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Serena Wilson, Iconic American Belly Dancer

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One of the most famous American belly dancers dancers in the late 20th century, widely credited with helping to popularize belly dancing in the United States. Co-author (with her husband Alan) of The Serena Technique of Belly Dance, which went through several editions in the 1970s and 80s. Her dance education as a child included training with Ruth St. Denis, and St. Denis's interpretive approach to dance influenced Serena's choices as an adult artist. According to an article in the Gilded Serpent, Serena identified four basic groups of belly dance (strict ethnic and folk, cabaret, exercise / therapeutic, and interpretive concert) and stated that she was in the fourth group. In 1983, Serena won the Ruth St. Denis award which acknowledges the adaptation of ethnic-based forms for the stage.

Suzanne Hamdi Keyer described Serena's dancing in a obituary, Serena Wilson, the Great Dancer From New York. "She had incredible precision in her hip movements... extremely creative in her choreographies. As a child, Serena studied at the studio of Ruth St. Denis where she earned a certificate as Most Promising Student... she performed as a child with her parents's vaudevillian act Blake & Blake. Serena and her mother sought out Eastern European and Rom gypsy dancers living in the New York area to study under.

Life Magazine, Feb 4 1972: "Until now, American belly dancing has always had a certain seedy aura about it, seldom suggesting anything more refined than a country carnival hootchie-cootchie. But these days belly dancing is enjoying a remarkable surge in popularity, appealing to thousands of perfectly respectable women across the country as a dandy way to exercise, and maybe raise their husbands' eyebrows a notch or two. Enrollment at New York's Stairway to Stardom is currently 600, double last year's, and includes grandmothers, schoolteachers, a lady stockbroker and at least one grimly determined women's liberationist, who undergoes the bone-twisting routine once a week because "it's something men can't do." The new breed of belly dancer usually avoids the stage, performing instead in front of family or close friends -- if she performs at all. Most women take the lessons merely for the exercise, which tightens up the abdomen, legs and ankles. New York's leading instructor is a veteran named Serena, who once performed in a nightclub but prefers the more academic life. She stresses respectability. "We are trying to create something," she chides a class that has been showing more bosom than belly. "Your costumes may be revealing, but they must have an air of mystery. Now tighten up your bras and let's start class."


Serena dances in Aida in 1982.

NY Times obituary.

Serena dances a 9/8 on her TV program in 1975.

Serena as a Mechanical Kootch Doll coming to life as she dances.

Scott Wilson, her son, is an internationally known musician specializing in the oud.

Spring Cleaning, article by Serena and Rip Wilson in Habibi 1980 (Vol 5 #9): A very passionate protest against what they perceived as a rising tide of dance-by-the-authentic-numbers cultism.

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