Monday, February 20, 2012

An Eye Opening Start to 2012

I often read about challenges within the belly dance community. As I do, I find myself sharing many of the same feelings regarding these common issues. But, I’m glad to say I’ve also had some recent experiences that have illustrated the passion, dedication, and high level of ethics many already practice in their training and teachings.

For me, 2012 started with WBDA’s hosting of the beautiful Alicia of BellyCraft. As anyone who knows her can attest, she is truly the consummate professional. It was beyond easy to work with her as she was not only responsive, but focused on making sure all workshop attendees had a wonderful experience. Alicia’s professionalism helped me plan and coordinate a weekend that exceeded my highest expectations. I knew a January workshop weekend could be a challenge because it’s right after the holidays. But, as I reviewed the calendar of belly dance events, the time and date in question seemed to present the best window of opportunity. Game on!

As usual, the workshop attendees really helped make the weekend a success. Every dancer came ready to learn and sweat. I was delighted to see dancers of different backgrounds participate with a genuine sense of community, which was further supported by the incredible show on Saturday evening. We welcomed dancers of all styles – Gothic, Tribal, Egyptian, World Fusion, Cabaret, etc. because I wanted it to be an evening in which all styles would be recognized and celebrated. Not surprisingly, the feedback from the audience was great.

Many didn’t realize there were so many styles within this genre of dance and it didn’t hurt that Alicia, our headliner, not only wowed the audience with her performances, but was incredibly encouraging to both attendees and performers. She was all about inviting students to perform in the show alongside our talented teachers and she was appreciative for the generous donation of each performer’s time. Many of these performers are working dancers and/or teachers who are not often paid to perform in these types of gala shows where the local community is welcoming an artist for the weekend. Nevertheless, they choose to participate for their own reasons, of which there are many. Some perform to help promote and market their projects; others do so because they have a genuine love of the stage and performing. Some do it as a favor, while others do it to support the community. For many, it’s a combination of these reasons plus many more. Regardless of their various, valid motivating factors, all of the performers were professional and supportive of each other. They treated this show as they would have any larger show held on a huge stage at a world-renowned venue. The same dedication and professionalism were present and the audience (and I) sensed it and very much appreciated it.

Then there’s Pera Dance. Since I’ve known them, this Atlanta studio has been beyond supportive of the Raqs community. Not only did they allow me free reign over their studio space the entire weekend, they also trusted me to layout the space as I needed for both the show and the photo shoots by resident professional photographer, Jaki Hawthorne of Jaki Hawthorne Photography.

The attendees, Pera Dance, and of course, Alicia herself – they all helped me create a beautiful weekend. But what could it have been without the support of my (our)students and my troupe members? From the beginning, I could see they genuinely wanted it to be a great weekend and they worked tirelessly for the duration to ensure everyone walked away with a great experience.

The weekend was a stark reminder to me of the dedicated professionals and students who make up our Atlanta dance community. My dear friend, Nawar, also came all the way from Miami to support and participate in the festivities. Motivated only by the kindness of her heart and her belief in what we’re trying to accomplish with World Belly Dance Alliance, she captured and compiled extensive footage, which resulted in amazing video recaps of the workshops.

Now fast forward a few weeks. I found myself in Charlotte, NC, where Naima Sultana of Raks Sultana sponsored me for a weekend of workshops and celebratory show. This was my first out-of-state full weekend intensive where I was the primary instructor and it was very interesting being on the other side of the fence. This time, I was the instructor and not the sponsor.

As many of you who have sponsored these events can attest, the cold reality is that it’s much easier to promote an established recognized name than a virtual unknown. Still, Naima could not have been more professional and supportive in her marketing efforts. I have been in the sponsor’s shoes before and I understand that for these events to be successful, timely responses and marketing by both the sponsor and hosted teacher are crucial. These events simply cannot happen if both parties do not work together. To say I was blown away by the number of registrations and how far many traveled to join us would be an understatement. My hats off to Naima who deserves so much credit for her responsiveness and scheduling prowess, both of which greatly contributed to the success of this event.

I have encountered some formidable students and I must say, the NC workshop attendees would be counted among these! They came ready to learn and I truly enjoyed working with them. These ladies made it easy to amp it up and they were able and willing victims, LOL! Naima also coordinated an amazing show at the Chop Shop in Charlotte – the perfect venue for a relaxed and intimate vibe. The owners are extremely supportive of the local arts, which is a huge plus in my book! The individual numbers were beautiful and I was not only impressed by the performances themselves, but the genuine support every artist shared with her sisters in dance. So much love - we joked - people were going to get toothaches!

It was really something special to be there to share in those moments and I felt like an honored and very-welcome member of the NC dance community. I’m so grateful to Naima for taking a chance on me and to the dancers who took the time out of their weekends to attend the workshops. I walked away with an experience I will never forget and wonderful new friendships I know will last a lifetime.

Finally, we arrive at an event I hosted with the beautiful and talented Amani Jabril. Together, we conspired to host a night of belly dance at Laura’s NYC Pizza in Roswell, GA. By no means was it the typical venue or location for a belly dance show (“OTP” – Outside the Perimeter in Atlanta – unheard of!), but we endeavored to provide a performance platform for students and teachers/professionals to share their art in a new and unique environment. Once again, support from students and fellow teachers helped make the event a success. It was so wonderful to see our students, Heleshia, Tamara, and Sheri, performing choreographed and improvised pieces.

And of course, there was Amani - a consummate professional who brings the same energy to a small, local stage as she would a large stage in Lebanon. She shined as always and it was a sight to behold. With fellow teachers and students from the community in the audience, along with a few patrons from outside the belly dance community, the evening was a special kind of magic. Based on the success and interest, we’re hosting the next show on April 28th!

As a teacher, performer, and lifelong student, I believe we owe it to the audience, students, and sponsors to always put our best on display. The moment we believe they owe us, we begin to perpetuate and promote that which may limit the spirit and passion not only within ourselves, but of the art itself. That’s not why we’re here.

Sometimes, we tend to focus on what we dislike in the community. Because I feel so strongly, I am as guilty as anyone else at times. But with this post, I wanted to highlight some of the positive things I’ve seen since the start of the year - and it’s only February! All kidding aside, I am truly fortunate to count myself among such a high caliber of women including students and teachers/professionals. There are so many dedicated teachers out there who are trying and training tirelessly to bring you the best in this art form. They join many performers who treat every show as if they are stepping on to a Broadway stage and many students who want to take their studies to the next level simply because they love the dance.

Let’s continue to work together to further belly dance throughout the universe and bring this beautiful art to the masses. It’s a phenomenon which deserves to be recognized as an unparalleled form of self expression!

These recent events and partnerships have shown me the future of belly dance. There are many dancers in the community working hard to showcase this art and the spirit of love and togetherness it represents. I thank you and am truly honored to dance among you! Shimmy on, ladies!


...I owe it all to this woman.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Miami Bellydance Convention 2011!

What is the Miami Bellydance Convention, you ask? Are you kidding?! International belly dancer - and the best boss ever! - Nathalie Zarate brings a highly anticipated weekend of belly dance competition and performance every Labor Day Weekend (September 2 - 5) to Miami, FL! It's only the BIGGEST belly dance event in Miami! Already known for great food, dynamic culture, beautiful beaches and hot climate, the MBC brings even more HEAT to South Florida.

The Miami Bellydance Convention has grown each and every year, bringing talented instructors and performers from all over the world to share their interpretation of the dance we have all come to know and love, teaching workshops to eager belly dance enthusiasts from beginner-level to seasoned dancers.

So what should everyone look forward to in 2011?
  • Change of venue! The 4th annual MBC will be hosted at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Downtown Miami
  • Bigger dance spaces (workshops)
  • A wider variety of vendors and merchandise
  • A fierce fashion show
  • Pre-gala formal cocktail reception
  • An amazing gala show featuring worldwide talent
  • Open preliminary competition
  • After-parties!!

The cast of MBC 2011 include the following*:

*For a complete instructor list, please visit

  • Yvonne Pereira (Winner, MBC 2010)
  • Joana Saahirah (Egypt)
  • Mayra Huzid (Argentina)
  • Belly Queen (New York)
  • Moriah Chappell (USA)
  • Renata Lobo (Brazil)
  • Lacey (USA)
  • Valerick Molinary (Puerto Rico) and many more!

The competition is going to be ON FIRE this year. With amateur and professional categories, there's a little something for everyone. If you want to push yourself and your craft to the next level, be sure to register for MBC 2012's competition. 2011 categories are officially CLOSED.

If you plan to attend the Miami Bellydance Convention this year and are interested in reserving a room at the Hyatt Regency, you must do so by August 22nd before the rates increase. Take advantage of the discounted rate NOW!

DO NOT miss this event! If for one reason or the other you can't make it this year, there will be an even bigger, better Miami Bellydance Convention in 2012. The Saturday evening professional gala show will be available for viewing online so join the MBC Facebook Fan Page for upcoming details on how to watch the show from the comfort of your living room.

On a personal note, I lived in Atlanta when the MBC started so I haven't really experienced it. I took one workshop last year, which was my only exposure to the event. I must say that I cannot WAIT for Labor Day Weekend. I will be working/performing at this year's MBC and look forward to what will prove to be nothing short of an amazing experience. Don't wait three years like I did. Get your butts down to Miami and experience the MBC!

A glimpse of MBC 2010

What to expect in 2011

Important links:

MBC Facebook Fan Page

Hyatt Regency Online Reservations

See you at the Convention!


Wow, I've really abandoned my "weekly post" weight loss check-ins, eh? Too busy! There is so much going on in my belly dance world! I have not stepped on a scale in days but my jeans are loose!!! Yay! :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Class with Nawar at Dreams Bellydance Academy!

Greetings, all!

Wow, half a year has passed since I last wrote.... so amazing how time flies. Life has been busy and exciting! I quit my [day] job and landed one the week after (declined it, have been on a nice hiatus for a few weeks but accepted it later...), I performed in my first belly dance theater production, SHUKRAN, produced by Nathalie Zarate of Dreams Bellydance Academy and the Miami Bellydance Convention, and I started an event planning company with my cousin (Design Envy Events -- website will be launching soon so stay tuned!). I decided to take life into my own hands and pursue my dreams, which of course, also include belly dance. :)

My new Level 1 class begins on Saturday, July 9th at 1:30 PM at Dreams Bellydance Academy. I am thrilled and honored to be teaching Nathalie's belly dance style. The world of belly dance is a large one, no doubt... but it always blows my mind how different the dance can be; from the names of movements to the execution. You never forget where you came from and I am happy to have received my foundation but I have learned a great deal and I've been growing as a dancer. I am pleased with how far I have come and can't wait to grow even more.

So, the actual purpose of this blog is a pinch of information and a pinch of public humiliation. I've shared my whereabouts for the past six months so here comes the public humiliation part. I know this is something quite common nowadays... blogging, I mean, ... however, I am hopping on the bandwagon. I am probably at my heaviest weight right now and I think I've reached my max. It hasn't helped that I live in one of the hippest areas with lots of fabulous restaurants that I can't get enough of. Add to that the fact that I've been pretty stagnant for the past five weeks since I've been on my self-proclaimed vacation and that equals weight gain. I am putting my foot DOWN. For clarity, I will be doing it the "right way" and not by means of fad diet or cosmetic surgery. That's right! I'm forgoing Rocco's Tacos, Bayshore Thai and La Bonne Crêpe... at least for a while ;). I will be - dare I say it - exercising!! There are some things that happen to us in life that are out of our control. Weight is not one of them! I will be recording my journey on WBDA!

I am debating whether or not to post my starting weight... but I will check in weekly, announce what better be my loss for the week, or my gain, and will do so leading up to my "25th" birthday. Note the air quotes on that...heehee.... I am highly motivated and I know I can do this the right way this time around.

Visit for all of the fabulous new classes being taught at the studio, including a sexy belly burlesque course taught by Valerick Molinary, and a morning Summer Shimmy Workout class taught by Annemarie, and I will check back in a week! Don't forget, Level 1 starts Saturday, July 9th! See you there. Wish me luck!

Friday, April 15, 2011

2011 Thus Far?

As we often start off the New Year with goals and resolutions, it is a good practice for us to regularly review our progress to ensure that we are on track. After all, if we aren’t progressing, we aren’t growing, right? So, how much progress have you made with your belly dance goals in 2011 thus far?

Let’s see…I have discovered a gold mine of a teacher in Aubre Hill and transformed my bellydance style after meeting and training with Ansuya. What honors! I have also had the opportunity to attend my first Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in Long Beach. This event was truly amazing: dancers competed to live music that they had never heard before. They also had to compete in a drum solo face-off immediately after performing to unrehearsed live music . These women (and one man) were truly talented. This year has gotten off to a great start for me and bellydance. I feel that I have learned so much in just a little bit of time.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store: continued training with Aubre Hill, meeting up with WBDA’s Jenny Nichols at my first TribalFest in Sebastopol, CA, June workshops with Rachel Brice, my 3rd Zulu Lounge experience (where R.B. herself will be performing), workshops with Anasma and so much more!

Next up though: my 2nd Raqs L.A. experience this weekend! Last year Taaj and I flew out from Atlanta to attend this event. Now, I will be attending as an L.A. resident! It’s amazing how much things can change in just one year. I am especially excited about April Rose’s Bellydance vs. Hip Hop workshop. Ssssssss!!!!

So, how has this year been thus far for you?!


Sunday, February 6, 2011

My Dance Style: Freedom Style

I had the opportunity of seeing Ansuya perform Saturday night. She was amazing! Since I started belly dancing a few years ago, I have had the opportunity of introducing my friends and family to something new. I had another opportunity to do so this past Saturday night. I gave my friend a head’s up while driving to Donavon’s Studio Iqaat, “Now, you will be seeing two styles of belly dance tonight: traditional cabaret and tribal fusion. You will see what you envision when you think of a belly dancer as well as another version.” The best way that I could define fusion style was as the form of belly dance that is not performed while in a sequenced costume with heels and a skirt to traditional Middle Eastern music. But rather, when performing a fusion number, the dancer would be in pants with gaudy silver or copper jewelry dancing to hip hop, rock or eclectic music.

Well, if you have ever seen Ansuya perform, you are very likely to understand the conundrum I experienced when trying to ‘categorize’ her dance style. She entered the stage gracefully spinning with her long flowing hair, red sequenced bra, two veils, coin sash over her pants, and of course, zills. Clearly these are signs of a cabaret dancer, right? Wrong! Shortly after she made center stage, the beat dropped and all heck broke loose! Ansuya danced with soft and light as well as sharp and hard movements. She also performed floor work with body undulations while in a full back bend. I’m saying to myself, “I’m not quite sure where to place her. Which style does she belong to?” I knew that she was belly dancing because I could clearly see the veils, zills, turns, camels, shimmies, back bend, snake arms, etc. But, where does she fit?

Even though I could not determine where to place her, all I could think was, “Wow!” When watching Ansuya, you see the emergence of all things feminine: sassiness, flirtation, confidence, empowerment, sensuality, and seduction. She exuded all of these qualities while also commanding respect.

With having two main belly dance styles in my mind, I have been really contemplating on which style I would pledge my allegiance to: cabaret or tribal fusion. Cabaret has a very special place in my heart as it was the first style of belly dance to which I was introduced. However, there is a part of it that feels constricting and limiting because the expectation is that you will be ‘ladylike’ by society’s standards. So, I have been drawn to tribal fusion where the expectation is that you will push the envelope and show strength as a woman. Still though, as soon as I begin to think of myself as a tribal fusion dancer, I miss the association with cabaret.

Having been facing these questions about my journey in belly dance, I am convinced that watching Asunya perform and having the opportunity to study with her on Sunday was definitely a divine occurrence. I now know that rather than choosing cabaret or tribal fusion, I can choose both styles and everything in between. Furthermore, I don’t have to limit a single choreography to fit within one style either. When discussing this at her workshop on Sunday, Ansuya described her style as ‘freedom style.’ The next time anyone asks me which style of belly dance I study, my answer will be freedom style! Thanks Ansuya!