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Author competing in the competition

The three boys-
Jim Boz, Horacio and Khaled Mahmoud

Eman Zaki, her sister and Raqia Hassan
Gilded Serpent presents...
The International Belly Dance Congress, 2007
told by Salwa of Belgium
and the winner of the contest professional category
September 28-30, 2007, in Bogner Regis, England
Gala photos provided by Josephine Wise, others by author

For the first time in Europe, an international Belly Dance congress was held.  Josephine Wise, carefully organized the event, inviting 25 internationally respected teachers such as Raqia Hassan, Randa Kamel, Yasmina, Samasen, Khaled Mahmoud, Shafeek Hibrahim, Fathiem, Jim Boz, Frederic David, Horacio and Beata Cifuentes, Sara Abu Farah, Leila Haddad, Raphaelle Masson, Heather Burby, Galit Mersand, Kay Taylor, Maria D’Silva, Margaret Krause, Yvette Cowles, Wendy Marlatt, Deirdre MacDonald.  Included also was Chas Whittaker, teaching the tablas.

The weekend included workshops, master classes with Randa Kamel and Raqia Hassan, amateur, group and professional dance competitions, evening galas, a live orchestra performance, an oriental bazaar, and even a live concert with Natasha Atlas.

The event drew hundreds of Belly dancers and belly dance amateurs from all around the world (Europe, Korea, Canada, Russia, Japan…), including myself and two friends belly dancers from Brussels, Belgium.

The Adventure Begins – Day 1
After four long hours of travel we finally arrived in Bognor Regis, United Kingdom, and the rush began.  Bognor Regis is a small city by the sea where the Butlins Center is located. Upon arrival, we immediately noticed the efficiency of the organization. We were quickly received and updated on what was to come, which is never an obvious thing for events that size.

With no time to lose, we rushed to the first workshop led by Shafeek Ibrahim. About 60 people gathered in the hall following this rising young male star of the Egyptian contemporain Belly Dance scene. Shafeek turned out to be a pleasant surprise; a very patient and talented teacher and dancer.

After two hours of work with Shafeek, it was time for the first master class with Randa Kamel. Randa is currently one of biggest Belly Dance names in Egypt. Meeting her clarified exactly why. This woman is amazing, professional, energetic, and passionate. Randa has all it takes to be a star.

After this first introductory round, we headed to our rooms, a couple of minutes to get ready, shower, eat and we proceeded to Horacio and Beata Cifuentes new performance named Talisman.

Horacio and Beata were on stage with elegance and technical precision. It was a good show. They wore magnificent costumes, most of them designed by Horacio himself.

My only little regret is the lack of renovation in their style. Being a fan of the Cifuentes’ work I have seen them on stage regularly for the past six years. I guess I just was disappointed for not being surprised by the structure of the show (succession of choreographies, no decors on stage). That being said, the show itself was a pleasure to the eyes. I loved the Melaya duet and The Muppet parody.

After the show, the party continued with the live Awtar Zehebiya Orchestra and two DJ’s from Tranglobal Underground.

The day had been long and we returned to our rooms for a rejuvenating night sleep, or so we thought … The Congress was held in a typical English vacation center, populated by party loving English youngsters. There was partying, drinking and shouting throughout the night. We even had the questionable pleasure of enduring a private English drunk girl’s karaoke till the early hours of the morning…

Give Me Some More! – Day 2
An early start for me! Being the first regular tribal dance teacher in Belgium, it pushes me to meet fellow teachers and share wisdom.  There was a workshop led by Deirdre MacDonald, who is known also for her work with the Gypsy Caravan. Unfortunately most of the attendees were novices so I didn’t enjoy the workshop as much as expected.

When the tribal workshop ended, I found myself rushing to the oriental bazaar. It is so seldom for us here in Europe to have so many oriental vendors and costumers gathered in one big room! Among all the colors and flavors I encountered Mrs. Eman Zaky, the well-known costumer from Cairo. Going through her work I immediately fell in love with two magnificent costumes. The temptation was just too big so I ended up buying them both!

I was due to participate in the professional category dance contest the next day. Since I was hesitating between two of my costumes, I chose to go the third way and put on the lovely white costume I have just purchased. Eman Zaky took the required measurements and promised to make the requested adjustments, by hand, for the next day.

Next workshop: Fathiem, cane dancing with rock music.  The teacher was as special and interesting as the title of the workshop. I discovered a great instructor and fabulous woman. This workshop overlapped the amateur dance contest as well as the Raqia Hassan master class for which I was scheduled so I had to leave before the end.

It’s Saturday 2 pm. Raqia Hassan is one of the biggest figures in the Belly Dance world. I have heard and read so much about her. Now it’s time to see for myself. Raqia prepared a very dramatic choreography for us on a Fadel Chaker song, rich with expressions and emotions. Raqia has a way of explaining it all in a very clear manner; a class with her is a great moment of discovery. I was certainly not disappointed, what a generous and rigorous woman!

There was no time to let all of what we just learned sink in.  We had about an hour to get to the rooms, refresh, eat, and get ready for the evening Gala.

Saturday night was the night when “East meets West”. I loved Fathiem who was impressive with her lateral belly rolls, graceful.  She was so expressive in that very classic oriental piece. Jim Boz was energetic, and communicative. The man was very charismatic and knew how to lead a crowd. Heather Burby performed a delicious and fresh oriental choreography; Frederic David: “whoa!” she just looks like a very perfect doll in her dance, Raphaelle Masson: was very fun with her “Emma peel in Cairo”, Kismet (performed  a very burlesque 7 veil dance) and the Johara Dance Company with their very beautiful fire choreography in the dark. The only setback was the lack of consistency in the show. The differences in quality and technique levels of the dancers were sometimes just too obvious. It is not easy to follow a performance of someone as energetic as Jim Boz, it’s true, but still, I think an effort of harmonization could have been done.

I discovered so many interesting artists; it was definitively a great show. We did a little more partying and we retired to our rooms tired, but happy.

Contest Day – Day 3
It’s contest day. I need to get my new costumes and prepare my choreograph!

It was a tight schedule, along with a lack of practice space, and an available electric plug making it pretty impossible for me to rehearse.

We got up and, like so many others, returned to follow the workshop given by Jim Boz that surprised us all the previous evening. Jim Boz turned out to be a very patient teacher and a great pedagogue. Yet another fortunate encounter. Jim Boz’s workshop ended at mid-day, only 30 minutes before the dance contest. As I had to throw on some makeup and try my new costume, I left 30 minutes prior to the end of the workshop and ran to the bazaar hoping the last modifications have been done. Eman Zaky … what a designer! My costume was ready and waiting for me with an encouraging smile as well from Zaky. Off to the contest I went.

I chose to perform to a song that moved me: the third part of Oum Kalthoum's, Inta Omri, (you are my whole life)

About 10 participants were there, all pretty and ready to perform for the audience.  The extraordinary jury consisted of: Jim Boz, Heather Burby, Samasen, Shafeek Ibrahim and Sara Abu Farah. Josephine Wise presented the event and I couldn’t help but notice the presence of some of the other teachers in the audience as Galit, Fathiem and Maria D’Silva, who all came to enjoy the show.

The contest began, the three first dancers were beautiful, and then there was me, in my brand new white dress. Looking back I think I was lucky to buy this dress since two of the other dancers were performing in golden costumes, which was very similar to my initial choice…

Not being able to prepare my planned choreography properly for the Oum Kalthoum song, which is not easy to interpret to begin with, I quickly turned to emotions in order to fill up the space. Encouraged by a supportive and warm audience, I let my self sink into the song and let the emotions it built in me rise to the surface. It was an amazing experience and a real pleasure to share that moment with the audience.

After all the performers danced, it was time to announce the winner. Third place a dancer from Spain, second place, a dancer from England and first place? Me!

Needless to say I was thrilled. It’s a great honor for me to be able to perform in front of this jury, and to be able to move them… So I won a cup, a crown, a free pass for next year’s Congress (YES!), a slot to perform on one of the night galas, and a contract with Book a Belly Dancer Agency (I still don’t know what it means, but I’m sure Josephine will clarify that for me soon).

As it has been since the beginning of the weekend, there’s no time to let anything sink in slowly. After the adrenaline rush from winning the contest, I only had the time to run to the bazaar and thank Eman Zaky, who was literally crying out of joy for me. I was then watching the work of Frederic David in front of about 100 fascinated students. She is so precise in her work!

Four o’clock PM, its the last workshop of the week end for me: Khaled Mahmoud. Mahmoud is a purist Egyptian style dancer and a very generous teacher (one of the only teachers who allowed us to film during the class).

The weekend closed with the third and last gala entitled “Cairo to Casablanca”. The icing on the cake was Natasha Atlas in concert at the end.

I enjoyed Shafeek who performed a cane and stick dance with his wife. Khaled Mahmoud performed the choreography he taught us just a couple of hours before. He was brilliant!

Samasen looked like a mermaid and reminded me of Naima Akef! Yasmina from Cairo was very sensual and beautiful, and finally, the person we were all looking forward to: Randa Kamel, smiling and strong. She was as generous of a performer as she was a teacher. She was truly the star of the moment. It felt like a birthday gift to see her performing!

The magnificent show ended with a live concert of Natasha Atlas who invited some of the male performers for an improvised dance with her drummer. It was a delight.

One more night sleeping and then it was time to go back home. What a fabulous journey. Without a doubt, the first congress attempt in Europe was a great success!

What else can you ask for? Could something be improved? Well, I guess I could say the schedule was very tight; the center a little bit too noisy, and some work could be have been done for further valorizing the teachers and performers.  But all this is probably being taken care of already by the congress staff and Mrs. Wise.

Until next time!

Festival website here


Author posing with Fahtiem


with Frederic


posing with Randa

Samasen and Khaled Mahmoud

author

Raphaelle is one of the English teachers present over there...She gave 2 workshops and performed in "Emma Peel in Cairo" very burlesque...she had pvc black and white costume with a hat (like in the movie)


with Shafeek & Hawwa



MC- Jo Wise

Maria D'silva and the Nile Dance Co

Fahtiem


Johara Dance Co


Jim Boz

Arabia Adorned of Canada

 

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