Thursday, January 22, 2009

Drumming at the NAMM Show 2009

Here's a video my husband took of our good friend Ed Lee drumming with master percussionist Issam Houshan at the Remo drums booth at the NAMM Show in Anaheim on Saturday, Jan. 17. Since Ed picked up the doumbek a couple of years ago, he's become an amazing drummer -- but here you can see even an amazing drummer knows when to sit back and let a star like Bellydance Superstars' Issam Houshan shine...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I don't usually talk about my novel here, but...

I'm so excited to see that THE BELLY DANCER merited a mention in the visual preview of the summer season at the Reading the Past blog that I just can't help myself.

You can find it here.
If you're a fan of historical fiction and you haven't checked out this terrific blog by Sarah Johnson yet, you really should get over there. Seriously, go -- now :-)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

NAMM 2009 show highlights...

This was the weekend when music professionals from all over the country gathered at the Anaheim Convention Center for the annual National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Show, including a strong showing from the Middle Eastern music community. My husband, Austin Cameron, and local percussionist Ed Lee attended the closed-to-the-public event and took these snapshots at the Remo drums booth.

Austin with master percussionist Issam Houshan of the Bellydance Superstars

Donavon in front of his larger-than-life promotional poster at the Remo booth, where he was a featured performer. Olu is in the picture behind him.

From right, Issam Houshan performing with Donavon and Ava Nahas at the Remo booth.

Olu performing with Donavon, Ava and Frank Lazzarro.

And more pics of that performance...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dancing girl killed in Pakistan by Taliban

My good friend Diane (the one who's trying to save Hollywood Park) forwarded a link to this chilling Jan. 12 article about the death of Shabana, a traditional dancer in Pakistan. The Mail Online article by Jane Bunce says this:

"Shabana reportedly paid the price for publicly defying the Taliban's radio mullahs, ignoring personal warnings to stop performing and training young dancers."

You can read the full article here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My profile of Donna Carlton is featured in the latest issue of Belly Dance magazine

The Winter 2008 issue of Belly Dance magazine is out, and I'm thrilled with the way those talented folks put together my profile on Donna Carlton, dancer, teacher and author of LOOKING FOR LITTLE EGYPT.

You can find the article starting on Page 56, nestled between a tribute to Leona Wood (who graces the issue's cover), penned by Aisha Ali ,and Marta Schill's review of last year's Raqs L.A. event, with lots of great photos.

I had such a great time interviewing Donna for this article and I really felt privileged to be able to share her story with others. She is not only devoted to the art and practice of belly dance as a teacher and performer, but her research into the early days of belly dance and especially the legendary Little Egypt has made her one of its most knowledgeable historians.

If you don't know where to get your own copy, visit the magazine on the Web at

Monday, January 5, 2009

O.C. Belly Dancer Spotlight: Angelika Nemeth

Few belly dancers have devoted themselves to the art, teaching and practice of belly dance as Angelika Nemeth has over the past three decades. It began in the mid-1970s, when she established herself as a professional dancer in Southern California, and her repertoire soon grew to include teaching others to master the intricacies of Middle Eastern dance.

Angelika’s performing and teaching career has taken her to countless venues throughout the United States and abroad, and she has taught countless numbers of young dancers, including many who have gone on to professional dance and teaching careers of their own. She also has been influential in the local education system as a faculty member at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., and other surrounding community colleges. She has led the development of Middle Eastern dance programs at these institutions and helped them to grow while ensuring they deserve a high level of respect from their peers in the greater dance community.

And just as she encourages her students to strive for improvement, she is always searching for ways to expand her own understanding of the dance, its music, its culture and the many influences affecting them. Her ability to grow and evolve as a performer, choreographer and teacher—even as the dance form grows and evolve—makes it no accident that she has become one of our community’s most vibrant and accomplished dance professionals.

1. What is your style of belly dancing?
I find this a challenging question because I enjoy performing various Middle Eastern dance styles. Ultimately it is the music that dictates what style I will use. I started by learning the Turkish/American/fusion style that was in vogue when I took my first belly dance class. I also have learned and continue to learn and perform many of the regional and folkloric dances from throughout the Arab and Persian world. In recent years I have been using predominately Egyptian and occasionally Lebanese compositions—both classical and pop—for my performances. Therefore Pan-Arab would best describe my current style with my own personal dramatic flair.

2. How long have you been belly dancing, and how did you get started?
I took my first class in 1973 at the Long Beach YWCA with Feiruz Aram. At the time she was performing at a popular nightclub in Hollywood, The Fez, which was run by Lou Shelaby. I have been performing 34 years. My professional performance career began in the summer of 1974 at Apadana, a beautiful Persian-owned nightclub in the Fashion Island shopping district of Newport Beach, Calif.

3. Who are your favorite or most influential teachers?
In thinking about how to answer this question, my list kept getting longer and longer. I realized I could write a book on this subject. But I will do my best to fit my answer into the confines of this interview. My first influence was my first teacher, Feiruz Aram. As a performer she completely captivated me with her sensual fluidity and barefoot earthiness, with her playfulness and strength, and with her elegant demeanor. The web she wove was magical and irresistible. As a teacher she was patient and encouraging. Sometimes in class she would get carried away by the music and just dance for us. I especially loved her Turkish interpretations to fast 9/8 rhythms. Her timing, hand gestures and expression were wonderful. She went to Egypt to perform in 1976. When she returned she had changed her style. It was of course more Egyptian and a new look for her—one that took me a while to appreciate. It was a lesson for me to observe the process involved in internalizing a major stylistic change.

Ibrahim Farrah (or “Bobby” as he was affectionately called) exerted a tremendous influence on me. He was so grounded in his knowledge and opinion of all things Middle Eastern. He was also powerful in his stage presentations not only as a dancer, but also as a choreographer and artistic director. I learned many of his choreographies and with his permission staged some of them for my theater concerts at Orange Coast College (OCC). My first encounter with him as a teacher was in the late seventies at his first workshop in Los Angeles. A local dancer, Nasima, who was a colleague of Feiruz had taken his workshop in Detroit. She was so impressed that she arranged to have him teach a class in Los Angeles. It was a historic moment for the dancers who were fortunate to be there. The most revolutionary outcome from that session was changing our posture from leaning back to standing upright with a relaxed but lifted chest. I remember how eloquently and authoritatively he talked about the proud upright postures of the great Egyptian dance stars like Samia Gamal, Nagwa Fouad and Sohair Zaki. I never forgot that lesson. His research and knowledge answered some of the many questions I had about the dance: its conflicting origins and its cultural identifiers in regards to technique, gestures, costuming and music.

It was through Bobby that I met, studied and performed with the great Nadia Gamal, who at the time was the premier dancer of Lebanon. Her only public workshop in Southern California was in 1981 at the Long Beach Convention Center. It was another historic moment in USA Oriental dance history. Many of my colleagues, like Sahra Saeeda (aka. Sahra C. Kent) and Suhaila Salimpour were there. Her teaching style was strict and focused. I remember she scolded the large group of dancers that day for not being serious enough. She did not allow us to wear skirts or harem pants; she needed to see our knees in order to closely observe our technique and make corrections. She also talked about the power inherent in this dance form and how it was danced best by someone who had lived life, i.e. had experienced not only the joys but also the sorrows of the human condition. For me and many others, being in her presence, listening to her philosophies, experiencing her passion and just simply dancing behind her in class was transformational! It gave me a deeper understanding and respect for this oft maligned and misunderstood dance form.

As I stated earlier, I have much to say on this subject, so for the sake of brevity I will just list some of the many other amazing artists who have inspired and influenced me in no particular order:

Nagwa Fouad
Sohair Zaki
Mona El Said
Mahmoud Reda & The Reda Troupe
Amani from Lebanon
Raqia Hassan
Leona Wood
Jamila Salimpour
Galya (One of Jamila’s dancers)
Aisha Ali
Souhail Kaspar-Arab percussionist
John Belizikjian-Oudist
Jihad Racy-Scholar & musician
My dance coach, Dorothy Hefner
My dance concert collaborator in the 1980s, Sabina Tibold (aka Agnes Makk)
My Middle Eastern dance conference collaborators in 1997 and 2001, Sahra Saeeda and Shareen el Safy
My dance “buddy,” Fahtiem
My students
My dance company and
My audience

4. What is your favorite place to dance?
For me it is a toss-up between the intimacy of a nightclub and the austere, larger-than-life arena of the proscenium stage. I love both.

5. What music do you most like to dance to?
Egyptian classical and pop music, and recently the music on my own CD is what I am currently using for performing. After more than 30 years of involvement in Oriental dance I decided to make a dream come true and produce my own CD. I worked with a composer/arranger who wrote original music for me, and I had a dedicated and talented creative team who helped me accomplish this goal. Each piece was lovingly crafted to my specifications. It has musical pieces I especially like: a dramatic entrance, an earthy belady, exciting drum solos, and an emotionally moving taqsim. I was also pleased that it recently got high marks in a review on the Gilded Serpent. The CD is called “Angelika Unveiled.”

6. What was your most memorable performance?
One my of most memorable performances was my first night as a featured ingĂ©nue dancer at the renowned nightclub The Fez in Hollywood, Calif. That night Zenouba was the featured dancer and the celebrity football star Joe Namath was in the audience. I was aware of who he was because we share a similar last name (he spells it differently) and a Hungarian heritage. But equally memorable were the many times I set foot on the Robert B. Moore concert stage at Orange Coast College. I still get a thrill to this day. It is especially meaningful to me because when I was first hired onto the dance faculty at OCC in 1977, I was not asked to perform at the annual faculty dance concert. It was only after years of proving my dance skills and my dance form “worthy” that I was finally allowed to perform on that stage. I also enjoy the camaraderie of performing with my dance company be it at local events or in Cairo, Egypt, in 2007 at the prestigious international dance festival Ahlan Wa Sahlan.

7. What is your dance regimen?
Most of the year I teach and rehearse five days a week for an average of four hours a day. I also like to take vigorous hour-long walks and do my own half-hour yoga routine three or four times a week. In the summer my teaching schedule lightens and I sometimes go on tour, so my routine gets altered. Two of my resolutions are to get back to weight training and swimming laps. I like to incorporate all three types of workouts: cardio, stretching and strength-training. Another aspect of my dance regimen is time spent viewing dance videos (instructional and performance), reading dance journals, magazines and textbooks, listening to music and creating choreography. I also attend all types of dance concerts and plays and visit museums—always hoping and ready for that unexpected spark of inspiration that initiates the creative process.

8. To you, what separates an accomplished dancer from an amateur?
Attention to detail, dancing with passion, and moving with confidence and dignity.

9. As there is always room for improvement in dance (just as there is in all art forms), what are you still working to improve?
Deepening my understanding of Middle Eastern culture in order to achieve a more authentic expression of oriental mannerisms, gestures and movement patterns. Maintaining physical, emotional and mental health through mindful living and nutritional eating. Continuous training with teachers in all genres. Reading, listening, watching and continuing to be astonished by the world around me.

10. How long have you been in Orange County?
Since 1977

For more about Angelika Nemeth, visit

Friday, January 2, 2009

Rooting for the belly dancers...

I'm not usually a fan of the Miss America pageant, but this year there are two reasons I'll be tuned in: Jennifer Hepner (Miss Montana) and Danijela Krstic (Miss Oregon). Both are contestants and both belly dance as their talent. I did a little research, and it seems belly dance hasn't been a contestant's talent in 30 years -- and now we have two!

The pageant will air Saturday, Jan. 24 on TLC, but you can see the contestants on the reality show "Miss America: Countdown to the Crown," beginning tonight (Jan. 2) at 10 p.m. on TLC.

In the first episode, all 52 contestants will move onto the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., to begin a series of challenges that will determine the final 15.