Looking to travel the world while making a passable living? It's not an Army recruitment; it's a belly dancing pitch. The world of swaying hips and elaborate costumes is searching for good people to enter its ranks.
We balance a lot of shit on our heads; swords, trays, shamadan…
– Leela of Leelabellydance.com
Steve Balderson's Underbelly is a view into an art not regularly seen. A pervasive theme in Balderson's films is the transformation of an ordinary person into a “star” through personal expression and self-confidence. These dancing women are normal ladies who carry an air of regality in the realm of belly dancing.
Our main subject, Princess Farhana, takes us along in her travels around the world. From Hollywood to London and Mexico to middle-Nebraska, she sways her way into hearts, her calendar constantly full with teaching and entertaining.
…gives us a chance to feel good about ourselves…gives us a chance to act out things regular society wouldn't normally let you do.
– Princess Farhana
At the age of 32, after years of dancing with a band that lead to drugs, bulimia and self-loathing, Farhana stumbled into the art form that led to a 16-year career. This path is echoed by many women documented in the piece, where extreme weight gain, a close friend's suicide, or drugs triggered involvement in dancing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, traditional belly dancers disapprove of recent movements in belly dancing fusion documented in the piece, in which newer women entering the art contribute to its evolution, as flamenco, samba and burlesque are incorporated.
Act like a man in a backwoods trailer who just finished a Coors.
– Princess Farhana
You'll actually see men belly dance in Underbelly. Aside from the humorous and/or terrifying images this might send floating through your head, here are two lovely scenes: An intimate belly dancing festival in a Chrysler dealership in Ontario, Canada, and the other, clips of a tassel twirling instructional video: “Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce…” Underbelly is a unique look at an ages-old art through the modern eyes and hearts of its current ladies.