Essence of Bellydance 2017 – Review

Be sure to like Studio Jaki’s page and buy some of these great photos!

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 – 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 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!

Studio Jaki
Inquire how to purchase this photo from Studio Jaki

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!

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.


Additional videos:

Review – Gulf Dance Weekend 6 & 7 February Atlanta


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!

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)
Saliya (Chicago/TX/Savannah)
Leizel (ATL/South Africa -Intl Commty)
Aziza (ATL)
Shoshanna (Augusta)
Amani (ATL Intl Cmmty)
Kay Hardy & Friends


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



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!

Review: Open Mic Night @ Steve’s Live Music hosted by World Bellydance Alliance

Our local raqs fanatic, reflects on a recent show:

Amira Bey, in a salute to Toronto's Legendary Yasmina Ramzy

Amirah Bey, in a salute to Toronto’s Legendary Yasmina Ramzy

This was the 1st “bellydance” focused show of the year in ATL’s Raqs Community (excluding the private events that took place during the New Year celebrations). To start, Allah Yustur warmed up a bit before the first dancer, Christy sang a version of the song my cousin sang for Shab-e-Yalda. It was great to hear it again, one of my favourites.

image “Big Shout Out” to all the performers wearing tonight at the show. What an extraordinary thing to see. The first four performers wore one of the popular sets from their Tribal Fusion line. I know the staff will be more than happy to see the pictures. If you’d like to have yours eatured on their social media site, just upload it to their FB page and a discount on your next purchase will follow.

Here is a list of dancers this evening

Qamar (drove in from Athens and included female tabla players (zaghareet to that!))

Qamar (drove in from Athens and included female tabla players (zaghareet to that!))

Northside Tribe
Amirah Bey
Amani Jabril
Aziza Nawal

Steve is very supportive of Atlanta's music scene.

Steve is very supportive of Atlanta’s music scene.

The program started on time with Jenny coming to the microphone as well as the owner of the venue, Steve. He gave us a great welcome to the start of the 2014 Raqs year and later invited World Bellydance Alliance to have more programs there. The crowd went wild with support and joy.

Omega did justice to the region, mabrook wa shukran for that great presentation!

Omega did justice to the region, mabrook wa shukran for that great presentation!

One of the major highlights of the night was seeing Omega perform. She moved to Athens from Gainsville, Florida. Her raqs presentation was one of the top pieces of the night. It was extremely professional, very few hiccups and she looked stunning dressed in her red bedluh embellished with silver workings, beads and other elegant additions. She was the exact image of what you find at top Middle Eastern programs. Dancing to a popular tune on the eastern front, her technique and overall execution of moves was dynamic. You felt every single move, her passion and dedication. I was highly impressed…it was so good I was near tears. Mabrook Omega! wow! Powerful and passionate in a most respectful way.

Amani is one of nation's top experts on cultural dance.

Amani is one of nation’s top experts on cultural dance.

As expected Amani Jabril and Aziza Nawal‘s sets were super stellar. Amani performed her immaculate Classical Persian in full traditional attire. She returned to the stage later in that gorgeous long sleeve mosaic dress with her hair smoothed and long while dancing with a white veil. It was breathtaking and stunning. Amani is also hosting a great event this year, the 3rd Dancers’ Intensive. So be sure to check that out.

Aziza’s big crowd pleaser was a classic modern raqs set accompanied by her award winning drum solo…one of the many I should say. She wore a very well-made bedluh that she later revealed she designed and sewed it herself. Nice job lady!! It’s certainly worth a few hundred to say the least. Absolutely gorgeous print.

Jenny’s set was also sleek and hot. She did what she’s best known for…these passionate fusion routines packed with power and finesse. Fans just lose themselves watching her, it’s a mass of amazement…hard to get enough of it. I dare say the photographer was smitten to say the least…his eyes danced as much as she did. I feel ya brah…I feel ya…she’s good eh? Great scott, stuff like that’ll shake your faith.

Majda was wonderful to do her coveted double veil routine to one of Raquy and the Cavemen’s songs. It is a stunning piece, completely captivating and beautiful, Masha’Allah. I love it even more every time I see it. It’s just dynamite and something extraordinary to behold.

The entire show was extremely diverse and filled with very skilled individuals. From female tabla players to live musicians…this was a perfect way to start the year!

Thank you World Bellydance Alliance, Steve’s Live Music and all of the wonderful stores and dance entities that donated prizes for guests. I’m really looking forward to shows like these which are not only intimate but filled with passionate people who have worked hard to get where they are and are still striving for excellence in this art.

The very talented Allah Yustur Music Ensemble closed the show with cherished  classics from the region.

The very talented Allah Yustur Music Ensemble closed the show with cherished classics from the region.

Thanks for reading…
*Photos courtesy of Stephanie Colletti & Rana Raqs

Shab-e-Yalda Event Atlanta (2013)

imageThe Atlanta International Community is known for hosting some pretty fun events with a strong cultural focus. Shab-e-Yalda 2013, sponsored by and Global Sound Scene is to be another spectacular night filled with salutes to this Persian Holiday.

Amani Jabril of Amani Jabril Middle Eastern and World Dance celebrating Raqs Atlanta's 15+years of service to the International Community with Andye (co-founder of RA & AABCE)

Amani Jabril of Amani Jabril Middle Eastern and World Dance celebrating Raqs Atlanta’s 15+years of service to the International Community with Andye (co-founder of RA & AABCE)

Guests will be treated to an amazing show featuring some of the Atlanta Dance Community’s culture loving crews like Les Raissat, known for their well-loved ethnic dance routines and shows. Beth Mendez “Doniazad“, a friend of the African Asian Business and Cultural Exchange is also performing. She’s known for her 1001 Nights theatrical event some years ago as well as being a top hit at cultural events. She was recently picked by as one of their principal models for videos. Award winning Amani Jabril of Amani Jabril Middle Eastern and World Dance will be presenting her gorgeous Persian repertoire that is always stunning. Tara of the AABCE will read poetry with a special guest from Iran, plus Majda of AllahYustur and Awalim Fame. We may also see Tallita of Brasil. Then the amazing Faaridah of Atlanta Fusion Bellydance will close the show with her team. It’s to be an amazing night, steeped in the warmth and camaraderie known to Shab-e-Yalda worldwide. will be offering gift bags for each VIP guest. will be offering gift bags for each VIP guest.

VIP seating is available for $10 and grants guests a premium front row seat plus a gift from The $15 dollar dinner is separate and you get a free appetizer with your entree when you mention the facebook advertisement. So, our suggestion is you buy the ticket, print out the flyer on the Fanoos facebook page and bring it with you so that you get more for your money and make the most of your evening.

Having more culturally focused events in Atlanta is a great way to keep the traditions alive for all that now reside here from abroad. Fanoos is a perfect location for it given its amazing floor space, vast menu that includes Persian specialties and it’s a hotspot for raqs shows and amazing international singers and guests. What a great way to round out the year. Truly looking forward to it!

Fanoos Atlanta

Fanoos Atlanta

Shab-e-Yalda, a Persian Holiday
December 21st 2013
Fanoos Persian Cusine -6125 Roswell Rd, Sandy Springs
Featuring Atlanta’s Amazing International Community Dancers and Guests
Visit this link to purchase tickets:



Bienvenue, Welcome, Ahlan!

Valizan (Canada), Andye (Nigeria-USA), Ziah Ali (USA) hanging out at Mosaic, 16+years of Global Raqs Magic

Valizan (Canada), Andye (Nigeria-USA), Ziah Ali (USA) hanging out at Mosaic, 16+years of Global Raqs Magic

Ahlan waSahlan! Salaam wa Merhaba, Marhaba, Salut, Bienvenue et Shukran Jazillan for visiting Raqs Atlanta. We enjoyed 15 years as a private group of international concert, conference and show attendees. We are now ready to go public and share our dedication to the global arts community. Here we will post information about upcoming shows, music programs, visiting celebs and meet & greets. It’s all about having a really good time enjoying our culture, language and being ourselves with no apologies. Our motto remains the same, “All things international like me!”

Moderator and Contributors:

Nagwa, Andye, The Diasporic Team, Atlanta African Asian Business and Cultural Exchange, and our partners in dance.