After not being able to go to the Attack of the Bellydancer’s show last year I made sure I was in attendance this year. Highlights of the show for me were the following:
Sig Sawyer the MC – always an excellent choice for a show. He knows how to work with a mixed crowd. In this case, the raqs knowledge pendulum was swinging on every end…from the experts, gurus and enthusiasts who can name every single genre of raqs to those who found some of the sets comical due to their lack of knowledge in the art. Yes, I’m calling someone out. But we’ll get to that later… First, my favourites.
Majda – her set looked to be a choreography and drum solo combined. Her whole presentation from costume to intricate turns and moves made it a really beautiful piece. As I watched her I thought how awesome it would be to have her at a wedding. That’s the kind of pristine, polished and energetic material you want when you’re aiming for glam!
Persica was also really beautiful as mentioned on my Facebook wall. What stood out was that dynamic and well thought out entrance. The combination of the gorgeous make-up and beautiful fuchsia bedluh costumes made them stand out in an extraordinary way. It’s been such a long time since we’ve had polished troupes in bedluhs of the same colour. It’s hard to accomplish and honestly, Arabesque of Canada is about the only dance ensemble that still does it well. So, to have a taste of that in Atlanta via a new dance group is truly welcomed! Each troupe member was committed to the piece and you could tell they enjoyed performing for everyone. Loved Jendayi’s expression throughout this set. Can’t wait to see what they do next! *Please note, Jendayi’s JDC is back! They will debut Desert Stories in 2018. Buy tickets now.
Raqs Razi has always been a delight on stage. Tonight, she was extra delightful in every sense of the word… she was “extra” in the most amazing way. I heard something about her dance being a salute to the 70s. I could see that with the cool shades and fur coat that I’ve seen in some 70s movies. I was a toddler in the 80s so all I remember is Boy George, Duran Duran and Tears for Fears. The big furs were not in my childhood aesthetic but the memory of the Kuti Family dancers has never left me and THAT is what I thought of when I saw her in the elaborate garb. Her costume was stunning and the dancing was delightful. It was the old school ethnic North and West African style steps that you still see today at highlife shows. It was tastefully done and quite impressive. I wanted to jump out there and sing “Do Your Best!” Her aesthetic is just toooo cute! Let the pictures speak for themselves.
Equally enjoyable was the Shimmy Collective! This troupe is made up of Hasna, Maiea and Sabia (the show director). I feel like the video can speak for itself. There’s nothing else to say…their set was very strong for so many reasons. Watch it carefully and see how well they timed their movements with the music. This is rare of late. There’s some kind of trend to just catch beats with an element of surprise for the audience. Not with this group, they went all out with a classic and solid set that matched every note in the song. Ahhh, I miss that! They are another group I hope to see more of minus that name. Shimmy Collective? Come on… How about Banat Soleil or Raqs el Hob? Something powerful and strong to match the direction in which they are going. That name isn’t worthy of their strength.
James was the only male performer of the evening. He did a very classic Egyptian set that was listed as cabaret but far from it (which is debatable because the term cabaret is used in all kinds of ways – see my previous blog post). I adored his raqs work. It was dynamite and also very strong in that he was at total ease as if he does this every single day like a prayer. I was fascinated with his energy, his attire and his background given that he is not a random guy who thought this was cool and decided to just get on stage to be the anomaly. James is straight-up legit raqs. I said at dinner later that night, “that’s money right there…” meaning, “James is the type of dancer I look forward to paying to see.” I could have watched him twice. He got a standing ovation out of me, I was that excited!
Saniyah’s set was also welcomed for reasons that give me goosebumps. First, if you don’t know her background or with whom she has studied, you need to call her and ask. Google Black Orchid Danse and see all the great photos of she, the icons and modern legends hanging out. These greats include, Mohammed Shahin, Tito Seif, Nath Keo, Andrus Ramir, Sal Maktoub, Amani Jabril and of course, Simon Sarkis! These are very strong dancers in our raqs industry. Saniyah has taken courses with all of them, more than once and you can see their influence in her steps and appreciation of the art. When she dances, you know “she knows.” It’s clear that her raqs knowledge is not from a purely westernized, Hollywood trendy DVD or a group of carbon copies. She is carrying the torch here in Atlanta when it comes to honouring the international community and origins of the dance. Her training is pure gold and it shows.
There were other really cute dances and creative pieces that night including that of Ziah and her daughter with their Moana presentation. I believe when this show was first put together, it was a combination of Disney and dance? The theme has moved on but their presentation held on to that aesthetic (which is more along the lines of what I was expecting from everyone) and was very well done.
The solos by Hasna and Sabia were incredible, both dancers really glowed. I appreciate their use of classic music such as Lamma Badda. Nice work!
Things That Make You Go…hmmmm…
Beatrice… my goodness. That girl worked! She worked hard and has been working hard for a very long time. While it wasn’t the smoothest I’ve , it was clearly steeped in Suhaila goodness and I think Suhaila would have been proud to see her put her mind, body and soul into that set the way she did. The group to which she belongs, The Salimpour Collective, is a major part of a piece of literature I’ve been working on for several months. I am blown away by how Suhaila’s spirit has engulfed so many in this raqs community. It’s impressive to see people master such a unique approach and technique to raqs sharqi. I will definitely talk about this in my publication which turned into a novel in February after realising there was no way in heck I could just post a blog about what I saw and experienced during the AFBD Suhaila 2017 event. More on that at another time and this performance will be mentioned.
More make-up! There were a lot of people that just looked washed out. The lighting was fine in that place, but the lack of make-up on several dancers took away from the beauty of their presentations. This is not to say that make-up is essential and a must at all times. However, on stage it is. I just saw blank faces…almost like ghosts doing beautiful art. It was scary! For those who have very light skin tones, make-up is crucial! Ziah has fair skin but I could see her because she knew how to apply her make-up. I’m not trying to be funny and this is not a political post. This is about being present and visible in your art. From the audience, some faces looked like a blank canvas with hair…and it was distracting. MAC or Prestige (their sister brand that doesn’t cost a fortune) is our friend. Surreal Make-Up who was featured at TribalCon is also our friend. I, too, know I have to wear make-up when my goal is to present to a crowd in this type of art setting. We have several amazing make-up artists from our drag community who can teach us and have taught us how to be “seen” on stage. Let me know if you’d like a lesson. They won’t make you look like the stereotype of drag, you will instead look as good as the mavens of RPDR henny! We’re all in this together! It’s all about the show and it will go on and should go on right! Let’s do this!
The Not So Cool
Sometimes you gotta call out your audience for better or worse. Also, this is not a school play and should not be approached as such. The audience this particular night was very supportive and knowledgeable for the most part. However, there were a few people that really shocked me. I always promote this show to the international community to which I belong. The stories in the news regarding the treatment of “the different,” the “non-English speaking,” and anyone with a tone deeper than most sand can’t be ignored. It’s clear, we’re in the middle of a really hard political situation. So, these shows are a respite from the criticism of being from or a part of a culture that is not high in the esteem of the western world. Yes, we live here in America. Some of us came with our parents who relocated during a time when immigrants and expats were still “okay” and not seen as the resource snatching sows that we’re sometimes portrayed through various propaganda. Many Americans of all walks of life are working hard to find peace and unity for every citizen and resident and I’m daily grateful for it! Thank you!
One of those efforts is done through showcases of cultural dance. We enter these spaces with expectations of inclusivity, appreciation, admiration and love. When someone breeches that by portraying the dance in a negative, stereotypical way or if someone treats our art as a seductive sleaze fest then sparks begin to fly and our purpose is threatened. Same sentiment if someone laughs at portions of the show that are not meant to be comical. I won’t name which dance was thought a comedy show by the young lady on the front row but I will say this.
Dear Fellow International Community member who sat in front of me on the front row,
I was sitting behind you on the second row. I wanted on several occasions to welcome you in your language and give you and your friends tickets to the next event plus discounts at our local international dance clothing shoppes and more. However, something kept stopping me and in hindsight I’m glad it did. You laughed at one of the performers. It was clear you really didn’t even find it funny but continued to giggle loudly though no one else was. Even your friend looked at you with surprise as you jovially wiped your eyes “from laughing so hard.” Thankfully, you were stopped by one of the kind raqs warriors and the presenter didn’t pay you any attention but kept right on dancing. In future, just hold it. Try to have some self-control. Given the history of your nation (a nation for which I spent many years studying as I, too, have relatives there) and the tough times that many have faced there I expected more acceptance and appreciation of all the dances and genders in the room. I think you let us all down as international residents of our community.
There were others in the audience that did some rather interesting things including the parent who couldn’t get her child to stop disrupting certain portions of the show. I’m all for an all-ages show. It’s crucial that children are given the gift of cultural dance and theatre. But we must remember that they are not the only ones for whom this show is created. We must teach our children good etiquette and stellar manners when it comes to art. Respect is not an option in these very sacred spaces.
The After Party
All I can say is that after party at Jordan’s Lounge was as good as the show if not more. My nights, of late, are filled with Japanese Street Fashion events, Tokyo Fashion Shows complete with Nippon dolls, mascots and tea parties. I forgot how fun it is to go to a club with a good DJ and just shoulder shimmy with every Eastern Music enthusiast in the room. The highlight of that was having Amani (and her gorgeous hair) around, DJ Spin Sultan leading the show along with stellar performances by Karma Karmelita. I also must say that the locals and students in this club were very receptive.
On several occasions, the guys did these really cool line dances to American music (trap music I think it was called) and were very respectful when we got on the dance floor. They didn’t freak out or call us names. That’s always refreshing in these politically charged times. When DJ Spin Sultan played the Gulf, Region tunes we were joined by some of the Kuwaiti, Iranian and Kurdish young ladies who danced next to us wearing their cute plaid shirts and ponytails. We dined on a ton of delicious food from their great menu. (I still have some left and it’s been 4 days!) Annnnd we were joined by Sabia’s mum of whom I thought was a new dancer just hanging out at the start of the show. Wow!! If you haven’t seen her…have a glass of cold water ahead of time. She’s gorgeous and SUPER NICE!!!
That’s all I’ve got folks! The show was good, the party was super awesome! People put forth the best of themselves that evening and it showed! To the ill-behaved, a raqs show is neither the time or the place for that type of conduct! Don’t make us call security! ☹
Mabrook wa OPA! ::throws a plate on the ground like we used to…::