Essence of Bellydance 2017 – Review

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As a Nigerian-American, I feel it is a duty to attend cultural dance events and be present. Thankfully, it’s also a joy! With propaganda on the rise to simply push some people aside and act as though they never existed, I definitely want to support those who appreciate art and music not just from my country but of each nation that has a similar history to my own and prides itself on some of its amazing entertainment and art – people from the very nations that are being excluded and dismissed by propaganda. I am grateful to EOB’s annual productions because it elevates the art and cultural education to a new level, earning the respect of many leaders in the entertainment industry.

Raqs Sharqi is Still Here – It Isn’t Going Anywhere!

If we weren’t so badass, I don’t believe so many mainstream icons and rock stars would mimic what we do in the realm of dance and music. You can see and hear the heavy influence of Raqs Sharqi in so much  of American pop culture – going beyond the movements these days, you see DJs and actual people being requested from the region to mix and mingle in entertainment circles near and far. Let’s keep showcasing our amazing culture in the best light with events like these.

My comments are written from the lens of an immigrant community member who is thrilled to spend a few days being myself with people who can appreciate the culture from which I and my fellow expats were born. Thanks to all who gather at the galas year after year! Thanks to MissBellydance.com – longtime friends of whom do what they can to support the community through couture. They provided the gift bags this year for the competition. Gargantuan hugs to Team Essence for going through with these monumental tasks and providing Atlanta with a safe place to enjoy so much cultural dance!
…and here’s what I thought of it…

Is Essence Worth Attending? YES!

Essence is always exciting. No question. This year was my favourite year of all the EOB events I’ve attended. Having Suhaila Salimpour sitting with us, Jacques al Asmar, Mohammed Shahin and the core raqs community plus a plethora of international guests that flew in from as far as Germany and Northern Asia was the icing on the cake. It’s not that it’s not an international conference to begin with…but it’s hella awesome to see so many from around the world go through the trouble of travelling alllll the way from the far corners of the globe to spend 4 days with us in Atlanta. We’re a cool crowd, I have to give us credit for that. A lot of people WANT to be here and perform in this community. We love art and are obsessed with many of the artists…and it shows!

I arrived on Friday afternoon at 4pm on the dot ready to party. We went straight to the ballroom and the hug fest began. The vendor area was diverse with a ton of great options from which to pick. There were colourful dresses for everyday wear, jewelry and of course lots of costumes. There’s rumour that there may be a virtual vending option in future which is absolutely needed. Imagine being able to walk in, see the latest items by a variety of vendors and shop right there with deals and specials on their latest work and couture! Create a shopping cart and boom it’s at your house a few days after you return from Essence. Yes, please!!

But the Twelve Is Expensive!! Not with the EOB discount, it’s a steal!

Goodbye Twelve Hotel, looking forward to going back for other events and weddings!

This will be the last year that Essence will be at the Twelve Hotel so we have to say goodbye to these immaculate condo style rooms in the heart of Atlanta. But we’ll also be saying goodbye to $30 a night parking too so…no complaints there. Still, our time in Atlantic Station has been outstanding and wonderful. I’ve enjoyed every year. It will be essential to contact the Hyatt Regency Suites Atlanta Northwest (Smyrna/Marietta) which is the suite style hotel within 5 minutes of the immaculate and modern Smyrna Community Center where EOB is to be held in 2018. That hotel is elegant, reasonably priced around $159 per suite and they also have lots of ballrooms and gathering areas for those who like to party all night. It’s also across the street from some pretty cool restaurants with quick access to shopping malls if spending more money is important to you while on holiday in ATL. Still, I love the Twelve and I’m sad that it can’t remain the primary hotel for this conference because it’s just so freakin’ comfy!

Laissez les bon temps rouler!!!! Party at EOB17!

Suhaila and Jacques

Suhaila Salimpour and Jacques Al Asmar attempting to make west coast signs to represent the legacy! 94706 represent! ::zaghareet::

By 7:30pm we were seated and Suhaila Salimpour walks in the door (you all know I’m working feverishly to finish up the book I wrote about her January visit). I nearly began to faint. I just looked at Cairo, a local Angolan-American model and raqs enthusiast that many of you all know. She took time from her busy fashion schedule to hang out with us these few days as well. Cairo is practically waving smelling salts and lavender around my head to keep me from having a Suhaila fan fit. Well, after she walks in, here comes her cool pal Jacques Al Asmar, another legendary icon who now lives in GA. I nearly slumped over in my chair – was sure I was down for the count in a superfan fit. “Oh, my gaaah, they are both here at the same time!” Can we just move everyone here? You all know I’m on a serious crusade to see to it that it happens! Before long, all the awesome familiar faces are surrounding us…Ryanne, Jenny, members of JDC…all here! It’s about to get legit lit up in the Twelve! (I’m working on my slang as many of you know)

The competition opens with stunning performers who are not competitors but talented people who are either professionals or raqs enthusiasts. Of the Friday night dancers, the following were those that left a lasting impression on me. I have many of them on video and trust that I can share these snippets in due time. Also, I will not mince my words…gonna keep it real.

The MC was Orlando, Faaridah’s beau! I appreciated his dedication to the evening, working hard to get the names right and being able to read my carpel tunnel handwriting (I need to go the chiropractor and get this situation taken care of – sorry MCs). Really happy to have him as a fellow dance family member. He’s great!

Nawar returned to the EOB stage from Florida. She wore a stunning royal blue bedluh with silver embellishments. What stands out with Nawar is that she makes it very clear that she knows many dances from the region and showcases them all in a neat package of 2-3 minutes. She knows the region and represents it very well! She won third place that night and I’m very grateful she placed in the top three as she is simply top notch! Love her involvement and presence in our Florida-Georgia raqs exchange!

Northside Tribe also performed that night not as competitors but as a troupe. They did one of my favourite sets in their latest repertoire. I believe I saw it at TribalCon 2017 earlier this year? It’s the set with the fan veils that incorporates Rhumba Flamenco music and a mix of other styles with a Rroma lineage. Many know I have ties in that culture through a grandparent so as soon as I hear the music the tears begin to roll. I held it together and soaked up their awesome performance. The décor and intricate details on their costumes really bring it home. I absolutely loved Lacy’s hair and thought hard how on earth I can pull that off Monday – Friday on the media circuit. I’ll find a way. They were so in sync and really represented their appreciation for the dance and that particular part of the culture so well with this piece. Truly excellent dedication and challenging work glowing from each member! Awesome! More please!

Naima Sultana
Naima just completed her time with Bellydance Evolution, Jilinna’s team. It was an honour to have her here. I tease her and go nuts each time I see her of late with hails of praise and fangirling cause she’s damn good! It’s predominately improv for each set, passionate and exactly what you want to see from a GOOD dancer! I wish North Carolina was closer so we could see her more often. Maybe we can move her here as well? She wore a red and white bedluh that was off the chain! It had enormous rose work on the bust and supported her very well. The skirt was layers of luxurious chiffon and embellishments…like a wedding dress meets a Lebanese gala show. I loved it! That coupled with her awesome skills just made the performance another awesome set in the evening’s outstanding line-up.

Another young lady (the one that was eating a lovely peach on Sunday) performed wearing a bright green bedluh with matching veil. It also had lovely bra and belt set in what looked like an illuminating purple or periwinkle hue. When she came out in that bold costume I looked at Cairo and said, “She better bring it if she’s bold enough to wear those colours on the Essence stage…” and she did! OMG! She’s one of my new favorites. In fact, she was my second favourite performance of the night. She was competitor number 4 and I was enamored with her work. She is worth buying the DVD to see! I was happy she came over and sat with us later that weekend as she ate her peach and I, a salad, while we chatted about costumes and culinary confections. So happy to have met her and to have seen her work.

*I did hear someone come up to her and comment, “I always see you eating?! You’re always eating!” Leave her alone, let her eat! All that performance work and classes…heck, she needs to eat! We all do… no food shaming in this community or you are OUT!

The young lady that followed that performance in the gold bedluh that looked like an angel custom made it and blessed her into it during some out of this world ceremony was unreal! She was very professional in her demeanor and you could tell from her physique that she worked really hard on her health. She looked like a poster child for “If perfection was real it would look like this.” Her dancing was incredible and I’m glad I have a bit of it on video. Let this footage speak for itself!

A dear international community member from Sierra Leone was in the competition as well. She wore what I call a Maghreb and West African henna hafla dancer ensemble and she tore it up out there on that stage. She’s a great dancer but I think the costume really threw some people off and cost her a place in the top three of the competition – otherwise she would have easily placed.

There was a movie back in 1998 that featured a Moroccan wedding and a similar costume was worn but it had feathers instead of the tinsel-ruffles on the edges. If you’re not from the region, this might have gone over some people’s heads. Perhaps she made the costume based on her own desire with no influence at all from that movie or the region. However, I remember that henna party scene at the wedding and a lady came out of nowhere doing a mean set of travelling steps in a peacock blue and brown version that very ensemble. I was thrilled to see it and even more excited about her dance skills. The girl can move!

Raqs Razi gave us a traditionally perfect raqs set in a blue bedluh that was as stunning as that long floor length hair of hers. She really looked like a star up there and I was shocked she didn’t get a spot in the top three, a tie with perhaps the second-place winner? Razi was really good!

Competitor number 8 actually won second place and she deserved it. Let the video speak for itself!

Majda was incredibly graceful and gorgeous! She was probably born that way, standing up in the hospital bed playing finger cymbals while the other little babies cooed and wiggled along. I can totally see that…enjoy that mental image. She didn’t cry when she was born, she made zaghareets. Tonight, her gorgeous white and gold with silver ensemble made her look angelic. That particular piece of music was very healing and surreal, taking us to another dimension, some other place in time. I could have watched it twice and swooned into eternity. She was Cairo’s main reason for even coming to Essence this year. We adore Lady Majda! She, too, is majestic!

Jessenia of whom I was told was from Republica Dominicana put a hurtin’ on that stage. Her performance was EVERYTHING! She spared nothing and gave no f*cks. The girl brought out more than technique, she took a spoonful of ta’arab and spread it alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll over the floor and and fed it to the judges one by one. You couldn’t deny she was all kinds of perfect with spins and steps that you only see when you’re in the backrooms of someone’s religious ceremony in West African compound. I saw things I haven’t seen since I left the international community in which I first lived! She snatched the win of people’s choice AND judges top pick making her the Queen of Essence for 2017. She overwhelmed us with her outstanding work and I didn’t expect it. She seemed so meek and mild as if she would be a cute, gentle dancer that was up and coming. NO! Jessenia has already come…she’s one of those, “Esh?” with the hair flick kind of good people that sadly too many underestimated that night. Give her all the tiaras! All of them! This video doesn’t do her justice…she really tore it up!

After a night of semi-debauchery (if trying every drink on a menu that includes the word pineapple counts – many know it’s my favourite fruit) we were back at it on Saturday. From 10am to 5:30pm we chatted and hung out with vendors, attendees and ordered cheesecake and more (the cupcakes were in honour of Diva Smith, Curt Smith’s daughter of Tears for Fears – again I skipped the second part of the tour to be with Essence). Sugar literally circling our heads as we walked back to the rooms to change clothes, we were super nervous about what we might see that night at the gala show. Some of the icons would be dancing and that would mean some really impressive soul stirring work that might lay me out on the ground. I wore black sheer lace in case that would be my Essence haunting dress if you know what I mean…there are those performances that can take you out of this world (i.e. Tito of 2010, Nath Keo of 2011 and that theatre performance of Suhaila’s in 2013? I can still feel that one).

Amani Jabril performed a real Iraqi raqs set to Mohamed al Salem’s “Galb Galb” and it was so perfect she “Came up out of her jewelry” as the MC said. This piece was one of the three most important pieces of the raqs presentations of the night. When you visit the region, THAT is the level of energy and emotion that you will see. If you’re expecting to witness rapid head slinging and people looking as if their necks are going to snap from the over the top hair spinning you will be disappointed. That is just simply over the top interpretation of Iraqi dance. There are many dances of Iraq and they do include lot of hair and beautiful movements with the hips and shoulders but few look anything like what’s been going around in the video circles of the many dance boards. If you stick to what Amani presented and those like her from the region, you’re going to grasp a grace that is unique to that specific area and the ethnic groups that inhabit it…and it will be appreciated by locals and original people of the area.

Amani’s suave demeanor and regional hair tosses followed by a variety of footwork and travelling steps were executed perfectly. Of all the dancers I’ve known on the circuit these past 11 years (her career is longer than that), she has always stayed a few steps ahead of the times introducing more than just bedluhs and beladi rhythms to her community, students and followers. She is certainly a force and will remain one as it’s just her nature to work hard at staying true to the region that she also calls home. Amani isn’t someone you call as a filler to a show she is a MUST HAVE when you want to make a statement that your production is committed to greatness! Remember that!

The Salimpour Collective of Georgia-Florida is beginning to look and feel like the Arabesque of the South. For those that follow Yasmina Ramzy and team you’ll know this is a serious act to follow. Tonight, the team mesmerized us with really solid pieces that show their hard work and dedication to the Salimpour School and its legacy. It was nothing shy of stellar and perfect. I’m jealous that I don’t have that discipline and ability to put forth the work it takes to “get it right” in that way. They were totally in sync yet relaxed and having fun with it as if this dance rolls off their bodies naturally. I credit the ladies but also Suhaila who continues to visit and teach them – not to mention their countless trips to the mothership on the West Coast to perfect their work. Impressive is an understatement and I know Suhaila would agree…she too stood up for an ovation after the set. Well deserved!

Awalim’s performance touched the entire room and received a standing ovation. Please watch to understand why… This is their thing…they work hard to get their performances in tip top shape! This one reminded me of one I saw at TribalCon where powerful words were written on the bodies of the performers. This particular piece had trigger words on their costumes and it sparked a real response in the audience making this one of the best performances of the night.

Aziza Nawal – for someone that has danced as long as she has it’s mad crazy how she can continue to bring an electric energy to the stage. Her performances are timeless, yet modern and perfect for any stage. She’s everyone’s dancer if that makes sense. As I watched her I remembered how moved I was just seeing her on the cover an Atlanta magazine in my teens. I remember convincing a house full of people to take tour bus into Atlanta and go look for her. We went all over the city hoping to find this dancer and the restaurant in which she performed. We ended up at a big Chinese restaurant in Decatur on the border of Stone Mountain but the memory of our effort to find Aziza and her community stays with me. We wanted to visit this person and see her live and mesh our international community with the one in which she was living. She was just that outstanding and I still have that same admiration for her each time she gets on stage. None can compare, she is the one and only Aziza Nawal!

Andrus Ramir…
Good heavens…how do you put what he did into words? His Kawliya presentation was all that and then some plus eternity. As you can see in the montage I posted on Facebook, he walks out and it just starts… there was no dramatic pause or unnecessary waiting…he served it immediately in all his glory. When you see his name on performance program, be ready. Take all your vitamins, do your prayers…prepare for his performances. I finished an entire bottle of one-a-day multis and half a bottle of Vitamin C because I knew his appearance alone was going to either leave me feeling some kind of way or take me out for good. Using a popular tune in Kawliya presentations currently circling the scene, Andrus took it to another level with his floral and sparkling galabiya style attire. Doing all the spellbinding movements, turns, head spins and hair tosses, I felt a spirit take over me as he performed and my head and body lost control of themselves. I was flailing, wailing and felt myself near fall in the floor. I could not get enough of this performance…and he was gracious enough to step off the stage and continue serving this raqs goodness to the delight and overwhelming under expected titillating joy of many in the audience. It was clear he hit a nerve with people and they were not ready to “feel that way.” It was a little too good if you know what I mean…left a few wiping their foreheads from sweat. When he raq’d his way over to Dahne, Cairo and I… well…need I say more?

Andrus is a cut above in that he is bold, beautiful and as one person put it, “ballsy” all the same. He doesn’t let anyone deter him from his artistic direction. Pushing the envelope is an understatement because he sets the rules in the glam raqs world – making him a trendsetter who can’t be mimicked, only imitated.

Mohamed Shahin’s performances on Saturday gave me another view of him. I first met him in Las Vegas/Hendersonville when Black Orchid Dance held a festival there. He, Tito (of whom we spent a lot of time with when he was in Atlanta prior) and Aziza of Cairo seemed to stay together most of the time so we really never got a moment to mingle like we Atlanteans are known to do. We weren’t even sure he was that interested in us as fan-friends. Some time after that, a lot of our Atlanta teams were headed up to his festival and gala event in NYC (NYC Cairo). I suggested that MissBellydance.com advertise at his event and help promote his work because it is phenomenal (I’m head over heels for his Tanoura Masri presentations -it’s a religious experience for me – as important as seeing the more religiously centered Dervish of Turkiye). So, this festival is the first time I’ve actually been able to see him super up close and observe in awe…and maaan did I!

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On Friday afternoon I see him, all smiles, come into the Twelve Hotel Ballroom. He was glowing like a heavenly being and his energy was pleasant and peaceful. Mohammed Shahin was absolutely stunning to behold and handsome is an understatement – Masha’Allah. I had to turn my head and look away because I was shocked at my reaction. Throughout the weekend he’d pass by all smiles and as beautiful as the day is long. I feared I might have a crush on him. It was confirmed after watching him perform. I was smitten with his Egyptian Classical piece that incorporated what reminded me a lot of Reda Troupe moves along with really strong stances that I’ve seen throughout the Mideast and Europe. It was overwhelming to say the least…and he, like many others this weekend, was wearing white. His performance was so good I could barely stand it!

Then of course there was the tahtib set which for me is like the second-best thing on the planet next to Tanoura. Later that night he presented his signature Tanoura Masri with the colour lights – I’d seen him present this in Vegas and was again just crying like a wailing superfan by the time it was over. Again, that is just a religious moment for me and a full circle moment given I used to sit for hours in my teens reading about what the café guys were doing – thank you distant relatives in the region for all those great entertainment updates that introduced me to this style of whirling. Now, thanks to EOB17, I was able to see it live again – this being a fourth time for me. I just wanted to go backstage and hug him for an hour as if he were a living doll just waiting for a new doll keeper. I could talk about him all day but I’ll stop now or I might end up writing a book about the experience as I’m known to do.

Colleena Shakti – I just…can’t even begin to describe her – she makes me swoon! Each time I see her, she’s just incredible! I seriously don’t know how to express my admiration for her. I wish she had a clone that lived in Atlanta so we could hug on her, look after her or build a shrine in which she could reside – think the Temple in Lilburn…that kind of hero worship. She embodies such grace and serenity that it was literally a healing experience watching her dance. I was hypnotised and put into a place of supreme peace that is hard to detail. You have to experience it for yourself. If you see her name on a workshop invitation or event list, drop everything and register. I’ve said it before…we need that kind of serenity in Atlanta through art. She is just phenomenal to say the least and as I wrote in her description…she is simply majestic and gives 110% of herself to the art. She literally embodies it in every way and we were blessed to experience that again in Atlanta. More please! More, more, more Colleena!

Chudney Raks equals grace for days! I love her approach to raqs sharqi. There was a time when glam bedluhs and really polished choreographies mixed with improv were the new thing to master. She seems to keep this style alive with her immaculate costuming and overall presentation. She’s that untouchable dancer that is just so good you can’t really mimic the style – you are forced to simply admire it and stay in a realm of “absolute awe.” She’s just naturally gorgeous and talented. Really cool having her back in Atlanta!

Mira Betz shocked me with her performance in the most unexpected way. After being floored by her work I went ahead and showed her my fan girl side on Sunday. This led to her giving me two hugs and kiss during which I screamed “It’s happening!!!!!” I wasn’t even able to give her back the same affection because I was just so…”omg, Mira Betz is hugging me!” The gesture came after I explained that I simply wanted to lay on the floor after her performance and just let the spirit take me. She entered foot first…lifted. It then touched the stage and a frail depiction of a Parkinsons sufferer appeared, gently shaking …to the beat mind you. Her movements told the story of a dancer who was once young and how age and time had taken its toll on her body. It was a lesson that you, too, will become older and your body will not be the same. This is interesting in that we have women well into their 70s and 80s in our community to whom we can’t hold a candle because they are just so seasoned in this art it, again, rolls off, like they were born doing this. But we know their fight to remain respected and also push against the evils of time which can just tear into the flesh as was made clear in the depiction of the frail sweet dancer Mira Betz presented. It’s a reminder to us that this could be anyone’s future. Take better care of yourself could have been an underline message but also one to not be so cocky and egotistical.

No matter what the message, the image was powerful, strong and telling…it deserved an award. She was the best of the night for costuming, creativity and messaging. She is more than Tribal Fusion, she is an artist foremost and that’s what she gave us that night…she brought with her something that really should live in the Louvre or a highly esteemed museum. This is what she can do! And though we see her doing mirror/mirroring work and amazing fusion pieces, at the end of the day she brings us, as the MC said, a human story. I was moved beyond tears, I was put into action to further guard not just my body but the human spirit in a very careful and conscious light. I pray that others got the same message so we can continue to be careful how we treat each other…especially ourselves.

That’s my list of those that moved me and left a lasting impression. The entire show was wonderful and you could see the amount of work people put into their costuming and overall presentation. It was certainly filled with polished performers!

That one thing…from an audience view point…
Several people I spoke with brought up this issue and I promised to speak about it… It’s our hair! I’m not sure what is going on with some of us but I do know that we are growing up and for some our hair is thinning. When hair becomes whispy and isn’t as heavy and full as it used to be, for performance sake it’s time to get a hair piece or maybe avoid figure eights on stage. Too many are drawing attention to their hair and not taking care of its jagged edges and really poorly kept ends. This distracts from the art. I saw beautiful presentations but the straw-like hair took away from the presentation because it was flying around and catching static in some cases. Let’s work on getting our hair at its healthiest when we’re going to use it for a presentation. You wouldn’t get on stage with a cold, so why take your hair out if it’s sick? Pin it up and find another way to execute the moves that require a full mane. Whispy dead hair can’t be tossed well and, again, it makes the dancer look like they aren’t well either. This isn’t a shaming session or segment, it’s a call for all of us to start taking some hair vitamins and really look after ourselves. There are just certain things we have to do to stay performance healthy and that includes taking better care of our hair. Way too many gorgeous, polished presentations with sick tresses being put through the stress of being slung about…no. Just no. Help me understand why this is happening.

The Workshops
I didn’t attend any this year and I didn’t even peek inside to see what was going on because I was literally too busy partying. With DragonCon I feel panels make the conference what it is and I often get upset when people do not attend at least one but instead party excessively. Well, I did just that at Essence because I didn’t want to stand in the back and just take notes. I feel if you’re going to walk through those workshop doors then go in there ready to move your body. I’m preparing to do just that…we’ll see. With emphasis on culture and origins…and where they are headed today, I’m happy to physically join in because it’s not about “get me on that stage and make me famous” it’s a highlight on how important it is to celebrate culture…and that’s all I really want to do.

Cons of the Con – What went wrong at Essence of Bellydance
I can’t think of anything on the surface that was unpleasant or poorly handled. I didn’t see it. I was not a volunteer, I simply shared the event with as many people as I could, live blogged and sent invitations and ticket links to people within Atlanta’s international community as well as MBD’s customer base. It’s a joy to promote such amazing work, culture loving people and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Essence was the best it’s ever been in my opinion and Cairo and I both sat near tears on Sunday night wishing we had just one more gala show to carry on at for good measure. This Essence of Bellydance had everything I wanted to see!

Pros
The Twelve Hotel is just an outstanding place as is Atlantic Station. I love it here because of the elegant community and cool restaurants. It’s so well-maintained from my experience although I’ve heard these rooms need a refresher. Thankfully, mine did not. It was in tip top shape this year.

The variety and diversity of the teachers plus line-up of the gala shows is spectacular! Nothing looked the same so I didn’t get bored at all. It was simply fantastic and well-thought out it seemed. Things ran smoothly (on the outside looking in). There were very few hiccups…as with all wonderful things, I know there were some but I didn’t see any. Essence was simply flawless.

What’s to come?
The changes that the team mentioned for next year, location, etc. are a little concerning. Cobb county is relatively conservative though diverse. The last time I went to a huge international community event there was for my fellow Nigerians’ son’s birthday party. Miles Copeland and Mary from the Atlanta bellydance community also hosted Ansuya’s workshop there in 2007. It’s an amazing place and I used live across the street from it for many years. However, there aren’t hotels within walking distance to this venue, they are down the street and around the corner. Let me suggest, right now, to Team Essence that calling the Hyatt Regency Suites Atlanta Northwest and booking a space to hang out after hours will be a good thing. Have a hospitality room or something so when the Community Center closes for the day you can still get a sense of group fun with activities and after party like atmosphere…maybe even have food catered so people are comfortable and not running around Cobb County’s early closing restaurants trying to get a meal. We can even have a Christo’s Gyro pizza night with the awesome Greek god himself if needed. But do not let people loose to try to figure out that very sleepy part of Atlanta – there is no Yardhouse late night eating around there… you’ll have to plan this part out and maybe include it in the package.

Wishing all of us the best and the ability to return and party like Raqs Stars again!

Thanks for reading!
P.S. Randa missed out on a wonderful opportunity…too bad for her. Hope she’s going to be okay. Her decision not to attend so late in the game made it all seem suspect. I trust she can recover from what seems like a misstep to many.

masalaama…

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Eager for Another Exciting Dance Extravaganza With Essence of Bellydance!

*These are my opinions. My thoughts are just one point of view. All observations and comments are based on my own experience with Middle Eastern, African and Asian dances as a Nigerian-American living in the International Community.

Since I can remember, I’ve been attending and volunteering at global festivals because that’s what you did as a kid in my culture. “Festival-ing” was a past time. Weddings were quarterly events. For each one you brought your best self, your best clothes…it wasn’t a joke. I noticed that the same care is brought to the bellydance circuit.Essence of Bellydance attendees, staff, performers and guests upheld that tradition in the 2016 edition of EOB. Everyone brought their best and that made for a beautiful family atmosphere that so many noted on the Essence of Bellydance event board immediately following the 4 day extravaganza

YOU GOT A ROOM?
Yes, yes I did. I went ahead and booked a suite because I wanted to be on site and really soak up all that the festival action offered. Since I was going to stay there I promised MissBellydance.com that I’d watch their table. I paid a total of $489 and that included 2 days of parking with the valet, in-room dining once and a check out at 12pm. It was worth it. You all know I’m a hotel hobbit and practically lived in several for many years because of volunteer travel. While the EOB stay wasn’t “cheap” it was a steal because of the Essence discount. I suggest booking accommodations at the Twelve for this conference if EOB is there again. Split the cost with someone and enjoy every minute of it. It makes a difference when you’re staying on site vs. running back and forth in busy, event-laden Atlanta traffic.

The Workshops
There were a lot and they were PHENOMENAL!!!!! The content covered left a lot of people panting with joy. I saw attendees leave workshops clutching their hearts and looking as if they really felt something. Essence provided a great line up and opportunity to learn from those directly from/living on the soil vs. someone profiting after having “been there” on a short two week holiday. Selfies w/a bowl of koshari before class during a short trip to Egypt for an intro to Raqs Sharqi means you’re still a student. Opening up shop after one’s six week beginner bellydance class followed by “one week f’il Msr” does not make one a professional. One who does that is, more often than not, an enthusiast who wishes to share the experience and love of the art. Most seasoned dancers who go to study in the region understand it takes years, a life within the culture or diaspora as a first gen, life as a neighbour or long study of the art with a good chunk of weekly learning to impart good skills and techniques in the way that Sorraiah and Madame Raqia do. Those who attended Essence got a good deal. Essence just saved you over $3,500 by having them both here plus a ton of others who are skilled and well-informed. Few others offer that much in a compact, easy to access, luxury facility that doesn’t require you to go from one part of town to the other in order to attend classes and gala shows. I’ve been to far too many events where accommodations were sub par and you had to pretty much get a car service to get to classes and related events. Expecting your guests to drive around town in order to attend all of the festival events is unacceptable. Not trying to be rude, just keepin’ it real.

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Koshari Masri

The only thing that left me exhausted as a bystander was the following: It seemed as soon as one workshop ended there was another rushing in. Perhaps if we weren’t social animals that liked to talk after class then the courses would have ended right on time. That way the next class would have each little bellybot shimmy in. Well, praise be that we are not bellybots! We’re social animals and people linger and chat. People want to meet their idols. I mean, Sorraiah Saied ANNNNNND Raqia Hassan…please. No way in Hades I wouldn’t have hung around for that. So, there will need to be some after class time built in for chit chat. Maybe it was. Sadly, it just didn’t feel like it.

For years, at many dance festivals I’ve attended, it seems like 15 minutes to wipe off the class excitement, get in line with others who are getting their picture, get your hug and tell your love story and life of worshipping the raqs stars’ work and then ‘go to the ladies,’ plus fill up your water bottle for the next class that is already starting.” Ummmmno… We need a full 30 minutes between each class so that everyone has a chance to smooch on the teacher, tell of their everlasting love, how they wake up each morning and play the music the icon used at that big gala show in 1999. I mean, am I the only one with superfanitis here? Fans need time. This happens at a lot of dance conferences and business events. Producers, show hosts, etc…let’s change that pattern. Stop cramming.

DID I ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE IN ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE SHOWS?
Of course! I attended the Chat and Chew with Ranya Renee and found it very useful for the following reasons:
-opportunity to sit and have lunch with one of our favourite raissat
-learned her perspective on how modern technology is benefitting raqs
-understood how technology isn’t enough, you still need to physically be in a class
-got to revisit some pieces of work I saw from her in Toronto
-learned about the choreography presented in the preliminaries
-got a better understanding of how breathing and positioning one’s mouth benefit the presentation

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Ranya enjoying what she calls my cosplay seaweed cookies. I love  her. I could just kiss on her all day. Cute as a button!

FOR SOMEONE WITH SO MUCH TO SAY YOU DON’T TAKE CLASSES AT THESE EVENTS. WHY?

I am more about keeping up with the trends, news and what is going on with the communities on all levels, not just dance. These cultures and dances have been with me my whole life by way of birth certificate and immediate and extended family. I’ve already seen a lot of what is being offered. So, at this point I prefer the lecture side of things. That’s what works for me. Some just want to learn to dance, I need more than that.  I like sitting with the stars and gazing at them as they speak. I am a superfan of their work more than one who aspires to walk in their shoes or perform at galas. We do things a little different in the core international community. My “performances” are at my relatives’ weddings, henna parties, random tea afternoons and new years events. My dance education began and continues by watching the stars for hours then getting up and dancing along with them at an event or private parties. What we do in those specific ethnic circles (and private moments with stars) is nothing that is currently being offered in Atlanta or festivals in most of North America. Honestly, the only place I see it offered/presented on the festival circuit regularly is in New York, Miami, Washington D.C., Toronto, Ybor City/Tampa Florida and Nashville.

Few teach Moroccan dance here  regularly let alone focusing on Nigerian Highlife and true Maghreb social dances of the people despite it being asked for by curious culture loving dance community members. How many times do I see/get asked, “Can you send me to anyone that teaches (insert ethnic dance that is not heshibeshek/bellydance)?” My answer is often, “Well, not in the metro ATL area. You have to go to Alpharetta where many of our International families are living.” Sadly it’s too far. This has meant those ethnic dance studios and classes only pop up/happen every blue moon. It’s a missed opportunity educationally and economically not to feature more than just bellydance at conferences and large events. Many have seen a lot of this already. Besides, a lot of these stars know more than just “bellydance” and would probably be happy to teach it if the producers would ask.

WELL WHAT SHOULD WE BE FEATURING? WHAT ELSE DO PEOPLE WANT TO SEE?

Overall, the region has changed. New dances are on the horizon on top of the continuation of national and nation specific dances. From Maghreb Raqs to Debke, there’s more to the region than technique based choreographies. What is being overlooked are things like that which is shown in these two videos.

Even sha’abi has changed (and has thankfully been re-introduced and performed at World Bellydance Alliance events and more recently at Essence by a trio of women from Egypt, Japan and Puerto Rico). Atlanta and other cities are falling behind by holding on to bellydance as if the next level is “competition style” (aka technically fluent but often lacking ta’arab). It’s not. People are seeking, crawling and begging for classes that are true salutes to the WHOLE culture. It’s groups like Tribu Chekchouka au Paris and even Tarabiya in Duluth that are taking MUSIC and DANCE that was once only seen in houses and local festivals to the bigger stage. People are now reaching out to actual Saudi women located in the states to teach and guide them. Teachers like Samba Diallo (Cote d’Ivoire) are here in Atlanta as is Suhad (Philistine). They offer classes in both music, drumming, dance for fitness as well as have a wealth of knowledge on trends in the region. If any show producer is looking to save airfare cash, reach out to your international community, international community centers (Atlanta has 12!!) and ask them to come and teach. These instructors have their own audiences as well. It would be good to merge the two communities.

Sadly the “bellydance” festival circuit is often missing the bigger picture. Too many only offer  just “bellydance” because they are not connecting with the culture enough to see that there’s more. Adding a tribal or fusion group is great but also consider the region specific dances too. Conferences that offer history, culture, food and dance are moving in the right direction. This is why the IBCC was so successful. Heck, partner with Yasmina Ramzy and get her perspective. Those who are simply trying hard to find out who will bring the most money are going to fizzle out. These festivals are nothing without updated content that reflects all parts of the international dance community. Not everyone aspires to be a Bellydance Superstar, not everyone has the western commercial aesthetic that is often (in some cases superficially) required for a touristy restaurant. There are people who genuinely want to steep themselves in a cultured environment and work the festival circuit. These ethnic dance circuits (Greek Fest and other ethnic festivals) are where you find the troupes that pay true salute to the region and get asked to come back again. Why aren’t people paying attention to that audience? Their money is just as good…but sadly ignored because producers forget about the root.

This classic raqs sharqi is the heart of the dance. It is not going anywhere. It has withstood the test of time. It’s long overdue that we couple this at festivals with the entire picture and not just offer endless variations of bellydance technique no matter how good it looks or how famous the instructor. We need ask our idols/teachers to teach us something else they think we’d like/something very specific to their country. Be inspired by this video which features amazing images and think twice as you plan for 2017 and beyond. Give your communities and potential fans more than the standard fare. It’s the smart thing to do.

Now, Back to Essence: The Shows
First there was a mini-fashion show Friday night at Atlanta Fusion Bellydance. Saniyah Raqs was one of the volunteers and also a model in the fashion show wearing MissBellydance.com’s Isis coordinate costume. I thought she looked great. That night Andrus Ramir opened the show with an incredible number that left me in a puddle of OMG to the point Robyn had to go bring her fan and cool me down. Nothing like an anxiety attack from being so darn excited. Superfanitis is real…as is the struggle.

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Andrus Ramir is the epitome of fashion and a phenomenon in Raqs

The rest of the evening was devoted to the preliminaries for the Miss/Mister Essence of Bellydance 2016 Competition. All of the dancers were really good. Contestants came in from all over (i.e. New York, Puerto Rico…) to compete and they worked really hard and did a stellar job. I was captivated by many of the performances and again, this was just the preliminaries.

Friday Night Gala at the Twelve Hotel Ballroom
This night was a mix of the competition plus elegant guests who floored us with their stellar work. There’s really nothing more I can say about the guests because I’m still pretty speechless after experiencing what they presented. Raven was the MC and she had a tough job. Though visually stimulating, these shows were super long. Even Raven joked that we had 7,000 performances to get through. But she was energetic the entire time and kept us alert and attentive. Judges were there and included the awesome and legendary Raqia Hassan.

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Highlights of Both Nights (In No Particular Order)
Certainly the great couture featured in the fashion show was amazing. I want to give a special thanks to those who featured MissBellydance.com. They wore it very well and looked amazing. Thank you for putting so much energy into that. The team behind the brand has a very tedious job that involves a lot of research and reaching out to customers to find a great fit for the clothes. Every single person that represented the brand that night did a phenomenal job and the team back at the HQ, as well as those who made the clothes in Turkiye, would be ultra proud. I’d post the video but sadly it contains copyright music and we can’t get it uploaded without creating a YouTube violation. I think in the future the music needs to be Middle Eastern tunes by artists we know so we can feature the work on various platforms and further promote all of the vendors’ clothes who help make the event possible. This is very important.

It was also a very diverse fashion show featuring the couture of a new audience that has taken over Atlanta, the Japanese Street Fashionistas. This kawaii style of clothing originated in Harajuku Japan. While Essence is about Middle Eastern culture, this Japanese style is also prominent in Kuwait, Lebanon, many nations in Africa and is spreading. It’s no coincidence that several in this fashion community are also students of Raqs Sharqi and attend classes in Atlanta as well. RainbowsNGold’s presence spoke volumes and shows the movement of the culture to be open and loving to creativity and expression.

Other vendors and designers included: Originals by Faye, Moonlight Diva, Beladi Boutique and a lovely display featuring hair sticks/chopsticks/elegant accessories. RainbowsNgold captured the view of the preparations as well as the vendors’ fashions that were featured that night and for sale. It was literally a shoppable runway which is trending right now.

Dazzling Dancers
The competition was sponsored by Essence of Bellydance as well as MissBellydance.com who supplied the gift bags for those who placed that night. The grand prize winners were Karma Karmelita for raqs sharqi and Sabeeya for tribal fusion. It’s funny, these two are both known for making their own costumes. It’s like they put their whole heart and soul into this and well…they won! Well deserved. They received $1,000 each and again, it was well deserved!

*At this point I’m going to intro the magnificent work of Studio Jaki of whom everyone should consult for great photos. For several years in a row this great entrepreneur has floored us with amazing pictures, capturing not just an image but the emotion of every spectacular moment in this community and beyond. We would be nothing without her. She is the best at dance and performance photography!

Another amazing winner was Diane Adams who placed third in the raqs division and I’m going to be the bold one and say I’m surprised she didn’t place 1st because she killed it! Diane left it all on the stage…all of it. She BLEW the competition away from costume, to skill to presentation. She gave it everything she had and then some. This was one of her best performances yet and you already know Diane has nearly given us heart attacks with her amazing work in the past. THIS ONE WAS UNREAL! And yes, I cried. I just lost my mind. It was so good.

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During intermission both nights it was absolutely impossible not to admire our VIPs. Everyone looked amazing. People were well dressed and looking quite cute…especially Andrus Ramir and Sal Maktoub…good grief. I’ll leave it at that or else this blog entry will escape the PG category. Those two are so fine it’s almost too much for this superfan. On Friday night, Sal closed the show with Tanoura Masri. This video of course does not do it justice (pardon me, it’s listed under my Tears for Fears profile).

I would hope by now that anyone who has studied Middle Eastern Dance has an appreciation for Tanoura. I’ve talked about it quite a bit in the Raqs Atlanta Yahoo Group and you can also go to Sal’s site and get more details. Sal is one of a long line of amazing presenters of this art and right now he is my top favourite. I think this might partly be because I watched his progression into this and I’ve seen how Sal has made something so sacred so much a part of him. Sal seems like a different person than the young man I met so many years ago at another big conference featuring top stars. He was once a fan in the audience, an enthusiast and look at him now. He is an incredible success story and our love for him grows every year. I can barely look at him and without getting emotional. It’s just that serious. He is a crucial part of Raqs history as it continues to weave its tapestry in the world of Global Dance. Sal is not just someone of which to be proud he is an essential part of a good conference and I pray he is featured again in the very near future. He brings not only excitement but the Essence of Egypt and cultural authenticity in a profound way.

Another amazing performer this weekend was one who danced to Cheb Khaled’s music. I could barely sit still through her entire performance. This was a wonderful and refreshing treat for any international community member in that audience. This is the type of music and performance that brings in dignitaries and their families. She represented the international community extremely well. I pray she is local and comes again.

A sizzlin’ hot performance was Issam playing the tabla at various intervals in the night. At one point I saw him with Global Dance on a fusion set. It added a lot to their work and I’m so glad he was there. Another scorching hot piece was an Egyptian set w/spinning assayah. I was absolutely thrilled to see it. I think they said the dancer’s name was Zahri. She was amazing! Loved it!

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Lotus Seeds – a group from the Tribal Bellydance Center of Atlanta (which includes a branch of SEEDs) was one of my top 3 favourites of the ENTIRE two nights. They presented a set so accurate to the region I had flashbacks of being with legendary groups like Tinariwen. I look forward to seeing their progress in the art. Job well done and thank you Ziah for making sure that style was included. It’s for presentations like this that I come to shows and happily invite others in the community to do the same. I was especially proud of this young lady of whom I learned is Hasna’s daughter Sienna. She was overwhelmingly perfect. The entire team should take pride in their presentation.

I literally gasped when I saw them enter. My chin begin to drop to the floor. I thought…”oh  my gaaahd…somebody got it right.” As soon as they began to dance and show their skill with the tahtib tears just began to drop. I thought about being a little girl again and how my parents were so concerned about me having pride in my culture. I remembered how, almost forcefully, they told me my tribe/ethnic group’s name and kept saying, “You be proud of this!” I didn’t understand why it was so important until years later…maybe not even until high school where at my fairly international school my tribe’s name came up in a world history book and we got to discuss it. For years my fellow “kids of foreigners” friends sort of hid under the three boxes of “black, white, other” that were on all the forms you have to fill out over the course of schooling and working in the west. I soon realised that this country had a whole other mindset. It seemed to erase everything but your colour. You became a colour. It was later on, as I was pushed to get into an acgtual troupe with other young international community adults, that I began to see we really had a lot of which to be proud. Not only is Nigeria diverse but so is the whole continent and Mideast region. No one citizen is the same. We come from some truly intricate backgrounds with so  much history. This young lady represents so much of what we are. It is rare to see such a majestic image on a big stage. It’s usually reserved for those who don’t have a political agenda. To put her front and center spoke volumes about the organisation and her teacher. This was a historic moment not just in Atlanta but in the world. We need more Siennas, more of SEEDs’ mentality not only in the realm of Raqs Sharqi and dance but also world stages and leadership. This is what you call strength and dignity. Again, the whole set was everythiinnnng! Shukran jazillan!! Dalu, merci!
*If you don’t know about the SEEDs program which originated out of Pomegranate Studios years ago you can explore their site to get more info. From what I remember this group was founded by Myra Klein (who visited ATL not too long ago if I’m not mistaken). It is an extraordinary program. I certainly recommend it and I’m truly grateful for it. I’m going to look into this further because this set was more than successful. It spoke volumes. One of the best representations of the region.

Ebony was incredible as expected. I hope someone is able to see the video. I don’t even know where to start with her performance. It was just sooo good. Please see the video when it’s available. Issam was featured again on Saturday. He led the crowd through a very exciting set followed by Aziza Nawal joining him on stage. Those two are among my top favourites so I was extremely excited to see them together. Very nice.

Ranya Renee was stellar as expected and by this time I was just wishing that more international community members were in the audience to soak up what she was showering us with…it was gorgeous! From costume, to expression and dance moves it was stellar!

Silvia Salemanca – Her performances were overwhelming and had a lot of personal history in them. One of them I don’t want to try and sum up because words aren’t worthy of her presentation. I liked it and I appreciate her showing us her soul, it was clearly a very personal piece. She had another set that featured swords and floorwork equal to the skill I’ve seen with Queen Harish. It was realllllly beautiful, energetic and presented with perfection.

Andrus…sigh. I can’t. I can’t even talk about it. You have to see the video for yourself. That doll of a dancer has taken this art to a whole other level and stamped his name on it with fire and lingering flames. I am overwhelmed by his work to the point when he comes near me I tremble. Nothing compares to his presentations. He is the only one bringing it to the stage “like that” and he can’t be replicated or copied. He is one of a kind and so outstanding I was sick for a week after the conference. I was angry that he doesn’t live here. There are a handful of stars in the world that make me long for them and he is one of them. I literally had to purge that performance from my mind because it was that fucking good! I was a mess…sick even.  After he left the stage I wanted to flip tables. Audiences can rarely get enough of him and he brings about crazy excitement every where he goes. A show really isn’t a show without him. You need that energy. It’s crucial! Andrus is a show essential…no questions asked. He is a must have!

Several other stars came to the stage following him but several people left shortly after, one saying, “I just wanted to see Andrus, that’s all I needed. I got exactly what I wanted while watching him. Goodnight.” I couldn’t blame them. The sad thing is they missed Sorraiah’s incredible set. She did two. One was more sensual and the other very energetic. I just wanted to get a money machine and throw currency and roses at her feet the entire time. I’d have probably died doing so because her performances are so good they leave me on the floor screaming. I was holding on to a chair by the time she finished and then I went upstairs to lie down because I couldn’t handle much more. She just…leaves me spellbound, tied up and twisted with emotion. I’m in love with her and her work. I can’t get enough of her. I feel she, much like Andrus and Sal, should be Essence of Bellydance staples. They really BRING IT in a way that makes you pray their names are on the line-up and you literally sit anxious throughout the year craving the next time you see them. I was more than impressed and they were worth the entire conference for me.

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My weekend began to wind down after that. After hugs and kisses galore with as many as I could I found myself in a post-conference depression. I didn’t unpack my suitcase for two weeks and I felt rather sick as I tried to pull the memory of such amazing work out of my soul so that I wouldn’t die of longing for more of it. I thank Studio Jaki for taking these great photos that I’ve been staring at for days. I don’t know which one I want to buy and get blown up poster size. I seriously love her work. We are nothing without her visual archives!

I have not recovered from the shows and it’ll be a month Saturday. That on top of monitoring Tears for Fears fan travel and blogging about their shows in the following days left me rethinking life in general. Again, I feel like superfanitis is real. Loving great talent can take your soul on an emotional rollercoaster of love and joy so intense you don’t know what in the world is really happening. Essence of Bellydance provided that for us this year and I’m so grateful for it! I realised I need Essence of Bellydance as much as I need my next glass of water. It is truly essential and worth every penny I spent. The experience was priceless!

Thanks for reading!
-AA

P.S. Loved hanging out with RainbowsNGold & Andrus! 😉

Bellydance Fashion Week – A 1st & a Success!

Flashback to summer of 2015. I’m looking at tweets from various rock stars about their wives being at Fashion Week – one in particular was doing the marketing and promotions for it. I’m thinking…where is the Bellydance Fashion Week? Why don’t we have that? Eureka – the Bellydance Fashion Week was with me. I decided I wanted to do this. With the help of some amazing people, we did!

A few meetings later with MissBellydance.com , Atlanta Fusion Bellydance and voila, the idea is approved. The first note about Fashion week went out on MissBellydance.com’s Instagram, blog and social accounts in late September and several reminders came after that. By January/February the schedule was set, partnerships in place, Babylon Cafe onboard (thanks Kelly!) and we were set to go.

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Panel Discussion At BDFW 2016 – Babylon Cafe ATL

The first night of BDFW took place at Babylon Cafe – let me say the service and venue were perfect. Kelly is very attentive and wants things to go right. I can appreciate that. Anyone can. She’s really good at what she does and it is appreciated. Her staff this particular evening were overly gracious and kind. That’s VERY hard to find these days when it comes to customer service. So given that we had this wonderful pampering and delicious food we were in good spirits to have a lively discussion on fashion, travel and costuming in the raqs world. Of course we talked about other things and that led us to decide we really need to have these discussions quarterly. We covered a variety of topics, we disagreed, we agreed, we questioned things, we all but danced! It was awesome! Huge thanks to Majda, Amani, Jendayi, Alima and Zaia for their contributions. This was a good thing! It must continue!

Highlights From the Week
I loved staying up til midnight with Heidi and friends talking about culture, music, celebs we love and some of the funniest dance stories from various genres. Heidi has such a great personality that we were glued to her great experiences in dance. That along with the class made for an amazing Tuesday of Fusion and Tribal learnings.

Another cool item was Diana’s wardrobe that she brought with her when explaining Flamenco fashion and fusion. She has the most amazing Bata de Cola dress that was custom made for her. She also shared with us various skirts and dresses that can be and are used in both Arab and Spanish (Spain and the diaspora) culture. They were just splendid and this picture does not do them justice. Before class we talked about the state of Flamenco dance in North America. Surprisingly we do not have as many teachers here as I thought. There are even fewer in Canada. That is scary. I think it’s crucial we begin to highlight their work and offerings more so that those like me who adore this dance as much as raqs sharqi can better support the art of Flamenco locally.

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Diana’s wardrobe!

Thursday Aziza raq’d the studio with her course on performance. We got to meet Cassandra Fox early and Maddie the dancer came as well. Friday was cancelled as it is a busy day for dancers and few could attend. We’ll save our shimmies, kisses for Aya and glasses of Shiraz for another night.

Weekend Workshops
When I wasn’t volunteering up front discussing fashion I sat in on the workshops. I went to Cassandra’s Caribbean Fusion workshop. She incorporated stories about her Jamaican-born family’s background before going into certain moves. What I saw demonstrated by the attendees was not something I was familiar with in the raqs family. I’ve seen Tito do moves that play on some of the poses she does but this looked completely different and more along the lines of what I’ve seen from western artists in their various pop-art and western dances. It was not twerking but a lot of “shaking” and “shimmying” one’s behind vs. hips. I kept trying to place it in different cultures within the raqs world and I came close, even thinking of a few videos of the Houwairat but I’m not sure. The attendees seemed to be having fun doing it and also said this reminded them of many things 😉

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Eshta Amar taught a great class on costuming. Some of us sat in the back… the smart kids up front soaking it all in.

I also sat in on the first part of Eshta Amar’s Porportions and Embellishmens for Every Body Type. She did an excellent job of explaining what cuts and designs look best on everyone. I suggest this class to all whether you are looking to dress yourself for bellydance or just going out. This is a practical guide for all occasions especially when it comes to foundations. Thank you Eshta!!

The Fashion Show
This went really well. This took place in what was transformed into the Mehmet Theatre as Mr. Bellydance.com built the stage from scratch with his bare hands…his bare hands! Teşekkür ederim for that!

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I was so happy to see all of the designs from MissBellydance.com and Eshta Amar well presented by those who were enthusiastic and in the spirit of modeling. Everyone looked good. Their make-up was done well as was the fit of the costumes. Judith and I picked them out over a span of time and matched them with the models. Our lady Nusrat and her family came to model for us as well and that was a treat. Nusrat is our official MissBellydance.com model as is her troupe. They have been amazing supporters over the years and we’re happy to call her family and an official member of MissBellydance.com’s raqs team.

We also had a slew of local and professional performers who put a lot of time and energy into their presentations. Aziza Nawal and Majda were notable showstoppers and Maddie presented her raqs with flames. We thought maybe she’d dance to Prince’s Little Red Corvette in her cute Eshta Amar ensemble (the really neat red/Alice checker/race car flag one we saw at the Andrus show). Majda noted to us earlier that her purple veil was in honour of Prince. I thought that was really sweet. Heaven knows so many of us in that room have a connection in one way or another. Maybe his beloved Mayte can come join us for something one day. Let’s discuss that after things settle down, bless.

The Du was as energetic as always. She and Josh had quite a lovely number that felt like a salute to France. She wore her Eshta Amar that featured the Fleur-de-lis. Many others had costumes that had a theme to them including “The Tuxedo” worn by Inara. The costume Karma adorned and floored us with in performance had hearts strategically placed throughout the design. It was really impressive. MissBellydance.com fans came and danced in their bellydance costume sets and Scarlet opened the performances using MissBellydance.com veils to one of the musical selections from the Bellydance Superstars. The show ended with all of the stars coming to the stage doing a great bow and the very talented MC Preston closing the program.

This entire week was a little different from what I originally envisioned. Being a stereotype of my age group, I had planned for it to all be online (I know, the horror!!). Each week various things to view and enjoy. But I’m happy that AFBD and MBD decided to make it 3D by bringing it to life with courses and a discussion others can be a part of in person. While the next BDFW may not look the same,it will have the energy and passion of this one if not more. We’ll also do our best to keep things at a time that fits the schedules of the majority – so weekday classes just skirting ATL traffic may disappear. We’ll see.

Huge thanks to all of the models, our great MC Preston, the dancers. Many hugs to our dear Nusrat and a high five to Mehmet for the amazing work and countless hours he put into the show. Big thanks to MissBellydance.com the faithful sponsor and supporter of so many events in this town as well AFBD who produce some of the most engaging an exciting professional events that are right on par with other international conferences I’ve attended. Shukran Jazillan to all of the guests and attendees! I think we all have but one more thing to say to each other, “You betta werrrk that raqs!”

Cheers and thanks for reading!
-AA

Savouring the Salimpour Style

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Suhaila’s Atlanta Team 🙂

*These are my personal thoughts, just a Nigerian (first gen Am) loving the dances and fusions of the cultures I grew up with in various international communities. Been a fan of Suhaila since 1999 and I love it when she comes for a visit.

Suhaila came, she took her Atlanta team to new heights and now she’s gone and left us with the huge responsibility of carrying the torch, keeping her family’s legacy of dance alive on the east coast. The dedication that so many brought to this 6 day event deserves a lot of recognition. People drove in from near and far, out of state and from out of the country to participate. Saturday was focused on Jamila Salimpour’s work while the remaining week was a level 2 certification. Salimpour soldiers who were familiar with her material from level 3 and beyond were also present during this week as well. Pictures, social media shares and more detailed the outstanding stamina that these young men and women had in their quest to become many of Suhaila’s best. It was extraordinary to watch. Shout out to her Aunt Alima who comes down every year to support Suhaila’s presence in the city.

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Jenny was there! She’s one of my favourite people on the planet. Photo by Faaridah (head of AFBD)

Sunday was a special treat. We as a community had the opportunity to see the fruits of the dancers’ labour. At Atlanta Fusion Bellydance, family and friends were invited to see what this east coast Salimpour school had done. It was clear that they had practiced really hard and were striving to make their sister/Uhkti Suhaila quite proud. I was fortunate to sit next to her again and had no shame showing my enthusisam for her work as attendees of the Salimpour Collective zilled out their best bellydance and Salimpour family raqs moves. There were times I just cried. It was a full circle moment for me. It’s awesome how you can be a kid watching someone online and years later sit next to them among their fan family watching their work praised by devotees. I won’t go into my annual reminder of how I have photos of Suhaila from years past still on my phone. But I will remind all how grateful I am for moments like these! Hard to put it into words,  you just have to be there and feel that energy.

Talking about the show is one thing, seeing it is another. Let the pictures and video speak for themselves. I was too busy chair dancing to write and take notes for the blog. Each section was introduced with great historicaal background on the song, composers and detailed info on the music and much more. As for performances, I envy anyone that can spend that kind of time in this discipline, memorising choreographies to that extent. It takes a lot and they put in hours and hours of sweat and love. Mabrook, congrats to all who completed a challenging week. Suhaila’s format is no joke and you will feel every second of it…and come out victorious like our beloved friends and extended family at AFBD!  Shukran jazillan to all involved!

 

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One thing I was taught to appreciate is footwork and synchronicity… look at their little feet…speaks volumes

Lively and energetic

Thanks for reading!
AA

Anxiously Awaiting Andrus Ramir!

image After an amazing weekend observing Yanis Marshall, I have a double helping of extra appreciation for the men in the global dance community. It’s rare that I am suddenly bragging about anything but I made Mr. Marshall’s arrival very public on my social media pages and the fact that I was going to get to see him. I would have happily paid $100 to just to watch him. He is so worth it. So when Andrus Ramir told me that Mr. Marshall is one of his inspirations I just beamed. Two people I absolutely admire coming through Atlanta is a dream come true. Where Yanis Marshall is a bright and shining light for contemporary, modern and a multitude of dance genres, Andrus Ramir is our Raqs World Diamond! His presence lights up a room in ways I’ve yet to have seen from other dancers. I can’t help but put him on a pedestal.

I first saw Andrus in 2006 or 2007 during the last part of the summer when one of the former Bellydance troupes, The Fates, hosted one of the incredible conferences we have in our gem of a city, ATL. At Paris on Ponce he was walking outside and just his walk alone made me turn my head and I completely froze in my tracks. Surely the heavens laughed saying, “AA’s life is about to change.” Unable to speak for a few moments, I finally asked others around me, “Who is that beautiful person?!” No one from Atlanta seemed to know at the time but as soon as he got on that stage with those veils and tummy flutters that define perfection we all wanted to know who he was…the rest is history. He won us over within seconds!!! He began to get invited to Atlanta annually and in the three years he’s been away learning from the greats and further developing his signature style, his craft has become incredibly seasoned with even more amazing fluidity, class, beauty and the trademark Andrus Ramir awesomeness that we crave uncontrollably. He is …everything! I could easily write a book about this man…and I might!

Whether you’re a long time fan or new to the Andrus Ramir kingdom of crazy shimmies and ta’arab for days, you’ll be pleased with the upcoming workshops taking place next weekend hosted by Atlanta Fusion Bellydance, World Bellydance Alliance and their partner MissBellydance.com. Andrus is teaching three courses and one of them is Sha’abi. There’s also a show on Sunday night at Steve’s Live Music featuring some of the International Raqs Community Members who have moved to the states as well as some of the areas top stars that often work on Saturday nights (i.e. Karma); so it’ll be a treat to see them in show on Sunday where they can give us the gold! 😉

I certainly plan to be in the audience, savouring every second of Andrus’ outstanding work and performances. Go ahead and join in on the fun. You can register here. MissBellydance.com is giving away some cool prizes to troupe leaders who bring in 5 students or more. If anyone even tweets @missbellydance w/any of the blogs, event flyers, links to the event, etc. on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts their store automatically enters the profile to win cool prizes. It’s gonna be awesome!!! Looking forward to seeing everyone!!

Cheers!
AA

Fractured Fairy Tales, Better Than the Originals …a Review

*As always, these are just my opinions. image

Finally a moment to sit down and discuss my love for the Fractured Fairy Tales show that happened last Saturday night, produced by Jendayi Bellydance Company and her extremely talented and creative friends! I admit I was a little frightened because fairy tales (when one reads the originals) are kinda scary. All those kids meeting odd strangers and animated characters as they try to go see their grandparents or when they’re just trying to get to the market for their parents. Then I thought…”nahhh, it’ll be okay. It’s raqs infused, it’ll be elegant…safe to watch. No nightmares…” hmph…I was wrong. These ladies took these things seriously, bringing the sweet side and the horror to life in the most elegant way! I enjoyed every bit more than I ever imagined!

I arrived on time after a winding route on a backroad. My goal is to find an easy way to get there. If you avoid going to programs in this area because of distance, take my advice, 400N exit 7… make a left and keep going, it takes you right to the place. Atlanta, I have learned is like an old tree. It’s made up of lot of rings. There’s the inner ring which is Metro Atlanta. Just outside of it is a new ring forming called “The Belt Line” and outside of that is 285 which connects all of the neighbourhoods (i.e. Smyrna, North Buckhead/Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Tucker, Decatur and so forth). After that, Marietta and Alpharetta, Stone Mountain and South Atlanta …all of this is in a circle. You can see it on a map. So with that knowledge let’s try to pack that show next year. While it was well attended I was missing some familiar faces…people that would have appreciated this type of creativity and may want to get on board next year’s theme which is “Super Heroes.” If it plans to top this year, then I want to buy a ticket now… Speaking of tickets I want to thank Jendayi for her generosity and inviting me to the program. It was a wonderful welcome back to Atlanta treat as I decided recently to make the city my home base. Much love to all who have welcomed me with open arms. Now…where do I register as a resident? The DMV? Anyway…

Heidi was featured in several pieces in the show and did a great job transitioning between characters for the different sets.

Heidi was featured in several pieces in the show and did a great job transitioning between characters for the different sets.

The Show

The magnificent and darling Kyle, Jendayi’s other half (I adore them both as they have grown on me like Georgia’s Kudzu – I can’t get enough of these two, they are so much fun) opened the show with…wait for it… the song, “Pure Imagination.” She killed it! It was better than Willy Wonka’s…my 3rd favourite movie EVER!!! The original one, not Mr. Depp’s (you all know I can’t watch movies but once every 7 years because I’m easily traumatised). I’m still trying to get past scenes from the latest version so it was thrill to see Kyle make a new memory of this. She put a little flavour in it and it worked very well. In a long red cloak she embodied the idea of a fantasy for all of us. It was truly creative and a savvy way to open this show! LOVED IT!!

One of Jendayi’s sisters, “Minnie Mouse The Host” from 2014, returned this year as a gorgeous Goddess. Throughout the night she read from her big book of fairy tales and added in a bit of humour here and there. With her drum head clapping ornament she praised the visitors to her mysterious land as they danced for us, telling their side of these classic tales.

Heidi followed and performed a piece that was rather an Ode to Kaa from the Jungle Book. It was all kinds of awesome…from the costume to the choreography (which was probaby improv…you know her talent allows her to miraculously mold into anything as if she was born from whatever region the song originated). She looked great and her performance was quite eye catching and held our attention like a charming sweet serpent.

Asmak’s Cinderella piece has stayed with me the entire week. I find myself singing the song selections they chose. This set included the funniest, saddest and most creative of the musical selections of the night. Cindy walks out in the exact adult replica of Disney’s Cinderella cleaning clothes…the whole thing, the brown skirt…all that. She dances around to Lorde’s “Royals.” Now, Lorde has a little place in my soul for her very nice rendition of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World (yes, I just got off that tour and I’m dying to go back). Then BOOM! That guy I met at Conan’s show…what’s his name? He sings that song “Thriftshop”… Macklemore! His song explodes from the speakers and outcomes the fairy godmother with Goodwill bags. Cinderella runs off with the thriftstore clothes, comes back and is beautifully dressed in a sort of Japanese Kawaii Cinderella Coordinate made for bellydance. Talk about fusion, it was perfect! Then they did a cute duet and bowed away. Awesome!

Sophistique’s Voodoo was a very intense and complicated piece that looked more like it was designed for a New York art showcase than anything. It had modern, jazz, a lot of cultural influence and much more. I have no idea how they find the energy to bring that to life and then head off to do more at another venue not long after the show. We got a treat experiencing such professionalism. They are certainly a dance company on a mission and they will go far. Enjoy them while they are here… Remember your friends Jenny…remember your friends. Dear Almighty Creator, look after Jenny, she’s doing big things and we don’t know how much long we’ll have her with us…

Tinkerbell was performed by Leizel and one of the dancers from her company I believe. There was a great deal of ballet in the opening and that segued into a double sword routine. That eventually turned into a bit of Fusion complete with spins. It was very clean and captivating.

Rumplestiltskin was just freakin scary…but BRILLIANT all the same. The costuming, the creative use of gold clothing border as the spinning straw…and the choreography; it was a set certainly made for the theatre and “BIG SHOW.” Mina and team really set a new standard for theatre work in this genre. It was so visceral it scared me senseless. I almost had to close my eyes and just not watch because it was so realistic and frighteningly perfect. That is one of the most horrific fairy tales ever …imagine having to give your first born away because some scary man did you a favour…and she brought every bit of the fear to life. Nice job! My horror genre adoring cousin would have loved it. I was highly impressed but I’m also looking forward to my therapy session to blot that Rumpestilskin realness out of my brain…it was THAT real. Mercy! ::shudders:: image

Act II brought us a mixed version of The Wizard of Oz…and The Wiz (both of which also frighten me to pieces). AFBD did an incredible job portraying each of the characters. Faaridah’s Tin Man was so life like. Leena’s Cowardly Lion was worthy of an award and the entire crew really put on a show that would make any director of the shows’ replicas past and present quite proud. They took this seriously, making this set a hard act to follow. It was great!

Just when you think that you might have seen the best of the night, here comes The Saturnalia Project with the East’s “Baba Yaga.”  I think this was my favourite of the whole night. And guess who slayed… BJ! I loved seeing her in these pieces. It brought out her grace and beauty. I wish we could see more items like this from her, simply beautiful! Robyn’s contribution to this was also outstanding and the entire group really meshed well, representing all of the facades of this intriguing being. If you’re not familiar with the story, please look it up and also see if someone has a video of it. It’s worth watching to truly understand why it was so nice. Kudos to this team for going outside the norm by picking a tale that touches a region of the world where Raqs Sharqi was present centuries ago. Really great connection! Step aside 1985’s “Masalaama Cinderella,” there’s a new tale in town.

Snow White Meets Maleficent was very sultry and beautiful to watch. The characters themselves were just so pretty it was distracting (if that makes any sense). They were just so gorgeous and thus truly “looked the part.” I’ve always thought the Evil Queen was rather stylish and Snow White was extremely cute …and these ladies were just that in addition to completing a well coordinated choreography. They didn’t sing along with the music so you were able to focus on the “art” vs performance. I really liked this piece. One lady beside me said, “I want to be just like them when I grow up.” I totally understand…I want Snow White’s cute hairstyle and grace. Nice job! Kodi (of whom I met ealier in the hall when her cute top decided it was going to start sliding and she caught it in time; saved by Heidi’s awesome mum who double knotted it for her) portrayed “The Wolf.” There was one line that stood out in the intro of this piece. It was something like, “She knew she had nothing to fear but herself.” And that line sent her dancing as one of the few soloist of the night. It was a fusion set and she was very graceful and lovely.

For me, Brownielocks was perhaps the most frightening behind Rumplestiltskin. Brownielocks (portrayed by a girl with brownish-blonde hair) comes skipping out after the three bears finish a raqs trio routine (big shoutout to the young lady wearing the MBD bra top, that was cute). The sweet little bears are sleeping and wake to find that ol’ brownielocks is sweetly resting in the front of their den with one of their dancing bowls on her tummy. Well…instead of nudging her, waking her gently or any other polite thing that sweet little bears in fantasies might do… they eat her! Right there on the stage, they tear into her like one of my uncles and I on the one night of the year my adopted Persian side of the family serves Kashk bedamjoon with Samak. There were fake blood shards all over the place. It was quite horrific to watch. Of course, I’m the only one not laughing, I was shocked. Good job ladies. Creatively frightening…therapy session here I come.

The Prince rounded out the evening. I wasn’t sure which Prince they were portraying as there have been so many throughout the long history of Fairy Tales. There is one novel, “Le Petit Prince” featuring my first animated crush, who lives on a small planet. I used to watch him on Nick Jr. back in the 80s when I was just a toddler. I loved him. He was a doll with his full head of blond hair and best friend named Rose, a lone flower.  The Prince in this story was sort of like that…you know, gentle and cute! But there was another Prince, the one who never got married. I’m going to assume that this was the one Jendayi’s young daughter portrayed given the storyline…in the form THE ARTIST!!!? That’s right! Le Prince was Prince, the man of whom I ran from my dorm room to go see in the middle of the night, fangirling him as he walked past us in a white robe with “that symbol” on the back of his garment. It was a wild time at the University Stadium’s concert venue door. Yes, this darling played up “the” PRINCE of whom I spent one of the craziest nights of my life dancing near at his afterparty back in 1998…the only person for whom I ever skipped class because I was so worn out from the concert and party. And this performance was as exciting as being there again not to mention seeing his then wife swinging happily from a ceiling swing of that fun venue, fallen shoe and all. What a fun man and a great entourage he had. Jendayi and her own entourage did a marvelous job bringing that same amount of excitement to the stage as they portrayed the tale of both men. The Prince had a cute sky blue guitar and kindly turned down several young women who were interested in him…and threw a party in the end which sent all of the night’s characters to the stage. The music was a mix of Prince’s hits which just brought back a ton of childhood memories and those from college. It was a lot of fun and made you feel a part of the show. They hit a good nerve!

It was a night of explosive creativity! Even the cool pink lights were coordinated with the performances. Every set was enjoyable to watch and you could see that a lot of thought went into every set. I have an elevated amount of respect for the performance teams and I really hope I’ll be able to see the show next year as well. Kudos Jendayi!! You ALL stole the show! Bunch a’ Bada$$es! Raqin’ Fairy Tales like a boss!

Thanks for reading! AA

*Pictures are online by a photog onsite: https://m.facebook.com/155952171129140/albums/900059940051689/

Review – Gulf Dance Weekend 6 & 7 February Atlanta

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Kay Hardy Campbell’s Khaleegi Course hosted by Amani Jabril Middle Eastern and World Dance – 7 Feb 2015

All comments are my opinion only. They are not the final word or general opinion of any group. These are just my observations. I wrote the below, raw, unedited thoughts from my perspective as a first generationer with relatives and friends who are from and remain in the region. While I saw and participated in Middle Eastern Dance as a child/teen/Univ years residing in various international communities I do not declare myself an authority…just a mega fan who works hard to promote our culture in the best light.

Long. Overdue.
I could seriously just let those two words be the entire synopsis vs. this novel I just wrote. The Gulf Weekend sponsored by Amani Jabril Middle Eastern and World Dance provided more than a wealth of knowledge and amazing performances that were…wait for it…engaging and interactive with a focus on the social aspect of raqs – in other words, this was the real deal! The aspect of Khaleegi and Iraqi Dance being honoured for the social dances that they are was finally welcomed and instilled not just to the attending Atlanta dancers but also to the international visitors and those from SEVERAL other states. If you were not there, what a tragic pity. Yes, I’m giving you the side eye!

Friday Night Drumming Course with Kay

Friday Night Drumming Course with Kay

~~~ The Workshops ~~~
Friday – Drumming Workshop and Iraqi Dance Party at Babylon Cafe
The place is just gorgeous with traditional decor. There’s track lighting strategically placed, adding to the ambiance. There’s also a really beautiful covered seating area and gorgeous cushioned couch. This is where Kay and Majda sat to teach the Friday night drumming class. Attendees flew in from all over the states to be there. These were dedicated fans of Kay’s as well as fans of the Iraqi genre from New York and other large or iconic cities (i.e. Chicago, Savannah). Kay handed out worksheets with songs, rhythms, music and other useful information. Majda played the violin PERFECTLY alongside Kay, who was on the Oud. Attendees brought their drums, daf and doumbek to play along. Soon the restaurant was filled with their singing and drumming. It was like having a chorus and band. Might not be a bad idea to have such events spotlighted there every month? I certainly would attend to hear some traditional music. The class lasted for two hours (?), correct me if I’m wrong. Everyone seemed more than pleased and I must say Kay was very thorough. She went through song pronunciations and talked about the structure of the music, musical trends in the region and educated us on how to tell if a band or an orchestra are truly skilled. It made me appreciate the songs and music I heard growing up so much more. I’ll certainly be looking out for those gentle nuances, pauses and signs that indicate a really great group of musicians.

Iraqi Dance Party 
Uza’s presentation was a bit delayed by technical difficulties and for a while we were under the impression that she would not be performing. But, if you know the owner of Babylon Cafe, she was not having any of that. She came out of the kitchen and got the tech issues straightened out with lightening speed. Uza was able to continue right on time. Describing Uza’s dancing can be summed up with the phrase, “bada$$”…in every sense of the word. She’s a bada$$. They say there’s one in every family…that person you look forward to seeing just so you can watch the bada$$ery that they are going to bring to the table. In this case, it’s dancing…she dances like the really “cool girls” from back home. One of the highlights of the night was having Majda around. I appreciate that Majda glided right on in with what I call ‘first generation swagger.’ Again, nuances that those who live among those from the region or are related to it (or are there) seem to bring forth. Seeing Uza and Majda (and Ziah who did several very beautiful hair spins/figure eights) out there on the floor made me say, “Full Circle Moment…this is what I’ve been waiting for!” Of course this is not about me and my wishes, but I do have a sincere investment in Atlanta’s ‘Raqs’ Community, wanting this to be the place that visitors say, “these groups know their stuff, this is not a joke.” I want people like Amani el Omr of Lebanon to mention Atlanta’s fine crew when she talks about “Americans taking care of Raqs Sharqi.” If I could have bottled up that moment and used that as a part of an intro to “Atlanta’s Raqs World” I would have. These moments are sadly too few and far between. I hope that events like that will continue for the preservation of the Atlanta’s international heritage. It goes beyond there being a Mexican and Asian community on Buford Highway, it’s in pocket communities all over and alongside the metro borders …and it’s beautiful!

Saturday
Khaleegi Workshop with Kay
After some stretches, Kay jumped right into some basics and then quickly went into Khaleegi steps…and…say it with me, “how to capture the nuances” …and specific parts of Khaleegi dance that identify the person doing it as someone who “knows” what they’re doing. She noted a student of hers or someone she had mentored (again, correct me if I’m wrong) who had danced ‘Khaleegi’ at a nightclub. She noted that a man from the region had been in the audience and he walked up to her afterwards and asked, “Where did you learn that?!!?” He tipped her $300. Lesson here: we never know who is in the audience so it’s best to give each performance and presentation 100%.

Kay taught both men and womens styles of dance, line dances and much more!

Kay taught both men and womens styles of dance, line dances and much more!

Kay spent the entire 3 hours pouring knowledge into thirsty minds and it was absolutely beautiful!! Stunning in fact. I really couldn’t find anything about it that didn’t match the information that I had learned and seen over the years from people directly from the region (i.e. neighbours, classmates, new relatives from marriages, language teachers, etc.) I was surprised that she didn’t discuss the old school hair perfuming. I remember a lot of the girls who were older than me, perfuming their hair with jasmine oil and other scents like rose/rose water. When they did the hair toss, an aroma of a flower garden filled the air. I’ve always liked that. I have no idea if that is regional or what but I do remember it. Neither Kay nor Uza discussed it this weekend.

THE BEST part of this was that she showed everyone the dances of the men as well as the women. Given that I first learned these dances from male members of the family/neighbourhood I wanted to see the steps broken down and understand the history behind why the guys danced like that. I had never questioned it before, it was just always something that was done. That’s the way they danced and we’d mimic them the way they’d mimic us. But it was nice to learn more from a scholar who has taken the time to “get to know us” as Africans and Arabs.
Kay was awesome to bring music for purchase. She also brought thobes for sale, very beautiful ones I must say. There are more on her website. Check them out and if you weren’t at the workshop and be sure to read her site thoroughly and buy a cd. At lunch, Kay said for years she had always hoped to have a regional person in her class but knew that was unlikely. This is because it’s not really common for women to go out dancing in the public (I’ve already relayed my story and personal experience with this). She proved she wasn’t in this for personal gain when she said, “You should be teaching this…” thus recognizing that this needed to be taught by a regional woman. I say to Kay, you ARE that Gulf woman, go forth and educate, make all of us Africans, Arabs and Asians proud with your thorough presentations and respect for the culture. She is definitely “one of us.” SHE should be teaching this, SHE is a perfect person for it!

Summary of Styles and Social Dances Covered:
Al Ardah, Al Samri (includes using the sleeves as a head covering as well hair toss), Al Khatwa (Asir region line dance), Khobeiti and the singer on the music was Balquees. There was also a brief intro to Al Baddawi (cane dance esp seen in Kuwait).

Saturday Afternoon
UZA of New York
I didn’t stay for the whole workshop but I was there to see her presentation on how Iraqi dance has developed. She talked about the use of the knives/daggers and that this was just a regional thing that arguably has no exact reference or meaning. If anything the knives are used to emphasize one’s melodramatic response to the way they are feeling (i.e. your love or lack of love is killing me). I think Mark Balahadia has some really great Hetcha (spelling?) videos where he uses the dagger and truly expresses that sentiment. Speaking of, she talked about this particular rhythm/style’s significance.

Uza's class attendees, photo by KL

Uza’s class attendees, photo by KL

Uza went on to do some warming up followed by basic steps and teaching attendees how to get into the rhythm. That was followed by explanations of rhythms, hair tosses, hair figure eights and later she showed some of the dresses worn to do these dances. It went very well and everyone seemed very pleased. I don’t know if she had music for sale.

Both teachers let us know that the over the top hardcore presentations of both Khaleegi and Qawliya are not necessarily correct. They both showed us how to present this in the traditional subtle fashion. Uza went as far as to say that the Russian presentations that have ‘gone viral’ are not “Iraqi” per se but instead the Russians’ interpretation and something they have made on their own. The excessive head throwing vs. hair tossing is not common in the Iraqi Qawliya community. Speaking of community, Uza also let everyone know that, while it is debatable, the Qawliya people are said to be related to the Roma. Many of us know, especially those of us who are from the region or have family from there/still there, acknowledge there are so many different ethnicities in each country. Cross cultural dances and western influence have touched us all. For now, I think it’s best to just let the Iraqi and Qawliya community dictate who they are. It’s not our place. Let’s just respect their music and dance as “Iraqi” until further studies and notice.

~~~ The Show ~~~
Shortly after these workshops, the show took place at Steve’s Live Music. Doors opened at 8pm and it didn’t take too long for the attendees of an event prior to vacate. So we were able to get seated pretty quick. The show started at 9:15 and I must say, for two women who didn’t sleep this weekend, Amani and Jenny looked amazing! Myself, not so much. I was exhausted but eager to participate all the same.

The awesome band!

The awesome band!

The live band included Meriwan/Amani’s husband, Samer KK who plays keyboard for a great ME group here in Atlanta and Amine who will be drumming with Amani in an upcoming tour. I am a big fan of Samer KK and consider Meriwan to be a relative. I’m new to Amine but fell head over heels for him as well. Together they were so good I literally jotted down several other events at which I’d like to see them featured. They were just so perfect I truly felt ‘at home.’ There were a few international community members in the audience and a one or two up front. Having the band there and the Arabic speaking comm there really added to the ambiance of the night because they were able to sing along and do the call back songs. Kay did as well. They played live for many of the performers and it was incredible! You can’t go wrong with a live band, it brings the whole regional experience to life. I miss these moments.

Line Up:
Saroya (ATL)
Suzan Healy (FL)
Samira (SC)
Jawhara (Chicago)
Hasna (ATL)
Leela (NYC/FL)
UZA (NYC)
Saliya (Chicago/TX/Savannah)
Leizel (ATL/South Africa -Intl Commty)
Aziza (ATL)
Shoshanna (Augusta)
Amani (ATL Intl Cmmty)
Kay Hardy & Friends

Highlights 

Samira (music: Zay el Helwa) was one of my favourites because her spirit was so bright and visible throughout her performance. She wore a gold bedluh with a bright periwinkle blue skirt, matching bangles and other jewelry. She just beamed like the sun out on that dance floor, I couldn’t stop watching her, totally hooked.

Leela is another favourite of mine. I’ve always enjoyed her performances because they are so stepped in ta’arab goodness. Tonight in a professional black beladi dress she really gave it her all dancing to Daret al Ayam.

Aziza and Amani were their usual show stopper selves. They did their signature work and wowed the audience, one lady in the corner started crying (finally I’m not the only one). They interacted well with the band and were absolutely perfect representations of the region. Can’t go wrong with these two. Their make-up, hair and all was stunning. I would love to see these two partner on some regional raqs shows/presentations and continue to highlight gulf dance.

Uza…was a bada$$…I don’t know what more to say. Her first dress was a long purple textured one with a long fringed hip scarf, gold jewelry (especially bangles, brought back memories) and matching gold zills. The dress had a side slit in it revealing matching lace purple pants with flared legs. She looked like a doll…and she was a bada$$. I can’t think of any other term to sum up all that fantastic work she did. It. was. bada$$. I really enjoyed watching her. We need more of Uza at local shows.

Kay Hardy’s social dance oresentation went very well. I did get up and join them eventually but sat down after 5 or 6 minutes because I could feel the “hot pepper” hardcore, back door madness surfacing in my moves and I didn’t want to anger Kay as we had just gone over how that’s not really the graceful beautiful region specific social dance she just presented that morning. Having a multitude of cultures around me for years I certainly have mixed and fused several regional pieces, much like Uza noted is done these days in my generation, and therefore my gulf dance can look feminine at the start but by the time I’m done I’ll have done men’s dances and thrown in some Iraqi moves from various ethnic groups plus city stuff. That’s what happens when you grow up in an international neighbourhood…oh the stories I’d love to tell.

Additional Notable Dance Sets
Leizel did a sha’abi number wearing a party dress much like girls wear back home when the abbayah is off and the curtains and doors secured shut. She looked like a girl at a modern day Egyptian henna hafla, un-veiled, and enjoying herself acting out words to the song. While I’d have loved to see her do some really hard core street moves…as that’s what sha’abi is…it was the best presentation I’ve seen from her yet. I could totally see her at the next international henna hafla. Send her an invitation!

Zaia, Leizel’s mother, danced wearing a crisp white thobe in the style of dancers like Aida Nour. I was very impressed with her choice and I’m a big fan of the music she chose. It was by Fadl Shaker. She captured the regional nuances in her own way and I appreciated that. Had she been dancing with a ton of Masriyat at a party I would have had to take a moment to remember we were still in the states. Very nice!

Jawhara was a great addition to the show in her black Egyptian style beladi dress with assayah. The band sped up the version “Salam Aley” and that seemed to startle her a bit but she survived it and the audience’s zaghareets and singing along was surely an encouragement. Great song, great energy from her. She was very kind the entire weekend and I really like her as a person. I hope she’ll come back for more workshops and become a friend of ATL.

Saliah Noya was also a fun addition to the show. She mentioned to me how she was a big fan of Amani Jabril and Amar Gamal. She wore a white and red professional bedluh and did a very modern pop raqset with her own touches. People like Saliah who travel and have a real respect for the art should be swept up by modern legends like Amar. They usually turn into these amazing ‘next generation’ raissat. Wishing her lots of love and success! Mabrook!

Shoshanna’s costume was sensational and added so much to her performance to Tamra Henna. She tackled a very classic piece with the band’s additional touches. It was a myriad of spins and travelling steps for this raissa, known to do be able to do it all. Very eye catching and full of energy!

Costumes to die for!
Sue H had a blue beladi dress that was decked out in silver beaded fringe and palattes droplets. On the bottom layer just meeting her knees were fringed ruffles. Like a visual artist, she made such good use of it. With every opportunity she spun and that sent the fringe whirling. It looked really beautiful and you could see she was having a blast dancing to live music. I always enjoy Sue coming up from Florida to be a part of shows. It’s really cool.

Hasna’s set was good and her entrance in that fantastic costume made it even better. She takes a very professional and stage-like approach to raqs sharqi. I can’t tell whether this was a choreography or improv. I imagine she already knew the song but within seconds of it playing she just went into it full force with a variety of spins and techniques. She was polished in her stage presence, almost like a costume model. Another dancer said, “I like the choices she’s making in the set.” I agree. It was not the traditional set of moves that I have seen over the years to that particular song and of course everyone dances to it differently. But you could see that she took ownership of her set and did what worked for her. That is admirable.

This show was great but it was very late. I know that works for the industry but given that several had flown in from around the world, I wanted them to have some “time in Atlanta.” Maybe they spent that time in the city on Sunday since there weren’t any workshops on that day. I did like the Friday-Saturday format because it allowed for some recovery time before Monday morning. This permitted people to get back home and not rush on Sunday night. Also, Sunday at the airport isn’t as bad as Monday so, that made me happy (I’m thinking of the guests).

I mentioned before that I wish we had an Iraqi audience to enjoy it. Both Kay and Uza’s presentations could have been done in the back room at Taverna Plaka at some point that weekend. Though I don’t go to TP anymore I still think those dances deserved that “international” space or some place where the DJ can sort of rev up the audience to experience it. I feel like the ladies could have received proper money showers and praise and it would have been an added value to the restaurant and something they, too, could promote and say, “Guess what else we’re having…” It was a missed opportunity though I’m quite sure, knowing Amani and her connections, she perhaps thought about it. I want to see this branch past the workshop audiences and spill into Euro Cafe, TP and beyond. Because Uza should have had a club night. We need to share these ladies with the international community clubbers and not keep them to ourselves.

I have a ton of things to say about the event. I think Kay and Uza deserve a bigger audience on a large theatre stage. I wanted Uza to have a nightclub filled with Iraqis who could appreciate and understand her natural grasp of the region’s dances. So many thoughts going through my head. We certainly need more of these in ATL and I hope, much like this time, people will show up and embrace it wholeheartedly. It’s a shame that it took so long to take hold. But like Ryanne told me, just be grateful Andye. Be grateful it finally got here!

Overall, I’ll be furious if we don’t start having more regional shows. I mean that. I will be quite upset if something doesn’t take shape in the next 6-8 months. There really is no excuse. For all the shows we have and the fact that this workshop took place, we have the groundwork for taking this to the next level. Please, somebody partner up and make this happen. I’ll do all I can to promote it and help find funding.

Huge thanks to Sister Kay and Cousin Uza! Hats off to Amani and Jenni! Big hugs to all that attended from near and far!!

Thanks for reading!
Full Review is on Raqs Atlanta Facebook & Yahoo
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Love this team! Photo bomber wanted to love them too. We see you guy! Come on in, group hug!

Love this team! Photo bomber wanted to love them too. We see you guy! Come on in, group hug!