Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2008 -- A visitor's view

Over at Gilded Serpent, Yasmin shares her experience at this year's Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival in Cairo. You can find it here.

Makes me appreciate how lucky we are here at home.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Amateur Competition in Costa Mesa

Dance showcases have been sprouting up across the area, and now Orange County has it's own competition, too. The Amateur Dance Competition will be held at Orchid Persian Cuisine restaurant in Costa Mesa on July 31. In addition to dancers competing in two categories, the event will feature dance lessons by event founder Farah and Perizad; performances by Farah, Perizad and Shya; live music from Turkish drummer Gorkem Somer; music by DJ Mike Soltani; henna artists; and a hookah lounge on the restaurant's patio.

Farah also was kind enough to answer some questions about the competition.

What was the inspiration behind this event?
I was eating the delicious food at Orchid Persian Cuisine, and I was inspired by the stage. There are few restaurants that actually have a stage. I sat there thinking to myself: Wow, this place is beautiful -- especially since they redecorated and have a full bar. Why don't we plan a belly dance event that will inspire new dancers to perform?

Who is helping you organize it?
I chose Perizad because I went to her [O.C. Bellydance Connection] meetup at Sophia's restaurant in Placentia and thought it was really fun. She is so sweet and I love to watch her dance. I would especially like to see her perform on a beautiful stage.

What are the categories for the competition and who are the judges?
Level 1 will be entered by dancers who have been practicing or taking lessons less than six months. The dancers will be judged by the audience, who will have ballots that will be counted by me before awarding the prize. The DJ will pick the music and the contestants will each dance one song. The prize for this level is a beautiful hip scarf and matching top, plus one month of unlimited exotic dance lessons -- including Hoop, Belly and Pole at Fit For You Studio, next to Orchid. This prize is valued at $265. This level will be won by the boldest diva who is not afraid to risk everything in order to have a good time.

Level 2 gets more serious. It is open to participants who have belly danced anywhere from 7 months to 5 years. No instructors please! We need to keep this amateur. All choreography must be original. You can bring your own song if you want. Every dancer will dance one song. The prize includes a month of unlimited exotic dance lessons (pole, hoop and belly dance) at Fit For You Studio, plus a cash prize of $100. The total value of this prize is valued at $335. The contestants will be judged by professional performers: me, Perizad and Shya.

1.Costume 5 pts
2. Appearance, hair makeup, etc. 5 pts
3. Stage presence (examples: facial expression, posture, eye contact, attitude, interaction with audience) 10 pts
4. Props (cymbals, cane or veil) 5pt.
5. Use of space 10 pts
6.Rhythm (ability to follow music and make transitions gracefully) 10pts
7. Arms and hand position 5pts
Total 50 pts

Do you have plans to make this an annual event?
My plan is to make it a monthly event where students can come and compete. The goal is to keep the students practicing and give them a place to perform that is beautiful and with a full stage so they can really show off their talent.

What's your dance background?
I have 23 years experience performing. I consider Angelika to be my major influence. I have danced everywhere from here to Istanbul. My style is Turkish/Egyptian.

Where can people go for more information?

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Some people are complaining about the price, well they should realize that great quality DJs cost $600. I hired the best. I am also paying professional dancers and a live drummer. I am offering prize money and all-you-can-eat buffet, plus henna artists and hooka lounge. Trust me, I am not making a penny. In fact, I may have to cancel the event if I don’t get a few more people to come. I really thought everyone would be more excited about this event.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Restaurant dancers stopped in Florida...

I couldn't believe this when I saw it. A city near(?) Jacksonville, Florida, pressured a restaurant owner to stop having belly dance performers because it is considered "exotic" dancing and the restaurant serves alcohol, a combination that is banned by city ordinances. Apparently, the people who complained didn't even see a show; they just saw an advertisement for the show. City officials seem to be backing off now that people are asking questions, but it's chilling that it even got that far.

I'd love to hear from somebody who lives in the area. This seems to have been going on since March.

The news article is here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Check out the flier

You can see a bigger version on the group's Myspace page:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Belly Dance Isn't Stripping

I came across this opinion piece from Marisa Christensen, the opinion editor of the UNLV's Rebel Yell Online Edition and also a belly dancer. I thought you might enjoy it, too...

I am a belly dancer. I am a student and performer of a dance that is native to the Middle East, particularly Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. It has ancient cultural roots in these regions and was originally a folkloric dance.

There are different theories as to what it was originally intended for, ranging from a dance that prepared women for childbirth to a type of religious ritual.

No, I don't give lap dances and no, I don't take my top off. Not until I'm changing out of my costume in the privacy of a dressing room, at least. When I tell someone what I do for a living, I usually brace myself for their response, which often goes something like: "Oh, kind of like a stripper?"

I guess if ballerinas, Broadway dancers and choreographers are also "kind of like strippers" because their jobs entail moving to music, then yeah, I'm kind of like a stripper, because I move to music too.

But unlike stripping, Middle Eastern dance requires years of training before it can be performed professionally. In this sense, it is much more similar to ballet, jazz and other forms of dance that usually aren't considered erotic whatsoever.

Like most forms of dance, belly dance requires classes. It's nearly impossible to isolate parts of your body, understand proper technique, learn rhythm patterns, differentiate between various types of Arabic music, or decide which steps to incorporate into performances without either growing up in the Middle East or taking belly dance classes.

If you'd like to read the whole essay, you can find it here.
I love that this young woman is doing something to address this popular misconception. I wrote a Letter to the Editor to show my support. If you'd like to do the same, you can do it online here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Finding Donna Carlton

So I obviously didn’t get to Ahlan Wa Sahlan in Cairo, which some call the ultimate belly dance pilgrimage. But I did take a belly dance pilgrimage of my own last month. The purpose of the trip was to visit the site of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which is now largely parkland nestled beside Lake Michigan and surrounded by the University of Chicago. It was an amazing and humbling feeling to stand in the place – the exact place! – where belly dance made its first big splash in America.

But the highlight of the trip was meeting one of my all-time favorite belly dance heroes: Donna Carlton, who wrote the seminal belly dance book LOOKING FOR LITTLE EGYPT. It’s a book I’ve read and reread for its detailed examination of the Little Egypt legend, as well as its treatment of the whole cast of real-life characters who came together to make this a particularly compelling period in history. Can you just imagine all those fine Victorian ladies with their kidney-crushing corsets and floor-length skirts casting their disapproving glances over the earthy Ghawazee dancers? The snickers, those upturned noses, their curiously riveted glances? Yeah, me, too. I imagined those moments for so long they ended up forming the basis for my forthcoming novel, THE BELLY DANCER.

So it was with a great deal of anticipation and no small amount of hero worship that I walked into a Starbucks in Lebanon, Indiana, where Ms. Carlton kindly agreed to meet me to be interviewed for a future article for Belly Dance Magazine. She couldn’t have been more gracious. We talked for a little more than an hour about her book, the inspiration for her research, and her continuing passion for belly dancing. By the end of it, I’d all but forgotten that we’d only just met. Perhaps because I’d spent so many hours with her words and ideas, I already felt like I knew her. Or maybe it was because she is genuinely such a friendly person that she has the gift of putting people at such ease.

If you haven’t already had an opportunity to read LOOKING FOR LITTLE EGYPT, I urge you to check it out. It’s one of the best belly dance history books out there, and it’s written by a woman who truly loves the art and history of belly dance.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Raqs L.A. to be on 'California's Gold'

An upcoming episode of Huell Howser's show, "California's Gold," will focus on the Raqs L.A. show. A producer I contacted said the episode hasn't been scheduled yet, but that when it is, it will be announced on the Web site:

Also, I haven't found any information yet on the new dates for the 2009 Raqs L.A., but info is coming out about the Tribal L.A. event September 27-28. It'll be held at the Glendale Civic Auditorium (1401 N. Verdugo Road) and will feature performances and vending all day. Workshops will be offered by Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, Kami Liddle, Fat Chance Bellydance, Elizabeth Strong, and Moria.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The best in Orange County

One of the last things I wrote for Orange Coast magazine before leaving to work full time on novel No. 2 was a nomination of Angelika Nemeth as the best belly dance teacher in Orange County for the magazine's annual Best of O.C. issue. I'm happy to say that the July issue is now out and available just about anywhere magazines are sold in the county.

I'd also like to say that choosing a best teacher in Orange County isn't nearly as easy as it used to be. I chose Angelika because she is not only the teacher who has been teaching the longest in the area, but also because she is the teacher of so many terrific dancers who have gone on to great performing and teaching careers of their own.

The fact is, we're lucky in Orange County to have many wonderful teachers. Some of my personal favorites are Marlena Shaw, Mara, Sashi, Abby Duval (although she's soon heading for the big A.Z.) and Jheri St. James, and there are so many others I have heard terrific things about but haven't had the pleasure of studying with. Teachers like Sooz and Tina Enheduanna and Lilla Varese. I'm sure I have left some of them out, and that's where I'd like your input. Who has most inspired and motivated you? Who is your favorite local teacher, and why? Don't be shy, there are no wrong answers... :-)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dina worries about belly dancing in Egypt

In an interview with The National newspaper in the UAE, Dina, Egypt's most famous belly dancer, says: “I see no hope or future for belly dancing in Egypt. ... Ten years ago we were so many. Each one had her own style and audience, whether first-class belly dancers, or second and third class. Now I look around and see nobody.”

The June 30 article also cites an incident in October 2006 when Dina was roundly blamed when "scores of young men chased women through downtown Cairo groping them and pulling off their clothes – even those wearing Islamic headscarves and face veils" -- after one of her performances.

The article, which can be found here, paints a grim picture for belly dancing in Egypt, reporting that 5,000 professional belly dancers were registered in the 1950s, but there are fewer than 100 today.

But Dina says she isn't about to stop, and sees herself as "the guardian of belly dancing."

“When I get old, and can’t dance anymore, I will train belly dancers," she says. "I just hope there will be ones to train.”

Photo credit: