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!

Amazing Anniversary – AFBD’s 7th Anniversary Show

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*These comments are my own. Very grateful to be a member of Atlanta’s Intl Community happily supporting dancers throughout the city. This Nigerian-American is eager for all the shows!

AFBD hosted an outstanding event to commemorate their 7th anniversary. It was a joyous and very emotional event because the evolution of the dancers that took the stage was overwhelming. Being a member of this community for just over a decade I have watched dancers start as students and blossom into teachers and studio owners. I have to say the efforts and hard work are paying off for several. Some of the highlights and most notable performances pertaining to my experience are below.

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Shoutout to Sig Sawyer who was very entertaining and one of my favourite hosts for any show. He’s always dressed well and is very polite no matter who you are or what your status may be in whatever circle. He’s all kinds of equal opportunity kindness and doesn’t do that clique-ish tomfoolery. I appreciate that. *pardon but my program was ruined so I don’t have everyone’s names and forgot to grab an extra at the studio last week to try and edit this to respectfully give these great artists their proper titles… So bare with me.

 

RafiahRafi’ah
Their opening was very modern and had an air of mystery to it. The whole set was just really beautiful to watch. They certainly have a theatrical feel and are worthy of a stage. The lighting and entire presentation was stellar! The costumes were a really nice touch.

 

Hadil

Hadil
Again, another amazing costume in this show. She’s a great dancer and in this particular performance put a lot of effort into the entire presentation. Not only did she execute moves very well she looked polished and complete. Nothing was half-assed. For me this is a model performance for professionals. It can be taught and mastered. Hadil made it look very natural, non-manufactured. This is American raqs sharqi.

Heidi
It’s awesome when we have extra cultures represented in the shows. This was a celebration of not just bellydance but the real global dance, things you’re going to see if you’re out and about in the world spending time “with the people.” Heidi gave us a very raw yet delicate cultural glimpse of salsa? from Cuba. It was quite lovely. I saw someone do a similar style in a beautiful yellow dress once and this brought me back to those cherished moments of sitting down in the square watching the grown ups as a kid in the international community. What a joy to see it as an adult. Great work and what a gift to share.

Majda Anwar
Here’s another stellar example of a cultural moment come to life. Whether she likes it or not or wishes/doesn’t wish to be considered this, Majda is one of few cultured kids we’ve got in the Atlanta “Bellydance” community doing raqs on the real. I’m talking straight up, non-fusion, raw raqs sharqi. While she is a wiz at music and dance, making her one of our most highly educated teachers in the Atlanta raqs realm, she is also one of few to truly do a solid cultural set to truly perfect music. Sidi Mansour with zills in that dress? Oh heck yes! That right there is what I grew up seeing and just as I was getting worried that I’d never see it again from someone in my own age group stateside., there it was! I hope others will follow suit and keep that style alive. That’s what you’re going to see when you hang out “with the people.” I could watch Majda for hours and not grow tired. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning. THAT. THAT right there!

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Majda performs to Sidi Mansour

MOKSHA
Really enjoyed their set. I had been wanting to see them for quite some time and was glad to finally experience their energy. I hope they will be regulars on the Atlanta scene and join the dance teams, teach workshops and more in the area. They are very important.

 

Karma was stellar as expected! Great performance!

Nahari was another gorgeous spirit that floated out on stage. I was really impressed with her presentation, her whole look was just captivating. Even with the costume malfunction it was gorgeous. I shamefully wanted her to just keep going despite it all. It was so damn pretty and she handled it so well, so graceful that you’d have thought it was part of the show. I actually liked it. Is that wrong? It probably is. She is just sooo gorgeous. I’ll stop there. But not before saying yes, I noticed her outstanding work on that skirt! OMG!

Nahari

Aziza Nawal was praised heavily. I, too, lost my voice making zaghareets for her. I mean what else can one say? How many times can we say, she was awesome? That goes without saying. Her stamina, energy and joy have covered this city and others. We are simply blessed to have her in this town, hands down. She is one of the best raqs artists in the nation.

 

Sabeeya’s salute to Bhangra superstar Lavesh was gorgeous and energetic. I just lose myself in his work and so it’s nice to see it well replicated! Very nice!

Fantastic Groups

There was a group of latin dancers there that just floored us! They were outstanding and I really hope they come and dance at future events even if the theme is something else entirely!

Mimis

One must mention Awalim as they have such an impact in the area of Tribal Fusion Bellydance. I’ve always enjoyed watching them. They are mesmerizing and their music is always perfect. This is one of my favourite pieces in their repertoire and many in the audience were humming along and participating. They’re an Atlanta favourite. It was great!

Awalim

Aziza Nawal’s class Banat Nawal also presented a lovely piece and shout out to them for wearing several unique pieces from MissBellydance.com! *Big hug from MissBellydance.com for the students being in so much of the brand’s newest selections. Everyone looked really good. The outfits flowed so nicely. What a gorgeous set that complimented the students and their amazing teacher.

Fatin’s class’ Raqs Masri presentation made me cry. I was absolutely taken aback by their fantastic tahtib/assayah set. It was such a celebration of this wonderful part of Egyptian culture and was performed so well. I just felt myself trembling watching them. So much history in that piece. I’m crying as I type. Sets like these are essential and should always be included by groups who have a passion for it. They let us know that this was deep down in their hearts!

Fatin

There were also two ladies from North Carolina I believe? They were a joy to watch as well. I hope they come back to Atlanta and spend some time with us. They were so lovely and their dance presentation was just beautiful. Bravo!

North Carolina

Ladies of North Carolina

 

 

!!!!Colleen Shakti!!!!– I don’t even know where to begin. I need more of her spirit in this town. I want lots more of that. Being a child who grew up with so many cultures very active and  around me in that we were constantly fasting, feasting and celebrating because between the South Asians, Africans, Greeks, Middle Eastern, the French, the English, Chinese, Japanase, Malay and Taiwanese, there really wasn’t a holiday we didn’t celebrate. Watching her reminded me of the wonderful, traditional dances I saw from South Asians in our community. There were young kids and adults who were trained in this discipline and I loved to watch them for hours and was known to do so. I would sit at the dance stage and go to the studios and just watch til nightfall. Seeing Colleen Shakti in both sets was such an erethreal experience, I sincerely have no other words. I wanted to scoop her up and take her home with me. I wanted to put her in a delicate doll bed and just pray over her and thank G-d I had her. She became magical to me as she performed. I felt like I was in the presence of something really great and bigger than anything I’d ever experienced. It was really something. I was spiritually swept away.

Again, there wasn’t one person in that show that didn’t put forth a great deal of effort. The above are the ones that really stood out to me.  Even when mistakes were made or something went wrong, it didn’t ruin the set or mar the show. Everyone held our attention and deserved the applause they received. Very nice! Praying, trusting and already grateful for year 8 insha’Allah!

Big thanks to all who make AFBD and those they support, so absolutely amazing! Here are a few more video snippets and photos from the night:

 

 

Photo

Lacy Sanchez

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Thanks for reading,
AA

Savouring the Salimpour Style

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Suhaila’s Atlanta Team 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Lively and energetic

Thanks for reading!
AA

Review Essence of Bellydance 2015 – A Myriad of Memorable Moments

*These opinions are only mine. As a member of several Expat & International Communities, a Nigerian-American with relatives from the Mideast and Asia I feel it important to attend Raqs Festivals, regional dance shows and events. This is our culture and we should be allowed to enjoy it, support it and be proud of it. Very grateful to those behind the scenes who work for free to make sure these events go well. To my fellow volunteers of this event, I salute you for the over-the-top sacrifices you made when no one was looking… I saw a lot this year and I was brought to tears at how much dedication there was not just to the art but to each other. I write this from the viewpoint of a fan and volunteer of the Essence of Bellydance brand. It would be unfair for me to speak on this event from any other viewpoint this year as I was there volunteering from 9am til the evening Thursday through Sunday. So if you’re looking to volunteer or want to know what it’s like to be immersed in the event from a volunteer perspective, this recap may be of some interest.

This was Essence of Bellydance’s 5th year hosting an extravaganza. It took place at the Twelve Hotel Atlantic Station in what some may call ‘West Midtown.’ It is an immaculate facility with tons of restaurants and fun things to do. It’s self-contained in many ways because you really don’t need to go anywhere, everything is already there from food to fashion, movies and more.

My original plan was to get a room and just be on site representing the MissBellydance.com‘s fanship but by mid-summer I was a committed volunteer with the event, helping spread the word about the amazing guests that would be there. I sent out several blog posts, shared digital posters and social media updates. Via FB and tons of other event boards, I talked about how awesome this event is because of all of the classes it offers not to mention shopping opportunities for professionals and students. It’s also a great raqs holiday. Essence of Bellydance has something for everyone!

Amani MC

Amani MC’s at least one show each year and does a fantastic job!

The event, for me, was made up of awesome memories. One being the moment I arrived on Thursday morning at 9:30am and volunteered at registriation for the Soraya Zayed/Sorraiah Zaied class on “Danse Oriental Technique and Combos.” Immediately I was swept away by her presence and her approach. I am a firm believer in love at first sight because of Sorraiah. Within 10 minutes I could see that I was going to adore her. She brings everything you want in Egyptian and International Dance into the classroom. From her background to the iconic steps she teaches and her own appreciation and love for her mentors and industry colleagues, hands down she is one of THE BEST I’ve EVER seen or encountered in the region. There are no words to describe how awesome she is. Beautiful, happy, positive, cooperative and energetic are but mere petty adjectives to describe her personality and physical features. I’ve never wanted to be anyone in my entire life, but if I could I’d like to be Lady Sorraiah for just one day…24 hours tonwalk in her footsteps, in her perfect form with her knowledge. I KNOW that it would equip me with a lifetime of lessons and the ability to be successful. I loved Sorraiah Zaied in that moment, in that class. She was so inclusive and so good with her workshop attendees. She was patient and interactive…I could go on and on. This is a legend that must come back! It would be a real shame and disappointment if she didn’t. All hail Her Majesty Queen Sorraiah! This is what I’ve been missing. Bahebik antee, wala!!!! Bahebik!!!

Sorraiah Zaied In Class

Sorraiah Zaied In Class

Competition Preliminaries
MissBellydance.com was one of the sponsors of the first ever Essence of Bellydance competition. In order to compete in the Oriental track, one had to do one of two things: 1. Learn Petite Jamila’s choreography and perform it at the Thursday evening Fashion Show and Preliminary 2. Perform one’s own work on Saturday night. Points from both would be combined and the person with the highest score would be the winner. Now…some people arrived on Thursday. That was an issue altogether. Not anyone’s fault but you really had to take some time out of your regular life for this competition to be truly prepared for every aspect of it. To be successful, I felt like competitors needed to be really fresh and ready to roll at 9am in the morning for the three hour workshop. Only after that could they go take a nap or maybe attend Luna of Cairo’s sha’abi class at 3pm. THEN, they needed to get ready for the preliminaries. I’m going to be honest and say it looked like entirely too much. Whether they felt it or not, it seemed like a lot for one day. Was this experience to help them know what it is like to live a day in the life of a mega star? I just…I had issues with how it seemed to take its toll on some people. Again, perhaps one should sacrifice taking courses with Luna and instead rest until time for the preliminaries? I don’t know what I would have done. I’m not a fan of competitions as is…so I was certainly having some second thoughts about the structure. But I trust the team, the executive decisions and continued into it nonetheless.

For the Tribal Track, one had to take Jill Parker’s course at 1pm-4pm and then join the others for the preliminaries later that night. However, it looks like only troupes signed up for the Tribal Troupe competition? So Jill graciously permitted all of them to dance with her that night? Correct me if I’m wrong.

Fast forward to that evening, about 10 people competed in the preliminaries and the judges gave very direct and honest feedback…judges made up of icons from both the “Tribal/Fusion” and “Danse Oriental.” While each competitor gave it their all, it was very clear that the young lady from Los Angeles was going to place in the top 3. I predicted this that night as I sat in the hotel room with the actual award sashes and prizes. My guess was: Miami (Andrus Ramir), Los Angeles (Natalie), Atlanta (Nahari) and New York (Monet) would be in the final run. These contestants really pushed through fatigue and the long day to shine bright, all three being the most memorable for me. But again, this was an early prediction. Anything could happen on Saturday.

Preliminaries EOB 2015

Preliminaries EOB 2015

The Fashion show was pretty hot. Even my Periscope audience was enamored with that. MissBellydance.com was a hit with their raqs lifestyle couture and Queen Sorraiah will be the proud recipient of the pink ensemble she loved so dearly. Looking forward to making sure she gets it. Magical Fashions and Johara International were also stellar that night as were many others. Please visit the vendor page and see about purchasing some items for yourself. You will not be disappointed. So much to choose from and really great displays. Big congrats to the models who werrrrked the runway, selling those clothes like pros! Helowa!

Photos by Studio Jaki - outstanding!

Photos by Studio Jaki – outstanding!

Friday
We were in the event hall of the hotel on Friday. I can’t remember what time I got to registration but it was just before 9am. The classes for the day included Luna’s Unique Technique & Combos, Tjarda’s Fusion Fiesta, Leila Farid’s Sha’abi Improv, Kami Liddle’s The Smoother Side of the Dance, Jill Parker’s Spiral to the Core, Petite Jamilla’s Skillz & Layered Drillz, Kami Liddle’s Gooey Pop & Lock and finally at the end of the day Queen Sorraiah’s Iraqi Technique & Combos. From the conversations I had with others, Queen Sorraiah’s class was a top favourite as were Petite Jamilla’s and Luna’s. I was told their energy was amazing, and the content was very useful among a slew of other praise. Very nice to hear that so many got a lot out of their courses. Superfans were drooling after leaving both Luna and Sorraiah’s classes and that is to be expected as they are quite amazing. I heard lots of good things about Lady PJ’s class and that’s always a plus. She is certainly one of my favourite dancers stateside.

Time swept through the day and before long it was time for the first gala of the event featuring all of the stars. They did an amazing intro alongside King of the Tabla, Issam Houshan. In the past, I’d go through each and every dancer detailing audience reactions including my own. However, this show was QUITE long…too long even. As much as I loved so many of the performances, I wonder if it should have been limited to just our guest instructors vs. the plethora of troupes and sololists featured. Of all the performances Queen Sorraiah Zaied’s was indeed the powerhouse. Every. single. movement…. every. single. step, hipdrop, sway and audience interaction was felt from one’s head to the tips of their toes OMG!! I could not stay seated even as she stepped out to the stage. Just remembering her amazing performance gives me chills!!! Wala, I did not keep quiet during her set. As much as her soul glided and delighted, my heart screamed with praise for her work. I was overwhelmed to the point I knew I might pass out. Ta’arab for days filled the entire room, she was master of the movement. Completely mesmerising to no end.

Slowly others joined me on the side of the stage toward the front row. We were beyond enamored. Queen Zaied lost herself in the music allowing her soul to present one of the most touching and gracefully energetic pieces of dance art I’ve ever encountered. I have seen some truly amazing Egyptian and North African artists in their visits to North America and she is certainly right up there with the top three. Only two others have moved me so much and she is now on that list. I covet her ability to move us the way she did. It was only fitting that she close out the first half of the show (although, let’s be real here…many feel she should have closed out the show).
Many others came on in the second half and did an outstanding job, lots of fantastic representation from Atlanta including Fatin, Aziza and Samora. Issam was a gem as always…I could listen to him speak or play tabla all day. I wish he had a clone we could keep in Atlanta, the distance and longing for more of his work is nothing shy of excruciating. Ya Issam, just move to ATL already, na’am ya man?!

Again, great showcase of talent as Queen Sorraiah earned her crown and title that night from Atlanta. She is certainly a hit around here even more than she already was which is saying a lot. People flew in from everywhere to see this Raqs Royal perform and she did not disappoint.

Notable Performances
Jill Parker danced to a song that I first heard when she was with FCBC. It’s on an album from the Jajouka Through the Night series and sounds like regional clapping that gets faster and faster as it goes. It’s a very popular and well-loved piece of music. It’s well-known in the west because of FCBD. However, Jill didn’t perform to it the way we first saw it on Carolena. She didn’t hit each of the pauses the way Carolena did in the “FCBD Live” video and I and others were kind of hoping for that. Still, always nice to hear that particular song. I’ve always admired it not just because it touches my family’s region but because of the joy it brings in others as well.

Chudney was another awesome dancer that evening. Loved every second of her set. Looking forward to her workshops with Kalinka and Maiea next month in Atlanta. She gives you a welcomed energetic spin on raqs sharqi that suits both the west and east. She’s beyond beautiful and I have to admit I was a bit starstruck later that evening when we got to walk with her back to the hotel.

Valerick was another showstopper that I wish had a clone here in Atlanta. You can see more of her with Lebanese Simon out of Houston. Valerick is someone I also can watch for a very long time and not tire. I LIKE her a lot! She ignites a flame within me that I have yet to have been able to put out. Enamored isn’t even the word…completely smitten! The Persicope audience went nuts over her as well.

Valerick Molinary is INCREDIBLE!! FIND HER AND STUDY WITH HER TODAY!

There were a lot of group sets featuring combined teams from Atlanta, Florida and pieces with Shoshanna and some her crew. ALL OF THESE were amazing…the Salimpour Collective was spot on! Also, Rafiah Dance and so many others in large numbers brought their A-game! Truly impressive!! BJ’s I Dream of Jeannie actually had the Major which was absolutely perfect! As mentioned, Samora, Aziza and Fatin did a piece to Issam’s awesome music. So many great pieces.

The only thing that confused me was the show closer. Leila Farid called several people up on stage at the end of her set then she exited the stage. I have no idea what that was about. Did she give up mid-set or was that her trademark ending to a show?? It was…puzzling.

Back to the cool stuff and great individuals, namely the lead host, Lady Faaridah Taylor. One thing I want to note is I realised that Faaridah, the executive producer of the event, is not human. She peformered flawlessly in several sets over the weekend all while running a festival. Ummmm…that’s not human. Her secret is out…she’s a raqs bot. And if not, she wins the “Miss Productive 2015” hands down. Somebody throw her a ticket to Hawaii for a week with daily pedicures and breakfast in bed. Seriously!

So many great performances!

So many great performances!

…and that was just Friday. Yeah…there’s more!

Saturday morning, I’m downstairs at 9am working registration. Today’s classes can be seen on the site but again, same instructors and many with dynamic course work; Petite Jamila Slow & Sensual Choreography, Kami Liddle Layering Tribal Fusion, Luna Oum Kalthoum Choreography, Jill Parker Inspriation not Regurgitation, Issam Houshan & Aziza Nawal Drum Solo Combos & Rhythms, Queen Sorraiah Drum Solo Choroegraphy, Tjarda The Way You Make Me Feel and Leila Farid Oriental Technique and Combos… Again, many strong useful topics and several dynamic instructors.

After my first hour volunteering at registration I went to volunteer at Issam and Aziza’s class. It was a three hour focused solely on the Solo Combos and Rhythms. Aziza is a phenomenal drum soloist and Issam…is well..KING! So what a perfect fit for this course. Issam’s history and how he became a tabla player, his mentors and teachers…all of this was relayed to us by him. It was almost like being at his home, sitting around and listening to cousin Issam talk about his life. He could have gone on for another two hours and I would have never tired. Issam was the first person from which I learned rhythms formally. All these years in an Eastern & African community as a child, hearing this instrument and only in the last ten years as an adult did I take the time to learn. Hearing King Issam speak LIVE reiterated many of the teachings I had printed on my heart from previously studying his work. I’ve purchased some great things in his stack of gold. I always feel good when he’s here. I have photos of us when I was much younger (and smaller). He’s seen me in good times and bad and I love that he knew my name. That’s huge coming from someone who sees 1000s of different people every year, sometimes hundreds a week.

Aziza and Issam
Because it is his intellectual property as well as Aziza’s I won’t give away much about this course. There were lots of drills and practice sessions. Fantastic drumming…then physical dance practice, then new dance step with a new rhythm. It was more than valuable, it was essential knowledge from two creme de la creme skilled industry royals. This course needs to be ongoing and repeated often so that we, too, can strive to be at least a percentage of how great these two artists are. Though I was just a volunteer, I was completely able to feel like I got something out of the course so I know the active attendees did. I was so honoured to be chosen to volunteer for this session. It was nothing shy of a blessing.

Class

After the class ended, I checked to make sure all of the volunteer stations were manned before going upstairs to get ready for the night’s show. I was nervous… this was it! This was the competition. I think it’s pretty clear by now my heart belongs to Andrus. I’ve asked him to marry me about 3 or 4 times. It’s like some kind of long ongoing plea that has reached its zenith. I really have no shame. I wanted him to win. I expected him to win. A LOT of people were expecting the best from him…and HE GAVE IT!! He gave his best and so much more! Omigahh, he delivered! Wearing his gorgeous blue rhinestone ensemble he looked outstanding. Let me add that Samora and I were in matching blue hues as we were #TeamRamir that evening. And clearly there were many others as he turned new viewers into superfans. People lost their minds on both sides of that room during his performance. Of all the competitors and fashion show sets plus other dance teams combined, the crowd’s reaction to Andrus was the loudest and more than understandably so. He killed it. He slaayyyyyeed! I’ll admit that there was buzz that several judges were overwhelmed and astonished by his performance. Even the sound guy was floored and spoke about his performance the next day.

Diane Adams, who had been quiet that night, got up out of her chair and came over to me trembling with appreciation. “That Andrus…he does this to me every time! How does he do it? I can’t wait to study with him again!!” And you know if Diane Adams is eager for more of you, YOU MUST BE somebody.

Monet, Andrus and Nawar - Raqs Stars!

Monet, Andrus and Nawar – Raqs Stars!

Well, the night continued. There was more fashion, there were more competitors and then it was time to announce the winners. The fantastic Oriental troupes 3rd, 2nd and 1st got their prizes including Atlanta’s Awalim who placed 2nd in that category. Then they went on to the Danse Oriental category and Andrus name was called for 3rd place. I was terribly confused…as were several others in the audience. So much so that a small group in the back supposedly walked out? I heard some commotion but I needed to be focused on my task of handing out the gift bags on behalf of MissBellydance.com. So I didn’t see the walkout but was told afterwards that some people left in anger. I gave out the gifts and remained calm. Andrus and the other winners of all the categories were on stage getting their pictures taken, enjoying their wins. The Oriental winner from Los Angeles did a drum solo with Issam.

First place winner with Issam

First place winner with Issam

Others began leaving as it was very late just before the drum solo was completed. I cleaned up my area and headed out after her drum solo was complete. When I got into the hallway there were a lot of questions and commotion. What some seemed to forget was that Thursday’s scores counted toward the overall win. And the young lady from Los Angeles scored high on both nights thus resulting in her first place win. In all fairness she earned it. She was able to execute two great performances on both nights. End of story. #LetsMoveOn

Mabrook to Awalim! You made us very proud. I wanted to cry and throw money. I was so excited! Here’s a video of the performance from Ziah’s YouTube page. Enjoy!

Post Show Pondering – I could not move on…

Permit me to write as a superfan for a moment…
After cleaning up our space, I heard from many of Andrus’ fans. For about 30 minutes I was bombarded with their emotions and mine. Finally, I went upstairs to prepare for the last day of the event. I was thinking too much, thinking too hard, pondering many things. I questioned the need for the preliminaries in the first place. Was that to test who were the well rounded dancers vs. outstanding performers vs. those who can make a choreography their own? I never felt so odd and unstable. Should I even be there? Am I too emotionally invested in his career to be a nonpartisan volunteer let alone volunteering in this capacity? My head hurt. Fact remains, Andrus still won because he placed. I know there’s the running slogan, “he won that competition” and I respect the many opinions and conversations about it. No matter what he’s forever a bada$$ raqs star. We love him, there’s no denying that and he rules the raqs world alongside so many at the top in this industry. I was there when he did his first big event…which happened to also be in Atlanta. Andrus is to Atlanta as the Peach is in every Peachtree Street and road.

Congrats to the first place winner, who we were told was currently on a winning streak of raqs/bellydance competitions. Her victory was no surprise. I wish her the best and I’m sure we’ll see her at future events in the raqs world.

Sunday Morning …
Up at 8am and at the desk by 8:30am to help with registration, I found that someone was already there and I was not necessarily needed. Classes for today included Leila Farid’s Oriental Choreography, Jill Parker’s Endless Continuum, Queen Sorraiah’s Sha’abi Choreography, Tjarda’s Flawless Floorwork and more courses by Luna of Cairo. After being assured that the volunteers were okay, I did some additional packing and cleaning up. Then we were back downstairs and I volunteered at registration until 4pm.

After a quick check in with the real world, I headed over to Nicola’s for the last event of the weekend show. This time, the hard working volunteers danced for the stars.

Dahne

Dahne

Andrus, now turned guest dancer, closed out the night with a ravishing piece that left Queen Sorraiah dropping expletives due to her amazement and joy watching him dance. He, again, ruled the night, ending a very emotional and overwhelming raqs conference that left me a little more mature and aware of myself.

Sor

Nicolas

Closing Thoughts
As much as I love this dance I have come to understand that my thoughts about competitions and being competitive in raqs still stand. It’s not for me. It’s not what I grew up with as there was only family and inclusiveness, no competing within the walls of the immigrant and expat communities. But I understand competition does allow the best to rise to the top and receive praise. I’m grateful that top names such as Sorraiah Zaied and King Issam saw these amazing dancers, their diverse backgrounds and amazing dedication to the art. Sorraiah noted that at the party that evening. I’m glad that Atlanta and all of the visitors to the event got to see them, hear about them and that the dancers were rewarded in a nation and industry that has become saturated with commercialism and too often colonial hangovers. The dancers’ enthusiasm and dedication ignites the flame of excitement in all of us.

Plans for next year are already underway. Executive Producer Faaridah will meet with her team as a good producer does with the goal of making EOB even better than it already is. The praise for the event continued well past Monday morning and on into the weeks that followed…and rightly so, it was an outstanding event.

As a volunteer I have to give a BIG SHOUT OUT to my fellow volunteers who went above and beyond in ways that only we know about. Instead of tooting their horns or asking for praise or even telling anyone what they did, they “took care of business.” They were mega stars that weekend for not allowing one ball to drop or get out of place. Kudos to them.

Looking forward to discussing this with the team and hoping Team Essence and all involved have an amazing rest of the year knowing they put on a memorable event that keeps Atlanta’s name on the map of Excellence for Raqs Events and Cultural Dance shows.

Cheers all! Thanks for reading!
Kudos to Studio Jaki for taking such amazing pictures!

Andrus Ramir… the “A” Stands for Awesome!!!

People travelled from hours away to be with Andrus today!

People travelled near and far (some hours away) to be with Andrus today!

Today was a beautiful because Andrus Ramir was in it. He arrived early in the morning and we went to lunch, hung out, hugged as much as possible (though I could have hugged him for two more days without ceasing) and rehashed the great years we spent together at raqs sharqi conferences. It was lovely to be with him again, this time with Atlanta’s Jenny Nichols and Deance of Team Essence by our side. I’m going to put this out there right now; I pray to G-d that Andrus is a part of Essence of Bellydance 2016. Just lunch alone with him made me want him to stay forever. Andrus is more than the person we once knew, he is *ALL THAT* and heaping helping of Yaaaasssss!!!! He has gone from dancer to ICON in just a few years…Miami’s BellyMotions is more than fortunate to have him there, they are blessed beyond words!

The workshop he taught today, Oriental Shine, might need to be renamed because it was so much more than that. The title doesn’t do it justice. The workshop was so good I was frozen with admiration. Every movement, every turn …just breathtaking. He delivered what I like to call, “the secret sauce” to each dancer. Each one turned his work into something very personal and perfect. All attendees did such a spectacular job, so much so, I felt tears swelling up in my eyes for those that weren’t able to make it. I was simply amazed at his skill level. It began with a thorough warm-up which was incrdible to watch on it’s own. Just like Yanis Marshall’s workshops, the opening to the course was so exquisite one wouldn’t even know one was warming up. Near the end, Sable of Sable’s School of Bellydance and Drum made it in. Wow, Andrus fans together again! After a water break and hugs he went right into the choreography and took it up a notch with a fantastic entrance that included an 8-count walk in two strides. There was a great deal of torso work and at one point he lifted his shirt to demonstrate what muscles were moving so the class could better understand the tummy flutters. This gesture also revealed an incredibly fit body that fluttered with such ease. It was so beautiful I had to look away. His signature turns and spins were there and he spoke of their origins. The entire routine was just packed with so much raqs magic. Though it looked a bit “fast and challenging” at times, the attendees pushed forth and made it work for them. Kudos to all who kept going through such a dynamic set. Again, it was simply breathtaking.

His work has soared beyond anything that he’s done before. He has taken the workshops and raised the bar, adding some really advanced material that looks really good. It’s a shame he is only here for one more day. He’s one of those instructors that I wish taught and performed regularly here in Atlanta. I know I’d be eager for his work the way I’m eager to see Tito Seif when he comes through town. I’m more than impressed with Andrus, I’m in love with his skill let alone Andrus as a person.

I admit today I was a little melancholy. Having the privilege of spending so much time with him at other conferences, gelling and meshing with fellow fans and outstanding dancers, we both remembered how sad we felt when we had to part ways. I fear day two (Sunday) just a much as I feared the Monday we separated back in 2012. HE leaves an imprint on your soul that is completely captivating. You just have to experience it for yourself.

I’m going to get some rest and try to deal with the fact that we only have him for another 24 hours…but he has got to come back. He is too much of a treasure to miss. Huge thanks to all who shared in the magic moments of the day. What an incredible workshop! Tomorrow, Sha’abi and Sa’idi at Atlanta Fusion Bellydance… it’s a can’t miss opportunity!

Thanks for reading…and huge thanks to Jenny who went above and beyond today!
AA

Anxiously Awaiting Andrus Ramir!

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

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

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

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

Cheers!
AA

Open Dance Night at Steve’s Live Music Summer 2015

Ajaz and Nuzrsat

Ajaz and Nuzrsat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!
AA

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