Inaugural "Art of the Belly" Festival Rings in Spring in Style
Bellydance comes to Ocean City, Maryland
by Brandon Johnson
posted July 4, 2011
The birth of a belly dance festival often begins with a simple idea in a dancer’s mind. Baltimore, MD tribal fusion star Naimah wanted to bring a belly dance festival to her home state, which she would host along with members of her troupe, Amandari.
Amazingly, weeks after the official announcement of Art of the Belly, fans and friends got the vibe. Something special was about to happen. So many people wanted to be a part of it immediately. As Naimah updated online, performance slots for the weekend filled up in an instant.
The feeling was intensified when the ”Baltimore free daily paper did a cover story on Naimah and the festival. The fact that a brand new belly dance festival was getting so much local press signified that the festival was being taken seriously as an artistic showcase. When the festival arrived, Ocean City became one large paradise from March 18-20, 2011.
The Carousel Hotel had the honor of being the host venue for the city’s first major belly dance representation of any kind. Imagine walking to your workshop while seeing an indoor ice skating rink and when it’s over, feeling a need to walk outside and walk along the beach and look out into beautiful, transcending waters and soft sand under your feet. If it wasn’t for all the belly dance, walking up and down the highway and seeing the array of housing and hotels, the restaurants and other scenes was enough to send your jaw crashing through the ground.
Inside the hotel, waves of positive energy radiated all around. People were not just glad to be at this festival, they were honored. If you were from Maryland, this was your belly dance festival. Dancers were representing both themselves and the elements of various fusions. They wanted this to be done right.
The activity was at a breakneck pace. The seating for Saturday’s performances were beyond standing room-only capacity. There was a small monitor that had a camera on the stage, so folks who were standing at an angle could follow the action on stage. To the left side, there was vending taking place while talented photographers from Stereo Vision Photography were snapping away, using the digital era elements of their craft to do numerous photo shoots of belly dancers all day and well into the evening. Talking to many of the belly dancers attending, I was surprised that getting pics done was so important. As the need for having a decent portfolio has increased, so too has the demand for quality photos.
The workshop lineup for 2011’s Art of the Belly was special in that localized flair was strongly represented. The elite diversities that each teacher was capable of bringing to the table stood out even more. The potpourri of choices was enough to overwhelm anyone, with many ladies and some gentlemen mentioning they took multiple workshops during the weekend. The lineup included Ava Fleming, Azhia, Belladonna, Frank Farinaro, Kostana, Mia Naja, Naimah, Na’la, Piper, and Sera Solstice.
There were over fifty performances from belly dancers and troupes from the state of Maryland, plus dancers from other states, as well. Also getting heavy praise and zaghareets abound was the house band of the weekend, Ishtar,from Pittsburgh, PA. Ishtar is la ”Turkish-style raqs band” with a melodic march of musical synchronicity that had every hand clapping and foot tapping the carpet.
With any belly dance festival, the real reason to attend is to be amazed by someone or something you haven’t seen before. I was already kicking myself in the ass for not being around on Friday night, where I missed performances from Project Belly Dance finalist Shems, Amartia, the Turkish joyfulness of Kostana, and international sensation Azhia.
The first glance of Belladonna and Ken Vegas made up for what I had missed on Friday. Belladonna is a tribal fusion dynamo for the DC-metro belly dance communities and co-founder of the DC Tribal Cafe. Belladonna blends in with the artistic bravado of Ken, a member of the DC Kings, which is one of the nation’s drag king performing collectives.The duo danced it up to a rendition of a song by Michael Buble, displaying a rare chemistry in performance art that embodied the evolution of fusion.
Frank Farinaro added a masculine touch to the festival. His movements (from his own signature Hammerhead Sharqi technique) were so crisp and precise, you almost forgot that it was a man performing. He would pop, lock, tick-tock, and undulate in ways that would almost leave you dizzy.
Naimah and Amandari performed in angelic white and black attire, sandwiched with her solo abilities that makes her beloved in Baltimore and beyond.
Her physical strength and beauty is as at times intimidating, as she stands 5’11” and has been compared to a man-eating plant, a mechanical snake, and a tribal robot (phrases she’s actually proud of and are well-known for).
The above are just a sample of the weekend performances. Other highlights included belly dance to 1970s R&B tunes by Mia Naja, techno and African dance fusions from Shaell, and performances by Nadirah Nasreem, Na’la, Safiyeh, Talis, and Latifa and Banat el Beled, Bagoas, Willow, Zaira al Zahara, Gypsy Fusion,Troupe Hipnotic, Antonia, Piper, and Nina Amaya and Aubergine.
The crowd on Sunday was more laid back and family and student supportive. The festival felt more like a personal playground. This was the perfect setup for the duo Eye of Isis, who sang a story, played a flute and a guitar, threw in an old wise tale, and tapped on a dumbek here and there, while also belly dancing their hips off. I feel like belly dance festivals are held to showcase talent such as this.
There were several other performances between the opening musical jams of Ishtar until my leaving point of 5pm. These included poi veil by Eva Nadira, former Zafiramember Jennifer Imashev in Ever After, Maia Alexandra, Scarlett, Shiraz, and Viviana. A showcase of such talent is what makes attending a festival so convenient.
The presence of Art of the Belly with BellyPalooza in August and the Belly Dance Nationals in November has given the state of Maryland a ”triple crown” of belly dancing that shines a major spotlight on the belly dance map. In addition to the hard work done by the dancers and organizers, not enough compliments can be given to the audience that supports there artists. Friends and family, first-time onlookers, students and faculty all gave the shows a foundation from which to succeed.
Months of preparation, hundreds of sacrificed hours, the spreading of words, setting the date, arranging the instructors, and having to prepare something on stage to make the effort come to life are just some of the components that made Art of the Belly possible. Some people say it’s hardest to better the first-born of anything, but we’ll see if Art of the Belly 2012 can top the original..
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