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Mitsuko Takara

 Oriental dance in American movies

Little Egypt

When Little Egypt made her appearance in the Chicago world fair, the so called "Hootchie Coochie" dancers entered the scene. When the movies became popular entertainment, dancers quickly where used in all kinds of scenarios to add some kind of exotics.

Intolerance (1916) D.W. Griffits

Director D.W. Griffith's silent film of 1916 Intolerance is without doubt a masterpiece and a milestone in cinematic history. Intolerance was the most expensive film of its time, costing about 2 million dollars partly due to the 4 th part of the movie, the Babylonian Story with its the massive gate and towering walls of the city of Babylon, spectacular crowd scenes and exterior sets and live elephants.
Although the cinematic methods were ahead of their time, film was not successful in the USA. In those times music was played live during the projection and this movie required a full orchestra and not a simple piano player as was usual in the period of the silent movie.
D.W. Griffith used for the first time eye-lashes in this movie and started a trend.
The dance scenes were quite interesting as the giant Babylonian gate is opened and slaves at each side move massive wheels introducing the great statue while "Hand maidens from Ishtar's Temple of Love and Laughter" dance through the opening.
Seena Owen as Attarea
road to Morrocco

An example of an exotic fake "oriental dance" is "Road to Morocco" of 1942 with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy (Dottie) Lamour. "Road to Morocco" was one to the "Road to..." series where Crosby and Hope pursued Dottie Lamour while they were off on those roads to Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio, Bali and Hong Kong.

Films that played in North Africa or the Middle East featured in many cases so called belly dance but it better would be called orientalism dance as the tacky dance style wasn't even close to the original middle eastern dance. In fact Middle Eastern women were depicted in nearly naked costumes behaving in an indecent way and dancing in a bizarre style, jerking, shivering, twisting, beckoning and pleading. Nothing could be more far from the truth if this had to be Middle Eastern dance. That doesn't give a rating to the dance displayed, no the dance had it's own value and was indeed very entertaining.

Most of the time the dancers were nothing more than wall paper but sometimes a line or to was added such as when the bellydancer sold her zill's to Humphrey Bogard in Sirocco. The orchestra played even genuine Middle Eastern music in Sirocco. The bellydancer did a strange hairdance but no shimmies there... Other examples are "Princes of the Nile"

Sodom and Gomorra
the Egyptian

Better stuff can be seen in Robert Aldrich's "Sodoma e Gomorra" a Biblical drama of the early 1960's. Anouk Aimée plays the evil Queen Bera, Stewart Granger "Lot" and Stanley Baker featured as Astaroth. Ellen and Alice Kessler as second plan dancers in the dance scene featuring a chorus of dancers in African like costumes dancing. The belly dancer, Orpha, is a beautiful young Japanese Asian dancer Mitsuko Takara. She is very fluid and gracious in her white and silver costume as can be seen on the animated picture on top of this page. "Sodom and Gomorrah" was partly filmed on location in a village in the south of Morocco. The village still has the same charm and looks like in the days when this movie was shot. In the film the city was destroyed by the wrath of God because of the sins of their inhabitants. Sergio Leone directed the Italian version.
Oriental dancing, mostly veil dances were frequently done in biblical movies. A good example is "The Egyptian" of 1954, featuring Peter Ustinov as Sinuhe's (Edmund Purdom) servant, Victor Mature as Horemheb, an army officer and Bella Darvi as Nefer, the Babylonian courtesan. The American dancer who is doing the Egyptian dance in this movie was the extraordinarily gifted Carmen De Lavallade. Carmen learned ballet, modern and ethnic dance forms, as well as painting, music, sculpting, acting (with Stella Adler), set design, costuming and lighting.

Dancer of road to Morocco
dance scene