The Gilded Serpent presents...
Shake and Bake
Festival 2000

by Sandy Keller

Amaya, hostess and organizer of the Shake and Bake Festival, creates fun every summer in New Mexico's high desert city of Albuquerque. As with any long-standing popular event, no one (and that may well include Amaya) knows for how long this event will continue. I had heard about the Shake and Bake festival for years, but until last summer, I'd never had the occasion to attend. It took absolutely no prompting to get me motivated for another round this year! Shake and Bake is not your ordinary seminar.

It's a true happening, an experience, and for all who attend, an adventure. Shake and Bake offers more than most seminars, and so to call it a seminar or a conference is inadequate. Let's call it what it is: A festival that provides the stage for the true bonding of dancing spirits.

Not all attendees are experienced dancers or performers. All attendees are interested in seeing dance, in experiencing dance, soaking up the local culture, and connecting. However, what is a dance festival without getting all you can from the seminar instructors? This is especially true with instructors like this year's: Amaya; Bert Balladine, and Jalilah, this year's featured guest artist.

Amaya says about Shake and Bake, "This Shake and Bake festival is built with the glue of friendships built over many, many years of workshops, behind the stage jitters, giggles and gripes, stitch and bitch sessions over costume adjustments." Its true that belly dancing provides many opportunities to bond and to share in the creative spirit, but Shake and Bake can probably best be summed up by it's attendees..

Amaya put her businesswoman's talents to the test with this year's Shake and Bake. Not all the events went according to plan. She had the opportunity to show how to keep your cool while all those carefully laid plans crumble. As the festival sponsor, Amaya creates the agenda, lines up technicians, drivers, volunteers, and spaces from the hotels and dorms to the various show venues, year after year. Those who sponsor seminars know what this entails and how completely the sponsor has to trust others to do their best too. Every year something is bound to go wrong, so you learn quickly to find a way to get around the problems and go on.

This year almost every activity during this festival required the implementation of "Plan B".

Miabella of Dallas, loved coming to Shake and Bake because she loves Amaya's teaching style, and when asked what she enjoyed most about the seminar, she promptly replied, "Amaya's class!" There is something for everyone at Shake and Bake. This Shake and Bake was no exception with such a terrific line-up.

What is Shake and Bake from my perspective? Shake and Bake is more like a pleasure cruise with more great activities than your typical dance festival. The southwestern desert is your ocean and Albuquerque and Santa Fe are the ports of call. Our captain is gracious (and unlike most pleasure cruises, beautiful), and the cruise-goers are also often beautiful at this event which was designed so that they could have a wonderful time. We came from all over the country, Seattle, Baltimore, Boston, Clearwater, Florida, LA, Austin, Dallas and, seemingly, everywhere to find the flame.

The first day of the festival we gathered together outside the dorm to wait for the bus to take us to Santa Fe for shopping and the Maria Benetiz, Flamenco show. As we waited, Amaya had Jeanette dispense the tote bags and t-shirts from the trunk and back seat of Amaya's car. Jeanette scribbled the names of those picking up their totes and t-shirts frantically on the back of an envelope. As I watched her handing out the goodies to this as yet small group of women, it made me think of gypsies selling baubles or fortunes along the side of the road.

The first of the many seminar classes is with Jalilah. Jalilah, the featured dancer of this year's seminar, proved to be a complete delight. Words like sweet, soft, kind, musical and introspective come to mind.

Jalilah, a truly warm-hearted Madonna from Montreal Canada, teaches what she preaches, which is to feel and understand the music. Jalilah believes that simply counting the rhythm is not enough to produce a great dance.

You also need to know and feel your music. Jalilah has had a lot of experience putting this into practice. She produces CDs of classical Arab songs, especially songs made famous by the Arab singer Om Kalsoom and that is a fact that translates into an understanding of the complexities of modern Arab music. So, if you can feel the music, it is possible to interpret the music through the dance, allowing the music and the dance to become synonymous.

Jalilah truly impressed many of the workshop attendees, some of whom had never taken a dance class like Jalilah's. As a young Albuquerque dancer put it, "I always get so hung up on the count, I sometimes forget what's coming next, and then get really lost." As Jalilah showed us, you know your music, you know what you need to do, and so you don't need to follow the rhythm as though it was the only thing in the music. Most rhythms are connected to the heartbeat, so one may dance naturally!

Amaya, who has known Jalilah for about 15 years, recalls the first time she saw her. "Jalilah was dancing in a restaurant in Berlin to 'Music for Amaya' by the Sultans. Needless to say, I was very impressed with her dancing and her excellent choice of music. Over the years, our paths have crossed, mostly in Europe. Jalilah has a photographic memory when it comes to music and many of us dancers would ask her about song titles. Her wide eyes give her such an innocent look, but she is street smart and sort of an angel flying above the rest of us. She struggles less. She seems implacable. She really was a joy to bring to S&B and I plan on doing so again."

Bert Balladine's class was next. Bert, who has been a part of Shake and Bake for almost every year that it has existed, has been immortalized in many articles, dedications and acknowledgments on albums and CDs. On a Light Rain album, he's called the "world emissary of magic". He reminds us there is so little joy in the world and it's good to dance and be joyful. Mila, an Austin dancer, teacher, choreographer, former boutique owner and long time friend and student of Bert's, says that the epithet is true of Bert and having taken it to heart, she feels that when she's dancing (and especially when she's around Bert) she's taller, younger and more beautiful. He has taught her how to find that joy in dance and, with it, to nourish her body and soul.

Bert teaches what no one else does: how to feel the dance, to be a star, to exude a persona into the dance and how to fall in love with the dance." Aneena tells her own students that if they can only take one workshop it should be from Bert. They can learn a lot from many teachers, but what they learn from Bert is "what he does."

Amaya, who probably knows Bert as well as any dancer working today, says, "to describe Bert is to say 'indescribable and one-of-a-kind.' Bert is one of our staples who knows many stories with many of these memories of past Shake and Bake Festivals. There is nothing like hearing Bert do the sound effects to a story from long ago. I have been so lucky to be able to hang out with this guy and become included in some of his great stories. His gentleness and compassion for that struggling baby dancer in the corner has always made me respect him even more. Bert has become part of my inner sanctum circle.... a totally trustworthy friend. His advice has always been sound-- from money issues to love issues. Bert knows me better than my own mother!"

We capped off the second day of the festival and the first day of classes with a show at the Rodey Theater on the University of New Mexico campus. The first half of the show was the Ethnic Dance Troupe competition. This competition was for fun and gave some dancers a chance to perform in a theater. It also provided the dancers with the opportunity to stretch themselves a little farther and to try a little bit harder than they possibly would have, had it not been a competition. Most of the groups seemed to be very light hearted about participating and were busily cheering the other groups back stage.

Friday night also saw the return of Mila's Patsy Cline number, which is still Funny. Having seen the stairs she had to climb from the dressing room to the stage made it even funnier. How did she manage to get up the stairs with a golf club hidden in her dress? Amazing! Armana of Palm Harbor, Florida performed the prettiest sword number I have ever seen. Armana dances with two swords, and she really dances with them.

When dancing with props, you want them to be an integral part of the dance and not just an inanimate object being flung around the stage. Armana's sword work is not about employing sword tricks by the numbers. This sword dance was dramatic and graceful and kept the audience on the edge of their seats, which again, is exactly what you want to do with dramatic props like swords.

The classes continued through the next two days, beginning with Jalilah's interesting take on Ghawazee style dance and Bert's instruction on the use of the veil in performing. That night took us to Summerfest, Albuquerque's longtime free summer ethnic event, encompassing entertainment, food, and vendors of all kinds. Dancers from Shake and Bake graced the large stage in the Plaza in downtown Albuquerque accompanied by George Lammam's incomparable group.

In the afternoon, Amaya, who couldn't believe that she'd slated herself to teach last, gave a class on the business of belly dancing. She taught us all how to be good negotiators; pay attention to security; and build business skills. As Amaya explained, "It's no longer just about dancing once you decide to enter the business world of belly dance." Next she gave a demonstration on how to do an entertaining belly gram. I know that several newer dancers had been asking about that very topic earlier in the festival. I hope those asking were in attendance for this class, because Amaya's information and demonstration were just what they were requesting. Amaya ended the classes focused on some of her most classic movements.

The last stop on this wonderful adventure was that night at the Silk Road Restaurant, an interesting restaurant featuring cuisine from the various regions along which the Silk Road ran. We were treated to more performances from among the attendees and the presentation of the Leaping Iguana awards.

This year's awards included such notables as

  • the Quasi Moto award given to Jeannie Godbout who crammed so much in her backpack she couldn't stand up straight to walk,
  • the Booby Prize for our lovely hostess who misplaced her costume bra and had to valiantly dance in someone else's lovely black bra,
  • and the prize for true valor in the face of adversity, the Sound and Fury award, which went to Nita (and her hubby) for saving the Friday night show sitting in as sound engineer.

The Shake and Bake Festival is really nothing without Amaya, who IS Shake and Bake, and is described so well by a long-time Shake and Bake veteran, Jeannie from Littlefield Texas, as being a joy to watch whether teaching or performing. Jeannie struggled to find the right word to best describe, Amaya. After a moment's thought she brightly proclaimed, "She's crystal. She takes simple steps and adds crystal to the movements, they're clear and then she sparkles!"

She may well be crystal as in brilliancy in her persona and clarity to her dancing and teaching style, but she definitely is not the kind to chip or break. Amaya is a competent professional with many years of experience from which to draw, especially as a seminar sponsor of Shake and Bake. If she were not, there probably would not be a Shake and Bake Festival to go to every year, and that would be a shame.

Go to the next article:
Cairo's Costume Disasters by Leyla Lanty.
Go to another review by this author:
Club Galia Grand Opening 
Would you like to respond to this article? 
Write a letter to the editor!