Raks Divine 2009
August 27 to September 1st, 09
by Martha Duran
posted February 16, 2010
This past year I attended Niral and Desiree’s "Racks Divine ’09" event in Tijuana’s Hotel Corona Plaza. Niral, director of IMCADH (Mexican Institute of Culture Arts and Human Development) has held this event for the past ten years. Bellydance instructors and students from Venezuela, Mexico, Egypt, USA, and Canada unite to take workshops and seminars by well know instructors and dancers. They also share a stage for the closing event, the Star Gala. Niral’s goal is to promote unity between bellydancers and support new artists. 2009 was the first year she partnered with Desiree, who for the past 2 years has produced the BellyRacks International Competition.
I enrolled in all the workshops, chatted with the teachers and mingled with the dancers. I also saw every performance. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of it! Here is an overview of what I saw.
Leila Farid from Cairo Egypt is a sweetheart! She is what many Mexican dancers aspire to look and dance like. Wow! She is gorgeous and mesmerizing – as well as extremely nice, polite and down to earth! My star struck students were amazed to catch her snacking on Mexican Rancheritos (chips) and eating breakfast like a Mexican, with tortillas! She’s so fit that we couldn’t imagine she snacked on chips tortillas like the rest of us. Her master class was magnificent. She taught choreography to classical Egyptian music like Oum Kathoum and Abdel Halim Hafez. She also taught a seminar on Egyptian dance technique. What I liked the most was how she broke through the language barrier. Half the students didn’t speak English and relied on dancers like me, who were bilingual, to translate. But with Leila they didn’t have to ask many questions.
Early the next morning Sharon Kerr taught Fat Chance Belly Dance (American Tribal Style) format. She focused on improvisation. She is a tribal dancer born in the USA who has lived in Cuenavaca, Mexico, for the last 12 years. First we did 15 minutes of yoga though, to wake up, because many of us were tired from the quot;galabeya party" from the night before. We knew the format, so only the improvisation was tough. She asked us to make small groups with people we didn’t know.
Midday, we had class with exotic Atlantis, producer of the Bellydancer of the Universe contest. We expected her to be temperamental and strong, but she was extremely nice, with a unique teaching style that had us smiling throughout the class. She taught a Persian dance, complete with musical notation and stylization. Her unique choreography was a joy to dance to, and each of us received personalized attention. She corrected each student, from hand positions to facial expressions. She too, overcame the language barrier, as did Leila Farid. My students all loved the class and her.
Immediately after Atlantis’ class was a finger cymbal workshop with Maria Shazadi, a teacher from Mexico City. May I say … she kicked my derriere hard – in a nice way. Oh, my! It was difficult to follow her choreography. Then we had to add cymbals! First, we played the cymbal pattern, then we added the steps – to a drum solo! Contrary to Atlantis and Leila, she didn’t smile much in class. She was too busy correcting each student one by one. She’s a hard worker, and made us work hard too, for two hours. We definitely broke a sweat with that drum solo!
2 hours later, on Friday night, came the competition, "Bellyracks." The event was held in the hotel’s disco bar and I served as a judge. This is the second time I have judged here. Leila Farid, Claudia Sajara, Angy Najla and Sharon Kerr were also judges. Everyone agreed afterwards that it was hard to decide. Many dancers had strong technique and there were 11 categories!
Vilma Canas from Los Angeles won the professional category. Everyone loved her performance. She gave us goose bumps she was that mesmerizing.
Perhaps the cutest contestant was in the preschool category, a little girl named Anette. She was about 5 years old and danced with a tiny pair of Isis wings. The judges all gave her a ten, she was such a cutie pie. Obviously, she won 1st place in her category. The whole show lasted around 6 hours. At the end, the previous year’s winner, Grinnely, Ensenada Baja California, performed before the winners were announced. She wore a beautiful pink costume.
On Saturday, Angy Najla from Venezuela taught Ghawazi, Nubian and Saidi choreographies. She also drilled combinations and technique. Angy has a large school of 450 students in Venezuela. She’s an entertaining, energetic performer with an outstanding teaching style. She explained technique for an Egyptian folkloric dance, along with cultural background and costuming.
After Angy Najla’s workshop, it was Leila Farid’s turn. Her class was full of great combinations and tips for flawless Egyptian technique. Several students were new to the style and Leila helped each one individually. For instance, several students were ballet dancers trying to learn Egyptian raqs sharqi. She corrected their posture and helped them relax into an Egyptian styling.
After Leila’s class, Claudia Sajara from Venezuela taught how to choreograph a drum solo. She focused on accenting the dums or teks. Then she made us drill the final choreography.
The hotel was mid-range, and inexpensive; 550 pesos per night per room for 4 people. The heat in Tijuana was horrible! Tijuana normally has a cool climate, but this weekend (since hurricane Jimena was near) it was humid and hot! The hotel staff was friendly, as was the staff of Raqs Divine. Well, most of them. Some didn’t smile much. They looked very tired. The food was, um-m-m, not to my taste. The hotel was in a nice zone of Tijuana and we felt safe. Many FBI agents and other police authorities were staying there. In fact, we saw a few agents walking around – armed.
Saturday night Divine Dance took place in the Hotel’s ballroom. Hundreds of dancers from all over the country gathered to share the stage; to perform raqs sharqui and drum dancing, isis wings and tribal improv. Divine Dance is an important event, held in Tijuana for 10 years. Every year a school receives an award for its outstanding collaboration in the Mexican Oriental dance community. The school and teacher are honored with a plaque recognizing them as THE BEST SCHOOL IN MEXICO. This year the award went to my school Danceme Academy from Mexicali Baja California!
Then came the Star Gala, where seminar teachers and guest stars presented excellent performances. This included Mujeres de la Luna, Maria Shazadis, Angy Najlas who did Saidi, Atlantis who performed 2 fusion pieces to Latin America radio hits, and finally the outstanding Leila Farid. Everyone was very excited, continuously interrupting the dancers with zaghareets and applause. They ended the gala with a standing ovation, when Claudia Sajara from Venezuela was awarded the Best International dance school.
It was a great weeklong event. We said goodbye near the beach at an intimate dinner with the event staff. They had made us all feel so welcome and at home. With tears in our eyes, we said good-bye till next year.
Angy Najla posed with the DanceMe dancers:
Madelein Banda,Carmen Cardenas, Kendra and Viridiana Escobar
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