Friday, September 26, 2008

A 3-generation belly dancing family

The Orange County Register ran a story today about an Orange County family of belly dancers with a wonderful assortment of photographs (33 online!). The story, written and photographed by Leonard Ortiz, details how Maruja Eckart learned the art of belly dance in Morocco as a 12-year-old girl and went on to perform it in her native Spain before immigrating to the United States in the 1960s. She later passed the knowledge on to her daughter, Pilar Costello, as well as her granddaughter, Ashli Costello.

Together, the three women now teach others at the Murdy Community Center in Huntington Beach, where Eckart has taught for 30 years.

See the story here.

And the amazing photographs here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Belly dancing -- from the Middle East to the Far East

Belly dancing has gained in popularity in Japan and Korea in recent years, and now here's a report that it's winning over converts in China, too.

I just came across this story in China Daily, which reports on the proliferation of belly dance clubs in the southern province of Guangdong. The pastime is so popular with the growing number of white-collar workers that the number of qualified dance teachers can't keep up with the demand. But it's still such a new enterprise the local dance association says it is unable to institute regulations. You can read the full story here:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The 'California Gold' belly dance episode

So what'd you think about last night's episode of "California Gold" on the Raqs L.A. event? I don't ordinarily watch the show and I wasn't sure what to expect, but I thought Huell Howser covered the event in a fun and entertaining way. He interviewed several dancers, including Mesmera, Ansuya, Petite Jamilla, Leela and her Salome Jihad troupe, and a few other dancers I didn't recognize (That was one drawback of the show: a few of the people he interviewed were never identified. So if you know who they were, I'd love it if you could enlighten me in the comments section).

Howser also interviewed Bellydance Superstars producer Miles Copeland, who organized the festival along with Marta Schill, and the vendor who was selling Saroyan zills and swords (which she demonstrated), as well as belly dance costumes and hip scarves. Howser seemed fascinated by all the merchandise, but then who isn't?

I'm glad we got to see some dancing, too. The show included short bits of some of the live dance performances, but the producers also spliced in segments from Petite Jamilla's double veil instructional DVD, "Unveiled," and a DVD performance from Ansuya.

I don't know what time Howser and his camera crew were shooting, but it was unfortunate that the auditorium looked nearly empty throughout most of the episode. There was a shot or two of a performance taking place on the stage with only a few people in the audience that had seating for more than a hundred. I felt so sorry for the performers!

But all in all, it was a great representation of our dance community that emphasized its positive aspects. My favorite quote of the show came from Mr. Copeland himself when he described what belly dance is about to Howser. "It's an artform about the real beauty of a woman," he said, adding that it was for all ages and sizes. Very nice, I thought, and very true. In my book, it boils down to fun, fitness and friends. I guess I would add "fashion" in there, too, because we do love our costumes, don't we?

If you'd like to buy a copy of the episode on DVD or VHS, you can do that here.

Here's Howser with Leela and Salome Jihad for the final wrap-up of the show:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Raqs L.A. on 'California's Gold' tonight

Don't forget to check out "California Gold" at 7:30 tonight on KCET-TV (at least where I am -- you should check your local listings). The episode will feature footage shot during Huell Howser's visit with the belly dancers at the Raqs L.A. festival in May held at the Glendale Civic Auditorium.

I can't wait to see how many familiar faces I see :-)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Kamala's workshop

Learning two and half minutes of choreography in two hours? It might not sound like a lot to you, but it's unprecedented for me. Compound that with the fact that the choreography includes about a dozen turns with tricky directional changes and lots of other Reda-inspired moves, and you might understand why I haven't felt this tired since... well, I'm too tired to even think of a comparison.

Marlena Shaw sponsored today's workshop at the Reflections studio in Anaheim, and about a dozen of us took part in this great opportunity to learn from one of the region's most accomplished dancers. Kamala is not only a terrific instructor in Los Angeles County, she's been dancing professionally since the 1980s and learned from the famed Farida Fahmy of the Reda troupe, among others. She's also performed with such world-class musicians as Hakim, Amr Diam, Cheb Mami and Alabina.

This lady has some pretty impressive credits, but she's also one heck of a teacher. I'm about as dyslexic as they come about learning new choreography and that Kamala could still get me through the whole thing -- if not gracefully at least sufficiently -- is truly a testament to her ability. She was great about breaking down steps and letting us repeat them with and without music until we felt comfortable before moving on to subsequent sections. She was also super positive and encouraging, which made all of us feel at ease.

I'm really excited about working with this choreography, and if I can ever make it even a tenth as beautiful and fluid as it was when Kamala performed it, I will be a very happy dancer.

If you'd like to know more about Kamala, check out her Web site at

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gypsy Groove showcase in action

For some reason, YouTube doesn't want to play nice with my computer today so I'm giving Vimeo a try.

My disclaimer on the video is that it is entirely my fault Winnie gets a collage instead of real-time video. I got caught up in the moment and forgot to tape! So, as you can probably guess, the music is not what she performed to, it's a piece I have the right to use. I hope she can forgive me.... But she looks great nonetheless, doesn't she? As do all the terrific dancers, as you can see for yourself :-)

Gypsy Groove Belly Dance Showcase -- Oct. 4, 2008 from DeAnna Cameron on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gypsy Groove showcase debut

Oh, what a night! Last night's Gypsy Groove showcase was a blast, and I still can't believe it went as well as it did. I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about how it was going to go. What if no one came? What if these wonderful dancers and drummers had no audience? Or worse, what if people *did* come, and then I had to speak in front a roomful of people! (I have a deathly fear of speaking in public and fainting on the spot seemed like a very real possibility.)

Well, people did come -- enough to pack out the House of Grind coffeehouse and spill out into the courtyard actually. I saw many familiar faces, including a few of the wonderful members of the O.C. Bellydance Connection meetup group and other dance friends. (No one supports a belly dance event like our own belly dance community!) And the fliers we handed out at the coffeehouse brought a lot of newcomers.

Everyone loved the talented lineup. Our terrific drummers -- Ed Lee, Jennifer Laemmer, and my wonderful husband, Austin -- got the crowd in the mood with some live drumming, and then Winnie Rafael of Santa Ana, who teaches beginning belly dance classes in Irvine, started things off. She looked gorgeous in her red and silver costume.

Next up was Enala, a beautiful dancer from Westminster who has been my dear friend since we were in tribal troupes together a few years ago. She's focused more on classical Egyptian style these days, and performed a terrific number in a sparkly gold and burgundy costume.

We took a short break after Enala's performance to give people a chance to order coffee or a glass of wine from the counter and enjoy the free, freshly made strawberry crepe hors d'oeuvres the House of Grind passed around. Wow, were those crepes good.

When we started back up, I taught a few good sports in the audience a simple 8-count combo with the drummers' help, and then it was on to our next featured performer.

Katerina from Long Beach, who's been a dear friend since our high school days, was the tribal gal for the evening. She entered with a slow taxsim and mesmerized the audience with her poise and snaky moves. When she picked up the tempo with live drumming, she pulled a couple of her students out of the audience to dance in true tribal improvisation style. They looked they had a good time, and the audience loved watching the interaction.

Our show culminated with Marlena Shaw, an exquisite performer and teacher from Westminster, who also happens to be the director of Al-Sukkar, a new troupe she formed with Enala and me (more to come on that later). She is a master at the classical Egyptian style, and her talent and grace captivated the audience.

It was during her performance that I got my one big scare of the evening. I'd been watching the shopping center's security guard hanging around the open doors for a while and worrying that he was going to complain about the loud music. When he motioned me over, I thought I was in for it. But no! He handed me a wad of bills (a wad!) and asked me to add it to our tip pail. Then he smiled and wandered away. How amazing is that?!

When Marlena's performance came to an end, I don't think I was alone in being a little sad that it meant the show had come to an end. Most people didn't rush off. There was a lot of chatting and visiting afterward. Newcomers inquired about lessons, people ordered from House of Grind's tasty menu of Russian delicacies, and dancers hung around and talked about dancing.

And our wonderful friend Diane Becker (who loves belly dancing almost as much as she loves her horses, and who is doing all she can to save Hollywood Park from being torn down -- check out to see what I mean) took this group photo and donated adorable bindi sets as gifts for all the dancers:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Beyond the Belly Dance": A New Documentary

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that Mountain Tribal Gypsy Dance Troupe, based in Julian in San Diego County, is the subject of a new documentary called "Beyond the Belly Dance," by documentarian Joyce Axelrod.

Axelrod conducted extensive interviews with the troupe's 11 members and attended multiple performances during the making of the documentary, which debuted in May to Julian residents.

You can read the Union Tribune article here.

You can view a clip of the documentary here:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gothla US update

Gothla US: The Divining won't be returning to Fullerton this year after all. The festival that celebrates "dark fusion at its finest" will take place March 6-8, largely in Cal Poly Pomona's Bronco Student Center.

The event's theme is steam punk (think H.G. Wells and Jules Verne).

Workshops will be conducted by Tempest, Sashi, Asharah, Callisto (Sweden), Anaar, Lee Ali and Marjhani. Others may be added, so stay tuned to for updates, as well as information on performances and vendors.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

L.A. Raqs on "California's Gold"

You can watch Huell Howser hanging out with the belly dancers at Raqs L.A. in the episode set to air 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16. on KCET-TV. Check your local cable listings for the channel.