Aradia on a promotional business card
ad in Chronicles and Zaghareet,
two Belly dance community print magazines
ad in Jareeda, another Belly dance community
A Brand New Idea for Belly Dance:
The Festival Idea in its Formative Years
We tried harder because we wanted to be accepted, and we wanted to be The
Best in the West! We wanted to be just as Arabic as the best Arabic dancers
overseas. We needed to be accepted here in the West and there in the East.
So we tried harder.
it seems that here we are no longer an underground dance
form! This Belly dance craze has been around so long in
the western world that finally the dance form is accepted
and is no longer a craze. We are now mainstream.
dance is actually being recognized as a legitimate dance form
and is considered the norm (standard) in the dance world. Today
we can open up most conventional dance costume catalogs and
find hip scarves and cute little “I dream of Genie” costumes
tucked in between a ballet tutu and a hip hop outfit.
dance is probably one of the oldest dance forms in the world
– in all of civilization. In the West, our presence in the
Arabic dance world does not even span half a century.
my knowledge, in the United States there were little pockets
of Middle Eastern dance clubs sprouting up in the late 1950s
in East coast cities such as Boston, New York, and Washington,
D.C. and in the '60s, in the Midwest’s Chicago, San Francisco
and Los Angeles in the West. We’ve come a long way, Habibi.
Lately there is the hint of a Belly dancer and a venue for
Belly dance in all the major cities - probably even more so
in most small towns and suburbs.
we try harder; we’ve worked hard to spread the word and
can only speak from my own personal experiences. When
I became interested in this dance form in San Francisco in 1965, I had
to hunt for music, teachers, and venues. I remember one music
store where I had to “knock three times and tell them Joe sent
me” in order to find some Middle Eastern music. (The only one
offered was Balkan folk dance music.) Costumes? It was not
even an option to shop for costumes. There were no Belly dance
festivals with vendors or online Internet stores. The
computer was known as Hal in the movie 2001. We
had to learn to sew, or we didn't get to perform.
the U.S. at that time, there were only a handful of known dancers
and teachers. There were Morocco,
Bobby Farrah, and Serena (New York), Adriana (Washington,
D.C.), Dahlena (Chicago), Aisha
Ali and Marta
Schill (Los Angeles), as well as Jamila
Salimpour and Bert
Balladine (San Francisco). Take your pick. Pick
your city and study. "How-to" Belly Dance books?
They had not yet been written. Instructional videos? Videos
were not accessible to the general public yet. Movies? Hardly
ever. When shown, if we were lucky, maybe we’d see a 3-minute
clip. Sometimes there would be a big event with a Middle Eastern
singing star. Sometimes a dancer would accompany the show.
San Francisco in 1974, my friend Hoda and
I dreamed of having an all-inclusive Belly dance festival that
would bring our warring local dance community together. We
hoped to have workshops, informational seminars, a few vendors
and a dance showcase. We hoped people would enjoy it. We didn’t
have many resources; so, we called upon our local university,
San Francisco State University, to help us. With a lot of time
and energy, and countless hours spent schmoozing, and talking
on the phone, we were able finally to realize our dreams. After
more than a year of planning and bulk mailing (no Internet
at that time) early in 1976, we presented Isis,
The First Belly Dance Festival. It featured discussions,
workshops, shopping and star-studded but mostly local dance
performers and musicians playing music live. It cost us a lot
of money. We were so happy to realize that we just about broke
even, and didn’t lose too much money!
of the local teachers, Jamila Salimpour, would occasionally
sponsor known dancers for workshops. Sometimes they would be
famous U.S. dancers such as Bobby Farrah, Morocco, and Dahlena.
Other times they would have a dancer from the Middle East such
as one of the dancers who was touring with a star Middle Eastern
singer. Usually, that was just what we got… a workshop – no
show – no vending. However, we were very lucky that she did
this service for us dancers. I will be forever grateful for
those workshops. They were memorable…more memorable than the
workshops today because there weren’t too many of them.
the early 1980s, Jamila started a short-lived Belly dance festival
called The Great Eastern Faire -and
it was great! It included a dancers’
showcase, vending, and guest workshop teachers from other areas.
These annual festivals took place in a San Francisco hotel
(the Belleview). Also, about the same time, Shukriya started
festival in a little community center in San Pablo, California.
Soon, others - such as Mary
Ellen Donald- were also sponsoring Belly dance
festivals. About the same time, Sula started
her Belly dance pageant. These, too, were mostly local; they
began small and eventually would also have included a workshop
teacher. All of these festivals had much in common. They were
small, manageable, local, and included local musicians. However
there were always visiting guest artists, usually including
some sort of “open stage” dancing.
these small and humble beginnings in the West, began the Belly
dance craze and the beginning of the Belly dance festivals,
conferences, seminars, conventions or whatever you would like
to call them.
you all know, Rakkasah has endured. From its small, humble
beginnings it has become the ideal of the dance festival, but
in some ways, it has created monsters, including itself. Now
there is Rakkasah West and Rakkasah East. Who knows when there
will be a Rakkasah North and South?
I remember that more than 10 years ago, Raqia
Hassan was in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended Rakkasah.
remember her telling me that Rakkasah belonged in Egypt
– the mother country, and I remember her telling me that
she was going to make a festival to top all festivals in
the land where this dance was born – in Egypt.
on GS last year
few years later, her dream came true! She welcomed foreign
dancers to her Egyptian turf with the Ahlan wa Sahlan Festival.
If you had gone to her first festival, you might remember that
it was considerably smaller, and maybe not as organized, as
it is now.
as restaurants and night clubs traditionally hold their “grand
openings” much after the fact -and just as some movies are
“sneak-previewed”, -and some plays have a Thursday night show
to shake all the bugs out-, it would be wise for larger dance
festivals to have trial runs. In this case, I am specifically
speaking of one particular festival: The Las Vegas International
Belly Dance Convention, a.k.a. IBDC.
speaking of a festival and its promoters that promised
more than they were able to deliver.
wanted a festival to top all festivals! They wanted to make
history, and, this, they did. However it was not the history
they intended. This festival did not start small and grow into
something wonderful. According to the pre-festival DVD teaser
that was targeted to the vendor market, there were promises
of hundreds of vendors alongside "open stage" dancers
including international coverage provided by a 5 star marketing
company. This was to be a trade show to beat all trade shows.
photo by Esma
photo by Esma
March 1, 2007, the producers, Dolores Wadesworth and Alex
Hererra of Gold
Star Productions held a pre-festival publicity
party at the Southpoint Hotel in Las Vegas. Among the guests
who were wined and dined were vendors and top name U.S. Belly
dance greats such as Fahtiem,
Angelika Nemeth, Delilah and
Middle Eastern dance stars Amani from
Lebanon and Lucy from
guests were treated to a full show by solo dancer, Aradia, of
Las Vegas, and troupe shows by Layla and the Lotus
Dancers, She’enedra, and Ah
Ya Helu. All the troupes were from Los Angeles.
If this show were indicative of what the producers were aspiring
to promote for their big event in July, I would have to say
that it was a disappointing choice for upholding the reputation
of the American Belly dancer. Perhaps I have too many personal
solo dancer, Aradia, opened the show, carried on a litter by
men dressed in ancient Egyptian “slave” costumes very much
like the spectacles seen at Ahlan wa Sahlan or in
the film Cleopatra. Her dance was a typical Oriental
dance opening with flying veils and good technique. Her second
piece, Lessa Faker, was nice and slick, but I missed
the intimate interpretation that could have made the piece
memorable. In a large ballroom stage, it is especially difficult
to grab audiences’ emotions when the dancer is more focused
on technique than on the sentiment of the music.
troupe numbers all seemed to try to impress one -ala Las Vegas
style. It would have been nice, and even better, if the dancers
had remained true to our dance form. Instead, it seemed as
though they were trying to reinvent a new Middle Eastern dance
style. Would it be called fusion? I’m not sure I would even
call it that.
the Lotus Dancers seemed to be Hollywood dancers who gave the
impression that lots of skin, false eyelashes, and high heels
were more important than traditional Middle Eastern dance and
music. The dancers had good technique, were well rehearsed,
and professional, but was it Middle Eastern technique? I’m
not sure. I don't think so.
seemed more like these women were "pick-up" dancers
(dance extras able to pick up any type of dance at a moment’s
notice) able to execute the movements but not internalize
the feelings. I’ve seen it done in the ballet when
the dancers try to emulate a cultural style they do not
know and in which they are not comfortable. They end up
looking more like that cultural style through the costuming
rather than by the dancing.
I wish I
could say that the Lotus Dancers performed Brazilian-inspired
Middle Eastern dance. However I believe it was just plain Brazilian.
This group did a candle dance and a drum solo with good technique,
but there was so much fusion thrown in that it was impossible
to define what type of fusion it was. Their Isis-wing dance
required the same strength and coordination as the flagmen
at the airport’s runways and they could not disguise
the fact that it was a gimmick with expensive props. I wondered
why they chose to perform these flashy almost generic “Las
Vegas” showgirl type dances rather than the more traditional
Middle Eastern dances.
other two troupes seemed to be doing classroom choreographies.
They were static and emotionless and showed their good technique
but not their good dancing. She’enedra was sort of a fusion
tribal cabaret group that would have left a better impression
if they had sported the more unique look of some of the new
and popular Tribal dancer groups. Instead they chose to dress
“safe”. Ah Ya Helu was not interesting at all. Although they
were very well rehearsed, I kept wishing they would “mess up”
so they’d look more real or alive.
was hard to not compare this show with Miles
Bellydance SuperStars. The SuperStars truly
have a slick personality driven show and they could hold their
own in any Las Vegas
revue. The dancers in this show seemed to be more like Las
Vegas wannabes. This, in itself, is all right. However it is
not all right when the producers claim the show is more fantastic
than it really is. I was told that Alex, the Egyptian impresario
and owner of Gold Star productions had personally chosen
the acts that were to be performed. It appeared that he wanted
to present an international dance show in order to impress
his Egyptian friends with the versatility of American belly
dance talent. Well, I think it backfired on him. Maybe I’m
too much of a traditionalist, but I personally felt offended
that he was offering scantily clad dancers as representative
of the best of American belly dance. I can only wonder what
his Egyptian friends thought. To me, it seemed like another
typical case of poor judgment on his part. When Miles began
presenting his SuperStars, we experienced some of that bravado
and cutting edge experimentation, but we also felt he was a
bit humble and was open to and asked for suggestions. This
does not come across with the overconfident attitude of Gold
producers distributed about 500 DVDs of their pre-festival
activities in order to publicize their July event. There had
to be either big money (or something we don’t know about) to
back up all these events because it was obviously quite costly
to produce. In addition to the show, the DVD also introduced
some of the major players by way of interviews. Amira of
Las Vegas and Shereen (the Arabic-speaking
interviewer) did an excellent job of interviewing some of the
hopeful vendors, dancers, and teachers. They managed to get
every single one of them to say that they were excited and
happy about the upcoming convention and that Las Vegas was
the only place that could support it. The people interviewed
managed to use their time wisely by doing quite a bit of blatant
self-promotion while talking about the convention. Only Angelika
Nemeth and Lucy stand out in my mind as having the self-confidence
and class to not do this. Lucy gave a bit of advice: a dancer
needs to have a decent body and be able to hear the music.
promotional DVD ended with a little human-interest angle of
behind-the-scenes vignettes. Yes, we do like the dancers. They
are nice people, hard working, and eager to make the publicity
show successful. I began to think that I was too hard on them
and the producers. But, wait! This preview was meant to promote
the biggest and best Belly dance convention of all time. If
that is true, I wondered,"will there really be hundreds
of vendors and 10,000 dancers and countless Middle Eastern
dance instructors?" I am impressed! I had personally co-sponsored
Egyptian dancers for workshops and remembered the hassles,
the almost two year’s worth of publicity and preparations,
including visa problems. These were visa problems pre 9/11. Yes,
I was impressed, but I also wondered why there wasn’t more
of a buzz about this convention in my San Francisco community.
Yes, we knew of the convention, but some of us learned about
it too late to make plans to go. The local talk was that a
businessman was in charge of the event and didn’t know much
about Belly dance or Belly dancers. Based on this, we didn’t
believe that we would get all that was promised. Who were these
people, these producers who promised so much? It didn’t seem
that there was enough credibility to seduce hundreds of vendors
and 10,000 dancers...
photo from last year's website of the business members
supporting the event
convention reminded me of many Middle Eastern night clubs in
my area that opened and folded because it was a “secret.” When
they looked for their customers, they realized that they forgot
a few minute details such as: knowing how to cook, run a club,
or let people know they had finally opened.
of part I
While the writer did not attend IBDC, extensive interviews
(more than 25 hours) were conducted with 17 vendors, star performers,
competition entrants and workshop participants in order to
understand what did and did not to work well at the convention.
In addition, IBDC’s promotional and organizational materials
were carefully studied. For the next installments of this article,
GS looks forward to conversing with the workshop organizers
to incorporate their additional and important perspective.
Part II will
be reporting on the actual event in July 2007 and will be
posted hopefully before the new year.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
Egyptian Dance - Has it crossed the line? by Amina Goodyear
festivals, held in Giza were isolated and insulated from the people and the Cairo
that I know and love.
North Beach Memories Chapter 6: Bert, by
On my first
Monday at the Casa Madrid, Bert came to support the place and me.
Well, what he saw was equivalent to a San Francisco earthquake.
a Middle Eastern Dance Festival by Ellen
"It is necessary to combine your organizational and public relations skills
with your creativity."
1-30-06The Magnificent Fundraiser by Najia
That included the Belly dance, which he confided in me (later) that he had hated,
because it had been introduced to Greece during the time that Greece was under
the suppression and control of the Turks.
International Belly Dance Congress told by Salwa of Belgium and
the winner of the contest professional category
September 28-30, 2007, in Bogner Regis, England Gala photos provided by Josephine
Wise, others by author.
Not being able to prepare my planned choreography properly for the
Oum Kalthoum song, which is not easy to interpret to begin with, I quickly turned
to emotions in order to fill up the space.
for Middle Eastern Belly Dancers, Is a 501c3 Right for You? by
By understanding the nature of non-profits, how they are organized
and run, you can see their potential for developing successful arts organization,
performance space, dance company or troupe.
Copyright Law for Belly Dancers (or for any Performing
Artist) by Yasmin
Hollywood blockbuster movies down to clips on YouTube the law is
the same and it applies to anyone who uses someone else’s
music for their own purposes.
Report on the First International Bellydance Conference
of Canada Part 2 - Saturday Gala Performance Photos
by Denise Marino & Sussi Dorrell.
Held at the Ryerson Theatre in Toronto Canada on April 21, 2007. Featuring
international stars including Amir Thaleb and Randa Kama
BellyPalooza: the Daughters of Rhea Belly Dance Festival by
Elaine, Most photos by Allen J Becker
August 4, 2007, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland. 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.
Dancer of the Year Pageant 2007 Sunday Photos, Photos
by Michael Baxter, Photo Prep by Michelle Joyce, May
27, 2007 Danville, California,
produced by Leea. The competition for the Finalists.