An Ancient Arabic Art is Positioned as New Entertainment and Marketing Vehicle

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LOS ANGELES ( -- Backed by the man who put Sting together with Jaguar in a landmark advertainment breakthrough, the ancient Arabic art of belly dancing is being promoted as a hot new entertainment and marketing trend across the U.S.
Entertainment mogul Miles Copeland is promoting belly dancing as the next big thing. Here, a member of his Bellydance Superstars performs on stage. Click to see large image.

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Miles Copeland, who helped launch a new era in marketing and entertainment thinking when he paired Sting and Jaguar in a wildly successful 2000 TV advertising campaign selling cars and music, is now building a multimedia franchise around two troupes of professional belly dancers.

Mr. Copeland heads The Copeland Group, a Los Angeles-based artist management company. His new acts -- the Bellydance Superstars and Desert Roses -- performed in 28 cities during last summer's Lollapalooza concert tour.

Major cultural event
Begun as an celebration of alternative music and lifestyles that mocked coporporate culture in 1991, the annual Lollapalooza show has evolved into a highly commercialized mainstream entertainment and marketing event bringing together top record label acts and sponsors such as Microsoft, Verizon and Clear Channel.

Copeland's belly dancers were sponsored during their Lollapalooza performances by Motorola and clothing marketer Capezio, as well as by Estee Lauder's Mac cosmetics and Paul Mitchell.

The troupe's own 54-city national tour kicks off in February, and a documentary, American Bellydancer, is near completion. Agents at William Morris are now shopping the film project 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. "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.

'It was mesmerizing,' said Mike Greene, Universal's senior vice president for specialty sales. Click to see large image.

"It's not necessarily about money changing hands."

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 group 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."

Emerging exercise fad
Helping to build that momentum is the fact that belly dancing is recognized by the American Council on Exercise as a healthy activity -- a important marketing consideration in a country now convulsed with concerns about obesity. The council said belly dancing, which works hundreds of muscles, is one of the country's fastest growing modes of exercises, drawing participants of all ages and body types.

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."

Arabic music distribution
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.

Several instructional DVDs are being released this year, and the dancers will appear in a video for a remade version of the Bangles' hit "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 accessories is in the works, with some products already being sold in Virgin Megastores.

Universal Music
Mike Greene, senior vice president for specialty sales at Universal Music & Video Distribution, 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, Mr. Greene said. "With him, it's not just an idea. He connects all the dots," he added. "This is very well-thought-out, and when [Copeland] says he'll deliver, he does."

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