When Zoe Jakes was starting out as a belly dancer, she made her living by dancing for Arabic and Persian groups—cultures that traditionally don’t approve of tattoos. “I had the girl on my back, but the rest of my body stayed untattooed because I needed to be able to work at restaurants, private parties, and weddings,” she says. “The minute I started getting successful in more alternative stuff, that’s when I just went for broke, because I love adornment. I love the way it makes the body look and changes when I dance.”
The “alternative stuff” mainly means her Oakland, CA–based world-
electronic trio, Beats Antique. A few years ago Jakes was in a few highly regarded belly dancing troupes when Miles Copeland, the producer of Bellydance Superstars (as well as former manager of The Police), approached her about making an album he could use for the upcoming belly dance tour. “I was sitting at the bar—I believe I was in Pittsburgh at the Rex [Theater]—and I was drinking and hanging out with Miles and he said that he needed a Middle Eastern electronica album … something fresh and new,” she recalls. So, Jakes enlisted the help of friend and longtime musical collaborator Tommy “Sidecar” Cappel, as well as world musician David Satori, and they named the project Beats Antique. You can see their success marked by how much ink Jakes has acquired now that she no longer has to work conservative parties.
Since 2007, the trio has put out five albums (including 2010’s Blind Threshold) and played every festival from Austin City Limits to SXSW to Lollapalooza. Behind the scenes, all three produce the music, and their live format involves Cappel and Satori manning the computer and instruments while Jakes belly dances onstage.
Jakes estimates that 90 percent of her live belly dancing is improvised and the other 10 percent is rehearsed. She explains: “I feel like that style works for me because I’ve had a huge hand in making the music. I know it so well that I don’t have to think about it in a choreography kind of way. It’s more that I’m so connected to the music that my body instinctively knows how to move to it.”
Her ink includes a burlesque girl on her left side and a belly dancer on her right, as well as a key on the inside of her right forearm, a design on the inside of her elbow inspired by art deco circus posters, and a massive floral design on her midsection. “When it’s done well, it’s just so beautiful,” Jakes says of tattoos. “I feel like it’s an expression of my arts as much as dancing is.”