ad 4 Fahtiem

Photo provided by BDSS office
Rania of Orange County. Thanks Tracy!

Gilded Serpent presents...
Saturday at Raqs LA
One Dancer’s Journey Back Home
by Emily Farasha

On the drive down to Raqs LA from the Monterey area of California, I thought a lot about why I had moved away from Los Angeles after high school.  LA has a certain reputation.  Everyone who lives there is famous, wants to be famous, works for someone famous, or is trying to get their 15 seconds of fame via TMZ.  LA women are known for being beautiful in a cookie-cutter plastic surgery sort of way. 

How in the world can bellydance live and thrive in an area like this?  I was skeptical.  The logo for Raqs LA is very stereotypical LA… hot pink and reminiscent of Angelyne billboards. 

BDSS is frequently criticized for being too pretty, too skinny, too LA-esque.  What sort of weekend was this going to be?  A festival full of Barbie look-a-likes?  I really didn’t know what to expect.

I arrived early Saturday morning at the Glendale Civic Auditorium, already sweating from the heat.  My first workshop was at 9am with Jillina.  At 8:30 I walked to what I assumed was the correct entrance, there weren’t any signs up yet.  I checked in, got my wristband and my tickets for the show that night.  There was a lot of yelling and discussion amongst the staff.  It appeared that they had just arrived as well.  I was directed upstairs for my workshop, and wandered around with some other lost dancers past vacant vendors’ booths.  Eventually we found the stairs (you have to go through the exit doors) and went to up to the main stage area.  The hall was dark, full of more vacant vendor booths.  After some more discussion and yelling amongst staff, chairs were moved away to create our workshop space. 

Jillina arrived and, after some minor technical issues with lighting and sound, our “Oriental Fusion” workshop started.  This was my first workshop with Jillina and I was very excited.  She taught a short choreography to Paul Dinletir’s “Pharonic Odessy”.  It was a lot of information for a 2 hour workshop, but Jillina moved along at a brisk pace. 

As an instructor, she was very encouraging and gave more praise than critique.  She also took a moment to talk about the khaleegy style and rhythm, as both were a part of the choreography. 

At the end of the workshop, we sat on the floor to stretch and reflect.  Jillina asked us to be grateful for our health and for having dance in our lives.  Then she stood up and told us to do this: slide our hands down our sides while saying “Mm’mm’mm.  Perfect!”.  As I did this, I looked around at my other workshop participants.  Women and men of all ages, sizes, ethnicities, none of whom looked like Barbie.  And indeed, we are all delicious and perfect just as we are!

My next workshop was drum solo choreography with Ansuya, my first workshop with her as well.  There was a note posted by the door saying all workshops were running 30 minutes late.  I grabbed some coffee and made some notes on Jillina’s hand-out.  After a very lively 2 hours with Jillina, it was nice to sit for a moment and relax.  Vendors were beginning to open up their booths, and the hall was beginning to fill with people. 

Ansuya’s workshop started and she jumped right into her choreography after the class voted not to warm-up or cool-down.  She also had some minor technical difficulties with the sound equipment, but dealt with them quickly.  The track was off of the “Jillina Raks” CD.  She also moved at a brisk pace, stopping frequently to answer questions.  Her instruction style was very relaxed, and felt more like hanging out with a friend than instruction from world-renowned dancer.  Her dance style is very energetic with a lot of locks and precise movement, and the choreography had a few very challenging combinations. 

Ansuya emphasized the importance of feeling the music and not just doing the correct choreography. 

We ran out of time towards the end of the workshop, and Ansuya stayed outside to answer questions from the participants.  Obviously fame has not gone to her head.

If I had to compare Jillina to something LA, I think she is like the Getty Center.  Modern, sleek, elegant, and full of information.  A reminder of how much beauty and art there is in the world.  Ansuya is like Venice Beach.  Funky, new, full of energy, unpretentious.  A reminder of how art is always evolving.  They were a wonderful contrast to each other.

My workshops done for the day, it was time to shop. 

There was a nice variety of vendors, mostly leaning towards the cabaret style of costuming and props, although there were vendors catering to tribal dancers as well.  Dancing on two open stages provided constant entertainment with a variety of performance types. 

As I walked around, I again saw a huge diversity in the people around me.  I realized I had forgotten just how diverse LA is.  It’s only natural that the bellydancers here are as diverse as the communities that they come from.  My shopping done, I ventured out into the blazing heat and downtown traffic.

I returned later that evening for the show, this time with a friend who is not a bellydancer.  The show included the Bellydance Superstars and guest performers who were also workshop instructors that weekend.  We arrived at the hall around 7:30 for an 8pm show start.  Of course the show did not start on time.  There seemed to be more technical difficulties.  At one point, someone in the audience shouted for Miles Copeland to dance, but he declined.  The show began with the guest performers doing solos, followed by an intermission.  The show ended with a condensed version of the BDSS full stage show.

All of the guest performers were fabulous, featuring cabaret and tribal styles.  My favorite was Morocco, whose expressive dance style and finger cymbal playing were perfectly matched to the music.  My friend’s favorite was Helena Vlahos, because she enjoyed seeing a more seasoned and full-figured dancer.  We grabbed some hummus and pita bread at the intermission, and discussed the performances.

The BDSS show was impressive.  The dancers projected a lot of energy, even though the hall was less than full.  The stand out performance for me was the cabaret and tribal duet.  I enjoyed watching a piece that celebrates the similarities and differences between the two styles.  My friend enjoyed the spinning piece.  Anyone, dancer or not, would find that impressive.  The show as a whole had a nice variety of fusion and traditional numbers.  Some criticize BDSS for having too much fusion, but it is this variety that keeps the attention of a non-dancer like my friend.  It also inspires dancers like me to try new things.

Over all, Raqs LA represented the true LA.  I had bought into the stereotypes and had forgotten just how diverse LA really is.  Bellydance, like LA, is incredibly varied with people from all backgrounds finding joy in this art form.  In spite of the technical problems, Raqs LA showcased the full spectrum on the bellydance community in a welcoming environment.  Thank you to BDSS and Marta Schill for putting a great event, and reminding me of my true roots.

Anja's Court lead by Anja.
thanks Tracy!

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