(MA) Yalla!

by Amina Delal*

Be forewarned - there is raving ahead. For that’s what becomes of me when I go to see one of Aurel’s showcases. My pulse races and I get all excited like a little kid, shout, shimmy, and generally behave like a lunatic. And believe me, through these jaded eyes, that does not come easy. But I only speak the completely biased truth: Aurel totally slays these shows that only she can present. This time was no exception.

On Saturday, May 19, 2018, once again, she graced the stage of the Paris Cabaret in Stoughton with an outstanding program designed to share the love of music and dance among cultures. With the continued success of her three Opa shows, she’s wended her caravan from Greece to Lebanon.

To a cozily packed house of about half and half ME dance aficionados and enthusiastic Paris Cabaret regulars, it mattered not. She had them all shouting “Yalla!”. Well, except one guy who continued to shout “Opa”, but that was cool because, in this instance, it was pretty much the same thing: unbridled enthusiasm from a crowd accustomed to just sitting and watching. Everyone felt the welcome that transcends language and different customs of celebration.  

Aurel, star performer, producer, and hostess.

Aurel, star performer, producer, and hostess.

This she accomplished without compromising anything about what is authentic in Middle-Eastern dance. The band was both old country and old school, as was the music -  a mix of Lebanese and Egyptian classics. Delightful for the purist while opening many ears to something new. Nothing was sung in English, save "Happy Birthday", and I saw no one any less engrossed, despite an unfamiliar language. As always, she explained everything so no one was left out. She sang and danced her ass off, exhibiting genuine excellence in contemporary Middle Eastern dance as you’d expect to see in Lebanon or Egypt. No dumbing down, no comedy moves, no sultan act, no nouveau props, or anything anachronistic. Everything was presented perfectly and exemplified the ongoing exchange of East and West that continues to evolve the art. Never mind Aurel as the consummate entertainer and also so much a part of our own regional belly dance tradition since the early 1950s.

The program opened with a stirring Egyptian procession of percussion as you’d see at a wedding, led by an elegant Mohammed Majeour with his tabul booming, followed by the Alwan dancers on percussion in attendance to her badd self cleverly wrapped all in gold for a shining shamadan. It set a wonderful tone, although perhaps some newcomers were wondering why she was dancing with a lit candelabra on her head. They were transfixed none the less. So graceful, so welcoming.

Then, with a little troupe assistance, she cleverly transformed, before our very eyes, into a raqs sharqi costume aflame, made from shade-shifting metallic fabric. It’s gold, it’s orange, it’s red; the color varying with her every move, with so many jewels it was blinding. But that was just the beginning, as each costume was more interesting and distinctive than the last. 

Red flames shifted to twinkling glimmers when she donned a sparkling blue lace caftan for her version of Warda Al Jazairia’s iconic "Batwanes Beek", the same song she sang with the orchestra in Cairo at Randa Kamal’s gala where she brought the house down. 

Next it was dabke time as the Alwan dance troupe performed a room-rousing, perfectly darling choreography of Shadia’s. Yalla indeed. The song was perennial favorite dabke "A La Daluna". And yes, of course, the chartreuse green and gold costumes were Madame Shadia creations as well. The audience loved it and got a real taste of why this dance gets people so excited. 

An audience members tries his hand at the cane.

An audience members tries his hand at the cane.

More folklore (not fakelore) followed. Here comes Aurel, the perfect bin’t al balady with her stick in a vintage, gaily-striped sparkling balady dress that is Madame Shadia’s very own. (I remember it well.) The band played "Tatil Shibbek", another golden hit perfectly chosen. Here she told us how the stick or cane appeared as part of the belly dance show in homage to the traditional mens’ stick dance. Then she managed to “inspire” several gents from the audience to dance it with her. I think they shocked themselves by liking it. 

Before departing for another costume change, she introduced George Malouf for a solo in the spotlight. George is a regional singer and yet he is famous in Lebanon, for his song "Lisany Bastanakob" that received ongoing radio play there for three years. He sang it for us and it was charming.

By the time he was finished, Aurel returned in an asymmetrical plum and silver ensemble, each side truly two different yet coordinating, half simple and linear the other swinging with rhinestones and beads. Its elegance befit the scene as George sang and she danced to the first part of "Inta Omri" especially arranged for raqs sharqi to include several of its other beautiful melodies. Her dancing was sublime; the emotion in his singing had audience members in tears. 

Spirits lifted with the next sequence, a special feature. Before showtime, professional dancers in the audience were invited to submit their names to a jug for a chance to dance with the band. The winner was Rosheemah (she was so surprised) who performed "Habina, Habina" in a fabulous liquid red-and-silver gown with matching hip scarf, everything dripping in like-colored spangles. She was fierce and flirtatious and a perfect example of how this dance is for women of every size, shape, and age. I’m always pleased to see a womanly woman raq the house. She, too, had them cheering.  

Rosheema, winner of the performance raffle, wows the audience

Rosheema, winner of the performance raffle, wows the audience

So how do you top that? Well, you’ve got to make some noise and she certainly did. Queen Bee Aurel shows up extra loud in screaming yellow with a silver-and-black net glistening jeweled overskirt, her every breath a light show. (And if that doesn’t satisfy your bead lust, nothing will. Both Liberace and Madame Abla were smiling.) A triumphantly-sung "Habibi Ya Einee (Ya einee ya Leilee)" was followed by an exciting three-drummer solo (pant, pant) that had the place in an uproar. Not just the B.D. audience either, it was everyone. 

Enter the Alwan dancers in shades of purple and red twirling light-up mandeel, only increasing the carrying-on for a tumultuous finale to much acclaim. 

But that’s not all folks, as the band played on because, by then, the audience was raring to go. Everyone wanted a chance to shake it to so raqqing a band like you seldom hear any more even in Middle-Eastern clubs as live ensembles grow ever smaller, often without a drummer. No scrimping here though, with an ass-kicking 5-piece band, three of them percussionists, ‘cause there’s nothing like hearing live musicians. 

George Malouf joins the Alwan Dancers in a lively debke.

George Malouf joins the Alwan Dancers in a lively debke.

Father and son George and John Malouf brought us beautiful classic melodies on oud and keyboards. It seemed the audience was all ears. I really don’t think it even registered as “foreign” to them. 

Lead instruments not withstanding, it was the breath and energy of the three drummers, all of them total cats, who made the entire place giddy as some of us just couldn’t sit still. Myself, I stood in the back and shook most of the performance. 

Showman of showmen, Mohammed Mejaour displayed his incredible versatility with ethereal nye taksims, crisp riq and tabul (the big drum) leading the procession, shimmying half the solo with Aurel, playfully dancing to his own drummer while beckoning us with irresistible rhythms that had both he and Aurel in a tizzy of hizzy (me too). 

Another honor was the appearance of the one and only Tony Chamoun, taking a brief respite from his daddy-gig, chasing small beautiful children. How we’ve missed his power, drive, and sweetness. (He’s so dear.) All smiles, he had a blast and, I think, was genuinely surprised how so mixed an audience could so thoroughly enjoy the scene. 

Don’t think a trap drum kit belongs in a Lebanese band? Well then you need to hear Bill D’Agostino who was anything but out of place. His ability to rise to the occasion only enhanced the sound and energy proving he can play in any genre. I loved how he blended and think the rest of the band did too. They were all very into it.

I remember my very frustrated high school band director who continually reminded us how the word “band” means to bind together (especially when didn’t). Directed by Aurel’s vision, the whole ensemble banded to create a very special “you had to be there” kind of evening because there is nothing like seeing it live. 

Shadia leads the debke line through the audience.

Shadia leads the debke line through the audience.

I hope this will be the first of many occasions we’ll be shouting Yalla for Aurel, the troupe and this band. There is so much great music in this genre and you don’t have be Lebanese to catch the joie de vivre. With Aurel as the perfect ambassador, she is bettering international relations. Because sharing this musical joy transcends cultures in a way that cannot be misunderstood. 

Like the music, I would heartily recommend this show to anyone. Aurel is a remarkable entertainer who’s every effort continually exceeds itself. Each show is a labor of tremendous study, care, and love. It is a special evening well worth the cost of the ticket. The venue is a perfect size, welcoming, intimate, and warm. You will experience the color, zest, and life that only live music and dance make happen in that moment. 

The next Yalla show is planned for this November; go! You will have a memorable evening. Be there and be part of the precious and beautiful camaraderie that rises above language, because it doesn’t matter if you shout Yalla or Opa, it’s all good! 

Amy SmithParis CabaretComment
(ME) Why Was My Video Removed From YouTube? What Performing Artists Need to Know About Music Rights

by Amy Smith

It is an understatement to say that music rights are complex. The word I would use is “byzantine”. So when Joie Grandbois offered this workshop at Bright Star World Dance (Portland, ME) , I signed up immediately. Not only did I want to better understand this topic, but a video of a troupe performance that was posted to YouTube suffered a similar fate to that in the workshop title. It was not removed - it was silenced!

Joie is a performer, a teacher, and a paralegal. She works for an attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights. Interesting origins story for this job - Joie ran into a music rights issue for a performance, did loads of research, and when she consulted this attorney after reaching a dead end, the attorney was so impressed by her research that she hired Joie.

Joie cautioned us that she is not an attorney and that the information workshop did not constitute actual legal advice. However, it was an excellent overview of music licensing here in the United States, and I came away with a much better understanding of the performer’s responsibility for using music in performance and in videos.

Basically, there are three types of music licensing:

  • public performance rights - covers rights for using music for performance

  • mechanical licensing - for reproducing the music in a recording like a CD, or recording a cover and sharing it. They are also often needed for DVDs.

  • synchronization licensing - covers rights for using music on videos. Also often required for DVDs.

Each type of license is handled by different licensing entities. For example, public performance rights are handled by performer rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI, while synchronization rights are handled by the music publisher or recording label.

Many in our community have the impression that performer rights organizations such as BMI are big, bad wolves of corporate greed that prey on dancers and dance studios. This is false and misleading. ASCAP, BMI, and SEASAC are actually non-profit organizations that look out for musicians and musicians’ rights. Another interesting origin story - they were formed when player pianos became popular and manufacturers were putting songs on player piano reels without compensating the songwriters. Interestingly, the rates that were set back then have not changed much since the late 19th century, and as a result songwriter royalties are usually some percentage of a penny - in other words, 19th-century rates!

Joie diffused some common licensing myths, such as what exactly “public domain” means when it comes to music and how it is applied (basically, anything published before 1923), as well as the myth of being able to use x seconds of a song without having to pay a licensing fee.

Joie also shared great information for less costly (and free!) alternatives to traditional licensing. One such option is Creative Commons, a non-profit organization through which artists make their creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. There is a large body of music available with Creative Commons licenses, which gives performers the legal right to do things like use their music in videos.

Joie said that she is happy to bring the workshop to other locations; I sincerely hope that other New England dance studios and teachers take advantage of this excellent resource. It can only benefit us a community by helping us be more informed and responsible about music rights and licensing.

Joie rewarding a workshop participant with chocolate during the quiz portion of the class.

Joie rewarding a workshop participant with chocolate during the quiz portion of the class.

(MA) Seyyide Sultan presents "Helwa! From Cairo to Boston"

by Nepenthe Ahlam

 As I write this review, I am still nearly in a state of tarab - drunk on music and dancing. Tonight, I attended "Helwa! From Cairo to Boston", with Seyyide Sultan, her troupe Sarab, and the Taksim Boston Band  (Joseph Koumyoumjian, Hagop Garabedian, Ron Sahatjian, and Art Chingris). I must disclose that I was a student of Seyyide from as far back as 2003 to as late as 2013. She even performed at my wedding. Still, folks, I am committed to giving you a fair and balanced show review.

The venue was the Arlington Center for the Arts, an intimate theater setting with plenty of free parking. Those of us lucky to arrive early were able to hear some fantastic music as the band warmed up. Seyyide's son, Alan, was a great usher. Lucky to have a reserved seat, I was in the front row with nothing obstructing my view of both the dancers on the stage and the musicians on the floor.

The show started with the tremor of the oud as the Taksim Boston Band opened with "Hibbina", an Arabic classic.

 Next, the troupe danced to that classic pop song "El Salam" in jeans and Sarab t-shirts with hip scarves. It wasn't the strongest piece in the show, but it had Seyyide's mark all over it - all of my favorite moves that she taught me over the years. As the dancers warmed up and the music played on, they got into their grooves but all the while, they had lovely smiles - such an important component of performance.

Then Seyyide performed a classic Arabic opening with baladi elements and even an Alexandrian feel at some points, as well as Saiidi. She danced to it all according to the style of that music, which goes to show that a great dancer needs no props.  She followed this by dancing to an oud taxim by Joseph Kouyoumjian. The oud taxim requires so much confidence, and is challenging because an inexperienced dancer will want to shimmy to every tremolo of the oud, but Seyyide knew when to slow it down and draw it out. This taqsim was followed by an "accordion" baladi, with Hagop on the keyboard. Musically, I wanted more from this baladi. Perhaps it was because this wasn't a real accordion, or maybe because of the maqam selected, but I have seen Seyyide dance to an accordion baladi in the past, and I felt the music didn't allow her to be in the fullness of her range, and it was shorter than expected. Please do not take this as a criticism of the musician, of course. There is a natural superiority to an instrument doing what it is meant to do that cannot be captured by a recording of it, but luckily with today's keyboards, we can at least approximate many instruments.  (If anyone knows an accordionist in Boston, he or she would be very popular!)

As an aside, this band - please take care of yourselves. We know what a gem we have here, how lucky we are in Boston to have great musicians in this style of music, people who grew up with it and have been playing it for many years. With the new immigration policies and the hostility towards Middle-Eastern immigrants in particular, I worry that future generations will never be able to experience what we have had in Boston for the past sixty years.

The next piece was a recorded Saiidi with an ear-piercing mizmar. I mean, I love mizmar as much as the next Arabic music superfan, but the volume was a bit high. That's a problem for mizmar wherever you go! I know it was always an issue for me when I performed. Despite the sound of my eardrums bursting, I loved this group dance because Sarab really got into the spirit of the dance. They lit up. It's actually one of the more difficult dances to do as a group choreography, due to the flying canes, but so much more entertaining this way. This piece harkened back to when Mahmoud Reda adapted the Saiidi tahtib for the stage.

Throughout the show, the costumes chosen for the troupe dancers were simple and elegant, appropriate to the style of music, and well-fitting. However, I cannot end this review without telling you about Seyyide's peacock costume. She looked like an exotic tropical bird from the South American rainforest, with the deep blues and greens and pop of vibrant yellow silk peeking out from her skirt. She danced to Ron's flute taxim with delicate and intricate hands and arms.

Next, we saw the song "Zeina" danced as a duet, with two experienced dancers. Both had excellent technique, but one in particular had a broad smile, projecting joy onto the audience, while the other kept her lips together. I was reminded of the lessons I learned from Ranya Renee of NYC about keeping your mouth at least slightly parted, even if you aren't smiling, because sharing the air with the audience has the effect of connecting you and opening you up, while closing your mouth closes you off. This same dancer, later in the show's finale drum solo, seemed to relax into the music. Her mouth opened into a genuine smile, her soul flowed through it, and we felt her energy as a dancer. It is a beautiful thing when a dancer realizes that she has worked hard on her technique, and now she can relax and share herself with the audience.

Next, Seyyide danced to Enta Omri with all of the subtlety that Oum Kolthoum deserves.

The finale was a drum solo with the entire group. It was a wonderful idea to show each dancer's unique personality. I finally got to see more of Leeza's sweet style and beautiful hips. I cannot necessarily match faces to names in the booklet, but there was one gal in turquoise with amazing stage presence and sense of stagecraft. She has the makings of a great entertainer.  Bigger smiles appeared here than anywhere else, as they must have realized that they were at the end of giving a very professional and well-run show.  The drum solo gave everyone their chance to shine in their own dance style.  Seyyide joined the stage in a spectacular red costume, showing her mastery of the drum solo - how to go fast, slow, and how to wait for it, how to move the audience and of course, what movements most enhance and suit a particular rhythm.

The band played one last song - "Leilet Hob". I seriously lost myself in the music there. I could actually feel myself slipping away. This is one of my favorite songs and since there was no dancer, I could just close my eyes and feel it. Thank you Ron, Joe, Art, and Hagop for your wonderful rendition. I wish I could have been dancing it along with you.

At the end Seyyide gave a nice speech and talked a bit about the dance. Overall I think it did honor to Egyptian dance and music, and achieved its goal of bringing a cultural experience of Oriental dance to Arlington. It was an extremely well-paced show, alternating between troupe and soloists, and musical interludes, such that you never grew bored.

In "Helwa", Seyyide showed everything I love about this dance, and everything I had forgotten I loved. She was one of the first great dancers I had the pleasure to see, who inspired me to go further with my dancing, and even now, after taking several years off from Oriental dance, she has reminded me why I fell in love with it. If only one in a thousand dance students have Seyyide's talents, it is worth training each and every one along the way. 

Photo by Ravenwolfe Photography

Photo by Ravenwolfe Photography

Nepenthe Ahlam (Shannon Davis) was a student and performer of Middle-Eastern dance in the Boston area from approximately 2002 to 2015, studying under the guidance of many different teachers. She produced Raks Nativity for two years running, and then moved on to performing with Johara’s Snake Dance Theater for several productions. In 2015, she retired from professional dancing, but still enjoys the music and the people she met through dance. Now, she likes to go “sketching” on the weekends, and is starting to find many parallels between the physical art of dancing and the visual art of drawing and painting. Both require you to have great powers of observation, a mastery of different techniques, but most importantly, the ability to free yourself to feel what you are expressing.  

Aurel raqs the Paris Cabaret

by Amina Delal*

I was so surprised when they asked me to review Aurel’s show. For I’ve a strong bias and hence, am not exactly an objective opinion. Can’t be helped. I’ve known Aurel since her belly dance infancy. While I’m at it here, I’ll also out myself as one of her pushy stage mothers pretty much since the beginning. 

We met in Amira Jamal’s class: me a highly seasoned professional, she an ardent student who’s flame burned with curiosity. I love seeing someone so enthused and watching them as they bloom. It inspires me to view the dance through the wonder in their eyes. I don’t recall whether we bonded before her first recital performance. We had great fun in class together but that credit goes to the excellence of the teacher (giver-goddess that she is). 

The student showcase was staged in a proper theatre with an intimidatingly large proscenium stage, good lighting, and sound. Some people never get to appear in such a grand venue (and one so challenging to project one’s energy to an audience at such a distance). The choice of music was left to each participant as well as whether to use a prop such as a veil or cane. Whatever it took, for just going out there to dance, never mind solo, is an act of considerable courage. 

For her debut, Aurel chose a drum solo, a nervy choice for any novice. At the time I did not know she had a conservatory degree as well as tremendous performance chops. I only know what I saw, that she absolutely got it. She was able to express every beat, embellishment, and accent of the percussion, something requiring strongly-integrated listening skills and bodily control. The audience was transfixed by her, myself no exception. 

In fact, there’s a video somewhere of that performance when she stopped the show. And, as she’s totally nailing a climactic accent, you hear someone spontaneously moved to shout, “Yes!” That was me and I’m still shouting. 

As she’s grown and evolved, Aurel has made it her business to become truly knowledgable about belly dance, relentless in her continual pursuit of excellence. The woman works her ass off in her her exacting, exhaustive study of Middle-Eastern dance and the associated cultures, both traditional and contemporary. I’ve watched (in awe) her growth as a performer and as an inspiring educator much-loved by her students. She never disappoints me; I am so proud of her. And that is just her dancing.

Her singing persona gives her additional dimension as an entertainer, integrating a lifetime of training as a musician and performer. She once described herself to me as a moving singer. This whole other skill set - well-honed by a career of jazz gigs, weddings, and corporate shows - gives her distinction well beyond that of a backup singer or show girl. 

As an entertainer, educator, and choreographer, becoming a producer was only natural. After years of sold-out student showcases, her own nightclub gigs, educational lectures, and gala functions, who better to give us so enchanting an evening’s entertainment suitable for absolutely everyone? 

Photo by Pam Ela, courtesy of AuRelevant Productions. 

And what a perfect intimate venue is The Paris Cabaret, this cute, cozy, inviting dinner theatre in Stoughton, MA with its own loyal following, most of whom hadn’t ever been to a Greek restaurant or seen a real belly dancer. Yet before long, Aurel had this sedate American audience throwing both arms in the air yelling, “Opa!” throughout the performance. 

With her show by the same name, she brings nightclub-style belly dance (also known as “Cabaret”) back to its original intimate setting, much as it was when originally popularized in this country just after the second World War, the golden era of going out to night clubs and the variety floor show. 

Sold out in advance (with another in the works), Aurel brought her enthusiastic audience all the “live” in live-entertainment. This carefully-crafted blend of authentic Near and Middle-Eastern traditional music and song for Western eyes and ears welcomed everyone without a whiff of “foreign”.  Right at home, the eager audience enjoyed a yummy, authentic Greek dinner (just like your Yia-Yia made) serenaded by the Kokoras Brothers ensemble featuring Mike Gregian, with guest drummer Bill D’Agostino for extra swing. As the merry guests were savoring the meal, the room buzzed with excitement. Then shortly after dinner was cleared, the lights dimmed and it was on with the show. 

Well, talk about the hardest-working woman is show business, Aurel took her audience on a Mediterranean tour never even panting. She charmed them with songs in Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and English; liberally sprinkled with stories, gentle humor, and absolute grace in dance. I saw a room full of smiling people completely mesmerized and enjoying themselves immensely. 

Because she explained the context of her songs with story (and a little schtick), the audience better appreciated both the music and dance. Their delight was evident in genuine smiles, as many kept time to the music by swaying and clapping along. They were enchanted by the tray dance with cups of tea and lit candles, the swirling of the veil, and her expert musicianship in the dying art of finger cymbals. Never mind the stunning array of costuming - all glitter, beads, and bling-o-rama glam down to her rhinestone-studded hose and sparkling shoes. She was the epitome of the Tini Mini Hanem (the Turkish song about a tiny, enchanting little lady) just as the belly dancer is supposed to. 

I kept thinking about how this audience might feel about attending a more traditional venue for this genre: a Greek or Armenian dance or club or, maybe, were they invited to an Arabic wedding or hafli. Now, after seeing Aurel’s show, would they venture out to attend? I wonder. 

Perhaps so, especially because they felt so welcome. So appealing an introduction might whet an appetite for further adventure and spark a new interest. Go to an church picnic or bazaar? Attend a concert or other M.E. club or party? Take a belly dance class? As Madame Shadia would say, “Why not?” 

And if they never see another belly dancer at a club or event, they’ve already witnessed a consummate pro. We’ve always been especially blessed with fine dancers and musicians in our community, many of them are greatly skilled, studied, and experienced. However I know of no other today whose well-rounded abilities could present something so universally appealing. 

So when next she’s appearing, go to the Paris Cabaret and enjoy the show that only Aurel can create. You can trust her to present our much-loved dance art beautifully, in only the best of taste, appropriate for any and everyone. 

And to my purist friends I say, don’t worry (Mike Sarkissian would be pleased). You know there is no one fussier than I am about quality in performance and there is nothing but class here. No, it isn’t today’s typical nightclub show. It is bigger than that, not only because it attracts a wider audience, but for creating only the right kind of impression. You want Aurel as an ambassador. We couldn’t get better press. For everything she presents comes from a place of careful study, with a complete respect for the dance and its associated cultures that shines from her devout love as only she can communicate it. Opa Aurel; well done. You’ve accomplished your goal here. And I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. 

(MA) Jamila Salimpour Tribute Show

by Evren

Editors note: Jamila Salimpour was a major influence on belly dance in the United States. Through her troupe, Bal Anat, she popularized folkloric styling, ethnic costuming, and use of props in belly dance performance. She is considered to be the founder of tribal belly dance style; Masha Archer, a member of the original Bal Anat, was Carolena Nericchio's teacher. Jamila's daughter, Suhaila, continues to teach and perform. For more information, see Suhaila's web site.

Learning more about the history of Middle Eastern dance and how it has grown and been interpreted in the United States is an interest of mine, both as a dancer and as someone interested in cultural history.  As such, I was excited to spend a Sunday evening this August taking in the Jamila Salimpour Tribute Show at the Rumba Y Timbal Dance Company studio in Central Square, Cambridge MA, hosted by Iria and Johara.

Each dancer introduced herself with a recorded piece, some choosing to speak about their dance lineage and connection to Jamila, with others taking inspiration from her perspective and influence on the dance. This was a very interesting way to help strengthen the connection each performer had with the piece and the overall theme of the show. The performances varied among long-time hobbyists, troupes, and professional dancers. All were quite good; the dancers displaying both technical prowess and emotional range. Some performed pieces that referenced well-known dances from Jamila's troupe Bal Anat, or used props often employed in Bal Anat performances. A couple of the performances stood out for me specifically for their connection to the show's theme.

  • Baseema performed an inspiring and adept sword piece in honor of her teacher, Melina, whose mother, Rhea, is reputed to be one of the first dancers in the U.S. to have danced with a sword on her head, reportedly placed there by Jamila herself.
  • Blue Moon Caravan paid tribute to Jamila's legacy in the heritage of American Tribal Style bellydance and its many branches/variations, through some of her student Masha Archer and then down through Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, with a fun and engaging performance and as a troupe with a wonderfully diverse makeup.
  • While Iria's connection to the show's theme was somewhat more personal, I found her obvious technical prowess combined with a sheer emotional connection to the music that she had chosen to be a fitting tribute indeed.

Photos by Bruce Mount, courtesy of Iria Estevez

The space and the production itself had a very casual, friendly feeling; more like a hafla and less like a show. The stage was at floor level with seating around it, along with a delightful refreshments table off to the side. Performers in coverups milled about and chatted with friends and family prior to the start of the show, which began about a quarter hour late.

The atmosphere was fun and welcoming, even if it was not what I anticipated from a tribute performance. I appreciated the desire to maintain the spirit of the dance, though it may have been more effective to make this clearer and manage expectations of a more formal staged tribute show versus a more casual gathering with performances. Perhaps the the show could have been adapted slightly to stage it like a 70s era California Renaissance Faire performance? This would have allowed for a casual atmosphere, while nurturing a more cohesive set of performances.

Given how vital live music is to our dance and the legacy of Jamila's finger-cymbal playing, having time for percussionists and other musicians to jam openly and inviting the audience to participate was an excellent idea. That this would be happening was not well advertised, however, and I would have preferred if this had been made clearer ahead of time, so that I could bring my finger cymbals and allot time to stay after the performances. I was sad that I had to leave, but for those taking public transportation or who had to wake early the next morning, an unplanned stay can be difficult to do without forewarning.

Having percussionists add to the sound of the recorded music performances was enjoyable, if not always effective, due to some issues with the sound system, but it was unclear to me if this was planned, if the performers knew about it prior to the event, and if they were all offered the option to perform to live music. Though Natassia performed beautifully and powerfully to a live oud taksim and drum solo, it seemed as though this was organized between her and the musician beforehand. Since there were numerous other musicians contributing throughout the show, it would have been nice to see some other dancers perform to live music, as well. 

A short documentary about Jamila's legacy was presented at the start of the show and, while it may have worked in a more formal setting, it may have been more effective to start the tribute hafla with a short workshop, or perhaps a lecture detailing even more about Jamila's life and work, the video presentation, and a short introduction into some unique elements of Jamila's dance style. The information itself was interesting and the footage of Bal Anat was fun to watch, but it was mostly content that I've have already come across in my dance research. Getting a chance to engage with the material in a dance context would have been an enriching experience, especially for those of us in the community with a different dance background.

Overall, it was a good production with beautiful performances and a lovely celebration of Jamila's life and influence on the dance. 

Evren began her study of Middle Eastern dance in 2011 and delights in attending events throughout New England.

Amy SmithComment
(MA) Dancers for the Dead

Reviewed by Heather Emerson

Ceremony and spectacle, sacred and sinister were all played out on stage in Johara’s Snake Dance Theater’s production of Dances for the Dead. The well attended program was given as a benefit for the Italian Home for Children. Johara has, with courage and professionalism, produced extensive stage shows for many years on a variety of themes from belly dance through the decades to the Golden Era of Egyptian Dance. At this one, as fits the theme of death and respect for the past, was announced at the show to be her last formal stage production. Fortunately she will continue to dance, and anyone who has suffered through the birth of even a small show cannot blame her for choosing to step back for the risks, madness, scheduling, and costs involved in such a production. I hope that others will take up where she left off and bring dance to the larger stage, and the larger world, through such shows.

As the audience entered the theater, they were invited to write a memory or share a photo or a memento of a past loved one on a decorated altar in front of the stage. The altar was covered in memories of loved ones, who were saluted in the opening ceremony, described as combining “traditions from the Mexican Day of the Dead and the Ghost Festival of China to pay our respects for our loved ones that have passed from this world to the next.” A somber parade, two by two, entered the theater from the back and passed the audience, other worldly and somber in sugar skull masks. The lighting and costuming combined to create a sense of a truly sacred, hushed space that one could have enjoyed and spent the evening in contemplation.

The show must go on, however, and Yael transitioned the audience to Act One, the individual performances, with a stunning black and red costume that enhanced her “dark Flamenco Arabe” piece. Her movements were so deliberate and her arms to incredibly fluid, she was a pleasure to watch. Next La Llorona continued on the Mexican/Spanish influenced theme with an elegant fan veil piece depicting “one of the oldest ghost stories of the Mexican Day of the Dead.” Nepenthe changed our mood and locale as she portrayed a slain Viking warrior maiden, who rises as a “draugar” and masterfully uses her family sword (and a red veil) to deliver vengeance and gain her spirit peace. You could see the menace and anger in her eyes from the seats.

In a fabulous turn of events, the next performers – the King Serpent Variety Troupe – treated us to a song and story combined, taking us on a pirate ships “voyage through the land of the dead.” I have to take a moment here to say what a pleasure it is to have a show not only with varieties of dance styles, but to have other performing arts as well. It keeps the audience’s attention and entertains in a well-rounded way that even a non-dancer can enjoy. When you produce a large, expensive stage show – as well as expose new audiences to our dance form in a positive way – it makes sense to combine different types of performance so we all better appreciate one another as well as it will attract new audience types and hopefully create new fans.

The more traditional dark fusion piece came in Iria’s sinuous performance “In an exhale I wake up from the dead.” Next, Badriya Al Badia took us to the Celtic realm and through the night skies as The Huntress of the Wild Hunt. Her gathering of souls included reaching out in such a manner you couldn’t escape feeling a sense of chill and dread. The Celtic journey continued Neylan in her piece Herne the Hunter.  I’ve been watching Neylan for over a decade, but this piece has to be one of my favorites. Giving us a view of the physical decline of age and approach of death, she was wrapped in a colorful granny square shawl, but as her soul was gathered it reenergized and prepared to be born again that shawl, once a sign of age, became an energy radiating veil. Neylan handled this heavy shawl so well it moved with the lightness of silk.

We descended into darkness in the last portion of the first act, first with Esther Rahel dancing dark fusion as “The Church Grim,” guarding all the church and all buried in the churchyard from the devil. Madness was the message as Anabee, with chilling manic movement and wide eyes frenetically danced “Obsession.” The Priestess, Aria, returned us to safer, more sacred ground as she danced “Crossing the Veil,” with both an ethereal lightness yet incredible strength, honoring the ancestors during Samhain, when the veil between the world is at its most thin.


After a brief intermission, the stage was set for Act Two, a stirring tale of innocence, temptation, lust, and the strength of a young woman to determine her own destiny. The Serpentine Dancers performed “Dracula’s Bride”, starting as most fairy tales do with a young woman taking “a joyous walk in the forest in search of mushrooms to serve at her wedding day feast.” The young woman was danced and costumed perfectly, portraying all the purity and innocence of Snow White. She was joyful, but not meek, and against her friends’ warnings goes deeper into the forest where she encounters a colorful and coin bedecked fortune teller in Johara, whose dramatic gestures and strong ability to communicate a story through dance tell us that a dreadful future is in store for our heroine. Naively she continues further, only to be tempted into a picnic with a pair of wine-supping, sensual women. Finally, intoxicated and afraid, she faints when confronted with a flight of dark, dazzling dancing bats (costumed by none other than Boston’s own costumer to the stars and dance herself, Shadia).

Our heroine awakens in a dark castle, surrounded by sensual, mysterious women who prepare her to join them as Dracula’s brides. Faced with impending doom as described by the fortuneteller, she plays along with the brides, but makes her own plan. Bedecked in her wedding attire, she finally meets her suitor, an amazingly tall, long haired, darkly mysterious, regal but intimidating Dracula. I wish I had his name, but all I can say is WOW. She seemed to be in his thrall, and the audience began to think she would fall, but at the last minute, her embrace becomes his death with a stab to the heart and she escapes to rejoin her true love.

One of the joys of ballet is the storytelling, and Johara clearly draws on her classical Western dance training and knowledge. Seeing a whole story told so clearly and beautifully, with dance, pantomime, props and costumes is a treat for an audience – particularly when it is well rehearsed and performed. Never once did you have to put the story aside due to a distraction of an unprepared or entangled performer. This dance drama was truly a pleasure. Thank you, Johara, for years of fabulous stage shows and sharing your inspiration with the community. Now everyone give her a loud, long zaghareet!

If you want to produce or perform in a stage show – a few thoughts:

As I mentioned above, this type of show is expensive and hard work – both to produce, choreograph, rehearse, plan, and promote. I hope that others will take on this challenge, but go in knowing what it demands.

As a performer, if you are offered an opportunity to perform in a stage show as a solo artist or as part of a larger group, you need to take it seriously. Be sure you are very clear on what type of performance your director wants and design your piece – and practice it - to be part of that story or theme. Use music that supports that theme, and use a stage-worthy costume. You want something that will highlight you, your performance, and the uniqueness of your piece.

  • If your outfit is something you could wear on the street or to dance class, you need to consider stepping up your game. Have you ever been to a show where it seems like every other dancer is wearing a plain choli with a skirt? You wouldn’t try to spin in an a-line skirt? Even the common layered or tiered drawstring waist skirts aren’t always made to be full the way a full circle or tribal skirt is. You may not get the spin – or the look – you desire.   

  • You wouldn’t wear a plain bra (or have any part of your everyday bra!) showing. Cover your bra – including shoulder straps and back hooks! Add “stuff” – be it sparkly, poofy, silky, spiky, ragged, kuchi-style – use what will highlight you, your performance, and the story or feeling you want to project.

  • You are on a stage – chances are your audience is looking up – and can see up into your billowing skirt or into that long slit in your skirt. Nothing wrong with showing leg – but chances are you don’t want to show more than that. Wear appropriate underwear or dance pants to keep your privates to yourself.

  • Safety pins – or even diaper pins (safe for babies, safe for dancers!) – are your best friend! I’ve always found dancers to be happy to help one another get pinned in place. You aren’t going through airport security, but you want to be secure! When in doubt, pin layers of skirts, undies, and hip scarves together. Pin your beautiful top to the bra so the bra – and breast (yes, I’ve seen it) stays covered and the beautiful top stays where it is supposed to. I know many dancers also take advantage of double-sided fashion tape.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on a costume – but you do need to give it effort – specialized make-up or hair, jewelry, props, effects, things can help reflect the character or theme you are dancing and add interest and movement. Take things up a notch!

  • The make-up you wear for a restaurant gig where you are interacting with the audience is very different from the make-up you need on stage in lighting. Darker, more clearly defined – it may look clownish or odd up close – but for your audience it will define your features and can be the highlight of your costume.

  • Think bigger with hair and hair décor. For some dancers this may be outside your usual comfort zone, but it is part of being a stage performer. Your director trusts you to do a great job in their show.

  • A special prop or surprise effect can add a dash of theater to your performance. Be creative! You want your performance to be memorable for all the right reasons, not to blend in or be similar to others.

Of course, be a professional. Attend rehearsals in a timely manner. Lighting can be your friend – don’t miss your tech time! If you have an emergency or have to change a rehearsal time or find out you can’t perform, let the producer know as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly. Do unto other dancers as you’d have them do to you – share dressing room space, help getting prepared, and encourage your fellow performers. Spread the love!


Amy SmithComment
(MA) The Green Light Effect

Reviewed by Stephanie Medeiros

Art is universal, and should be enjoyed by any who wish to do so. Today, everything is easily accessible, via the internet or international travel, whether or not it is meant to be. But consent to share that art, that culture, that piece of the artist that created it, is important, and often overlooked in the consumer-driven, self-prioritizing, and instant gratification-demanding world. The "Green Light Effect" show explored the concept of consent in art, in blending cross-cultural styles, and in our personal selves. Producers Lúlu Stone and Jaylee put on a lovely introspective and enlightening show that was a real joy to witness.

Another performance at the YMCA theater in Cambridge - absolutely no stage accents or embellishment, and somewhat comfortable temperature-wise. The show nearly sold out. Lúlu and a “mute” Jaylee welcomed the audience with a brief introduction about their own personal thoughts, experiences, and ideas about giving others the “green light,” both for their art and themselves. It stressed the importance of community, respect for each other, and the appropriate understanding amongst artists and their audiences.  All music was used with expressly-given permission from the respective musicians, some internationally recognizable and others more underground, but incredible nonetheless. The local musicians featured in the show gave away samples of their music at the merchandise tables.

The show opened with a fun and flirty all-inclusive performance by Lúlu and her students, called “Pass the Champagne”. They delivered a fantastic blend of style, color, and creativity with a touch of sass and high energy. It prepared the audience for a roller coaster ride of art, emotion, and fantastic talent.

Kaldasi’s performance, titled “Clear Away,” was a sequel piece that explored a duality within herself; the masculine and feminine, the mutual relationship between patriarchal and matriarchal aspects of her personality and preferences. It was an evocative, emotional piece displaying her personal self struggle of acceptance. She portrays hunter and prey, object and seeker, and how both roles meet in a wonderfull checkmate of self-assurance.

“Awakening,” Jaylee’s solo, was definitely the most emotional of the show. As a survivor of sexual assault, Jaylee took the audience through her trauma and recovery step by step. There was a creative incorporation of trigger words written across her body and costume, highlighting each event in her journey. It was a heart-wrenching performance with beautiful veil work and evocative expression. Revealing each new word on her body throughout, from “guilt,” “victim,” and “shame” to “healing,” “forgiveness,” and “I am enough,“ she transitioned between tentative and delicate movements to empowering displays of strength and the ability to overcome. Jaylee bared her soul for the audience, and it was a resounding, breathtaking experience.

Lúlu and Katie Bircher had a lovely back-and-forth, illustrating people’s tendency to self-deprecate in times of doubt and failure. Katie portrayed the ups and downs of life, with Lúlu as her little inner voice encouraging her to pick herself up and get back to living the life she deserved. It was a playful and endearing look at a problem many people face every day, illustrated through a quirky and high spirited duet, titled “voice? VOICE!”

Dahnii took control of the room with her performance, as if to say “Look out world, here I am!” Her confidence in herself, and her amazing dancing ability, was a radiant light that drowned out any and all negativity the world may try to throw her way. “Bloom Into Me” represented what all should hope and aspire to do; to love and accept one’s self just as they are.

The next piece was a trifecta of wonderful shapes, a la the talent and grace of Tamsyn Bindal, Kalidasi, and Lúlu, with on-point synchronization and a tasteful blend of many complementary dance styles. The performance ranged from traditional belly dance technique, to Indian and Balinese, with each of the three dancers highlighting her own sense of style. Recycled from a solo Lúlu once performed, it illustrates the concept of art embracing all forms and parts of itself and becoming a greater whole through that “Evolution;” making it an aptly-named piece.

 “Sirens” was an explosive start to act 2. Di’Ahna, Jaylee, and Dahnii came out in a tidal wave of seductive predatory power, owning their feminine wiles with no shame whatsoever for who they are and what they wanted. Each dancer got her own chance to lure their prey with a miniature solo that blended perfectly into the group piece. The costuming was beautiful, and it was a crowd favorite.

 Inaya Nour’s “Ebb” was a wonderful piece of contrasts. She went from rigid and robotic to graceful and smooth, displaying a marvelous capability for flexibility and jaw-dropping silhouettes. Each aspect of her performance was a juxtaposition, but as a part of the same whole, and that’s exactly what made it beautiful.

Di’Ahna’s solo, dubbed “Deliverance,” was all about embracing the dark times, knowing there are bright times ahead. It was a fun and bodacious contemporary belly dance piece that had the audience smiling. Her expression is so rich and vibrant that it’s impossible to not be pulled in to her every move. Truly an uplifting and fun performance.

The next piece, “Tallest Tree,” was dedicated in the program to two special men in particular, as well as all men who promote women’s rights. The choreography demonstrated a struggle, to a wavering foundation, and branching out into newfound territory. Lúlu started with incredible floor work, and eventually rose to a stand, with incredible grace and flair. She seamlessly incorporated ballet-esque accents, and finished with an epic shimmy that should go down in history.

“Leylet Hob” closed the show with a wonderful group act based in the traditional, but with perfectly blended contemporary aspects. It was easy to see how happy and exhilarated each performer was, with an energetic and cohesive piece that was an incredible representation of the show’s theme; consent, appreciation, and acceptance.

(MA) The Poe Show IV

Reviewed by Heather Emerson

In 1848, after his beloved wife’s death, famed American writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe came to Lowell, Massachusetts as part of the lecture circuit. He left a strong impression and this admiration lives on, with musicians, dancers, and poets coming together to celebrate his life and works in the Edgar Allen Poe Show IV, presented by Meg Smith/Morgana Mirage, at Lowell's own Athenian Corner. The show was dedicated to Meg’s late husband, Lawrence Carradini (1953-2014), who had been an active partner to her in the arts world and in life, as well as a major cultural organizer in Lowell. I knew Larry, and there was no question his spirit was settled in and enjoying the show.

The evening’s mood was set by the unique musical stylings of Wisteriax (Karen Langlie), who uses electronic effects and her cello to evoke a soundtrack of Poe's stories. Setting the scene with eerie cries of mourning, whispering winds and by picking her cello with a feathered quill, she filled the audience with dreadful anticipation.

The first half of the show featured Poe's words being brought to life by five accomplished writers and poets. In a reading dedicated the famous Prince of Darkness, actor Christopher Lee, Meg brought “The Raven” to life. This slightly dark, shadowy space was an evocative setting and Meg took full advantage of dynamics and pauses to invoke a solitary chill. Eric Stanway followed with a magical reading of “The Haunted Palace,” pulling the audience into a vision of the fantastic and cold place.

Regie O’Hare Gibson, co-creator of the Art Ensemble of Boston, was a major highlight, creating a warm and intimate environment while sharing the story of how a partial copy of Poe’s work shocked him into poetry as a child. Just when we all felt warm and safe again, he brought Wisteriax back and she improvised as he read “The City in the Sea.” Wisteriax wrapped us in seaweed and dark spirits as Regie lyrically reciting cold memories of water-buried Atlantis. The two of them passed the story back and forth from words to music like they had some sort of telepathic connection. The effect had chills running along my skin.

Clearly an educated fan of Poe, Jim Dunn choose various selections from Cory Light’s Unknown Poe. He read an earlier work, and while it evoked the common themes of sleep and death with elegant words, it was simpler and less raw than Poe's later writings. Jim also shared the story of The Worthen House, a pub in Lowell, where it is believed that Poe wrote “The Raven.” With a reprise of his previous performance of “The Conqueror Worm,” Eddie Dyer led the audience to the brief intermission as small bits of worm (gummy, that is) dropped with gruesome, weighted thuds to the floor as he intoned “It writhes! – It writhes! – with mortal pangs, The Mimes become its food, and seraphs sob at vermin fags, In human Gore imbued.”

The audience was given a chance to pause and recover from the darkness before the stage came to life with dancing. Inspired by “The Masque of the Red Death”, a masked Ameena performed with two dancers who turned with clockwork precision as she elegantly moved among them. As the dreamy music changed to the ever powerful Carmina Burana, she transformed into a mummy-like Red Death with a commanding and horrifying mien, mercilessly gathering the souls of the audience.

Badriya al-Badi’a brought elegance to life as she danced “The Lake”. Her costuming worked perfectly with the lighting, her gracefully flowing movement mimicking exactly the glitter of light and shadow at a lake’s edge, with her shimmies sending tiny ripples outward. Seeing the stylings of Egyptian Oriental dance used to such incredible effect in this environment really excited me from a dancer’s standpoint. The emotion and image she masterfully portrayed spread subtly yet clearly to the audience, drawing us into the lake using her entire body to communicate mood and sensation.

Photos by Heather Barker. Used with permission.

Morgana Mirage took the floor as a dancer, inspired by Annabel Lee, to perform to Poe's “The Kingdom by the Sea”. Morgana took a great risk and shared herself with us; not just the sadness of grief and loss, but also her love, passion, adoration,and joy. “The Crystal Ship” by the Doors was the perfect vehicle for her heartfelt, honest performance, saying more than words ever could. It was not hard to know who she was dancing for, even if she announced it before hand, and it was a beautiful demonstration of belly dance as a form of personal expression, strong and sweet.

Coming from another direction entirely, Alizah Afet brought a mummy’s dream to life in “The Blood of the Scarabeus,” inspired by “Conversation with a Mummy.” Dressed and initially moving with the haughty, otherworldly poise of an Ancient Egyptian queen, she alternated between angular Pharonic positions echoing the classic Egyptian funerary poses seen on tomb walls and the graceful snakelike movements of a living, warm blooded woman. This duality of spirit ultimately lead to an invocation resulting in a glowing magical scarab appearing in her hands, and we felt her joy at its arrival.

Moondance Collective closed the show with an abstract, dream-like duet inspired by “A Dream Within a Dream.” Constrained by fabric, they moved towards and away from one another, intertwining, mirroring, and entwining to create tension would collapse, only to rise again in intensity.

The Edgar Allan Poe Poe Show IV was a pleasure to attend and is an excellent example of what makes for a successful event. It was diverse, including music, visual arts, performance, drama, poetry, and storytelling. This provided interest for the audience and created an opportunity for the appreciation of different art forms. Being in a small, intimate venue, it brought the performance closer to the audience, creating a connection and engaging their interest. A big stage show is fun, but smaller shows break the invisible glass between stage and seating, performer and audience. It takes risk, courage, and work to create an intimate show like this, yet it brings live performance not only to the people, but among them. This show was clearly a labor of love. Thank you to Morgana Mirage for her vision and her work.

(RI) Holly’s Head Oddities: The ABCs of the Ostrobogulous Celebrating the Bizarre, Unusual and the Slightly Peculiar

Reviewed by Karen Kempskie-Aquino

The ABC’s of the what? I had to look that one up. Ostrobogulous – slightly risqué or indecent; bizarre; interesting or unusual (from Grandiloquent Word of the Day). All that out of Holly Ferriera’s head? Hmm…I was looking forward to this show with it’s appropriate theme for the Halloween season, and I was not disappointed!

Just a few steps from the quaint Main Street of Warren, RI, I walked into the Historic Warren Armory and a very different world. Dark electronic and goth music provided by DJ Chad filled the air. People floated around in street clothes and in costume. Pinpoints of colored lights danced on the walls and ceiling. As I settled into my seat, I noticed two black cylinders flanking the entrance to the hall. They were moving and the bodies within were reaching out to touch (and startle) people walking into the show. These were the Cylinder Girls, pulsing and writhing to the music in their stretchy, translucent black fabric tubes.

Shortly after the posted 6:00 pm start time, Holly welcomed the audience: “Good evening everyone and welcome to Holly’s Head!” The opening act was the Cylinder Girls, but I was distracted because the entrance door behind them was open to the outdoors and a young boy was sitting on a chair in the foyer. This positioning of the center stage area in front of the entranceway was problematic throughout the show as audience members came and went. The Cylinder Girls were followed by “The Littles Have a Picnic”, four young zombies who danced and acted, and set the theme for the evening.

The ABCs included a host of horrors such as ghosts, deranged people, spiders, death, vampires, skeletons, witches, fireflies, cannibals, zombies (even zombie cheerleaders from Dead U). Many props were used including daggers, swords, webs, veils, wings, buugeng, sticks, roller skates, fan veils, lanterns, capes, canes, Thai nails, skulls, and body parts. This kept the stage manager, Stephanie Medieros extremely busy. She did a fabulous job, but could have used some help at times.

The show contained 39 separate performances, and I can’t comment on all of them, but I will talk about the ones that stood out for me. (Note – the program contained first names only for most of the acts, so that’s all you’ll see here. My apologies for not giving full dancer credit.)

  • D is for Devil: Kate is a skilled Tribal Fusion dancer who was sultry hot and had fabulously expressive eyes.
  • E is for Eight: Ursula was a black widow spider with very clever costuming. She came out with six additional legs (that detached for the dance) and used a net “web” for veil work.
  • G is for Grim Reaper: Smoke & Mirrors showed us what happens when Death needs a career change, and I loved the Grim Reaper and Schoolgirl costumes.
  • M is for Metamorphasis: Bella Donna, Jolie, and Lindsay played their unusual musical instruments for us – a French country dance-style tune and a song about love that will last forever… Instruments included a hurdy-gurdy, a xylophone, bowls, and a shruti box – a briefcase-like instrument that sounds like a cross between an accordion and bagpipes.
  • P is for Plague: Nine dancers in elaborate black costumes that covered them head to toe – this was a showstopper and so dramatic! Big, full tulle skirts topped by black coat-like garments; six had tall cone shaped hats with faces and heads covered in black fabric and these six also wielded black and white fan veils during the tail end of the performance. Three had heads covered in the black fabric, but no hats and they were on roller skates, which added some nice movement. However, one skater was clearly more comfortable using this prop than the others. I loved the end of the piece where the three hatless dancers ended in a puddle on the floor in the middle of a circle formed by the other six.
  • T is for Teeth: A fun group number to open the third act. Did I mention there were 12 dancers with canes on the floor at the same time??
  • X is for X Ray: One of the more lighthearted numbers of the evening performed by the Vertebroads. These three talented ladies portrayed skeleton sisters waking up from their resting places for a little fun. The costumes and makeup were charming and spot on.
  • Y is for Yen: I’m not sure I understand “Yen”, but Nancy turned in a skillful performance with excellent pops and locks.

There were also a number of “In-Betweener” acts sprinkled throughout the show. Stands outs for me included Angelina, one of the younger performers who commanded the stage and had great hair and head tosses. Chad mesmerized us with his Buugeng – s-shaped, lighted props that were twirled all around his body. (Chad – sorry I don’t have the words to describe this. Buugeng really must be seen!) Aliyah and Gea charmed me with “If I Only Had a Goth”, a take on “If I Only Had a Brain”. Cristina was elegant performing with Thai nails. She had great stage presence, strong technique, and out of this world spins.

The closing was an extremely high energy performance by Holly and Special Guest (DiMaris Mojica). It was a fun final number after which the performers and audience swarmed the floor for an impromptu dance party. At this point, the show clocked in at 4 ½ hours. While very enjoyable, it was long, and Holly should consider trimming it the next time. (A “save the date” has already been posted for October 9, 2016).

Holly is truly amazing. She is a very giving person with boundless energy. And I mean boundless – she was in seven – SEVEN – numbers, and none were fluff. You could see her giving her all in each and every one of them. The audience was clearly behind her, and all the performers, as each act received tremendous applause. Kudos to all, and I look forward to next year’s peek into Holly’s Head!

(MA) Not Your Mama's Broadway

by Stephanie Medeiros

All photographs by Moonbindi Photography

Show hosts (L to R): Elizabeth Joy, Fermosa, Samara

"Not Your Mama's Broadway", a fundraiser held at the YMCA Theater in Cambridge, MA, was inspired by classic Broadway and flavored with a taste of modern burlesque, belly dance, and vocal stylings of diversely talented individuals. Proceeds benefited

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

. (Editors note: According to show producers, the event raised over $1100.) Producers Samara, Fermosa, and Elizabeth Joy love and are greatly inspired by theater, and it showed in the effort and passion put into this production.

While the venue is small, and quite warm, the staff tried to make the audience comfortable with fans and refreshments. The large raised stage was decorated with string lights and boas to suggest classic costuming. Show tunes filled the room, adding an upbeat feel preparing the audience for a fresh take on old favorites. The show started with an opening number that featured the entire cast, and each performer got their own spotlight parading around the audience, inviting us to enjoy the show.

First on stage was an enigmatic and haunting portrayal of the

Phantom of the Opera

and his beloved Christine. With gorgeous costuming, alluring belly dance staples with a touch of cabaret, and mesmerizing floor work, Alessandra kicked off the show with a bang almost as arresting as a falling chandelier.

Alessandra as the Phantom's Christine

The next act was a duet: Blitzen von Schtupp's sassy burlesque accompanied by Kylie Why, respectively stripping and singing to a Cabaret favorite, "Don't Tell Mama". It was a marvelous blend of belly dance accented with cheeky strip tease, highlighted by a snarky, well-executed song.

The audience was wowed once again by more talented vocalists Evan Tessier and Illana, with their chilling interpretation of


Todd's "Razors". The sword-style belly dance by Ki RaLuna in their trademark duet routines was in near-perfect synchronization. They danced a duel of precise, eerie kinship that was a spectacular complement to the vocals.

Deb and Elizabeth Joy provided some playful competition with their rendition of "Anything You Can Do". They tested each other's mettle with poles, swords, and wonderful veil choreography. It was one of the more fun and exhilarating numbers, and definitely a crowd pleaser.

Deb and Elizabeth Joy try and outdo one another

Another taste of burlesque, a la The Tasty Pasties, was a take on


's "June is Busting Out All Over". Soft delicate parasols complemented the summery bright skirts, which came off in fantastic fashion.

If the West Side Story prologue is intense for you, the rendition in this show would have been mind-blowing. Two groups of different costumes and belly dance styles squared off over turf with attitude and style that had me at the edge of my seat. It was a faithful but refreshing redux of the classic number, full of personal style and clear fascination with the source material.

Fonda Feeling is a Jill-of-All-Trades, and her Amneris from Madam Butterfly was spot on. Starting in a beautiful kimono complimented by her flashy pink hair, she took the audience through a mix of stunning acrobatics, capped off with burlesque, and ending in a little black dress.

Kylie and Vivienne followed up with a humorous, highly-choreographed, and heavily costumed rendition of Cinderella's "The Step-Sisters Lament". Unlike anything else in the show, the performers danced, acted, and provided their own vocals throughout the number, which was incredibly impressive considering the complexity of their routine.

Next, DJ Chad provided the music and displayed his flow art with illuminated S-Blades. After some technical difficulties, he dazzled the audience with hypnotizing yet repetitive visuals and color to "What A Woman Wants" from Kinky Boots. And his red leather boots were quite kinky.

Evan Tessier again graced the stage, with Samara in tow, invoking Charlie Brown's dream of flying a kite. Funny, quirky, and well-choreographed, Samara started with a veil, and once it took to the skies (balcony) returned to her pop-n-lock style that is always impressive and inspiring. Help came from the balcony, when the poor kite was returned, and Evan finished after Samara's exit, sadly asking for it back.

Lemaris and her back-up crew came out like a firecracker, bright, exuberant, and loud enough to make the sound system crackle. With impressive kazoo skills and a laidback wind-down to act 2, Lemaris and her ladies ended the section with "All I Care About is Love" from Chicago.

Continuing with a more famous and widely-known Chicago number, the Betsi Feathers performed an amazing rendition of "Cell Block Tango". Using rolling props to suggest that they were locked away, these ladies executed each of their respective parts with oozing sex appeal and fierce girl power. The wonderful choreography included a universal male victim, and their sassy, badass burlesque made "Cell Block" more thrilling than ever.

Fermosa shared more of her diverse talents by accompanying Neylan's moving performance with a heart-wrenching, emotional delivery of

Jesus Christ Superstar

's "I Don't Know How to Love Him".

Fermosa and Neylan

With a bit of lounge lizard flair, Joanne and the Snow Moon Tribe showed off their American Tribal Style and singing talent with basket balancing as villagers in "Summertime", from Porgy and Bess. Snow Moon is always a pleasure to watch, either in duets or as an entire troupe.

Amy Macabre and Jareth put an interesting spin on "Send in the Clowns" (A Little Night Music), juxtaposing humor and bright costuming with the melancholy song selection. It was hit or miss with the audience, but their ending with a cake was the highlight of their piece.

Nefertiti and Evan offered a hula-inspired routine to

South Pacific

's "Some Enchanted Evening", focused on her dancing while her counterpart sat in a chair stage right. It would have been nice to see the two interact more during this otherwise lively and lovely dance.

Fiona and Carol closed the show with a fantastic rendition of "I Just Can't Do It Alone" (C


). Carol sang, narrating the act with her deceased sister, and Fiona delivers in spades. A fun, entertaining end to an all around well-produced and well-executed show.

Amy SmithComment
(PA) Blood on the Veil: A Belly Dancer’s Journey Towards Healing, Transformation, and the Divine Feminine

Blood on the Veil: A Bellydancer's Journey Towards Healing, Transformation and the Divine Feminine


Carol Tandava Henning's

one-woman monologue in motion, interwoven with performances by a variety of guest dancers. A story in seven parts, it tells a tale of courage in the face of adversity. It is an immersive, intimate look into the birth of a dancer's soul.

Carol Tandava's is a story of anguish, endurance, and triumph, eloquently delivered and danced with hard-earned confidence. She’s been through the mill, and has clearly come out the better person for her troubles. Her character, forged in struggle, takes the stage to inspire the world with the power of the human spirit.

She tells of her inability, during adolescence, to accept her body for what it was - and what it was becoming. Through her story, she reminds us of the pain of self-disapproval and the shame of the mirror. It's a sad and personal story, but told from the safe, distant vantage of maturity. She's been through it… this, and much worse. While devoting herself to self-improvement through physical fitness, she suffered traumatic bodily injury. It was a series of physical wallops, each a serious setback in its own right, that eventually opened her up to the healing power of dance; specifically, belly dance. We hear of abdominal and back injuries, major surgery, and herniated discs. This story of physical and emotional healing, told with passion and gentle humor, is transformative; the audience, like Tandava, may emerge with a new perception of strength…and of beauty.

The show draws on a variety of cultures and musical traditions. We hear the stories of the props familiar to fans of belly dance; their backstories are explained as they are demonstrated in dance. Candles, fans, and finger cymbals bring the stage to life. We learn to see the costumes and accessories as more than mere adornments. Misconceptions about the art are exposed and overturned though entertaining autobiographical recollections. We’re taken from New York, through Cairo, to New Jersey as the story unfolds. It is a breathtaking trip.

Tandava is not alone in all of this. The guest dancers pop in and out to link her to the dance community at large. In what may be the most joyous segment of the show, Tandava and her friends join in a demonstration of cane dancing. Here the ensemble really comes together. They clearly enjoyed what they were doing.

The movement never ceases; even when her feet are still, Tandava's spoken words are articulated with arms, hips, and lips. There is nuance in her fingertips. Her manner of communicating is a joy to experience. Her story is not to be missed.

Editor's note: This performance took place on June 5th, Community Education Center, Philadelphia.

Dave Gallagher is a computer programmer from the Philadelphia area with a life-long passion for discovering how things work. Following decades of an analytic approach to the world, his love of dance was born the moment he first saw


perform; the scales fell from his eyes. Here was something that he didn't need to understand; here, fulfillment came from simply appreciating. He now enjoys exploring the diverse worlds of dance.

Amy SmithComment
(MA) Creattuk presents "Tales Inspired by the Night Circus"

by Shae Rossi

I should preface this review by disclosing that I was already quite inclined to fully enjoy this show. The Night Circus, by Eric Morgenstern, is one of my favorite books, and I was beyond excited that there would be a belly dance event inspired by this gorgeous, lush, and moving book. What I wasn't prepared for was how well the show was  presented and executed, not to mention beautiful and exquisitely danced.  

Creattuk presents: Tales Inspired by the Night Circus opened on the evening of December 6th, 2014. In keeping with tradition, the YMCA in Cambridge was a sauna, and I am convinced that there is just no good time of year to see a show there without being sure to layer in advance. Though I was wearing a skirt (black and white stripes in honor of the event's theme) and a thin, long-sleeved top, I was uncomfortably warm. The venue is beautiful, intimate, and a treasure, though, so you shouldn't let the heat dissuade you. Just do be sure to layer when you attend a performance there.  

I arrived a bit early, and the audience was milling about, some taking seats, some talking with each other, checking out the raffle, or shopping at the various tables full of wares. I would have paid handsomely for a bottle of water, as I forgot to bring one. The tables were full of sparkly bits, masks, feathers, fabrics, and other treasures to entice.

Soon, the lights began to lower, and everyone took their seats. Music began to play, and voices began reading excerpts from The Night Circus. The detailed paper program we were handed on entry states that the voices heard throughout the evening introducing each number were “provided by the Staff and Leukemia / Lymphoma Patients at Tufts Medial Center Infusion Center.” There was also a dedication on the first page to the memory of Maren Falk and the many people affected by leukemia and lymphoma,” and a statement that all the proceeds from the show will go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Altogether, the night raised $1400 in donations for the society!

And the price of admission was more than worth it. What a variety of fun, beautiful, interesting, humorous, magical, and entertaining pieces. The show opened up with a huge number of dancers taking the stage for an American Tribal Style (ATS) piece. When I saw multiple small groups of dancers fill the stage I admit I was wondering whether this was going to be a chaotic tangle of arms and skirts, with way too much going on. I was so profoundly wrong. Instead, the groups wove in and out of the stage, each little cluster interpreting the music in a different way. It was beautifully done and a wonderful display of the many options you have with ATS. Instead of being too much to take in, your eyes traveled over the various groups, and it was like watching a kaleidoscope; the way they melted up and down the stage, with each new movement drawing your eye to a new place. 

While all of the groups didn't have matching costumes, every single performer during the evening stuck with the book's theme of white, black, and red. However, there was such variety! Each costume really represented the individual group or dancer's own personality or performance, and you never grew tired of the concise palette. 

The next performer was Jeffery Fong, who danced with poi as well as a glowing blue staff suspended on a invisible string. This was a nice deviation from a regular belly dance show, and lent an air of the circus to the evening. Fong also taught an Intro to Poi class during the day, though I did not attend the classes. 

The rest of the evening was a black, red, and white feast of performances. There was a dancer with fans of tarot cards; a confectioner doling out treats to customers of the circus; sword dancers whose performances were an eternal battle; a mechanic with a traveling box that crashed and then sent her into isolations and some of the deepest and most amazing belly rolls I've ever seen; glowing sticks; a two-faced dancer with S-shaped buugeng staffs; a doll who simply wants to keep dancing; two dancers who acted out being mirror reflections of each other; and more.  

There were also copious amounts of props! Brooms, umbrellas, boxes with flashing lights, canes, trays, huge mirror frames, swords, tarot cards, silk fans, and the mesmerizing and meditative buugeng. The sheer variety of acts made this such a pleasure to watch, which is in stark contrast to many shows where the only props end up being veils and you get tired as an audience member watching the same sort of performances over and over.  

I would, however, have loved to have seen more of the local Boston-area circus folk participate in this show. I know that it was mostly an event put on by belly dancers, but our circus community is so varied and diverse and exploding with amazing performers right now that a couple more routines would have made this feel closer to a circus. An acrobat, balancing act, juggler, lyra or something aside from the dance-like performances that were amazing, but of a similar enough vein that the entire night was mostly dance. This is, quite possibly, just me being greedy and wanting more. The night, with two intermissions and sixteen chapters (performances), was truly not lacking in talent. 

What I found most impressive about this event was that each dancer managed to select such unique and interesting elements of the novel to present. Not a single one dealt with the main story arc between the two magician proteges. Instead, the audience was taken to the Night Circus, and given a glimpse – sometimes of what a circus goer would see, but more often of what was happening backstage as well. This served to draw us into the magic of the circus, and include us in the wonder of it all.

The evening was a labor of love and a testament both to the novel and to the great cause that it was supporting. Everything was well-planned and ran smoothly. The audio, which seemed to be prerecorded, was great, and the musical selections were so good that I am planning to ask for a copy of the music so that I can make a playlist to revisit a delightful evening.

Shae Rossi is a writer and editor who has been dancing and exploring belly dance for nearly fifteen years. She is a teacher, performer, choreographer, troupe director, eternal student, and recent member of Vadalna Tribal Dance Company. Shae has a love for all forms and types of belly dance, though American Tribal Style is her deepest passion. When dancing as a soloist, Shae fuses her background in various styles of belly dance, along with many years of martial arts and body therapy training. 


Amy SmithComment
(MA) Snake Dance Theater presents "Egypt-o-Mania"!

by Shae Rossi 

On Saturday October 11th, I had the opportunity to attend Egypt-O-mania: A Love Affair with the East 1890-1950. Billed as “A Belly Dance Benefit, Vintage-Style,” Egypt-O-mania was “inspired by America's fascination with all things Egyptian and Egypt's adaptations of Hollywood style and western music.” The show was also a fund raiser, hosted by Snake Dance Theater, for the Bantwana Initiative. The initiative's mission is “to improve the well-being of vulnerable children and their caregivers and families affected by HIV and AIDS and poverty.” 



I learned a lot from this event about what can make or break a show. For example, in the weeks leading up to the event, the dancers did something unique that I haven't seen done for local events before. On the event's Facebook page, some of the dancers took turns interviewing each other about the pieces they would be performing. That was how I learned that a dancer I was excited to see perform would be doing a piece inspired by Ruth St. Denis.

Tamsyn Bindal. Photo by Scott D'Amato.

When asked why she'd been inspired by St. Denis, Tamsyn Bindal wrote: “We were looking for an inspiration from the early 1900s, and Ruth St. Denis is a pioneer known for introducing Eastern ideas to modern dance. She's absolutely perfect for a West-looks-East theme! In addition, she's an inspiration for both the belly dance and modern dance communities, both of which I've studied, so it felt right for me personally.”

Along with the interviews, which generated much excitement and anticipation on my part, Snake Dance Theater also booked a photo shoot for themselves, and used the gorgeous vintage-looking, flapperesque images for event promotion. This further stirred the pot, as well as generated a great buzz on Facebook.

Suffice to say, I anticipated the event with quite a bit of fervor. The evening was full of ups and downs, however.

Every single dance performance was outstanding. The costuming was beautiful to the point of being mind-blowing. The choreographies were fun, sensual, dynamic, and often surprising. This wasn't a 100% belly dance show, first of all. There was an adorable flapper-kitten piece, with pointed ears and everything. This might sound silly, but the choreography was smart, sassy, technical, and made me think of Mia Michaels. There were musical interludes, with drums, accordion, and other instruments. There were traditional cabaret-style pieces (I think nearly every other piece had a veil involved), and there were also a few Hollywood musical numbers that were outstandingly fun. There were Isis wings, lanterns, canes, more veils, and swords. There was a sacrifice to an island god, and a dance of the seven veils.

Flapper kittens! Photo by Scott D'AmatoMy favorite pieces were the flapper-kittens, and the Ruth St. Denis piece by Tamsyn. Not only was Tamsyn's peacock costume gorgeous, but she danced mostly with her arms, and with her hands forming bird beaks. Her movements were precise and muscular, sharp and fluid at the same time. She moved like a long, delicate bird; all angles that flowed smoothly from one position to the next. It was mesmerizing, and everyone around me remarked on how lovely it was.  

There was also a cute piece by Johara about a maid who secretly wanted to be a famous dancer. Her solo with a feather boa turned into a fun and energetic Hollywood musical-style number, complete with two backup dancers in velvet vests. Their foot work, kicks, and antics had the crowd whooping and cheering.

This show's offerings were astounding. I so dearly wish they had had the technical support they deserved. And I don't mean the technique of the dancers, which was lovely. The sound person for this show seemed to be having an incredibly difficult time. It seems he didn't have the ability to play MP3s on his setup, which is mind-blowing in this day and age. Instead, each dancer had to bring him a CD that day, which he would then spend time inserting and starting. For each number. Which meant that there was tons of dead air, where the house lights would be down and we'd be sitting in the darkness, just waiting for the music to start, with the dancers often waiting on the blackened stage. And apparently this was the first time he was running through with these CDs, because the music would start out blaring, or ridiculously quiet and the sound person would then frantically work to adjust them.

How the music wasn't gotten to him early enough for him to have set his levels is unknown. He was apparently there all day, and the dancers have known for a long time what music they were dancing to. Maybe there was some huge melt down with his gear or something that day. Whatever the case, it led to an incredibly frustrating experience for audience and performers. There were even two women who were doing singing numbers who ended up doing so a cappella.

In addition, during various parts of the show, a small band of musicians gathered at the foot of the stage and played a few songs. They were fantastic, and it was incredibly hard not to get out of our seats and dance, but everyone was straining to see them. Nothing was happening on the stage, so I'm not sure why they hid the musicians where only the first few rows could see them.

Malaya leff. Photo by Scott D'Amato.Two other things would have taken this show to another level. The first would have been to have had an MC to help keep the event moving smoothly, and the second would have been to have had a program. For some reason, none of the dancers were introduced and none of their pieces were explained. There apparently was a program online, but it wasn't accessible while we were there, and the audience was quite confused as to who was who and what they were doing. The only reason I knew one of the acts was a tribute to Mata Hari was because I'd read the dancer's interview online. Until I connected the dots, however, I couldn't figure out what she was doing at all wandering around the stage with a lantern and what I now think were stolen documents or something. I also didn't know until someone explained to me after the show that the sweet looking lady who seemed to be dressed in her Sunday best was singing a Billy Holiday song I didn't recognize. An MC and a program for the audience would have solved this issue neatly, and put the performances much more into perspective. 

This was a great, show, however. I hope that, between the door prices and the raffle, they were able to raise money and awareness for the charity. The variety of the lavish costumes seemed endless. The performances ranged from ballroom and the roaring twenties, to classical cabaret, flamenco, drag queen, silver screen, and beyond. In all, this was a fantastic show, and the performers did themselves much credit in the face of so many technical difficulties.

Shae Rossi is a writer and editor who has been dancing and exploring belly dance for nearly fifteen years. She is a teacher, performer, choreographer, troupe director, eternal student, and recent member of Vadalna Tribal Dance Company. Shae has a love for all forms and types of belly dance, though American Tribal Style is her deepest passion. When dancing as a soloist, Shae fuses her background in various styles of belly dance, along with many years of martial arts and body therapy training. 

Amy SmithComment
AuRelevant Productions presents "A Celebration of Friendship Everywhere"

by Morgana Mirage

From the sparkling ballrooms of hotels in Egypt and Beirut, to the snow-covered mountains of New England, Aurel D’Agostino and a shimmering array of talent circumnavigated the globe on a tour of music, dance, and joy. The event aptly summarized in its name, “A Celebration of Friendship Everywhere,” took place Aug. 17 at the Holiday Inn in Mansfield, Mass.

The opening performance harkened to the golden age of Oriental dance, with a grand, orchestral sound. An ensemble led by none other than George Maalouf played the classic Arab standard, “Haram Tahabek” (forbidden to love you) made famous by the singer Warda.

Aurel entered in a dazzling pink and gold costume with shimmering Isis wings, and performed with her signature energetic style.

She sang another Warda favorite, "Batwanes Beek", meaning, “whether near or far, I cherish you.” Her greeting to the audience was warm and unifying, saying she was “so grateful, so blessed that there are people who want to go out and have a good time with their friends and families.” This song was followed by the Egyptian folk song, “Ah Ya Zein,” meaning, “Oh, beautiful one.”

Then it was time for some serious stepping up, as the Mirza Ensemble, directed by Christine Mirson-Tohme - also known near and wide by her dance name, Shadia - entered to perform a set of exciting dabkes in which Aurel joined. Dabke is the national dance of Lebanon, meant to be dance with spirit and pride.

Aurel, who had demured from the stage for a bit, reappeared in a sassy Turkish costume for a sassy Turkish dance in the traditional style, with long skirt, flared sleeves, and a flair for fun. The song this time was another favorite - “Istemem Babacim,” which literally means, “I don’t want to, papa, I don’t want to. ” She explained in comic fashion the meaning of the song, in which a strong-willed young woman rejects a number of suitors that her father presents.

Photos by Peter Paradise Michaels of RavenWolfe Photography, courtesy of Aurelevant Productions.

From there the show began a graceful segue to the sounds of Japan, with a mesmerizing mix of music, poetry and martial arts merged into a unique art form, by Soke Grand Master Tsjui, with Samurai drummers and the time-honored taiko drum. The performance was also a blend of an original creation, and an ancient practice in which the drum retains a sacred and honored presence in Japanese culture.

Not everyone could make the leap of musical setting from Japan to, say, Vermont, but this Aurel did, with not only music, by a moving memory - of her loud, jovial Italian father, and her Irish grandfather influenced by the local Yankee culture, and who was more reserved. But when the former played “Danny Boy,” an English folk song that has become synonymous with Irish history, there was a meeting of the minds and hearts, through music. Aurel offered her own rendition, and though the room was mostly dark, it’s fair to say there were misty eyes about.

Aurel also sang an Italian song, in homage to her Italian heritage, and “Cielito Lindo,” or “Beautiful darling,” a Mexican song of enduring popularity, whose chorus of “Aye, aye, aye aye, canta y no llores,” (please sing, and don’t cry) is familiar to many outside Mexican culture, mostly from film.

Aurel involved the audience, urging them to join in the songs, and then got them on their feet to bust out a move of their own, with Middle Eastern, Latin and even American pop music, with a fitting coda - Katrina and the Waves’ 1980s hit, “Walking on Sunshine.”

And although it was well into night when the show ended, it’s fair to say that’s how concert goers felt as they departed.

Morgana Mirage is associate editor of Belly Dance New England.


ShowsAmy SmithMAComment
Got F.A.C.E.? with Basimah


by Hayam (Brianna Molter)

Have you ever witnessed a dancer perform and been utterly compelled to watch her? She may be a professional or an amateur, it doesn’t matter. Technique or no, there is just something about her that makes you want to watch her. We learn the mechanics of Middle-Eastern dance as baby dancers. As we grow, we learn that we must not only develop technique but master performance as well. For many students, the performance aspect is the most difficult piece of the puzzle to grasp. Countless dancers execute the technical aspects of Middle-Eastern dance beautifully but still have flat performances. There is no spark, no energy between the performer and audience that keeps the audience enchanted. This element is what Basimah refers to as “giving face” and can turn a so-so performance into a captivating and memorable experience.

I was lucky enough to participate in Basimah’s "Got F.A.C.E.?" workshop, an intimate class where Basimah teaches her students to “give face” and take their performance to the next level. F.A.C.E. stands for Facial Expression, Awareness, Confidence, and Engagement. I was unsure what to expect going into the workshop since performance is a difficult topic to teach. I soon learned that the class would be all about pushing students outside of their comfort zones. Basimah’s warm and welcoming demeanor immediately made me feel more comfortable, but I was a bit taken aback when she said that we would not be dancing for a while. Wasn’t this a dance workshop? She had the class sit in a circle and explained that she wanted us to think deeply about what belly dance meant to us. Why do we keep dancing? What drives us?

She told a very personal story about when she realized what performance was all about. It revolved around performing for a fellow soldier during her tour of service in Iraq. As we listened, it was like the icy walls of insecurity in the room began to melt. She asked the rest of us to share our experiences and let down our own personal walls to discover what performance was really about to us. It was an amazing experience discovering everyone’s stories, and before we were even halfway around the circle there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Basimah challenged us to take this energy and use it when we dance. She described how we should be using these very raw and real feelings to generate a connection with our audience. Following the exercise, Basimah broke down the acronym F.A.C.E. and gave some very helpful pointers about how to translate feeling into our performance. She explained that she was giving us a performance toolkit. By using the principles of F.A.C.E. we would develop our own personal performance style and spark, making the audience want to watch us.

Following our rather introspective morning, Basimah declared that we were finally ready to get moving. She paired us off and said we were going to do a “sexy walk”. I could see the anxious looks around the room. “Oh no, what is a sexy walk? I am an awkward duck.” Basimah had us walk toward our partners and try to embody sexy using the performance energy we had learned. “Make them want you!” she said as she walked between partners. It was a very difficult exercise, especially for those of us who tend to be more introverted. It was mentally exhausting to look my partner in the eye and will her to watch me as I walked toward her. But by the end of the exercise, everyone was having fun, and partners were cheering each other on. I could feel the walls coming down around us as we loosened up and learned to enjoy the “sexy walk”. This energy was later channeled into small group improvisational activities and following Basimah through a short and sassy combination. I found the progression of the activities very helpful in learning how to systematically take advantage of the different aspects of F.A.C.E.

I would highly recommend this workshop to other dancers, whether you are a professional who feels like you are in a performance rut, a beginner who isn’t sure about establishing yourself on the stage, or anywhere in between. Basimah takes a difficult concept and breaks it down into manageable pieces. I came away from "Got F.A.C.E.?" with a much deeper understanding of why I dance and how I can affect my audience with my energy. I also appreciated the opportunity to develop this knowledge in a supportive and challenging environment. It was special to be able to share the experience with an intimate group. I think we all felt a connection to one another after letting ourselves become vulnerable and learning what it meant to use F.A.C.E. Basimah is a challenging instructor who is very invested in helping her students develop a deeper understanding of their dance. She pushed us out of our comfort zones and at the same time she pushed our dance to a new level. I look forward to using the tools she taught us in "Got F.A.C.E.?" in all my future performances.

Hayam performs and teaches Middle-Eastern dance in the Boston area. She started Middle Eastern dance in 2007 and has been in love with the music and culture ever since. Her goal is to continue to share its joys with audiences and students everywhere for many years. For more information visit hayamraqs.com.  


  Hayam's baby daughter, Willow

Amy SmithComment
(NH) A Child's Garden of Verses
Having only been dancing for a little over a year and a half now, I happily embrace opportunities to attend dance performances that will expose me to different styles and dancers. I was fortunate to be able to attend "A Child’s Garden of Verses" up in Portsmouth, NH on February 22nd, hosted by the lovely and talented Zabel.

The venue, St. John’s Episcopal Church, was an open and inviting space for a community performance. The show was a collection of performances, organized into a child’s journey, with each dance inspired by a poem in the book “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Posters located near the entrance at the back of the hall displayed the selected poems and artist statements from each of the dancers in the order they would dance in the show. Zabel took the stage at the start of the show to address the audience and briefly explain the vision behind the production. 

Zabel’s energetic opening piece (“To Any Reader”) set the mood for the evening, but I found her second dance (“My Treasures”) to be even more enjoyable. She blended the glee and excitement of a child rummaging through a treasure box with the drama and confusion of that same child coming to learn that not everything in life is a toy and that even cherished items may be lost or taken.

Overall, the dancers deftly communicated the wonder, playfulness, exploration, confusion, and occasional pain associated with childhood. The performances were wonderful to watch and the show itself moved swiftly, covering many different themes without running too long. Many of the dancers used props – from veils to actual stage props representing items from their poem – to help tell their section of the story. I could enthusiastically detail every dancer’s graceful interpretation of their poem, because there were fantastic moments in each performance. In the interest of time, I wanted to mention the particular interpretations that spoke to me and that I felt were highlights of the evening:
  • Sisters of the Sun did an excellent job in communicating the free-spirited camaraderie among friends as they explore the world, learning and playing together, in “Pirate Story.” Their ATS performance was perfectly suited to the theme, with the joy and togetherness accented by just a hint of cheekiness.
  • The penultimate performance, “To Willie and Henrietta,” was a beautiful piece by Kira Luna Dance Troupe. Focusing on the transition between generations, it was an incredibly touching interpretation. The dancers’ emotional connection with the poem was evident in every movement.
  • Sabrina Lichtenwalner arrived on the stage with such joy and exhilaration, evoking the discovery of possibilities that made her interpretation of “The Swing” so memorable. I found it impossible not to smile throughout her performance. Her delight at exploring the stage and the “big world” (the audience) was evident and infectious.
It was a treat to get to see the different styles of dance from a variety of local dancers. Experiencing the different ways in which the dancers chose to bring their poems and the feelings behind them to life made the journey more than worthwhile. On the whole, I felt that the performers were able to retain the spirit and soul of Middle Eastern dance while telling a compelling story. For future themed events, I would love to have the dancers use more Middle Eastern music, especially with a live band. To watch musicians and dancers interact with each other, the music, and the source material or theme would not only be fascinating, but I also believe that it would strengthen the connection between our dance and the source material.

 (L - R) Zabel, Johara, Kavina Mar, Anabee, Sisters of the Sun (Annabel Keil, Jennifer Klinedinst, Joanne Rawlings-Sekunda, Sabrina Lichtenwalner, Mathura, Heather Powers, Baseema, Badriya Al-Badi'a, Aria, Whitley-Nabintu Newman, Lauren Shamitz-Crooks, Rosa Noreen

Speaking specifically about the production of the show, Zabel did an excellent job with its promotion and coordination. For future performances, I think that tweaking a few elements of the staging might be helpful in reinforcing the artistic nature of the dance. Organizing the show in sections to account for more elaborate prop set up and allowing the curtains to close while the ‘magic’ is reset for each dancer can help give the audience time to appreciate each performance and eliminates distractions that take them out of the show (Author note: It appeared that an unexpected malfunction with the curtains, which made them difficult to close and open with ease, may have contributed to this issue.). Dancers may be accustomed to intimate performance spaces and casual haflas, but audience members not in the dance community may have different expectations when attending this type of event.

I understand and commend the decision to not let the show be drawn out by long introductions for each performance or a multi-page program that the audience would have to read, distracting them from the vision of this journey through childhood. While I appreciate the decision to ask the audience to engage with the poems and artist statements directly, the lack of a simple program to refer to made it a bit challenging for me to follow the story. As an audience member and a very recent addition to the local dance community, I sometimes found it difficult to immerse myself completely in each performance as I tried to recall what dancer and poem were being featured. All of the dancers did a good job of interpreting their chosen poem, but some connections were clearer than others and I felt that some very beautiful performances suffered from the lack of a short introduction.

I believe that making the dance form more accessible and approachable through artistic endeavors is a worthy goal and one that is highly compatible with Middle-Eastern dance. "A Child’s Garden of Verses" was a brave and enjoyable first step in this direction. I am looking forward to see what upcoming events Zabel has in store for us.

See a short trailer with highlights of show performances.

Sarah Feldman (Evren) has been studying Middle-Eastern dance for just over a year and a half with Boston area teachers Sardis and Aslahan.
Amy SmithNH, Zabel, showsComment
(MA) ABRAXAS Dance Theater and Spiral Light Productions presents "Revelations"

by Qamar (Heather Emerson)

On the chilly night of December 8th, a throng of curious event-goers approached the Cambridge Y. The mysterious event, "Revelations: Dark Fusion Theater and Bacchanalia", produced by Spiral Light Productions and the ABRAXAS Dance Theater, encouraged attendees to dress for dark delight and masquerade, hinting at possible audience participation. Upon entering the theater, we were enclosed largely in darkness and the sounds of a live band—Spiral Light—playing. The program was virtual, a video presentation flashing in the back as the attendees mingled with a number of local tribal dancers. The dancers glided seamlessly from the audience to the front, improvising to the dark music and sharing the stage back and forth with one another, including the entrancing snakes of Zehara Nachash, who danced with a number of performers. Socializing was encouraged and friends chatted and mingled, wondering what would happen next.

The music quieted and Alan White, a spunky and energetic Dionysus, took the role of narrator and guide for the audience. After speaking on the mysteries of the season, hope, despair, and the end of the world, he asked the audience to indicate with their thumbs, as the Roman emperor did, whether the show should end in life or death. Yes, the audience was to choose the ending of this show -and the dancers in the final piece would have to adjust their performance accordingly. Never let it be said that the ABRAXAS Dance Theater is not willing to take risks! The dancing began with the ABRAXAS troupe and Tiffany Grey performing the piece “Armageddon”. This troupe is known for its innovation, drama, and excellent coordination and this piece was no exception. Fiery lighting exposed the raw torment and fear of those whose world has fallen to a catastrophic chaos. Unlike other ABRAXAS shows, Revelations was an experiment in partnership with the greater community, allowing other troupes and duets to appear under their own direction. For a full understanding of this vision, I recommend listening to the Belly Dance England podcast interview with Aria Michaels Paradise, director of ABRAXAS.

The next piece was “Angel”, performed by Troupe Shivani under the direction of Dina LeDuke and featuring Baseema. This troupe brought on the despair of demons under the leadership of a menacing lord of darkness, only to reveal a delicate but pure-hearted heroine in chain mail reminiscent of the Crusades or Joan of Arc. A hard-fought sword battle ended with a single bright spotlight revealing the heroine emerging victorious and surrounded by the defeated darkness.

Serpenour, the powerful duet team of Di’Ahna and Jaylee, turned up the bling factor and the heat as “The Woman of the Apocalypse and the Whore of Babylon”. The costuming was dazzling, but couldn’t hold a candle to the amazingly coordinated performance of these well-matched dancers. Both fought for the spotlight only to find greater power in working together. I am rather convinced that they have a psychic connection, although I’m sure their perfectionism and rehearsal have much to do with it.

If we want to have quality events, if we want performers to take risks and create respect and greater awareness of our genre reaching into the more classical dance forms, we have to support them.

Ameena and Neylan, both of Rhode Island, performed next in “Lilith:Incarnations and Transformations”. Lilith is a recurring character in dance performance, and I think she is especially fascinating for women in the belly dance community; a symbol of feminine power who has been scorned and demonized for her very sensuality is a theme many can relate to. Both of these performers have dealt with these issues on a performance and a spiritual level, and they brought this struggle and imagery to the stage.

The stage became a wind-whipped, arid, punishing wasteland in the dramatic presentation by Baseema and Mathura, “A Glimmer of Hope”. They performed the pain and exhaustion of their endless individual journeys through the storm yet found hope and strength in one another. I felt that this piece also addressed an issue dear to the hearts of many in the belly dance community - the importance of sisterhood and community in making it through life’s battles.

Having travelled through multiple interpretations of visions of darkness, pain, battle, and transformation, the evening was brought to a close with “Revelations 21:1, Paradise Found”. This was a daring piece as it was to be an improvisational number done on the theme chosen by the audience: Life. Aria Michaels Paradise, Holly Ferreira, Bevin Victoria, and Zehara Nachash clawed their way back to life after the Apocalypse, each reviving in their own style and uniting to find joy. After the dark offerings of the evening, I think I was probably not alone in macabrely wondering what the other option, Death, might have brought to the stage as it had been done with such relish throughout the show.

I needed time to truly absorb the evening’s performances, but of one thing I was sure: more people should have attended. The show was well-located and publicized. Perhaps it was the date being close to the winter holidays or the cold, but it really seemed tragic that so much work and professionalism could be put into such an event without better response. This was not a “belly dance” show; it was dark theater expressed in lyrical dance styles that, as explained, were a dark fusion. There should have been more public attendance, but it would have been nice to see greater support from the belly dance community.

All photographs by Peter Paradise Michaels
of RavenWolfe Photography

Why? If we want to have quality events, if we want performers to take risks and create respect and greater awareness of our genre reaching into the more classical dance forms, we have to support them. The expense in personal time and effort, as well as money, is brutal to present something of this caliber. No, it is not a hafla where there are many dancers performing and it is often only other dancers in the audience; it was an attempt to reach a wider audience. We can all learn by watching other dance styles, and while ours is not based in Western classical styles, we can certainly learn from and appreciate them. The traditional dance training of Aria Michaels Paradise informs her company not only in its choreography but in the work ethic she demonstrates. When you watch ABRAXAS perform a choreographed piece, you know they had to rehearse, perfect, and invest in it. This is something that all dance troupes who wish to perform need to take heed of. It is magic when a group moves as one and with such passion and feeling as ABRAXAS.

This event was, as I mentioned, an experiment. After a number of ABRAXAS-only shows, they decided to reach out to the community. This was a risk, and certainly when you have a group as well-polished and professional as ABRAXAS on the stage, the other performers open the door to comparisons. While the styles of groups may differ, the need for polished performance and costume presentation is important. A paying public expects this. It was courageous for both ABRAXAS and their guests to open this door.

The lighting, the live music, and the venue were all fabulous. I’ll admit to some confusion about the event itself. I wasn’t completely clear on what was going to happen when I got there, and once I got there I still really wasn’t clear on how it was a Bacchanalia. I would have liked a more connective story from Dionysus to tie the performances together, or even to see him interact with the dancers. I did appreciate the lack of flashes and the respectfulness of the audience. I didn’t see cell phones up and recording or snapping, which is not only rude but distracting for audience performers alike. Hurray!

I applaud the courage and generosity of ABRAXAS in creating this event and sharing the stage with others. On leaving I was left wanting it all to happen again. I could see the theme of this show carrying on from year to year in an annual event, with different performers and presentations each year. With such a juicy topic, and seeing the variety of ideas that came forth this year, I can only beg for more. I would also hope that the attendance and participation of the community in this event would grow as well. Who knew the end of the world could be such a joy to attend?

Amy SmithComment
(MA) The Helping Hips 5th Annual Charity Gala 2012

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.

Amy Smith Comment

(MA) Abraxas Dance Company debuts in "Alchemy" - April 28th

by Amy Smith

From the start, I expected “Alchemy” to be a quality show, given its choreographer and company. But I really knew that I was in for something special when I was handed the program on my way in. It’s gorgeous - a booklet rich in text, photos, and graphics, and replete with all the show info a reviewer could wish for. It also includes special features - original poetry by ABRAXAS founder Aria Michaels Paradise.

 “Alchemy” is the inaugural offering from ABRAXAS Dance Theatre. Founded by Aria and husband and collaborator Peter Paradise Michaels, ABRAXAS is best described by its creators:

The goal of ABRAXAS Dance Theatre is to delve into the collective unconscious and tap into myth, media, literature, and art through the ritual of dance. ABRAXAS Dance Theatre calls upon disparate styles of dance from modern and ballet, to jazz, hip hop and contemporary belly dance; a combination of opposites.

Two hallmarks of ABRAXAS are collaboration and experimentation. When I initially spoke with Aria about her vision for the company, the image of a retort came to mind - a vessel used in laboratories as a container for chemical reactions. So alchemy is an especially fitting theme for this company's debut program. 

The Jules Ince Theater (Cambridge, MA)  filled up quickly with a variety of people. I recognized many members of the belly dance community, decked out in lace and sparkles and other finery. The show was sold out - an auspicious beginning and warm welcome for one of the community’s newest artistic endeavors.

Wikipedia defines alchemy as “...an influential philosophical tradition whose...defining objectives are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone, possessing powers including the capability of turning base metals into the noble metals gold or silver, as well as an elixir of life conferring youth and immortality...alchemy differs from modern science in the inclusion of Hermetic principles and practices related to mythology, religion, and spirituality.”

The show took the audience on a journey through the alchemical process of elemental transformation, told through the stories of several characters: the Seeker who sells her soul for power and status; the Maverick who is outcast and is reborn; and two beings who break through the veil separating earth from the celestial realms.

While the story seems complex, its portrayal in dance was eloquent and direct. The dance flowed from one scene to the next. The performers were pitch-perfect in their execution and, more importantly, their story-telling. I feel that passion, feeling, and intent is as integral to a performance as exquisite technique; a dance without feeling is mechanical, while an impassioned performance loses in the telling without good technique. ABRAXAS dancers delivered it all in one beautiful package.

Both the set and the dancers’ costumes were simple and elegant, and functioned as excellent backdrop and frames for the art - the dance. My one and only complaint is that the seats weren't high enough to see one dancer's floorwork; she was fairly close to the front row, but those of in the back rows had difficulty seeing it all.

Photographs courtesy of Ravenwolfe Photography and Michael Harkavy. Used with permission. 

Some program highlights:

  • "Homage to Faust", in which Aria's Seeker strikes a dark bargain with the devilish Bevin Victoria.
  • "Conjunction" - a beautiful duet by Naomi Altman and Quang Pho. Quang is an astounding natural talent, the dancers’ equivalent of someone born with perfect pitch.
  • In "The Nightmare/Mysterium", modern dancer Adriane Brayton discovers that the torn veil reveals a break in “the fourth wall” separating audience from performers, and takes the opportunity to explore that break, to the audience's surprise.

The story played out in Acts 1 and 3, which bookended the solo guest performances in Act 2. Soloists included Bevin Victoria, Adriane Brayton, Lindsey Feeney, and Tempest. Whether it was intentional or just an artifact of the show context, each soloist's performance echoed some aspect of the "Alchemy" story line, from Feeney's impish and fiery tribal fusion performance, to Tempest's transformation to her true dancer self.

My favorite performance of the evening was the final scene, “Ascension”, in which the members of the company were arrayed quietly on the stage in the yogic child’s pose, with candles as the only prop. A recording played of the company members each describing what the term alchemy meant to them. As you heard a dancer’s voice, that person sat up to face the audience. In those moments, the audience was more than observers - we were witnesses to the performer's creative processes. It was powerful and personal.

"Alchemy" is a remarkable debut by a remarkable dance company. ABRAXAS is a fascinating addition to the local dance community, and I look forward to their future performances.

It should be noted that partial proceeds from the evening benefited Bullying.org, an organization dedicated to preventing bullying in our society through education and awareness.

Amy SmithComment