"Belly Dancing Super Stars" is a professional belly dancing troupe that has been touring the world hoping to improve the perceptions of this ancient dance form and reinforce its relations with its region of origin. What's more, the group's creator has a background you probably would not expect.
"Belly Dancing Super Stars" producer Miles Copeland is best known for managing bands like the Police and R.E.M.
"I really started trying to promote Arabic music… I did a big single with Sting called 'Desert Rose'…and it proved that Americans will buy music coming from [the] Middle East if it's put in the right context," he said. "So I started releasing records by Andy, who's an Iranian [singer] who lives in L.A. [Los Angeles]. I put a lot of Arabic artists out [released a lot of records by Arabic artists]."
But it was not until Copeland held a belly dancing contest to promote one of the artists he manages that he realized belly dancing has a following in the United States.
"Lo and behold we had 180 dancers [who] flew in from all over America for this contest," said Copeland. "So I was like, 'wow…I never realized there were so many belly dancers in America.'"
Eight years later, the Super Stars, including 14 American women, have performed more than 800 shows in 22 countries. But it was not easy.
"We had to convince people that yes, belly dance does belong on a proper stage, it is not just something for a restaurant with one soloist while you are eating your dinner," Copeland said. "The other challenge I had, of course, is that when I got involved, they were all 'oh my God here is this rock and roll impresario, he is gonna destroy belly dance'…"
Copeland hopes not only to leave his mark on yet another music genre, but also to send a message to the Middle East, where he spent most of his childhood.
"[The] Sunday Times in England wrote, "Belly Dance Super Stars are the world's most important dance troupe. Because they are the only dance troupe in the world that is actually made out of American ladies... by seeing the Belly Dance Super Stars you are seeing Americans appreciating a foreign culture."
While the message to the outside world is important, Petite Jamila, the troupe's veil dancer, thinks the reason behind the group's huge American following is adaptation.
"America is extremely accepting to it because they see an avenue for something that they can also place their own trademark on," she said.
World renowned tribal belly dancer, Moria Chappelle, has certainly left her trademark.
"The style that I do is tribal fusion belly dance which is unique to America as sort of an American interpretation of Middle Eastern movement … and using antique textiles and antique jewelry … but then putting to modern music," said Chappelle.
The ultimate goal is to reach the success level of such dance troupes such as "Riverdance," "Stomp" or even the ballet. The troupe has yet to be profitable, but Copeland said he has found other rewards along the way.
"When I get a letter from some lady saying that I've given her husband back, when I have a man come up to me and say that I've made him feel proud of his culture... we had ladies come up to us in Morocco and say thank you," said Copeland. "When you see the effect that you have on people. As long the rewards are there and you are not going totally bankrupt, you think we are gonna get there eventually financially… it's worth it."
Worth it to the performers and to Copeland, who has a long history of risk taking… and success.