Review: TribalCon 2017 – Year 13!

As a Nigerian-American who loves the cultures into which I was born (and those of my cousins who are from Lebanon, Philistine and parts of East and West Africa), I certainly love to discuss up and coming dancers, artists and more. Known for being quite vocal about my love for raqs sharqi, I write this synopsis with appreciation for those who share the love of cultural dance…and for my cousins who are away and can’t make it to every show.
*Pardon me for publishing this before my recap of Chaharshanbeh Soori (14 March) and before publishing (for the public) the full novel of Suhaila’s spectacular visit and influence on the Atlanta dance teams in January.

TribalCon 2017/TribalCon XIII was quite impressive. I went seeking healing, a healing I knew only Donna Mejia could provide. Also, I wanted to support her presence 100%. I go to TribalCon because of her! There, I said it. Donna Mejia is my TribalCon draw. I would have gone to the lectures too but I got confused. Were they going to take place in the hotel or at the Tribal Bellydance Center of Atlanta? I was in a bit of a rush…and didn’t get a moment to read and investigate. Sad! I love her lectures. This is only the second time I’ve missed it in the years that she has been coming to Atlanta.

This year’s shows were not a “long drawn out series of 25 yard skirts, black nylon choli tops covered in creative variations of cowrie shells and feathers moving to dubstep fusion.” In fact, I can only remember a few years where the shows felt like I was seeing very similar presentations back to back. If you look closely you can see that each troupe and dancer over the years has been quite different…let’s give people credit. Still, I agree, you had to look closely some years, but the difference was there. This year, however, was especially diverse. Sitting underneath a spotlight, by coincidence, I tapped away on my phone vs. scribbling with my “smoking pen of death” as someone reference my fervor as I take notes about every show. I took as many notes as possible while watching these fantastic dancers do their thing on what was one of the best looking stages in TC history. Yes, same backdrop but something about the black curtains next to it gave it a 3D polished effect that you couldn’t ignore. It looked good in there and the energy was warm and cozy. Many people I spoke with noted how “good” it felt in there. I’m kind of sad that it won’t be at that location next year. Of all the venues that TC has used, I like that one best! Parking was great and it was easy to find.

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La Sinistra Syreni – a salute to aquatic life this year…

 

FASHION!
I missed the memo on what the theme was each night…Prom on Friday and Glitter Sparkle Party for Saturday? But some of us went rogue and wore other things. One of those was Aziza Nawal. If you haven’t seen photos of her badass outfit from Friday night, you’re missing out. Be sure to ask me to let you see my phone. I totally snuck a few snapshots of her looking right cool I must say. Tartan plaid themed coordinate that looked “Straight Outta Tokyo” Fashion Express…the mother of all runways. I was impressed! Jendayi had on a cool outfit as did Ryanne and several others. People don’t play when it comes to Atlanta dance events…we clean up!

The Show
I won’t go down the entire list of performers. I will however, note those that really moved me…often to tears.

Awalim’s OTS – Awalim have coined the term “OTS” which is Orientale Tribal Style. It features hishibeshek intertwined with ATS’ cool transitions. I want to take a class with them because the moves used are inclusive of some very specific cultural nuances that took entirely too long to reach Atlanta – these were moves that had their debut when I was a kid! I loved it! Robyn was especially strong in this piece. I loved her hair and all of their outfits were just perfect. Great job and thank you for recognizing how cultural dance in the region fits perfectly with ATS. This is what I originally expected to see when I first began to pay attention to Tribal. I hope this goes far and that Awalim will continue to lead as people inevitably try to copycat. Again, there’s ta’arab here…that spirit. It can’t be taught…it must be felt and then and only then can it be expressed. Awalim did a fantastic job accompanied by one of the best live Mideast festival/conference bands that exist today. The combination of the two was exceptional!

Raqs Razi was my favourite of the entire two nights of shows. She performed a Luxor salute that was identical to what you see in region…her set told a story. She was the young lady who went down by the river to collect water in a traditional jug. She danced along the way and in this setting was accompanied with background music to set the tone…by that awesome TribalCon band. My goodness! Boy did she represent! I wanted to stand up and zaghareet til I passed out. Catch it on video to truly understand how awesome it was! Nice job Razi! Keep this going! This is exactly what needs to happen on stage…stories need to be told in that fashion at raqs shows and conferences for the Americas!

Sabeeya Sun’s performance in the second half of the show was breathtaking and very helpful to me personally. I love how she expressed herself in this set. She’s an enjoyable dancer to watch. I still appreciate her for bringing Yannis Marshall…I’ll never forget that! But I digress (as usual).

Taarabiya’s Rajasthani piece was refreshing. Always nice to see a group of dancers salute the culture of their heart appropriately and accurately. I loved the whole set and I hope they’ll continue to showcase cultural art in that way. I rely and count on them for the real deal.

Draconis…umm…can we book this gorgeous star for every single future raqs show in this town for the remainder of the year? I’m serious. How much do we need to contribute to make sure this fine human is at EVERY single raqs show? I’m not joking…book this beauty! Book today! I don’t know what more to say. And yes, I saw “those who know me” turn and look in my direction when this gift from the dance heavens stepped onto the stage. I near fell out of my chair. I. WANT. MORE! #DraconisForAllOf2017 – let’s just get this campaign going now!

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Draconis was outstanding!

Jaylee was stunning in her presentation with the colour coordination of hair and skirt. Her spinning was very healing and I appreciate what she shared with us. Thank you! I needed that!

Jendayi was another that was totally breathtaking and someone to appreciate. She’s been dancing in this community for 16years. She has seen some things… Atlanta’s dance scene is far from the easiest one to navigate. I appreciate JDC, Jendayi’s support of the community and how she’s made her mark and place in this arena, weathering ALL KINDS of storms! Her presentation was all Jendayi…and we loved it!

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Jendayi’s set was strong and moving! Yes, I cried!

Donna Mejia…there’s no way to even put that gift into words. Usually I’m able to discuss her music and its origins and touch on how the presentation represented x, y and z… this year I was just blown away. I don’t know where to start or know if I truly can sum that up. It was the ultimate healing performance. There was a theme of dreams and waking up in the intro and from there it just snatched your conscious on a journey of everything from struggle to strength…and more! If TribalCon has videos you will need to buy a copy and find your strength in this performance. The world and freedom was knocked down in 2016 and has had to find ways to recover and thrive in 2017…this piece is one of many stories in that series of survival. It was very moving and a great way to close out the night. Shukran jazillan ya Donna Mejia! You are adored!

Saturday Night

Heidi intro’d the show and I can’t imagine a better opener. She was the epitome of grace! From the costume to her final flourish of the set, she was phenomenal! Very nice! Made us proud to call her one of our own!

The Salimpour Collective was so polished…so gorgeous. So many times I say I wish I could dance with various troupes. This is another with which I wish I had the time and resources to dedicate myself. I’m jealous of their ability to pull this off and hold down their regular lives outside of practice. I had the pleasure and honour to sit next to Suhaila twice when she was here in January and I specifically remember her noting how proud she was, how honoured and impressed she was with this group. She said something like, “Look at the great work they’ve done. This is what they put together. They all came together to do this…” and she went into stories and details about the origins of the various movements that we were seeing. I always feel like that’s her soul on stage when I see the Salimpour Collective. I realllllly adore each of their contributions and how much they’ve grown (detailed in my novel) using her techniques and skill. They are absolutely beautiful! It’s really an understatement…beautiful does not sum it up! From their stunning costumes (Ya Majda, please make alllll of my bras!) to their polished hair and ability to stay insync, the Salimpour Collective is SENSATIONAL!

Aziza Nawal…good heavens! As always we were transformed to another place and time. I literally forgot I was in Atlanta. Lebanon, Egypt…either spot would have made more sense because her work and that band literally took me to both locations. Aziza Nawal remains one of the best dancers in America…hands down, no questions asked…she’s one of THE BEST…top 5 indeed.

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“They’ve never met…never danced with each other before! They just drank the water!” – Madame Onca on AllSkate ATS
All I can say is, “THAT PART!” They, too, were another amazing group that is made up of dancers who momentarily come together and dance based on the common cues and structure of ATS. Lacy Perry did an outstanding job in this set, she really stood out. Her make-up, costume and overall gait was just really prominent and very pretty. I enjoy AllSkate for the hilarious and inclusive title and because it’s shows the sisterhood of the dance…anyone with strong ATS skills can join in and shine collectively.

Hasna was there! I was thrilled! This was another set in which it’s hard to put into words. I’ll say this…she and her costume danced a hole in the stage. I. mean. they. danced! That costume could have walked out and danced by itself to a standing ovation. Hasna is just good. I don’t know what else to say…she’s just really good! Loved this! Loved her electric smile and…that costume!!! Talk about wearing it well! Yes, this!

Awalim was so polished in their group set for Saturday. It was great to see BJ out there with them. I didn’t know she had joined the team. They did a series of transitions accompanied by zills. Awalim is one of the best at zills for troupes and that’s another class I’d like to take with them. I’ve wanted to for years. Very admirable! Loved their work, some of the best ATS in the states comes from this group.

Lotus Seeds were my second favourite dance group of the entire event. This included three very young women, representing three of the parent ethnic groups on the planet. Sienna, one of my favourite dancers in Atlanta, will probably go on to be on America’s Next Top Model or win some award for science and still manage to be a beauty queen. She just seems like she can do it all. I love her contribution to this group. I appreciate all of their efforts. Pheryn is another phenomenal addition. I loved when she led in the ATS improv section of the presentation. And Ava was just as strong as ever. I really appreciate what they bring to the stage. This time they showed all the ways in which baskets are used in the region. For me it was amazing because they depicted it all so well. My favourite being the make-up portion. These are the things that excite us expat kids for a variety of reasons. Lotus Seeds really represent the region well and I would love to see a full 90-minute show featuring all that they know and have learned in their time with the group. Mabrook!

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My godkids… xox – I wish!

Finally for me, the sets by Jenny N, Jenny C and company were the icing on the cake.

First of all in Alfftayat Alhib Hub, they represented the current scene of Raqs al Maghreb, one coincidentally wearing MisBellydance.com – in an outfit that I actually helped design. They also danced to a remix of Abdel Kader – a song with which I have a very strong history, it shaped my life as a teen and young adult. I get chills every time I hear it and have been fortunate to befriend several of the great singers who have made it famous and kept it alive. So, they get all the stars and accolades in my book. In fact, I’m going to make sure they get a gift certificate to MissBellydance.com for their next shopping excursion. Thank you for representing the region! Let me help you with that “rai rap francaises” part next time.

Then…Jenny C and Jenny N did a set toward the end that made me remember the day I told Jenny N’s husband that I was going to take her from him (rude in hindsight). But that same spark and electric love just zapped me again upon seeing her in this set. I loved it! It made me long for the coveted Jenny Sandwhich (a hug and photo of being loved by both Jenny’s on either side – it’s a dance thing only the Cult of Jennys knows about). #TheyveGotFans – The piece was very modern, had K-pop salutes and was technically sound yet relaxed. If you haven’t seen what K-pop looks like today you need to and then watch this set again…you’ll want a Jenny sandwhich after that as well. Long live this duo! And yes, Onca was right, TribalCon has all the best Jennys.

Other great performances included Northside Tribe and their incredible and strong fan piece using music that included rhumba flamenco stylings in the remix, Karolina Lux with her spoken poetic intro – that was incredible… “she’s not the dark beauty we paid for…” man that snapped my soul in half …and Southern Trance Tribal with their famous veil fan skills. All were impressive and enjoyable to watch.

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One of the bada$$es of FASHION at TribalCon – Mrs. Smith for the win! Look at that leg!

Very grateful to have had the opportunity to be present. The vendors were awesome. I was excited that I could enjoy some of their awesome things this year. I even got a makeover from Surreal MakeUp who will also be at DragonCon and AWA! Yes, TribalCon was incredible and a much needed respite from our weird world…and they call us the strange ones! I’d rather be “one of us” any day! Stay Gold TC! Stay Gold!

 

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