Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Night in the Zulu Lounge

Where can you check out cabaret, tribal fusion and ATS belly dance as well as flamenco, hula and fire-dancing? Well, if you’re in the LA area, you can catch it all at The Zulu Lounge.

Produced by Zulu Tattoo and the Medianoche Dance Co. (Mrs. Zula’s dance troupe), The Zulu Lounge takes place every quarter at Boardner’s in Hollywood, CA. Here you’ll find music and dance artists from all over the country gathering together and strutting their stuff all in the name of fun, creative expression, and most importantly, CHARITY!

The proceeds for this session of The Zulu Lounge benefited Erase the Past - a free gang tattoo removal clinic that helps young adults and teens break ties with their gang by removing visible tattoos.

After entertaining performances including those with fire-swinging balls with spikes and the complete ingestion of fire, world famous DJ Cheb i Sabbah kept the party going on the ones and twos.

I had an amazing time at my first session of The Zulu Lounge and can’t wait for the next! Can we say….performance?!! I’ll keep you posted! :)


Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Letter

Dear Stage Fright,

Why do you exist? I almost drove my best friend mad last night in preparation for a performance because of you. I danced in front of Bozenka last night (hence my nervousness) and prior to my arrival, there was mild hyperventilation, a slight feeling of faintness and nausea as well as a shaky leg here and there. Then when I got up to perform, all fears were gone in an instant! So, again, I ask...why must you even exist? I despise you. That is all.



Monday, September 6, 2010

"Going Back to the Golden Age" with Tamalyn Dallal

The 2010 Miami Belly Dance Convention has come to an end and piggy-backing off of my previous blog, I had to decide what workshops and shows were feasible for me to attend. I limited myself to the Saturday night gala and one workshop. Regrettably, duty called and I was unable to attend the show, which was also streamed live for viewers who wanted to enjoy the performances from the comfort of their homes, however, I decided to take Tamalyn Dallal's "Going Back to the Golden Age" workshop this morning.

When one thinks of Middle Eastern dance in Miami, Tamalyn's name will surface. For those who do not know of Tamalyn Dallal, she is an internationally-acclaimed teacher, performer, author, producer and public speaker. She is the founder of the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, which she directed for 16 years. Thousands of dancers have studied under Tamalyn. She is highly spoken of, well-respected, and after meeting her today, I'll add in generous, humble and incredibly inspiring.

I chose this workshop because I adore the classic music from the times of Samia Gamal, Nagwa Fouad, Tahiya Karioca and other influential dancers of that era, and wanted to soak in the movement. I also selected this workshop because I did not have the opportunity to study with Tamalyn Dallal. During the time that she directed the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange I had no idea what belly dance was!! Little did I know that I'd receive so much more.

The workshop began with a warm-up followed by a history lesson. I'm a geek so I loved every second of the discussion. There is such intricate history behind the dance that I'm simply fascinated by. Attendees were briefed on influential singers and dancers of the Golden Age [1930s - 1970s]. As we sat, Tamalyn invited us to close our eyes and listen to the sounds of the Oud and Kanun - to visualize movement. Once we were up on our feet, we were challenged to release ourselves; we were instructed not to dance from the mind but rather from the heart. We were not to hit every tick or every tock like so many of us try to do. My old choreographies were so full of dance - I never took a moment to stop and let the audience just look at me and wonder what I'd do next... or feel what I was feeling. At the workshop, we were simply in the moment, going whichever way our bodies decided - not our minds. It's no easy task! When trying to reach my weekly quota of YouTube stalks - I watch dancers who emote even with their toes and I always aspire to emotionally connect with music in that way. I feel that my connection with music, or lack thereof, has been one of my challenges.

We danced to the most beautiful piece of music that took me on a journey. I literally felt like I was there.... I felt like I was in Afrita Hanem dancing for Farid El Atrache instead of Samia Gamal. After dancing with us a few times, Tamalyn watched us interpret her choreography. I was floored when, after we performed the piece as a group, she asked me my name and commented on how she liked my expression. "I'm sorry, what?" (That's what I said in my head.) At first I was confused because I didn't realize that I had hit the "on" button. My facial muscles hadn't felt pulled in any direction so I wasn't certain that she was talking about me. It turned out that she was and at that moment, my spirits were lifted. From that point on, all inhibitions were out the window and I emoted like my life depended on it. As the saying goes, I danced like no one was watching.

Towards the end of the workshop, we freestyled, which is always a liberating experience. There is no right or wrong move with freestyle. It's one's own interpretation and it was great watching a dancer feel something a little different from the previous one.

At the end of the workshop, I spoke with Tamalyn and she gave me one of the greatest compliments ever! It was already a humbling experience for me to be noticed during class but then to receive amazing feedback afterwards from someone who is a belly dance POWERHOUSE was...inspiring, to say the least. Just as in our day-to-day lives, sometimes we don't feel as though what we are doing is good enough or up to a certain standard. We might feel nervous or like we aren't up to par. Positive reinforcement is always such a wonderful tool to let someone know, "Hey, you're doing OK!"

I'll admit that following our post-workshop talk [after I did some shopping, of course], I left the building, sat in my car, smiled and then cried [I'm such a geek, ha!]. The entire morning that I spent within the walls of that room with Tamalyn and the other dancers was so memorable and so emotional [to me]; it left me... happy. I can't find a better word so a simple "happy" will suffice.

I am so humbled to have had the opportunity to learn from Tamalyn Dallal, even if only for a few short hours. Regrettably, she no longer resides in South Florida but I look forward to her next workshop this January. I am eternally grateful to Tamalyn for not only providing me a history lesson, beautiful movement and music but also for breaking my emotional silence. A big "thank you" is also in order to Nathalie for hosting such a fabulous event. I'm already looking forward to MBC 2011.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Decisions, Decisions...

Sigh - so much to do and so little money! Yes, "Elizabeth" moved back to Miami and found a wonderful job where she doesn't have to choose between feeding herself or feeding her dog but "Nawar" wants to spend all of "Elizabeth's" money and there's a rift growing between the two personalities. Do I prefer to eat daily, purchase gasoline to take me to and from work so I can make a living and ensure that I have utilities and a roof over my head or do I want to buy costumes that make me drool, jet set to far-off lands to engross myself in culture and take workshops from every dancer whom I aspire to be like? Decisions!! Sadly, my lucky numbers have been no luck at all since as I Iook around, I'm not swimming in a pile of money so I GUESS Nawar will have to make a few sacrifices and cut Elizabeth some slack.

Remember being a child at the grocery store with your mom or your dad, putting any and everything within arm's reach into the shopping cart? After getting scolded, mom or dad felt an ounce of pity and told you that you could have just one item of your choice. Damn! Bubblicious or Dunk-a-roos? This exact emotion has plagued me for the past few weeks because workshop after workshop taught by dancers I admire are surfacing like there's no tomorrow and logically, I can't attend them all... but I want to....

To give you an idea of what I am currently facing:

Tamalyn Dallal
Nourhan Sharif
Karim Nagi
Amar Gamal

This is just September and October and the list goes on! Add to that various performance and fashion shows, costumes, eye lashes, photo shoots, air tickets and regular weekly classes and you're living the American Dream.... living "the life" on the surface but racking up crazy debt and crying on the inside every time the credit card bill arrives. Sidebar - I don't own any credit cards. If I don't have the money for something, I don't need it! End Sidebar.

Photo courtesy of

Workshops are important tools for any dancer, from beginner to career professional. I have danced since I was a child; I've been a member of all sorts groups, troupes and entities that seemed more cult-like than anything, and I have also been a leader. I've never seen or felt the sense of community, respect and appreciation for a dance form as I've seen for belly dance and Middle Eastern dance forms in general. I currently study with someone whom, after a few classes, I am in complete and utter awe of. The other night she began teaching a form of dance that I'd never heard of [but am unequivocally in love with because hot damn, it's beautiful!] and in an instant, at another dancer's request, she spit out its history. Like other instructors, she encourages growth through learning from others. She said something to me the other day on the phone and she's right; when you walk out of a workshop you have a dance growth spurt. Learning from masters seems to automatically make you a better dancer, spiritually and technically. I'm fortunate to get to learn from someone who travels the world and has such a broad dance vocabulary so every class feels like a workshop! The feeling that I get when entering and leaving her class is the sense that takes over me when I see that someone I've belly stalked (I'll be the first to admit that I do this - no shame) will be teaching a workshop in a city near me. It's immeasurable. I turn into a kid all over again but this time, mom and dad aren't around to tell me I can only select one item so I put everything within arm's reach into the shopping cart and for a few months, Marshmallow and I live on breadless PB&J sandwiches and Goldfish crackers. How can I possibly be expected to choose?

Photo courtesy of

For the workshops that will be taking place within the next two months, I may try a series of ideas: flipping a coin, picking names from a hat, waiting until the last minute and attending those that haven't sold out.... I guess I don't have to attend all three shows at the Miami Belly Dance Convention... Sigh, life isn't fair.

*Animal Rights activists and dog lovers, Marshmallow does not go hungry! :)


Morocco: We call her "Aunt Rocky"

As we prepare to welcome the legendary Morocco to Atlanta for the first time in twenty years, I began thinking about why it is important to bring her here. Why, out all of the talented and beautiful artists, would we partner with Morocco?

Aside from being a leading authority in her field, one of the most well-respected performers in Oriental style dance, a recipient of many prestigious awards, a successful teacher and choreographer, and an artist renowned for her research and assistance in preserving traditional dance forms, I personally find her to be so much more.

How is that possible???

There's another side of Morocco never featured in all the marketing and promotional materials. You really only know this if you've had the opportunity to meet her or learn from her. I had the privilege of attending some of her workshops in April of last year and it was an amazing experience. It wasn't just the idea that I was learning from a living legend, but the fact that she's extremely humble, able to relate to all of the students in the room, and imminently APPROACHABLE.

I wasn't sure what to expect and may have been a bit intimidated because I was told she was a purist and did not approve of any deviation from traditional dance forms. I have read about her myself and I know she's credited with helping maintain the integrity and traditions of these beautiful dances, so I wasn't sure what her view would be on the newer adaptations I respect and enjoy.

After meeting her, I found her to be completely accepting of all styles of dance, not just those adhering strictly to tradition. She simply encourages dancers to become fully educated in the styles they practice. Many of you have probably heard her remark that she has no problem with fusion, but the dancers need to know what they are fusing. Otherwise, it’s just "con-fusion". These are powerful words and I don't think many of us would disagree with that statement and that’s part of the reason I wanted to take a moment to dispel some of the myths surrounding Morocco. I'm by no means an expert on this remarkable woman, but I think it's important to shed some light on the person behind the legend.

What prompted me to write this was the fact I was receiving questions from performers who practice both the traditional styles of Oriental dance and the newer fusion styles – all of whom were planning to attend our upcoming event in September. Some of them were concerned about offending Morocco and had heard she doesn't like anything outside of the true traditional art forms. This isn't true. Morocco has always exhibited a deep appreciation for the roots of our dance and the cultures from which these dances developed, but that doesn't mean she's not accepting of the newer forms of expression.

She simply wants dancers to take the time to study and understand the art they are performing. To put it simply, “One must know the rules before one breaks the rules.”

I don't find this unreasonable. So often we get caught up in technique, which is important, but not if it prevents us from taking the time to study the cultural and historical aspect of these beautiful dances and where they really come from.

Morocco was part of a discussion panel held during the NYC Theatrical Belly Dance Conference in July. It was something special to hear her contributions to the discussion of fusion versus traditional styles. The panel was comprised of dancers from various backgrounds with some known specifically for their "fusion" styles, but they all shared common ground - they were all well-educated in their studies and knew what they were talking about inside and out. And it was obvious. You could see each participant respected the other artists on the panel.

The other reason for writing this: I remember being a new student and hearing “this person is someone you want to study with”, or “that person is someone you need to take a classes from”. So often, it’s more like reading a long resume of achievements. It's hard to know who the experts are because, quite frankly, no one writes a resume or biography that doesn’t outline the achievements and accomplishments that make him or her credible. That's the purpose of a resume, and as promoters of these events, we often use those achievements to help illustrate why one should train with a particular person. It's all valid and well deserved, but I know in Morocco’s case, she brings so much more to the party than just credentials.

Let’s put aside my earlier statements that Morocco was not only humble, able to relate to her students, and approachable. She also brings a sense of humor to her work that is uncommon to say the least. She was able to engage all of the workshop attendees. She had funny references and was willing to share her personal experiences. You can't help loving the fact that this is a woman who speaks her mind and does not suffer fools lightly. She also took the time to answer the students' questions and never came across as standoffish, which is all too common. I've worked with plenty of artists who believe they have “arrived” and act as such, so it was incredibly refreshing to see this living legend so willing to be there genuinely for those students who spent their hard-earned money for the opportunity to learn from her.

Last, but not least, her teaching style is fantastic. There were several dancers in attendance who were still in the early stages of their studies, but I could see they were enjoying themselves. I think newer students sometimes believe these workshops are for intermediate and advanced dancers, but that's not the case. The workshops are tailored to all proficiency levels - you just need to be willing to learn. Regardless of your experience, you will walk away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the dance you have embraced.

Did I mention she creates some kick-ass choreographies and she's got crazy mad zill skills!?

As you can see, there are numerous reasons why we chose to partner with Morocco. She's not only a legend, but an inspirational and beautiful person who has so much to share from her many experiences. I am honored to have studied with her and look forward to working with Nara and Samora to bring her to Atlanta so we can continue to promote education and integrity throughout our community.

With love,
Jenny (Noureen)
"Uniting the dance community one shimmy at a time!"