Magana's Marathon:
Belly Dancer of the Millennium Contest!

Review mostly by Lynette
Photos mostly by Susie

After easy parking and a short walk to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Union Square area of San Francisco, Susie and I found ourselves on a walking tour around the ballroom while the usher attempted to locate seats for us. We ended up having to sit in the back, to the side and to sit separately so that we were unable to discuss the event. It seemed obvious: Like a notorious airline, the flight to Belly Dance Fantasyland had been oversold! The room capacity appeared to be two or three hundred guests. At $30/35 per ticket, we were certain these dance enthusiasts had a fine show in store!

Reda Darwish's Band started the evening. The band included Jan, Nazir,  Fouad, Nabil and a new keyboard player Safwan .

From my seat, the acoustics were great. Behind the raised stage hung a black backdrop and a couple of sequined Egyptian Hieroglyphed tapestries that gave a sense of theme to the evening. The stage featured something rare for belly dancers: a spotlight and other nice lighting too! Most people were seated at tables. No participants were dancing on stage yet, but it was quite absorbing to watch and listen to the band. Reda's band is handsome with a tight, funky groove!

Magana appeared from the wings in her wonderful Cleopatra wig and began the show in her usual style. She gushed flattery to one ever- present judge of the contest, Dr.  Mo Geddawi. He then arose from his seat and did the same for her. After the obligatory show biz hugging, the show began!
Sahar, of Santa Cruz, was the first dancer. She flew from the stage wing with her hair covered by her veil in a village style. I have always liked Sahar's style and felt a lot of joy in vicariously dancing through her. She is smooth, graceful, and is intuitively synced with the band. She has allowed her hair to go gray with no fancy cuts, just like one might expect to see in a dancer from "layed back" Santa Cruz. Sahar is fit, firm, and looks youthful. She holds herself very elegantly but her smile lets one know that she is warm and approachable. In spite of a minor distraction or two, Sahar was a classy start to the evening of dance.
According to the program, the next performer is to be Nabil el Ansari. Instead, it was announced that the next dancer is Devi Ananda Baptiste, Magana's daughter.

Devi has matured along with the rest of us dancers. It seems to me that she dances with a forlorn, sad quality, but her dance is pleasant to watch none the less. She flashes us the occasional obligatory stage smile along with sassy hair tossing. I glance at Devi's proud Mama and find her rapt and appearing nervous.
There are times when I wish there had been a little more light in addition to the spot, because I consider watching the band an integral part of the show. My photographer wished for more light as well. I knew from past experience that this night would be long. It seems to me that there is no need to have so many performers, each having 20 min shows! Five to ten minutes each would have been plenty. (Magana told me later that the band knew to keep the shows short, but seemed to get carried away!)
Sese of Santa Cruz is the next dancer. She is reminiscent of a joyful, enthusiastic cheerleader. Her body looks great; she ignites my desire to perform again. They would love her at the Taverna. The band plays the old favorite, "Tammerhenna" for her. Her costume is green on black. She points at the audience and gives us that "I'm a sexy babe" look. She does a very nice veil section and Fouad gives her a great Kanoun taksim. In my opinion, Sese plays with her hair excessively.

Ramzi el Edlibi also mentioned on the program did not perform and did not appear to be present.

I missed Magana's troupe performance while I was taking a break in the lobby, but Susie says they did some nice combinations, seemed to be having a good time and were fun to watch.
Tamalyn Dallal was the next performer. The band had been taking a break too, but returns to play for her. She dances in a peach colored costume. The top looks like it is an El Rose stretch velvet design. She has a matching headband, but leaves a single curl "right in the middle of her forehead". I notice Reda's big, confident smile over the dancer's shoulder. Nice veil work is next and then she descends to the floor. She has been very pretty, but now she finally gets sweetly sensual. Her skirt is velvet at top and then chiffon below. The velvet hugs the curves of her rear end and emphasizes the quiver as she gives us a fine shimmy vibration. Tamalyn goes off stage into the audience and then comes back for a rather nervous taksim from Fouad that sinks into a funky beledi progression. This performance ends with a credible drum solo and finale.
I take another break while most of the judges are introduced. As I return I see that Magana has forgotten to introduce one judge and then announces him after he gets her attention. Magana uses a cordless mike and occasionally forgets to turn it off when she is not announcing. The audience hears parts of her conversations during the performances.
The contest begins!

I reflect back that the show is long already and we have not even seen a single contestant. The pre-contest dance shows are entirely too long.
Zeina is a fleshy luscious blond dancer with a healthy looking tan. She does a complete backbend to pick up a dropped veil. Not a bad start!
Deeta's announcement proclaims that she is a second generation dancer. She is graceful and evolves as a crisper and more precise dancer after she warms up. She wears beautiful gold arm ornaments that sparkle and compliment her royal blue and gold costume. She dances to an Arabic popular song, one with a male singer and a female chorus that I do not recognize.

Naiyal-Hayal dances to an old tune and I wonder if it is Armenian? It has a beautiful clarinet taksim to which she should surrender. She has a beautiful costume of intricate diagonal layers of gold beaded fringe. The skirt/belt is attached to a swath of beads around her waist.

Zelina looks like she is having fun. She wears an appliqued dress. She lacks rotation or articulation in her vertebrae, but wins us over with her personality. It's nice to see a mature dancer competing.

Leyla Zahar performs in a silvery raspberry costume. She brandishes a sword. I really enjoy her show and wish she had longer to display her repertoire. She is dynamic and a great performer! She has my vote.



It occurs to me that already with just the wonderful performers so far, this year's contest video would be a great purchase.

Virginia is a brunette in a root beer colored costume with a tiara. Her show is obviously choreographed but it is a nice routine, none the less. She has nice arms and a trim torso. (I would vote her first runner-up after Leyla so far.)

Bozenka is from Miami, of Cuban and Czech parents. She has a nice introduction inviting us on a journey with her as she dances. She is a pretty, blond woman with a sexy, sweet, genuine smile, and a long torso with creamy skin. I would like more fire from her or perhaps more sophistication. Her costume is slate colored incorporating some powder gray with Maribu trim.

I'd wish for a little more crispness as a contrast, but she is lovely to watch. No finger cymbals were played in her show.
Zahr is from Dallas and was with the Isis Dancers. She uses over-large gestures and movements, and she dances with a small circular veil. The music with which she performs is highly unusual and reminiscent of a western movie. Her costume includes an orange gypsy style tie top with puffy sleeves over a bra.
Marilyn is a short, attractive Filipina woman. She has a sweet mischievous smile, and her intro says that she also has a background in Polynesian and Philippine dance. Her torso is stiff, but she uses her zils well. Her costume is fuchsia. Her drum solo is rather brutal, not subtle. Perhaps the Polynesian influence has fused into the Middle Eastern dance.

Beth dances in a beautiful white Cairo dress with lots of sexy cutouts. It fits her well and accentuates the beautiful sculpture of her backside. Beth has chosen to dance with New Age music. She seemed nervous at the beginning but then warmed up to the occasion.

Official Intermission

Reda's band
plays for an open dancing session and then Magana restarts the show. She speaks glowingly about Reda's beautiful new CDs and an audience member yells a comment about Reda's beautiful face, which causes him to blush and grin.

That concludes the competition portion of the marathon for Ms. America trophy. Now we continue with more exhibition dancers, competing duets and Mr. America contestants.

Jennifer is next, not on the program, but I imagine that she is probably one of Magana's star students. (Perhaps she has been added to the roster because of the missing earlier performers.) She's spicy and sexy, dancing to Reda's drum solo. She takes risks and really puts herself into the dance. She has great energy, and is continuously creative and spontaneous while she dances to the long drum solo.
Unfortunately, I missed the dance of Melusina Del Mar. Her costume was reminiscent of Natica Angilly's dancing poetry.
Hassan Deeb is next and it is announced that he is back after a battle with cancer. His hair has been bleached blond and he wears it in a short spiky flat top. He gives us a safe and gentle dance to familiar music. He knows this music and is very precise. He wears a black collared shirt and black pants, silver jazz shoes and a blue and silver bead fringe belt. Hassan has to signal the sound technician to turn his music back on after the first piece. Hassan brings out his red circular veils and reminds us that he was one of the first Middle Eastern performers to dance with the double veil. This he does to a Spanish influenced song, which may be Amaya's music. There are too many cheerleader moves in the finale. This seemed a very long performance. There were those who were sitting close enough to the stage that felt his performance was emotionally moving, "straight from his heart!". Una still dances at Menara Restaurant. The rest of Reda's band comes back to play for her. The band's multiple comings and goings cause a delay as they get themselves set up to play each time. Una looks happy to be dancing. She wears her trademark handkerchief skirts over lame harem pants and her pop bead belt that she rolls up and down over her knife tattoo. She sports a puffy organza veil, does great veil work, and her floorwork displays that she hasn't lost any flexibility. She dances with her zils. She signals that she's tired, but Reda and the band still push her onward. She finds her second wind and pulls out more ingenuity.

The momentum created by Una and Reda's band diminishes again as the band leaves once more.

It's 12:30am and we still have 2 more categories of this contest to go! My photographer has bailed - after all, she is volunteering. Luckily, it looks like they don't have very many contestants in these two catagories.


 Arislam and Leyla Zahar both come out shrouded completely in black, doing a tightly synced choreography finally stepping out of their sleeves. There is some chemistry between the two of them. Leyla is a comfortable pro and Arislam is getting better as he warms up.  
Bozenka & Zeina are nicely matched. They are both blond; Boenka now wears a fall to match her partner's long hair. Boenka wears maroon and silver; Zeina wears pink & silver.

Sapphira is summoned back stage over the mike during their finale.
 Sapphira is next. We wonder why she was called during the last act. There is a long pause as she runs back to talk to the sound technician and then Reda comes on stage after she negotiates with him a while. Over the speakers comes recorded New Age style Middle Eastern music and Reda plays his drum superimposed. Her dancing, always entertaining, borders on the energetic to the frantic in style. The music evolves into Arabic Pop. Sapphira ends the section with a Turkish drop. Next is more Middle Eastern Pop, with a deeper groove. We see more wonderful athleticism, kicks that touch the back of her head. Goofy and Egyptian styled Hieroglyphic arms are common with many performers tonight!  

Mr. America

Arislam appears again in a Black caftan, red turban, gold dervish cape while spinning. He needs to straighten his upper back; his posture is a bit hunched. However, as a man, he can get away with the gruffness this posture gives him. A Cane Dance next accentuates those rounded shoulders. Women in the audience give a silly squeal as he takes off his caftan to reveal a red vest and pantaloon combo.

Antar performed a somewhat stilted rendition of "Tammerhenna" (from the Ya Salaam Tapes) that we all know. His purple circular veil is used as part of his headdress. Zils are almost on time. He dances stiffly and with his knees apart. There's a sudden and jarring break in the music, and he's done! Perhaps he reached his time limit. This ends the Mr. America section of the contest. Is it really a competition if they're are only two contestants?

At last Calliope dances and Reda's band returns to play for her. This should be a gratifying finish! Magana announces Calliope's name long before she and the band are ready. Audience anticipation dissolves. Calliope wears a purple sarong skirt and high heels. She is elegant, genuine and sensual, as always. I love those '40s style bangs she wears over her forehead and her maroon colored hair. She keeps her composure even when the local videographer, Nabil El Ansari of Studio 7, interfers with her performance by motioning for her while he stands center front to come closer to his camera. A professional videographer can show their skill by avoiding disruption with overly visible camera work (or blinding light). Luckily for us, Calliope, the true professional, ignores him and floats around the stage with that fine mesmerizing shimmy. Calliope's famous dance dad watches her proudly, but intensely, from the back of the room. She and Reda duet through one of the longest drum solos I've heard in a while, never losing their audience and taking us through the whole range of textures and subtleties. It is a joy to watch this team as they pace themselves perfectly, taking us along with them to a grand finale!

"Dr. Mo" ends the whole show at last for us at 2 AM with his famous Stick Dance, Raks Tahtib. The band loves this performer and sits up straighter and gives him a nice festive mood with which to dance. I've never seen Dr. Mo quite so relaxed and confident. He keeps his show fun and short. The show ends quickly with a brief announcement of winners and a "Thank you!" from Magana to a room that is now two thirds empty. This has been a long but satisfying evening!


2nd runner-up: Virginia

1st runner-up: Leyla Zahar

Winner of Ms America: Bozenka

Duets-Leyla Zahar & Arislam

Mr America: Arislam

The contestants for Ms America all readily shared the titles of the music that they used:

  • Zeina- from Yani Seemi, a CD called "For Cats" (for guys) a Lebanese CD. " "I like to make people happy," she says.
  • Bozenka- piece called NASA from the Nelli CD by Sayed Ballaha
  • Deeta- music from Badawist, Amani
  • Zahr- used Dark Fire from Light Rain, Chase the wind. "I'm glad it's over!" she says.
  • Marilyn- Sohair Zaki, Live from Cairo, and Tammerhenna. Her comments-"I couldn't see the stage and it's edge, I got disoriented."
  • Zelina danced to Adam Basma CD, the first cut, Nagwa
  • Naiya Hayal- danced to George Merdigian, a Turkish takseem and a drum solo from Fame and Fortune. She said also that it was hard to see the audience because of the lights.
  • Virginia danced to Naswa Al Raks by Abudi Badwan and Tony Chamoun
  • Leyla Zahar danced to Setrak Champagne, Rakni
  • Beth- Tammerhenna, Youry Sharif & Rakia Hassan, Wash Ya Wash, Nicolas Nolutis, Omar Farouk, drumsolo from Sohair Zeki

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Ready for more?
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