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

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

People travelled from hours away to be with Andrus today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amani of Lebanon, an Awesome, Friendly Force in the Raqs World

This is an opportunity of a lifetime! Be there!

This is an opportunity of a lifetime! Be there!

As an International Dance Artist, performer and Master choreographer in the world of Raqs Sharqi, Amani of Lebanon is a friendly force, loved and adored by all who meet her. Her history and Knowledge in this art is vast and she’s known globally for her unique style, beautiful elaborate costumes, incredibly intricate showcases coupled with amazing music and some of the most outstanding dancers and followers. It’s no wonder she accepted Lebanese Simon invitation to be featured in this year’s Oriental and Folkore Dance Festival taking place in Houston, Texas USA (www.houstonorientaldancefestival.com). Amani is a well-known legend in the Middle East and is one of the most popular raissat in the region. When dancers travel to Lebanon, she is often at the top of the list to visit and from which to learn.

If you think her DVDs are over the top awesome, then wait until you learn from her in person. She has it all, the physique, the finesse and the presence of royalty as she raqs according to some fans. Much like many who hold this dance dear, she too takes it very seriously and does not mess around when it comes to technique and helping other dancers become the best they can be in the art.

About the Festival
This annual stateside festival is always quite the social gala for the who’s who and this year it is to include one of the most phenomenal raqs competitions. One winner will walk away as the ‘2015 Oriental Dance Superstar’ The event will take place over 3 days and is scheduled to be filled from start to finish with incredible raqs instruction totaling 16 hours. There’s something for everyone at this event. This raqs holiday prides itself on authenticity and for featuring some of the biggest names to date. It also has gala shows on each night of the event which is a huge plus, making even more worthwhile. One thing you can guarantee is top quality as the producers and hosts of the event are no strangers to luxury. They take this event very seriously, paying close attention to detail as a team.

Don’t miss out on one of the best festivals in the southwest. Register today! http://www.houstonorientaldancefestival.com

RSVP online and join in the conversations and updates here: http://www.facebook.com/houstonorientaldancefestival/

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