Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Booksigning at Cairo Caravan 2011

MECDA's Cairo Caravan -- the biggest annual belly dance event in Southern California -- is just around the corner, and I'm pretty excited the organizers asked me to come and talk about my debut novel, The Belly Dancer.

If you have a copy, bring it, and I'll be thrilled to sign it. If you don't, I'll have copies for sale throughout the run of the festival, thanks to the wonderful independent bookstore folks at Laguna Beach Books.

The 3-day event at the Queen Mary runs from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday (with a promised special surprise for Friday night attendees until 11 p.m.), 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

It'll be a full day of shopping, performances, workshops and food. Tickets at the door are $5 for MECDA members with card/$18 for non-members per day, or $10 for members with card / $35 for non-members for the weekend.

This year, my friend and fellow author Shauna Roberts will be reading from and signing copies of her novel, "Like Mayflies in a Stream," a story of ancient Mesopotamia and retelling of the epic Gilgamesh, at 4:30 p.m. Friday as part of the free lectures series.

My discussion, reading and signing will take place at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, also as part of the free lectures series.

If you can't make the lectures, I hope you'll stop by the booth Shauna and I will have. We'll be signing (and selling) copies of our books. I hope you'll stop by and say hi.

Need an incentive? I'm giving away free bookmarks and chocolate :-)

For more information about the festival, visit www.MECDA.org/cairo.

Friday, May 27, 2011

O.C. Belly Dancer Spotlight: Marlena Shaw

Falling in love with belly dance is a vivid memory for Marlena Shaw. It was two decades ago, on the first day of a community college dance class in Irvine.

And she’s never been the same.

Her instructor’s soulful dancing and the rhythms of the Middle East and North Africa immediately connected to a lifelong passion for artistry and music that she had inherited from her parents as a young girl, according to her website (www.marlenadancer.com). She immersed herself in the dance form, and soon moved from student to performer and instructor.

Today she is an in-demand performer with a busy schedule of private events who still makes time to participate in local festivals and showcases. She’s also a popular instructor who teaches all levels of Egyptian-style belly dance at the Bea Hive Dance Studio in Garden Grove and Westminster Performing Arts Center, as well as private instruction.

Her next appearance is scheduled for Saturday, June 4, at MECDA’s 34th annual Cairo Caravan. You can find her at 12:22 p.m. on the Luxor Stage.

1. How would you describe your style of belly dancing?
Classical Egyptian

2. How long have you been belly dancing, and how’d you get started?
I took my very first belly dance class in 1991 at Irvine Valley College with an instructor named Kahena. When I heard the music and watched the way she moved, I was fascinated with the soulfulness she had and never saw anyone dance like that before. It almost seemed like the music was coming from her movement of her body instead of from the stereo. I was instantly eager to learn more about the culture, music and dance.

3. Who are your favorite or most influential teachers?
My most influential teachers were, of course, Kahena, with her knowledge and soulful expression. Then Fahtiem who was playful and feminine. Later I discovered Angelika Nemeth and studied with her for about four years, taking her college course at Golden West College and at an international studio in Santa Ana. I studied with several master teachers over the years, taking workshops and classes to keep up with what's new and to learn more in-depth knowledge and technique. I would have to say that the instructor that has been most influential for me (as there are so many) would have to be Sahra Saeeda. I have completed two of her Journey thru Egypt intensives and probably have spent the most time in her workshops trying to soak up all that she has learned in her extensive history of Egyptian dance.

4. What is your favorite place to dance?
My favorite place to dance would have to be at any event with an Egyptian audience. They truly appreciate the music and internal expression of the dance.

5. What music do you most like to dance to?
Anything classical Egyptian and, of course, I like the Oum Kalsoum songs. I also love Abdul Halim Hafiz music and all the classics. I love dancing to the qanoon, oud or the nay during a taxim. The most wonderful is, of course, dancing to live music!

6. What was your most memorable performance?
There have been so many memorable performances. One that comes to mind would have to be during a retreat in Idyllwild a few years back with Zahra. That Saturday evening, the band drove up so we could dance to live music. I remember dancing to Gamil Gamal, and feeling like I was floating the whole time. Then, the drum solo was so fun, dancing while Gorkem Somer played the drum. I was standing right next to him and playfully communicating with him with my hips. There is nothing greater than performing to live music.

7. What is your dance regimen?
My dance regimen changes all the time. I teach two nights a week and dance at a regular restaurant gig as well. I spend a lot of time preparing and thinking about class, especially when I am choreographing. I listen to a lot of music, picking just the right piece and then going over it with different combinations of movement. When I am performing at an event, I pick my music and then listen to it in the car while I drive and dance to it in my living room/studio. If I am not performing, I will put in a DVD and follow with the instructor to keep my technique up and stamina. My most favorite time to practice is putting in a DVD of a classical old Egyptian style dancer like Tahia Carioca, Fifi Abdo or Soheir Zaki, and try to imitate them. I also have a trampoline that I bounce on with weights in my hands early in the morning before I get ready for work, along with sit-ups and stretching.

8. To you, what separates an accomplished dancer from an amateur?
Honestly, I would have to say that to me an accomplished dancer you would have to have an understanding of the rhythms in the music and to be able to recognize the instruments in a piece of music. Some understanding of the different styles. Good technique and posture are very important. Accomplished dancers would mostly have to be confident in their ability to improvise, their skill in using props such as a veil, cane or sword. To me, one of the most impressive skills is to be able to connect with people while they dance, have a healthy balance in dancing for yourself and dancing for your audience.

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?
I'm trying to learn some more modern Egyptian moves to add some "pizzazz" to my repertoire. I watch some YouTube videos and try to pick up some new moves.

10. How long have you been in Orange County?
For most of my life I've been right here in O.C. My family is from the South Bay area (Torrance), but we moved here to Westminster when I was in middle school.

If you would like to know more about Marlena, or check out her performing and class schedules, visit www.marlenadancer.com.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bellydance Flash Mob in Brussels

Come on, you know wish you'd been there for this!

The video poster, raqscongress, wrote on YouTube that the event took place Saturday, March 6, 2010, in the center of Brussels. It was part of an effort to promote Bellydance as an art form. And is part of the International Raqs Congress activities. You can find out more about them here: http://www.raqscongress.com.

The event was presented by Together in Life NGO (http://www.togetherinlife.org) and Salwa (http://www.salwa.be)