The Gothic Bellydance Resource
An Overview of Gothic Bellydance:
Developments over the last 20 years in bellydance have brought us a wide variety of fusions; merging cultures, social trends, and other established dance forms to create new breeds of bellydance. When properly blended, a fusion dance embraces the best traits of its parents, while speaking with its own unique voice. And an example of this creative union is Gothic Bellydance.
Gothic Belly Dance, aka "Raks Gothique" or "Dark Fusion" merges the styling of the Gothic or "Goth" subculture with the beautiful expression of Bellydance in oriental, tribal, and folkloric formats.
What do we mean by Gothic styling? We're looking at key elements from the culture itself: music, fashion, art, and writing - everything that shapes the aesthetic and the attitude. The music covers a wide variety of voices and sounds within itself, but many of the major founders in this music scene have long discovered the benefits of fusing Western music with the sounds of the Middle /Near/Far East (Dead Can Dance, Vas, Faith and the Muse, Sisters of Mercy to name just a few.). Gothic fashion embraces Victorian, 1920's/Art Nouveau, Renaissance, Punk, Cyber, and Ethnic-Primitive influences, creating a distinct and dramatic look that is both modern and antique. The literature, the art, the club scene (down to how we move in the clubs) are all linked. In summary, it all started with the music and developed its look, feel, taste, and touch from there.
So, when it comes to Gothic Belly Dance, the artists who choose this means as their form of expression bring to life the music through their costuming, expression, and choreography.
A common question is, do you have to be Goth to perform Gothic Bellydance? The short answer is no--BUT the dancer should have a strong understanding of Gothic culture--just as one would study the culture behind any genre of art. It may not be rooted in a country, but it definitely has all the qualities of a cultural identity and truly can be studied in great detail through it's literature, art, and music. To not understand the culture, or not even make an attempt to do so, while claiming to perform GBD, is the equivalent of mocking another person's creed or background. Gothic Belly Dance is not about "playing dress-up" or "looking weird." It's about the expression of your darker self, baring your soul in a theatrical dance performance.
It should be noted that the majority of well-known Gothic Bellydancers are extremely familiar with traditional belly dance music and movements, and consider this genre of dance to be a further exploration of one's talent and passionate interests.
How Long Has It Been Around?
At the founding of this site in 2003, it was estimated to have started about 10 years prior (so in the 90's). The popularity of this website, the release of several Gothic Bellydance performance DVDs circa 2006-2007, and Tempest's Durga Tours (2006 and 2009) helped mushroom the interest dramatically.
Technically, you could say whenever the first goth decided to take a belly dance class, it had that potential...but did it go to the next level? Hard to say who, when or where, because it appears to have happened in multiple locations across the globe at about the same time (as is the tendency with most excellent ideas...) Dancers have been dabbling with it for years, but due to efforts made in the last decade, the genre has become more focused, defined, and recognized. And it continues to grow!
But basically, if someone claims to have been the sole person to have "invented" it, they are full of it. But there are many influential pioneers.
Is it Tribal or Oriental (Cabaret)?
A general misconception is that all Gothic Belly Dancers are Tribal Dancers. This is NOT true and they are NOT synonymous. Perhaps about 60% of the GBD population may identify as Tribal/Tribal Fusion, due to Tribal's general appeal to more alternative folks and the mainstream popularity of Tribal Fusion. However, the Gothic subculture precedes Tribal, and is (and was) present throughout the world, before Tribal spread out from California. 15+ years ago, the only form of bellydance you could find in many areas was Oriental and that's where the "blending" occurred. A recent poll showed that at least 60% of all bellydancers now see themselves as being actively interested in Tribal, Oriental, AND other Fusion forms.
What do Gothic Belly Dancers Wear?
What makes a costume goth? Does it have to be black? There are many "types" of Goths, which does allow for variety in costuming, but there tends to be something that just exudes Goth which pulls it all together visually.
Some commonly found costuming elements:
-fishnet and lace: whether it's a bodysuit, gloves, stockings, small weave or open work, fishnets and/or lace tends to play a big part in the dancer's costume.
-color?: although a costume doesn't need to be entirely black to be goth, generally black is the base for the costume. Common accent colors: reds, wines, purples, metallics. Also, whites and creams are popular for a ghostly/otherworldly feel - plus they show up well on stage.
-make-up: while standard belly dance make-up generally stays within the realm of "stage" make-up---normal evening-out make-up made extreme to stand up to the intensity of show lights and dark atmosphere, Gothic make-up tends to be more whimsical and artistic in nature, especially when it comes to the eyes and lips. Pallor of the skin depends on your natural skin-tone---in contrast to the popular stereotype of the white, deathly pale Goth, Goths come in all colors--so whatever best accents your natural color.
-metal: chainmaille, bells, link fringe, spikes/punk accents, and also, a touch of the exotic, some dancers prefer to use antique jewelry from India and other tribal localities.
-art/history-based: Goth has many historic costuming influences, so you may find one costume that leans toward the 1920's, another that's more Medieval, and another that's pure Punk--wherever there is dramatic/romantic human expression in art and word, Goth has had its way with it!
-fabrics: costumes can be made from lace, vinyl, latex, PVC, leather, Assuit, velvets, gauze, sari, imported textiles, and heavy satins. The overall look can be rich and romantic, or hard-edge. Never cheap.
-hair: Artistic hair is a big thing for Goths, both male and female. Unusual colors and cuts, fake hair in a variety of materials, hair adornments, and more.
How does one become a Gothic Bellydancer?
If you read through this site carefully, you will see that it's more than just dressing up Goth and shaking your hips. Our recommendation is to start at square one and be sure to develop a strong foundation in traditional belly dance. After getting the basics under your belt, take from different teachers, practice to all kinds of music, learn to understand the movements inside and out. Learn the rhythms and the sensations. Watch lots of dancers. Take a LOT of workshops.
There are so many events, festivals, and shows happening now that with only a little research, you'll find opportunities to see, learn, and perform quality fusion.
Common Terms & Phrases
gothla: Gothic Hafla! Credit for this one goes to Zan Asha of Chovexani. The first gothla was held in NYC on December 11th, 2005, following a workshop by Tempest.
GBD: the quick and dirty abbreviation for Gothic Bellydance. A GBDer is a Gothic Bellydancer.
The Gothfia - spawned by a discussion on the origin of gothla, in which Tempest said, "Gothic Belly Dancers - just like the mafia, only hotter" and from there, all sanity was lost. The Gothfia are the keepers of the artform, but in a cheesegoth sort of way.
Cheesegoth - another Tempest-term. Can describe the classic Gothic stereotype, usually fang-in-cheek. Most Goths embrace the cheese-factor, especially as they age---it's the point where Eldergoths can laugh at the silly things they did in their younger days, meanwhile rolling their eyes at the Emos.
What is Goth?
What is Bellydance?
Commons Myths About Gothic Bellydance
Academic folks tend to be fascinated by the development of Gothic Bellydance and come up with the most interesting theories/myths about why we do it. (We really wish they'd actually ask US.) We've also put here some other commonly-found misconceptions.
Myth #1: "Gothic Bellydance is a reaction to Islamic Terrorism/9-11."
Many of the most influential/founding figures got involved in bellydance well before 9-11. And we were Goth before then. Goth has nothing to do the violence of terrorism of ANY kind.
Myth #2: "Gothic Bellydance is about removing the Arabic cultural content from Bellydance"
Nope. Now we believe this point can be argued for how some bellydance (fusion or otherwise) is presented. But again, if you look at most of the founding dancers, they have Arabic/Middle Eastern/Mediterranean roots AND/or have spent a great deal of their career learning about the history and culture of the traditional dances. In case you weren't aware - Goths are pretty darn geeky/nerdy. We LOVE information and studying new things!
Myth #3: "Gothic Bellydance isn't Bellydance. Bellydance is a happy thing! Always!
Anyone who says this has never translated an Egyptian or Turkish song. They're full of longing, desire, unrequited love, and tragedy - which last time we checked, aren't exactly "happy" topics. One might even say they are...dark. Now, the activity of bellydance can a very happy thing! (Why would you do it if it didn't make you feel good?) But bellydance is very much capable of expressing the whole gambit of human emotions - ALL OF THEM.
Myth #4: "Gothic Bellydance started in California."
Not true, but we understand why some folks think this. When the "Raks Gothique" yahoo list was originally active, it had members from all of the world and the US (especially the mid-atlantic and northeast regions). Now, Tribal started in California, and being the home of Tribal Fest - California did play a big role in being a hotbed of creativity in the late 90's and early 00's. Tempest started her dance journey in RI and then moved to CA in late 2001, bringing her weird ideas with her (after producing "Between the Veils" - which was a darkly inspired bellydance show/benefit event that took place 10/01 in Massachusetts. The first "gothla" took place in NYC in 12/05, a dark-themed workshop weekend happened in Chicago in March 2006 (sponsored by Luci Ayaat) and all of the related Durga Tour gothlas/shows (including Badriya's long-running "Raks Spooki" in Boston) took place in Fall 2006. Gothla US didn't take place until early 2008 in Southern California.
The Who's Who of Gothic Bellydance (History Edition)
We are currently gathering content from these very influential folks, and will be creating a special section for this shortly. We will be focusing on three specific "waves":
-First Wave (2000-2004) - dancers who were seriously exploring Gothic Bellydance prior to the release of this website in 2003 and those that surfaced shortly afterward (mainly a "Wait, there's a name for what I'm doing? Sweet!" kind of reaction). This list includes Tempest, Ma'isah (Australia), Jeniviva, Anaar, Desert Sin, and the ladies of Martiya Possession.
-Second Wave (2005-2006) - dancers who started to develop/become more invested in Gothic Bellydance just before and/or after the release of the DVD: "Gothic Bellydance: The Darker Side of Fusion" and the first Durga Tour. Basically after coming in contact with the First Wave folks. This includes Ariellah & Sashi. The photo gallery of the first site was not updated much after it initially went up, hence why they are missing from that archive.
-Third Wave (late 2006-2007+) - dancers who found the dark path from this year on out - inspired by The Durga Tour and/or DVDs.
-Side Waves: We will also be including a list of influential dancers who dabbled in the dark side for at least several key performances, and moved on from there to focus on other styles. This includes Jill Parker, Heather Stants/Ultra Gypsy, and Amy Sigil/Unmata.
Dark Fusion vs. Gothic Bellydance
What's the difference between "Dark Fusion" and "Gothic Bellydance"? Nothing, except branding and personal comfort. Some people feel that the term "Gothic" holds too many stereotypes, and that "Dark Fusion" is more marketable. It's just a label that refers to the same kind of dancing.
What About Steampunk Bellydance?
There are a lot of Goths who also identify as Steampunks, as well as the concept of "Steamgoth." I think it's safe to say there is a great deal of crossover between Gothic and Steampunk subcultures. The main difference, in terms of Bellydance, is that everything in Goth stemmed first from the music. Steampunk was a literary genre first and foremost, and now there is music inspired by it. And that music is incredibly diverse! When asked "What is Steampunk music?" - we have found "Music that Steampunks like" is really the most accurate you can get. Much of it is also very bellydance friendly!
The heart of Steampunk Bellydance embraces not only the aesthetic of Steampunk, but is largely ruled by character development and storytelling - which in turn affect the movements. It is NOT "add some bustles and gears and there you go!"
What about Metal Bellydance? That is, bellydance that is performed to Metal music. While some Goths may also like Metal, it tends to be considered its own arena. The nature of the music tends to be less effective for dramatic, theatrical storytelling. The confusion lies in dark costuming, metal accessories, and the non-traditional music.
Burlesque is Burlesque. Back when this site was created, the burly scene was small, and one could say there was some overlap in performers' interests (and some folks still do both - separately.) But burlesque is the art of the strip-tease. Bellydance (and particularly GBD) is not stripping or teasing.
For Troupes or for Soloists?
Gothic Belly Dance can be performed solo or in a group. The soloist must be capable of having considerable stage presence and make contact with his/her audience. Within a group structure Gothic Belly Dance's theatrical nature can be greatly emphasized, and a story is unfolded. It's not about synchronized dancing so much as the overall visual and emotional effect--the energy that is created or moved or changed. It's about the interaction between the performers and the visual that they create for the audience.