Eager for Another Exciting Dance Extravaganza With Essence of Bellydance!

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

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

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

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

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Koshari Masri

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

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

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

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

FOR SOMEONE WITH SO MUCH TO SAY YOU DON’T TAKE CLASSES AT THESE EVENTS. WHY?

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

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

WELL WHAT SHOULD WE BE FEATURING? WHAT ELSE DO PEOPLE WANT TO SEE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!
-AA

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

Dragon Con 2016 – Review & Reflections

So…DragonCon. It was fun. I had a good time. We started working on this year’s Silk Road Track schedule THE DAY after DragonCon ended. I sent out countless email while ideas for improvement and advancement were fresh on my brain. Within about 6 months we had our panel for Genderfluidity in Kawaii Culture. This particular panel was featured in the Daily Dragon. Our Kawaii Fashion show was seen on DragonConTV according to a few and I’m very happy about that. Gargantuan thanks to those who filled their commitment to the Kawaii & JFashion focused panels of the tracks as well as those who attended in the audience.

In detail, designers and brands featured and or mentioned at the show:
Puvithel/Xiao Loli
Cherry Cheezy
RainbowsNGold
Brolitas of the World
Brolita
Atlanta Lolita Community
Elegy Clothing
NHK World (watch Live on your phone)
DragonCon Silk Road Track
Taobao stores (Dear Celine, + 2 more)
Evah Destruction – Icon in the Drag Community who often features kawaii coords
*All of these links will lead you to the designs, topics and fashion

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The track was filled with memorable panels incluing those presented by Jason Lane on Mechs, Mecha Godzilla and so much more. Jason was probably one of the most loved along with Thomas who does the Sunday Godzilla movies and prizes. Both of these presenters get a full house which keeps the volunteers busy making sure everyone has a seat and is comfortable. Their panels were not just interesting but quite enjoyable and have a record of being crowd pleasers.

Origami was as popular as ever and was out the door. Nothing more to be said here. The crowd loved it. Amanda was great and brought the panel a lovely designer from Miami who actually makes haute couture out of origami paper. The video and photos are with Kira Lang. You all must see this treasure. It’s unbelievable. The designer will go far…oh and she’s only 15. Yeah…she’s got this. Many thanks to Malachi for being the best origami presenter on the planet. He does a great job of this every year and again, the crowds love him. The panel rooms and ballroom are always packed.

Yoyo joined us again this year and that was a joy. She taught two classes on Chinese dance as well as performed as did one of her students. It was majestic. I love her work, her expression and her teaching. She’s one of the great treasures of the DragonCon Silk Road.

We also had tons of Korean Kpop videos again this year and the whole panel ran over. We decided that in future we should have a Kpop video dance party. There’s just so much action in the room. People get up and dance, there’s a lot of fan reaction as every hardcore fan at the con seems to be there. It’s really loud and they just go to town. I hope the dance party will be approved so we can give people respectable space to just do what they want. It’s awesome to watch.

Other panels included Kumihimo which is Japanese braiding. That was the last panel of the weekend but shockingly had a full house as well. We almost didn’t have enough Kumihimo braiding supplies. Boy did Kira our track director enjoy seeing those faces in the event. You all made her day.

Pros
-Full house for most if not all the panels
-Wonderful team of volunteers
-Great additional friends added to the track
-Crowds were friendly
-Hyatt was accommodating on many levels
-Great food options when you could get to the vendors
-Madja, Yoyo & friends dancing

Cons
Attendees on the silk road who wanted to stay for most of the panels felt they needed to leave and line up for the next panel. This meant they didn’t get to enjoy the panel for which they stood in line for the first time. What is up with that? How ridiculous. If you go to a conference to stay on a track  you shouldn’t have to leave the track just to get back in it. We gotta fix that!!

If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me online or drop a note to the track @DCSilkRoad. Always looking to feature great speakers for panels.

Cheers!

Amazing Anniversary – AFBD’s 7th Anniversary Show

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

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

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

 

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

 

Hadil

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

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

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

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Majda performs to Sidi Mansour

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

 

Karma was stellar as expected! Great performance!

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

Nahari

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

 

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

Fantastic Groups

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

Mimis

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

Awalim

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

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

Fatin

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

North Carolina

Ladies of North Carolina

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

Photo

Lacy Sanchez

solo

Thanks for reading,
AA

Bellydance Fashion Week – A 1st & a Success!

Flashback to summer of 2015. I’m looking at tweets from various rock stars about their wives being at Fashion Week – one in particular was doing the marketing and promotions for it. I’m thinking…where is the Bellydance Fashion Week? Why don’t we have that? Eureka – the Bellydance Fashion Week was with me. I decided I wanted to do this. With the help of some amazing people, we did!

A few meetings later with MissBellydance.com , Atlanta Fusion Bellydance and voila, the idea is approved. The first note about Fashion week went out on MissBellydance.com’s Instagram, blog and social accounts in late September and several reminders came after that. By January/February the schedule was set, partnerships in place, Babylon Cafe onboard (thanks Kelly!) and we were set to go.

BDFWA

Panel Discussion At BDFW 2016 – Babylon Cafe ATL

The first night of BDFW took place at Babylon Cafe – let me say the service and venue were perfect. Kelly is very attentive and wants things to go right. I can appreciate that. Anyone can. She’s really good at what she does and it is appreciated. Her staff this particular evening were overly gracious and kind. That’s VERY hard to find these days when it comes to customer service. So given that we had this wonderful pampering and delicious food we were in good spirits to have a lively discussion on fashion, travel and costuming in the raqs world. Of course we talked about other things and that led us to decide we really need to have these discussions quarterly. We covered a variety of topics, we disagreed, we agreed, we questioned things, we all but danced! It was awesome! Huge thanks to Majda, Amani, Jendayi, Alima and Zaia for their contributions. This was a good thing! It must continue!

Highlights From the Week
I loved staying up til midnight with Heidi and friends talking about culture, music, celebs we love and some of the funniest dance stories from various genres. Heidi has such a great personality that we were glued to her great experiences in dance. That along with the class made for an amazing Tuesday of Fusion and Tribal learnings.

Another cool item was Diana’s wardrobe that she brought with her when explaining Flamenco fashion and fusion. She has the most amazing Bata de Cola dress that was custom made for her. She also shared with us various skirts and dresses that can be and are used in both Arab and Spanish (Spain and the diaspora) culture. They were just splendid and this picture does not do them justice. Before class we talked about the state of Flamenco dance in North America. Surprisingly we do not have as many teachers here as I thought. There are even fewer in Canada. That is scary. I think it’s crucial we begin to highlight their work and offerings more so that those like me who adore this dance as much as raqs sharqi can better support the art of Flamenco locally.

BDFWBB

Diana’s wardrobe!

Thursday Aziza raq’d the studio with her course on performance. We got to meet Cassandra Fox early and Maddie the dancer came as well. Friday was cancelled as it is a busy day for dancers and few could attend. We’ll save our shimmies, kisses for Aya and glasses of Shiraz for another night.

Weekend Workshops
When I wasn’t volunteering up front discussing fashion I sat in on the workshops. I went to Cassandra’s Caribbean Fusion workshop. She incorporated stories about her Jamaican-born family’s background before going into certain moves. What I saw demonstrated by the attendees was not something I was familiar with in the raqs family. I’ve seen Tito do moves that play on some of the poses she does but this looked completely different and more along the lines of what I’ve seen from western artists in their various pop-art and western dances. It was not twerking but a lot of “shaking” and “shimmying” one’s behind vs. hips. I kept trying to place it in different cultures within the raqs world and I came close, even thinking of a few videos of the Houwairat but I’m not sure. The attendees seemed to be having fun doing it and also said this reminded them of many things 😉

BDFWC

Eshta Amar taught a great class on costuming. Some of us sat in the back… the smart kids up front soaking it all in.

I also sat in on the first part of Eshta Amar’s Porportions and Embellishmens for Every Body Type. She did an excellent job of explaining what cuts and designs look best on everyone. I suggest this class to all whether you are looking to dress yourself for bellydance or just going out. This is a practical guide for all occasions especially when it comes to foundations. Thank you Eshta!!

The Fashion Show
This went really well. This took place in what was transformed into the Mehmet Theatre as Mr. Bellydance.com built the stage from scratch with his bare hands…his bare hands! Teşekkür ederim for that!

BDFWB

I was so happy to see all of the designs from MissBellydance.com and Eshta Amar well presented by those who were enthusiastic and in the spirit of modeling. Everyone looked good. Their make-up was done well as was the fit of the costumes. Judith and I picked them out over a span of time and matched them with the models. Our lady Nusrat and her family came to model for us as well and that was a treat. Nusrat is our official MissBellydance.com model as is her troupe. They have been amazing supporters over the years and we’re happy to call her family and an official member of MissBellydance.com’s raqs team.

We also had a slew of local and professional performers who put a lot of time and energy into their presentations. Aziza Nawal and Majda were notable showstoppers and Maddie presented her raqs with flames. We thought maybe she’d dance to Prince’s Little Red Corvette in her cute Eshta Amar ensemble (the really neat red/Alice checker/race car flag one we saw at the Andrus show). Majda noted to us earlier that her purple veil was in honour of Prince. I thought that was really sweet. Heaven knows so many of us in that room have a connection in one way or another. Maybe his beloved Mayte can come join us for something one day. Let’s discuss that after things settle down, bless.

The Du was as energetic as always. She and Josh had quite a lovely number that felt like a salute to France. She wore her Eshta Amar that featured the Fleur-de-lis. Many others had costumes that had a theme to them including “The Tuxedo” worn by Inara. The costume Karma adorned and floored us with in performance had hearts strategically placed throughout the design. It was really impressive. MissBellydance.com fans came and danced in their bellydance costume sets and Scarlet opened the performances using MissBellydance.com veils to one of the musical selections from the Bellydance Superstars. The show ended with all of the stars coming to the stage doing a great bow and the very talented MC Preston closing the program.

This entire week was a little different from what I originally envisioned. Being a stereotype of my age group, I had planned for it to all be online (I know, the horror!!). Each week various things to view and enjoy. But I’m happy that AFBD and MBD decided to make it 3D by bringing it to life with courses and a discussion others can be a part of in person. While the next BDFW may not look the same,it will have the energy and passion of this one if not more. We’ll also do our best to keep things at a time that fits the schedules of the majority – so weekday classes just skirting ATL traffic may disappear. We’ll see.

Huge thanks to all of the models, our great MC Preston, the dancers. Many hugs to our dear Nusrat and a high five to Mehmet for the amazing work and countless hours he put into the show. Big thanks to MissBellydance.com the faithful sponsor and supporter of so many events in this town as well AFBD who produce some of the most engaging an exciting professional events that are right on par with other international conferences I’ve attended. Shukran Jazillan to all of the guests and attendees! I think we all have but one more thing to say to each other, “You betta werrrk that raqs!”

Cheers and thanks for reading!
-AA

Savouring the Salimpour Style

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Suhaila’s Atlanta Team 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Lively and energetic

Thanks for reading!
AA

Review Essence of Bellydance 2015 – A Myriad of Memorable Moments

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

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

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

Amani MC

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

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

Sorraiah Zaied In Class

Sorraiah Zaied In Class

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

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

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

Preliminaries EOB 2015

Preliminaries EOB 2015

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

Photos by Studio Jaki - outstanding!

Photos by Studio Jaki – outstanding!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many great performances!

So many great performances!

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

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

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

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

Class

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

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

Monet, Andrus and Nawar - Raqs Stars!

Monet, Andrus and Nawar – Raqs Stars!

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

First place winner with Issam

First place winner with Issam

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

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

Post Show Pondering – I could not move on…

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

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

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

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

Dahne

Dahne

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

Sor

Nicolas

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

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

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

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

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

Review: DragonCon 2015 – The Silk Road Track – Ancient & Modern

*These are just my opinions as a random Nigerian-American who grew up with the cultures of the Silk Road in my international community.

DCon Gifts

Gifts from the director and my 5 year DragonCon volunteer pin! 🙂

This was the best DragonCon I’ve experienced since I started attending. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve finally figured it out after all of these years (i.e. how to attend all of the panels you like plus find time for sleep). But I want to credit it to amazing planning by Kira Lang (Silk Road Track Director), the comfort of the track and having great panelists who are fun and exciting to listen to each day.

Click here to see the Full DragonCon 2015 schedule. It was great! If you weren’t there I’m sorry. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the panels I sat in on. I enjoy volunteering on this track because it’s my track of choice. Sure, I can appreciate Dr. Who and tons of other areas of interest but this is where I can get some history that is close to home. As a homesick person so to speak, I rather rely on this track to further connect with my friends in the modern pop-culture world of the regions and ethnic groups with which I grew up (African, Asian and Mideast).

Highlights of the Weekend – IMO
Asian Ball Jointed Dolls
Japanese Pop Music
Iron Chef
Feminisim in Lolita (Japanese Street Fashion)
Trance Dance and Altered States of Consciousness
Silk Road Expo
Kawaii Culture
K-Pop Music Videos (Beyond Gangnam Style)
Shoujou Rock Heaven
Jason Lang’s Panels

Phoenicia is a popular teacher at DragonCon - providing low impact instruction on the art of Raqs Sharqi (bellydance)

Phoenicia’s class is popular at DragonCon – providing low impact instruction on the art of Raqs Sharqi (bellydance)

Day One
I got there Thursday evening and immediately went to bed because we had an early morning. I woke up Friday and immersed myself into the Silk Road starting with the Asian Ball Jointed Dolls panel. The lady that teaches this is a DC veteran. She has a fan following and they all bring their dolls and display them for all to see and shake hands. The dolls literally come to life for this panel as she talks about what they are made of, their history, where to buy and takes in comments and animated excitment from doll owners in the audience. I always told myself I would not buy a doll but after this panel and all these years of being around them I think I need one. I’m seriously frightened that it will become an addiction. Much like a tattoo, I’ve heard once you get one BJD, you are never done. It sucks you in and before long you and your dolls have matching wardrobes.

There are Lolita-JFashion BJDs, Anime based BJDs and specialty ones from major brands. Much like JFashion, dolls have brands. What’s even more surreal is Baby the Stars Shine Bright and other brands have clothes for BJDs I was told. I’ve actually seen some of these well-dressed babies at BJD meetups. Myself and my porcelain dolls are highly impressed. But I really do not want to become one of those people who suffers from the urge to buy a new doll every few years. I do not need another doll in my life but I already know I’m going to get one. G-d help me keep it under control.

If you’ve never been to this panel, just check it out one year or go to one of the many BJD events around the nation to better understand this fascinating world. Ball Jointed Dolls are beyond exquisite!

The Japanese pop music panel was hosted by Kurt Yoder who is known for his music panels. He did an amazing job twice this year. Notably, he filled in for one panelist who couldn’t make it. He was awesome for showing a series of diverse Japanese music genres for an entire hour. I’ll certainly look for him and his co-host at future J-Pop, J-Music and Japanese Culture conferences/events.

One of my main reasons for even going to DragonCon is for Japanese Street Fashion panels. This year Brittany-Anne, the town JFashion Library and Guru, spoke about Feminism in Lolita. I really enjoyed listening to her discuss the history and go deeper into the subject. For those that haven’t heard or attended this panel I will not spoil it for you by going into great detail. However, I will say that it is not a panel filled with 101 or where to buy Lolita. It’s best one already have a bit of background on the fashion to fully appreciate how thorough it is. I could listen to Brittany-Anne and team discuss this all day long. It was just that good.

Day Two

Saturday was awesome, starting with the parade. We were so high up in the Hyatt that looking down at the amazing crowds made me dizzy. But oh how beautiful was. I Periscoped a lot of it. Great seeing dancer Josh leading the Silk Road and the few Japanese Street Fashion society members not far behind. Thanks to all who joined in on Persicope to watch from Egypt and beyond. It was great having you alongside for the virtual chat.

The Parade by DragonConTV

The Iron Chef panel took place on Saturday as well. Kurt Yoder also leads that and has so much history and backstory on this Food Network favourite show. It’s really a shame that the Japanese versions are so hard to get these days. Though he has done the Iron Chef panel before, he makes it feel like a “new” experience. There are more tidbits of info and the latest in the fandom and where to buy Iron Chef souvenirs. It’s a full hour of information for mega Iron Chef fans! Hope he comes back next year and I hope we can get Chef Marimoto to visit and discuss traditional Japanese food and more. #TeamIronChef #TeamMarimoto

Trance Dance and Altered States of Consciousness – This panel was hosted by the SCA’s Jadi Fatima who recently received her MBA and congrats to her on that. This course was perhaps too short for the amount of material and visuals covered. I feel they needed a lot more explanation than time allotted. The hour long talk discussed dances of my region and those of surrounding nations and areas…particularly those that are considered “trance” to some (i.e. by both westerners and easterners). While I appreaciate her appreciation of the culture and the dances (not to mention she and I grew up in similar environments where international community life ruled the day), I feel like the types of dances in the videos were too complex of a subject to show to people who may not have the background to see this as a scholar or dance community member may see it.

There were videos of regional people trancing out and so caught up in a moment of ta’arab that I worried if it even made sense to anyone not deeply involved in the eastern dance industry or those who are not approaching this as a scholar. Too many times the west is fed the “exotic” of a culture’s dance. I’m not sure how the video labeled “African Voo-doo” was relevant in this presentation. Too often sweeping titles are thrown on African culture when particular pieces really should be labled by their exact nation not the entire continent.

Jadi’s work and studies are excellent and her presentation is beyond valuable. However, I just wonder if it can be better understood in a different setting where we can guarantee that everyone has enough background on a complex subject before layering something as serious and personal as trance dancing on top of it. I will certainly consider inviting her to future lectures in the Raqs and Regional Dance World where audiences are more likely to have a deeper understanding of the cultural background from which these trance dances are taking place.

Ayla_EileenMorrissey

Ayla – photo by E. Morrissey

The Silk Road Expo
This extravaganza was filled with several top artists from the southeast…mostly mideast dance enthusiasts who have taken the time to learn beyond “the stereotypes of bellydance.” Names such as Masati Jahan were present. Phonecia of Florida (the con’s resident bellydancer) and Ayla (a new person to our cirlce) performed exquisite pieces that were not only upbeat but very beautiful and fantastic salutes to the culture…namely the Khaleegi piece. Khaleegi is more than just slinging one’s hair, there are intricate steps and shoulder movements and interplay that complete the dance. Masati’s troupe made a great effort to demonstrate that. Nice job!

I particularly loved Ayla’s Asian Fusion piece and would like to know more about it so that I can credit it appropriately. Her clothing, make-up and movements were absolutely stunning, making her my favourite performer of the entire show. Hands down, this is what I love to see at an event that focuses on Silk Road culture.

I also enjoyed the Martial Arts team’s piece. Please consult the video on the Silk Road Facebook page and reach out to them with any questions. Best presentation of marital arts I’ve seen outside a dojo.

And please allow me to praise the darling Fashion portion of the show. This year I wanted to not only showcase dance but also fashion of the modern day Silk Road. Members of the Atlanta Japanese Fashion and Lolita Society did a quick “desfile de moda” during intermission. Please enjoy the video further below to see the various brands and Jfashion street styles worn by the models. I look forward to expanding this to be more inclusive of the various genres of the movement. This is a very important part of the culture that has influenced not just Asia but the entire world. These ladies made me very proud!

Andrea Nicole in Haenuli (Japanese Street Fashion)

Andrea Nicole in Haenuli (Japanese Street Fashion)

The Kawaii Culture panel rounded out my night and it too was hosted by several very knowledgable JFashion Society team members. I was highly impressed with the number of people who attended and see that this is an area that needs dedicated attention to the many needs and wishes of Kawaii fans at the con. Brittany-Anne and her team went above and beyond in their information and gave some great insight into what Kawaii truly means in terms of Japanese culture. She showed how it has spread and gave information on what Japan is doing to promote it worldwide. Their dedication to this subject is stellar and I hope to expand on that with deeper subjects in the coming year.

Day Three Sunday
My Sunday at DragonCon was saturated by music from the new Silk Road. While Japan and Korea were not originally listed on the Silk Road early on, they certainly have made their way onto the list of countries trading, working and meshing together beyond food and finance. The music of Japan has inspired other areas as has Korea. Both JPop and KPop are major in the global music industry. We had two panels, K-Pop beyond Gangnam Style and Shoujou Rock which showed us how these two music genres have evolved. It’s really impressive, eye-opening and thought provoking. So much can be discussed on the race, class, gender scale here and perhap next year we’ll talk about that because we can’t ignore what has influenced K-pop nor the evolution of Japanese music from western artists…again, this is a subject where we can spend days diving into the intricateness of it. But instead, I’ll leave you with this video of Shonen Knife, an 80s Japanese staple in many of our lives. These ladies are still performing, were at AWA 2014 and can be found touring from time to time.

Day Four – Monday
This day is dedicated to Godzilla, let’s face it. The Piedmont room fills up and not only are there movies about Godzilla but discussions, trivia and so much more. If you love Godzilla, you will appreciate Mondays at DragonCon. Big thanks to all who make that possible! Some epic prizes are given during those trivia games.

A Con’s Favourite Panelist – History of Japanese Wrestling, Godzilla, Mechanical Toy and TV Culture
Jason Lang is one of the many outstanding people who dedicate their time to DragonCon. While I have no true background on any of the topics he covers, he is the MOST entertaining panelist of all the tracks I’ve ever attended. He’s so funny, engaging and down right all around awesome I can barely stand it. I HAVE to sit in on his panels because he is just so much fun.

To his credit, he does give a lot of information and backstory so those who are not mech fan followers aren’t completely lost. But this is truly for the fanatics. Attendees are shouting out, standing up, going wild over his material. He lures in the true die-hards of his craft. Be sure to look out for him on the DragonCon schedule to see when he’s presenting. You won’t want to miss it! He’s VERY cute too!

Extras
Loved my stay at the Hyatt. Courtney at the Valet is always greeting everyone with a smile. The concierge and security voluntarily came to my rescue as I waited for check-in. How awesome is that of them to be so concerned as to why I was standing alongside the wall with my bags.

For the first time ever I got some real sleep at DragonCon. It’s a miracle. This was partly because I stayed on task and didn’t do any partying, late night consumption or tomfoolery. I literally went to my panels and like a responsible adult went to bed afterwards and got up early to be downstairs and ready for them each day.

I took advantage of Uber and their convenience by leaving my car off the property and being driven in. With garage rates at $20-$40 a day in some areas and hotels I just think it’s an expense I can avoid. I brought enough snacks to not lean on fast food or fighting crowds in the foodcourt too often. I actually “felt” really good which is very important at such a big event.

Regrets
Not seeing Evah Destruction beyond con photos on Facebook and not going to the dealer’s room. But hopefully there’s next year! See you around the con!

All credit goes to Kira Lang who spent a lot of her year putting the schedule together, reaching out to guests and continuing to work hard at bringing the best to the track. Her contributions to the organisation are priceless and should be noted. Huge thanks to all who posted videos and photos from this year’s event. What a great show!

Thanks for reading!

AA