Mayte’s Magic Mystifies Atlanta

One of the reasons our community still finds success showcasing our art, classes and music to the globe are due to the numerous celebrities that love bellydance, cultural dance and raqs sharqi as a whole. Mayte Garcia has been a wonderful representative of the art and dancing since she was a toddler. This has helped raise interest in our culture to the world. I first learned of her through an after party I attended where the late mega musician, philanthropist and global artist Prince was hanging out after his concert. As millions know, long after Purple Rain, this super human was still touring with incredible hits and has a vault of music that is unmatched. He was married to Mayte Garcia at the time of this party and they both walked into that club looking like shining stars. I had been super calm until they walked into the room. Then as soon as he walked near me I just went nuts, “You tha man! You tha man!” I yelled. My goodness…he was thankfully gracious. It was super hard not to repeat that sentiment yesterday when Mayte came to the Atlanta Fusion Bellydance Studio adjacent to MissBellydance.com where I volunteer. I held the door open as she walked in with her sweet puppies. I held my emotions together and just thanked the Almighty we were about to experience her magic again.

Mayte arrived looking amazing as ever and accompanied by her rescue puppies. All of whom are just adorable. You can learn more about her rescue efforts here. I will save this post for our experience with her in the dance realm. She and her team arrived at 4:35pm and begin to set up immediately. We, the fans including her long time dedicated group that literally travels (much like Tears for Fears’ Travel Fans) to see her whenever she is near them -be it same city or a few states over, gathered together in the front and got to know each other. I was the second fan to arrive. The first was a young lady who was dressed super kawaii and ready to meet Mayte. She had been there since 12pm. We know all about that life – camping out and not wanting to miss a single second of your beloved’s presence. That’s how we were. I had arrived to the studio on Friday because that’s kinda how things go. We go early and get everything prepared. But all was taken care of and we were set for Saturday’s big evening event. Registration was very easy. We only had to show proof of payment. Once validated we were able to go back to the studio and join Mayte for the Question and Answer session.

Fans were seated on yoga mats and Mayte was in a chair. Due to injuries, floor seating is not my friend right now so I grabbed a chair and sat down to listen. Calm and serene, everyone asked her questions about her work, about Prince and about her dance past. Nothing she said was controversial or taboo. It all seemed like honest, sincere responses that let you know her life with Prince was more than pleasant and that he was dedicated to his work as is she. She shared some funny moments and how she believes his energy and spirit are still certainly there in Paisley Park.

The Dance Class
Mayte’s warm up was incredible and energetic. The class begins and ends with Prince and there’s traditional regional music (our region’s – Middle Eastern/African) in between. There was a focus on technique and then there was a short choreo that would work for an intro to an event. You can tell these were designed for large stages. There’s no way in the world our subtle flutters and bashful shoulder shimmies could work for the arenas she’s been in. Her moves are big and pronounced. You can SEE her and it works for what she presents to the world. I would definitely take another course with her.

The After Party
After the educational portion of the evening, she turns the music up just a bit more and dancers were allowed to showcase what they’ve learned. In traditional ME style as if one is at the bride’s henna party, she does a duet with each participant in the course. It’s very touching to see Mayte lead and guide dancers to showcase their best and favourite moves they’ve learned in that session. We of course are a community of professionals, expatriates and raqs veterans. So when those members got out on the dance floor, assayahs and advanced moves appeared making the duet an authentic one. Mayte knows her stuff and she flourished with her students in those magical hours. We were with her from 5pm until around 9pm or 10pm. It was so majestic that the entire atmosphere felt very much like the one I remember during her years with Prince. I will not forget this day and I’m super grateful to Robyn and Robin for encouraging this event to take place. Huge thanks to Faaridah and AFBD for hosting!! Looking forward to another session!

Out of respect I didn’t take a whole bunch of photos. If others donate their photos and videos I will put them here in the archives.

Live Blogging: Weekend with Jill Parker

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Attendees and fans of Jill Parker listening to advice and tips

Intricate movements to Natacha Atlas were the highlight of Jill Parker’s return to the studio were part of my full circle weekend. I have been a fan of this raqs star since I was 19 years old. That’s almost 20 years for me. Some may remember my story of sitting in our TV salon watching FatChance Bellydance Live over an over again. I was enamored with Jill and Rina to heights unknown. Fast forward years later I’m sitting at a coffee shop, in my new adopted city where I’d seen groups like Awalim work their tribal magic all over town. At this moment, post show, I’m sitting with one of the owners of MissBellydance.com (which at the time was a living room with a manequin (Alev)) in it and a link to their eBay store. I’m telling Melih he has to open an actual store and studio with a store front. Fast forward even further down the road and here we are with Jill Parker in the very studio I had encouraged now rebranded and looking swank and perfect with Faaridah and AFBD’s golden touch. So, yes, this, after a traumatizing year of losing people we love, entities falling…was a reminder of what grounds me. We still have dance.

Much like Aunt Rocky mentioned in an earlier Facebook post, it’s been hard to get up and move after the events of the year. A culture attached to the dance we love has been villianised and here we are still going as ambassadors of the art to the best of our ability. While I’m worried sick about us, our future and how we’re going to go forward fractured and damaged as lovers of culture…as women (and men who are a big part of our community as supporters and dancers)…I am happy that we have this space to collect ourselves and find away to keep going.

Very happy to have Jill Parker here, very grateful. I could cry but I’m trying to keep it together. Let’s face it we’re in a weird war. Much like gas was introduced into World War II, parroting of false info and assumptions are the evil tools that were used to cause havoc as the nation fought for change…we were left with an outcome that is not exactly clear. There are still so many questions. It’s mindboggling, a headgame in many ways. So, again, I find myself in this space seeking balance.

Workshop I
This featured a number of really beautiful footwork combinations with spins. Of course Jill, herself, has a better description for it. The studio was full and there were dancers I hadn’t seen in quite a while from both Tribal Dance communities as well as modern Egyptian and classical raqs sharqi. The support was there and that was lovely. I had to also wonder if they were also there for the same reasons I was…because you know with a good instructor you can lose yourself. And who doesn’t appreciate Jill Parker?! It’s Jill Parker for raqs sake! (Insert Superfan scream here).

Jill, who is clearly taking a youth elixir as she is as gorgeous as day one, was very stern and straight to the point. She called out dancers who rather abandoned the choreography (perhaps due to to difficulty?) to insert their own moves of what they would rather do. She mentioned she’d rather see them do it half time than to insert to memory muscle movement something other than what was taught. I think we’re quick to do that when we, as dancers, either feel inspired or simply just don’t want to break the flow of the movement so we put something in there. It’s almost like when we don’t know the details of a situation so we make up something to satisfy our minds. This doesn’t work in raqs sharqi. It’s important to try to get the move, and as Jill Parker says, do it half time for the moment and work through it til you get it. She didn’t say that verbatim but it was close.

She also mentioned that she’d like for dancers to find a balance between effort and ease. Bigger is not better, clearer is better…might mean quieting other things, cleaning up the technique. She went into other things but I won’t give that away, be sure to catch her course, or book time with her to get these very useful tips and tools of the trade.

Jill also covered Tunisian steps, my absolute favourite. I love that she noted that it’s good to have dances from the Maghreb (Tunis, el Maghreb, L’Algerie) in your dance – keeps your dance from always looking the same. I agree. There’s more to this dance than Egyptian and Tribal (see my previous post). I particularly enjoyed watching Ziah, Faaridah and Heidi in this section of the course. Jill, who looked like my newest cousin Zee who is from Tunisia, was as strong as ever in this and it looked beautiful. Seeing dances from your culture done so well can leave you spellbound.

Workshop II

This was more focused on shimmies and the music was awesome. There were great selections from drum solos and tabla pieces. While I would have done other movements to this music given the rhythms played (there were some from Upper Egypt and a bit of the gulf) it was good for practicing this very grounded shimmy. I think this was my favourite course of the two. Overall, this was a perfect combination of music and the comfort of fellow dancers, I felt right home and at peace for the first time in a month. I needed this…I think we all did.

Thanks for reading! Thanks for being kind to my bear as well. As I told Jenny, the world is so crazy, I need every comfort imaginable from dance to my dolls.
-AA

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Rilakkuma and Aseela!

Open Dance Night at Steve’s Live Music Summer 2015

Ajaz and Nuzrsat

Ajaz and Nuzrsat

This past Friday, World Bellydance Alliance hosted another exciting night at Steve’s Live Music. This was Steve’s anniversary and we’re all grateful for the venue as they’ve been good to our fusion dance communties in Atlanta. Tonight was another fun occasion that featured a number of dancers from various troupes in Atlanta. Several were some of the community’s very strong, legendary troupes and dancers. It’s always a joy to have them in our midst as well as on the stage.

Act I
Ajaz and Nuzrsat
Sabia
Olivia and BJ
Na’ilah
Elle
Praxis
Adira
Salimpour Collective

Act II
Molly
Roulette featuring Jendayi
Roulette featuring Heidi
Tamar
Vany
Zeina Dance
Mina
Majda Anwar
Heidi, Jendayi and Jenny

Bellydance & Raqs Sharqi Highlights – Open Dance Night allows dancers to perform a variety of dances. Whenever there is someone performing dances from the Middle East and the African continent I enjoy highlighting them. Below are several I enjoyed seeing…

Ajaz and Nuzrsat , orignally from Peru and Colombia, were very pretty in their full MissBellydance.com ensembles. These two ladies are students in the dance community and they were very supportive of everyone throughout the night. We need more people like this. It didn’t matter what level or what type of dance was being presented, these two were clapping and cheering on their fellow dancers. They themselves are strong students who have understood the basic techniques of raqs sharqi. It was a joy to have them and their family in the audience.

Sabia was another show stopper tonight despite her music being distorted. Those of us who know her could see her full intent and purpose on that dance floor. Her gorgeous red dress made her stand out from others as she aimed to represent the glamorous side of Al Msr. Bravo, we “got it.” If I had to change anything it would be the computer that played the music and I would have covered her in more diamonds and bling. Shine Sabia, lay it on thick…that’s the way. 😉

The Salimpour Collective was another memorable set. They performed that outstanding zill piece that they did at Amani’s extraordinary show some weeks ago. They also segued into a duet featuring Jamie and Majda and damn it was good! I tell you, they brought the Salimour spirit to life in this town. Be sure to look out for this piece (reinforced by Jenni on the side).

The Roulettes…
This concept is made up of songs being put on shuffle and Jenny has to pick whatever shows up. A dancer agrees to dance to the song without knowing what the shuffle landed on. Jenny said there was classic Egyptian, Sha’abi music by Hakim and a ton of other middle eastern music but for some reason it landed on “other things.” Jendayi was the first person to volunteer for the roulette. She got up, the song came on and she showed out, mind, body and soul. I felt she did a great job and I hope future performances will feature this earthy, relaxed raqs style that matches that which you will see at parties and haflas abroad. Heidi blew us away when it was her turn, if anyone has that on video you need to see it. She proved that she is a natural dancer and beyond talented. Again, someone find the video!

Tamar stood out with the music she chose. She did a choreography that was “her very first” from her early dancing years ago with Chandani. It was a routine that included a straight edged tahtib. Hearing that song again was a joy! Always nice when people use exciting music from the region that even the most far-removed from fusion dance would recognize and seat-shimmy to from start to finish.

Zeina Dance again…another one for a video… They really master fusion so well. This time it was with a Raqs-Tango fusion with a spanish verbal intro that excited people like myself as well as other international community members in the crowd. Let the video speak for itself. Pieces like this are worthy of a large stage…it deserves “big lights!!” Bravo y Brava!

Mina’s set was also memorable because of her great music. Another great pop song that was extremely popular right out of the studio by Nancy Ajram. Oul Tani Keda is just one of those “now old school” club classics that would send dancers running to the dance floor, shimmying til it hurt. That’s the exact energy Mina brought…a rush of raqs hot pepper enthusiasm…and that you can never forget as it’s the heart and soul of the pop raqs community! She followed it with a drum solo and the crowd went wild! She’s always fun!

Let’s just be real here, Majda stole the show…she stole it. There. I said it. She started off with a melody of taqsims that meshed into Turkish 9/8 rhythms and blended that on with others. It was brilliant when you stop and realise what she did. She honouored not just movement but also music in that set. It was a perfect Raqs Star’s ritual. You only see that at galas and for to her give that to us was quite generous. Shukran jazillan…I “got it.” Had I still had a voice after being on that Tears for Fears tour for nearly a week I’d have made a proper zaghareet. Masha’Allah ya helowa Majda! Masha’Allah!

Earlier in the evening someone played some music from my region of Africa. I was up dancing around in the dark with Sabia’s fiance (my brother in raqs) and telling him about what parts of Africa and the East have those rhythms. When I heard parts of the music in the next set featuring Heidi, Jendayi and Jenny I was floored at the inclusion of it for the show. Turns out, it was a section in the SEEDS fundraiser that took place earlier this month. What a spectacular piece it was. It was filled with several moves from the cultures that the African continent has influenced. There is no way to describe it, it is again something you have to see for yourself.. this, too, stole the show that evening. Just a full on perfect fusion of cultural dance…we need more of this in our shows. It’s as much a part of Raqs Sharqi as Egypt is realistically and physically to Africa.

Open Dance Night continues in September! Get signed up now! Contact World Bellydance Alliance for more info!

Thanks for reading!
AA

*MissBellydance.com would like to extend a huge thank you and hug to those who wore costumes, jewelry and other items from the shop. It was noted! Shukran wa T’shukrle!

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, MissBellydance.com and our partners in dance.