When a local belly dancer with a BA in diplomacy is keen to discuss the Middle-East situation at your favorite lounge, it is hard to say no.
Gary Chen (
It is an eerily suitable venue, with a large hookah standing proud on each table. The tinseled curtains and the draped areas of the private booths add to the Arabic delight of it all. Glasses clink and aromatic tobaccos, cooled by the deep-bowled pipe, drift toward the ducts.
Violet has been dancing since she was a four-year-old in Yunlin, a farming area between Chunghua and Chiayi, and was performing traditional Chinese dances called tsai dai (彩帶) when she was seven. But she got into belly dancing after doing research in Israel as part of her degree in diplomacy at National Chengchi University. She joined the Arabesque Dance Troupe there, partly because she wanted to dance, but also because it was a political statement: the group is, unusually, part Jewish, part Palestinian.
"There has been fighting in that region for thousands of years. Fifty years ago I would not have agreed with the plan of a Jewish state but it is there now and that is it, so we must search for the peace ? But it is not for the minority to govern the majority," Violet said.
As well as doing political punditry, dancing and running promotions for CTTV, she has also started her own belly-dancing school and aims to be teaching upward of 200 students a week by the end of the year.
"Really, it is not belly dancing. This was a word invented by Westerners when they saw women dancing with their bellies [exposed]. The real word is Raks Sharki and this means `oriental dancing.'"
Not shy about the suggestiveness of the dance, however, Violet said the mystery and writhing was part of the allure.
"It's a very good dance, especially for women, who use all their body. Yes, I want to be sexy. It's an opportunity for us to show off how sexy we are."
She said belly dancing helped older women overcome fears of their feminity and kept youngsters trim. Also, it is not a bad business, since it is well-placed to become popular in Taiwan now that it has gone mainstream as an exercise and confidence builder in California.
There are other Chinese belly dancers, mainly Muslims in Xinjiang (
Tip: For the full flavor, collect friends, order a private booth, dine on imported French snails (NT$160), smoked salmon caesar salad (NT$220), whatever, a bottle of something nice and ask for a hookah. The staff will light a bowl for you containing low-nicotine tobacco, honey, and one of five flowers (apple, cherry, mango, jasmine and rose). Relax, each individual has his or her own pipe end to pull from and up to eight people can indulge at the same time. Chen's friends insist on going through all five flavored tobaccos. DJ @llan plays around 3am. The booth is NT$3,000, and you get the same amount's worth of food and drink.
Violet performs every Friday, after midnight. Woodstock, 218, Chinshan South Road, Sec 2, Taipei (台北市金山南路二段218號). Call (02) 2322 4677.