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Adventure Amid the Tempest:
The Biloxi Fest's
Near Brush with Hurricane Katrina
by Sydney

On August 27, 2005, Linda Hasha (a fellow dancer, performer, and instructor of Middle Eastern Dance) and I attended the Biloxi Bellydance Festival in Biloxi, Mississippi.  I am Sydney Landry, an instructor of Bellydance, and dancer/musician with the Sisters of the Phoenix in South Louisiana.  We both continually seek new opportunities for artistic growth by studying with world-renowned dancers and musicians. 

Consequently, we did not allow Hurricane Katrina stop us from driving 450 miles to immerse ourselves in and perform with Mark and Ling Shien Bell of Helm!

Linda and I first attended a private drum lesson with Mark.  We both felt that Mark was patient, thorough, and broke things down in a way that did not make us feel inferior in our skills when compared to his many years of playing the instrument.


From the right Mark Bell teaching a class that includes Linda, Sydney, Woody Prychitko, and one more unknown person.

His demeanor and philosophy was so relaxed that we felt as if we had known him for years! 

We both tried to soak up his charisma, character, and spirit of drumming, knowing that we only had access to him for a few hours. Additionally, we attended the two-hour group dumbec class with Mark.  Even though the group possessed a wide variety of skill levels, his style of teaching was suited for all of them.  

“His method of instruction is not high pressure and the experience was a breakthrough for me,” said Linda as she spoke about Mark.   


Mark and Ling Shien Bell playing live music for the Biloxi show

While we were drumming with Mark, Ling Shien was instructing a group in zils (finger cymbals) with dance.  We combined both groups for two more hours of drumming, playing the zils, and dancing. 

Mark and Ling Shien, in a quiet and unassuming way, have strength and a powerful presence and are highly intense when they are teaching. 

Ling Shien played the mizmar and led the dancers in their choreographed dance steps, and Mark led our group in playing our drums.  When we were in their company, Linda and I felt as if we had been drumming for years!  Ling Shien is an accomplished musician, and she was able to transmit her positive energy into the lively steps of her choreographed dance.  Mark is a natural leader; so, transitioning to different rhythms seemed so easy!  The music we created under his leadership matched the designated steps perfectly.


Linda and Sydney dance to Helm

The night ended with a showcase of different styles of dance and music.  Linda and I had the wonderful opportunity to dance twice with these talented musicians. The energy and intensity of Ling Shien playing the mizmar and Mark’s fingers stroking the doumbec is an experience that we will never forget.

The aura of euphoria that surrounded our performances made us forget—even for just a few hours—of the impending disaster (Hurricane Katrina) that was about to unfold on the Gulf Coast… 

Linda and I made our way back home to Lafayette and New Iberia, Louisiana, after leaving the Biloxi Bellydance Festival Show that ended at 10:30 p.m. 

After navigating around the contra-flow of residents evacuating New Orleans, we arrived home in the wee hours of the next morning.

Helm musicians, Mark and Ling Shien Bell, were able to schedule their trip for an earlier flight back home to California to escape Hurricane Katrina.  Shawn Prychitko, a Bay St. Louis Bellydance instructor, and her husband Woody, dropped off Mark and Ling Shien at the Jackson, Mississippi airport and made their way back home to “ride out the storm,” staying in their home. 

Amazingly, Shawn and Woody were able to survive the storm by riding out the surge and strong winds in a sailboat tied to a tree in front of their destroyed house.


This where Woody and Shawn Prychitko rode out the storm and lived after Katrina for awhile until they received a FEMA trailer

Everyone has heard numerous other stories of evacuation and survival since then.  In spite of Hurricane Katrina’s ravaging winds on the Gulf Coast, we read reports of Bellydance instructors who have also survived in the Ocean Springs area near Biloxi, and onward to Jackson, Mississippi and further to Mobile, Alabama.

Closer to home, the New Orleans area is starting to rebuild very slowly, and we hear that there are a few Bellydance instructors who are starting to teach and dance in that area again.  Recently our well-known Bellydance shop, Kruz, Morocco to India, has reopened in the French Quarter of New Orleans. 

As Kruz so poignantly stated “My heart and soul is in New Orleans; so, I could not stay away for long!”

Not many people realize that Hurricane Rita followed Katrina to Louisiana only three weeks later! Rita hit hard and came ashore along the Louisiana and Texas state lines. Hurricane Rita destroyed the Louisiana coastline between Texas and Central Louisiana.  Lake Charles, which is home to Bellydance instructor, Ladonna, was without power for weeks and destruction was everywhere. 

We corresponded with Ladonna soon after the storm, and she said she had lost track of most of her troupe and her students who had evacuated. Nonetheless, she was anxious to start up classes and begin dancing once again.

The worst of the two storms spared Baton Rouge and Lafayette.  Thankfully, we are still maintaining strength in our Bellydance scene here. We are grateful for all the words of encouragement, support, and donations that everyone has sent us from all areas of the United States.

If I may speak for the dancers of the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi: “We will recuperate, and we will be stronger than Ever!”

More Photos!

This photo was taken the morning of August 28, beside a sweet olive tree in their front yard, just minutes before Shawn left to take them to fly out of Jackson, MS.

This photo was taken at the same location where Mark and Ling Shien stood, mattress is up against the same sweet olive tree, on August 30th.

This” was taken at the same location in their yard on August 29, at high water, with the eyewall just having past. The view is looking into the wind from the sailboat at their neighbor’s roof floating. Their house wreckage and where they stood with Ling Shien and Mark 24 hrs earlier is just left of the bow, in about 10' of water.

 

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