Review – ‘Rak the Kasbah’ 5

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Absolutely stunning costumes on stellar dancers! Beautiful!

Summer of Sharqi has arrived all over the world with events heavy on the East Coast calendars. One of the shows I attended before heading up to NYC for an undisclosed amount of time (what I like to call the ‘back & forth’) included Atlanta Fusion Bellydance’s 5th Anniversary at the Woodruff Arts Centre.

The Venue
This is one of the best venues in Atlanta for celebrating art. I was more than pleased to see that the long years of hard work and sacrifice were going to have a decent stage with amazing lighting and just all around stellar acoustics and more. I know that these types of grand stages are not possible for everyone but they sure are an incentive to attend, raqs deserves a stage. If you’ve never been, understand that this theatre is adjacent to the High Museum, which may very well be one of my favourites on the planet.

I was thrilled to see so much support from families and notable dancers and teachers from the Atlanta Bellydance Community and in particular our leader and great mentor Nicolas Ayoub mn al Lib’nan. Support was also inclusive of those who were literally running from their own dance shows to make it AFBD’s. In some cases, dancers were posting pictures of themselves at their Sunday afternoon gigs and then next thing I know they are standing in front of me waving and saying hi in the theatre…now that’s some love!!

The Show
I feel like the show started when we arrived. On a big screen were photos and videos of AFBD’s 5 years of performances…amazing memories as visuals. It was phenomenal! If you’ve been following them like I have then the memory reel brought you to tears. My superfanitis flared up, I had to go get a drink to relax…a double at that!

Performance Highlights…

Performers Included:

AFBD Students,
Shoshannah Estell
Aziza Nawal
Kalinka do Brasil
Rafi’ah Dance Company
Ebony Qualls
Virginia Mendez
BJ & Olivia
Asuhndree Dance Troupe


Major contributors, principal teachers and AFBD’s famed students opened the show with several really beautiful ‘raqs vignettes’ that gave us a taste of what we were about to see. Much like what can be seen on professional DVDs of greats, this was a snazzy idea and a perfect way to start the night. Each one did what they do best such as a superb bit of tabla solo from Aziza and fusion from Faaridah and her students.

Shoshanna’s performances were spot on and the best I’ve seen from her yet. She had great music, a stunning costume (in both sets). Her group piece featured music that sounded like selections from the Roma groups in Eastern Europe. That’s not easy to use as it does require some research, you can’t just say, “oh I love this, let’s just put our own spin on it” without taking the risk of offending someone. This was a nice set and I’d like to know more about their inspiration for it.

The ladies performing to the song ‘Drama Queen’ did an excellent job. I believe the choreography was by Hadil? The performers were absolutely beautiful!

Aziza’s set was so good it was a pain to stay seated. I should have sat up front with Nicola so we could zaghareet simultaneously and carry on as we do. No better way to enjoy one of Aziza’s power packed raqsets than to have fellow Africans and Arabs with which to celebrate it! Loved her costume, her audience engagement and flawless execution of some of the top moves in the industry. Aziza is one of those raissat that just can’t be matched. So glad to see her association with this fantastic and talented group!

Kalinka and Faaridah's costumes were as awesome as their amazing choreography

Kalinka and Faaridah’s costumes were as awesome as their amazing choreography

Kalinka and Faaridah’s duet in costumes to die for was one of the best sets of the night. Their mix of raqs sharqi from various regions topped off with Samba Brasileira was stellar! Their choreography was that of Jilinna’s but they put their own spin on it and made it work VERY well. If you didn’t see it, you truly missed out.

The AFBD team’s Bollywood fusion was another amazing highlight of the night. It was inclusive of south Asian inspired costuming, diya candles and other visuals that really made this piece unforgettable.

Ebony, of whom we in ATL were introduced to via Black Orchid Dance’s Vegas tour, stole a chunk of the show with a fusion raqs piece so signature to her yet so outstanding. I don’t even know how to describe her. She is just a must see. She was recently at the Theatrical Bellydance Conference in NYC this past weekend. Had I not had an appointment on 56th I’d have run over to see her at the event. I hate I missed it, she’s one of those performers you just want to see over and over again. Kudos to her brother for flying in for the anniversary weekend.

Virginia’s performance was more than we expected. In stunning costumes that reminded me somewhat of Amani el Omr’s of Lib’nan, she raq’d the theatre with industry moves that she has clearly made her own. She’s a natural. Her entrances and stage presence reminds me of Dina in the late 90s. Eventhough I believe Andrus Ramir is her junior in the industry, she included movements that he used to do, the ones that drove us mad with excitement to the point we were on our feet (i.e. his first performance with Black Orchid Dance 2009). This drove me to bits, I was floored with admiration. Loved It!! Her second set had her out in the crowd and up on the theatre seats’ armrest much like Tito Seif did at the beloved IBCC 2008, who can forget that? All of this excitement and raqs moves that reminded us of the great dancers of our day made Virginia one of the most memorable of performances that evening. I am very sorry that we, in Atlanta, have not had her on our stages sooner.

Other great sets of the night included Fatin and Nahari’s duet. The beautiful Faaridah and Leena in sync with their team covered in my favourite colour, seasplash green…beautiful! The student pieces were also gorgeous, my favourite being the Saiidi cane piece with the assuit beladi dresses; this was one of THE BEST renditions of that style by a troupe that I’ve seen since I’ve been here with respect to those I saw from Company Zeina. Those ladies danced as if they’d been doing that number for years…it was perfect! I want to be friends with the raissa in the red. She really ‘brought it’ like the aunties and younger cousins back home! Stunning!

Lots of MBD looking HOT on the ladies that evening!

Lots of MBD looking H-O-T on the ladies that evening!

Lastly, I want to note the number of cultured faces that sparkled throughout each number. There were some stunning women including those with heritage from all over the globe and that is so important when representing cultural dance. I was thrilled to see so many regions of the world represented, that won me over. In a world where we are still made to believe (through various agendas) raqs sharqi is not an ethnic dance but instead a Hollywood invention for one size and bedluh clad dames only (men continuously excluded), it was great to see a diverse group of dancers throughout the show. Others in Atlanta have gone to great lengths to showcase culture as well so it’s nice to see that ‘culture’ and diversity is the norm for AFBD as well. Mabrook!

I wish this team decades of accomplishments and many fantastic shows ahead! Shukran for allowing me to be a part of it that night!
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Ready for more? Check out Essence of Bellydance in conjunction with Bellydance Evolution!!

Mabrook Dancers’ Intensive III

imageA few weeks ago Amani Jabril and her team pulled off yet another successful Dancers’ Intensive here in ATL. It was quite impressive and filled with stellar examples of Amani’s ability to turn a student into a star. I also appreciate she and the community honouring my years in this cultural art. I’m having a blast!

*As always, these are my opinions, solely mine. I happily celebrate 16 years as an active Raqs community member now in a supporting role and focused on new trends and productions. I write my comments from the viewpoint as one/myself in the international community happily enjoying others’ excitement in Middle Eastern and African art.

Picture by Mina of Dalloua Dance Company, also holding events annually.

Picture by Mina of Dalloua Dance Company, also holding events annually.

The Third Dancers’ Intensive got off to a fun start on Friday night featuring many of Atlanta’s rising stars, students with stellar support from the community. Members of Awalim, including Lady Barbara Smith were there plus their amazing partner in production, the award winning Raqs Superstar Aziza Nawal. Also in attendance were local greats like Diane of Zeina Dance Company, Souraya plus raqs family members like super cool guy Charlie Smith and the ever handsome Farzan. One of the awesome things about having these lovely family members in attendance is that they are all great contributors to the raqs world and show up at everything. You can never have enough superfans and community support.In addition, local show producers like Mina of Dalloua Dance company were on hand and lots of out of towners…everyone dressed to the nines. It was quite an audience.

The Live Music
Over the past year I, personally have come to admire Jonatan Gomes Derbaq on a fairly superfanatic level. He is quite the musician and cool person to have around. Not only is he a model international community member, he plays a number of instruments and can raq out a number of amazing regional classics. I was overjoyed to see him last night along side Robert Springfield. Both did a fantastic job playing 2 full sets for the show. Be sure to pick up his music here or you can come by Dance and Event Studio now selling the Mazaag cd.

The Show
Samora started the evening, and I can’t think of a better beginning. This woman…oh mercy, she looked absolutely stunning in her ensemble shades of blue and sky. I know some fear me talking only about a person’s costume as a sign that the costume alone was the only good thing about the set, this is not the case. I look forward to the pictures going around of Samora wearing this stunning piece. That aside, her ensemble and matching veil were just as captivating as the raqs number she gave us. It drives my superfanitis to bits. I’ve gotten to the point where I worry about my health (oh gaah, don’t let me have a heart attack) because her performances are so strong and beautiful. Sometimes artists get caught up in being solely technical, showing off their ability to hit every note yet they have absolutely no “ta’arab” flowing through them. With Samora you get a technically sound raqs number along with all the soulful goodness that comes with the region, that’s a raissa!

Morgan was a wonderful surprise this evening executing true raqs realness (pardon my drag slang, crossing cultures here). With long black hair, slightly waved, a sparkling bedluh with colourful veil, Her set was perfectly ‘bellydance’ just what you’d see back in days of Baba, uncle and their cafes. Imagine, coming of age to sit with the ‘grown ups’ for a late tea and midway through the evening a raissa appears…the ceiling fans are blowing during the super warm Spring and her veil is wafting underneath the winds. I was immediately taken to this environment when she entered the stage. It was very nostalgic. Morgan did a lovely job of transforming the space to an international scene, particularly that of Egypt. I was highly impressed. Her technique was beautiful with heavy drops of her torso, ones you could feel. It was just gorgeous! With sets like this, I’d happily invite her to any and everything raqs related.

Karen Liebl
Despite a knee injury Karen put forth the good face and danced with passion to an Oud Taqsim. Her costume was gorgeous, a deep maroon beladi dress with intricate workings on the bra and hip area. You could tell that despite any pain she may have been in she was feeling this piece and the crowd loved it. Nice work!

Sabia danced to Leylat Hob from the Mazaag album and man was it nice. With appropriate facial expressions and lots of love she delivered a beautiful raqset, hitting every note, nook and cranny. There were times when she just lost herself in the dance and she took us with her in those moments of inner bliss. That’s very tough to do. She had great confidence, audience support and spared nothing. I look forward to seeing her again at future shows.

Jenny Nichol’s set to ‘Sawah’ was one of the best of the evening and I heard this from MANY people. First off, her entrance…she walked out sparkling and the room immediately turned into a pageant like scene. That smile, those colours, that Egyptian bedluh…the whole ‘presentation’ was just ultra professional and yet so Masri it was hard not to believe we weren’t actually there. Jenny is a seasoned raissa with a diverse set of raqs skills that allow her to tackle a variety of music and styles. This classic set with wow-factor raqs moves was the icing on the cake. We couldn’t have asked for a better example of ‘this is how you do it,’ cute tribal fusion raqs moves included! Mabrook Jenny on being such a fantastic addition to every event!

Aziza Nawal was another wow-factor in the evening’s line up. Her drum solos flow like the river Nile… I tell you, it’s just so automatic you’d think she was born and raised as a dancer in Lebanon on Egypt. She proved yet again that she is a master artist in Raqs Sharqi, a star among stars so to speak. Her costume was fantastic, her audience interaction was incredible and given that she had not worked with this band prior, hitting the notes of their live music proved she is more than professional she’s a legend. I loved this dance and I loved her… I can’t help but just cry with admiration remembering this set in the performance. Job well done is an understatement, I’ll leave it at that. Now someone pick my soul up off the floor, it’s fainted again. Congrats to Aziza, Ziah and Awalim on their African Asian Business and Cultural Dance Honouree award. At the time this was decided, Aziza was still with Awalim as a principal member so I want to make it clear that she too is a part of these honours for troupes/groups.

Rosa Noreen’s performance to “Lama Bada” was a welcomed surprise. This is a favourite song of mine simply because I got to sing it alongside some of my favourite local raqs artists here in Atlanta during our old jam sessions in the garage. Oh how I miss those. Rosa brought back lots of great memories for me as she danced, incorporating a veil in much of the piece. With expressive gestures and great use of floor space, she is the epitome of grace and elegance.

At this point in the show, the Raqs Atlanta awards ballots were handed out as they prepared for the ‘CD’ portion of the show.

CD Performances
Jendayi started this second set with a fun, raqs number indicative of what you’d see at haflas where people can just let loose and have fun. When I was a little girl we’d turn on LBC and mimic the greats we saw on TV, as a I got older nothing had changed, we may have been serious college students but we’d run to my cousin’s bakery and halal shoppe just before they closed and turn on the music videos from back home or the nightly entertainment programmes, then proceed to wiggle and shimmy up and down the aisles posing and hip dropping like the pros. This is exactly what I saw from Jendayi, a youthful persona having a darn good time with her friends in the cutest clothes, pleasing the crowd. I loved it! It was just what we needed. She is the ‘fun loving cultural ambassador’ of ATL.

Kasienka – from KnoxVegas, wore a very simple raqs costume, the traditional bra and belt with a skirt. It was heavily fringed and very indicative of the Knoxville style (1997-1999). KVegas is really something in that it does not stray from tradition to a degree. You can always spot the KVegas teams, their style, their growth in the culture…everything. Her presentation felt like that of someone rather new to the art of stage performances but one that is on her way to big things. As usual of the KVegas crew, her music was spectacular, perfect song. That’s always a plus with that group, they have the basic foundations of raqs sharqi and the passion for this culture. I also love the influence that the local international community there (mainly Lebnani, Masri wa Philistinee) have had on many of its dancers and cultural programs. I hope in the future she’ll bring a troupe.

Julia Benson and team did a fusion set and it was so cute that I hope they’ll do it at DragonCon. I won’t spoil it but I’ll say this, what they did does actually happen in the playrooms of children in the diaspora. I’ve seen it. Hope to see them on the Silk Road. Loved the costumes!!

Hasna – flawless… absolutely flawless. She was full of confidence, perfected her routine with all the right energy…it was simply perfect! What a great way to salute her teacher! I can’t give credit to anyone else but Amani and (with respect) Hasna’s friends and loved ones for encouraging her to achieve this level of perfection.

Omega also performed and was absolutely awesome representing a new type of ‘Sha’abi Masri.’ I often say that the boys are best in doing this new modern style but she did it justice mimicking this new era of raqs in the region. Of course, as the name implies this is simply street style which is part of the reason she wore those ‘fancy duds’ – street clothes. It’s hard to take this type of art to the stage as a soloist. I recently saw it as a duet (the more femme version) in KVegas and it was cute but Omega’s version takes the cake. Glad that SHE is around to give it ‘face’ in the west.

At this point I believe we did a quick trivia. I went up to the stage and asked the audience to name the year that Raqs Sharqi (bellydance) came to the USA. It was a bonus if they could say ‘where’ it landed. I gave out clues and the location of the event. Aziza nailed it! I won’t give out the answer but if you too know what it is, feel free to reply, be the first to do so and you’ll get $20 gift card to

They took on a task!! Live music for nearly 2 hours w/dancers they hadn't worked with before. Bravo!

They took on a task!! Live music for nearly 2 hours w/dancers they hadn’t worked with before. Bravo!

The final set of the evening featured the fantastic Live Music!
Rosa Noreen performed a Drum Solo… wearing a stunning gold bedluh. She was absolutely elegant!

Jaki of Jahara Phoenix also graced us and did an improv with veil fans. It was absolutely incredible and I hope I can get his video off the phone so you all can see a portion of it…just lovely! You’d have thought it was a well-rehearsed piece of work so learning after the show that she came up with that on the spot (inclusive of level changes and knee spins matching that of artists in South Asia) was overwhelming! oh that Jaki! muaah!

Maiea’s set was also fantastic, she’s another example of Amani’s ability to transform students into superstars.

Lara Baker from Rome Georgia, reigning winner of ‘The Best of Bellydance’ hosted by MissBellydance a few years ago, did drum solo as well. It’s always great to have her presence and support in Atlanta

Heleshia was another outstanding crowd pleaser with level changes to die for. Her costume combo was gorgeous featuring an modified version of two designers. It was a knockout! She made her teachers quite proud!! This was one of my favourite presentations from her yet.

Souzan came up from Florida again to join the ATLrs and gave us another of her best works… she is just dripping with passion, a ta’arab master with her facial expressions. I’ve often said, “Souzan dances as though the rhythm flows through her veins.” I love the way she shows us just how much this art means to her. She also adorns amazing costumes as well…every. single. time! Big Hugs for her!

Lacy Perry was another well-dressed raissa that evening. Loved her detailed bedluh. Her set was very passionate as well, an Oud Taqsim. I was particularly moved as she ‘made this raqset her own,’ it was so “Lacy” and that’s another sign of a dancer’s growth and zenith…when they can find a way to make the dance personal yet professional enough to be presented to an audience. *zaghareet*

Faaridah knocked us down with her amazing piece wearing one of her stunning bedluhs. She danced to “Aziza” which is one of my top favourite songs. I remember a member from the famed Casbah Dance Experience dancing to this and I was smitten. So every time I hear that song I can’t help but compare it to the one that moved me the most…and I was indeed moved again watching her. She is another master of this art and I loved it from start to finish. We are VERY fortunate to have Faaridah in town, her contributions and dedication to the Raqs world are difficult to match. She is top of the line!

Amani’s presentation to ‘Enta Omri’ was also quite smashing. Her entrance was a familiar one, we were filled with anticipation, dancing and shoulder shimmying along to the intro when she burst into the room and dazzled us with two sets that were part of her excellent repertoire of raqs art. Amani presents what is ‘perfect in performance’ …so much so that I’m not sure you can find that any where else in the states. Her style is very authentic and these are not just my words but the words of many. While I love to see the bellydance superstars (seasons 1-3) and I’m a fan of BellyQueen and many others, Amani really knows how to move you on a whole other level. It’s always ‘right.’ With respect to the various dance styles and genres that have added to the diversity in this art, Amani has managed to find a way to make the modern, nostalgic yet future forward all the same. I really appreciate what she brings to the table. She is a force!

Jonatan teaching music at the intensive, an integral part of middle eastern art.

Jonatan teaching music at the intensive, an integral part of middle eastern art.

The weekend continued with classes at Pera all day Saturday and continue into Sunday at Amani’s studio. I truly hope that others have had as much fun as I have had at these events. It’s a joy to be a part of such magnificent shows, let alone being honoured, and I want to see them continue!

Thanks for reading,