Bellydance Time Capsule – Celebrating The History of Raqs Sharqi

*As always these comments are all mine and do not reflect the views of any organisation or team with which I am affiliated. These are just the thoughts of one international community member. I speak for myself and not the entire expat community of Atlanta or the Southeast.

Raqs Al Seniyya - Maghreb tea tray dance, beautiful addition to the historic show

Raqs Al Seniyya – Maghreb tea tray dance, beautiful addition to the historic show

The theme was ‘time capsule’…and the brilliant minds made this into a true Raqs Theatre style show on par with the ideas and programs that are done in Raqs Theatre in Egypt and beyond. So I was very happy that there was a context versus a bunch of beautiful women appearing on stage out of nowhere and just doing their thing. This allowed for those who are not from or familiar with the culture to understand what was being presented. So there was Faaridah and Maeia preparing for the show and they stumble upon this treasure box. The box contained items from every era of Raqs Sharqi since B.C. The intention was to feature each prop and then present the dance that matched it? I think they decided at the last minute not to do that as it would take up so much time and there were already…what? 27 performers? I don’t know. But…each piece had an outstanding historical intro so that was really all that was needed. I would like to see this done again but perhaps video taped and sold as “The Best of Raqs Sharqi…a time capsule” and include the historical skits and settings. Then, distribute it globally. If any of the producers are interested in doing that let me know. We can discuss it…then work out the funding and get it done.

Here are just *some* of the amazing performances from that evening. There were more than 12+ sets, so the show was exceptionally long but very nclusive!

Jendayi and her team presented the B.C. style of Raqs featuring the series of Goddesses that are often referenced in this era. It was a very nice opening to the show. What stood out for me were the costumes. They featured a lot of the era’s script and symbols in a very tasteful way. It didn’t feel kitschy or silly. It looked good. Congrats to this team for thinking about their music, fine details and respectful choreography void of stereotypes.
Again, excellent opening. I wish this had been presented at the Fox with bold lighting striking down like lightening highlighting each person’s moves. Very nice piece…

imageTallita’s Meleya Leff routine was awesome! I really wish we had more Egyptians in the audience and fans of this genre with which to get into it. I was ready to get up and wiggle around like my uncles (and bold aunts) would do for this one. She wore a red dress with the traditional flower accents on it and a black meleya with which she spun around playfully. Meleya Leff is one of my favourite dances from our industry and I’d happily have that piece presented at important milestones in my life. Tallita did a fantastic job! Mabrook wa shukran.

Aziza Nawal’s raqs team presented a piece from the Mazin family (Egypt). I won’t go into historical facts about them because that would require a publisher and a summer for readers to finish it due to their vast history in the region. In short, the Mazin sisters were very well known in their area and would put on shows in house and at functions. This performance by Aziza the Great!! 😉 and her team brought me to tears. This family has experienced some great challenges of late and their surviving sister still faces opposition in various ways due to the “times.” It’s nice to see someone celebrate these ladies for the simple fact they are a huge part of Raqs history that gets pushed aside and overshadowed by the commercialism by which our culture has been touched. So, shukran Aziza and team for being so inclusive. The whole presentation, from zills, to their signature formations was just gorgeous.

Culturally accurate Ghawazee - Mazin family salutes

Culturally accurate Ghawazee – Mazin family salutes

Diane Coriani, founder of Zeina Dance Company floored us with a very authentic and passionate Karsilama. I just need a minute, I might start crying again… whew…mercy. It was so good. When I was a little girl, I used to love to watch the men dance and I still do. This is where I learned the art of our cultural entertainment. The men were so spirited and would leap into the air with kicks and spins. They would put their heart and soul into any space that let them and at the Turkish festivals, Greek fest and other programs you’d see those guys shoulder to shoulder, line dancing til nightfall. Drenched in sweat and still looking ultra amazing, they’d pause, clap and one person would go to the center and tear that dance floor up!!! THAT is what Diane did last night. Like a member of a male trio, she got out there with her footwork and fierce energy to bring to life what few get to see outside the international community. She later said that she wished she had been able to really bring it forth or something but I think what she presented was enough to get the point across. Her silk road suit and regional kufi cap was a thing of cultural couture. I was there when she bought it and I was wishing they had one my size because I wanted it too. It really worked well for this set and I do want to see it again. If I was in good health I’d go out and do it with her, I absolutely miss this so much and, much like what Aziza and her team presented, felt like this is a part of our industry’s history that isn’t presented enough to western audiences. As we see more of the cultural dances of the people being put on stage, I’m sure that Karsilama and other regional line dances -plus some- will be embraced. Mabrook Diane!

Samora started off ACT II which pushed us into the most modern eras of our art. Having a raissa at a wedding is now a staple, not a luxury or an option. If you don’t have a dancer, then you might as well have not gotten married in my culture. I did expect Shemadan but going along with the modernity of our time, this was a typical scene that could have played out in a non-hyphenated American home. A couple stood before us, Ryanne was the officiant and the two got married. They threw the bouquet, Leizel caught it, knocking me down in the process (just kidding, it legit landed at her feet, I guess she and her husband can renew their vows for fun. xoxoox Hire Samora for the ceremony!!), and then they sat at the wedding table. The decor, while minimal was so perfect. Orchids in vases, white decor highlighted with cool lights. Samora’s costume matched the setting and she danced to a modern Egyptian song which talked about the singer’s passion and feelings. It was quite lovely. She did an amazing job, you could really feel the emotion and sentiment. Not everyone can master songs like that but Samora did and did it very well. At the very end she placed the veil around the groom and exited the stage just as the lights dimmed. THIS is theatre raqs and was perhaps the most beautiful scene of the night in that it literally looked so real I’d say that couple can just consider it legit and go buy a house. It’s done! Loved this!!!

Kalinka and Tallita presented a Khaleegy and Kawleeya mn al Emirates (Em-ir-ahts vs Emir-aHtees). Tallita appeared first and did a very beautiful and well executed Khaleegi piece that suddenly paused. She slowly turned around to find Kalinka coming out to the dance floor with powerful steps and footwork that eventually led to a grand set of Kawleeya moves. That, too, stopped and suddenly the music changed as the ladies exited…beladi masri music blared and out they reappeared in white thobes with hair ties styled just like Aida Nour and Tito’s duet from the International Bellydance Conference of Canada. How am I supposed to stay seated during presentations like these? It’s not possible!!! I struggled!! omgooooodness, aiewwaaaaa! yani, helowa!!! Merci mamnoonam, it was incredible!!!! Muito Obrigada ladies!! Next time, make it longer!

Jahara Phoenix appeared next with American Tribal Style pieces that would have made Carolena Nericcio quite proud. (Out of respect for this lady, I hope everyone learns to say her name correctly. She has influenced us greatly in one way or another…so…yeah, I’ll get a recording of her saying her name so we can publish our salutes and have precise pronunciations) Basket, swordwork, zills and floorwork were first presented and followed by iconic ATS raqs transitions. It was amazing as expected. JP really know how to become favourites and household names. I was completely swept away, so much so that when it was over I sort of “realised” ohh, I’m in a theatre…this was not a dream. Yeah, it was THAT good.

imageThe Golden Era was first presented by Lady Morrigan who presented a flawless set representing the great dancers of film (both Hollywood and Egypt, but more Egypt). There is an old recording of shows featuring Nadia Gamal and several others…Naima Akef? I can’t remember but it’s out there and the cover features one of them with a simple bedluh – in this case a bi-quarter skirt and bra top, matching shoes and an expression to die for. Lady Morrigan nailed that entire image. Not only did she master it with physical features, she matched the moves as well including the fleeting vanish at the end so known to many films when the dancer leaves the stage or exits the scene. I was mesmerized, I was taken away…we were immediately transformed back in time and it was spectacular, I felt like I was in my uncle’s old shoppe near the university, drinking strong coffee with a stack of old VHS tapes of movies. It was perfect! If you love historical representations of the Egyptian film era, you would have loved this…awesome, awesome, awesome!

imageBeth Mendez’ piece was another impressive one. Her opening was the strongest of the routine and her costume realllllly took us to a new place in raqs couture. She made it herself! Find the photos, it’s to die for…that thing was some intricate piece of work. I loved it!!!!! And that ruffled veil…oohhh honey! I’d wear that out on the town! This set was a fusion of Flamenco and Raqs Sharqi. It was not the fusion we’ve seen with big huge commercial steps and kitschy choreography. This was a truly hardcore solid set that featured music from the region…the classic material. The music won me over in this case and the next time I see it, I hope it includes a troupe or maybe two others to give it a really strong feel. It was a lovely piece that should be celebrated by more than one. Very nice material, really impressive.

Northside Tribe presented Gothic Bellydance – that Lacy…man she sprinkled some seasoning on that troupe, they were hot! They looked gorgeous, sexy even. I think I said that Lacy’s recent performance at EOB14 was one of my favourites since I first saw her perform but this was even better than that one. Their whole troupe was insync and you could feel their fondness or maybe even attachment to this genre. Very nice presentation!! That could easily be placed in a film project or some sort of scene in a modern movie. A-grade material right there! Congrats!!

Awalim in Time Capsule show

Awalim in Time Capsule show

Awalim performed one of my favourite pieces in their repertoire. It’s rare that I don’t see Ziah with this team but they held their own out there and did a fine job with it. Every single second of that routine looked flawless as if they just break this out at random any time and any place. I also enjoyed hearing the history of East Coast Tribal/ECATS. That was a great compliment to Awalim’s contributions to this region. I do feel they are quite a powerhouse in that genre and remain a staple on the scene. What a great achievement!

imageShahrzad was the final performer of the night…and when she entered the stage in that gorgeous solid gold pailates costume I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Sure enough, she again, jussssst blew us away. I couldn’t even write anything about it. I just put my pen down, put my phone for taking pictures away and just sat there bracing myself. I can’t even speak on this…I just cant. You had to be there to see this. From deluxe, supreme tummy flutters to flawless travelling steps and regional moves that can only translate well on someone who bathes themselves in the Arab world to the audience interaction, it was allllllllllllllllllllllllllll flawless. ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL OF IT!!! CADA MOMENTO!!! TUDO, TUDO, TUDO!!!! I. CAN. NOT. STRESS. ENOUGH. HOW. INSANELY. AMAZING. THIS. SET. WAS.

The show…was great!!! There weren’t any bad, boring sets. Everyone brought their A+ game…they were on it! I was so glad that I had been able to make it. I was so happy to support the project and huge thanks to Faaridah for wrangling this together alongside all of the others. It was an enormous task that came together beautifully and I’m so happy that we can do things like this here in Atlanta…the southern gateway to the world!

Enjoy this great video of Shahrzad

*Full review on Raqs Atlanta – Yahoo!

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 gotta see 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 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!
*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