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