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Natasha Devalia taught different styles of Indian classical
and folkloric dancing
Gilded Serpent presents...
My Experience With
Amani’s Oriental Festival

Lebanon,  June 14-19, 2005
by Beverley Joffe

Internationally celebrated leading performer, Amani, launched her Oriental festival this year. The five day intensive brought together some of the hottest and most talented teachers, choreographers and performers who are trendsetters in Lebanon today.  The festival marks an annual calendar date for Oriental dancers who have anticipated working more deeply into their art.

The workshops were accessible as a package or one by one, and prices varied, depending on length and teacher. Participants were able to plan a vocational course through the material.

Amani placed strong emphasis on the folklore and identity of Oriental Dance when compiling the program and offered touring to assist in blending technique with emotion.

“The roots are from such a romantic, spiritual era!” she says. “I want to preserve the identity of Oriental dance as it merges between the dancing, the music, the folklore, the East and the West.”

Amani’s own theatre director, Gerard Avedissian, took each attending dancer through stage and technique analysis, and Georgette Gebara founder of “Ecole Libanaise de Ballet” taught The Adaptation of Oriental Dance to Ballet and Back. The strong love of folklore and pride in the culture came through during one of the most valuable workshops I have ever attended; choreographer Sami Khoury brought his immense passion and vitality to teaching us the Lebanese Dabkeh dance and rhythm. Franscois Rahme taught both a Bedouin dance from the Baalbeck Region and an Andalusian dance workshop.  Mounir Maaleb, founder of a leading Lebanese folkloric group, and Sameera Hadad, who is skilled in cane dance for cabaret, taught different styles of Indian classical and folkloric dancing.

Amani and the teachers- from the left- Sandra, Mounir Malaeb, Georgette Gebara,Natasha Devalia, Amani in a traditional Lebanese costume,Sami Khoury, Francois Rahme and Samira Haddad

Amani’s workshops covered rich ground by opening the first session with a sword dance by the “Courtesan” that was used to advance her concepts for bringing dance to a large stage.  In so doing, she shared her first-hand knowledge. In contrast to the traditional sword dance, she taught choreography that was released on her recording “Amani El Omr” recently.  The choreography seemed to me to be vibrant, modern, and included dancing with a veil. Her final workshop addressed various styles and rhythms of the Egyptian folkloric dances that some dancers confuse with Oriental dance. Amani’s relentless study into these subjects has reached a crucial understanding through many years of research.  Her training and teaching combine logic with instinct to produce what is essentially the Oriental montage, based on rhythms, costumes, gestures, background analysis and the feelings and emotions behind the dance and the people who created it. Amani captivated me with her storytelling while delivering her instructive materials. I see Amani as a gifted communicator because she is easy to follow, comfortable in interactions, and fluent in English as well as French and Arabic.

“My own dancing,” Amani says, “depends on a good understanding of culture as a path to reach into the authentic world of Oriental Dance”. While exploring emotional meanings and moods, Amani took us on excursions to places where the Oriental dance and folkloric traditions have flourished in the past.

We found inspiration in the actual mosaic walls and crumbling vistas of some of the most important ancient sites in the world! Each group toured with a fantastic guide who helped Amani present an exquisite historical tale that nourished our sense of the arts with Old World inspiration. Remnants from Pharonic, Roman, Phoenician, Greek, Arabic, Crusade, Ottoman and Hellenic cultures have brought a wealth and diversity to Lebanon. Amani said, “My choice of monumental places (Baalbeck, Beit el-Dine, Deir el-Kamar, Ksara and the Barouk Cedars) has been made due to the blending of cultures and the majestic human creativity manifested.”

The Palace
Beit el-Dine Palace Court
back row- Nour, Janet, Kioko with hat, Chica, Maya behind, 6?, 7?, 8?, 9?, Julia, Tomoko, Saito, Rafia and Allegra, front - Beverly, Ali, Catalina, Yukito, Amani , Mimi, 7?, 8?, 9?, 10?, Hiromi, Gisella and Dalila,

In the Palace called “Beit el-Dine,” we explored every inch of beauty and felt as if we had become courtesans of the court, finding playful innocence, in the gardens and beside the fountain. We toured through the elaborate bathhouses and into the prince’s chambers. Amani performed an impromptu dance, during which, thanks to imagination, years seemed to have slipped by as if in a time warp!

Beit el-Dine Interior in the "Prince Room"
Names-Kioko, Sa-ra, Chihaku, Taeka, Gisella, Allegra, Chica, Catalina, Lena, Suran, Haruka, Hiromi, Dalila and Amani in front

In Baalbeck, the ruins of a thousand upon thousand-year project rose majestically in fine scalloped detail on the pillars remaining and those scattered by our feet. The figures and sculptures dancing from the dust told the story of a house of prayer likened in design to the great temple of King Solomon.  To my eyes, most exquisite part of this particular day trip was the timing: at sunset. The sunset had a particular orange that seems to hold within it all the mysteries of the Middle East.

In places like this, visions of the past creep right into you, and create the sense of our belonging to time. I felt a strong connection across it.

While in Amani’s care, in Lebanon, I felt well looked after and pampered. Our hotel was the first five-star hotel ever built in the country. Calling the Regency Palace “home” was a luxury.  In addition to our gorgeous sea views, the use of the Caesar’s Palace Theatre for workshop sessions inside the complex (and also the stage for the performances) was a fortuitous choice.

Our glittering opening night brought camera crews and press as each master teacher presented his or her work.

Amani in the queen dress, danced excerpts from her new world-touring show “Amani around the world.”
dancers names: 1, 2, Amani, 4, 5
Winners of the Competition: 1st runner up in green- Hiromi Hukoyama, the winner in white- Suran Negishi, Amani, and the 2nd runner up- Lena Astrid
Cutting cake
Cutting the cake with the president of the professional artist's syndicate in Lebanon, Mr. Ihsan Sadek, Amani , Silvana Mardini, the winners and the participants on stage
The final night was exceptional because workshop participants had the opportunity of entering a competition. On the same bill, Amani danced excerpts from her new world-touring show “Amani around the world.” If I had flown over only to watch her show live, it would have been well worth my trip. Amani’s performances are radiant with strength, skill and spirit.

AmaniI was impressed also with the level and diversity that each workshop participant shared. There was also a strong sense of bonding among participants that we could attribute to many factors. Our course material caused us to watch each other move, and we released our inhibition through folk dance.  Amani’s team facilitated each move with genuine concern, and Amani’s hosting was considerate, caring, and an asset to all who are interested in Oriental Dance.

Lebanon has struggled with war for the past seventeen years and now is rebuilding its good reputation. Its population is well educated, warm and filled with a Joie de Vivre!

Outside of the festival, we felt safe and charmed by Lebanon’s high standard of living, and enjoyed all that the area had to offer. Downtown Beirut has a festive atmosphere that the Lebanese enjoy as part of their daily life, with street cafés, the aromas of water pipes, late and luxurious dinners, and dancing ‘til dawn. In fact, the city never sleeps! Its wide, modern streets are fabulous for shopping, with outlets carrying all major international brands, as well as local designs. Visiting the nearby souk turns up all sorts of wonderful items including gifts, and costumes at fair rates. I recommend a visit to Byblos’ age-old marketplace. Go in your bargaining hat and drive a hard bargain!

The festival timing--mid-June--seals Lebanon’s reputation as a hot spot for many dancers who are touring through the summer festival. It is only one stop before Cairo. Amani has met a demand in opening up this beautiful country to dancers, and she aspires to issue this invitation with a genuine interest in education.

The festivals are an opportunity to study with Amani and experience first hand her wealth of knowledge.  It is an inspiration to dancers of all levels. “I want to help beginner to professional dwell into the deep soul of Oriental dance and discover what they may have missed as new Oriental and folkloric styles emerge,” Amani says. Lebanon is now open for discovery, and Amani’s team is obliging towards a totally enriching experience.

For more information on Amani's Festival see:

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