Review: Bellydance Evolution – The Wizard of Oz in Atlanta

*Had to take all my jewelry off to write this one… and here’s the disclaimer – I’m a member of the international community of Atlanta. We are real. We exist. I was born and raised in several international communities where raqs sharqi was the first thing you did for any occasion. Many of my relatives are not American – my extended family and people I grew up with are Arabs and other Africans. I’m first generation (Nigerian-Am) and moved here to Atlanta over a decade ago to be more involved in our international community efforts and raqs sharqi scene. We are really a sort of NYC of the South. Atlanta Raqs Comms are spoiled in many ways – we have amazing events and most people are coming to see us vs. the other way around. Currently, I write reviews of professional shows and events as a way of keeping a record and proof that this city is diverse beyond stereotypes…and again, we, as internationals in the diaspora keep our culture(s) alive and well. Any show producer, professional teacher or troupe that puts on shows is held to a standard in my opinion. They are expected to have researched and know, like a international studies professor, what they are presenting and how it should look. It is from this expectation and point of view that I write my reviews. * Featured photo is Selena, award winning dancer in Atlanta who was a part of the show opener.

 

The Promotion of the Show
I feel we did as best we could as a dance community to really get the show noticed. Last time Jillina was here with BDE, it was on the local news. This time felt a little quiet. I feel like part of it was apathy and this notion of, we already know who is going be here. But I feel for events like these, we need to hire a marketing team (pitch in and hire a marketing agency plus everyone bring a friend, sell one ticket/buy two tickets and bring someone with you) to get the event noticed and packed. It was a great turnout, but I feel several people who would have really appreciated seeing this were not there.

The Venue
South Cobb Highschool’s Performing Arts Center is immaculate. It’s an upscale blank canvas that you can turn into anything. I was highly impressed with the parking, ease of entry, moderness and cleanliness. It’s a gem!

The Audience
Was there an audience? All those people in the seats, that amazing music but I’m the only one chair dancing? Does everything need to be in a hotel with a bar so we can loosen up? For shame!

Thankfully and by the Grace of the Universe, I heard our beloved cousin Nicola. I saw Ziah and her daughter, other supportive legends like Samora and some of the greats from her troupe with their children in arms. I saw members of Global Dance and one dancer’s whole family come to watch her in the 5 min set she danced in but those are the only ones I ‘saw and heard.’ What I wish I hadn’t seen was the hate, confused faces in the lobby by a few non dance community members, people who looked like someone forced them to show up. It was so strong that upon entry, I almost turned around and left with one of those “not today Satan” feelings. Again, I feel the additional people who could appreciate our culture were not there.

But I want to focus on the good things and with that say a big Shukran Jazillan to all the aforementioned (ESPECIALLY NICOLA AYOUB!) for being present as well as their families, people’s husbands and children. Huge thanks to Dahne, another international community member, who drove all the way from well beyond the airport WITH HER FAMILY to come alllllll the way to Austell for this event. I’m super grateful for the dance community support and thank you for opening your mouths, clapping your hands and representing the raqs fandom. As for the others who were disturbed, bag clutching at the site of certain people, and making it clear you didn’t want to be there, your time is dwindling and that’s why you reacted that way. Long live diversity and international cultures having the right to live in America just like theirs did when they arrived but I digress.

The Show
Orlando was our Master of Ceremonies in one of his sparkling suits that he joked still had the tags on it and would be returned, then purchased after income tax day. He did a fair and lovely job announcing the dancers and their history. I was also especially happy to see him recognise Nicola Ayoub, our ambassador to culture in Atlanta. It’ll be a good show if Nicola is there. That is guaranteed.

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There was a Pre-Show and that included a few student troupes, some of the teachers of AFBD, the Salimpour Collective of GA and one piece in which Saniyah and Aseelah were in spinning poi veils. The opening of that pre-show featured Fatin, Leena and Jenny – all of whom teach at AFBD. In Bellydance Superstars style, they wore amazing blue bedluhs and put on a trio style set to traditional regional music – track one of one of Issam’s amazing works if I’m not mistaken – it’s one of my favourites. That, Troupe Mumtaz and the set featuring Saniyah, Aseelah with those very dedicated AFBD dancers were my absolute faves for this portion of the show.  You could see that they took this presentation seriously, making sure they really gave it their all. I also got some video of Saniyah’s troupe and appreciated having a very authentic salute to the region represented tonight. We always need the root to be represented. It’s crucial lest we vanish completely. (my pictures aren’t great, please see Studio Jaki for professional ones)

 

The Wizard of Oz
Jillina’s work is phenomenal. The artistic direction of the entire show was jaw dropping. From the costumes to the music, everything made sense and was worthy of the standing ovation. However, for some reason, this show didn’t have the same effect as Alice in Wonderland (her earlier production AFBD hosted at the Rialto Arts Center downtown a few years ago). In fact, as I type, comments are coming in saying, “It was good, but Oz was no Alice. Bellydance Evolution’s Alice was Broadway, Oz was a spectacular play.” But may I add that Dorothy was immaculate in every way? Sure, it wasn’t Alice and it wasn’t the Rialto but it was GOOD! I’d happily go to that venue again and I trust with additional marketing we can get some of the East Atlanta, Decatur crew to come out as well.

Without giving too much away, because those who have tickets for other cities may not want spoilers, the “Atlanta” show begins with the primary stars in what some call Atlanta-wood (spoof on Hollywood as we are now #1 in film production in the states). The name “Atlanta” is in the background and as the characters come to life, they begin snapping pictures, taking selfies, miming/doing their art (Faaridah was a Mime) all wearing cute modern outfits in black and white. Then the winds pick up – the winds are represented by a diverse cast of dancers all wearing either black or grey. Some had small strobe lights that flickered like lightening and the choreography was DIVINE!!!! Ohhh, this was probably the best part of the ENTIRE production! The way they represented wind and nature’s chaos was spot on! They could have ended the show and won an award with that alone!

The rest of the story went by kind of fast and you really had to have watched The Wizard of Oz multiple times to automatically know what scene was next or what everything represented. Munchkin Land was identifiable and looked to include the Lollipop Guild as well as other iconic moments from the movie. I did, however, keep looking for Toto…I didn’t see the dog or anything that represented him. As trivial as it may be, his absence was felt. But we did hear his barks in a few scenes. Nice touch! Dorothy was played by Georgette Carvajal and she was INCREDIBLE! First of all, to be able to stay on stage that long and remember ALL that choreography is insane. I can barely remember the four simple steps to Debke let alone the choreography needed to excel in a production like this. Everyone I spoke to was just FLOORED in regards to this principal dancer. I try to keep superficial things like someone’s “looks” or features out of reviews of late, but I can’t help but say, Dorothy was adorable! I mean, she embodied this role like an original. She was everything you expect in “cute!” That plus her impeccable dance presentation makes her the MVP! She did that!

We had so much pride in seeing Aziza Nawal play the role of The Scarecrow. She was perfect and also another one who is incredible for being able to remember all that choreography. She was in 85% of the show! She deserves a standing ovation every time you see her. She’s another reason why I moved to Atlanta. I’m still mad they didn’t clear the table that one night at Taverna Plaka (2003 July) and had her doing a choochoo shimmy way too close to a glass plate of taramosalata. If she had slid off the edge…omg. I wanted to pick her up off the table and say, “nobody puts Aziza Nawal in the yogurt.” Anyway, she’s royalty in my opinion and does no wrong. She deserves all the awards and accolades for her role in this production.

Omega’s performance as the Tinman was another award winner. I’ve always felt she is best in theatrical pieces when it comes to this art and she did not disappoint one bit. This is my favourite performance I’ve seen her present since she came on the scene. Her costume was spectacular! Be sure to check out the pictures. I think Studio Jaki may have a few. Bravo and Brava, Omega!

Our very own Faaridah played the role of the Wizard! She glowed and glittered for every scene she was in and we’re super proud. She even had a great solo. The costume complimented her and the green was bright enough to give her a complimenting glisten so kudos to the costume designer for making sure she gleamed like the glamourous lady she is! So gorgeous all the time! #Goals!

Shoutout to Hannan Sultan, always great to see her in Atlanta. She was animated and lively as a cast member and one of my favourites to watch this evening. Hope she’ll be featured in even more events and programmes as they arise.

Bit of Confusion in the Crowd
The lion was played by a dancer named Siri, the Wicked Witch was Claudia Barquero and Glenda the Good Witch was played by a dancer named Nadia. Now, other than the lion and the aforementioned, I had no clear indication which characters we were looking at any given time. I kept noticing people grabbing their programs trying to figure out where we were at in the scenes of the production. It was only during solos, the siesta in the poppy fields and journey to Emerald City that I figured out which one was the Wicked Witch. Glenda, who was always in an iridescent-white ballgown in the film was wearing a crimson red bedluh during this production so I was totally confused. Though  Dorothy was obvious and always in gingham, she could have been in some ruby red dance slippers instead of the silver ones she had on…maybe they were not available? Maybe they would have been distracting? Toto and the red slippers are huge iconic pieces of this classic and I was rather eager to see how they would incorporate them.

Cultural Nod or?
The music for the entire program was beautiful! Every scene had an amazing accompaniment with a cultural nod to the region. For example, there’s a part in the original movie where Dorothy and her pals fall asleep in a field of poppies. In this production, you suddenly see some dancers appear wearing what looked to be a poppy flower on their dress panels. The dresses themselves looked like a few ensembles I had seen in fashion of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and a print on a Classical Iranian dress from a historical performance many years ago. I’m not sure why this part of the region’s music and dress were worn during this scene other than the fact we know that poppies are grown there and, according to research, having its origins in the region. I wasn’t offended but it was noted and I thought…mmkay. I get it. I see the nod and correlation.

But there was one scene that made several I spoke to after the show very quite puzzled. Let me start by saying, it’s rare to find non-Africans, non-MEs actually give The Continent any credit in its influence and inclusion in the art of Raqs Sharqi and its history. Some still want to see Egypt as solely an Arab country and act like it doesn’t sit smack in the center of both Asia and Africa. I grew up knowing and seeing Arabs in Africa and part of the vast number of ethnic groups and people(s) that were in certain nations within the continent, including Arabs that live in one of my parent’s countries. But I learned that others don’t always know this. Kudos to Jillina’s earlier work with BDE Alice in Wonderland as it did not let one influence in the world of raqs sharqi/eastern dance go unknown. It was INCREDIBLE! I loved how every single region, nation and city from Iran to Ibiza was featured and given the most respectful cultural nods – I mean Sharon Kihara took us on a direct flight home with her scene featuring amazing Qawliya and other regional moves that were still fairly unknown at the time to the western “bellydance” world. It was just after this production that you began seeing workshops and classes in not just “bellydance” but other regional past times being studied and performed. Jillina’s work gave it a precedence and a standard! It was stunning and gorgeous.

This year, the African music accompanied what looked to be the “bad guys” (aka the Wicked Witch in her den). I could go in hard and be really political here but I do not believe associating bad and darkness with Africa was the intention of the scene. In fact, this review has been edited to note that I and others did have a discussion about what we saw and the questions that came to me after the show. We learned that those were not monkeys in the scene in Atlanta. Those were the henchmen dancing with the Wicked Witch. The questions and texts I received after the show let me know others were rather confused as well. I thought, of all the places they could have used the African music…this was their choice? Why is Africa always associated with something dark and sinister? However, other icons in the raqs world noted that they were a part of the production in other cities and enjoyed being a part of it – and gave it their all. Very grateful for the clarification. BDE productions are always really enjoyable and I would hate for a misunderstanding or confusion to spoil it.

Here’s a photo of what the scene was portraying. Many thanks to the Atlanta BDE host, Faaridah Raqs for helping us understand this very important part of the show.

The “all dance” at the end was lovely and the venue was comfortable. The show wasn’t super long to the point we were squirming (though I can watch GOOD raqs sharqi show all night, have and will continue to do so). The scenery and the way in which things were represented was a bit different but not too hard to put together. Again, it was no Alice but it was a great way to incorporate the art of raqs into a classic tale and I hope Bellydance Evolution will continue to put on these amazing theatrical works of art! Mabrook wa Shukran! Huge thanks to all involved, especially Faaridah and AFBD for hosting. That is A LOT!

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

Open Dance Night at Steve’s Live Music Summer 2015

Ajaz and Nuzrsat

Ajaz and Nuzrsat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!
AA

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

Coming Up Next! Soraia Zayed at Essence of Bellydance 2015

Soraia Zayed - Appearing at Essence of Bellydance 2015 Atlanta, Georgia

Soraia Zayed – Appearing at Essence of Bellydance 2015 Atlanta, Georgia

Year after year, Atlanta brings big surprises and big names in the world of Raqs Sharqi. This year Soraia Zayed is one of the fantastic stars to make history in this town, she will be surrounded by lovers of music and global art. Originally from Brasil/Brazil, Zayed moved to Cairo over a decade ago and has been mentored by legend Raqia Hassan. All while mastering the art of Raqs, Zayed has found a way to keep the essence of her own culture close by her side…literally. Often, when looking at her hipwork and the way in which she moves, you can see core elements of Samba mixed with the Egyptian dance style. It is phenomenal to watch.

This oustanding raqs instructor has been on the teaching circuit for a while, appearing at numerous events. For Essence she will teach a series of workshops that inspire dancers to go further in their art. Expect very clean and clear instruction and attention to details. Approach this as if you were literally going to Egypt to take a class, this is the exact atmosphere and environment that Essence of Bellydance fosters.

Enjoy these videos of this raqs icon’s past and present work and be sure to register. This is a can’t miss event!

2013 Throwback:

Current Day:

Duet (great example of impromptu sha’abi play on)

For info on workshops with Soraia Zayed at Essence of Bellydance 2015 and see this year’s schedule click here.

What is one thing you want to learn from Soraia when she is here? Take a moment to let us know in the comment and get entered to win amazing prizes from missbellydance.com!

Bellydance Evolution – The Biggest Game Changer in the Raqs World

Alice in Wonderland Cast

Alice in Wonderland Cast

Bellydance Evolution’s Alice in Wonderland was a major game changer in the Raqs World. This was the perfect marriage of a storyline and Middle Eastern art. What made this stand out as a pillar of perfection was this team’s ability to mesh classic Mideast art and music in the context of a timeless classic tale. It. Was. Everything!!!

My usual reviews detail from start to finish the highlights of the programs, the costumes, the presentation, any shared backstories where applicable and so much more. But I understand that not every city has had the chance to see it yet and spoilers are not popular. While I always love to know in advance what I’m going to view I respect others’ wishes to walk in fresh and unassuming. However, I am going to express my grand emotion and excitement regarding several cultural aspects of the show from an Alice in Wonderland superfanatic (I love the White Rabbit & Alice as is known by all linked to my social media accounts) and my appreciation for Raqs Sharqi began long before I was born being one from a Nigerian family with Middle Eastern extended relatives. So, as always, these comments are from my cultural perspective and are my opinion – not representing any of the media organisations, businesses and associations with which I am affiliated. I celebrate 16 years as a fan of this art having travelled to numerous cities just to see top Raqs Stars. I live for this! This is ‘what I do.’

The show began with an incredible opener featuring what, at first, were unfamiliar faces to me. It wasn’t until about 2 minutes into the piece that I realised these incredibly skilled raissat were actually Heidi of Jahara Phoenix, Samora, Aziza Nawal, Nawar and a slew of others. This immediate change and transformation from award winning dancers, popular international community raqs artists and teachers to exquisite, top notch professionals on a level I had not ever seen before made it VERY clear this show was a game changer. We were immediately warned with every move that we’d need to hold on, the industry as we knew it…was no more. ‘Bellydance in the USA’ 24 hours ago, is gone. Jillina’s vision is the new now!

The costuming, the moves, the physical presentation from their eye shadow to their hair was an indication that thought had not only gone into this but also blood, sweat, tears and CULTURAL RESEARCH (and maybe a little soul-selling because some of those moves and intricacies are not revealed outside the deepest parts of the region). These were not the women we knew before, they underwent a re-birth like nothing I’ve ever seen. Compare it to butterflies taking flight after a long process in the cocoon aka rehearsal and refinement. That Jillina is a genius. I have no idea what she did to them but she has got to be the plastic surgeon of Mideast dance skills. I can not stress this enough. She is also very culturally conscious beyond the surface. Some choreographers, show producers and artistic directors are keen to change their cast into one aesthetic. If Jillina is the sole person responsible for the way those ladies looked then she deserves an award for ‘Cultural Excellence’ and perhaps recognition from specific groups that award the preservation of beauty for people of colour. I’m the child of non-Americans and ethnic minorities. I have lived in the west and know the pressures many are put under to change oneself to one particular aesthetic. I’ve seen this hurt our art. But this is no more, this stage was void of all stereotypes and cookie-cutter images or imagery. THIS WAS INCREDIBLY REFRESHING. Going forward, no one will EVER be able to get away with hiding ethnicity in dance in exchange for pleasing the beast of western commercialization. This is the new now…be real, be you. Jillina allowed the dancers to shine and represent the true ‘Raqs World’ as we African, Arabs and Eastern ex-pats and families know it. For me, I feel we have regained a sense of pride and respect in that we can be allowed to love ourselves again without prejudice and conforming to a mere percentage of our natural selves. THIS is a historic moment not just in our industry but in the grand scheme of the way beauty is marketed. Lay down the gauntlet of ethnic shaming and the tyranny of colonialism in modern day. This show has paved a new path, alhumdulillah!

So many scenes included incredible costuming!

So many scenes included incredible costuming!

Alice in Wonderland: The Show
You didn’t have to be familiar with the story to understand it but it sure helped. Otherwise it may have been this incredibly fashioned kaleidescope of absolute wonder. For those of us who read this story once a year at annual Japanese Tea Parties, well…haha, you can imagine we were all over this production like a little child in a doll store.

Fast Learners: I have no idea how these dancers managed to learn so much so fast. This was a crock pot of cultural dance that was polished and presented beyond perfection. I love the interaction between Alice and that Bunny. OMG, the Alice in Wonderland superfan in me came bursting into zaghareets and screams. They way in which the symbols of the tale, the key, the “drink me” and “eat me” sign were all so well-presented it turned us into 3 year olds. We were ecstatic!

Issam as a tabla playing chef: Issam’s appearance drove us to bits. He is such an extraordinary musician whose talent and kindness are leaps and bounds above a plethora of celebrated artists. It was a brilliant idea to have him alongside, playing the chef of all things, he turns the tabla upside down, it becomes a cooking pot…see, it’s things like this woven into the show that make it so incredible and enjoyable for all who love this tale.

Other outstanding elements are the inclusion of every. single. cultural dance in the region. From the new(er) sha’abi (think of Yael Zarca’s version) to the Tanoura Masri featuring spinning and “derviche tournement” (think Sal Maktoob Vanegas and Mohamed Shahin); it was there! And borrowing a phrase from Issam’s earlier work, “Let me show you…”

The marvelous moves of the Caterpillar were a highlight  for Atlanta's Internationals

The marvelous moves of the Caterpillar were a highlight for Atlanta’s Internationals

For one thing, signature regional moves and level changes (think Tito Seif mn Al Msr) were brought forward in solos. Tweedle Dee and Tweetle Dum, complete with spinning propeller hats danced around with a traditional tahtib scene. I’m not talking some little walking around with canes in pretty dresses, this was well-thought out, regionally researched and again, here’s that term…another example of “perfecting perfection.” Then, there was the beautiful green caterpillar played by the ever-loved Sharon Kihara who we in Atlanta met in person several times before, and up-close and personal at BOD 2011. This caterpillar exquisitely segued into a khaleegi routine that meshed into Iranian Bandari with a bit of bedouin dance as well. Now, let me tell you how fierce this was…she went beyond hair tosses. She had several Iraqi Bedouin dances down to a science…the very intricate moves that are extremely hard to teach in that you don’t just learn to move your head a certain way, the spirit has to take over for that to be executed correctly. She was steeped in ta’arab grandeur if that makes any sense. This was my favourite part of the whole performance. She then went into a very vibrant set of hair tosses with her team using modern fusion style costumes incorporated with ethnic cuts from the region. Those of us who see this daily will know what I mean, from the hair stylings to the garments, this was all so intricate that not only would I have invited my baba and mum, I’d have asked for several tourism boards in the region to please come and see this. It was unreal. I failed to keep quiet, my zaghareets rang out so loud, people near me began to do their own versions, so soon it was a myriad of cultural calls coming not only from the 19th row where I was sitting but also from the 20th and back. Even kids were bursting from emotion. We just lost it…there was so much cultural pride at that moment I could barely stand it. I was certain if it got any more intense I’d be escorted out. Again, had I been on the front row I may have been disruptive so I suppose it was a blessing that I was in the back.

The scene with the parasols meshes and morphes into the Cheshire Cat...you gotta see it...it puts the T in Talent!

The scene with the parasols meshes and morphes into the Cheshire Cat…you gotta see it…it puts the T in Talent!

The Spinning Mushrooms & the Cheshire Cat: At this point, my soul has floated away and is in a type of midst in the theatre. All I had left was a little bit of my voice and my eyes. Enter the stage, several women with parasols and EurAsian attire. Very serene, very beautiful and culturally accurate costuming. Remember the part in the book where the Cheshire cat appears and disappears…well, let me tell you how these perfectionists perfectly executed this piece. They form an incredible circle and the parasols are lowered, coming together to form the face of the cat. Petite Jamila, the spinning kitty, who spun a minimum of 6 veils, catching several from Alice, appears and reappears as the face/parasols float on the stage. It was majestic and supernatural even. I was just as afraid and exhilarated as I was reading the book and seeing the movie. My heart is weak so I have to be careful getting too emotional but I was seriously covered in goosebumps, my skin and hair were bristling, I got cold chills watching this play out. And if that wasn’t enough, here come these textured masses on either side of the stage. They have covered tops and as they begin to spin I see them form mushrooms. These are the Tanoura Masri mushrooms, faces covered! Just like you see on several presenters from Egypt. They were completely blinded in this set from start to finish, spinning in brown and beige textured Tanoura suits with the mushroom tops floating up, forming actual human Tanoura Masri mushrooms. This was one of those ‘mic drop’ moments…but not just mic drop on the stage with a hard thud. This was mic drop into a swimming pool…complete with electric shock and sparks flying all over the place. I was done at this point, this show was now the greatest raqs show on earth. THE GREATEST!! It had surpassed every wedding I’d ever been to, it was on par with the IBCC, BOD and all that inbetween. Nothing…nothing compares.

Lamma Bada: The next scene is very important to ATL’s community. Many know of the band Allah Yustur who revived the importance of this song in our town. To see it included last night with such finesse; the white garments, the Spanish style and Flamenco movements to start and then to burst into the Rroma material which is the other half of that great Rrom lineage was incredible. What was also nice was to hear the beginings of the song and the low hum in the audience of people singing along (at least in my section). Now that proves this town “gets it.” Atlanta has once again allowed its cultural side to manifest and perch. Kudos ATL!!! Mabrook, be you!! Thank you BDE for bringing it out of us.

Other notable scenes that meshed cultural dance with great significance were the ‘Queen of Hearts’ scenes and the tea party…where I have to say Louchia and Heidi shined beyond comparison. The way in which the skirt became a table and watching Alice run between characters to try and get her place at the table…I mean, good heavens, this was incredible! You have to see it. From the Mad Hatter to the court and croquet, all of this show was everything. It was again, perfection perfected complete with an international cast dotted with ex-pats and first generationers like myself (i.e. Heidi, Constance). It redefined raqs theatre and reminded us of what we should be doing in this industry. THIS is real fusion, it’s identifiable, it’s real, it’s relative…it’s raqs!

The tango of the Mad Hatter and the Hare ( #DanieloTheBestBunnyEver ) is fantastic!

The tango of the Mad Hatter and the Hare ( #DanieloTheBestBunnyEver ) is fantastic!

Too Soon?: Surely something was wrong, nothing is perfect! Well, in this case it was. BDE’s AIW was perfect! I think the only thing that worried me was the “off with their head” scene. Given the news of the day, beheadings of western journalists with the executors’ “supposed” ties to the region and earlier this week, an aid worker given the same fate (?), this scene was a little bit of a trigger for me. Fortunately, the humour brought into the scene, which included Heidi’s dad coincidentally being brought to the stage with Jillina removed the memories of what we’re dealing with in the real world. It was so well put together, including the hair colour of the little cut heads matching the garments of each principal character that I didn’t think of the incidents for long. I have no idea how in the world the team could have rearranged the piece this late in the game with respect to the news. But, at the end of the day, the tales’ gruesome section was somehow made gorgeous and perhaps no one even thought about it from any other perspective.

I can’t think of any other theatre production in this industry that has been as moving and grand. I’m overwhelmed and I can’t wait to see what they do next! Even if it doesn’t make it to Atlanta I’d like to travel and see it. At this point, I’m simply speechless and steeped in gratitude for the intense work and over the top effort put into the entire show.

Hugs & Hallway Tears
After the show, I had to go sit down because I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I first spoke to the members of Turkish MissBellydance.com to get their reaction. They were speechless much like I was. I really couldn’t talk for about 30 minutes. It was so intense that when Aziza came over to say hello I couldn’t get any words out. I just started crying. I’m fighting back tears writing this.

Wrapping Up EOB 2014: -Back at the Twelve- Issam has just come in and again, emotions are high. One thing I’ve managed to do is leave the stars alone. I haven’t taken any photos, no pictures, nothing with anyone. I didn’t dress up in my cultural attire, I simply took a back seat and have kept quiet. I’ll let my fingers and social posts speak for me. I thank Danielo for sending a friend request, happy to be friends with Issam already. Seeing him in person is very difficult. I really want to get up and go sit next to him right now but I know I’d throw my arms around him and hug him as long as he let me. #TeeHee

Big thanks to Faaridah for going through with this massive endeavor. This was too much in every aspect. It’s just too much work for one person but again it somehow turned into this incredibly beautiful event that has left the entire city and surrounding communities speechless and in awe. I’d write more, but I’m verklempt, talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic, -incredible dance communities with a passion to keep the countless cultural connections alive and well in creative ways… discuss!

Thanks for reading!
-Andye
*Full Weekend review coming to Raqs Atlanta inclusive of Friday’s show featuring the Amazing Amani Jabril, Aziza Nawal and Jenny Nichols (who stole that show hands down)! Enjoy!

*Pictures are from Google images and public files as we weren’t allowed to take any photos or videos of the performance – if there are any issues with the above usage contact me at @andyeisthenews