Take Me Back to Toronto!


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

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

As a Nigerian-American, I feel it is a duty to attend cultural dance events and be present. Thankfully, it’s also a joy! With propaganda on the rise to simply push some people aside and act as though they never existed, I definitely want to support those who appreciate art and music not just from my country but of each nation that has a similar history to my own and prides itself on some of its amazing entertainment and art – people from the very nations that are being excluded and dismissed by propaganda. I am grateful to EOB’s annual productions because it elevates the art and cultural education to a new level, earning the respect of many leaders in the entertainment industry.

Raqs Sharqi is Still Here – It Isn’t Going Anywhere!

If we weren’t so badass, I don’t believe so many mainstream icons and rock stars would mimic what we do in the realm of dance and music. You can see and hear the heavy influence of Raqs Sharqi in so much  of American pop culture – going beyond the movements these days, you see DJs and actual people being requested from the region to mix and mingle in entertainment circles near and far. Let’s keep showcasing our amazing culture in the best light with events like these.

My comments are written from the lens of an immigrant community member who is thrilled to spend a few days being myself with people who can appreciate the culture from which I and my fellow expats were born. Thanks to all who gather at the galas year after year! Thanks to MissBellydance.com – longtime friends of whom do what they can to support the community through couture. They provided the gift bags this year for the competition. Gargantuan hugs to Team Essence for going through with these monumental tasks and providing Atlanta with a safe place to enjoy so much cultural dance!
…and here’s what I thought of it…

Is Essence Worth Attending? YES!

Essence is always exciting. No question. This year was my favourite year of all the EOB events I’ve attended. Having Suhaila Salimpour sitting with us, Jacques al Asmar, Mohammed Shahin and the core raqs community plus a plethora of international guests that flew in from as far as Germany and Northern Asia was the icing on the cake. It’s not that it’s not an international conference to begin with…but it’s hella awesome to see so many from around the world go through the trouble of travelling alllll the way from the far corners of the globe to spend 4 days with us in Atlanta. We’re a cool crowd, I have to give us credit for that. A lot of people WANT to be here and perform in this community. We love art and are obsessed with many of the artists…and it shows!

I arrived on Friday afternoon at 4pm on the dot ready to party. We went straight to the ballroom and the hug fest began. The vendor area was diverse with a ton of great options from which to pick. There were colourful dresses for everyday wear, jewelry and of course lots of costumes. There’s rumour that there may be a virtual vending option in future which is absolutely needed. Imagine being able to walk in, see the latest items by a variety of vendors and shop right there with deals and specials on their latest work and couture! Create a shopping cart and boom it’s at your house a few days after you return from Essence. Yes, please!!

But the Twelve Is Expensive!! Not with the EOB discount, it’s a steal!

Goodbye Twelve Hotel, looking forward to going back for other events and weddings!

This will be the last year that Essence will be at the Twelve Hotel so we have to say goodbye to these immaculate condo style rooms in the heart of Atlanta. But we’ll also be saying goodbye to $30 a night parking too so…no complaints there. Still, our time in Atlantic Station has been outstanding and wonderful. I’ve enjoyed every year. It will be essential to contact the Hyatt Regency Suites Atlanta Northwest (Smyrna/Marietta) which is the suite style hotel within 5 minutes of the immaculate and modern Smyrna Community Center where EOB is to be held in 2018. That hotel is elegant, reasonably priced around $159 per suite and they also have lots of ballrooms and gathering areas for those who like to party all night. It’s also across the street from some pretty cool restaurants with quick access to shopping malls if spending more money is important to you while on holiday in ATL. Still, I love the Twelve and I’m sad that it can’t remain the primary hotel for this conference because it’s just so freakin’ comfy!

Laissez les bon temps rouler!!!! Party at EOB17!

Suhaila and Jacques

Suhaila Salimpour and Jacques Al Asmar attempting to make west coast signs to represent the legacy! 94706 represent! ::zaghareet::

By 7:30pm we were seated and Suhaila Salimpour walks in the door (you all know I’m working feverishly to finish up the book I wrote about her January visit). I nearly began to faint. I just looked at Cairo, a local Angolan-American model and raqs enthusiast that many of you all know. She took time from her busy fashion schedule to hang out with us these few days as well. Cairo is practically waving smelling salts and lavender around my head to keep me from having a Suhaila fan fit. Well, after she walks in, here comes her cool pal Jacques Al Asmar, another legendary icon who now lives in GA. I nearly slumped over in my chair – was sure I was down for the count in a superfan fit. “Oh, my gaaah, they are both here at the same time!” Can we just move everyone here? You all know I’m on a serious crusade to see to it that it happens! Before long, all the awesome familiar faces are surrounding us…Ryanne, Jenny, members of JDC…all here! It’s about to get legit lit up in the Twelve! (I’m working on my slang as many of you know)

The competition opens with stunning performers who are not competitors but talented people who are either professionals or raqs enthusiasts. Of the Friday night dancers, the following were those that left a lasting impression on me. I have many of them on video and trust that I can share these snippets in due time. Also, I will not mince my words…gonna keep it real.

The MC was Orlando, Faaridah’s beau! I appreciated his dedication to the evening, working hard to get the names right and being able to read my carpel tunnel handwriting (I need to go the chiropractor and get this situation taken care of – sorry MCs). Really happy to have him as a fellow dance family member. He’s great!

Nawar returned to the EOB stage from Florida. She wore a stunning royal blue bedluh with silver embellishments. What stands out with Nawar is that she makes it very clear that she knows many dances from the region and showcases them all in a neat package of 2-3 minutes. She knows the region and represents it very well! She won third place that night and I’m very grateful she placed in the top three as she is simply top notch! Love her involvement and presence in our Florida-Georgia raqs exchange!

Northside Tribe also performed that night not as competitors but as a troupe. They did one of my favourite sets in their latest repertoire. I believe I saw it at TribalCon 2017 earlier this year? It’s the set with the fan veils that incorporates Rhumba Flamenco music and a mix of other styles with a Rroma lineage. Many know I have ties in that culture through a grandparent so as soon as I hear the music the tears begin to roll. I held it together and soaked up their awesome performance. The décor and intricate details on their costumes really bring it home. I absolutely loved Lacy’s hair and thought hard how on earth I can pull that off Monday – Friday on the media circuit. I’ll find a way. They were so in sync and really represented their appreciation for the dance and that particular part of the culture so well with this piece. Truly excellent dedication and challenging work glowing from each member! Awesome! More please!

Naima Sultana
Naima just completed her time with Bellydance Evolution, Jilinna’s team. It was an honour to have her here. I tease her and go nuts each time I see her of late with hails of praise and fangirling cause she’s damn good! It’s predominately improv for each set, passionate and exactly what you want to see from a GOOD dancer! I wish North Carolina was closer so we could see her more often. Maybe we can move her here as well? She wore a red and white bedluh that was off the chain! It had enormous rose work on the bust and supported her very well. The skirt was layers of luxurious chiffon and embellishments…like a wedding dress meets a Lebanese gala show. I loved it! That coupled with her awesome skills just made the performance another awesome set in the evening’s outstanding line-up.

Another young lady (the one that was eating a lovely peach on Sunday) performed wearing a bright green bedluh with matching veil. It also had lovely bra and belt set in what looked like an illuminating purple or periwinkle hue. When she came out in that bold costume I looked at Cairo and said, “She better bring it if she’s bold enough to wear those colours on the Essence stage…” and she did! OMG! She’s one of my new favorites. In fact, she was my second favourite performance of the night. She was competitor number 4 and I was enamored with her work. She is worth buying the DVD to see! I was happy she came over and sat with us later that weekend as she ate her peach and I, a salad, while we chatted about costumes and culinary confections. So happy to have met her and to have seen her work.

*I did hear someone come up to her and comment, “I always see you eating?! You’re always eating!” Leave her alone, let her eat! All that performance work and classes…heck, she needs to eat! We all do… no food shaming in this community or you are OUT!

The young lady that followed that performance in the gold bedluh that looked like an angel custom made it and blessed her into it during some out of this world ceremony was unreal! She was very professional in her demeanor and you could tell from her physique that she worked really hard on her health. She looked like a poster child for “If perfection was real it would look like this.” Her dancing was incredible and I’m glad I have a bit of it on video. Let this footage speak for itself!

A dear international community member from Sierra Leone was in the competition as well. She wore what I call a Maghreb and West African henna hafla dancer ensemble and she tore it up out there on that stage. She’s a great dancer but I think the costume really threw some people off and cost her a place in the top three of the competition – otherwise she would have easily placed.

There was a movie back in 1998 that featured a Moroccan wedding and a similar costume was worn but it had feathers instead of the tinsel-ruffles on the edges. If you’re not from the region, this might have gone over some people’s heads. Perhaps she made the costume based on her own desire with no influence at all from that movie or the region. However, I remember that henna party scene at the wedding and a lady came out of nowhere doing a mean set of travelling steps in a peacock blue and brown version that very ensemble. I was thrilled to see it and even more excited about her dance skills. The girl can move!

Raqs Razi gave us a traditionally perfect raqs set in a blue bedluh that was as stunning as that long floor length hair of hers. She really looked like a star up there and I was shocked she didn’t get a spot in the top three, a tie with perhaps the second-place winner? Razi was really good!

Competitor number 8 actually won second place and she deserved it. Let the video speak for itself!

Majda was incredibly graceful and gorgeous! She was probably born that way, standing up in the hospital bed playing finger cymbals while the other little babies cooed and wiggled along. I can totally see that…enjoy that mental image. She didn’t cry when she was born, she made zaghareets. Tonight, her gorgeous white and gold with silver ensemble made her look angelic. That particular piece of music was very healing and surreal, taking us to another dimension, some other place in time. I could have watched it twice and swooned into eternity. She was Cairo’s main reason for even coming to Essence this year. We adore Lady Majda! She, too, is majestic!

Jessenia of whom I was told was from Republica Dominicana put a hurtin’ on that stage. Her performance was EVERYTHING! She spared nothing and gave no f*cks. The girl brought out more than technique, she took a spoonful of ta’arab and spread it alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll over the floor and and fed it to the judges one by one. You couldn’t deny she was all kinds of perfect with spins and steps that you only see when you’re in the backrooms of someone’s religious ceremony in West African compound. I saw things I haven’t seen since I left the international community in which I first lived! She snatched the win of people’s choice AND judges top pick making her the Queen of Essence for 2017. She overwhelmed us with her outstanding work and I didn’t expect it. She seemed so meek and mild as if she would be a cute, gentle dancer that was up and coming. NO! Jessenia has already come…she’s one of those, “Esh?” with the hair flick kind of good people that sadly too many underestimated that night. Give her all the tiaras! All of them! This video doesn’t do her justice…she really tore it up!

After a night of semi-debauchery (if trying every drink on a menu that includes the word pineapple counts – many know it’s my favourite fruit) we were back at it on Saturday. From 10am to 5:30pm we chatted and hung out with vendors, attendees and ordered cheesecake and more (the cupcakes were in honour of Diva Smith, Curt Smith’s daughter of Tears for Fears – again I skipped the second part of the tour to be with Essence). Sugar literally circling our heads as we walked back to the rooms to change clothes, we were super nervous about what we might see that night at the gala show. Some of the icons would be dancing and that would mean some really impressive soul stirring work that might lay me out on the ground. I wore black sheer lace in case that would be my Essence haunting dress if you know what I mean…there are those performances that can take you out of this world (i.e. Tito of 2010, Nath Keo of 2011 and that theatre performance of Suhaila’s in 2013? I can still feel that one).

Amani Jabril performed a real Iraqi raqs set to Mohamed al Salem’s “Galb Galb” and it was so perfect she “Came up out of her jewelry” as the MC said. This piece was one of the three most important pieces of the raqs presentations of the night. When you visit the region, THAT is the level of energy and emotion that you will see. If you’re expecting to witness rapid head slinging and people looking as if their necks are going to snap from the over the top hair spinning you will be disappointed. That is just simply over the top interpretation of Iraqi dance. There are many dances of Iraq and they do include lot of hair and beautiful movements with the hips and shoulders but few look anything like what’s been going around in the video circles of the many dance boards. If you stick to what Amani presented and those like her from the region, you’re going to grasp a grace that is unique to that specific area and the ethnic groups that inhabit it…and it will be appreciated by locals and original people of the area.

Amani’s suave demeanor and regional hair tosses followed by a variety of footwork and travelling steps were executed perfectly. Of all the dancers I’ve known on the circuit these past 11 years (her career is longer than that), she has always stayed a few steps ahead of the times introducing more than just bedluhs and beladi rhythms to her community, students and followers. She is certainly a force and will remain one as it’s just her nature to work hard at staying true to the region that she also calls home. Amani isn’t someone you call as a filler to a show she is a MUST HAVE when you want to make a statement that your production is committed to greatness! Remember that!

The Salimpour Collective of Georgia-Florida is beginning to look and feel like the Arabesque of the South. For those that follow Yasmina Ramzy and team you’ll know this is a serious act to follow. Tonight, the team mesmerized us with really solid pieces that show their hard work and dedication to the Salimpour School and its legacy. It was nothing shy of stellar and perfect. I’m jealous that I don’t have that discipline and ability to put forth the work it takes to “get it right” in that way. They were totally in sync yet relaxed and having fun with it as if this dance rolls off their bodies naturally. I credit the ladies but also Suhaila who continues to visit and teach them – not to mention their countless trips to the mothership on the West Coast to perfect their work. Impressive is an understatement and I know Suhaila would agree…she too stood up for an ovation after the set. Well deserved!

Awalim’s performance touched the entire room and received a standing ovation. Please watch to understand why… This is their thing…they work hard to get their performances in tip top shape! This one reminded me of one I saw at TribalCon where powerful words were written on the bodies of the performers. This particular piece had trigger words on their costumes and it sparked a real response in the audience making this one of the best performances of the night.

Aziza Nawal – for someone that has danced as long as she has it’s mad crazy how she can continue to bring an electric energy to the stage. Her performances are timeless, yet modern and perfect for any stage. She’s everyone’s dancer if that makes sense. As I watched her I remembered how moved I was just seeing her on the cover an Atlanta magazine in my teens. I remember convincing a house full of people to take tour bus into Atlanta and go look for her. We went all over the city hoping to find this dancer and the restaurant in which she performed. We ended up at a big Chinese restaurant in Decatur on the border of Stone Mountain but the memory of our effort to find Aziza and her community stays with me. We wanted to visit this person and see her live and mesh our international community with the one in which she was living. She was just that outstanding and I still have that same admiration for her each time she gets on stage. None can compare, she is the one and only Aziza Nawal!

Andrus Ramir…
Good heavens…how do you put what he did into words? His Kawliya presentation was all that and then some plus eternity. As you can see in the montage I posted on Facebook, he walks out and it just starts… there was no dramatic pause or unnecessary waiting…he served it immediately in all his glory. When you see his name on performance program, be ready. Take all your vitamins, do your prayers…prepare for his performances. I finished an entire bottle of one-a-day multis and half a bottle of Vitamin C because I knew his appearance alone was going to either leave me feeling some kind of way or take me out for good. Using a popular tune in Kawliya presentations currently circling the scene, Andrus took it to another level with his floral and sparkling galabiya style attire. Doing all the spellbinding movements, turns, head spins and hair tosses, I felt a spirit take over me as he performed and my head and body lost control of themselves. I was flailing, wailing and felt myself near fall in the floor. I could not get enough of this performance…and he was gracious enough to step off the stage and continue serving this raqs goodness to the delight and overwhelming under expected titillating joy of many in the audience. It was clear he hit a nerve with people and they were not ready to “feel that way.” It was a little too good if you know what I mean…left a few wiping their foreheads from sweat. When he raq’d his way over to Dahne, Cairo and I… well…need I say more?

Andrus is a cut above in that he is bold, beautiful and as one person put it, “ballsy” all the same. He doesn’t let anyone deter him from his artistic direction. Pushing the envelope is an understatement because he sets the rules in the glam raqs world – making him a trendsetter who can’t be mimicked, only imitated.

Mohamed Shahin’s performances on Saturday gave me another view of him. I first met him in Las Vegas/Hendersonville when Black Orchid Dance held a festival there. He, Tito (of whom we spent a lot of time with when he was in Atlanta prior) and Aziza of Cairo seemed to stay together most of the time so we really never got a moment to mingle like we Atlanteans are known to do. We weren’t even sure he was that interested in us as fan-friends. Some time after that, a lot of our Atlanta teams were headed up to his festival and gala event in NYC (NYC Cairo). I suggested that MissBellydance.com advertise at his event and help promote his work because it is phenomenal (I’m head over heels for his Tanoura Masri presentations -it’s a religious experience for me – as important as seeing the more religiously centered Dervish of Turkiye). So, this festival is the first time I’ve actually been able to see him super up close and observe in awe…and maaan did I!

Studio Jaki
Inquire how to purchase this photo from Studio Jaki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Additional videos:

Review – Attack of the Bellydancers Show

After not being able to go to the Attack of the Bellydancer’s show last year I made sure I was in attendance this year. Highlights of the show for me were the following:


Sig Sawyer the MC – always an excellent choice for a show. He knows how to work with a mixed crowd. In this case, the raqs knowledge pendulum was swinging on every end…from the experts, gurus and enthusiasts who can name every single genre of raqs to those who found some of the sets comical due to their lack of knowledge in the art. Yes, I’m calling someone out. But we’ll get to that later… First, my favourites.


Majda – her set looked to be a choreography and drum solo combined. Her whole presentation from costume to intricate turns and moves made it a really beautiful piece. As I watched her I thought how awesome it would be to have her at a wedding. That’s the kind of pristine, polished and energetic material you want when you’re aiming for glam!


Persica was also really beautiful as mentioned on my Facebook wall. What stood out was that dynamic and well thought out entrance. The combination of the gorgeous make-up and beautiful fuchsia bedluh costumes made them stand out in an extraordinary way. It’s been such a long time since we’ve had polished troupes in bedluhs of the same colour. It’s hard to accomplish and honestly, Arabesque of Canada is about the only dance ensemble that still does it well. So, to have a taste of that in Atlanta via a new dance group is truly welcomed! Each troupe member was committed to the piece and you could tell they enjoyed performing for everyone. Loved Jendayi’s expression throughout this set. Can’t wait to see what they do next! *Please note, Jendayi’s JDC is back! They will debut Desert Stories in 2018. Buy tickets now.

Raqs Razi has always been a delight on stage. Tonight, she was extra delightful in every sense of the word… she was “extra” in the most amazing way. I heard something about her dance being a salute to the 70s. I could see that with the cool shades and fur coat that I’ve seen in some 70s movies. I was a toddler in the 80s so all I remember is Boy George, Duran Duran and Tears for Fears. The big furs were not in my childhood aesthetic but the memory of the Kuti Family dancers has never left me and THAT is what I thought of when I saw her in the elaborate garb. Her costume was stunning and the dancing was delightful. It was the old school ethnic North and West African style steps that you still see today at highlife shows. It was tastefully done and quite impressive. I wanted to jump out there and sing “Do Your Best!” Her aesthetic is just toooo cute! Let the pictures speak for themselves.


Everybody wanted to take a photo with her in that gorgeous outfit! Maiea & Raqs Razi

Equally enjoyable was the Shimmy Collective! This troupe is made up of Hasna, Maiea and Sabia (the show director). I feel like the video can speak for itself. There’s nothing else to say…their set was very strong for so many reasons. Watch it carefully and see how well they timed their movements with the music. This is rare of late. There’s some kind of trend to just catch beats with an element of surprise for the audience. Not with this group, they went all out with a classic and solid set that matched every note in the song. Ahhh, I miss that! They are another group I hope to see more of minus that name. Shimmy Collective? Come on… How about Banat Soleil or Raqs el Hob? Something powerful and strong to match the direction in which they are going. That name isn’t worthy of their strength.


James was the only male performer of the evening. He did a very classic Egyptian set that was listed as cabaret but far from it (which is debatable because the term cabaret is used in all kinds of ways – see my previous blog post). I adored his raqs work. It was dynamite and also very strong in that he was at total ease as if he does this every single day like a prayer. I was fascinated with his energy, his attire and his background given that he is not a random guy who thought this was cool and decided to just get on stage to be the anomaly. James is straight-up legit raqs. I said at dinner later that night, “that’s money right there…” meaning, “James is the type of dancer I look forward to paying to see.” I could have watched him twice. He got a standing ovation out of me, I was that excited!

Saniyah’s set was also welcomed for reasons that give me goosebumps. First, if you don’t know her background or with whom she has studied, you need to call her and ask. Google Black Orchid Danse and see all the great photos of she, the icons and modern legends hanging out. These greats include, Mohammed Shahin, Tito Seif, Nath Keo, Andrus Ramir, Sal Maktoub, Amani Jabril and of course, Simon Sarkis! These are very strong dancers in our raqs industry. Saniyah has taken courses with all of them, more than once and you can see their influence in her steps and appreciation of the art. When she dances, you know “she knows.” It’s clear that her raqs knowledge is not from a purely westernized, Hollywood trendy DVD or a group of carbon copies. She is carrying the torch here in Atlanta when it comes to honouring the international community and origins of the dance. Her training is pure gold and it shows.

There were other really cute dances and creative pieces that night including that of Ziah and her daughter with their Moana presentation. I believe when this show was first put together, it was a combination of Disney and dance? The theme has moved on but their presentation held on to that aesthetic (which is more along the lines of what I was expecting from everyone) and was very well done.


The solos by Hasna and Sabia were incredible, both dancers really glowed. I appreciate their use of classic music such as Lamma Badda. Nice work!

Things That Make You Go…hmmmm…

Beatrice… my goodness. That girl worked! She worked hard and has been working hard for a very long time. While it wasn’t the smoothest I’ve , it was clearly steeped in Suhaila goodness and I think Suhaila would have been proud to see her put her mind, body and soul into that set the way she did. The group to which she belongs, The Salimpour Collective, is a major part of a piece of literature I’ve been working on for several months. I am blown away by how Suhaila’s spirit has engulfed so many in this raqs community. It’s impressive to see people master such a unique approach and technique to raqs sharqi. I will definitely talk about this in my publication which turned into a novel in February after realising there was no way in heck I could just post a blog about what I saw and experienced during the AFBD Suhaila 2017 event. More on that at another time and this performance will be mentioned.

More make-up! There were a lot of people that just looked washed out. The lighting was fine in that place, but the lack of make-up on several dancers took away from the beauty of their presentations. This is not to say that make-up is essential and a must at all times. However, on stage it is. I just saw blank faces…almost like ghosts doing beautiful art. It was scary! For those who have very light skin tones, make-up is crucial! Ziah has fair skin but I could see her because she knew how to apply her make-up. I’m not trying to be funny and this is not a political post. This is about being present and visible in your art. From the audience, some faces looked like a blank canvas with hair…and it was distracting. MAC or Prestige (their sister brand that doesn’t cost a fortune) is our friend. Surreal Make-Up who was featured at TribalCon is also our friend. I, too, know I have to wear make-up when my goal is to present to a crowd in this type of art setting. We have several amazing make-up artists from our drag community who can teach us and have taught us how to be “seen” on stage. Let me know if you’d like a lesson. They won’t make you look like the stereotype of drag, you will instead look as good as the mavens of RPDR henny! We’re all in this together! It’s all about the show and it will go on and should go on right! Let’s do this!

The Not So Cool

Sometimes you gotta call out your audience for better or worse. Also, this is not a school play and should not be approached as such. The audience this particular night was very supportive and knowledgeable for the most part. However, there were a few people that really shocked me. I always promote this show to the international community to which I belong. The stories in the news regarding the treatment of “the different,” the “non-English speaking,” and anyone with a tone deeper than most sand can’t be ignored. It’s clear, we’re in the middle of a really hard political situation. So, these shows are a respite from the criticism of being from or a part of a culture that is not high in the esteem of the western world. Yes, we live here in America. Some of us came with our parents who relocated during a time when immigrants and expats were still “okay” and not seen as the resource snatching sows that we’re sometimes portrayed through various propaganda. Many Americans of all walks of life are working hard to find peace and unity for every citizen and resident and I’m daily grateful for it! Thank you!

One of those efforts is done through showcases of cultural dance. We enter these spaces with expectations of inclusivity, appreciation, admiration and love. When someone breeches that by portraying the dance in a negative, stereotypical way or if someone treats our art as a seductive sleaze fest then sparks begin to fly and our purpose is threatened. Same sentiment if someone laughs at portions of the show that are not meant to be comical. I won’t name which dance was thought a comedy show by the young lady on the front row but I will say this.

Dear Fellow International Community member who sat in front of me on the front row,

I was sitting behind you on the second row. I wanted on several occasions to welcome you in your language and give you and your friends tickets to the next event plus discounts at our local international dance clothing shoppes and more. However, something kept stopping me and in hindsight I’m glad it did. You laughed at one of the performers. It was clear you really didn’t even find it funny but continued to giggle loudly though no one else was. Even your friend looked at you with surprise as you jovially wiped your eyes “from laughing so hard.” Thankfully, you were stopped by one of the kind raqs warriors and the presenter didn’t pay you any attention but kept right on dancing. In future, just hold it. Try to have some self-control. Given the history of your nation (a nation for which I spent many years studying as I, too, have relatives there) and the tough times that many have faced there I expected more acceptance and appreciation of all the dances and genders in the room. I think you let us all down as international residents of our community.

There were others in the audience that did some rather interesting things including the parent who couldn’t get her child to stop disrupting certain portions of the show. I’m all for an all-ages show. It’s crucial that children are given the gift of cultural dance and theatre. But we must remember that they are not the only ones for whom this show is created. We must teach our children good etiquette and stellar manners when it comes to art. Respect is not an option in these very sacred spaces.

The After Party



All I can say is that after party at Jordan’s Lounge was as good as the show if not more. My nights, of late, are filled with Japanese Street Fashion events, Tokyo Fashion Shows complete with Nippon dolls, mascots and tea parties. I forgot how fun it is to go to a club with a good DJ and just shoulder shimmy with every Eastern Music enthusiast in the room. The highlight of that was having Amani (and her gorgeous hair) around, DJ Spin Sultan leading the show along with stellar performances by Karma Karmelita. I also must say that the locals and students in this club were very receptive.

On several occasions, the guys did these really cool line dances to American music (trap music I think it was called) and were very respectful when we got on the dance floor. They didn’t freak out or call us names. That’s always refreshing in these politically charged times. When DJ Spin Sultan played the Gulf, Region tunes we were joined by some of the Kuwaiti, Iranian and Kurdish young ladies who danced next to us wearing their cute plaid shirts and ponytails. We dined on a ton of delicious food from their great menu. (I still have some left and it’s been 4 days!) Annnnd we were joined by Sabia’s mum of whom I thought was a new dancer just hanging out at the start of the show. Wow!! If you haven’t seen her…have a glass of cold water ahead of time. She’s gorgeous and SUPER NICE!!!


Dancers of ATL

That’s all I’ve got folks! The show was good, the party was super awesome! People put forth the best of themselves that evening and it showed! To the ill-behaved, a raqs show is neither the time or the place for that type of conduct! Don’t make us call security! ☹

Mabrook wa OPA! ::throws a plate on the ground like we used to…::

Review – Ya Leil Ya Leil – Cabaret mn Turkiye

*I’m Nigerian-American. I love lectures and education on new and old trends in art, music, dance. I grew up watching relatives from Philistine, Lebanon and various African nations during holiday haflas, weddings and more. If I show up at an event it’s because something in the promotions and marketing screamed “cultural dance.” I once left a suddenly damaged vehicle (ran over a sink in the road in Canton, Ga in the middle of the night) on the side of the road because I wanted to get to a cultural dance show. I literally left he keys with the tow truck operator and gave him the address of a nearby autoshop, told him to leave it there and I’d take care of it in the morning. I wasn’t going to miss the show! It’s just that crucial. I’m always happy to support raqs art when possible! I write the below after being under the impression that I was headed to a cultural dance show highlighting Turkiye and many of the dance styles and cultural art there.

The Review
I just returned from the Ya Leil Ya Leil – A Night at the Turkish Cabaret programme at AFBD. Tonight’s topic was, again, Turkish Cabaret. All I saw was a photo of Aya on the promo and I knew I had to go. I didn’t even bother to read the rest or note that it said, “Cabaret.” That term can mean anything depending on the dance community one is in. I went expecting a variety of Turkish dances to be presented. It’s important to keep that in mind if you decide to read the rest.
I believe it was hosted by the Salimpour Collective? Following Bellydance Fashion week 2015, I remember distinctly having conversations about doing quarterly lectures at the studio with snacks and drinks. If this is what they had in mind, mabrook!

It’s really nice!
My goal tonight was to support Aya. I’ve loved her and her work for a very long time. I remember years ago when having a serious disagreement with my best friend at the time. I went to the Oojami concert to get away and calm my nerves. It was at the then Club Europe. Man, whatever happened to that place? It was fun, yeah?! So, I see Aya there and I had always wanted to dance with her. I think we as raqs enthusiasts always wish to dance with our favourite raissat. So, this was my turn!! She looks at me and we smile at each other and then we start dancing together as soon to be friends do. Here he comes out of nowhere (how did he know where I was?) and interrupts. I’m like, “Dude, move! I’ve waited 4 years to dance with her. She’s one of my favourite in this town. You’re messing everything up. Y’alla emshee!” Then he tried to dance with her. I moved in and got him out of the way. Thankfully he got the point and skedaddled along. It was blissful shimmying alongside her with one of my favourite bands playing live! So, of course I left swim meet early today to rush home, check the status of my online ticket, scrub off the chlorine and drive at the maximum speed allowed to hear what she had to say at this event. Though 10 mins late, I didn’t miss too much. She was the highlight of the evening!

The Décor
It would be wrong of me not to explain how they transformed the studio. There were large eastern style pillows everywhere and little fanoos lanterns on every table. The lights were dimmed and there was a screen. It was being used to give a presentation. She talked about the history of Turkiye, where she’s from in the nation and really went in depth. I was able to get some of it recorded and I hope to have a place to upload it soon. It’s an audio file vs. video…so, perhaps I’ll create a podcast.

Some of the highlights of her lecture were explaining the true life in the dance realm when it comes to Rrom/Romany/Roman. Notice she used the correct name for this blessed group of people who are strangely still called Gypsy by many – when are we gonna work out the respect in this situation? Gotta stop this in my opinion. I guess it will end when we stop calling most ethnic groups everything but their nationality and proper respectable title – aka when we start treating people like the real humans they are vs. a diminutive term – but I digress. Aya had slides and visuals that spoke about the usage of spoons in dance/spoon dancing/dancing with spoons and how it is done mostly by men. The concept of it being feminine is a western thing. She explained the differences between various men’s dance styles, regional styles and gave us the term Oyun which is used to describe what many of us call raqs sharqi. Oyun is used specifically to describe this style of dance in Turkiye. She also noted that Oyun/Bellydance is a happy dance and not to be used to commemorate sad occasions. It’s always upbeat, cheerful and inclusive. Again, there was so much more and my small paragraph can’t even begin to do it justice. I could have listened to her for an hour. I did expect her to dance and perhaps I missed it?

The Dancers and Additional Presentations
There were two other dancers present. Sadly, I only remember the name of one of them. Karma Karmelita was the final one and before her another lady who presented a style that was to replicate a Turkish dancer or Turkish dance style from several decades ago. The air conditioner was kind of loud so I couldn’t hear what Majda (the MC/lecturer) was saying. So, pardon me if I botch this terribly. I remember there were some clips shown of dances from the region or representative of the region and this particular dancer was to pay homage to what we had seen on screen in the second half of this programme. Things that followed left me with mixed feelings…some too harsh to speak of on a public blog post.

From western dancers, I’ve always been marketed Turkish dance as a girl in pasties, tiny bedluhs that are complimentary to only two physical aesthetics vs. the robust fully clothed cultural dance and group dances that I grew up seeing from Turkish friends and neighbours. This presentation referenced that side of Turkiye including women in just their underwear (one flashing her huhu quickly while dancing). Now, I know this is reality for some and not for all. That was made clear. Some choose or have no choice but to take their dance to this level for a variety of reasons. But it hurt me to see that in that setting because it made me think too much about politics and the role/state of women in the region and the world. How much of it is by choice? What are we really seeing here? That of course made me think about stereotypes and, again, the two aesthetics that the western world promotes that are picked up by other cultures (of all the things to culturally exchange, right?) when they decide to emulate a western form of raqs sharqi with their own regional version of it. This limited aesthetic has pushed a lot of diversity out the window.
The rub occurred just before Karma came on…another known dancer who was lovingly termed as one who “gave no f*cks” was shown on screen. While her dance was nowhere near vulgar and was tastefully done, quite beautiful in fact, Karma’s replica of it felt like a sexier version of what we were presented on screen and I was confused. I think I need to see the other dancer again (the whole video not just a snippet) to better understand Karma’s presentation.

The second half of the programme made me ask “But what about the rest of Turkiye?” It made me so sad that we don’t have any male Turkish dancers in this town willing to get up and teach. They’re here but I suppose no one from the Turkish Cultural Centre could make it that night? I don’t know. There’s just so much more to Turkiye and I think I went to this thinking there would be more time for it.
I spoke to someone we all admire and respect after the programme was over. She literally ran over and said, “That to me is what I’ll always see bellydance as…that was the style when I first got into it.” She continued saying that it just exudes sex and being sexy …and that certain people in Turkiye really go for it. Okay, fair enough. It’s liked as much as the other styles, group dances and festive Oyun. However, I was expecting a lot more of the cultural dances to be featured for some reason. Given how far Atlanta has come in its cultural knowledge of many parts of the dance globe, I never thought I’d leave feeling like, “what just happened?” I left, I thought about it, re-read the title and thought…well, it said cabaret…again not cultural dance.

So, I hope in future there will be one that is “Turkish Cultural Dance” or any other region of the world that this community likes to represent in their dance and feature the hard core regional styles that we rarely get to see until someone’s cousin moves here or the (insert cultural dance center) wants to partner and do a big dance night. Maybe it was already featured and I missed it?

Pros: Awesome setting! Incredible ambiance! Majda and Jenny are involved…enough said. Deonce and Faaridah were there…again, enough said. You know when you see these four names at minimum, the event is going to be tight and worth your while. Was happy to see Ziah, Diane and some of the members of the Kawaii Street Fashion group in attendance. Someone was wearing a Ghibli studio jacket featuring Totoro. That was awesome and yes, I bought a Totoro jacket online while there because I was so inspired. There was a lot of ethnic diversity in the audience. One of the loyal Persian couples was there. I believe Turkish coffee was served? Very nice! The team really made the place look great! Very impressed!

Cons: Were there any? Probably not. If anything, it’s on my part as I wasn’t sure what to expect. The term cabaret is so wide. It’s hard to tell what one might see. I took a chance hoping that there’d be Turkish cultural dances. Aya did a great job referencing them at the top of the program. I just wasn’t ready for the second half when the cabaret material was featured. It pushed me into a political frame of mind more than one of art appreciation.

I was very appreciative of the effort put into the programme. It was spectacular and I do want to go to another if the presentations continue to include those from the region. I appreciate that Aya was included.

When is the next one?
Not sure. I heard it’s going to be about American Vintage Bellydance. Not my thing. I’m ready to continue my focus on regional dances from the Gulf, Iran, the Maghreb and my parents’ region of the world. That’s where I find the most joy and benefits. Still, I may go simply because the set-up is so darn nice and there’s a learning atmosphere. And, as mentioned, if Majda, Jenny, Faaridah, Deonce and team are involved then it’s worth it! I’m a lecture addict when it comes to cultural dance and art. If educated icons like Donna Mejia had their own Raqs Lecture Network I’d be the first to sign up!

Given that there are still new people trickling in, I do hope that future events in our good town will continue to feature diversity and inclusivity in this art. I hope that it will be presented on a cultural level in addition to the commercial side (is cabaret synonymous with commercial?). I find that wholesome and healthy images are so important for newcomers to the dance. We must be conscious of who we worship in this realm. Is it someone who is doing us good or harm? We speak so much about body image and inclusivity but we’re still so quick to exclude certain types of dances, dancers with a non-western aesthetic and sadly quick to cut out the cultural history of the art itself. I’m grateful Majda, Faaridah and team have taken up the torch to guide people in a healthy direction. It’s such a task but who better than this group to do it! G-dspeed!

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.


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


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!


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!


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.


“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!


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.


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


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.


Rilakkuma and Aseela!

Eager for Another Exciting Dance Extravaganza With Essence of Bellydance!

*These are my opinions. My thoughts are just one point of view. All observations and comments are based on my own experience with Middle Eastern, African and Asian dances as a Nigerian-American living in the International Community.

Since I can remember, I’ve been attending and volunteering at global festivals because that’s what you did as a kid in my culture. “Festival-ing” was a past time. Weddings were quarterly events. For each one you brought your best self, your best clothes…it wasn’t a joke. I noticed that the same care is brought to the bellydance circuit.Essence of Bellydance attendees, staff, performers and guests upheld that tradition in the 2016 edition of EOB. Everyone brought their best and that made for a beautiful family atmosphere that so many noted on the Essence of Bellydance event board immediately following the 4 day extravaganza

Yes, yes I did. I went ahead and booked a suite because I wanted to be on site and really soak up all that the festival action offered. Since I was going to stay there I promised MissBellydance.com that I’d watch their table. I paid a total of $489 and that included 2 days of parking with the valet, in-room dining once and a check out at 12pm. It was worth it. You all know I’m a hotel hobbit and practically lived in several for many years because of volunteer travel. While the EOB stay wasn’t “cheap” it was a steal because of the Essence discount. I suggest booking accommodations at the Twelve for this conference if EOB is there again. Split the cost with someone and enjoy every minute of it. It makes a difference when you’re staying on site vs. running back and forth in busy, event-laden Atlanta traffic.

The Workshops
There were a lot and they were PHENOMENAL!!!!! The content covered left a lot of people panting with joy. I saw attendees leave workshops clutching their hearts and looking as if they really felt something. Essence provided a great line up and opportunity to learn from those directly from/living on the soil vs. someone profiting after having “been there” on a short two week holiday. Selfies w/a bowl of koshari before class during a short trip to Egypt for an intro to Raqs Sharqi means you’re still a student. Opening up shop after one’s six week beginner bellydance class followed by “one week f’il Msr” does not make one a professional. One who does that is, more often than not, an enthusiast who wishes to share the experience and love of the art. Most seasoned dancers who go to study in the region understand it takes years, a life within the culture or diaspora as a first gen, life as a neighbour or long study of the art with a good chunk of weekly learning to impart good skills and techniques in the way that Sorraiah and Madame Raqia do. Those who attended Essence got a good deal. Essence just saved you over $3,500 by having them both here plus a ton of others who are skilled and well-informed. Few others offer that much in a compact, easy to access, luxury facility that doesn’t require you to go from one part of town to the other in order to attend classes and gala shows. I’ve been to far too many events where accommodations were sub par and you had to pretty much get a car service to get to classes and related events. Expecting your guests to drive around town in order to attend all of the festival events is unacceptable. Not trying to be rude, just keepin’ it real.


Koshari Masri

The only thing that left me exhausted as a bystander was the following: It seemed as soon as one workshop ended there was another rushing in. Perhaps if we weren’t social animals that liked to talk after class then the courses would have ended right on time. That way the next class would have each little bellybot shimmy in. Well, praise be that we are not bellybots! We’re social animals and people linger and chat. People want to meet their idols. I mean, Sorraiah Saied ANNNNNND Raqia Hassan…please. No way in Hades I wouldn’t have hung around for that. So, there will need to be some after class time built in for chit chat. Maybe it was. Sadly, it just didn’t feel like it.

For years, at many dance festivals I’ve attended, it seems like 15 minutes to wipe off the class excitement, get in line with others who are getting their picture, get your hug and tell your love story and life of worshipping the raqs stars’ work and then ‘go to the ladies,’ plus fill up your water bottle for the next class that is already starting.” Ummmmno… We need a full 30 minutes between each class so that everyone has a chance to smooch on the teacher, tell of their everlasting love, how they wake up each morning and play the music the icon used at that big gala show in 1999. I mean, am I the only one with superfanitis here? Fans need time. This happens at a lot of dance conferences and business events. Producers, show hosts, etc…let’s change that pattern. Stop cramming.

Of course! I attended the Chat and Chew with Ranya Renee and found it very useful for the following reasons:
-opportunity to sit and have lunch with one of our favourite raissat
-learned her perspective on how modern technology is benefitting raqs
-understood how technology isn’t enough, you still need to physically be in a class
-got to revisit some pieces of work I saw from her in Toronto
-learned about the choreography presented in the preliminaries
-got a better understanding of how breathing and positioning one’s mouth benefit the presentation


Ranya enjoying what she calls my cosplay seaweed cookies. I love  her. I could just kiss on her all day. Cute as a button!


I am more about keeping up with the trends, news and what is going on with the communities on all levels, not just dance. These cultures and dances have been with me my whole life by way of birth certificate and immediate and extended family. I’ve already seen a lot of what is being offered. So, at this point I prefer the lecture side of things. That’s what works for me. Some just want to learn to dance, I need more than that.  I like sitting with the stars and gazing at them as they speak. I am a superfan of their work more than one who aspires to walk in their shoes or perform at galas. We do things a little different in the core international community. My “performances” are at my relatives’ weddings, henna parties, random tea afternoons and new years events. My dance education began and continues by watching the stars for hours then getting up and dancing along with them at an event or private parties. What we do in those specific ethnic circles (and private moments with stars) is nothing that is currently being offered in Atlanta or festivals in most of North America. Honestly, the only place I see it offered/presented on the festival circuit regularly is in New York, Miami, Washington D.C., Toronto, Ybor City/Tampa Florida and Nashville.

Few teach Moroccan dance here  regularly let alone focusing on Nigerian Highlife and true Maghreb social dances of the people despite it being asked for by curious culture loving dance community members. How many times do I see/get asked, “Can you send me to anyone that teaches (insert ethnic dance that is not heshibeshek/bellydance)?” My answer is often, “Well, not in the metro ATL area. You have to go to Alpharetta where many of our International families are living.” Sadly it’s too far. This has meant those ethnic dance studios and classes only pop up/happen every blue moon. It’s a missed opportunity educationally and economically not to feature more than just bellydance at conferences and large events. Many have seen a lot of this already. Besides, a lot of these stars know more than just “bellydance” and would probably be happy to teach it if the producers would ask.


Overall, the region has changed. New dances are on the horizon on top of the continuation of national and nation specific dances. From Maghreb Raqs to Debke, there’s more to the region than technique based choreographies. What is being overlooked are things like that which is shown in these two videos.

Even sha’abi has changed (and has thankfully been re-introduced and performed at World Bellydance Alliance events and more recently at Essence by a trio of women from Egypt, Japan and Puerto Rico). Atlanta and other cities are falling behind by holding on to bellydance as if the next level is “competition style” (aka technically fluent but often lacking ta’arab). It’s not. People are seeking, crawling and begging for classes that are true salutes to the WHOLE culture. It’s groups like Tribu Chekchouka au Paris and even Tarabiya in Duluth that are taking MUSIC and DANCE that was once only seen in houses and local festivals to the bigger stage. People are now reaching out to actual Saudi women located in the states to teach and guide them. Teachers like Samba Diallo (Cote d’Ivoire) are here in Atlanta as is Suhad (Philistine). They offer classes in both music, drumming, dance for fitness as well as have a wealth of knowledge on trends in the region. If any show producer is looking to save airfare cash, reach out to your international community, international community centers (Atlanta has 12!!) and ask them to come and teach. These instructors have their own audiences as well. It would be good to merge the two communities.

Sadly the “bellydance” festival circuit is often missing the bigger picture. Too many only offer  just “bellydance” because they are not connecting with the culture enough to see that there’s more. Adding a tribal or fusion group is great but also consider the region specific dances too. Conferences that offer history, culture, food and dance are moving in the right direction. This is why the IBCC was so successful. Heck, partner with Yasmina Ramzy and get her perspective. Those who are simply trying hard to find out who will bring the most money are going to fizzle out. These festivals are nothing without updated content that reflects all parts of the international dance community. Not everyone aspires to be a Bellydance Superstar, not everyone has the western commercial aesthetic that is often (in some cases superficially) required for a touristy restaurant. There are people who genuinely want to steep themselves in a cultured environment and work the festival circuit. These ethnic dance circuits (Greek Fest and other ethnic festivals) are where you find the troupes that pay true salute to the region and get asked to come back again. Why aren’t people paying attention to that audience? Their money is just as good…but sadly ignored because producers forget about the root.

This classic raqs sharqi is the heart of the dance. It is not going anywhere. It has withstood the test of time. It’s long overdue that we couple this at festivals with the entire picture and not just offer endless variations of bellydance technique no matter how good it looks or how famous the instructor. We need ask our idols/teachers to teach us something else they think we’d like/something very specific to their country. Be inspired by this video which features amazing images and think twice as you plan for 2017 and beyond. Give your communities and potential fans more than the standard fare. It’s the smart thing to do.

Now, Back to Essence: The Shows
First there was a mini-fashion show Friday night at Atlanta Fusion Bellydance. Saniyah Raqs was one of the volunteers and also a model in the fashion show wearing MissBellydance.com’s Isis coordinate costume. I thought she looked great. That night Andrus Ramir opened the show with an incredible number that left me in a puddle of OMG to the point Robyn had to go bring her fan and cool me down. Nothing like an anxiety attack from being so darn excited. Superfanitis is real…as is the struggle.


Andrus Ramir is the epitome of fashion and a phenomenon in Raqs

The rest of the evening was devoted to the preliminaries for the Miss/Mister Essence of Bellydance 2016 Competition. All of the dancers were really good. Contestants came in from all over (i.e. New York, Puerto Rico…) to compete and they worked really hard and did a stellar job. I was captivated by many of the performances and again, this was just the preliminaries.

Friday Night Gala at the Twelve Hotel Ballroom
This night was a mix of the competition plus elegant guests who floored us with their stellar work. There’s really nothing more I can say about the guests because I’m still pretty speechless after experiencing what they presented. Raven was the MC and she had a tough job. Though visually stimulating, these shows were super long. Even Raven joked that we had 7,000 performances to get through. But she was energetic the entire time and kept us alert and attentive. Judges were there and included the awesome and legendary Raqia Hassan.


Highlights of Both Nights (In No Particular Order)
Certainly the great couture featured in the fashion show was amazing. I want to give a special thanks to those who featured MissBellydance.com. They wore it very well and looked amazing. Thank you for putting so much energy into that. The team behind the brand has a very tedious job that involves a lot of research and reaching out to customers to find a great fit for the clothes. Every single person that represented the brand that night did a phenomenal job and the team back at the HQ, as well as those who made the clothes in Turkiye, would be ultra proud. I’d post the video but sadly it contains copyright music and we can’t get it uploaded without creating a YouTube violation. I think in the future the music needs to be Middle Eastern tunes by artists we know so we can feature the work on various platforms and further promote all of the vendors’ clothes who help make the event possible. This is very important.

It was also a very diverse fashion show featuring the couture of a new audience that has taken over Atlanta, the Japanese Street Fashionistas. This kawaii style of clothing originated in Harajuku Japan. While Essence is about Middle Eastern culture, this Japanese style is also prominent in Kuwait, Lebanon, many nations in Africa and is spreading. It’s no coincidence that several in this fashion community are also students of Raqs Sharqi and attend classes in Atlanta as well. RainbowsNGold’s presence spoke volumes and shows the movement of the culture to be open and loving to creativity and expression.

Other vendors and designers included: Originals by Faye, Moonlight Diva, Beladi Boutique and a lovely display featuring hair sticks/chopsticks/elegant accessories. RainbowsNgold captured the view of the preparations as well as the vendors’ fashions that were featured that night and for sale. It was literally a shoppable runway which is trending right now.

Dazzling Dancers
The competition was sponsored by Essence of Bellydance as well as MissBellydance.com who supplied the gift bags for those who placed that night. The grand prize winners were Karma Karmelita for raqs sharqi and Sabeeya for tribal fusion. It’s funny, these two are both known for making their own costumes. It’s like they put their whole heart and soul into this and well…they won! Well deserved. They received $1,000 each and again, it was well deserved!

*At this point I’m going to intro the magnificent work of Studio Jaki of whom everyone should consult for great photos. For several years in a row this great entrepreneur has floored us with amazing pictures, capturing not just an image but the emotion of every spectacular moment in this community and beyond. We would be nothing without her. She is the best at dance and performance photography!

Another amazing winner was Diane Adams who placed third in the raqs division and I’m going to be the bold one and say I’m surprised she didn’t place 1st because she killed it! Diane left it all on the stage…all of it. She BLEW the competition away from costume, to skill to presentation. She gave it everything she had and then some. This was one of her best performances yet and you already know Diane has nearly given us heart attacks with her amazing work in the past. THIS ONE WAS UNREAL! And yes, I cried. I just lost my mind. It was so good.


During intermission both nights it was absolutely impossible not to admire our VIPs. Everyone looked amazing. People were well dressed and looking quite cute…especially Andrus Ramir and Sal Maktoub…good grief. I’ll leave it at that or else this blog entry will escape the PG category. Those two are so fine it’s almost too much for this superfan. On Friday night, Sal closed the show with Tanoura Masri. This video of course does not do it justice (pardon me, it’s listed under my Tears for Fears profile).

I would hope by now that anyone who has studied Middle Eastern Dance has an appreciation for Tanoura. I’ve talked about it quite a bit in the Raqs Atlanta Yahoo Group and you can also go to Sal’s site and get more details. Sal is one of a long line of amazing presenters of this art and right now he is my top favourite. I think this might partly be because I watched his progression into this and I’ve seen how Sal has made something so sacred so much a part of him. Sal seems like a different person than the young man I met so many years ago at another big conference featuring top stars. He was once a fan in the audience, an enthusiast and look at him now. He is an incredible success story and our love for him grows every year. I can barely look at him and without getting emotional. It’s just that serious. He is a crucial part of Raqs history as it continues to weave its tapestry in the world of Global Dance. Sal is not just someone of which to be proud he is an essential part of a good conference and I pray he is featured again in the very near future. He brings not only excitement but the Essence of Egypt and cultural authenticity in a profound way.

Another amazing performer this weekend was one who danced to Cheb Khaled’s music. I could barely sit still through her entire performance. This was a wonderful and refreshing treat for any international community member in that audience. This is the type of music and performance that brings in dignitaries and their families. She represented the international community extremely well. I pray she is local and comes again.

A sizzlin’ hot performance was Issam playing the tabla at various intervals in the night. At one point I saw him with Global Dance on a fusion set. It added a lot to their work and I’m so glad he was there. Another scorching hot piece was an Egyptian set w/spinning assayah. I was absolutely thrilled to see it. I think they said the dancer’s name was Zahri. She was amazing! Loved it!


Lotus Seeds – a group from the Tribal Bellydance Center of Atlanta (which includes a branch of SEEDs) was one of my top 3 favourites of the ENTIRE two nights. They presented a set so accurate to the region I had flashbacks of being with legendary groups like Tinariwen. I look forward to seeing their progress in the art. Job well done and thank you Ziah for making sure that style was included. It’s for presentations like this that I come to shows and happily invite others in the community to do the same. I was especially proud of this young lady of whom I learned is Hasna’s daughter Sienna. She was overwhelmingly perfect. The entire team should take pride in their presentation.

I literally gasped when I saw them enter. My chin begin to drop to the floor. I thought…”oh  my gaaahd…somebody got it right.” As soon as they began to dance and show their skill with the tahtib tears just began to drop. I thought about being a little girl again and how my parents were so concerned about me having pride in my culture. I remembered how, almost forcefully, they told me my tribe/ethnic group’s name and kept saying, “You be proud of this!” I didn’t understand why it was so important until years later…maybe not even until high school where at my fairly international school my tribe’s name came up in a world history book and we got to discuss it. For years my fellow “kids of foreigners” friends sort of hid under the three boxes of “black, white, other” that were on all the forms you have to fill out over the course of schooling and working in the west. I soon realised that this country had a whole other mindset. It seemed to erase everything but your colour. You became a colour. It was later on, as I was pushed to get into an acgtual troupe with other young international community adults, that I began to see we really had a lot of which to be proud. Not only is Nigeria diverse but so is the whole continent and Mideast region. No one citizen is the same. We come from some truly intricate backgrounds with so  much history. This young lady represents so much of what we are. It is rare to see such a majestic image on a big stage. It’s usually reserved for those who don’t have a political agenda. To put her front and center spoke volumes about the organisation and her teacher. This was a historic moment not just in Atlanta but in the world. We need more Siennas, more of SEEDs’ mentality not only in the realm of Raqs Sharqi and dance but also world stages and leadership. This is what you call strength and dignity. Again, the whole set was everythiinnnng! Shukran jazillan!! Dalu, merci!
*If you don’t know about the SEEDs program which originated out of Pomegranate Studios years ago you can explore their site to get more info. From what I remember this group was founded by Myra Klein (who visited ATL not too long ago if I’m not mistaken). It is an extraordinary program. I certainly recommend it and I’m truly grateful for it. I’m going to look into this further because this set was more than successful. It spoke volumes. One of the best representations of the region.

Ebony was incredible as expected. I hope someone is able to see the video. I don’t even know where to start with her performance. It was just sooo good. Please see the video when it’s available. Issam was featured again on Saturday. He led the crowd through a very exciting set followed by Aziza Nawal joining him on stage. Those two are among my top favourites so I was extremely excited to see them together. Very nice.

Ranya Renee was stellar as expected and by this time I was just wishing that more international community members were in the audience to soak up what she was showering us with…it was gorgeous! From costume, to expression and dance moves it was stellar!

Silvia Salemanca – Her performances were overwhelming and had a lot of personal history in them. One of them I don’t want to try and sum up because words aren’t worthy of her presentation. I liked it and I appreciate her showing us her soul, it was clearly a very personal piece. She had another set that featured swords and floorwork equal to the skill I’ve seen with Queen Harish. It was realllllly beautiful, energetic and presented with perfection.

Andrus…sigh. I can’t. I can’t even talk about it. You have to see the video for yourself. That doll of a dancer has taken this art to a whole other level and stamped his name on it with fire and lingering flames. I am overwhelmed by his work to the point when he comes near me I tremble. Nothing compares to his presentations. He is the only one bringing it to the stage “like that” and he can’t be replicated or copied. He is one of a kind and so outstanding I was sick for a week after the conference. I was angry that he doesn’t live here. There are a handful of stars in the world that make me long for them and he is one of them. I literally had to purge that performance from my mind because it was that fucking good! I was a mess…sick even.  After he left the stage I wanted to flip tables. Audiences can rarely get enough of him and he brings about crazy excitement every where he goes. A show really isn’t a show without him. You need that energy. It’s crucial! Andrus is a show essential…no questions asked. He is a must have!

Several other stars came to the stage following him but several people left shortly after, one saying, “I just wanted to see Andrus, that’s all I needed. I got exactly what I wanted while watching him. Goodnight.” I couldn’t blame them. The sad thing is they missed Sorraiah’s incredible set. She did two. One was more sensual and the other very energetic. I just wanted to get a money machine and throw currency and roses at her feet the entire time. I’d have probably died doing so because her performances are so good they leave me on the floor screaming. I was holding on to a chair by the time she finished and then I went upstairs to lie down because I couldn’t handle much more. She just…leaves me spellbound, tied up and twisted with emotion. I’m in love with her and her work. I can’t get enough of her. I feel she, much like Andrus and Sal, should be Essence of Bellydance staples. They really BRING IT in a way that makes you pray their names are on the line-up and you literally sit anxious throughout the year craving the next time you see them. I was more than impressed and they were worth the entire conference for me.


My weekend began to wind down after that. After hugs and kisses galore with as many as I could I found myself in a post-conference depression. I didn’t unpack my suitcase for two weeks and I felt rather sick as I tried to pull the memory of such amazing work out of my soul so that I wouldn’t die of longing for more of it. I thank Studio Jaki for taking these great photos that I’ve been staring at for days. I don’t know which one I want to buy and get blown up poster size. I seriously love her work. We are nothing without her visual archives!

I have not recovered from the shows and it’ll be a month Saturday. That on top of monitoring Tears for Fears fan travel and blogging about their shows in the following days left me rethinking life in general. Again, I feel like superfanitis is real. Loving great talent can take your soul on an emotional rollercoaster of love and joy so intense you don’t know what in the world is really happening. Essence of Bellydance provided that for us this year and I’m so grateful for it! I realised I need Essence of Bellydance as much as I need my next glass of water. It is truly essential and worth every penny I spent. The experience was priceless!

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Loved hanging out with RainbowsNGold & Andrus! 😉