I was listening to a fantastic lecture at Stamford Arts Centre (brilliant place for all-you-can-eat culture plus great cafe too!) by Dr Jane Mackay on George Bernard Shaw, and more specifically, his glorious work, Pygmalion, and its somewhat altered musical version, My Fair Lady.  This is part of Jane Mackay’s Literature at Lunchtime series and it’s pretty un-missable if you enjoy the big name writers of our time and times past. She touched upon Bernard Shaw’s near obsession with reinvention…his own past in a poor, workaday family and his transcendence into fabulous wealth and his need to bring this to his writing. Eliza Doolittle is the very embodiment of reinvention, the poverty-stricken cockney flower girl passed off as a duchess.

Then it came to me. Being a Closet Expat is all about reinvention. Turning my thoughts back to where we started with this journey – and I confess there have been many digressions, particularly into Belly Dance which is itself relevant to this thread – we began by examining how out of skin the Closet Expat feels with the humdrum of life in one place – how that urge to discover and re-discover takes hold – and where this urge is rooted. We looked at how with one foreign parent a child can feel divided between cultures and how if you study languages it gives you a thirst for the over-there of life, but maybe there is another aspect we should be considering.

How many of us Closet Expats are out there for the sheer power of reinvention? Whatever prompts that urge, we all have the same goal – shedding something of the past and moving on with a semi-new persona and all the possibilities that the metamorphosis provides.

What could be the cause? Tragedy. Maybe a terrible loss – more of that another time. A mess-up of a marriage – Belly workshops on board ship - REINVENTION rocks!more about that too! Redundancy. An affair gone wrong. The promise of an affair going right. Self-doubt, self-denial. Self-loathing. All these things and more can push us towards an invented self or a partially invented self and where better to do that than on foreign shores?

Now I suspect I could be an expert in these matters and I can prove it by telling you exactly where I am as I write this blog. I am sitting in the Promenade Cafe aboard a cruise ship. And why am I here? Because so many times have I reinvented myself that today, in this incarnation, I am delivering belly dance workshops on board ship as we sail around the beautiful, sunny Mediterranean. Speechless? I blame you not, as I barely have the words for my bonkers-ness myself. But you know what? If this is reinvention, whatever the reason, whatever the deep-seated need, then bring it on… It doesn’t have to be bad. And maybe, just maybe, we Closet Expats have something going for us. Maybe if we can’t settle down then why just settle for anything? The sky is there…I can see it from my ship and I plan to keep right on reaching for it as long as I can. Now where are my flamenco shoes?


So…here we are as promised: A sure fire way to recognise what’s happening before your eyes. ..Belly Dance for the soul!

There’s no way a dancer will get through a piece of choreography without using a figure of 8 movement – so here’s a compare/ contrast exercise between Egyptian and Turkish style figures of 8 so a quick anaysis on your part as to whether she’smoving vertically or horizontally (with her hips, that is!) will allow you to locate the origin of her training and impress your fellow-tourists! And why not jhave a go yourself to check out the sensual moves…?

The Vertical Figure of Eight:

Egyptian style:

Stand with the legs softly bent and slightly apart and feet flat on the ground. Raise the right hip and push out to the side, then push down and in, completing a circular motion to the right in line with the body. Raise the left hip and push out to the side and down and in, creating a circular motion on the other side. The figure of eight that is being traced with these movements is directly in line with the sides of the body, moving neither forwards nor backwards. The knees move gently up and down to aid the movements and the feet roll to the right and then to the left to allow the hips to move outwards as far as possible .The movement is sensual and fluid.

 Turkish style:

Stand with the legs softly bent and slightly apart. Isolate the lower body, keeping the upper body as immobile as possible. Twisting the left hip to the front and bend the left knee, flexing the left foot onto the ball and push down and backwards with the right hip, then up and forwards, tracing a vertical circle with the hip, which is diagonal to the centre of the body. Straighten the knee and bring the left heel down to the floor. With the right hip to the front, bend the right leg, flexing the foot onto the ball and push down, back and up with the left hip, completing a circular motion diagonal to the body on the other side. Straighten the knee and bring the right heel down to the floor.

These two circles that are traced, performed seamlessly, together create a figure of eight, which moves forwards and backwards at an angle from the centre line of the body.

 The Egyptian style is snaky in nature whilst the Turkish is more playful and lively. The Egyptian move is performed with flat, rolling feet, whilst the Turkish incorporates a bending and flexing of the knee and foot. The Turkish move is tighter in to the body, moving the hips up and down close to the body and at an angle, whilst the Egyptian style requires the hips to be pushed out from the body as far as possible, maintaining a direct line with the body.

 A Turkish dancer would perform this movement in isolation whilst the Egyptian dancer may well simultaneously perform other moves with the upper body and arms.

And for an amazing intensive course in belly dance, log on to: 

 Want to know more? Check out these sources:

The Art of belly dance, Neena and Veena



Belly dance for fitness and joy!

Yesterday I posted stuff all about the history – or possible histories to be more accurate – of Belly Dance and promised to take a look at the differences in style according to the culture in which they have flourished. People generally assume it’s all about Egypt but belly dancers will tell you that’s simply not the case. Unless you get into this wonderful, crazy world, you most likely won’t realise that styles are pretty specific to areas so it’s possible to tell when someone has trained in Turkey for example as opposed to Egypt…or the Lebanon…or the US and so on. If you’re simply a Middle East-bound tourist hoping to catch a performance or a history buff who likes to know what’s what, it’ s still interesting to be able to recognise certain aspects of this incredible art and impress your companions with your knowledge…

Turkish oriental dancing is one of the most important of the non-Egyptian forms of belly dancing. During the 15th century, with the spreading of Islam, dance – indeed all forms of artistic expression apart from poetry – was banned and yet it was at this time that the complicated musical scales and rhythms of the Turkish form were developed, and these remain largely unchanged to this day.  Belly dance was protected and nurtured in Turkey, and in particular, at the Caliph’s court in Baghdad, where dance was seen as a spiritually uplifting and creative art. It is considered that Turkish belly dancing may have developed as a result of Roma influences as well as those of Egypt and Syria and the Lebanon, having developed from the Ottoman Raqqas to the oriental dance of modern day.

Turkish dancers, unlike those in Egypt, are not restricted by law in the manner of movements they may make, nor by the costume laws imposed on Egyptian dancers. Consequently the dance has evolved in a more extrovert manner, involving more pelvic and floor work and a more outwardly expressive, abandoned style, incorporating a neo-aerobic, energetic element. Travelling steps, including shimmies over some distance are common to both Turkish and Lebanese belly dance, whereas the Egyptian art is subtle with no major movement across the stage and shimmies layered over other moves. Turkish dance responds to the rhythm or the music, isolating parts of the body in turn, whereas Egyptian dancers will respond to rhythm and music simultaneously, often using several parts of the body at once.

 Belly dancers from Turkey are also known for their musicianship with adept playing of the zils or finger-cymbals. Whilst Arabic dancers too play the zils, a Turkish dancer who does not do so is considered to be inferior. There is another fundamental difference here. The Arabic pattern of zil-playing is right-left-right, whereas the Turkish method is right-right-left, which whilst seemingly simple, creates a major impact in the delivery of more complicated rhythms.

 Turkish belly dance is often misnamed Chiftetelli, because of the specific Turkish wedding dance, which employs a rhythm which is not featured in Egyptian dance. The chiftetelli is slower, lending itself to sensual floor work, veil dances and snaky arm movements. It often forms the second part of the usual five-part Turkish belly dance routine, the first being an exciting opening, the third a lively, upbeat piece, the fourth a fast drum solo (solo tabla) and the fifth and final a happy piece of music to bid farewell to the audience. The dancer usually plays the zils to accompany her dance in the first and fifth parts of her routine. A deff (tambourine) may be used instead of the zils.

Egyptian dancers opt rather to incorporate a veil in the first and final parts of their act.

Turkish dance also employs the Karsilama rhythm, also known as Kashlimar, a 9/8 signature, counted as 12-34-56-789. This is a purely Turkish rhythm, not present in any other belly dance form.

 The Turkish costume can be more revealing than that worn by the Egyptian counterpart, emphasizing the leg, often with split skirts exposing the entire leg and Turkish dancers often favour high heels, rather than bare feet, as is the norm in Egypt.

Different instruments are used in different cultures. For example, the bouzouki is favoured in Turkish dance rather than the oud in Egyptian and more wind instruments are employed, such as the clarinet. The nay, a reed flute, is used in Turkish, Arabic and Persian music.

 Whatever the differences, there is one common thread running through the various cultures where belly dance is performed – the ambiguity with which it is viewed. Whilst the regions take pride in the history and execution of the belly dance, it is also embarrassed at its very existence and considered by many as a shameful practice, stemming clearly from the fact that Islam forbids a woman to display her body in public. Dance and its acceptability is intimately bound to the role of women in any given society – and what that society will permit or forbid them to do. Whilst the Arabic world does not want the art of belly dance to die, it is not prepared to nurture it by considering dance as anything but a social pastime, performed by women to women in the home. Perhaps it is inevitable that belly dance will evolve towards more western movements given that it is women of non-Islamic cultures who may perform with the blessing of their society and its men.

Next time: compare and contrast specific moves!

Fancy more info? Check out the following sources:

The Art of belly dance, Neena and Veena



Contact: for intensive courses and classes 

Confession: I love watching Britain’s Got Talent and I was delighted to hear the recent, delightful  Belly Dancer insisting that Belly Dance makes you happy. And it does. There are so many myths and legends surrounding the art – and art it is – that I have decided to share my own personal research on the subject and its origins. This research is part of the amazing course at the school where I both trained and taught in Dubai. If any of you out there are thinking of throwing yourself body and soul into a full-on intensive burst of belly, there is no better place to begin than with Cello Music & Ballet Center in Dubai.

Contact the lovely people at or message me and I’ll put you in touch.

The History of Belly Dance in Arabic and Eastern Cultures

The history of belly dance is, perhaps appropriately, shrouded in mystery in as much as much of what has been related is by word of mouth, thus entering the realms of fable. Dancers themselves have attempted to research the origins, but a variety of theories remain stubborn to verification by any source. In order to examine what we know of the history of belly dance in Arabic and Eastern culture, it is important to understand the regions that these cultures comprise:

 Mediterranean North Africa includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Arabic and Islamic cultures are the main influence in this primarily Muslim area.Egypt is by far the most influential in terms of belly dance, the primary styles being Raqs Sharqi (performance) and Raqs Baladi (local dance).

 The Arabic Gulf consists of Saudi Arabia, the Yemen, Oman, the UAE and Kuwait. The well-known style of dance for this area is Khalejee, involving hair tossing in a 2/4 rhythm. Costumes are thobes – large and flowing robes with an embellished centre panel.

 The Levant: Consisting of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, parts of Turkey and parts of Iraq, this area is the most culturally diverse contributor to the world of belly dance with Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Arabic and Ottoman influences. During the rule of the Ottoman Empire, it was Turkish dance, which set the standard with Istanbul leading the way in the design and production of costumes. The Lebanon is also an important centre for music and dance, where the style is graceful and coy.

In the Mediterranean and Balkan Europe and Asia Minor belly dance plays a significant role in the arts in Western Turkey, Macedonia, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece, again attributed to the Ottoman reign. It is interesting to note that the Greek style of social dance, the Tsiftetelli, was actually introduced by the Turkish (Chiftetelli), although it has long since become synonymous with Greece.

 Central Asia and the Far East: This area includes Iran, Turkestan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Throughout this region there is clear evidence that local dance has been influenced by Raqs, which is thought to have been introduced along the Silk Road.

 Belly dancing is one of the oldest forms of social dance. Raqs Baladi in particular is social in nature, performed for fun at celebrations, whilst Raqs Sharqi is performed in a theatrical manner in a stage setting. Both were, and are, performed by men as well as women.

 There are many varied theories as to the origin of belly dance, most of which is performed in a social context in the Middle East rather than under the spotlights of a nightclub and this in itself has led to confusion over the nature of the dance. It is unquestionably the fusion of different styles with different origins, many handed down from local and traditional folk dances.

The suggested origins of belly dance are as follows:

  • It descends from the native dances of Upper Egypt
  • Its origins lie in Greece and spread with Alexander the Great
  • It originates from a religious dance once practised by temple priestesses. This is the most popular of the theories.
  • It was part of a traditional birthing practice, a suggestion supported by historical references
  • It spread through the migration of Romany gypsies descended from the Banjara of Rajasthan in Northern India
  • Its roots were in Uzbekistan, spreading to India via the slave trade.

Whatever the theory, it remains true that belly dance has enjoyed a long history in Africa and the Middle East, proven by the images of dancers on palace walls featured in the ‘Art and Architecture of Islam 650- 1250’, and this despite the fact that dancing and music were banned with the popularisation of Islam and that depiction of people in paintings was not allowed.

 Most dances associated with this form were performed with men and women separately, ensuring that women should not be seen dancing by anyone other than their husbands, and whilst some social dancing is now acceptable, there remains a majority in Africa and the Middle East who consider that professional dancers performing for mixed audiences are of dubious character and object on moral grounds.

 Raqs Sharqi, translated as the ‘dance of the orient’ is considered the oldest dance in the world and is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Belly dance is in fact a misnomer since all parts of the body are involved. Men too perform this dance, although not publicly in Arab countries. The Egyptian style of this dance is based on Baladi and later on the work of a number of legendary dancers including Samia Gamal and Naima Akef. The dance continues to evolve, witnessed by the influence of such dancers as Nelly Mazloum and Mahmoud Reda, whereby elements of ballet have been incorporated, resulting in modern day dancers standing on relevé as they travel their movements.

 Baladi, Sha’abi and Sharqi are all forms of Egyptian style and it was this form of belly dance that was first witnessed by Westerners when Napoleon invaded Egypt. Captivated by the sensual movements of the women of the semi-nomadic Ghawazee tribe, the French coined the phrase, ‘danse du ventre.’

 Dancers from Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Algeria were responsible for introducing belly dance to the US in 1893 at the World Fair in Chicago. The un-corseted, rapid hip movements caused some outrage but also captured public imagination, leading to the ‘shimmy and shake’ dance of the era and that, together with cultural misunderstanding, led to the misrepresentation of belly dance as an erotic – and hence immoral – dance. The introduction of belly dancing created a fashion and led the way for a number of films and vaudeville and burlesque shows, creating stereotypes which dancers are still striving to overcome – that of the imprisoned slave or evil seductress.

 Belly dance is now viewed in the US and Europe as an empowering art, allowing woman to be at one with the earth, enhancing body image and healing mind and spirit.

Watch out for my next blog on cultural differences in forms of belly dance…

I have been side-tracked but I guess that´s what happens to Closet Expats so it´s all part of the theme and the dream…

It would seem churlish to write about Germany today since I am in ARABIA! Dubai at the moment…two days ago in Fujeirah and Oman next weekend. So Arabia it is. 

This place has a part of my soul and I see no way that´s going to change. Once you have spent any significant amount of time here – unless you don´t take the trouble to wriggle under superficial its skin a little – the exotic music, vibrant colours and inter-mingling of tradtional, local multi-cultural vibe will become part of your blood.

You have to get past that superficial stuff though. Yes – Friday brunches do seem tempting. But analyse the formula:  too much Champagne, way too much food – excessive, obscene amounts of food and even more obscene waste of resources and the taste of guilt in this day and age might do serious damage to the taste of the high end cuisine. Must have been like this in the Raj but didn´t seem to bother the conscience of the average expat then. Does it now?

The sunshine is amazing, the beaches are fabulous, the shops are incredible… live it, enjoy it but don´t let it stop there. If you are lucky enough to be a part of this world for any period of time, find something soulful to get your teeth into. Singing, drumming, painting, photography, drama, dance…it´s all here. No shortage of culture or opportunity …just bad press from the Western world in that respect so get past it and uncover something new in you as well as something new in the world.

Owning up here… this is where I came out of the Closet to finally be an expat…more on how, why, when later…and I discovered belly dance – or it discovered me.

If you love dance you will adore this. Forget the seedy side, just bathe in the rhythms of the exotic, the tabla playing, the ching of the zills and move to the beat. And men can do it too! This amazing dance has sadly become a hyped up titillation for tourists in some areas but in its purest form, the skill and control required is phenomenal and deserves all the attention comanded by more socially acceptable art forms. Its origins are said to have been in folk dance – it was the French in Egypt who coined (forgive the pun!) the phrase ´La Danse du Ventre´- belly dance – and it was probably downhill from there in terms of its reputation. Hollywood got hold of the whole idea and suddenly films were littered with dancers writhing for sheikhs and peeling back the layers of veils. And of course there is still a seedy side. But as an art form it is precise, challenging, demanding and joyful as well as sensual in the best possible way. Practised amongst women, it is a fabulous way to lift the spirits and keep the joints and muscles nimble, even to a ripe old age since the low impact exercise guards against osteoporosis!

With anything you need to set yourself a target. And it doesn´t matter where you are in the world. If you get involved with something local you will have a capsule of memories that will only ever be asssociated with that special time in that special place. Dreams that you can pull out of the hat at the drop of a hip or the click of the camera. And serendipity dictates that you will just never know when your esoteric skill will suddenly be the talent du jour and suddenly you know exactly why you were meant to be in that place at that time learning that new art.

We were talking about Germany. I have never really considered the fact that as a German speaker,  joining a British post-war family probably required as much bravery on the part of my mother as when my father faced the foe in Normandy – except there was never to be an escape.

Now it has to be said that as a child, what I liked most about Germany was the marzipan. My Oma kind of scared and fascinated me at the same time. She was a huge character – not physically apart from the towering bun of brunette hair she had all her life – but in terms of presence per square foot – huge. And not at all grandmother like except in a Little Red Riding Hood sort of way. She had this weird thing she would do where she would draw one index finger rapidly over the other and say something that sounded like ‘hair kish kish kish.’ I have never asked what it meant or why she did it but then, as a child swimming in alien sounds and smells, I decided it was some sort of hex (and that was the word in my head – hex, meaning witch in Middle High German (‘Hecse’) which translated into hexen in Pennsylvanian Dutch with the dialect-speaking Germans in the late 17th Century and first recorded as an English verb – to practise sorcery – in 1830).  Strange huh?

For all her witch-like qualities, Oma lent a sense of the exotic to my visits and gradually, as I started by osmosis to understand the language, I came under the spell of the umlauts, the kartoffelsalat (potato salad – I was famous for it once!) and the hearty songs (‘Ich komm’ von Rudern, ich komm’ von Segeln’) and – although I didn’t recognise it then – visiting the strange one down one up, loo-out-the-back house felt each time a little more like coming home.

Aha! So it felt like coming home when going abroad, did it?

One of my expat followers – and I am grateful to my small but highly appreciated blog circle – commented that he was bound one day to live in Italy as it was there that he had been conceived. Can it be, therefore, that even in the womb we are influenced by the pungent aromas, the babble of foreign-speak, the strains of an accordian or lute? Should we perhaps ban all travel to pregnant women lest their offspring should feel forever out of their skins in wherever they are born?

If any of my musings are stirring something inside, it could be your closet door opening just a fraction. Beware – it will never close. You’ll just end up stuffing more inside of it until it bursts at the seams and you’ll have to emerge.

Back to the story…

It all sounds very spoilt, this to-ing and fro-ing from the continent every holiday with my folks. But you know what? The expat brat in me was already on the morph. ‘I want to go to Butlins’ I would say every summer. ‘Or the Isle of White’ (yes – I know it’s the wrong spelling but in my 9-year-old head, that was what it was – white – and desirable – and full of my school friends on holiday while I was forced to go yet again to tour the Alps en route to Oma, or visit Pisa en route to Oma or see the Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia en route to Oma.). If only we knew then what we know now. 

Anyway it wasn’t enough to learn German by the back door and be as good as my dad in French. This was a culture bug that had seeped between my pores from the two-pronged attack of my fanatical francophile father and my Dutch German gene pool. So what did I choose to specialise in at School? You haven’t been reading properly if you need me to type a response (which would be incorrect if you wrote that as an English translation of the French ‘reponse’ by the way). And you will have noticed that I haven’t yet worked out how to use accents on this blog…


This dream theme got me thinking again last night. Was it always a dream to become an Expat or did it sneak up on me all of a sudden? If I can unravel what happened to me then maybe it will help you understand what’s happening to you.

Another confession: My mum’s Dutch and she was brought up in Germany with German as her first language. So there you are! No hope really since I have never felt myself to be English or even British. More European really – even before the EU, I had my own personal European Union going on – my mum and my dad. And there’s an arbitrary thing. If my dad had come back from the war and married Peggy (whoever she was) and not met my mum swinging on a gate in northern Germany and not offered her chocolate and fancied her despite the knee socks (she was only 16), and imagine for one moment that I was somehow stored in my dad’s sperm and would still have been sort of me with Peggy for a mum then I would have been perfectly content with post-war Battersea. Wouldn’t I? 

And my mum being my mum with gloriously dramatic ways made an art out of homesickness. You only had to say ‘Guten Morgen’ and she was off on the train from Liverpool Street Station to Dover, a hop on the ferry to the Hoek of Holland and a train to Gladbach and there you have it – back to the arms of her family with me in tow. So I was infected if you like. The gutteral music of the language of the Teutons, the waft of Wurst, the tingaling of cycle bells and it was not just Holland that was hooked!

Now I’m not saying that you have to have actual, physical early exposure to a foreign culture to be in your closet. Take my dad for example. He LOVED languages at school. His school days at the local grammar were interrupted by the war but I often think my dad would’ve been a genius had this not happened. As it was he must have been a closet genius. Never thought of that before. Anyway, he was brilliant at Latin and French and had this thing about the whole joie de vivre of the French way of life. So why he didn’t go find a mademoiselle on the way back to Normandy beats me. But he still married a foreigner. A FOREIGNER in those days! Who only spoke German! And brought her into a family who were still grieving rellies who had fallen in the previous war. Insane!

You see? Not so simple. All a bit chicken and egg since had my father’s language teachers been pants he never would have been inspired. Had he never been inspired he wouldn’t have been so fascinated by all things Europe – and had he not been fascinated by all things Europe he might have managed an escape from enemy territory sans souvenir wife.

Now my dad was my hero. And anything he liked I liked – because you do, don’t you? He was into classical music big time. He would come home at lunchtime and kneel down in front of his huge gramophone (which he built himself – genius you see), sort through his LPs and select one of the shiny black discs, stroking its sleekness lovingly with a cloth, puff air with this little grey puffy thing onto the stylus and voila! The room would fill with violins, cellos, flutes, pianos and drums and the two of us would be transported to some far off place where snowflakes were falling, Peter was facing a wolf or a swan was gracefully dying. He loved it so I loved it. And so it was with French.

He made it desirable you see. Just by being my dad. Every item of vocab imbibed, every verb conjugated, every nasal sound mastered was a feather in my adoring cap. I needed to do it as well as he could – better. And I needed to love Europe as did he.

So the dream was perhaps never a dream. More an imprint stamped on me from the word go. So it becomes questionable whether there was ever a point at which I could escape. And if as surely as the Lion and the Witch I was destined to enter the closet, then it could be your destiny too.