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  • Writer's pictureA.S. May

The timeless beauty of American Cabaret belly dance

Greetings ABA! My name is Amantha, and I’m excited to be a new contributor to this blog. Some of you may know me, but for those of you who don’t, here’s a quick intro: I danced, choreographed, and taught belly dance professionally in NYC for many years, then I had a kid and moved to Austin. I spent several years dancing here and working with Najla and the Baharat Bellydance Ensemble. I’m currently taking a break from performing, so writing for the blog allows me to stay connected to the dance and our community.

When considering topics to write about, I kept coming back to my first love, American Cabaret. These days it’s called AmCab. It’s an intricate vintage style that many Americans recognize as the iconography of belly dance – long fringed bra and belt sets, panel skirts, zills, lots of floorwork and backbends, historically performed mostly in restaurants or nightclubs. I’ve decided to do a series of posts exploring various aspects of AmCab.

Amantha performing AmCab in 2007. Photo by Ken Stein.

Recently I sat down with my friend Jamie Lynn, who is both an exquisite AmCab dancer and a diligent student of its history. We spent time discussing many subtopics of the style, like the origins in Turkish and Lebanese belly dance, the differences between East Coast and West Coast AmCab, costume variations, and more. The music of AmCab is a whole subject unto itself. Over the next several posts, I’ll get into more specifics about these and other elements of the style.

There are many dancers like Jamie Lynn out there who work hard to preserve AmCab in its most traditional form. Yet AmCab, like all belly dance styles, continues to evolve and absorb an array of new influences. Egyptian dance has dominated the national attention for some time in the U.S., but AmCab does seem to be experiencing a resurgence.

I asked Jamie Lynn to share her thoughts about why exactly AmCab continues to be relevant, and why it’s worth studying. In my opinion, her answer sums up everything I love most about AmCab and all the reasons it stole my heart 20 years ago when I was a baby beginner bellydancer:

“AmCab is entertainment. AmCab works for the American audience because it constantly changes. You have fast, slow, veil, sword. It’s a roller coaster ride!”

It’s theatrical, dramatic, and expresses a range of emotions. And the audience itself becomes an integral part of the story the dancer and the music are telling. When you watch a solid AmCab show in person, you feel swept up, carried along, and appreciated. It’s hard not to leave feeling more relaxed and joyful.

The value in that kind of live performance is timeless. And I personally believe it is essential, especially in this age where we experience so much of our entertainment as prerecorded videos on the minuscule screens of our devices.

So, hats off to dancers like Jamie Lynn, for ensuring that this delightful roller coaster sticks around for future generations of dancers and audiences to enjoy! I’m looking forward to sharing more about AmCab, and other belly dance topics, with you in the future.

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