Another Great Weekend with Suhaila

lab suhaila

I was grateful that I was allowed to sit in on one of the courses and the show during the Suhaila Level 2 weekend hosted by Atlanta Fusion Bellydance last weekend. On Friday, I was able to catch the first class. It was clear that these loyal students had been working out all day, dancing and absorbing all that there is to learn in this certification. I admit, I was there to enjoy their dedication and listen to the zills. Something about hearing skilled sagat players is just comforting. They went right into it too…in time, so in sync. It was beautiful to hear and to watch. They use the larger sagat, not small ones by any means. It produced a rich and wonderful sound. Made it hard to leave. In fact, I sat there long after the class was over just to collect my thoughts and express gratitude to the universe for the opportunity to hear it and be present.

class suhaila

The show on Sunday night was very touching. Students were expected to dance to a song without any warning or prior knowledge of what that song would be. For several it seemed like second nature and as if they knew the work prior (and for many of us it was familiar music). The first song was that one that Suhad from Philistine often played at the start of her courses when she was teaching in East Cobb. I only know the song as Eshta Ya Amar. The young lady who performed to it did her level best to shift and change according to what the song called for one’s soul to do. I’ve only seen top professionals master it. So, kudos to her for catching all the regional rhythms to which the song gives nods. She gave it her all. Mabrook to her for that!

Our man James came to the stage next. He danced to a song made quite famous by Sergei – a beautiful protégé of the Great Carolina Vargas Dinicu also known as Aunt Rocky. Whenever I hear that song I think of his outstanding piece from a show they did in the 80s. I was too small to attend. I was not there but the video stays in my mind and I can’t help but compare everyone to his work when I hear it. James did do it justice and it was because his feet have the rhythm. If you watch closely, all the energy and grace starts in his feet. I wanted to just hug his soles after watching that performance. He was so lovely. You could feel his spirit just watching the delicate steps he took in time with the rhythm. It was majestic to behold. He’s a fine and fun dancer. I’m glad to see him every time he comes to Atlanta. He has no idea I’m an admirer. I’ll keep a professional distance cause everyone knows I can get completely out of control when it comes to appreciating a good solid raqs set. I have a tendency to faint and I felt myself tearing up watching him. Had to catch myself on a pillow in the back of the studio.

The third dancer was from Peru. I’m gonna say she’s a princess from Peru because she looked like royalty. ABSOLUTELY STUNNING TO BEHOLD and clad in grace with every move. She had long hip length dark hair and slightly tan skin. She told me she’s a designer and I hope that Genaro Rivas will take note of her for future projects in their country. I will be following her work closely. Her dancing is just as delightful as her personality. The piece she danced to was made famous by Amani in her Amani f’il Dunya – Amani Around the World DVD that was released sometime at the turn of this century. It remains embedded in my brain. Again, very hard not to compare this with what the Lebanese legend does. Of course, this was not a replica of it, nor should it have been but her own take on the song – being led, as one’s soul is, by the music. It was only in the end that I realised she didn’t know the piece because everything else was SPOT ON! She owned it!! It was like watching a member of the global troupe that made it famous! I was overwhelmed with her fantastic barrel turns, nailed percussion solos and danced as if she dances to this song quite often. I hope she comes back to Atlanta for more raqs events! So cool to have her here!

mar and faaridah

Another memorable performer was Jenny. She was given a song that has a constant refrain in it. I can’t even think of the last time I heard this song or where it was used. It may have been at a wedding entrance. This is not the best piece for a dancer to do a full set. But Jenny, being as skilled as she is, was able to make it work well and not look as if her moves never changed. She kept everything diverse, worked the entire room and most importantly dropped her veil at just the right time. People, I don’t care what you’ve seen in the western world, a veil is not to be used through an entire performance or more than a few seconds traditionally. Take note from Jenny. You enter with it, few glides and drop it to begin your presentation. Watching people use a veil through an entire set (unless it’s for a veil theme), is like watching someone give their loved one a wrapped gift but never letting them see it…they just tease. Jenny, in her darling bedluh, gave us what you expect to see when one hires a professional to entertain and give a solid piece at a gala event. It was nostalgic to watch as it reminded me of some of the best moments in my life watching great raissat from around the world dazzle and delight audiences. Shukran Jazillan Jenny!

*For those that get served a song that is repetitive, grab your tahtib and do a spinning set to break it up. Even add in some zills if you can so that you don’t tire. Songs like that are meant to be showcased in 3 parts. That’s my experience anyway…take it or leave it.

I think my favourite dancer of the night (and I try not to use that word because so many people deserve high honour) was Leena. She took charge of the space and gave a presentation that reminded me of my teenage/early twenties/college years (hasn’t been that long but still). I can remember going to Eid parties in our very traditional community where we still covered every day. During Eid, all the curtains were drawn shut and the doors locked so that no one could go into the big hall. Women would unveil and they’d be clad in the latest ensembles, glittered and glowing with make-up and couture for days. Leena’s presentation brought me to that space immediately. I tried very hard not to cry watching her dance. She really brought a piece of the region to us with her aesthetic and her choice of costume. I was very impressed and thought, “This is what I want at my ceremony!” I could go on and on. My notes read the following:

Leena is sumptuous in this Nigerian Green bedluh She is graceful and
sensual, dancing like somebody’s sister from the community. She is
absolutely stunning. This is what I pay for. This gets me out of bed in the
morning.

As a whole you can definitely see the difference that Suhaila has made in many dancers and in this town. The dancers that truly study under her for a few years are very polished. They have a posture and “jeito” that is so pleasant to watch. It gives them a professional touch that is hard to master for many. The discipline is incredible. I wish I could drop my life and study like that to assist my body, mind and soul in many ways. There are few teachers from which I’d be willing to learn in that “drop everything” and focus manner. Suhaila is definitely one of them. Very honoured to have her in our lives. Truly grateful!

Mersi mamnoonam, Universe!
Thanks for reading!

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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!

Japan Fest 2018

I woke up really early on Saturday morning with the direct intent of going to Japan Fest. I went to my swim meet at the crack of dawn, got out of the pool in time and rushed over to Satellite Blvd. I arrived at 10am exactly, later than I planned… goal was to be there by 9:30am latest. The parking lot was packed to the gills, the last car was left to wonder around aimlessly in the sea of the stuffed car park.

Driving around to the other side as directed by traffic attendants I couldn’t help but notice the entire arena had a line wrapped around to the other side. I rode right and saw that there were still cars for days and the empty spaces were more toward the street, Sugarloaf Parkway. I drove right on out of there and went back down Satelitte boulevard and went in toward the theatre side. Couldn’t get in that section. I gave up and went home.

Take Me Back to Toronto!

askmissbellydance

IMG_3733Our raqs archivist returned to Toronto to reconnect with family and the raqs sharqi and Arabic music and dance community there. This trip was quite an investment on all parts of those who travelled and we’re grateful that they used their time there to assist us in connecting with those who appreciate the culture we come from and hold dear no matter where we live in the world.
The highlights of the night were Hany Morgan, Dr. George Sawa, the Arabesque Drummers, a Debke duo, Yasmina Ramzy, the Righteous Rogues of Raqs and Arabesque Dance Company. Enjoy!

Hany Morgan is a genius from Egypt whose skill in music is mind blowing. In addition to teaching and leading several classes over the past two months (and will continue to do so throughout 2018), Mr. Morgan performed multiple times in the show as a tabla player, drummer, zillist and overall support for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

masalaama…

Additional videos:

Review: TribalCon 2017 – Year 13!

As a Nigerian-American who loves the cultures into which I was born (and those of my cousins who are from Lebanon, Philistine and parts of East and West Africa), I certainly love to discuss up and coming dancers, artists and more. Known for being quite vocal about my love for raqs sharqi, I write this synopsis with appreciation for those who share the love of cultural dance…and for my cousins who are away and can’t make it to every show.
*Pardon me for publishing this before my recap of Chaharshanbeh Soori (14 March) and before publishing (for the public) the full novel of Suhaila’s spectacular visit and influence on the Atlanta dance teams in January.

TribalCon 2017/TribalCon XIII was quite impressive. I went seeking healing, a healing I knew only Donna Mejia could provide. Also, I wanted to support her presence 100%. I go to TribalCon because of her! There, I said it. Donna Mejia is my TribalCon draw. I would have gone to the lectures too but I got confused. Were they going to take place in the hotel or at the Tribal Bellydance Center of Atlanta? I was in a bit of a rush…and didn’t get a moment to read and investigate. Sad! I love her lectures. This is only the second time I’ve missed it in the years that she has been coming to Atlanta.

This year’s shows were not a “long drawn out series of 25 yard skirts, black nylon choli tops covered in creative variations of cowrie shells and feathers moving to dubstep fusion.” In fact, I can only remember a few years where the shows felt like I was seeing very similar presentations back to back. If you look closely you can see that each troupe and dancer over the years has been quite different…let’s give people credit. Still, I agree, you had to look closely some years, but the difference was there. This year, however, was especially diverse. Sitting underneath a spotlight, by coincidence, I tapped away on my phone vs. scribbling with my “smoking pen of death” as someone reference my fervor as I take notes about every show. I took as many notes as possible while watching these fantastic dancers do their thing on what was one of the best looking stages in TC history. Yes, same backdrop but something about the black curtains next to it gave it a 3D polished effect that you couldn’t ignore. It looked good in there and the energy was warm and cozy. Many people I spoke with noted how “good” it felt in there. I’m kind of sad that it won’t be at that location next year. Of all the venues that TC has used, I like that one best! Parking was great and it was easy to find.

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La Sinistra Syreni – a salute to aquatic life this year…

 

FASHION!
I missed the memo on what the theme was each night…Prom on Friday and Glitter Sparkle Party for Saturday? But some of us went rogue and wore other things. One of those was Aziza Nawal. If you haven’t seen photos of her badass outfit from Friday night, you’re missing out. Be sure to ask me to let you see my phone. I totally snuck a few snapshots of her looking right cool I must say. Tartan plaid themed coordinate that looked “Straight Outta Tokyo” Fashion Express…the mother of all runways. I was impressed! Jendayi had on a cool outfit as did Ryanne and several others. People don’t play when it comes to Atlanta dance events…we clean up!

The Show
I won’t go down the entire list of performers. I will however, note those that really moved me…often to tears.

Awalim’s OTS – Awalim have coined the term “OTS” which is Orientale Tribal Style. It features hishibeshek intertwined with ATS’ cool transitions. I want to take a class with them because the moves used are inclusive of some very specific cultural nuances that took entirely too long to reach Atlanta – these were moves that had their debut when I was a kid! I loved it! Robyn was especially strong in this piece. I loved her hair and all of their outfits were just perfect. Great job and thank you for recognizing how cultural dance in the region fits perfectly with ATS. This is what I originally expected to see when I first began to pay attention to Tribal. I hope this goes far and that Awalim will continue to lead as people inevitably try to copycat. Again, there’s ta’arab here…that spirit. It can’t be taught…it must be felt and then and only then can it be expressed. Awalim did a fantastic job accompanied by one of the best live Mideast festival/conference bands that exist today. The combination of the two was exceptional!

Raqs Razi was my favourite of the entire two nights of shows. She performed a Luxor salute that was identical to what you see in region…her set told a story. She was the young lady who went down by the river to collect water in a traditional jug. She danced along the way and in this setting was accompanied with background music to set the tone…by that awesome TribalCon band. My goodness! Boy did she represent! I wanted to stand up and zaghareet til I passed out. Catch it on video to truly understand how awesome it was! Nice job Razi! Keep this going! This is exactly what needs to happen on stage…stories need to be told in that fashion at raqs shows and conferences for the Americas!

Sabeeya Sun’s performance in the second half of the show was breathtaking and very helpful to me personally. I love how she expressed herself in this set. She’s an enjoyable dancer to watch. I still appreciate her for bringing Yannis Marshall…I’ll never forget that! But I digress (as usual).

Taarabiya’s Rajasthani piece was refreshing. Always nice to see a group of dancers salute the culture of their heart appropriately and accurately. I loved the whole set and I hope they’ll continue to showcase cultural art in that way. I rely and count on them for the real deal.

Draconis…umm…can we book this gorgeous star for every single future raqs show in this town for the remainder of the year? I’m serious. How much do we need to contribute to make sure this fine human is at EVERY single raqs show? I’m not joking…book this beauty! Book today! I don’t know what more to say. And yes, I saw “those who know me” turn and look in my direction when this gift from the dance heavens stepped onto the stage. I near fell out of my chair. I. WANT. MORE! #DraconisForAllOf2017 – let’s just get this campaign going now!

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Draconis was outstanding!

Jaylee was stunning in her presentation with the colour coordination of hair and skirt. Her spinning was very healing and I appreciate what she shared with us. Thank you! I needed that!

Jendayi was another that was totally breathtaking and someone to appreciate. She’s been dancing in this community for 16years. She has seen some things… Atlanta’s dance scene is far from the easiest one to navigate. I appreciate JDC, Jendayi’s support of the community and how she’s made her mark and place in this arena, weathering ALL KINDS of storms! Her presentation was all Jendayi…and we loved it!

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Jendayi’s set was strong and moving! Yes, I cried!

Donna Mejia…there’s no way to even put that gift into words. Usually I’m able to discuss her music and its origins and touch on how the presentation represented x, y and z… this year I was just blown away. I don’t know where to start or know if I truly can sum that up. It was the ultimate healing performance. There was a theme of dreams and waking up in the intro and from there it just snatched your conscious on a journey of everything from struggle to strength…and more! If TribalCon has videos you will need to buy a copy and find your strength in this performance. The world and freedom was knocked down in 2016 and has had to find ways to recover and thrive in 2017…this piece is one of many stories in that series of survival. It was very moving and a great way to close out the night. Shukran jazillan ya Donna Mejia! You are adored!

Saturday Night

Heidi intro’d the show and I can’t imagine a better opener. She was the epitome of grace! From the costume to her final flourish of the set, she was phenomenal! Very nice! Made us proud to call her one of our own!

The Salimpour Collective was so polished…so gorgeous. So many times I say I wish I could dance with various troupes. This is another with which I wish I had the time and resources to dedicate myself. I’m jealous of their ability to pull this off and hold down their regular lives outside of practice. I had the pleasure and honour to sit next to Suhaila twice when she was here in January and I specifically remember her noting how proud she was, how honoured and impressed she was with this group. She said something like, “Look at the great work they’ve done. This is what they put together. They all came together to do this…” and she went into stories and details about the origins of the various movements that we were seeing. I always feel like that’s her soul on stage when I see the Salimpour Collective. I realllllly adore each of their contributions and how much they’ve grown (detailed in my novel) using her techniques and skill. They are absolutely beautiful! It’s really an understatement…beautiful does not sum it up! From their stunning costumes (Ya Majda, please make alllll of my bras!) to their polished hair and ability to stay insync, the Salimpour Collective is SENSATIONAL!

Aziza Nawal…good heavens! As always we were transformed to another place and time. I literally forgot I was in Atlanta. Lebanon, Egypt…either spot would have made more sense because her work and that band literally took me to both locations. Aziza Nawal remains one of the best dancers in America…hands down, no questions asked…she’s one of THE BEST…top 5 indeed.

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“They’ve never met…never danced with each other before! They just drank the water!” – Madame Onca on AllSkate ATS
All I can say is, “THAT PART!” They, too, were another amazing group that is made up of dancers who momentarily come together and dance based on the common cues and structure of ATS. Lacy Perry did an outstanding job in this set, she really stood out. Her make-up, costume and overall gait was just really prominent and very pretty. I enjoy AllSkate for the hilarious and inclusive title and because it’s shows the sisterhood of the dance…anyone with strong ATS skills can join in and shine collectively.

Hasna was there! I was thrilled! This was another set in which it’s hard to put into words. I’ll say this…she and her costume danced a hole in the stage. I. mean. they. danced! That costume could have walked out and danced by itself to a standing ovation. Hasna is just good. I don’t know what else to say…she’s just really good! Loved this! Loved her electric smile and…that costume!!! Talk about wearing it well! Yes, this!

Awalim was so polished in their group set for Saturday. It was great to see BJ out there with them. I didn’t know she had joined the team. They did a series of transitions accompanied by zills. Awalim is one of the best at zills for troupes and that’s another class I’d like to take with them. I’ve wanted to for years. Very admirable! Loved their work, some of the best ATS in the states comes from this group.

Lotus Seeds were my second favourite dance group of the entire event. This included three very young women, representing three of the parent ethnic groups on the planet. Sienna, one of my favourite dancers in Atlanta, will probably go on to be on America’s Next Top Model or win some award for science and still manage to be a beauty queen. She just seems like she can do it all. I love her contribution to this group. I appreciate all of their efforts. Pheryn is another phenomenal addition. I loved when she led in the ATS improv section of the presentation. And Ava was just as strong as ever. I really appreciate what they bring to the stage. This time they showed all the ways in which baskets are used in the region. For me it was amazing because they depicted it all so well. My favourite being the make-up portion. These are the things that excite us expat kids for a variety of reasons. Lotus Seeds really represent the region well and I would love to see a full 90-minute show featuring all that they know and have learned in their time with the group. Mabrook!

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My godkids… xox – I wish!

Finally for me, the sets by Jenny N, Jenny C and company were the icing on the cake.

First of all in Alfftayat Alhib Hub, they represented the current scene of Raqs al Maghreb, one coincidentally wearing MisBellydance.com – in an outfit that I actually helped design. They also danced to a remix of Abdel Kader – a song with which I have a very strong history, it shaped my life as a teen and young adult. I get chills every time I hear it and have been fortunate to befriend several of the great singers who have made it famous and kept it alive. So, they get all the stars and accolades in my book. In fact, I’m going to make sure they get a gift certificate to MissBellydance.com for their next shopping excursion. Thank you for representing the region! Let me help you with that “rai rap francaises” part next time.

Then…Jenny C and Jenny N did a set toward the end that made me remember the day I told Jenny N’s husband that I was going to take her from him (rude in hindsight). But that same spark and electric love just zapped me again upon seeing her in this set. I loved it! It made me long for the coveted Jenny Sandwhich (a hug and photo of being loved by both Jenny’s on either side – it’s a dance thing only the Cult of Jennys knows about). #TheyveGotFans – The piece was very modern, had K-pop salutes and was technically sound yet relaxed. If you haven’t seen what K-pop looks like today you need to and then watch this set again…you’ll want a Jenny sandwhich after that as well. Long live this duo! And yes, Onca was right, TribalCon has all the best Jennys.

Other great performances included Northside Tribe and their incredible and strong fan piece using music that included rhumba flamenco stylings in the remix, Karolina Lux with her spoken poetic intro – that was incredible… “she’s not the dark beauty we paid for…” man that snapped my soul in half …and Southern Trance Tribal with their famous veil fan skills. All were impressive and enjoyable to watch.

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One of the bada$$es of FASHION at TribalCon – Mrs. Smith for the win! Look at that leg!

Very grateful to have had the opportunity to be present. The vendors were awesome. I was excited that I could enjoy some of their awesome things this year. I even got a makeover from Surreal MakeUp who will also be at DragonCon and AWA! Yes, TribalCon was incredible and a much needed respite from our weird world…and they call us the strange ones! I’d rather be “one of us” any day! Stay Gold TC! Stay Gold!

 

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!