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Gilded Serpent presents...
The 2005 Eilat Festival,
My Fete in
by Orit

It's Thursday evening, and I'm exhausted, yet overwhelmingly excited!  Lolita, my make-up artist, forcibly restrains me while, for the one hundredth time, she powders my face and sprays my hair with extra, super-hold hair spray that could hold the Eiffel Tower atop my head.

“It’s not easy being a star!” she proclaims.

Definitely not, I think to myself, especially when one has to keep a personal make-up artist and hairdresser in order to maintain one’s standards at each consecutive performance. Additionally, I will fly my artist from Tel Aviv to Eilat in order that she may dress me suitably for this extra-special evening that is soon to begin.

As a last touch, Lolita showers me with sparkles. Then she photographs me in my new costume, while, with a giant smile filling my face, I dance with exhilaration the routine I had taught at my workshop earlier in the day.

My new costume, together with two other outfits, will help me kick off today’s show, the opening gala of the festival. After all the effort that I have put into the production, marketing, preparation, logistics, and the workshop that I gave this afternoon, I still expect to give an above-standard show.

Yael's workshop

Dorit's class

Orit teaches

Student watch as Assi demontrates

Fifi's workshop

My co-producer, Yael Moav, has chosen an easier path and has decided to give only workshops, and not perform. Instead, Yael has opted to have dancers from Arabesque (the dance academy that she manages) perform tomorrow evening.

However, tomorrow evening is another story altogether! In the mean time, tonight I must get up on stage to do what I love to do most of all—perform.

My performance is about to begin. Around five hundred women (and a few men here and there) fill the impressive, round-staged theatre, waiting for my show to begin. About twenty dancers and students, modeling costumes designed by Dorit Yeyni, open the evening with a fashion show to warm up the audience. Dorit, who also teaches at Arabesque, has come to Eilat to offer workshops.

This evening is exceptional because it is the first evening of the first Belly dance festival in Eilat that comprised solely of Israeli talent. We will have our own festival, in the city of Eilat, bordering Egypt to the west and Jordan to the east, and it will be the first festival of its kind, celebrating Arab culture, which is, in fact, part of the complex weave of Israeli identity.

If I were to delve into the minds of the hundreds of women attending this festival, I might feel as though I had entered a marvellous haven of femininity, with palm trees and the wondrous blue colour of the Red Sea! Within the exquisiteness of the landscape would be this female celebration of clothing, jewelry, and enchanting music, where she can sway according to the passion of her soul.  In my imagination, she would be dancing without the undermining eye of any judgmental male; instead she will be in the company of loving female camaraderie, reminding us how truly contented we are with ourselves…

Belly dancing is at a peak in its popularity in Israel, lagging mightily behind the USand Europe. Only lately has a new era of understanding emerged in which female power stands at the very center of this brilliant art.

Professional dancers take pleasure in the glory of their occupation as well as from the flocks of women that attend their workshops and performances. Women from all sectors of society and varied ethnicity desire to join the abundant classes available throughout Israel.

Our festival in Eilat was an all-Israeli event, (with no guests from outside the country). We offered thirty workshops during one extended weekend at a vacation hotel in Eilat.  We held two performances also, perfectly filling the needs of both the audience and the stars.

Belly dancing is no longer a form of sensual recreation for a predominantely male audience, but is a gift of non-stop pleasure for women. The dancers create inspiration and the students discover the means to attaining high self-esteem and acceptance of their bodies.

The few men that joined their spouses for the weekend were left isolated in the whole affair. They gazed, stunned by the performers during the two shows of the festival. In my opinion, the desired image of a dancer with a strong presence, charisma, and the ability to seize the audience was delivered by only a few performers. Nevertheless, every woman who took the stage, performing in her own personal style, received an astounding applause, regardless of whether or not she was a gifted dancer or gorgeously attractive.

Top photo: Orit, Lower photo: Assir performs
The strength of the festival lay in its presentation of femininity—from  its vast rainbow of colors and styles—and this instilled inspiration and value among each woman that attended.

The teachers at the festival also performed, and demonstrated the richness and wide variety of belly-dance forms in Israel.

Fifi Ness, an experienced dancer and valued teacher of Egyptian origin, moved naturally with the rhythms of the Saidi style, and sang the lyrics of the songs by heart.

Shelly Alaluf performed a Turkish, Gypsy-style routine, doing so with great skill, having  lived two years with a Gypsy family in Turkey.

The talented costume designer who sewed all three of the outfits I wore that evening, Assi Haskal, is of Iraqi origin and is a special dancer. He grew up watching the Arab movies that were broadcast every Friday evening on television. He knew quite well how to excite the audience when dancing to a song by Abdel Wahab, as well as how to let loose with his brilliant mime to a modern hit, popular song.

Nili Mendelssohn, once a ballerina, having also spent a year in Chicago, portrayed the classical image of a skillful dancer with extreme stability and beautiful hand movements.

Avigayil Klein gave an exceptionally unique and comical performance. Klein is an experienced dancer and for the past few years has been performing a stand-up comedy show on Belly dance called “On a Full Stomach.” The show offers heaps of laughs, a little bit of dancing, and oodles of roly-poly stomach movements!

Top photo: Nili, below: Fifi Ness and cane

I incorporated a dramatic story into my dance performance.  With a sharp transition, I switched over from a theatrical and strongly-emotional dance, to a game with the audience, and then to a dynamic and complicated drum solo in which I demonstrated how the entire body can dance (including eyelashes and fingers that can drum on floor of the stage).

About a dozen more dancers performed short and diverse routines on stage, creating a rich and distinctive mélange called “Belly Dance in Israel.”

All of the performances were an expression of the current scene of belly dancing in Israel. In the remaining days of the festival, the workshops were crammed with students who were eager to get to know the teachers and their style—up close and personal.     

The workshops took place from morning ‘til evening in different halls throughout the hotel, and they were consistently full to capacity…

Participants were given the opportunity to pass freely between workshops without any restraints upon entry. From one hall one could hear a loud dum-dum-tuk, from another hall, a slow floor dance, and from a third hall, one could jump jubilantly to the sounds of Nancy Agram.

Each teacher was requested to create a unique language and style that would enrich every participant and avoid any redundancy of style and technique. In the workshops, the participants were taught: a Saidi cane dance, how to work with zills, scarf technique at various skill levels, how to reveal expressions in free dance and choreography, dance with live drum beats, Turkish-Gypsy style, choreography for pop songs, improvisation for Shiftateili rhythm, long warm-ups for dancers, Alexandrian dance with an emphasis on mimicking, and the list continues…

To reinvigorate the dancing, we decided to hold academic workshops on material such as the Arabic language, the connection between lyrics and dance movements, and understanding the different rhythms involved in Arabic music.

The ambiance of the festival was so powerful that music and dance filled the hotel throughout the entire three days. The palm trees in the middle of the lobby created an Oriental atmosphere. A colorful bazaar was rich with clothing, accessories, and music, just like an authentic market in Egypt—or even closer—like the entertainment and market boulevards in Dahab, Tarbin, and Sharam in Sinai that abound in palm trees, colorfully appealling to the eyes of tourists.

The participants at the festival came from all over Israel, and they were introduced to new ideas and opportunities that exist in belly dancing.

This was the first professional festival of its kind in Israel.  Despite its being overwhelmingly exhausting and loaded with material, the celebrating continued in the lobby, well into the night, with endless conversations and the exchange of tales.

What will we bring for next year’s festival to heighten the excitement? We will welcome from Egypt Dianna Mahiou who has accepted my personal invitation to come to Israel. She has been living and teaching in Egypt for many years and offers workshops all over the world. We will also add more workshops to meet the great number of expected participants.

Fifi Ness

We hope to preserve the intimate atmosphere of the festival, and thus, we have decided not to move it to a larger hotel. There is something exciting about the central feature that characterized the festival: the close proximity of all of the activities.

At the next festival—on  January of 2006—we will present a mini stage in the evenings where amateur dancers will be invited to perform in the hours before the main performance and thereby gain on stage experience.

This coming festival will offer workshops around the swimming pool and a Bedouin-style sitting area with festive garments, pillows and water pipes. We will invite new teachers who did not participate in the previous festival.  The performances promise to be exciting and original, especially since Dianna will be honouring us with her special-guest appearance.

Perhaps you may ask how the evening (that I started to tell you about earlier) concluded. Well, the gala was unbelievable! I split the stage with Fifi Ness. We divided between ourselves all different styles of dance to keep the evening interesting. I gave up on my Beledi dance and instead, put on a more modern performance while Fifi portrayed the classical stream.

Our audience responded from the heart with tremendous applause, and throughout the entire festival participants complimented Yael and me on our organization, pleasantness, and professionalism of the event, as well as on the care we took concerning minor details. We produced a DVD that features most parts of the festival. To give you a brief taste of it, I have prepared a short clip that characterizes the feel of our festival.

You may enter my site to the “video” page where you can view the clip called “The Eilat Festival.”

There are direct flights to Eilat and this year we would be honored to welcome guests from outside of Israel. We have much to offer, and you are quite welcome to come and see for yourselves.

So long from sunny and warm Israel.
Orit Maftsir

Eilat , Israel


Fashion show

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