Rediscovering Carmen Miranda

This post is about how I rediscover Carmen Miranda and how that helped me improve my dance. Hopefully this will also help you improve your performance. She was not a Belly dancer, but inspiration scan also come from a variety of sources, not only Belly dance.

In case you don’t know who she was, Carmem Miranda was born in Portugal and raised in Brazil, where she started her singing and acting career in 1930. In 1939 she landed her first Hollywood movie role and the rest is history. Her extravagant style was soon followed all over by the Fashion industry, Saks Fifth Avenue for instance, created a line of turbans and jewelry inspired by her in 1939. She could sing, act and dance balancing heavy hats and wearing 5″ or higher platform heels. She was also a very talented seamstress and handmade all of her costumes prior to Hollywood.
Her bigger than life smile would conquer it all. Soon she became the highest paid female artist in the US.

Critics from Brazil would argue that Carmen was becoming more “Americanized” with time and that her image was too generic and gave the public the impression that Latin America was all the same. Not to mention that she was a key person on US – Latin America political relationship…for better or for worse.
Her cartooned imaged served only to emphasize one same look and part to blame for this was Hollywood itself, who made her “wear the same hat” where she couldn’t be other than “the girl with the tutti-frutti hat”. Carmen was not happy with all that, and her abusive relationship didn’t help. She died at the young age of 46. Even with all the turbulence in her life, Carmen kept performing without ever showing any sign of sadness.

Here are the qualities of a good belly dancer through the example of Carmen Miranda:

  • Stage Presence: Have you watched her performances? Carmen would totally take over the stage when she was dancing. You could feel her joy instantly when she stepped on stage, (remember that a good Belly dancer should express all range of emotions) it was happy, seductive, flirtatious, contagious. Her energy irradiated the screen, imagine how that must felt live :-)
  • Smile: And I had to make a category for this one because this is so important on my dance style. The smile is the light house of your performance, it lightens up the stage and there is no better way to connect with the audience than having that honest, natural and REAL smile on.
  • Costumes: Ok, I have to admit, the fruit hat has drove me insane before, but forget the cartoon version of Carmem and look at her videos. Ignore the big hat for once and look at the luscious skirts (I love her liquid metallic skirts and ruffles) and extremely well beaded dresses. It was always impeccable, extravagant yes, poor taste never. Now you might disagree with me, but if you don’t have a good professional looking costume, don’t perform! The costume is an essential part of Belly dancing and if I have to go up on a stage with something that doesn’t reflect my dance, I just rather NOT dance! I spent 7 months beading my first costume and I only did my first performance when it was completely ready.
  • Makeup: That goes for appearance as well. Hair, nails, makeup, skin. Everything is top notch, flawless, stage worth. If you can put yourself out there in front of people and show our art, please do it so in a way that reflects professionalism. Think: I need to present the best side of me, what would be the best costume, makeup, hairdo that I can come up with? Always strive for quality and your effort will be paid off.

Below are some videos of her. Imagine dancing and singing while balancing such a heavy “fruit basket” on your head. Things that only Carmen could do, as would Jimmy Buffet say on his 1973 song “They don’t dance like Carmen no More”:
“Well now she had a big hat, my it was high
Had bananas and mangoes all piled to the sky
How she could balance it, I wouldn’t dare
But they don’t dance like Carmen nowhere”




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