ad 4 Fahtiem

Gilded Serpent presents...
Luna’s Café Bellie
Serves Up a Mix of Dance Delights

Review and photos by Surreyya

Ten bones gets you a great lesson, and the best local talent worth absorbing…

In the heart of Berkeley exists the historic community center that is Ashkenaz.  I arrived at 6:30pm to discover an informative dance lesson as instructed by Amy Luna Manderino, aka LUNA who teaches regular bellydance classes at Ashkenaz.  Anxious to snap shots of the diverse audience, my attention was divided between lesson and coverage.  Call me out of the loop, but I’ve never been to or heard of this event until very recently.  With no pre-conceived notion of Luna, Café Bellie, her skill as an instructor or dancer, I was instantly impressed with the ease at which Luna guided the group through traveling drills, eventually layering in other movements, rolls, etc.  Her hand and arm techniques were especially languorous and women who admitted this was their first lesson were quickly moving with newfound grace and poise.  With just enough time to browse between lesson and show,

I pondered the latest costuming concepts of Tempest and the gothic/progressive dance arena.  Aruna and Dhyanis had wonderful wares on display as well as Desert Eyes.

Luna teachesCome 7:30 pm, the room was packed and echoing with conversational ambience.  Luna welcomed the crowd and introduced the first dancer and explained the nuances of the assuit fabric used in her costume in an informative and unassuming way as if you had no idea what assuit is but would not be offended if you had collected it for years.  This dialogue really enticed a diverse audience and asserted credibility and individuality to each dancer.  As a performer who has been shuffled on and off stages, rushed, delayed, talked down to, insulted and had my name mispronounced every way to Sunday, I appreciated Luna’s demeanor and giving respect, biography and calm to each dancer.  These little things matter a great deal to someone just about to put their heart and skill on display.

First was Anar from Sunnyvale, who performed a tasteful tribal dance in an assuit costume of her own design.  Her costume was lovely, and even though it added mystery I was disappointed she chose to wear a face covering. I would have liked to at least know the face with the name…bummer.  Given that soloists have 5 minutes and troupes have 9 minutes, the stage setup did not allow many intimate options for a one on one connection. Second was Desert Heat, a colorful troupe of men and women. 

Choreography was simple yet graceful.  It’s always a treat to see men and women dancing together, like multiple strings on a lute, yet all playing the same tune. 

This troupe was full of energy and expression, something all too often lacking from younger and up and coming dancers.  More proof that you don’t have to shake every last millimeter of your “como se llama” to entertain.

Spice RackThird was Sharifa of Richmond performing a Turkish Rom piece with a strikingly beautiful and seemingly metallic red, gold, green striped and vested folkloric ensemble, topped with two red handkerchiefs which she fluttered and spun making wonderful fiery patterns.  Not that deeply familiar with Rom dancing, I did come away wanting to know more. Luna explained how this style of Turkish Rom dance lead to many contemporary forms we see today. 

Fourth we had Spice Rack, clad in red and black like the lovechild of Jack White and Dita Von Teese or some disgruntled cheerleader from a Nirvana video. 

While I thought this troupe was a bit racy for Ashkenaz or a family event, they could easily secure roost at Benders in the Mission or one of Madam Marachino’s events. I am curious to see what they do in coming months once they refine their technique and choreography a bit. 

Fifth was Ariellah clad in an vast array of tribal proper – coins, bangles and wired whatnot, but I must say this performance instilled me with a new hope for all things tribal.   Ariellah has come a long way since the Gothic Belly dance DVD (a closet Goth myself, the concept was arresting, but the overall production fell way short of my expectations). Her costuming seemed well planned for her body type and she didn’t look as though she over-accessorized with every last bit of kuchi madness in her caboodle. 

What’s more, her dance was not only arresting, but also fluidly interchanging with the many different layers of sonic poetry she selected. 

As mesmerizing as ATS performers can be, I lately find little difference among troupes, which leads to even less “oomph” in individual dancers, hence, a lack of true character shining through. Often choreographies aren’t working with the music, or there’s very little eye contact, and almost a reliance on clever music to make up for lack of creativity and ability.  This is not the case with Ariellah. Stretching every last musical note, and maybe even bend a few, her clever punctuation of beats were subtle and less “pop and lock” than I remember.  She twisted angular moves that were creamy and gooey, like hot heaps of taffy being stretched to a canvass of sound.  Among all the “Goth” or “tribal” infused dancers, fans, freaks, purveyors and picketers, I vote Ariellah as the most clever to date, and one to keep your eyes on.

Sixth was Nanna Candelaria’s troupe, Troupe Maya.  I am not sure how long this group has been together, but they adorned smiles and a hint of nervousness that made them all the more endearing.  Their silver/pewter colored costumes were tastefully coordinated to body style and modesty, and the shimmies and undulations that came from beneath them abounded with energy.  This may or may not have been their first performance, but the fact that I’m not really sure gives kudos to Nanna for bringing out the performers in all of them.  Then we have Nanna…what can one really say about Nanna that hasn’t been said?  Beauty, grace, poise, charm, attitude and a body that won’t quit - only spirits move with such speed and grace.  Nanna simply must be seen live to be believed.  She is a delight to the senses and one can only be so lucky to capture her fountain of youth, inside as well as outside.

Intermission!  Stretch…rest in a room after waiting in a line 20 people deep, search for wacky people to capture on film, talk to the hostess, and meander about.  A gracious yet busy Luna took time to pose for pics and insisted on including the ladies that helped her organize the event - genuinely a gracious professional. Time to begin the second act, a luscious pink hip scarf was auctioned off, and won by a woman who had her first lesson that very day.  True kismet!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay long past the intermission, but held on for Aruna’s Troupe, Shift-a Belly. After recently becoming a fan of Aruna’s “Dancers Arms” instructional video, I was anxious to see her live.  Shamelessly clad in a colorful spectrum of tribal tramp meets vaudeville frill, entered a group of lovelies in every shape and size. 

I wasn’t sure if I was in an east meets spaghetti western, or a campy burlesque show in seedy underground NYC.

The music was exciting and the dancers were simply clever.  There was a certain attitude of “I am having a blast, and I don’t care if you like it or not” which made their show all the more enjoyable.  Their eastern dance technique was top-notch amidst flirtatious fun and REAL burlesque comedy (please visit your dictionary for true definition of burlesque);

this group had the audience in stitches, clapping and laughing uncontrollably. 

Though the innuendo was obvious on a cerebral level, their performance was appropriate for all ages (sorry, no pasties popping out).  Aruna’s physique is amazing and while her dancers are fantastic, she truly stole the show.  This troupe was the highlight of the evening, and by far the most entertaining.  Cheers to you ladies!

Luna’s Café Belly is the best dance event I have been to in some time.

**This is a great alternative to the typical $25-$60 plate restaurants hosting open stage or student teacher nights.  Beginners and pros will love it, and the diverse crowd and warm establishment make it a comfortable introduction for newcomers and friends new to eastern and fusion dance. $10 includes a lesson and performances, and a portion of proceeds benefit the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center of Berkeley. I would recommend this event to anyone looking for a gumbo of the best local talent.  This event lacked the drama and immaturity that often comes with beginning dancers, student nights and hobbyists, and more than tipped the scale with solid entertainment, education, good vibes and good karma…especially at this price.

**NOTE TO STUDENT NIGHT OPEN STAGE HOSTS – Please think carefully about what nights, what venues, what prices and what dancers are involved with your events.  Setting the price too high or requiring an expensive dinner out of your dancers and guests makes it hard to promote community and turns people away.  It also puts professional dancers out of work, and gives restaurants the wrong set of principals in booking quality professionals and reduces the standard of working conditions.  It takes a long time to improve standards and raise awareness in any community – are you doing your part? 

interior of AshkenazHave a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
8-4-06 Field Report from the Dance Gig Front by Surreyya Hada
After a pause, and a little embarrassment, I threw my hands up at him in disgust and walked away. The audience laughed loudly.

9-12-06 From the Land Down-under, Part 2: Northest and Canada by Trisnasari
What is happening in Australia, is also happening in America.

9-11-06 "The Spirit of Egyptian Dance" Shareen El Safy- with the George Lammam Ensemble Workshop & Show, Photos by Carl Sermon, Sponsored and produced by Debbie Lammam July 22 & 23, 2006, Dance Mission Theatre, San Francisco, CA

9-7-06 Amani's Oriental Festival 2006: June 20-25, 2006 by Beverley Joffe
Delving into Oriental Culture, Dance and Surviving Israeli Military Attack.

ad 4 Dhy & Karen

 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines