Essence of Bellydance 2018 – The Year of Simon and Suhaila!

That’s what it was for me…the year of Simon and Suhaila and the few moments I got to enjoy them in that space were so amazing…so much so that if it had been any better I wouldn’t have been able to stand it!

*These are my personal thoughts, independent of any organization with which I’m associated or belong. I write all of the below with the assumption that when someone says they are performing bellydance, they have some idea of where it originated…I expect their teachers to tell the truth and give a little history before sending them out on stage. I know that when I state this people assume I’m about to go off in a rage of “wtf did I just see?” but that’s not the case. I just want others to understand what sort of mindset I have, put yourself in my shoes for a moment, a Nigerian-American kid who still prays 5 times a day, does her prayers in Arabic and Hebrew and subscribes to every regional newspaper under the sun not because I necessarily wanted to but because I still have relatives in the region and I know the world doesn’t end in Florida. When I see “Middle Eastern Dance” or “Bellydance” in a program, I expect to see at least one nod to the region…and Essence did more than that…it literally gave a standing ovation for the globe!

Essence of Bellydance 2018

My review will be brief this year because I didn’t get to participate in the event as much as I would have liked. I bought my tickets online because I was fearful it would sell out and some parts did from what I understand. There was another conference to which I was assigned right across the street from one of the hotels. Anime Weekend Atlanta. I’ve learned that next year, AWA will be in late October. This gives me the chance to attend Essence without interruption because I had a ticket to that too. They were kind to rollover my unused ticket from this year to next year. I’m grateful I can enjoy the two individually because trying to do both proved devastatingly exhausting.

Later this month I’m following this review up with a short montage of some of the footage captured and I will be releasing a book titled, “Loving Suhaila” in 2019 to talk about the change that she brought to this town which was evident at its zenith during this event.

Accommodations

I arrived on Friday at the Hyatt Regency Suites Atlanta Northwest. It is my go-to place for just about anything because of the price and convenience it has offered for so many years. They are going to renovate soon which will be the second renovation in less than 10 years. In fact, it’ll be right at 10 years when they do this. The suites are huge. 600sq feet minimum. They also have an executive suite that is an apartment with all the things you’d want in one minus a stove. Each room has a microwave and fridge. Room service is 24/7 but it’s best to eat at the bar or order it there and pick it up. They have a great staff of internationals from Jamaica to Bosnia. They know and understand our fun culture and even attended Essence this year! They love bellydance!

Transportation

There’s a shuttle that they offer but you need to speak to them in advance about it. They were using it for Anime Weekend Atlanta this year so I didn’t ask for a ride to the Smyrna Community Center. I took Uber which was about $30 each way for a comfortable black car. I think you could also do the Uber Select for $20 each way. I do Uber Black because these are usually companies and legit car services who allow their drivers to pick up extra rides. So, keep that in mind if you’re thinking about safety. I also get the names of these guys so I can talk to them later on about airport pickups and other deals they may have.

The Show

I got there in time to see the first show of the event, which was Friday night. I bought all my tickets on Eventbrite and put them in my phone. I was able to swipe left or right to see them all and they were accepted at the door because they had a list of all the names of the ticket holders. Very convenient, really cool. The Friday show was the competition and we weren’t supposed to take video but I’m rebellious and did it anyway. I know it’s rude and inappropriate. I had to in order to remember all the dancers. Those that stood out to me were:

Shontail from Company Mezza Shontail performed a Flamenco fusion set that was just divine and very creative. It won her third place in one of the categories. Words won’t do her justice, the video speaks volumes.

First place winner was Ciana B. I know all people of colour do not look alike but if she and Amar Gamal were put side by side you might assume they are cousins at least. She doesn’t dance just like her but it was that blue costume and very professional and entertaining stage presence that really made me think, Amar would be super proud.

Shoshanna was great in the fusion category as she did a Fox Trot mixed with Bellydance. I didn’t know it was Foxtrot, someone, an Iranian friend of mine who came along, said it was. I’m glad she was there to help me understand the significance of the dance. It made me appreciate it more. Shoshanna took home one of the grand prizes in her category, earning a thousand dollars. Nice!

Honourable mentions must go to the young lady who was in a dark bedluh and did a number of regional pieces to show that she was familiar with everything. She embraced it authentically and it wasn’t forced or commercialized. Hats off to you, wish there was an award for that. I truly enjoyed it! It’s tough to make khaleegi hair tosses and floor work look great after doing a Debke. Bedluhs and Debke don’t always present well and she was able to execute everything flawlessly.

Other highlights were the MC, Orlando. He was there last year, was great then and he was fun that night as well. He wasn’t your typical Middle Eastern Dane Gala Show Master of Ceremonies. He was a down to earth guy, dressed well, making jokes and keeping us alert and awake…despite the fact that he noted he, himself, was quite tired but made sure he was there for us that night. One of the things I thought was funny was his non-partisan commentary after some of the sets. For example, one lady decided to dance to “Wipe Out”…yes, that retro classic that has nothing to do with raqs sharqi. She wore a cute blue costume and had a veil that separated out to double veils and twirled and spun around to show the effect of the veils. Toward the end she just twirled right off stage and fumbled in doing so by running into one of the curtains. I know people would probably rather I not remember this, especially the dancer herself, but Orlando sort of saved the day with his comment…”She literally wiped out…which was right along with the song.” Let’s just say that dancer did that on purpose and it was part of the set. It worked. And after all that spinning I’d day heck yeah, wipe out, she earned the right to just fumble right off stage. Live and learn. I’ve passed out too honey. Fell right out at Nicola’s one night. I have no idea what came over me. I just hit the ground.

The supreme highlight of the evening was our beloved Lebanese Simon who got up and impromptu danced to one of Hakim’s old songs from a 1998 album…ohmygahh, has it been 20 years? I was in my teens when that song came out and it brought back a ton of great memories. Oh the joy of having a wonderful man like Simon to detail it out on the dance floor. We were elated, arms up and carrying on like kids in the club or a market alleyway where parents could not see us. It was everything! I loved having Kalinka and Samora near me the whole time. My friend Fi from Toronto was on the front row so she got to see all the action. It was just great! The night was so splendid my guests wanted tickets for the next night as well!

Saturday’s Serenade

I arrived a little earlier on Saturday which allowed me to see a bit of Simon’s class. It was quite nice. I waited around til late and watched the show as well. I had purchased the ticket and was eager to see what he was going to do. I’ll tell no lies, I was there for him. He is the reason I skipped a lot of AWA so I wouldn’t miss him. There were a ton of great dancers that night but I missed most of them because I didn’t take a program at the door. I was so busy trying to make sure all my friends had their tickets and got seats. Had I known that there was one I would have stayed for the second half. I only saw the first. Of that half I remember, Simon’s electrifying solo in his very attractive and eye-catching white ensemble was the ultimate dance of the evening. It reminded me of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada 2008, a conference which will forever be what I hold every other conference to and have for the past 10 years. Simon lept up on chairs and shimmied his way to glory and fame among the Atlanta International crowd. He really brought it home so to speak. We were absolutely thrilled and I felt sorry for every single person that came after him because I was still caught up in his energy. So much so, that I left shortly after the set with the lyrical style dancer. Again, I didn’t know there was a second half. So, I missed Saniyah’s students, Razi Raqs…and another set by Simon featuring Sadie. Yes, I said it in that order. I went back to my hotel, had a drink with Fi and planned to head out to AWA the next morning in my attempt to do all the things that weekend. But when I came back the next day, this time at the Strand Theatre to feast my eyes on the Bal Anat show, I learned all the things I missed. I am so super sorry! Sit me back down in my seat next time guys. I saw some footage from the remainder of the night that had me swooning! I feel terrible that I didn’t get to see it live! I just didn’t know…

Sunday Night

I was already feeling the obligatory post conference depression as I drove down the road. Couldn’t we get just one more day of shows? I found a spot in the parking deck, same one I parked in last time  Suhaila was here and blew us out of the water with her touring group’s set that paused me to write a whole book about her influence on this town. I sat down on the bench with crowds of people on either side lined up and eager to get in. It was a sold out show with VIP in the first four to six rows and the rest, first come, first serve. It was well worth the $55 ticket and I’d have paid more because it was hands down one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life! It was right up there with the IBCC Gala show of 2008 at the Ryerson Theatre featuring names like Nath Keo, Tito Seif, Aida Nour, Aisha Ali, Ferda Bayazet from Turkiye, that was a blessed and magical night and so was this one. I could barely stay seated in some cases. I was just enamored with the energy of that show. To think THAT has been going on for 50 years? OMG, all hail it! It was sensational.

Without giving away too much detail, the show’s performers are all on stage at the same time. People leave and exit auspiciously with few if any costume changes, the whole scene feels as if all the cultures of the region are present at the same time and the music changes to intro them as they glide to the front after the last set was showered with praise. Each set is spectacular. Again, all regions and genres are represented from Kotchak to Khaleegy. I believe this is what Sol Blume (look him up if you for some wild reason don’t know who he is) actually had in mind even if it did turn into something else that fateful year this dance got its fame on the road in America. I’m still planning to take a trip to Chicago and kiss the ground of the Midway Plaissance.

I have no idea if the native American young woman is a part of every show but if she isn’t she should be. Her presence is breathtaking. I have never seen what it looks like to hold all energies of all aesthetics wrapped into one. She was everything! I wanted to get her name and become friends with her but you all know I stalk dancers I love…so I was like…”self-control, leave her alone, just enjoy her on stage.” And I did! She was in a set alongside Leena and I still can’t get over her face and statuesque appearance. I’m just floored!

They said the show was part fantasy but I’m having a hard time remembering where the fantasy was exactly. I could trace back each of those sets to something that has happened and or a regional piece that has been happening for years. I can name a number of tea tray dancers, the Persian courtesan dance was clear and evident…I mean, help me seriously…what part was fantasy? Even the opening with the “Goddess of Fertility” (is that what she was) has a history and root in ancient culture and literature so I don’t know about Fantasy…it all looked pretty real to me! I’ll go in to an insane amount of detail in the book, “Loving Suhaila” in winter 2019.

I could have watched that show a second time right there and was quite sad when I went back to my car and drove off in search of a replacement for my soul. I felt like part of me died and went with the program. I knew that Monday sitting in an office would not bring me that same kind of joy. It’s not that I hate my work, it’s what I use to promote shows, but there was a sense of loss. It was then that I realised the conference’s only flaw…lack of connection.

The Pros and Cons

What a great segue…let’s talk about what went well and what could use some improvement. For me and others who left after the first act on Saturday, there needed to be some announcement or something that there was a part I and part II…a sort of…here’s tonight’s agenda. I think had we known there was going to be more or the usual, “so and so will be performing twice tonight” I wouldn’t have left. I hate to leave and miss people, especially those artists that we wait so long to see.

Let’s get the other negatives out of the way, good news is always sweeter in the end.

A Show Pass

I noticed there was a pass for all the workshops. But what about all the shows? Can we get a bundle deal where we can pay one price for all the shows vs. buying individual tickets to each one?

Group Dinner

Can we please get someone to organize a group dinner? Book a spot at a restaurant in advance, get a headcount and let’s go have dinner together. If we tell the restaurant in advance they’ll be prepared and we can avoid snafoos like what happened in 2017 when we walked in a group of 35 and they practically had to hault production to accommodate us.

Group Lunches

Why not? Can we all sit together and eat and learn something from each other? Ice breakers and share stories. There’s surely a way to organize this.  I know few want to have their conference compared to those past but I’m looking a things that worked for other events and when you offer a chance for strangers coming in from far and near to sit together with people who love raqs sharqi as much as we do, I think they’ll take you up on a group lunch deal.

One location For Everything

Yes, the Smyrna Community Center is fun and nice. My goodness, how awesome this would have been back when I literally lived across the street from it in the Village for 10 years. However, there isn’t a hotel next to it. It requires travel. One has to bring all their things for the day and camp out there. You can’t go change clothes in your room for the night’s show. There isn’t a cash bar for alcohol. It’s lacking some of the fun things that make a gala show a gala show… I would have much rather driven to the Strand every night for a theatre performance. Granted the Smyrna stage was nice and it was hard to tell it was a gymnasium but it was a gymnasium and thus Essence lacked the luster that has been associated with it for so many years…something that the Twelve did provide. Not to mention Smyrna isn’t next to anything remotely modern and diverse. That’s a sports arena area of town now. Gone is the quaint diaspora corner it once was. We need a spot that caters to our culture and to our party goals. This did not. I don’t know the solution. I know the Twelve’s overnight parking was crazy but we still paid it. Half the people complaining about it are people who don’t go to events anyway, they sit at home whining about anything they can possibly find as an excuse not to show up.

Essence has international guests, people coming from all over the world now plus international community members who are accustomed to paying for parking in Atlanta. It’s not that they can but strike a deal with the hotel or something to get event parking at a discount. Can we work on something? Not saying go back to the Twelve, but maybe even Sandy Springs Hyatt Villa Christina? It’s gorgeous and luxurious with a pool, brand new rooms only a year or two old and perfect for our kind of conference…just something…something to keep us a little more together and in each other’s faces so we can bond and get to know each other. I will not name the conferences where that happened but by darn it worked.

The Pros

There is an appreciation for something beyond tribal at this conference. Tribal and fusion bellydance was for a long time a running theme for Americans. This conference has thankfully found value in actual regional performers and doesn’t choke down our throats a slew of tribal dancers and fusion from artists who are often not in anyway associated with regional “bellydance” and raqs culture. Nothing wrong with well-executed Tribal and Fusion Bellydance. Heck AFBD does a fine job of it and I’ve often referred to them as the BDSS of ATL. But there is a root to it all that some dancers don’t adhere to or even know about…and too man of them are made into super stars of bellydance which seems seriously unfair. A lot of what we saw on Saturday in the middle of the show was “lyrical and modern dance using Middle Eastern beats and tunes.” These are not my words, these are someone else’s, another guest. So, I think we have to be careful not to bring the tribal and fusion on too heavy. Essence is a great mix of both in the best way. While Saturday’s show was a bit too much lyrical and modern dance in the first half, the event as a whole was more focused and presented an incredible salute to regional dances and dancers or those who are associated with the region. This, for me and others I know who are looking for a good “Bellydance” show, is important.

This event highlights professionals. It should stay that way. People don’t pay over $10 to see a recital of students. I don’t care how much they paid to attend or if they participated in all the workshops…If it’s a professional show, it needs to be professionals. Not professionals and their students…just professionals. I’m grateful there were more professionals in these shows than there were people who are still studying. There’s a time and place for that…and Essence gala shows are not it. Thank you to whomever, who is paying close attention to that.

Effort is put into the programming. The partnership with Hello Fresh was brilliant! Dahlal International coming this year speaks volumes. I don’t see them go to just anything. Another plus was that It was still in Atlanta so to speak. We didn’t have to travel too far to attend. People learned something, they had top teachers to study with…not carbon copies, not trendy people with a prop and a prayer, but people who have experience and something to offer. Big difference and a big deal.

Will I attend again?

I’d like to…I saw the line up for next year. There are some very attractive names. I’m a big Mohammed Shahin fan. He’s brilliant on stage, great instructor. I’d like to show him a great time with our crew. He’s been here before, I want him here again, I’m excited about it!

I would love to see it at a different venue, perhaps Dunwoody, Perimeter, someplace with some luxury that Essence of Bellydance is known for…a nice hotel, conference space with all the pluses of dining, bars and bedrooms all in the same building. That’s where the bonding happens. Big applause to all who put this together. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s so hard to do alone. I’m glad Faaridah is open to assistants and help! Kudos to all, let’s party like raqs stars and countdown to the next one and all that is inbetween!

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Essence of Bellydance 2017 – Review

Jaki1
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 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!

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!

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…

Additional videos:

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!

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! 😉

Andrus Ramir Weekend Review Part II – The “A” Stands for Awesome!

*photo by fergsunderground.com

*photo by fergsunderground.com

*Dedicated to Preston Vance for his amazing job as Master of Ceremonies during the show. He helped make the event great! Thank you Preston! 🙂

This has been the hardest recap of any weekend I’ve had to do since Black Orchid 2010 – the year Tito Seif arrived in Atlanta for the first time and we all nearly passed out from excitement each time he walked by. I have struggled to get my thoughts together, to find a moment where I didn’t just melt into a puddle of swoon and tears over Andrus Ramir. I mean, how could I have possibly forgotten his affect on me? Maybe because this time it was double the amount of amazing? In the past, his workshops have been very clean and elegant with layers of cultural influence from greats past and present such as Randa Kamal or Tito to name a few. This year it was all that and heaping dose of “oohhh yaaaasss!” He has a real “presence” on stage and in class. It’s so unassuming due to his humbleness and gentle manner. He’s not walking around wearing a crown but he is certainly royalty in this raqs world. I’ll try to explain…but words will never be enough. Andrus Ramir is …an experience. You need to experience “Andrus” for yourself.

Day two of workshops began bright and early on Sunday morning. People trickled into the studio tired but excited about what had been nicknamed the “Dirty Sha’abi” workshop he was to teach. After the warm-up, things just got real…I mean, the movements, everything just, yeah… he…um… he werked it. He created a piece of material specifically for these attendees that was useful for the stage yet also very “real.” One issue I’ve had with some performances of Sha’abi is that it looks manufactured. Andrus’ approach to this was again to make sure the dancer learns how to “make it their own” vs. copy his every single move in “his way.” There’s influence and then there’s carbon copy. We all know carbon copies never look like the original…the print is a weaker hue. In this workshop, the dancers learned how to make the dance bold with vibrant movements of their own. In turn, when they danced you could see each person’s personality and I loved that. I almost wished they had performed as a group of “teacher and students” for the show. That’s how enjoyable it was to watch them.

After lunch the Saiidi workshop took place. Attendees took their canes/assayahs and went over a lot of information. Sadly by this time I was just too mesmerized to focus on anything but him. I had a severe “case” of superfanitis. It was pathetic really. All I did was watch and swoon. I have no idea what he said. I just enjoyed watching them spin the cane and dance around. And at this point I wanted to apologise to the very hard working Jenny who pretty much spent her afternoon handling show logistics, peeking out from behind her computer to enjoy the workshop all while trying to keep me from dying of superfan overload. I don’t know how she would ever want me to volunteer with her again because I was a bundle of “messed-up” from the excitement of watching this man. Isn’t that sad? I didn’t want to write it but honesty rules the day in my world. My admiration for him is also my weakness in that I’m useless when he’s around. Superfanitis 2, AA 0. Just take his workshops, I can’t describe them, they’re just outstanding and he’s worth it…

Behind the Scenes – Before the Show
We got ready for the show at the studio due to lack of time to run back to our homes. I ran out and got a cake because it was Jacques’ birthday and if he showed up I wanted to be prepared. When I came back, Jenny, Andrus and Heleshia were all dolled up to the max…glitter, lashes and all. The swoon continued, my poor heart was on its last beats. I became nervous as I do before most shows. I couldn’t eat, I could barely drive to the venue. I was a complete bundle of nerves and excitement. It was so intense I actually wanted it to just “be over.” It was a true case of “I’m so excited, I can’t stand it, make it stop.”

I arrived early enough at Steve’s to get a nice parking spot. That’s huge for that venue because shows there are quite popular and the overflow of fans is pretty intense. Tonight, the line-up included mega stars from the Atlanta Bellydance community, people that are usually dancing at various restaurants and are unavailable, in Egypt or finishing up their degree in dance at local universities.

The Show
Saniyah, Julia, Maiea, Lady Morrighan, Jaki, Dujanah “The Du” and Andrus were the first act. The second included Zeina Dance, Dahne, Evadne, Maddie, Heleshia, Karma and a closing number by Andrus that nearly sent us joyfully into bankruptcy court and the local ER.

Saniyah was a POWERHOUSE at this show. She did a sha’abi number that featured some of the modern moves currently popular on the streets of Egypt right now. In a cute beladi pants ensemble Saniyah proved that she pays attention to the culture far beyond the basics. She made a lot of people VERY proud that night and was a perfect open to the show!! Perfect open! She set the stage for what was expected the rest of the night.

Julia from Global Dance performed and her costume really sold the set. It was a fusion piece full of grace and elegance. She’ll do well in her pursuit to join a modern dance team when she graduates. And yes, we all loved that hat!

Maiea was grace for days and days…and days. She is such a natural at this art. She wore a beautiful bedluh and mastered the art of “performing” without it looking like a “performance…” I can only guess who her influences are. She was just really “giving” it to us that night and it was most appreciated.

Mina tore up the stage! I don’t know any other way to put it. She was so into her set that she nearly shook every bead off that hipscarf. Her costume stayed in tact though parts of the belt we scattering far and wide with every shimmy of excitement. She too was very generous with a double dose of raqs sharqi; a beladi set and a little extra. One of the students that travelled two hours to be there was noted as saying how much they enjoyed her. She was memorable indeed! Thanks Mina!

After the floor was swept from Mina’s love and energy, Lady Morrighan graced us with what I feel she does best, the vintage bellydance that we used to swoon over as kids in our expat community stores and homes. I can remember watching old movies and VHS tapes in tea shoppes featuring dancers from the 70s and other eras (when dancers were in films). She embodied that era perfectly with her costume and excellent raqs skills. She’s one of a kind and if that’s what she presents on her DVD then it’s worth buying it. Check her out!

Jaki and Tarabiya Music Group were an EXCELLENT example of ATS. Theirs was a revved up classic piece that was energetic yet suave. Jaki did floor work as part of her entrance and continued with her dance partners in full American Tribal Style glory. It certainly swept us away, it was just beautiful! Helowa yani…helowa!!

The Du (Dujanah) was what Tarik would call a hot pepper. She was twice her own energy and I can only hope others can appreciate that much emphasis on moves. That’s some hardcore raqs hafla material that I haven’t seen since 2005 when I was in Nashville’s International community visiting my fellow expats at an Sha’abi Masri filled hafla. Her style looks like a mix of Turkish and Egyptian. You could just see her joy overflowing and we were swimming in it. She’s a real crowd pleaser and deserved every bit of the praise she received. Big thanks to her for participating the entire weekend and being so supportive. She also won the veil fans during the MBD trivia portion of the show.

His ensemble...was everything!

His ensemble…was everything!

We needed an equally energetic number to follow that and boy did we get it. Andrus Ramir!!!! He rounded out the first half of the show wearing a stunning rhinestoned, canary yellow ensemble with a matching rhinestone belt and “Saudi thobe white” colour pants that were so stylish Ryanne and I both acted out scenes of ourselves wearing such a dynamic fashion in wishful thinking. Despite looking like he owned the House of Raqs Couture, Andrus’ fashion did not overshadow his performance, but instead complimented his outstanding skill. He made great use of the stage with incredible travelling steps and graceful turns, elegant spins and level changes that often touched the ground and sprung back up. There was so much “goodness” in his work. I…I can’t even begin to do justice to his performance with these petty words. Not to mention he danced to music that featured parts of the song from the darling binti raissa that did the killer raqs moves as a kid. I used to watch her videos on repeat and that’s kind of what I wanted to do that night and the days that followed. I wanted so bad to record his performance and watch it over and over again.

Andrus’ work feels like the raqs magic of so many greats with his own signature touches. He puts it all into one set followed by a drum solo. It was so sleek and I dare say sexy that I thought, “Well, what else can he possibly do better than this? What is he going to do for a second set to top this off?” I mean…sigh. If you were there at Paris on Ponce 2007, Black Orchid 2009…and numerous other shows (especially the one in Vegas) YOU KNOW how he is on the audience…there are “reactions” to him. Those performances were talked about for six months! Those shows BROUGHT him back to Atlanta because we couldn’t have a show without him in it…it was THAT crucial. I dare say as great as those performances were, they were NOT the one he did this night. He perfected perfection…it was so good it was scary…ridiculous even…it brings me back to the time a woman smeared her lipstick by accident when talking about a show. He was SO good, the microphone dropped itself and rolled out the door. You know honey…you know! I’ve not been “right” since…

Act II

After intermission and giving away some trivia prizes to our smart crowd who answered questions about Africa and Middle East, our very knowledgable Diane Adams and her Zeina Dance Company graced the stage. Their opening was awesome featuring a trio of ladies with colourful veils. It was something straight from the theatre as they whisked themselves away midset and out came the troupe in a Flamenco fusion number. Let the video speak for itself. It was genius!!! Sometimes I just want to get married so Diane and her team can dance at the ceremonies. I’d get married every weekend if I could have performances like those of Zeina Dance.

Dahne followed with an energetic set that you’d see at parties back home. She too embodied the modern styles we see in Egypt at the moment as well as some of the costuming. Hers too was a canary yellow with rhinestones and very fitting for the genre she represented. I really loved having her represent that part of our culture as it’s usually only seen by those who “know where to go” to have a true hafla masri. Shukran Dahne!

Evadne’s set was perhaps my second favourite to the flamenco inspired number she did at Global Dance’s fundraiser some years ago. Wearing all white and her husband on the drum, she mixed so many African, Cuban, Southern European and Middle Eastern influences that it was a struggle to not jump out and join her. Had I been wearing a skirt I might have lost control and done so. Loved her energy and the fact that she “represented” so many cultures that are bypassed and overlooked in our dance world. Beauty for days! Gracias y shukran Evadne!!! Hugs to your husband for his contributions and driving such a long way to be there with us!! It means a lot! 🙂

Maddie was simply “mad” in the best way. Her costume was perfect for the set she did; a black and white checkerboard pattern with red panels and straps. It was very unique and quite nice! She really threw herself into this body and soul. All of the technique and skill of a good dancer were present in her set. Oftentimes joy and skill are hard to mix without looking manufactured; she mastered the art of “realness.” For Maddie it was second nature. I’m very appreciative of her participation in this show!

Heleshia… how do I set the mood for what she did? Years ago in Egypt, Dina did a set where she was very subtle with her moves yet you felt every single one of them, felt them deep down in your soul… Though she barely moved two inches in diameter she knocked the audience down and was met with hails of praise. This was Heleshia tonight. She was raqin’ it out in a very subtle way. Wearing a long black off-the-shoulder dress with a slit that touched her legs mid-thigh, she was well aware of what she was doing, puttin’ a hurtin’ on the folks. I saw you Heleshia, I saw what you did there. Well played ya jamila, well-played. 😉

Karma’s performance was better than THE BEST. She nailed it! From her dynamic entrance where she whirled around the stage in a graceful manner while wearing a long cloak that matched her costume, to the powerhouse pose she gave at the end…her signature of strength; she KILLED it. I mean she laid down the raqs law. She is another that is just a natural when it comes to raqs sharqi. She has certainly had some amazing influences. As I said some years ago, Karma will give a lot of other professionals MAJOR competition. She just brings it like no one else. It’s all her, unique yet traditional in the sense that her style is a coveted gem in the region, you can’t find it on just “anybody.” We are very fortunate to get to see it here in Atlanta. Gargantuan thanks, Karma!!! *Did you know she made that costume…all by herself?! Ya Whhaaat ya whaaat?!

So we’re picking our chins up off the floor from Karma’s performance when suddenly the music changes and here comes Andrus in this hat…a rhinestoned hat…and this super cute jacket. In this too cool of an ensemble, he elegantly runs through the audience like all the mega stars. He raqs down the center lane and onto the dance floor revealing this…coordinate… that was all kinds of “Ima leave you speechless.” Though the music was awesome, I was not familiar with it because I don’t listen to a lot of pop music but it was so fitting of his set that I want more. It was Yanis Marshall meets Middle Eastern Dance complete with glitter heels. I was done. My poor chin fell off my face and just rolled under the table and my heart ran around the room while my soul attempted twice to leave me. I’m not joking. He got about 30 seconds into that set and I felt the heart palpitations. I said to myself, “This is it…I’m going to die. This is my last night on earth. I’m done. G-d is going to let me pass away watching something and someone I truly love.” I’m not in the least bit joking. I was literally trying to prepare myself for “the other side” while enjoying this last set. Normally I’d have stood up and carried on but I was fearful any sudden movement and I might snuff out a lot faster than expected. I was just like…I can’t even discuss it. That performance was sick…sick in the omigah, you just made the earth stop rotating for 15 minutes sense. Insane in the “I’ll drink your bathwater” sense. It was as bold and daring as raqs sharqi can be and he made it look SOOOOOO ****ing good!!! Andrus said he was bringing scandal…and he brought it…a whole cargo load worth of scandal and the crowd. went. absolutely. WILD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Andrus Ensemble1There was a lot of fumbling behind me, a wail of screams and zaghareets at their highest pitch plus hands flailing. When the first song ended, I looked out into the audience at all these shocked and beyond excited faces. People were still screaming and to my right all I saw were hands filled with money. I was so happy to see that others were feeling what I felt and that justified me (and others) reaching for wallets. As I began to fumble and flail trying to grab random cash in my bag, I watched him unzip…wait for it…unzip this jacket and reveal yet another stellar ensemble. He turned around, did some kind of elegant drop and ended up in a Yanis style glamour stretch on the stage, leg up honey…ohhh…more screams filled the room. By this time, dollars were brushing my ears as people were lining up to get close enough to shower him with dough. It was effin mad in there. We might as well have been “in da club.”

Andrus Money

But wait, there’s more… Andrus continued his set with all kinds of outrageously amazing material. There were raqs infused walks and level changes, floor work that Mr. Marshall would have certainly appreciated. The money was just flying. Bills all over him. I threw in mine when the area was clear enough to bless him with it. It was over the top and too much goodness for our souls, we weren’t ready…we. were. not. ready. for. IT! NO!! We were not! I’m still not ready. I didn’t know what to do with myself for dayyyyyyyyys after that show. I didn’t sleep til Thursday morning and the show was on Sunday night! I was a mess!! He not only stole the show but stole our hearts, our minds and sanity. We were gone!

We want more!! So much so that three, COUNT THEM, three people came up to me after the show and demanded to get his contact info so they could book him immediately for various shows. Our Sable has already staked a claim on him for a private soiree at her south Atlanta castle. Who can blame her?! I thought to just bring him up here just so he can attend Essence for fun and perhaps perform if Faaridah is open to it. He has done more than taken his raqs game up a notch, he is standing above it staring down saying, “Baby I’m worth it…” And HE IS!!

I can’t write much more about the performance because my health isn’t too good. He put a hurtin’ on me from which I can’t find a way to heal. We went to dinner that night and I all but proposed. I just want him around all the time. I was emotionally distraught after his performance as much as I was healed by his continuous hugs that weekend. Ohhh that Andrus….he is SOMETHING!!! OUTSTANDING is a petty word…petty! And knowing him, he has only just begun.

Big thanks to all who supported the weekend. Dancers remember you get 10% off orders at MissBellydance.com for the next two months. I owe all of this to Jenny as I was too starstruck to be of much use the entire weekend. Big hugs for Faaridah who took a chance on a whim idea to “…bring Andrus, let’s reignite his Atlanta fans.” Jenny and Faaridah laid out the candles and he lit the flame! Thank you!!!!

Much appreciation for reading!
Sincerely,

AA

*Many photos were taken by the very talented http://www.fergsunderground.com – check out his other work as well. Great photos from the show are on Facebook!

*UK version for blog

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

Amani of Lebanon, an Awesome, Friendly Force in the Raqs World

This is an opportunity of a lifetime! Be there!

This is an opportunity of a lifetime! Be there!

As an International Dance Artist, performer and Master choreographer in the world of Raqs Sharqi, Amani of Lebanon is a friendly force, loved and adored by all who meet her. Her history and Knowledge in this art is vast and she’s known globally for her unique style, beautiful elaborate costumes, incredibly intricate showcases coupled with amazing music and some of the most outstanding dancers and followers. It’s no wonder she accepted Lebanese Simon invitation to be featured in this year’s Oriental and Folkore Dance Festival taking place in Houston, Texas USA (www.houstonorientaldancefestival.com). Amani is a well-known legend in the Middle East and is one of the most popular raissat in the region. When dancers travel to Lebanon, she is often at the top of the list to visit and from which to learn.

If you think her DVDs are over the top awesome, then wait until you learn from her in person. She has it all, the physique, the finesse and the presence of royalty as she raqs according to some fans. Much like many who hold this dance dear, she too takes it very seriously and does not mess around when it comes to technique and helping other dancers become the best they can be in the art.

About the Festival
This annual stateside festival is always quite the social gala for the who’s who and this year it is to include one of the most phenomenal raqs competitions. One winner will walk away as the ‘2015 Oriental Dance Superstar’ The event will take place over 3 days and is scheduled to be filled from start to finish with incredible raqs instruction totaling 16 hours. There’s something for everyone at this event. This raqs holiday prides itself on authenticity and for featuring some of the biggest names to date. It also has gala shows on each night of the event which is a huge plus, making even more worthwhile. One thing you can guarantee is top quality as the producers and hosts of the event are no strangers to luxury. They take this event very seriously, paying close attention to detail as a team.

Don’t miss out on one of the best festivals in the southwest. Register today! http://www.houstonorientaldancefestival.com

RSVP online and join in the conversations and updates here: http://www.facebook.com/houstonorientaldancefestival/