I was grateful that I was allowed to sit in on one of the courses and the show during the Suhaila Level 2 weekend hosted by Atlanta Fusion Bellydance last weekend. On Friday, I was able to catch the first class. It was clear that these loyal students had been working out all day, dancing and absorbing all that there is to learn in this certification. I admit, I was there to enjoy their dedication and listen to the zills. Something about hearing skilled sagat players is just comforting. They went right into it too…in time, so in sync. It was beautiful to hear and to watch. They use the larger sagat, not small ones by any means. It produced a rich and wonderful sound. Made it hard to leave. In fact, I sat there long after the class was over just to collect my thoughts and express gratitude to the universe for the opportunity to hear it and be present.
The show on Sunday night was very touching. Students were expected to dance to a song without any warning or prior knowledge of what that song would be. For several it seemed like second nature and as if they knew the work prior (and for many of us it was familiar music). The first song was that one that Suhad from Philistine often played at the start of her courses when she was teaching in East Cobb. I only know the song as Eshta Ya Amar. The young lady who performed to it did her level best to shift and change according to what the song called for one’s soul to do. I’ve only seen top professionals master it. So, kudos to her for catching all the regional rhythms to which the song gives nods. She gave it her all. Mabrook to her for that!
Our man James came to the stage next. He danced to a song made quite famous by Sergei – a beautiful protégé of the Great Carolina Vargas Dinicu also known as Aunt Rocky. Whenever I hear that song I think of his outstanding piece from a show they did in the 80s. I was too small to attend. I was not there but the video stays in my mind and I can’t help but compare everyone to his work when I hear it. James did do it justice and it was because his feet have the rhythm. If you watch closely, all the energy and grace starts in his feet. I wanted to just hug his soles after watching that performance. He was so lovely. You could feel his spirit just watching the delicate steps he took in time with the rhythm. It was majestic to behold. He’s a fine and fun dancer. I’m glad to see him every time he comes to Atlanta. He has no idea I’m an admirer. I’ll keep a professional distance cause everyone knows I can get completely out of control when it comes to appreciating a good solid raqs set. I have a tendency to faint and I felt myself tearing up watching him. Had to catch myself on a pillow in the back of the studio.
The third dancer was from Peru. I’m gonna say she’s a princess from Peru because she looked like royalty. ABSOLUTELY STUNNING TO BEHOLD and clad in grace with every move. She had long hip length dark hair and slightly tan skin. She told me she’s a designer and I hope that Genaro Rivas will take note of her for future projects in their country. I will be following her work closely. Her dancing is just as delightful as her personality. The piece she danced to was made famous by Amani in her Amani f’il Dunya – Amani Around the World DVD that was released sometime at the turn of this century. It remains embedded in my brain. Again, very hard not to compare this with what the Lebanese legend does. Of course, this was not a replica of it, nor should it have been but her own take on the song – being led, as one’s soul is, by the music. It was only in the end that I realised she didn’t know the piece because everything else was SPOT ON! She owned it!! It was like watching a member of the global troupe that made it famous! I was overwhelmed with her fantastic barrel turns, nailed percussion solos and danced as if she dances to this song quite often. I hope she comes back to Atlanta for more raqs events! So cool to have her here!
Another memorable performer was Jenny. She was given a song that has a constant refrain in it. I can’t even think of the last time I heard this song or where it was used. It may have been at a wedding entrance. This is not the best piece for a dancer to do a full set. But Jenny, being as skilled as she is, was able to make it work well and not look as if her moves never changed. She kept everything diverse, worked the entire room and most importantly dropped her veil at just the right time. People, I don’t care what you’ve seen in the western world, a veil is not to be used through an entire performance or more than a few seconds traditionally. Take note from Jenny. You enter with it, few glides and drop it to begin your presentation. Watching people use a veil through an entire set (unless it’s for a veil theme), is like watching someone give their loved one a wrapped gift but never letting them see it…they just tease. Jenny, in her darling bedluh, gave us what you expect to see when one hires a professional to entertain and give a solid piece at a gala event. It was nostalgic to watch as it reminded me of some of the best moments in my life watching great raissat from around the world dazzle and delight audiences. Shukran Jazillan Jenny!
*For those that get served a song that is repetitive, grab your tahtib and do a spinning set to break it up. Even add in some zills if you can so that you don’t tire. Songs like that are meant to be showcased in 3 parts. That’s my experience anyway…take it or leave it.
I think my favourite dancer of the night (and I try not to use that word because so many people deserve high honour) was Leena. She took charge of the space and gave a presentation that reminded me of my teenage/early twenties/college years (hasn’t been that long but still). I can remember going to Eid parties in our very traditional community where we still covered every day. During Eid, all the curtains were drawn shut and the doors locked so that no one could go into the big hall. Women would unveil and they’d be clad in the latest ensembles, glittered and glowing with make-up and couture for days. Leena’s presentation brought me to that space immediately. I tried very hard not to cry watching her dance. She really brought a piece of the region to us with her aesthetic and her choice of costume. I was very impressed and thought, “This is what I want at my ceremony!” I could go on and on. My notes read the following:
Leena is sumptuous in this Nigerian Green bedluh She is graceful and
sensual, dancing like somebody’s sister from the community. She is
absolutely stunning. This is what I pay for. This gets me out of bed in the
As a whole you can definitely see the difference that Suhaila has made in many dancers and in this town. The dancers that truly study under her for a few years are very polished. They have a posture and “jeito” that is so pleasant to watch. It gives them a professional touch that is hard to master for many. The discipline is incredible. I wish I could drop my life and study like that to assist my body, mind and soul in many ways. There are few teachers from which I’d be willing to learn in that “drop everything” and focus manner. Suhaila is definitely one of them. Very honoured to have her in our lives. Truly grateful!
Mersi mamnoonam, Universe!
Thanks for reading!