Pop culture: Belly dancing slinks into the mainstream

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Miles Copeland believes Americans are ready for belly dancing.

Best known in marketing circles for putting Sting together with sleek carmaker Jaguar, Mr. Copeland is now building a multimedia franchise around two troupes of professional belly dancers. So far, his Bellydance Superstars and Desert Roses have performances in 28 cities on the Lollapalooza concert tour under their jeweled belts. Their own 54-city national tour kicks off in February, and a documentary, "American Bellydancer," is near completion. Agents at William Morris are shopping the film to cable TV.

"The more I learned about the clubs and schools and all the people who are involved in belly dancing, I just became fascinated," Mr. Copeland said. "Anyone can do it-you don't have to be thin as a rake."

Advertisers have already been seduced. Motorola and Capezio sponsored the dancers during Lollapalooza, as did Estee Lauder's Mac cosmetics and Paul Mitchell. Talks are ongoing with Farouk Systems' Biosilk hair-care brand.

"I learned from the Sting experience-if you can find another company trying to reach the same target you're trying to reach, then you should team up," Mr. Copeland said. "It's not necessarily about money changing hands."

Several instructional DVDs are being released this year, and the dancers will appear in a video for a remade version of the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian." That song, by Irish vocalist Carly Hennessy and Arabic star Hakim, will be included on a genre-bending CD from Universal Music Group and will be released as a single to radio. (Mr. Copeland managed the Bangles when they released the song originally.) A line of "Belly Star" branded dance accessories is in the works, with some products already being sold in Virgin Megastores.


Mike Greene, Universal's senior VP-specialty sales, went to a Bellydance Superstars performance for the first time at the reopening of the Virgin Megastore in San Francisco recently. "It was mesmerizing," he said. "When you see the music and dance together, it really clicks. There were hundreds of people there just hypnotized by it."

Mr. Copeland has always been "a little bit ahead of where everybody else is" on percolating trends, according to Mr. Greene. "With him, it's not just an idea. He connects all the dots," Mr. Greene said. "This is very well-thought-out, and when [Copeland] says he'll deliver, he does."

Motorola became interested in working with Mr. Copeland's dance troupe after he appeared as a guest speaker for the iDEN Subscriber Division that makes handsets for Nextel with two-way walkie-talkies. "We bring in a lot of creative thinkers from other areas to speak to us," said Tamara Franklin, the division's director of strategic planning and new business development. "We were interested in Miles because he's been able to link artists and the corporate world."

The Motorola division has an ongoing marketing relationship with Russell Simmons' Phat Farm, and linked with Mr. Copeland's dancers before Lollapalooza was locked down. Motorola provided handsets and cellphone service to the dancers, and put the company's brand across tour buses and programs. "We wanted to support something that wasn't your traditional rock concert tour," Ms. Franklin said. "This has an interesting cultural aspect, and it's gaining momentum."

The American Council on Exercise, in fact, has hailed belly dancing as one of the fastest-growing modes of exercise, and its practitioners tout it as a self-esteem builder because it draws in all ages and body types. It's a low-impact de-stresser that works hundreds of muscles, according to the council.

american interest

Mr. Copeland's Mondo Melodia and Mondo Rhythmica labels are the biggest distributors of Arabic artists in the U.S. As Mr. Copeland started to introduce his Arabic artists to the U.S. in live shows, he brought in belly dancers as part of the act. Finding that audiences responded as much or more to the dancing, he spun the dancers off into their own show, booking them at nightclubs such as The Roxy on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip. The dancers give workshops and demonstrations at such varied venues as Borders bookstores and community theaters.

Eventually, Mr. Copeland envisions dance troupes touring constantly, with some stationed in hot spots like Las Vegas. He sees it as less of a nightclub act and more of an art form. "It definitely has an exotic flavor, but it's not a girlie show," Mr. Copeland said. "It's a lifestyle."

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