by Purvi Patel
Note: See this article for more information about The Helping Hips.
Let’s see. There’s a full house…no surprise. A glamorous lineup…check. Living statues…wow. A silent auction filled with prizes ranging from massages to artwork…cool. Cosmopolitans AND chocolate fountains…oh my. Well, we are talking about the 5th year of the annual Helping Hips Belly Dance Charity Gala, so I might as well state that I have high expectations. And having attended the previous four events, I reckon I can state with a fair amount of confidence that the Helping Hips, a charitable organization of belly dance enthusiasts dedicated to spreading smiles and shimmies to those in need, have defined the gold standard for producing dance shows. The Gala not only sent smiles and shimmies to the non-profit organization, the Family Coalition for Medically Involved Children, but also a well-deserved check in the amount of $6,771.19. That’s truly spectacular.
Chances are that even if you’ve never been to the Gala before, you've heard of it if you live within a 50-mile radius of the transformed Roseland Ballroom. And with good reason. The show not only spotlights the best talents in the New England area, but also features varied styles of belly dance and attracted a diverse audience of dancers and dance enthusiasts alike.
The crowd was entertained by the wonderful music of the Mitchell Kaltsunas Ensemble, featuring Mitchell Kaltsunas, John Nassar, George Mansour, and John Najim. Notable attendees included percussionist Leon Manoogian, dancer/artist Elisabeth Clark, and dancer/teacher/costumer Shadia.
In addition to fabulous silent auction items, there were also henna designs for adornment and mini-massages to enjoy. Last year’s brilliant introduction of a raised stage not only elevated the performers but also elevated the show’s rating, in many opinions, as previously obscured viewing was all but eliminated. Having observed the majority of the show from several posts at the back of the room (proximate to the well-stocked bar or thereabouts), I can write with authority that there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
Sabaya, Belly Dance Sisters of the Sand - the first of two troupes in the Gala - performed two choreographies. The troupe opened the show with dramatic flair. Entering from the back of the darkened ballroom through the enchanted audience, the dancers’ glowing shamadans reminded me of diya (light) dances performed in India. It was an unexpected and elegant start to the evening. I liked the contrast offered later in the show by Sabaya’s second number, a rousing Greek folk dance.
Sabaya performing a dance with shamadans. (L-R) Liz Tome, Linette Lizotte, Kerrie Rouseau, Kizzie Suriel. Photo by Armandophoto.com
I was looking forward to the first solo performer of the evening – Yael was the only dancer in the Gala whom I had never seen perform. She opened the live music portion of the show with a sweeping, yet softly contained performance to Nebtedi. Her performance to the second song, a livelier one, appealed to me more because she seemed to enjoy it more herself – certainly the audience’s response was enthusiastic.
I’ve seen Erzulie dance many times and I was impressed with the new skills to which we were treated. She packed a lot into a ten-minute show: played zills to a fast and rousing entrance, transitioned to snakier music to perform with her tray, did some impressive floor work displaying both strength and flexibility, and used wooden spoons at the end of her set with Rompi Rompi. On a non-technical note, I would have preferred a bit more color to differentiate from gold costuming head to foot.
Entering with her veil flying, Kanina never fails to inspire me with her artistry and that amazing smile and energy. Kanina wouldn’t be Kanina without her unique zill-playing. I liked that she danced to a heavier beledi, something I haven’t seen from her before. Kanina always makes me feel like she is looking directly at me when she dances. It’s a very personal experience. It seemed like at one point she was going to get a drum solo but it didn’t materialize; she handled it with her customary aplomb.
Amity descended on stage with her silver iridescent wings of Isis. I liked her pacing and the beautiful barrel turns. With her costume dripping with long black fringe it was hard to miss the swing and sway of Amity’s hips. When reviewing my notes for Amity, I saw that I had written simply “DRUM SOLO!!” – I think that pretty well sums up how much I enjoyed it. She exudes attitude, but I like better when her mysterious smile turns into the rare toothy grin.
Mirza Dance Ensemble gets the Gala audience raqqing. Photo by Armandophoto.com
The Mirza Dance Ensemble, directed by Shadia and composed of both male and female dancers, enamored the crowd with their performances, particularly the debke that snaked throughout the room. Led by a male percussionist, the debke line was the perfect opportunity for some audience participation.
Gala favorites included Ela, Najmat, and Phaedra. I consider these ladies in sum to showcase the best in a diverse range of varied belly dance styles. Tribal belly dance was juxtaposed with more traditional dance styles ranging from Arabic to Turkish. Ela – powerful, contained and moving – was electric. Najmat – graceful, compelling, and subtle – wove elegance and sensuousness into motion. Phaedra wowed with her masterful blend of technical proficiency and creativity.
And of course, no Gala would be replete without the fabulous Aurel, artistic director of the Helping Hips. While it was widely believed that she would continue in her trademark style of singing while delighting the audience with her dance prowess, this year Aurel captivated the audience by performing tahtib - in this case, with two sticks – while wending her way towards the stage accompanied by a sole drummer. It certainly lent an authenticity to her performance. Her mastery of the sticks was evident and, of course as predicted, delightful.
So the next time you’re looking to feel good about yourself AND enjoy a grand night of wildly fantastic performances, open dancing to a wonderful band, plentiful drinks and munchies, great silent auction prizes, and CHOCOLATE, think 6th Annual Helping Hips Belly Dance Charity Gala – coming your way Fall 2013. See you there. I’ll be at the back with a dirty martini.