From Good to Great to Gold – AFBD, Raqs Royalty of Atlanta

This is dedicated to the late Queen Harish for whom we owe for promoting dance in a way that celebrated all of us. He will be missed and may the Universe guide us and keep his spirit near.

Atlanta Fusion Bellydance’s 10th-anniversary show was a production that embodied the art community of Atlanta. Hosted by one of the newest members of the ATL International Community, Mr. Cortez, it began on time and was VERY organized. The venue was easy to reach by GPS. The Yelp reviews note that there is no parking but there was valet and it was managed by some of the most polite young men with which I ever left my car. Big shout out to Byron on that team.

The community showed up in support of AFBD, lots of families, grandparents and international community members. The dining hall for the dinner that followed was quite lovely and well decorated. There was fruit and cheese for guests and the staff was really nice at the location. The seats were cushioned and comfortable for the most part. Myself and the young man beside me were a bit wider in the waist and therefore the seat, while soft and enjoyable, did pack us in like sardines. I’ll be glad when I’m well and things like that are no longer an issue. Other than that I’d consider having an event there because it was just so well done. Not too informal and not OTT Black Tie, heels only. Locations like these should be the STANDARD for all shows and only go up from there.

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From the front entrance to the flowers on the table, the place was decked with decor.

Check-in was smooth as well. I lost my VIP wristband within minutes of receiving it and the AFBD team were able to get another for me within seconds. While I do not suggest one be as careless and aloof as I was this evening when getting myself through the door, it’s nice to know that they weren’t horrified and I didn’t have to pay another VIP fee to replace it. Thank you, Deonce!

Great Show Open
One of the highlights of the show was the video that was produced (impeccable editing – I should know. I worked at CNN for over a decade and editors are gods and goddesses, you gotta get it right, it’s an art). This video featured the core members of AFBD and a few guests speaking about the beginnings of the company including the former studio prior to their move to the current space. As a long time volunteer with MissBellydance.com, I feel having them so close is another reason MBD is still in Atlanta. They have been a huge inspiration and very encouraging. The video commentary was quite touching and focused primarily on their relationships with each other and the sisterhood they have formed. The entire visual was reminiscent of the early Bellydance Superstars productions with chimed openings and middle east charmer rhythms. I feel it should be a documentary and submitted to the library of congress or at least submitted for a PromaxBDA award. Really great material there!

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Excellent Video!

 

Show Highlights

Fatin and Aziza lead the first performance along with familiar faces that I see at all the shows. The highlight of their performance was the Isis wings whose significance was explained in the video shown prior to this show opener. While Aziza and Fatin were dominant and prominently featured in this piece with amazing stage presence and their famous, pristine raqs presentations, the other dancers presented strong skill. I remember when several of them started dancing and they have grown to be confident and an asset to the community. Well done!

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Heidi was also a wonderful addition to the show. She combined several styles and danced to music that saluted her Cuban ethnicity/heritage/roots. I was happy to see her mother there who is also SUPER supportive and another strong asset to Atlanta’s dance comm. She was like a swan, graceful and beautiful. I could have watched a few more pieces with her as a solo. I kept thinking members of Balkan Beat Box would also appreciate her performance. Very Nice! Que pasa contigo? Usted, habibti! Usted! Oh yeahhhh!

Mina was in the show this evening. She’s been a strong supporter of AFBD for several years. She’s often at their shows and I know she appreciates their work. This set was one of my favourites of the evening. I loved her ensemble, a dazzling body stocking with a matching full panel skirt that swayed with every move. The ambiance hue was violet and lavender. It was gorgeous and she danced well. Really enjoyed this set from her. The music was perfect and fit the essence of the event. This was “well fused” and, again, I enjoyed every bit! More of this!!

I’m known for saying who stole the show and tonight it was Aziza Nawal and her team. I see you, Carole Ann and you look AMAZING dancing to my all time favourite Iranian singer, Moein! Together they danced to a mix of top cultural favorites from the region including Iran. They started off with a nice Saidi piece spinning canes like pros. Then they segued into one of Moein’s most known songs that is often classified as “classic bandari” – yes gawd! Boloooo!! Boloooo! Boloooo Masha’Allah! This was my absolute favourite set of the night (and there were many who nearly took its place but this remained the best set for keeping true to the root of rhythm in the region and doing a segue …as fusion is often presented in the region…a clear segue). Beautiful!! Yani, helowa!!

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This was especially amazing for me because I can remember dancing around with Aziza and Amani at Taverna Plaka during my raqs superfan years. The rare occasion this song came on I’d go nuts on the dance floor spinning and leaping in the air as if it were a wedding. That was 10 years ago and it was a joy to see her carrying that spirit and skill well into the future. She did this song justice and I pray we get to see more and more of her in the coming years doing sets like this with great dancers like that!

*Aziza did a second set this afternoon – a solo – and it was just as powerful as the group piece. She danced to a classic as if it was second nature. Those close to me know I moved to Atlanta for two reasons. My dream job called and I wanted to be in an international community a lot bigger than the tight-knit but tiny (10,000 vs. 100,000) one I was in. I saw one photo of Aziza on the cover of a magazine and I literally packed a bag and waited for an offer. When it came, I moved the same day and threw a stone over my shoulder. I thought being in ATL was going to be even bigger and better and it was for a very long time because of artists like Aziza who kept our culture alive and kept it real. She is a big reason I stayed happy and sane. I owe her!

Next Steps in Presentations

With that said, I feel it’s time we start celebrating our top artists to the fullest. We need singers. That song and many others featured tonight are famous because of the greats who sang along with the dancers. Some of you may know them as the “man in the suit” and Fatme who continued her fame right alongside great raissat like Dina. We gotta get some men in suits on stage singing with these local legends. I guess I better get my abbayah dusted off and the sheet music. Where’s Christy? Let’s. do. this.

Karma Karmelita was also in the show and danced to what I believe was one of Nagwa Karem’s hits. Karma was as powerful as expected and a roaring success with the audience. To not have her featured in a show is equal to risking failure. She is a must!

 

Jenny – my goodness. She is just supreme. I love her style. It’s all JENNY and the nods to various cultures is just the icing on the cake. I ADORE Jenny Nichols! Her husband knows it and heaven bless her mother, I feel her spirit knows it too. I love that lady. I even have a doll that I found in the American Girl Store that I was drawn to because she reminds me of Jenny. It’s sitting in the front room right now in a pretty dress. I might bring her to class but I don’t want Jenny to freak out. There was a running joke that Jenny lived inside one of my Hello Kitty bags and if you opened it Jenny would pop out and dance for you. Well, with my doll, we’re close enough. Okay, enough Jenny fanning…

Her video was excellent and I feel if you’re a true fan of this community you gotta get a copy. I know I want to put a digital version on my website and several other places including celebrating it on MissBellydance.com. Her performance, from costume to choreography along with Haliesha and team was OUT OF THIS WORLD. I LOVED IT. So fusion and so professional! Much like Karma, Jenny is ESSENTIAL FOR SHOWS. She has it all! Nice job! More please…more Jenny and team! Also, I want the jackets they were wearing…like seriously. I need that STAT!

Kalinka was also featured in tonight’s celebration and she brought the house down in a very spiritual way. KALINKA was EVERYTHING! While watching her and enjoying her energy, I was able to see where we lack support for great artists like this. This performance was perfect. The costume, the song, her stage presence…all of it. Yet, we were a little quiet. I know part of it was because we were mesmerized. It was very hard to pick one’s chin off the floor but the music was there to get us up. Had she been performing for an Egyptian or Lebanese audience, jackets would have been thrown on the stage and people would have been up in the aisles. She was THAT good! I had the hardest time watching her because I WAS FORCED TO SIT STILL THROUGH SOMETHING SO MAJESTIC I FORGOT WHERE I WAS!

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I don’t know what venue or place we can have these shows and still have a substantial stage plus the ability to stand up and SUPPORT great dancers in regional fashion (literally and figuratively). I wanted to get up and slap the stage, take off my tie and swirl it around. But if I had I would have been a show within a show. I should have got up and sat next to Nicolas so I could sing and clap culturally. Instead, I was sitting with the new guy from Turkey and neither of us were “ourselves.” Kalinka’s performance was a wake-up call that we need to reevaluate the opportunity to praise a dancer the right way. She deserved a few jackets at her feet and flowers too. TAO BONITA!!! Now THAT right there…that’s raqs sharqi! Muito obrigada, Kalinka! You did that!

The show close was AFBD’s teachers dancing to a great classic that I used to play on raqs cocktail repeat. I found it in the stack of music at my cousin’s market in my teens. I loved it. It was a great way to end the night! Another winner!

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Many thanks to Leena and her girls for wearing MissBellydance.com’s Soraiah Star couture!

Honourable Mentions
Mad Hatter Dance Company’s sword piece was beautiful and showcased the technical artistry of our community.

Maddie was a delight with a full Maghreb tea tray filled with flames. She not only danced but did floor work and intricate isolations showcasing her skill. She’s a great showman! Has been for years! Much appreciated!

Magnolia – her costume was incredible. She wore a bedluh that was embellished with what looked like broken mirrors strategically covering the bra and belt. That costume could have come out and danced on its own and we’d have been amazed. It was super nice!

Lessons Learned:
Always bring cash! In future, when there is valet, we need to know so we can tip them accordingly. I gave him a dollar because that was the only change I had on me. Not cool. They were as wonderful as the performers and deserved to be tipped. So, lesson learned, when at raqs shows, bring cash because there’s usually a cash bar and lots of other things where credit cards are not accepted. This is the first venue I’ve been to without an ATM.

Turn the pre-show music down! There is no reason for pre-show music to be that loud. It was so loud I missed my opportunity to bond with the new Turkish guy and his BFF. We tried to speak but ended up in silence because yelling over each other was just crazy. When having shows with pre-show music, it would be best to have two people come down front and test the volume. If you can’t have a decent conversation without your throat hurting, then it’s too loud.

STELLAR SHOW

It was more than respectful of the occasion and paid homage not just to the work they’ve done but also to the region where raqs sharqi originated. It was not overrun with one style, the performances were inclusive and the whole event was the epitome of what many artists aim to achieve in this town. Big thanks to Faaridah for pushing through. There’s nothing easy about being a show producer. It’s far from cheap, it takes a good solid year to plan and even when you have support one can sometimes feel very alone. Faaridah found a way to bypass those obstacles completely with an incredible team in tow.

When you see AFBD’s name on a production you IMMEDIATELY clear your calendar because you know it’s going to be worth your time. She has given Atlanta’s dance comm (and the southeast’s) something to look forward to for over a decade! We are truly grateful!! I wish AFBD several more decades to come! We’ll be 86 years old making zaghareets in the lobby of the TWELVE and local parades! Insha’Allah!

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Essence of Bellydance – Day Two

imageIt’s gorgeous!!!
It’s certainly gorgeous over here. Because of this event, I explored the neighbourhood, real estate and so much more. Seriously looking to make a shift in this direction if possible. It’s really clean, organised and nice. My only issue of course, as with any place I go, is the parking and trying to find the exact place one needs to go. Let’s cut to the chase… say it with me now, I almost went home because I couldn’t find it. I know, I know, even with GPS I could not find it. I have a directional handicap (recently learned that is normal – I don’t feel so bad), I’m not able to find things easily. I still get lost going home if I miss my exit. Some streets in Georgia are not mapped, so I don’t blame myself completely. In this case, everyone’s directions were useless to me. I ended up calling Faaridah. This is the LAST thing I wanted to do because she’s obviously busy. Well, she was helpful!

Remember Stairwell #10!!!
Here’s the deal, from 10am to 11:45am I drove around and around trying to find the valet sign where we are only to pay $10. Long story short, I found myself in a parking garage for what is to be $12 max for the day. The hotel is next to stairwell #10. So if you suffer like I do and end up in that vast parking deck, try to get to stairwell #10.

The Venue: Beautiful, well-airconditioned, pristine, clean and wonderfully lit, great for photo shoots. You’ll look good under every inch of light. Vendors are set up and it looks like a bellydance shopping mall with amazing items everywhere. My favourite vendors right now, top 3 are MissBellydance (I really like their new stuff, their lifestyle wear, Moroccan Abayas with matching modern dance wear underneath, they have an shimmer set that is to die for, really like it). And all of their professional bra and belt sets are discounted. There’s new jewelry too and tribal belts from Turkiye/Turkey and India. I’m also liking the options from Magical Fashions and Beladi Boutique.

image Food Options: For those of you with gluten allergies, bring a lunch maybe? The hotel menu is available but I really haven’t seen anything I can eat yet. Wait, just found something. Also, Cafe Mezo (YUM INFINITY) is catering tomorrow and perhaps Sunday? They have some spreads, etc plus lots of kebab options. It’s really good. I’m very picky when it comes to food from the region. I had it fresh in the restaurant with Faaridah and MBD, it was amazing. I bought some to go, it was just THAT good. There are also some other spots in walking distance, some offer breadless options. That’s my sandwich in a bowl in the photo.

I hope that helps those of you headed over to the venue or at least clears up some questions for those of you who may not want to come out here due to directional fears, financial concerns. Expect the show and workshop fees, parking under $20 (remember to say you are with Essence of Bellydance if you valet, it’s only $10). I’m hearing someone right now, say they drove around in circles. There are no big signs that say TWELVE, but it’s a gorgeous silver building that kind of blends in with the concrete so just be aware.

*I hope I wasn’t too brisk with anyone this morning. You know directions test my last nerve.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got right now. Just soaking up the lovely atmosphere. Someone called it urban upscale. Whatever, you call it, just call it the place you’ll be at in the next 10 minutes.

Thanks for reading!