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“Why We Dance”

by Latifa
posted June 8, 2009

In spite of the wind whistling down Caledonia Street on May 24th, the day of Sausalito’s Caledonia Street Fair, a certain group of belly dancers performing on the main stage at Locust and Caledonia were HOT.  Thank goodness it was at least sunny!

We (the dancers) were (in alphabetical order) Alnisa, Cathy Guthrie, JawahareLatifa (I organized the show.), Pamela, and Terry DiGiorno. I live in and teach Belly Dance in Sausalito for the Parks and Recreation Department.

In late April I received a call from the director of the department asking if I would be able to produce a show for the fair. Since I don’t have an on-going active troupe at this point in time, I thought about it for almost a minute and then accepted with delight.

This fair has always one of my favorites.  I have attended it many times, even before I started teaching for the city, and have always enjoyed the blues bands, African drumming ensemble, vendors, food, and drink.

The idea in my mind was, why not contact some of the best dancers and teachers in and around Marin County to come and have a great time at a street fair?

Frequently teachers will accept these shows with the idea of show casing their own troupe. That falls into the realm of work.  When performing with less experienced performers, issues frequently arise, for example lack of preparation or performance anxiety.  I was enjoying thinking about a day of play! All professionals – no one needing extra support or help – let’s just get together and enjoy, kind of like we do upon occasion at various Bay Area restaurants.

map of San FranciscoI made sure that we would have a parque floor and an awning over our space since I knew most of us would want to dance barefoot. As it turns out, the awning also acted as a pretty decent wind break, which we really needed! The City went out of their way to treat us well.  They sent us parking passes so we could drive through the “Do Not Enter” signs and park exactly behind our stage.

As we arrived and assembled behind the stage, West African drummers were on the stage  playing fabulously, and, in so doing, providing an energetic warm up for us back stage. The spirit of celebration spread rapidly within our group. 

Before long we were all moving to the infectious rhythm, laughing and talking about the great warm up we were having. In fact our energy was so relaxed and unstressed, as opposed to how it can be at many shows arranged for – let’s face it – mostly other dancers, that we began to experience the freedom and joy of simply performing – the reason most of us embarked on the Dance Path in the first place.

As the time approached for our show, two of our dancers were stuck in traffic trying to reach us from San Francisco, so we arranged our show to accommodate them if they made it and so it would work if they didn’t .

We started as a group with “Taht El Shabbak”, using zils, taking solos, and improvising in pairs. After that intro, we would each do a solo. I hastily arranged our order based upon who was there and the style of dance and music each of us was using. I gave the CDs to our DJ who was absolutely professional and so organized! He was a good grounding force for our improvizational zeal.Sausalito

As we made our entrance, the crowd began to build. There were rows of chairs set up in front of the stage to accommodate maybe 50+ people. The chairs were rapidly filled and suddenly people were sitting on the ground in front of the chairs and on the surrounding curbs.  Additionally there were 5 or 6 rows of people standing behind the chairs. The energy from the audience was positive and enthusiastic. Each solo was greeted with applause and cheers.

Pamela opened the show with fiery enthusiasm to “Haramt A Hebek”. I followed Pamela with an Oriental Dance number wearing a new contemporary costume designed by Black Lagoon. I loved it! Jawahare performed as strongly as ever with the strong emotional presence and spontaneity that is her hallmark. Alnisa did a strong, classy number in a beautiful Spring green costume to an upbeat contemporary piece. Cathy Guthrie followed with an energetic, well choreographed, Gypsy like performance to “Habibi Nour El Ein”. Terry closed the show in a killer bright orange costume with a sword dance which the audience loved as demonstrated by roars and applause!

Throughout the show, I felt a welcome lack of the need to be perfect and the freedom to simply celebrate our dance and spirit.  What a great relief! Performing for a sizeable audience that are not M.E. dancers is nothing short of exhilarating! To a person, all of our group expressed the same feeling– “It was a blast!”


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