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Melina and Piper

Gilded Serpent presents...
Revisiting BellyPalooza 
the Daughters of Rhea Belly Dance Festival
August 4, 2007
Baltimore Museum of Art

Baltimore, Maryland

by Elaine
Most photos by Allen J Becker
(except where indicated)

This summer I took the opportunity to revisit BellyPalooza, the belly dance extravaganza produced by the Daughters of Rhea.  The weekend of dance workshops and performances took place once again in Baltimore on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, one of the most elegant venues imaginable for such an event.

I knew Rhea from the Greek Taverna in San Francisco, where she was a featured dancer in the early 1970s, as well as a number of other clubs around the Bay Area.  Rhea filled every corner of the Taverna when she danced on Saturday nights with her energetic spins, dramatic drops and vibrant smile.  It was as though a tornado went through the room, wrapped in brilliant reds and golds.  She was one of the few who managed to stay well above the fray in those crazy, competitive years.

Things haven’t changed much since then, all the years aside, except that her daughters are grown and are as adept at dance as their internationally acclaimed mother.  They also hold impressive academic credentials, as if their beauty and talent weren’t intimidating enough!

Belly Dance Magic – an Evening with the Daughters of Rhea and Friends
This year, DoR (Daughters of Rhea) brought back some of their old favorites and added several new acts as to their Saturday night show, Belly Dance MagicMelina and Piper did a repeat of their beautiful Pharoanic dance, moving in synchronized fluidity while draped in shimmering gold.  Artemis, who is one of the best Turkish-style performers around, did a repeat of her Turkish cabaret and Romany-style dances – and was as energetic as ever. Melina and husband Sacha returned with their sensuous trapeze act, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and applauding wildly.

Ranya of New York

n DC

The show was interspersed with some new performances, as well. The tall and exotic Naimah was truly spellbinding, looking a little like a feminine Shaka Zulu in tribal gear with some primitive fur touches. Naimah demonstrated excellent control in her isolations and fine artistic judgment in her choice of music, Shisha Room by Solace. I imagine she is a real knockout in the clubs, too.

The cabaret-style cane dance by Yasmin was a definite highlight.  She was tall and elegant and had hair down to her knees.  She wore a sexy, yet elegant, cabaret costume, slim and spangled and slit up to there.  Yasmin taunted and teased as she danced through the audience spinning her cane, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed her.  It felt as though we were all magically transported to an elegant Middle Eastern nightclub right there in Homewood.


Piper’s Beginners Class performed a very enjoyable Tambourine Dance, and it looks as though tribal is making a big comeback.  Nouvelle diva and teacher Lisa Zahiya did an interesting tribal/jazz fusion dance.  Rhea also closed the show this year with Melina, Piper and students in a well-synchronized Sibek number, furthering the emphasis on tribal and bringing the show to an energetic climax.  Rhea then danced among the audience, and it really took me back to those North Beach days when she held the audience in the palm of her hand while she joked and gyrated her way through the aisles.


Chellcy of Fringe Benefits from Illinois
click for enlargement

Sword/Dagger Melina
Inspired by the spectacular “point to point” circus sword acts of Europe, Melina takes the balancing of a sword to new heights: by balancing it on the tip of a dagger gripped in her jaws.

Hiba of Ontario

Gypsy Lyra by Melina
Combining dance and aerial tricks on
revolving lyra (aerial hoop) and scarlet silks

Stray Cat Strut - DoR Ensemble

Goblet Dance Deniz
Charismatic master of the slow tsiftetelli, what Deniz can do on goblets, few can do on their feet alone! Done in the classic cabaret style, this nightclub routine is adapted for stage.


Drum Solo Issam & Kostana
Issam & Kostana perform a live drum solo based on Issam’s "Tabel Ya Issam" CD with Sidqi on back-up percussion.
This photo and the 3 below by Elaine

Admiral Fell Inn

Duda's Fell point

Fell's Point Harbor

Workshops and Bazaar
The weekend also had a full array of workshops that were very well-attended, and the bazaar had a wonderful selection of costumes, DVDs, veils, zills…you name it!  I bought a shimmery red veil and navy chiffon hip scarf with silver coins and multicolored beads.  Also picked up a couple of instructional/performance VHS tapes (while they’re still around!) by Rhea, Jillina and Aziza.

The Romany/gypsy style costumes were exceptionally gorgeous this year and helped to further whet my appetite for the Turkish/Romany style of dance. I can’t imagine why there were any left after the weekend, they were so elaborate and beautiful …and some of the cabaret costumes looked as though they were inspired by Bob Mackie himself!

Because I drove down from New York Saturday morning, I was able to catch only a couple of classes before running back to my hotel, the Admiral Fell Inn on Broadway, to change for the show.  I arrived in time for the Beginning Turkish class with Devra.  She had everyone dancing and sweating almost immediately, a good enough reason to drive 200 miles to Baltimore.  Brava Devra!!

Surfing online- a resource website for local dancers

Harv imagines himself in green ("that’s my uncle, Rhea’s brother Harv (Becker, " says Piper)

I followed with the Beginning Romany class with Kostana, who spent much of the class demonstrating the rhythm and movements of the Romany style and her excellent isolations.  We then danced for the remainder of the time utilizing what we had learned in her lecture.

On Sunday morning, I took the Ancient Greek dance class with Rhea.  I really enjoy this class, which I also attended back in 2004.  I find that it helps to promote graceful arms and fluidity, as well as opening up the chakras and preparing for dance.  It is really a wonderful warm-up, too.  Rhea gave a background lecture on ancient dance, the Apollo/Aphrodite positions and how they are incorporated into dance and art in general.

I then participated in the Chiftetelli class with Rhea that followed. It was a great opportunity to learn the proper body positions and basic rhythm for this popular dance, as well as to hear some of Rhea’s stories about living among the Greeks – one of the things about BellyPalooza that makes it really unforgettable!

This visit to BellyPalooza gave me an opportunity to further explore the Turkish style, which seems to come a bit more naturally to me.  The fabulous Romany costumes really impressed me and inspired me to delve into that style of dancing a bit further, too.  Thanks to the Bellydance Magic show finale, I found the tribal style utterly fascinating this time, but unfortunately didn’t have time on this trip for Rhea’s Sibek class.  Hopefully, I can catch that one next time

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Ready for more?
10-10-04 BELLYPALOOZA! Goddess Power Comes to Baltimore by Elaine
This ancient art could successfully incorporate modern styles and music while still getting the same feminine empowering message across.

10-17-03 The Greek Scene by Elaine
There were the usual politics at the Taverna, of course, and if management felt that a dancer was holding back on her tips, she rarely made another appearance.

4-17-07 Finger Cymbals by Melina of Daughters of Rhea
Above all this cross-cultural cacophony soared my mom’s perfectly paced zills, right left right, right left right, right left right left right left right. If you put me in a room blindfolded, I could distinguish her playing from any other dancer on earth.

7-5-04 Cabaret: Is it a dirty word? by Piper Reid Hunt, PhD
American Cabaret, the original fusion belly dance, is accessible and fun for everyone, regardless of one’s dance education.

9-28-07 Learning the Language of Belly Dance by Shems
A dancer’s path should be the same, moving from technique to refinement to pure inspiration.

9-26-07 Lifting the Veil by Yasmina Ramzy
I excused myself first and then asked her “why on earth would someone obviously not of Middle Eastern heritage actually choose to wear the veil?”She smiled knowingly and gave me an answer that still keeps me thinking today.

9-25-07 My Teacher, Fahtiem by Lucia
As performers, we tend to often dance improvisation with moves that are ‘safe’and comfortable. It is often difficult to step out of the box.

9-20-07 The Passage of Time by Amel Tafsout
Her performance brought tears to my eyes; not only was she technically outstanding, but she had a whole persona, stage presence and her aura…no younger dancer could be compared to her. Many times I went to see the show to watch her again and again!

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