Anthropology of Bellydance: Hora Loca and Bellydancers?

Hi there! To continue in the Wedding theme, this week I will be discussing another wedding trend in another culture, hora loca. Hora loca is common in many Latin American weddings, specifically Venezuela and Columbia. Literally meaning crazy hour, it is a time to revive the party and mark a transition from the traditional aspects of a wedding to the after party/ reception time. This has become especially popular in Miami and South Florida weddings amongst those from Latin American countries as well as brides looking to spice up their wedding reception.

 During the crazy hour, which can range from 45 minutes to a full hour, guests are encouraged to dress up with silly party accessories that are brought out like noise makers, hats, masquerade masks, and dance or otherwise act silly. Think of it like the whole wedding reception just turned into a Harlem Shake video.

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 Depending on preferences and budget, hora loca can be made by just putting on some exciting party music, a popular choice Samba and carnival music or it can include live entertainment, bands, samba dancers, circus performers etc.

So what does this all have to do with belly dance and weddings?

A great and popular way to transition your wedding from tradition to party is to have a belly dancer come in and entertain at the beginning of hora loca or just after dinner (when the crazy hour would traditionally begin). A belly dancer entertaining and encouraging guests to get up for the first half of the crazy hour is almost a fool proof method to make your reception a success. The belly dancer also provides enough distraction for the bride and groom or wedding planner to escape and collect the party props for their guests to enjoy.

If you’re a belly dancer and you got hired for the crazy hour don’t worry! In my experience your normal show is just the type of “crazy” they are looking for but if you are wanting to add a little spice to your show, feel free to add masks or feather headdresses to your entrance or just grab some of the accessories the guests are using and join in the fun!


Anthropology of Bellydance: Wedding Procession, Zeffas, Shamadans

Anthropology of Belly dance: Shamadan and The Wedding Procession/ Zeffa

Hi everyone! In honor of wedding season, I thought I would start dedicating some blogs to wedding traditions and customs from across the world and from cultures where I often find myself as part of their wedding festivities. Today I was hoping to share with you some insights of the custom of wedding processions and how the shamadan (candelabra) fits into the procession.

Jillian and Lauren backstage at a  belly dance show at Taverna Opa City Place, West Palm Beach

Jillian and Lauren backstage at a  belly dance show at Taverna Opa City Place, West Palm Beach

Dawn of Belly dance Sirens and Imperial Bellydance performing a shamadan show at Greek Night in Boynton Beach

Dawn of Belly dance Sirens and Imperial Bellydance performing a shamadan show at Greek Night in Boynton Beach

Before getting into the shamadan, let’s discuss wedding processions for a moment. Now I am going to generalize here, I will get into specific cultural variations in future blogs, but in the generalized patrilocal, patrilineal cultures (Meaning that a woman joins her husband’s family i.e. takes his last name, and moves to where his family is located) the marriage used to, and in some cases still does, look like this: Usually there will be some sort of arrangements between families over the joining of their children and exchanges of money and dowery. The husband’s family will typically send money to help with wedding expenses as well as financially replace the loss of labor the family will experience losing their daughter. In some cases the husband’s family will also send the wedding dress to the bride.

After acceptance of this both man and wife will be prepared by their families in various beauty customs, applying henna, waxing or shaving of the body, special baths etc. The future husband will then create a procession of his friends and family and begin the trek to the bride’s house. Depending on how far away they are this can be a few moments or several days.

During this journey they will play instruments, sing songs and carry torches, unless they are very far, then this won’t be done till the enter the bride’s town. Meanwhile, at the bride’s house, she will have all of her relatives waiting with various charms for good luck, prosperity and fertility. Young children, especially those who’s parents are both alive. Once they arrive to the bride’s house there will usually be mock or real disagreements over letting the bride leave. She may refuse to leave or her relatives may block her. Often it is expected that she make a show since this will be one of the last time she is part of her parent’s house. Sometimes additional money is paid or treats given. Once it is accepted, the father will deliver his daughter to the husband and they will take her back to his town to be married or sometimes perform the marriage in her town then take her after the celebrations are complete. She takes with her a bride price( trousseau, hope chest etc) which is a chest full of useful things for married life which is taken by her new women when she arrives. The couple weds and celebrations ensue. Gifts linked to fertility or good marriage and practical gifts such as money and gold are given, entertainment and food is provided and then they leave to start their married life.

So where does a shamadan fit into all of this and why did I just give a cultural lesson? Because in case you didn’t already notice the similarities between wedding customs of your culture or not, the modern wedding is all of this often in a much more condensed fashion. To take this into a typical American wedding the traditions are the husband’s family pays for the wedding, he gives his future bride a gift (engagement ring) before the wedding, they go to their respected spas and salons to make sure they are fancy for their wedding night. If the bride is southern or has a terribly traditional family (such as me) she has had a hope chest or French trousseau since she was a child and different presents have been placed in it by her relatives throughout her life. Otherwise she has a bridal shower where she is given useful things for married life. She is led down the aisle by her father with a flower girl and ring bearer along side and then she has her reception where she is introduced for the first time as a part of her husband’s family. The wedding procession described before is now typically the first entrance of the bride and groom into the reception and where you will see a lot of the pomp and circumstance as well as merriment and joy making of the traditional procession.

Now the shamadan is, like most props used in belly dance, is not some ancient artifact but really something quite modern. They did not appear till the 20th century when it is thought that Zouba el Kloubatiyya was the first belly dancer to use a balanced candle prop on her head during a zeffa, wedding procession in Egypt.(Though Shafia al Coptia and Nezla el Adel both are thought to be the first or near the first) I will leave that debate for another blog. Regardless of who started the tradition, it quickly caught on and soon shamadans were a mainstay both in belly dance and wedding customs throughout the world.

Despite having a less than ancient tradition, the symbolic use of candles and torches is quite common among many marriage traditions around the world. The processions were often lit with torches and candles to both light the way, symbolically and figuratively, and add to the excitement of the procession. In line with being part of both a fun and exciting as well as almost ritual like custom the traditional shamadan dance would include both loose freestyle dance with the bride and groom while leading them into the reception to their chairs as well as a full theatrical dance with the shamadan. This would usually include “tricks” like splits and flexibility displays as well as floorwork. After Mahmoud Reda’s stylization of the Egyptian dances, the shamadan dance took a little more elegant and demure display but either variation is appropriate depending of course of the energy of the zeffa you happened to be involved in. The music can be anything from a live band that is part of the zeffa or the traditional zeffa rhythm which is often accompanied with the zilling of the belly dancer (4-4 Dum/ tek tek tek tek/ Dum/ tek tek). Of course, shamadan isn’t reserved exclusively for wedding receptions but can be used in theatrical or folkloric shows or just to give an incredible entrance!

What are your experiences with wedding processions and/or shamadans?







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The Anthropology of Bellydance: Evil Eye

Ack! Season, taxes, time change, prepping for summer research, it is safe to say pre Spring is stressful. What more to worry about? How about the evil eye? If you are in the bellydance world you are, at the very least familiar with the blue glass eye peering from jewelry, in costume shops, perhaps in your restaurant manager’s office but do you know the significance? In this hopefully recurring segment I will give you a brief cultural analysis of things I at least think the professional bellydancer should know about the cultures their dance is significant in.


The evil eye, ayn al-ḥasūd, nazar, ʿáyin hā-ráʿ, "buda", "cheshim mora", to máti, mal de ojo, malocchio is the belief that envy, can either intentionally or unintentionally cause bad luck, sickness, fever, blindness etc in another. Those most at risk are considered young children and babies (from childless women’s envy) but all can fall victim of it. The idea of the evil eye is most prevalent in the Mediterranean, Latin America (do to Spanish conquest), Africa and Arabic areas of the world, and in Judaism and Islam but it can be found throughout the world. The origin of the evil eye concept, appears to have originated from the awareness that we need water to survive so the evil eye dries things up. Milk in mothers and livestock, trees, men’s semen, babies suddenly getting diarrhea or vomiting etc.It is thought that this idea of drying up as the ultimate fear stems from the desert origins of the evil eye, but origins can not really be pin pointed so exactly and I would venture to say all humans probably figured the necessity of reliable water fairly quickly in human history. And for those who have studied the early modern beliefs of witchcraft in Western Europe and England you will see a correlation in this drying things up, with the favorite pastimes of so called witches, so I would venture to say in this blog that the fear of lack of moisture was probably a fairly universal human phenomenon. Also correlating with Western European and English concepts of witchcraft, those who are especially good at dealing out the evil eye are those with light eyes, unibrows and of course women, especially older barren women, who were thought to be only left on Earth after child bearing ages to do the Devil’s work, I mean, what else are women for if not baby making?  ;).

Whatever the origins, it appears that the evil eye is caused either intentionally or not, by praise or being praise worthy. Even an honest and non-envious glance that lasts too long or a compliment paid without touching can allow the evil eye to affect you. This is the reason why it is a practice to sometimes not dress up children and allow them to be dirty in order to avoid the envious look.

Despite the connotation that evil eye has, the victim is also not entirely free of blame. Being boastful and pompous, showing off wealth or success will draw the evil eye to you and according to Jewish belief, you deserve it. Being insensitive to those around you and boasting causes real pain and any pain you cause requires a Divine retribution and the evil eye is one way of allocating that punishment. The lesson being, to take the higher road, there is no need to boast of your success and take care not to hurt those around you with it. This is why, one of the many ways to deter the evil eye is to give the glory back to Divine. Such as the Muslim practice of saying Mash’Allah, literally God will’s it, after paying a compliment so any harm the complement may cause will not affect the receiver.

So now that you know about the evil eye, you are probably a little worried right? You’re out there in the spotlight at your shows and restaurants, taking photos posting them all over Facebook and Instagram, you’re practically begging for the evil eye. So what’s a dancer to do? There are many ways to deter the evil, the most famous being to wear the bright blue nazar as a piece of jewelry. Depending on your background, you want the eye to be very noticeable, one of the first things the eye goes to, so the evil eye will go into it and not you. But if you are of the Western Mediterranean variety you may want the charm to always be hidden, and over your heart. If the charm is seen, it loses its potency. (Sidenote: this was my grandmother’s belief and as soon as I started developing early she feared the evil eye and started sewing charms into the inside of my bra). Another way, is to have a charm right at the entrance of your house, it does not have to be an eye or even eye shaped, just something that attracts the eye first and so all evil eye will go into that. Especially for children, red cords, black beads are a very common deterrent, if it breaks then it is used up and a new one needs to be made. Also peacock eyes, the color blue, fish, the hand of Fatima (Muslim) or Miriam (Jewish) all are beneficial in deterring the evil eye. Or in Italy, a horn pendant is effective. The horn being a phallic symbol and the evil eye being considered almost solely sent out by women.

What if you don’t have any of these charms on you and some unibrowed, blue eyed, barren woman comes strolling into your show staring you down? Well if you follow the Italian beliefs, then the hand symbol of holding your middle and ring finger down with your thumb (think metal heads rocking out, Spiderman shooting web, the traditional horned God symbol) and shoot it back at them. Or make an ‘O’ with your index and thumb and put your index finger through it (literally a “doing it” from middle school). The idea of these hand symbols coming from balancing the malintent female energy with masculine energy or creating wetness via intercourse.

Want to pay a compliment without inadvertently causing the evil eye? Give the glory to Divine and say God wills it or Mash’Allah, spit after paying the complement (hence the Greek tradition of spitting after seeing the bride as she walks down the aisle), or touch the person after paying the complement.

Think you are being affected by the evil eye? Take a bath in salt water, women with pretty hair spend extra time on your hair (per advice from a customer of mine who was so afraid she had given me the evil eye after looking at my hair she took salt from the table and sprinkled it in my hair and spit). Smudge yourself with cleansing herbs such as sage. To officially diagnose the evil eye most processes involve water. Drop oil in water and watch the patterns. If the oil forms an eye shape keep dropping oil while praying asking for the eyes removal till the pattern is no longer eye shaped. Drop charcoal in the water, if it floats you have the evil eye. Drop wax in water if it splatters or sticks to side, then you have the eye. Roll an egg over your body and crack open if it looks cooked or like an eye (though really what egg doesn’t look like an eye) if it does you have the eye. Or drink holy water preferably with the spit of the perpetrator in it. This idea is also seen in the custom of praying over undrank portions of drink from guests and drinking it after they left.

So there is the quick and dirty. I am sure there are a lot of evil eye beliefs I have left out, but this is what I am familiar with. Feel free to add your beliefs in the comments below.