There is no denying that belly dance has an interesting – and misguided – reputation. Originating in the Middle East, the artform has expanded with schools and professional dance companies now specialising in styles and fusions of belly dance worldwide. Despite its global appeal, the public consensus is that it’s a taboo subject, saved for dark corners of foreign bars. But a new event for Townsville is setting out to change that.
The inaugural Carnivale of Curiosity will celebrate creativity in all styles, but with a particular focus on belly dance. Organiser and local belly dancer, Jordan Galliott, said one aim of the event was to demystify the ideas of the artform held by a lot of people.
“Townsville is home to a lot of brilliant festivals, but the music festivals are usually quite broad – being able to cater to something more niche is important,” Jordan said.
“You may know someone’s second cousin who does a style of fusion dancing or have seen something slightly similar flash across the screen in a James Bond film at some stage, but to actually be introduced to it properly with a local platform is really rare and we’re so grateful for the support we’ve already received.
“The festival is very much a sharing of knowledge; it’s a big love fest! It’s not about anyone showing that they’re the best, it’s about seeing that culture and passing on what you know. The whole point is to see the artform rise and see people affected positively by what you’re doing – there’s no point doing it if you don’t want people to understand or be involved. Art changes lives.”
Interest in the Carnivale has grown quickly, with Scimitar Moon Belly Dance’s Cara Griffin one of the first to jump on board.
“The thing with Townsville is there’s always that fear that because we’re a regional city, you don’t know if your event will grow and be supported. For Jordan to step up and say, ‘I’m going to do this’ … It’s incredible for the world dance community here especially,” Cara said.
“I’ll be performing as part of the festival but will also be running the Vagabond Parade during the day. Essentially, the Vagabond Parade is an eclectic, amazing market day. It’ll have unusual stalls, things that may be a little out of the ordinary, as well as amazing food and performances throughout the afternoon.
“Sometimes the arts in smaller cities can seem like a struggle but at the same time … there’s a whole lot more love and support in the community. Everyone’s been keen to join in and create a really special event.”
Jordan said misconceptions about belly dance have been present for decades.
“When talking about belly dance, we don’t just look at it through Western goggles – but historical Western goggles. At the turn of the 19th century when people from the West began visiting Egypt, they reported back about this lewd shaking of the hips – and they were shocked, because it was so removed from what they understood and the ideas of modesty were very different at the time.
“Its roots came from freedom and celebration of form, but because the West discovered it at a time when women were still wearing intricate corsets and you could barely even see ankles, they saw stomach and immediately classed the women as dreadful and cursed.
“A lot of socio-political overtones also came into it from the East, and from the West’s idea of what the East was. It’s just lies upon lies upon misunderstanding and at the bottom of it all is this raw artform that is just a passionate display of movement, the idea of mastering the body in detailed ways, and conveying emotions.”
Discover the wonders of belly dancing with the Carnivale of Curiosity at the Old Courthouse Theatre from 19-20 May, with information and tickets available here.