The Bellydance Superstars performed Thursday at Britt Festivals.

Shake it 'til you break it

Going to see the Bellydance Superstars if you're a guy is like sitting through a chick flick: It's about two hours, it feels longer, and most of the audience is women.

The Bellydance Superstars, a dozen lovely dancers and tabla player Issam Houshan, wriggled and gyrated their way onto the Britt hillside in Jacksonville Thursday night, breaking the Britt bellydance barrier bodaciously. About 800 people showed up, at least 600-something of them women, 100 and some with men in tow.

You know those harem scenes in those old Hollywood movies? Fuggettaboutit. Think beads and sequins, tattoos and body piercings, spirited ululations from the audience.

The somewhat traditional "Pharaonic Odyssey," the first number on the multimedia show, (translation: most of the music is recorded) introduced the dancers, most of whom seem to have single names in the style of Cher or Madonna.

The early numbers were a nod to Egyptian and cabaret-style dancing, with scantily-clad dancers in glittery costumes. But there is no pretense of real traditionalism here. This is not a folk show. What it is is a melding of Egyptian and cabaret with tribal fusion, a funkier offshoot that started in the San Francisco Bay Area and has since spread to Europe.

"Wings of Isis" featured the dancer Bozenka with snaky movements, lots of quivering and finger cymbals. A drum solo with Issam Houshan got the audience involved, even if counting to eight was apparently harder than it might have seemed.

"Oriental Dreams," a big number, turned the evening to more of a tribal influence, with a big techno groove laid atop an Arabic base. It was followed by Ya Raitone, a hip-hop-heavy groove with Bozenka, Sonia and Colleen.

Then came the spectacular "Behind the Veil," with three colorfully costumed dancers twirling to a percussion-heavy soundtrack and seeming to morph into dervishes, flowers, tops and mushrooms under the lights. The show went on to incorporate the influences of Bollywood, India's film industry, and even Polynesia.

Bellydance Superstars creator Miles Copeland, the rock promoter who managed The Police, sees bellydance as a living art that moves between cultures and influences them and in turn is influenced. Copeland started the group in 2002.

It toured with the 2003 Lollapalooza show and has since toured the world, including a three-month stint in Monaco that drew the usually reclusive Prince Albert, twice. The Sunday Times of London called it "the most important dance company in the world" and said the show was "poised to be the next Riverdance."

Bellydancers are not strippers, and bellydancing is not a dance of seduction. Traditional bellydancers did not wear costumes, or jewels in the navel. Nor did they dance to win a man's attention. Women danced in the presence of other women, in part to strengthen the belly muscles for childbirth.

But forget tradition. The Superstars are able to have fun with it without being slaves to it in numbers such as "Baila Belly," an athletic number featuring big batons, and "Solo by Adore," a techno piece in which the dancer wore a black top hat. Later in the show "Escape to the Pacific" even wove some Polynesian chops into the program, for all the Tahitian Turks out there.

If there's weakness here it's the lack of live musicians and the fact that the dancing becomes somewhat repetitive. How many times can you shake it until you break it? Still, it's a colorful, athletic show.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

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