A Tour Through the Belly Dancing World

Written By ArtBurst Team
January 27, 2017 at 7:17 PM

Fifteen years ago, I cut out an advertisement from the newspaper for a belly dance class in South Beach. I kept it in my wallet for months, pondering the possibilities, and savoring the angst, exhilaration, and fear. Finally I took the eight-week beginner course and after maneuvering around the dance floor, I knew I was home. By the second class, I made a promise to myself that at the end of the course, the director of the Mideastern Dance Exchange, Tamalyn Dallal, would invite me to join her professional company. She did. Once in the company I met Virginia Mendez, one of the senior dancers in the company. She worked in fashion and had a rock band called Agony in the Garden. She was petite, with sharp features and fancy moves. She triumphed with swords, floor work, and dynamic choreographies. Her creative voice was distinct, navigating extremes of fluidity and edginess. Around the year 2000, she left the troupe at Mideastern and started her own company, the Coalition of Middle Eastern Dance, or COME Dance. Last week she celebrated her 10-year anniversary by producing the largest belly-dance event to ever hit Miami. Mendez’s “Rakstar” event was a four-day immersion in belly-dance glamour. Legendary artists Jillina from California; Yousry Sharif from Cairo and New York City; Asmahan from Egypt and Argentina; and Amir Thaleb from Argentina all taught and performed alongside Mendez. The weekend included a full-scale theatrical production called “ONE,” a contest of amateur and professional level belly dancers, a fashion show, and a gala show of invited artists. The “ONE” show at the Colony Theater on Lincoln Road was inspired by Mendez’s international dance experiences. She wanted to capture the unity of people, to inspire audiences to “think outside of the box,” to highlight our similarities, influences, and humanity. She accomplished this by incorporating modern dance, aerial silk, flamenco, and Hindu and African dance. One of my favorite moments was the film montage she created, a backdrop to the modern dance finale incorporating provocative images of peace, strife, and possibility. The gala show at the Colony Theater (which I was part of) included a wide variety of styles and points of view. Amir Thaleb demonstrated his technical prowess with a tango/oriental fusion. His classical training was highlighted by his signature turns and spins. Jillina offered up her signature precision and excited audiences with stage tricks, including dancing on a dumbek and spinning two canes. The most interesting and dynamic performance of the evening, however, came from local dancer and former troupe mate Samay, who danced a classic Arabic hit with authenticity and feeling — serving as a reminder of what the dance is meant to signify, the roots of earth, home, and solo improvisational mastery and communication. The “belly dance” as we understand it in the West is a collection of movements that spans many countries, bodies of water, and histories. While many of the movements are centered in the belly, the vocabulary works mostly through the hips, with the energy and weight centered evenly over the pelvis. Its origins are varied, from childbirth rituals, goddess worship, and women’s rites of passage. This Saturday the Wertheim Performing arts center at FIU will host “GEMS” — a theatrical show inspired by the 1920s, an era of prolific milestones for women (and in which I will also take part). “GEMS” is the brainchild of dancer and producer Adriana Echeverri, owner of Belly2Abs dance studio in Coconut Grove. It’s the fifth anniversary of this show, which had previous incarnations in Curacao and Ireland. For the second year in Miami, the performance is in collaboration with Florida International University’s Women’s Center, benefiting them and other charities. The studio has an in house dance company, RAKS, that will perform, alongside international dancers Montserrat from Argentina and Siham from St. Lucia. Also included are dancers and instructors Jigna from India, Francesca from Peru, and others. The show will take the audience on a journey through color and era, highlighting how women of all colors, shapes, ages, and backgrounds who are all, well, gems. First published in the Miami Sun Post, November 2010

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