Open Dance Night at Steve’s Live Music Summer 2015

Ajaz and Nuzrsat

Ajaz and Nuzrsat

This past Friday, World Bellydance Alliance hosted another exciting night at Steve’s Live Music. This was Steve’s anniversary and we’re all grateful for the venue as they’ve been good to our fusion dance communties in Atlanta. Tonight was another fun occasion that featured a number of dancers from various troupes in Atlanta. Several were some of the community’s very strong, legendary troupes and dancers. It’s always a joy to have them in our midst as well as on the stage.

Act I
Ajaz and Nuzrsat
Olivia and BJ
Salimpour Collective

Act II
Roulette featuring Jendayi
Roulette featuring Heidi
Zeina Dance
Majda Anwar
Heidi, Jendayi and Jenny

Bellydance & Raqs Sharqi Highlights – Open Dance Night allows dancers to perform a variety of dances. Whenever there is someone performing dances from the Middle East and the African continent I enjoy highlighting them. Below are several I enjoyed seeing…

Ajaz and Nuzrsat , orignally from Peru and Colombia, were very pretty in their full ensembles. These two ladies are students in the dance community and they were very supportive of everyone throughout the night. We need more people like this. It didn’t matter what level or what type of dance was being presented, these two were clapping and cheering on their fellow dancers. They themselves are strong students who have understood the basic techniques of raqs sharqi. It was a joy to have them and their family in the audience.

Sabia was another show stopper tonight despite her music being distorted. Those of us who know her could see her full intent and purpose on that dance floor. Her gorgeous red dress made her stand out from others as she aimed to represent the glamorous side of Al Msr. Bravo, we “got it.” If I had to change anything it would be the computer that played the music and I would have covered her in more diamonds and bling. Shine Sabia, lay it on thick…that’s the way. 😉

The Salimpour Collective was another memorable set. They performed that outstanding zill piece that they did at Amani’s extraordinary show some weeks ago. They also segued into a duet featuring Jamie and Majda and damn it was good! I tell you, they brought the Salimour spirit to life in this town. Be sure to look out for this piece (reinforced by Jenni on the side).

The Roulettes…
This concept is made up of songs being put on shuffle and Jenny has to pick whatever shows up. A dancer agrees to dance to the song without knowing what the shuffle landed on. Jenny said there was classic Egyptian, Sha’abi music by Hakim and a ton of other middle eastern music but for some reason it landed on “other things.” Jendayi was the first person to volunteer for the roulette. She got up, the song came on and she showed out, mind, body and soul. I felt she did a great job and I hope future performances will feature this earthy, relaxed raqs style that matches that which you will see at parties and haflas abroad. Heidi blew us away when it was her turn, if anyone has that on video you need to see it. She proved that she is a natural dancer and beyond talented. Again, someone find the video!

Tamar stood out with the music she chose. She did a choreography that was “her very first” from her early dancing years ago with Chandani. It was a routine that included a straight edged tahtib. Hearing that song again was a joy! Always nice when people use exciting music from the region that even the most far-removed from fusion dance would recognize and seat-shimmy to from start to finish.

Zeina Dance again…another one for a video… They really master fusion so well. This time it was with a Raqs-Tango fusion with a spanish verbal intro that excited people like myself as well as other international community members in the crowd. Let the video speak for itself. Pieces like this are worthy of a large stage…it deserves “big lights!!” Bravo y Brava!

Mina’s set was also memorable because of her great music. Another great pop song that was extremely popular right out of the studio by Nancy Ajram. Oul Tani Keda is just one of those “now old school” club classics that would send dancers running to the dance floor, shimmying til it hurt. That’s the exact energy Mina brought…a rush of raqs hot pepper enthusiasm…and that you can never forget as it’s the heart and soul of the pop raqs community! She followed it with a drum solo and the crowd went wild! She’s always fun!

Let’s just be real here, Majda stole the show…she stole it. There. I said it. She started off with a melody of taqsims that meshed into Turkish 9/8 rhythms and blended that on with others. It was brilliant when you stop and realise what she did. She honouored not just movement but also music in that set. It was a perfect Raqs Star’s ritual. You only see that at galas and for to her give that to us was quite generous. Shukran jazillan…I “got it.” Had I still had a voice after being on that Tears for Fears tour for nearly a week I’d have made a proper zaghareet. Masha’Allah ya helowa Majda! Masha’Allah!

Earlier in the evening someone played some music from my region of Africa. I was up dancing around in the dark with Sabia’s fiance (my brother in raqs) and telling him about what parts of Africa and the East have those rhythms. When I heard parts of the music in the next set featuring Heidi, Jendayi and Jenny I was floored at the inclusion of it for the show. Turns out, it was a section in the SEEDS fundraiser that took place earlier this month. What a spectacular piece it was. It was filled with several moves from the cultures that the African continent has influenced. There is no way to describe it, it is again something you have to see for yourself.. this, too, stole the show that evening. Just a full on perfect fusion of cultural dance…we need more of this in our shows. It’s as much a part of Raqs Sharqi as Egypt is realistically and physically to Africa.

Open Dance Night continues in September! Get signed up now! Contact World Bellydance Alliance for more info!

Thanks for reading!

* would like to extend a huge thank you and hug to those who wore costumes, jewelry and other items from the shop. It was noted! Shukran wa T’shukrle!

Amani Jabril & Friends… Simply Flawless

Amani Jabril hosts an annual show at Steve's every year...

Amani Jabril hosts an annual show at Steve’s every year…

*As always, these comments are my opinion and are not to be associated with any organisations and teams with which I collaborate.

Flawless…I don’t know what more to say. It was a mic drop flawless night, a break the plate occasion that I can only hope can be recreated at future events. I’ve always heard people say they want to bring their A-game for Amani’s events…because Amani represents and demonstrates so much of “the region” in her work. And we all want to make sure we align ourselves with that vision when collaborating with her. Tonight everyone elevated their Raqs game to levels I’ve never seen in this town outside last year’s Bellydance Evolution which I dare say is still one of the greatest raqs shows I’ve ever seen minus regional weddings. Amani Jabril & Friends Live at Steve’s Live Music was a show that will go down in history as the one that raised the bar yet again… we can’t go back, the standard is set in stone. It is done! Accompanied by Atlanta Phonecian, a very good Middle Eastern Band featuring Samer and Amine, this show felt like a henna hafla…and you know that’s just divine!

The night began with Barbara (a member of Awalim who runs the Yalla Y’all calendar for the city’s Bellydance events). She was very relaxed and just did her thing out there. The love was flowing and everyone was supportive, clapping and cheering along. It’s always nice to see people in their element doing what brings them so much joy.

Hasna stormed onto the stage in all her raqs glory wearing what looked to be one of my favourite costumes from It’s one of the really well-made bedluhs with the pink and gold embellishments on black. She wore it well and combined with her flawless stage presence, the presentation was one of the many exciting sets of the evening. Her energy, spins and crowd interaction were fantastic. She was strong and powerful out there and comanded your attention in a graceful, elegant way. Now that’s a dancer!

Jaki’s piece belonged in a theatre…her long lace beladi dress, coiffed hair cut and cool embellishments including a hipscarf from made her one of the queens of the night. She just blew us away with level changes, ridiculously fantastic spinning and ta’arab for days…for days you all…for daaaayyys omg…whaat?! I had to look away a few times because I felt tears coming to my eyes. I was wearing teal green mascara and feared it may roll down my face in an uncontrolable cry. Even while taking my notes on the piece I started tearing up reliving Jaki’s set in my head. As energetic and fantastic as her work has been over the years, elevated each year to something more spectacular than the last, it is hard to believe that it could get any better. She worked that set into something truly historic and I will not ever forget it. It was outrageously flawless and refined…I can’t even speak further on it. I just can’t…I need a minute to regroup.

Jendayi was another treasure in her gorgeous blue beladi dress and fashionable hair reminding me of the great dancers who wore the cutest short cuts and danced with skill and passion in Egypt. Jendayi’s energy is what brought us to our zenith of joy. She really made good use of the floor, interacted with the crowd and did justice to the music. That is so important…to feel that song and bring it to life. She did all of that and more. Mabrook on a good set!

Maiea embodied so many of the greats of the industry with hints of local Raqs Stars like Samora, Amani Jabril and Aziza Nawal. I saw hints of Egypt, a little Lebanese and whole lot of her electric energy. You can see she really loves this dance and has worked hard to represent it not only respectfully but beautifully. I was highly impressed with her costume and even more with her ability to bring “the middle east” to the East Coast. Mabrook Maiea!

A lady named Funda, who is new to me (I’m assuming she is Turkish by her name) did what her bio describes as “Veil Play.” This was perhaps the only dance of the night that didn’t throw my soul into the floor but instead was a beautiful set to watch if you enjoy veil solos. I’m from that school of “the veil is merely an intro prop to be tossed quickly” so any long set featuring just a veil as a main piece leaves me wanting more. I would have loved to have seen her dance vs. the veil. I had seen this lovely woman earlier and was eager to see her work and I felt we didn’t get to experience “her,” we instead saw just her veil.

Majda was sweet to come out and shimmy with the teams this evening and the entire time she danced I was taken away to a living room watching someone’s daughter delight her family. You know there’s always that one child in the community that everyone loves. She’s daddy’s girl, mother’s pride and the sister everyone wishes they had on top of being that bada$$ cool cousin everyone tries to claim. This was Majda this evening, glowing and giving us a piece of her heritage like a royalist. She makes every first generationer VERY proud. Her zills were so “on point” it was frightening. As a person who used to only play the zills for a few bands/dancers I can ttruly appreciate her skill and talent. The song she used is not an easy song to dance to….and I feel it would have taken an audience full of Arabs, Africans and those familiar with pop culture and history in the region to truly “understand” what she did out there. I got it…I knew it. It was so good I just wanted to Periscope it and I should have but I was so overwhelmed I became frozen by her performance. Majda is another great treasure and we’re more than privileged to have her in Atlanta…she is “a blessing” personified.

Amani’s piece was traditionally spot on and raqs righteous. I tell you, that costume…was everything. Is that another Mum Connie creation? Very nice! It complimented Amani very well, especially the bodice. Her performance featured what I feel she perfected long ago …and might I add has been copied by others who wish to look as authentic as possible. I don’t want to get into a long story here but her way is not the “hishebishek” I saw from her when I first met her years ago at Taverna Plaka’s opening week (yes, it’s been that long). And while she hasn’t aged a day, her dance style has moved forward into a very mature one that embodies strength and regional nuances that she has made her own. Her signature style is more than graceful, it’s simply “Flawless Amani.” She knows how to bring it and it works not only for her but also her students. You can tell when a person has studied with her…they too bring the grand pauses that glide into these incredible raqs moves and tummy flutters with a twist. Her ability to make LIVE music come ALIVE is a gift. She graced us with that this evening and we all felt it. Beautifully done…absolutely beautiful!

The center portion of the evening featured taped music and semi-improv plus a few choroegraphies. First up were Faaridah and Na’ilah whose costumes and fan veils were quite eye catching. They were quite in sync and looked just as good as the bellydance superstars during their prime (i.e. tours 2 & 3). If you can find the photos for this set you’ll see what I mean. Too darn cute, too darn cool. Very nice set!

Ziah and Awalim did a quick set, almost a tease of ATS for the crowd. They always bring their best to the stage. That I certainly can say. I can’t think of a performance of theirs that didn’t keep my eyes glued to the stage. This set was so nice that when it was over the crowd yelled, “too short!!! too short!!” They wanted more!!

Vany…sheesh…I can’t even write this. I’ll start crying again. She was a glimpse of history, a journey and a voyage…a representative of everything our culture has gone through. I say our culture because Vany is from Spain originally, if I’m not mistaken. She looks and dances just like some of the very honoured people that taught the great Flamenco new comers of our day. Vany is not only beautiful but a walking tribute to the most cherished parts of global dance. Watching her is a spiritual experience. Again, I can’t even discuss it, there are no words to that can truly describe her amazing work justly. I just wish she was closer so I could dance with her regularly. Everytime I see her I just cry…again. I have to stop…my soul is just enraptured by her gift and talent. That is not Vany dancing, that is her soul. Masha’Allah!

AFBD – The Salimpour Collective was so impressive I was envious and wanted to be a part of it. I love Suhaila’s style and have been a fan of hers since I was 19. I know I tell my Suhaila fan girl story enough so knowing that and seeing this…just made me feel good. I don’t know what is going on between Suhaila and Atlanta but she’s here every year and I feel like her empire has stamped its approval on AFBD and their friends. I totally loved this set featuring several of the Raqs Stars of Atlanta. After having studied their signature footwork (that of Jamila and Suhaila’s personal style) I could appreciate the intricate moves and works shown here. It’s quite impressive. I loved what they have done and I look forward to seeing them do even more with her work under her blessing.

Tarabiya Music and Dance closed out the recorded music set with a crowd favourite that was full of energy and their amazing ATS skills. They balanced the basket and featured a number of really beautiful transitions throughout the piece. These ladies are so darn cute and beautiful. The combination of their amazing costumes and ability to raise the bar in raqs fusion is over the top. Love it!

The show’s Live music portion returned with the legendary Tere of Imperial Fez fame livening up the night. By this time Nicola of Nicola’s Lebanese Restaurant, “King Nic” was in the audience. He and Mr. Abdullah made it official…the combination of the authentic sounds of the modern day Middle East and our mixed global audience turned the third half of the night into a true hafla. This is what you would find on the side streets of International Communities back in the day and in hidden pockets now. Drinks were flowing and dancers were cheering each other on. It was beautifully, organised chaos, just what a real show should be. So enter Tere, a rendition of her story and the history of some of our great raqs leaders in Atlanta… yes, you should have been there… that was alright! Aiewaaa, raqs yalla…

Heleshia “turnt” it up a notch. She “Turnt and Burnt” the place the place down with a raqs set so demanding of one’s attention people couldn’t stay seated. She glided out in a black beladi dress with rhinestones elegantly placed on it and a front key hole with a sheer covering gently revealing a little too much in all the right places…the girl was working it…I mean she worked. it. The classic song played by that stellar band and this raissa’s suave talent just set souls a stirring. The zaghareets were loud, people just lost it…and rightly so. She deserved that standing ovation. Again, you had to be there to see it for yourself. Words will never suffice.

Sabia’s set was so “her” and showed her progress in this art. She’s a good dancer and she enjoys it. Technique is one thing, but when you can see someone’s joy in their work it brings a whole new spirit. It enhances the dance. That’s what Sabia does, she enhances her sets with her personality making her a “must see” at shows. Very cute, sooo sweet and raqs sharp! Love her love for the culture! Again, Mabrook on the ability to elevate one’s joy into a work of art.

Raqs Razi travelled from Florida just to perform at this show. She did an outstanding job, even better than the first time I saw her at the then Pera Dance and Event studio. Her set was long but she knew what to do to hold your attention. She chose a very tough song that would have killed most dancer’s careers if they didn’t know what to do but she just upped her reputation with this set and I’m glad I was there to see it. Invite her back!

Aziza Nawal… need I say anything at all. Her name alone makes my own relatives get off the couch, get dressed and hang out at the local hot spots just to see her when she’s in their town. Raqs Sharqi in America is Aziza Nawal…period. She’s just that good. I see dancers all day long and few excite me at the same level as Aziza. I can be tired and worn out but if I know she’s dancing I will get up and go watch. She gives this dance life. Flawless in costume and truly one of the greatest dancers on the planet. Argue with me and I’ll fight ya on it.

Awalim closed out the night with ATS to a classical raqs song wearing classical bedluhs. It was very creative and the crowd “understood” it. Jenny helped in the end by discussing more about what we were seeing. I thought it was excellent the way they combined the two genres. Very nice and very respectful.

This was a night to remember. The band was amazing as always and I totally felt at home during this show. I think this has been one of my favourite nights at Steve’s since I began attending event there. I wish this had been televised. It deserved it. Atlanta you are the “it girl.” You are the new black. You are giving this dance life…you are becoming “Everything” and the world needs to see it. What can we do to make sure these shows are circulated not just within our own “raqs family.” Let’s discuss. You’ve got my email. Let’s take this show on the road, even it’s just on YouTube! Mabrook wa shukran for keeping this dance alive and making the Middle East and Africa look good.

P.S. Why didn’t someone tell me that I was singing happy birthday to a man instead of a woman? I used the female happy birthday grammar… #ForShame Bonne Anniversaire to the man who celebrated with us this night!

Thanks for reading!