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,

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