Celebrating Suhaila Salimpour & Loving Her Legacy

This set looked lovely!

This set looked lovely!

There is no room for error… that was the sentiment that I picked up from dancers for several weeks before this show. The amount of work and at home practice for this program (as well as meetups to perfect Suhaila’s stylings) was intense. It made me nervous to the point I just decided not to think about it til show time…

I won’t rehash my 17 year history of watching Suhaila when I was a teenager fresh out of highschool and sitting around with cousins my age looking at her videos on repeat. I was thrilled when MissBellydance got her DVDs so I could dance along with her Jazz/Yoga exercise series. I still keep a picture of she and I on my phone from several years ago when Tezra first brought her. I remember it all like it was yesterday. So, it’s needless to say we revere her work and I do appreciate it; mainly because at the end of the day, she’s one of us. She is a first generationer with at least one parent from “abroad” just like so many of us in the international community. We are expats’ kids and we have that common bond of growing up different. Watching her rise to the top in this industry (and hopefully being shielded in her childhood from “expected shame” for being different) has been encouraging.

Fangirling aside, this tribute show was a real testament to the dedication, appreciation and recognition of the Salimpour legacy. The entire first half of the show featured dances from her repertoire if I’m not mistaken. To be able to execute the subtle movements, arm formations and so much more that are known to “Suhaila” is not something that happens over night. For years I’ve tried this technique, dancing around in the studio mimicking these moves; looking crazy because I’m feeling her energy through the DVD, my eyes close and I miss a step! Though many come close to perfecting her way, at the end of the day, only Suhaila can dance like she does. It’s so strong and just something you can’t help but enjoy savouring and staring at for hours. I mean, I really enjoyed her Atlanta 2014 show for the simple reason we got 90 minutes of HER spirit, of HER energy and of HER dance! All of the things we like to watch on her DVDs, fans’ YouTube pages or hear about in other reviews and recaps were LIVE in our faces. And she did them effortlessly. When trying to mimic her it takes a whole other kind of energy, I feel like I have to reach down into areas I wasn’t sure existed to bring it forth. She is so unique and such a force that I thought it was impossible to replicate her work and do it justice. I was wrong… I saw a lot of performers in this show, in every dance scene in fact, bring forth some aspect of her awesomeness with full focus. They did not just get up there raqsin’ along like robots. So KUDOS to all the performers who presented her family’s work. I’m with you on the “there is no room for error,” not on the part of anything Suhaila has decreed but simply because you have that much respect for the legacy she and her family built. That speaks volumes and should be applauded.

The Pot Dance

The Pot Dance

Highlights from Acts I and II
There were about 20 sets, these are the ones that really stood out for me. They are the ones that made it hard for me to stay seated.

The Pot Dance
Practicing restraint is so difficult when it comes to discussing these shows. Suhaila is in the other room right now and eventhough I’m decked out in Gothic Japanese Lolita fashion I still want to run in there and just “try” to get her technique down while she’s still around this weekend. I can blame “The Pot Dance” and a few others for this burning desire that I cannot quench. I’m all bruised up with swollen ankles from this gluten allergy, but I still want to do it. It’s such a beautiful way to dance. I remember seeing the pots in their metamorph from plain white papier mache looking objects to these fantastic cream colour creations with traditional designs. OMG, it was awesome! This was the Bal Anat staple that the troupe did at Ren Faires past… I feel this Atlanta team, accompanied by some very talented and stunningly beautiful out of towners, did a fine job! I hope that will be performed again at future programs.

Phoenix with Sword

Phoenix with Sword

Standing Sword
This performance featured Phoenix and was very refreshing for, again, a number of reason. Yes, I’m a sucker for men in raqs sharqi, they were my first real teachers (Tarik Sultan, my cousins/extended family from Palestine in the parking lot on the side of the market, I could go on). It was just a really great image and energy for the stage. He took command of this set and really shined. I’d like to see his other work and hope he won’t be a stranger to ATL.

Dirty Funky Gawazi (Ghawazi)
Jenny killed it…she just poured her glory all over that stage like a sister drenching honey on a fresh baked pan of baklawa (hot from the oven) til it’s just soaked and then added some more with a wink. It was saawweeet! The whole performance was unreal. While she showed mega respect to the Salimpour method, she didn’t lose sight of herself. You could see and feel “Jenny” and it was hella good! Mabrook!!

Maddah
This was performed by Yvonne. Both Jacques Al Asmar (a friend of Suhaila who moved here to Atlanta last year) and I were both completely moved. This was just…everything!! Clearly she’s a raqs star, no question about it. I wanted to stand up and throw roses and money and honey…mercy! It was another “drink your bath water” moment. We were overwhelmed. The music was composed by the beloved Abdel Halim Hafez, so you know this was not easy to dance to, most don’t even try it. This wasn’t one of those let’s turn on Shakira and wiggle around events, this was a tribute show, so having the honour of seeing this performed live was legendary in itself. Mabrook wa Shukran ya Yvonne. Does she really dance 7 times a night? That was the rumour rolling around the audience.

Jenny owned that set! Funky Gawazi/Ghawazee

Jenny owned that set! Funky Gawazi/Ghawazee

*Another great set from this act was “Hard Rock Fusion (Dark Veil)” performed by Jamie, Sabia, Scarlet and Whitney. Alima and I were just eating that up! We could barely stay still.

Intermission was full of hugs galore and Suhaila was happy to see Jacques. I got to show her the old photo I keep in my phone. You know how superfanitis can get the best of me. I took a lot of B12 so I wouldn’t hug her to death and tried to remain seated so I didn’t pass out with excitement. With the lights up we could see there was a full house and most seats were filled the “serious of the serious” in the Raqs community…Atlanta legend Diane Adams included.

King Issam went to town and back, some serious tabla here, folks!

King Issam went to town and back, some serious tabla here, folks!

ACT II
The second half was filled with Drum Solos and solo sets featuring some of the best music that is out there today. I was so enraptured I couldn’t even write a thing. I have no notes, no pictures, no archives for what could easily be one of the best things we see all year. I know that’s saying a lot and there will be tons of shows that will prove this statement wrong. But for now, we got another legendary “set of sets” on the record via videos and photos that happened here in Atlanta. All of this was in front of the beloved Suhaila and accompanied by King Issam on stage plus Jacques Al Asmar in the audience (next to me for the record, that was a joy, I’ll have a separate post about that on my FB for my friends).

I do remember how much I enjoyed Samora and Aziza’s duet. They danced to one of my favourite songs on the planet and again Jacques and I both were just wiggling around, walaaa, that song!! Those two raissat!! Aiewaaa yani, perfect!!!

King Issam
Don’t fight me on this title, that is his name among my friends and we’re not changing it. The King interacted with the audience as he is known to do. He went to both sides of the stage and at one point was right in front of me. I was totally impressed (oh my gahd, he just walked by as I was typing this, I felt my stomach lurch into my throat). Anyway, as I was saying, I was totally impressed with the warmth and down to earth nature he displayed with us. It’s amazing that after 1000s of shows, touring the world, he’s still absolutely gorgeous and has a great spirit. He is just as loving and kind as the first day we met him. I have a picture of us on my phone as well. To say I love this man is a ridiculous understatement. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for him…he’s just great! His performance was nothing shy of totally amazing to infinity!

Jessica!

Jessica!

Jessica
I won’t go on and on about her but my goodness, she was really great. I see why she is on tour with Suhaila, she’s mastered so much of that technique that you’d think she was a Salimpour! Wow, incredible! Loved the crowd interaction! She’s really goooooood! Masha’Allah!

*Other great sets included Path to Goa and Negsem al Amar! Really, really nice pieces. If there’s a DVD, buy it and see those sets.

Overall, I’m really at a loss for words, it’s crazy that Suhaila is in the studio teaching, these are full circle moments for me. I’ve waited for this since I was 19 years old. I can still picture the moment I saw her while browsing “yahoo search” back in 2000. I mean, this is…wild! I’m in my 30s now and it was well worth the wait to be able to sit in a gorgeous, comfortable theatre on the same row and watch other superfans perform for her. We are an ambitious bunch aren’t we? My goodness, I just don’t know what else to say. I’m stunned and excited.

Thanks to all who make events like these possible. Faaridah and her team are some of the HARDEST working people I know. This is not to discredit or demote any of ATL’s fine dancers, teachers and students. In fact, let that be a compliment to them as well because Faaridah collaborates with everyone and they are a part of her magic. She is good for creating a huge sense of community and that is exactly what Raqs Sharqi is about…being together, dancing forever.

Thanks for reading!
AA

*Dedicate the joy I had to Jamie’s husband who went out of his way to get a pen and paper for me!

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80s Haflas Raqs!

Jenny's thank you card was awesome. Totally Rad!

Jenny’s thank you card was awesome. Totally Rad!

Just some thoughts on last Friday’s totally rad show! It was certainly a night of old school raqs and roll at Steve’s Live Music last Friday. It was exciting to hear a lot of the old tunes again, danced to by some of the city’s loyal students, teachers and raqs stars of Atlanta’s Bellydance and Raqs community.

 

 

 

The Line Up:
Mina – Sweet Dreams (Marilyn Manson cover of Annie Lenox’s)
AsmakJump in the Line (Shake Senora) Harry Belafonte
JasmineWith or Without You by U2
Jenny Nichols‘You Be Illin’Walk This Way by RunDMC Aerosmith collab
Barbara SmithLorelei by the Cocteau Twins
JendayiI Can’t Stand The Rain by the Queen, Tina Turner
-Intermission-
Northside TribePuttin’ on the Ritz by Taco
TamarIn the Air Tonight by Phil Collins of Genesis
Saniyah – Maak Hanan
Mina & family friend/pet – Tainted Love by Marilyn Manson (originally by
Jendayi & Kyle w/tabla – Rock It by Herbie Hancock
Jenny Nichols and husband LeeNight Shift by the Commodores
Jahara PhoenixMickey by Toni Basil (yes, it’s a i not a y, I almost joined her fanclub, I should know. Lol)

House Band – Deepcut Rewind with hits by The Go-Gos, Tears for Fears (yes, I got up and acted out 3/4ths of that video, went home and told Curt (co-founder of TFF) about it),  and many other great artists as well. This was their first time playing together and they did a darn good job! If they play for the community again, let me know in advance so I can bring a microphone and “represent” when Tears for Fears are played, then I’ll be the house dancer with ‘the bob’/aka “The Carlton” included.*If anyone is wondering where any of these artists are today, let me know. I have the fanclub links to several and many are still singing with meet & greets to follow with fans. I’ve met just about everyone except Toni Basil. They’re all really friendly!

Jenny looking like, omgaah, major awesome! (I still dress like this at the club and I'm quite proud of it)

Jenny looking like, omgaah, major awesome! (I still dress like this at the club and I’m quite proud of it)

Though I was only a toddler at the start of the decade, barely reaching the age of 10 by the end of the decade, I still remember so much about it. I remember as a pre-teen in the 90s still liking the songs from the early 80s and getting kind of sad when I couldn’t hear them in the on-air radio rotation anymore. By the time I was 8 years old Tears for Fears were on a compilation disk!! The horror! So with every performer I was taken back to the time and place I first heard their song of choice. I immediately relived moments with my relatives and extended family when everyone was still in the United States, learning to tease my bangs (my mum’s idea not mine, she was the fashionable one) and watching the Smurfs on Saturday mornings while writing letters to the cast members of Saved by the Bell (they wrote back and now I actually get to see them in person from time to time (i.e. that picture of me and Mario Lopez that’s floating on my FB page), it’s still totally awesome, like fabulous ohhkayy).

I loved this 80s hafla show for the music but even moreso for the work that went into it. People really got into their songs and put on a cool show to a packed house, not one seat was empty from what I could see.The show began around 8:30 because another group was having a concert and let out at 8:05 or so. They cleared the area and we filed in.

Candid shot of Jenni, Amani and Jaki!  Photo by Jaki

Candid shot of Jenni, Amani and Jaki! Photo by Jaki

Memorable Highlights
Amani Jabril was the MC and did a great job, totally decked out with teased hair. She looked like every awesome icon from the era. Nice work! The costumes really stood out as expected. I loved Mina’s outfit and if I find one my size, I’m wearin’ it. Asmak had a great costume for Jump In the Line. They were mimicking characters from the movie Beetljuice. They were very insync and creative. But Northside Tribe and Jahara Phoenix stole the show with theirs. They embodied the songs and the dance with their choreographies and their outfits were perfect!

Jasmine’s dance was the most modern with poi to U2’s With our Without You. She moved and spun that poi in rhythm with the music. You could see she too put a lot of work into this or either her soul was just truly meshing with that music. She was one of my favourite performers of the night. Her dexterity and calm nature brought a different energy to the show and it was appreciated.

Saniyah was a show stopper, spinning the assayah/cane and dancing to the only Mideast regional music that was heard all night minus Kyle’s cool tabla playing. It was a very refreshing number and she looked awesome. Great crowd interaction and the perfect energy. Shukran Saniyah!

Both Jendayi and Jenny’s duets with their spouses were a treat. Loved Lee on the guitar and Kyle was spot on with Herbie Hancock’s Rock It. Aziza, Jenny and myself were in our element doing ‘the bob.’ Yaaaaas honey, you can do the bob to Rock It. You can do the bob to anything and many did. For some that was the only dance they know and for me, it’s the only western dance I can do aside from the flying wombat made famous in, say it with me now, Mad World by Tears for Fears. Let the record show, I talk about TFF A LOT!! Ask Roland, he knows I love to sing their songs

As with most iconic music, you get one of the songs stuck in your head for days. Mine was Lorelei by the Cocteau Twins. I hadn’t heard that song since the 80s. I had forgotten about it. But upon hearing it, I remembered how beautiful it is. I literally had the song in my head for 5 days. I remember going to work out Monday evening and it was still in my head. Yes, it’s one of those kinds of tunes.

Again, great show, amazing music choices and very different from our usual. I admit I thought dancers were going to bring music from the Middle East, Cheb khaled tunes and that of the singers that came before them. I also thought they’d wear some of the iconic costumes of that era. Though we didn’t go down memory lane in the Mideast, we did revisit some very mystical and fascinating times and I loved it! Stayed right up to the very end, watched DeepCut Rewind pack up…it was just that good! Jendayi said a 90s themed event is next…and if that’s the case, I’ll bring the Vogue professionals. You can’t have a 90s function without people who respect The Houses! Oh honey, THE FUN we shall have…if I don’t pass out from excitement.

Thanks for reading!