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Tito performs in the IBCC Saturday Gala show
photo by Samira

Gilded Serpent presents...
Tito Seif:
The Moment of Eternal Shimmy
by Stavros Stavrou Karayanni
photos by Samira and Masouma Rose
videos by Lynette-
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When I was much younger the world that floated around me had much more potential than now to emanate enchantment in particular waves of artistic activity. 

Art has always occupied a very special place in my world but belly dance, especially, has been, invariably, a source of inexhaustible excitement.  Whenever I had the opportunity to watch a performance, the movement was like a narrative that bespoke some magical oracle that I consumed avidly and with religious passion.

With devotion, I would hold the kinesthetic memory, fold it carefully and keep it close to my heart like a relic guarded by and guarding a soldier at a front line in the duress of imminent catastrophe.  In the havoc of everyday life only the truth of dance illuminated my hopes.  Such has been my adoration that I was even fascinated by the very body of the dancer herself.  This is difficult to explain, but I would stare at the dancer before and after the performance, not only during, as if applying all my efforts at exacting the artistic promise from the body even when it was not dancing but engaged in everyday routine movement.  Or is it that the body itself as an instrument of art becomes sacralized in the eyes of a devotee who sees the mortal body as the conduit of immortal revelations of universal significance? 

This fascination, indeed sacred regard for the dancer’s body has not left me since my very early adulthood, only now, I experience it merely when I find myself in the shadow of a great artist’s magnitude.  Therefore, you can imagine my feelings when on a Friday afternoon in April, during Toronto's International Bellydance Conference of Canada, I find myself seated at a small coffee shop on St. Clair West with three other new friends who are also participating in the conference.   One of them, sitting opposite me, is Tito Seif.  As discreetly as possible, I study his body with great fascination.  He is very striking and well built, his frame inspires a feeling of abundance, his arms are beautifully toned but, fortunately, not unattractively muscular, and his hands, even when resting idly, combine the strength and resilience of a manual worker with the dexterity of an artist.  He is an imposing person but more attractive than anything else is his smile and the way his personality exists in his body; a way that is light, playful, kind, and generous.  

The hour or so that I spend in that coffee shop remains a significant moment for me, a moment of realization that Tito is not simply a gifted performer but also a kind and thoughtful man.

Samples of Tito teaching and dancing at the International Bellydance Conference of Canada in Toronto. April 2008.

Included are excerpts of Tito speaking through an interpreter on the panel “Men in Bellydance” at the International Bellydance Conference of Canada in Toronto. April 2008. Also on the panel is the author of this article Stavros Stavrou, Valizan, Mark Balahadia, Jim Boz, and moderated by Jennifer Watkins.

Includedin this video are excerpts of Tito dancing in the Gala Stage Performance at the International Bellydance Conference of Canada in Toronto. April 2008.
Tito dances in 3 different galabias as well as with a tall hookah, dumbek, 4 sticks and dancing through the audience

 In my extremely limited Arabic and in his somewhat limited English we talk about his children and his having to be away from them, his love for dance, the places where he will travel to after Toronto, the excitement but also headaches of Cairo.  Throughout, he remains simple, uncontrived, immediate.  And my gaze traverses his entire body with that religious hunger and that spiritual thirst, for this is the body where the dance comes alive, the body where movement materializes in rapid sequences that albeit evanescent, articulate in their power and eloquence the sadness and necessity of loss, the joy and pain of desire, the undeciphered mysteries of the body’s passions, ecstasies, strength and fragility.

Tito is now an international phenomenon.  And how wonderful that a man from Egypt has taken to the West’s belly dance stages establishing himself as one of the greatest belly dancers and showmen today. Such development flies in the face of those American belly dance instructors, students, and performers who have long considered this art defunct in Egypt and dependent upon their kind support and cultivation.  And as we are all busy trumping our successes, our elaborate choreographies, our well defined styles, and, more recently, our intricate fusion endeavors, rejoicing at how far we have taken this dance form, Tito emerges to take us all by surprise with stunning eloquence, a powerful style, a rare entertainer’s gift, and an unusual kinesthetic charisma.    

Even though difficult, it is nevertheless intriguing to attempt to examine what accounts for Tito’s overwhelming success.  One element of his art that is immediately striking is his seemingly effortless choreographic artistry.  Even when seeing him for the first time, an uninitiated eye will be impressed by the ease with which he performs the moves.  They flow from his body with graceful precision and richness, demonstrating not just great technique but enormous potential to reach a lot further than indicated, physically and beyond.  Such facility allows the audience ease and comfort with the performer. Then, there is his smile: at once welcoming, wayward, sexy, kind, and above all demonstrating a rare pleasure in choreographic indulgence.  With his technique and smile, Tito does not simply dance; he seems to be creating Dance anew in every performance and even in every workshop.  Finally on this point, there is the gellabiya that he wears, shunning colorful, glittering and glamorous costumes that most other male cabaret performers choose to wear.  Contrary to expectation, the gellabiya operates in his dance as a prop, something that augments the performance adding a striking aspect to it.  Commentators often point out that wearing the gellabiya during performance earns him a greater amount of acceptability as a male dancer in the Arab world.  This might indeed be the case.  However, when I saw him in performance I felt that the appeal of his garment has gone beyond the politics of propriety of Arab male dress.  Tito manipulates it during the dance, modes of manipulation that, along with the gender implications and political dimension of this garment turn it into a kinesthetic fetish during his performances.  This is how he adds a performative dimension hitherto unseen on the world’s stages.   

Yet, there is another less salient component to Tito’s success and importance that we must consider, engaged as we are on personal or collective quests in art and the cultural impetus of the present.  He has invigorated belly dance and breathed new life into it not only because of his talents but also because of his historic situation which is significant and not at all fortuitous.  When and wherever he performs, his body becomes the confluence of several historic dance narratives that have had enormous impact on universal sensibilities about this particular art form.  I am talking about how he carries on this art referencing consciously or unconsciously, I am not certain, some of the greatest belly dancers the world has even seen. 

As he performs, he cites some of these legendary dancers’ greatest skills that he deploys in ways that are quite his own but characteristic of these dancers’ history nevertheless. To make this clearer: he is the capable and heroic heir of a long line of accomplished and adored performers who have pushed the limits of art and expression by giving us superb choreographic moments, especially in the first half of the twentieth century.

photo by Samira

 For example, he combines the acrobatic skill of Nayma Akeef.  Coming from a family of acrobats Nayma had great strength, flexibility, and agility.  Tito emulates Nayma’s features when he dances on the tabla and when he performs his exhilarating cane dance.  Furthermore, as he glides eloquently yet elegantly across any dance floor or stage he brings to mind the wondrous grace of Samia Gamal.  His arms invite the viewer with the same luxurious sensibility, the same energetic languor.  And, as he smiles playfully and negotiates even more space for himself on the floor and in the viewers’ emotional world, he reminds me of early Nagwa Fouad in her pre-diva days.  However, above all, in my eyes he evokes the charisma of Tahia Karioka.  Unique among dancers, she made herself famous with an enigmatic smile, a magnetic personality, a captivating depth in her glance.  And, equally important is her awareness of her corporeality in space, an awareness that was sensitive not only to her own choreographed corporeality but to the people around her so that her introspection and her embodiment of the music were engendered by a complex mechanism of interpersonal and intrapersonal exchange.  This is precisely what marks Tito’s own exchange during performance. 

I feel that he is able to manipulate the dynamic of any audience/performer relationship and give just at the moment of taking, appear to succumb just when he is at his most powerful, emerge seductive, alluring, distant, and therefore ‘Other’, just when his smile and his dance invite you to join him as friends.  

I have compared him with great female legends who determined the character and legacy of early cabaret belly dance.  Yet Tito, for all those who have seen him live or on videos and even on Youtube, remains in control of gender, assertively male and submissively humble, characterized by an exuberant masculinity and a refreshing choreographic flexibility that knows no gender boundaries in movement.  And this comment brings me to his shimmy; an epiphany of his kinesthetic genius.  In the words of my beloved friend, dancer, and dance critic Andrea Deagon, the shimmy is a significant manifestation of personal but also cosmic forces.  The world around us is engaged in constant movement, vibrating often beyond our notice:

In the visible world, the trembling that characterizes the shimmy may occur as leaves shake in the wind as ripples on the surface of the water, or in the wing of a bee or a hummingbird. Or it may occur violently in the destruction of an earthquake or in the palpable vibrations of air after a thunderclap. In the natural world we come to understand that some motions are too fast for us to count or measure. The shimmy is a kind of motion that escapes, temporarily, countable time, just as the movements of insects or birds or breezes defy quantification (“Dance, Body, Universe”).

Natural disasters that signify the fragility of human existence, the apprehension and elation that accompany so much of our life’s experiences, the delight of the present and the fear of the unknowable, all these natural and emotional forces determine our investment in art and how we make imaginative sense of the world.  With his intense, precise, rigorous, invigorating shimmy, Tito brings the mystery of creation into art, the unspeakable power of the body into view, the power of emotion into play, eternity into the moment. 

We leave the cafe on St. Clair with my teeming brain overwhelmed by choric wonder.  My youthful fascination over the dancer’s physical (and not only dancing) body allows me to sustain some memory of his presence.  And, assisting this memory is the distance I have covered in terms of sensibility, in terms of artistic growth and imaginative potential.  And in my struggle to keep the memory of Tito’s body and dancing into my head some vision of his shimmy remains: an intimation of the eternal in the moment.

Tito performs at the Toronto nightclub Myth
photo by Masouma Rose

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5-21-08 Saturday Gala Peformance Part 1 of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada video and photo report by GS staff
Performers include: Lopa Sarkar, Sacred Dance Company of Victoria, Nath Keo, Roshana Nofret & Maria Zapetis of Bozenka's BD Academy, Ensemble El Saharat of Germany- Mayyadah & Amir of Germany, Ferda Bayazit of Turkey, Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra of Toronto

4-23-08 to ? From Toronto, Ontario, Canada The International Bellydance Conference of Canada
Video reports by Gilded Serpent Staff
Reports are presented in video format inbedded all on the same page.
4-23-08 Day 1 Wednesday Evening Show- remix from last year's stars
-Sofia, Serena, Rhythm Of The Nile, Anita of Dance Poi, pregnant Mayada, Shades Of Araby- Valizan and Sofia, Rayna, Rahma, troupe in shinny black straight skirts? Masouma Rose getting Mayyadah and Amir's reaction to the show. Clip intro reporting by Shira.
4-25-08 Day 2 Thursday Daytime Activities Introduced by Ferda Bayazit and Lynette Harper. Glimpse of Aida Nour and Tito teaching.
4-26-08 Day 2 Thursday Evening Show-Roula Said's Roulettes M2,
Jaida of New York, Ozgen of Turkey and the UK, Ivanka of Panama, The amazing Asha of Atlanta and the troupe, Goddess Bellydance of Korea.

4-29-08 Day 3 Friday Daytime Activities -Reporting today are Roula Said, Mark Balahadia, and Ranya Renee.
Video glimpses included: Tito, Bozenka, Ferda, Lynette Harper, Ranya Renee, Mark Balahadia, Roula Said, Stavros, The "Man Panel," plus more

4-29-08 Day 3 Friday Evening Show -This video clip is a collage from the Main Stage show on Friday night.
Performers included: Banat el Sharq, Ishra (we missed her- sorry!), Suha, Mark Balahadia, Nouvel Expose', Mariyah, Dominique, edVenture Arts, Dr Sawa, Danielle, Maqamaikaze, Jim Boz, Leah & Lynette Harper, Sefirah, and Arabian Allspice

4-30-08 Day 4 Saturday Daytime Activities-Reporting today are Andrea Deagon and Rahma Haddad
Glimpses include: Bozenka's class, Aida Nour's class, Amy Sigil's Class, Panel on Teaching Standards, and Aisha Ali's lecture
coming soon!- The Gala Show

5-16-08 Visiting Cairo: You live a whole lifetime in one week! by Paola
Laughter builds bridges, and in today’s world, bridges –between individuals and between cultures, are becoming more and more of an imperative.

5-13-08 The Ancient Art of Keeping Your Mouth Shut by Neon
Even one’s casual presence in the forums infested with negative-spirited discussions can instantly strip a successful artist of her magical charisma.

5-9-08 Carl Sermon's Photos from the Hoover Hafla
Event produced by The San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of MECDA on February 10, 2008, at Hoover Theatre in San Jose, CA

5-8-08 The Dance Zones of Egypt: Sahra Kent's Journey Through Egypt Basic 1 Workshop Report and photos by Debbie Smith
Although not strictly speaking a “dance”workshop, for each zone we got up to learn some characteristic steps and posture, and gestures associated with each dance zone/style, a good way to blend the theoretical with the experiential.

5-5--8 Dances along the Nile, Part 2: Raks Al Balas by Gamila El Masri, Reprinted with permission, from Bennu, Issue Vol.6 #3
Ah, the poor balas (water jug). This is one of the most underestimated and ignored of the dances along the Nile.


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