a lap-dancer dressed in Middle Eastern costume. No self-respecting belly dance artist would ever behave in such a lascivious manner.
I Saved My Belly Dancer
To get the bad taste out of my mouth, here's a visual feast of a belly dance movie starring Salma Hayek. I'll be honest, I didn't like the movie itself, but it certainly looks beautiful.
I can't find evidence that Hayek has had any dance training. However as a Latina of Lebanese extraction, she's likely to have been exposed to dance styles with sinuous hip and arm movements. She certainly acquits herself well in this short film.
Middle Eastern Movies
I haven't even attempted to cover the many gorgeous belly dance movies made in the Middle East. The dancers in these films are, of course, all professional dancers and often famous ones.
© 2020 Marisa Wright