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A Glimpse of the Belly Dancer, Mata Hari


History tells the story of this beautiful woman, who eventually was executed at the hands of twelve men. There are many stories of how she stood before the twelve men, refusing to wear a blindfold. Some have written that she blew a kiss before she was shot to death. Others wrote that she kept her eyes on the men, falling to the ground, with her eyes still fixed on her executors.

Based on what is written, it appears that Margaretha Zelle lived three lives. Married to a military officer, Margaretha traveled to different lands. This was what Margaretha desired, but she paid the price. Captain MacLeod, Margaretha’s husband was abusive and had many affairs.

After the loss of her son and her divorce, Margaretha left for Paris on her own. With no support from anyone, she had to find a way to support herself.

Cirque Molier gave Margaretha the opportunity to study horseback riding. Although she did the best she could, horseback riding was not her calling. It was Molier himself who advised Margaretha to find her calling.

Taking Molier’s advice, Margaretha decided that she wanted to dance. Mata Hari was born! Like throwing her past to the wind, she gave herself a new name, a re-invention of herself. Mata Hari, which means “eye of the day” in Indonesian and Malayan, pretended that she was born into royalty. Her mother was a priestess and little Mata Hari spent her youth at the temple of Kali, as was what she explained to Parisians. It is no surprise that Mata Hari did this since her birth father pretended to be a Duke.

Not much is known as to her contribution to dance, but nevertheless, she is known in the belly dance community because of her costumes, music and dance style. Since she lived in Java with her former husband, she combined her observations of traditional Java dances along with her seductive moves. Her power of seduction, through dance, made her a quick success.

Mata Hari may have observed that the Java dances were more like a drama. The palace dances known as Wayang Wong were not a dance of continuous movement. In other words, there were pauses here and there to emphasize the mood of the dance. Mata Hari did this as well in her performances.

What other dancers were arrested for during this time in history, Mata Hari was able to do, because of how she carefully orchestrated her dance. She did perform nude, but she explained to her audience of women and men why the dance was so. This prepared them for an exotic dance that would thrill the most elite in Paris.

In one dance, she was escorted by four girls wearing black togas. The beautiful, royal Mata Hari seduced her audience with Indian music, revealing her torso in undulations. Jewels dressed her body.

Her “Siva Dance” was a striptease, where she peeled away her shawls. Because she was dancing for the gods, the dance itself was not sexual. She was to humble herself, so that the gods would accept her gift; her pure self. This excited her audiences, especially since dances such as the “Siva Dance” was not part of their culture.

In “Dance of the Seven Veils”, she not only used veils, but she incorporated arabesque moves in her performance. An audience member recalled how she danced with passion, dropping all that was on her body until she finally fell to the floor.

Other dancers soon followed and Mata Hari’s fame fell. Nevertheless, Salome style of dance became popular soon after. All this was in part because of Mata Hari’s dance. Her movements were meant to be her own expression of freedom. The young girl who dreamed of travel and living an exotic life, did make her dreams come true.

“The dance is a poem, of which each movement is a word” -- Mata Hari
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Content copyright © 2013 by Ronnette Ramirez. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Ronnette Ramirez. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Ronnette Ramirez for details.

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