Review of Galit Mersand’s Bellylicious

Humour and bellydance don’t often seem to mix. I don’t quite see the reason why. We bellydancers use as many false eyelashes as drag queens, and easily beat them on glitter and sequins. So why don’t we have their talent for not taking things too seriously?

These probably sound like fighting words. In fact, I appreciate how much effort it takes to help the general public understand that oriental dance isn’t just shaking booty. But I think it’s ironic that a dance with so much lightness and flirtatiousness — and joy! — should be talked about in such serious terms.

Galit Mersand performing shisha dance, bellydance, with melaya leff costume
Galit doing her shisha dance

Enter Galit Mersand. And Bellylicious, a one-hour cabaret show that combines stand-up, dance, and, once everyone’s warmed up nice and good, a bit of cultural background about the dance itself. Galit wrote the show to explain oriental dance to the general public, but to her credit, it doesn’t feel particularly teacherly. Well, until she dances raqs al assaya as a disciplining headmistress. Did I mention Galit is in the U.K.? Some parts of her show, you really need a public school education to understand.

This gives you a clue that the show, in the tradition of cabaret, doesn’t shy away from playing with the sexy, cheeky side of the dance. Galit starts out by describing herself as a “serial flirt,” and bellydance is, of course, the perfect artistic outlet for someone who likes to tease. Now, it just so happens that I come from a very, how shall I put it, flirtation-rich culture. It may be the case that I can go on for hours about how underflirty and misflirtatious North American society can be. (Don’t get me started on Germany…) I am so happy to have someone acknowledge that this is a big part of the dance. 

Watching a full show of bellydance might be a test of patience for the non-initiated. However, the dances themselves are not just plopped into the dialogue. In fact, they continue the themes of Galit’s jokes in a kind of bellydance-standup fusion. (It reminds me quite a bit of Cihangir Gümüstürkmen‘s work.) They are therefore all a bit experimental, and some work better than others. I could have done without the transformation of yoga positions into bellydance moves that starts the show off. But the “headmistress with stick” shtick was wonderful, and the drum solo that ends the show — mostly straight dancing, but with small comic bits that nevertheless fit the music perfectly — was a stroke of brilliance. And anyone who’s tired of “overacted” dancing, the kind with way too many gestures and literal interpretation of a song nobody present understands, will enjoy Galit’s sendup. 
 
Galit Mersand bellydancing with stick, cane
 
The thing that’s necessary for the comedy to work, the one element without which it would all flop, is dancing so good that even an audience member utterly new to oriental dance would be able to recognise as excellent. If a dancer made jokes about bellydancing and then performed with anything less than professional polish, the whole show would be an exercise in diminishing the art. 
 
And Galit’s dancing is excellent. Really, really excellent. She combines varied and precise technique with incredible lightness: everything looks easy and floaty and fun. I have seen so many technically brilliant dancers lately who make it look like hard work, and there’s something about that that’s exhausting to watch. But some dancers — Ranya Renee and Maria Sokolova come to mind — give you the sense that they’re having the time of their lives, and in doing so allow you to take pleasure in the music and movement too. And Galit is one of them.
 
It also makes you want to learn. While watching Bellylicious, one part of my brain was enjoying the dancing, and the other was thinking, “Oh, that’s a cool combination! Oh, that’s another one! I should look these up again. Oh, what a nice way of combining those moves!” Of course, Galit has instructional videos too (and I will be reviewing one of them), but I also expect I’ll turn back to Bellylicious for inspiration on movements, combinations, and general styling.
 
I received a review digital copy of Bellylicious from Galit — she sells her videos both on DVD and as downloads at galitmersand.com. (At the time of this writing, the latter are quite affordable, even once you convert from British Pound to whatever currency you’re playing with.) The video is spliced together from different shows she did, and sometimes the splices do show. Film quality is a little fuzzy, though you can see everything, especially when it comes to the dancing. And usefully, the credits include all the songs she used. 
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