Thursday, May 20, 2010
GYPSIES, TRAMPS & THIEVES
This year I have been on the road non-stop… right now, I feel like I “woke up” in the middle of May-it’s hard to believe that 2010 is almost half over. After many back-to-back trips, most recently to Miami and Tribal Fest in Northern California, I’m home in LA and, miraculously, will be here for three full weeks. Being home with my wonderful boyfriend and my four amazing kitties-not to mention sleeping in my own bed and NOT living out of a suitcase seems like quite a luxury…but even with my vagabond lifestyle and occasional bouts of home sickness, I love my life. Even though I have been doing this for years, it never gets old. Every day I am not only thankful that I am doing something I love to make a living, but also that my profession allows me to meet so many remarkable people- both artists and behind-the-scenes folks!
On the first weekend of May, Joharah brought me to Florida for her spring event. a weekend of workshops and shows at The Miccosukee Resort, just north of Miami. From the moment I arrived, it was non-stop fun. Joharah’s assistant Jeanette picked me up and brought me to Joharah’s house, for an incredible homemade dinner. In addition to being a costume designer, running a bustling import-export business and putting on huge events, Joharah is also a kick-ass gourmet cook! And so funny- what a sense of humor that woman has - we got along so well immediately, she is charming and earthy. Her house is literally a palace of bling-bling; full of gigantic piles of costumes, mounds of rhinestone jewelry, and the tabletops littered with intricate little perfume bottles from the Arab Emirates. The walls are hung with hand-sewn Egyptian tapestries, there was furniture covered with gold leaf and made of wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl, Saudi-style low cushioned couches, Moroccan rugs… it was a feast for the eyes.
My workshops started the very next day, and all I have to say is that Joharah knows how to throw an event! The whole weekend was so well organized, not to mention being completely fun and totally detail-oriented. Her support staff and family members help her and everything runs like a well-oiled machine…. The theme for this weekend was “Seventies” and it was carried out in full even to Disco-Ball decorations on every table. At the end of the workshops, Joharah gave away many full costumes for door prizes.
Miami is chock full of incredible, well-trained, dedicated dancers who are beautiful inside and out. Everyone brought their A-game to my workshops and to the stage. There is a diva-licious fierceness that the local dancers have which seems to be unique to the Miami scene. I have never seen such collective hot attitude and stage presence-not to mention such an assortment of awesome, sparkly, animal-print costumes- anywhere else. All of the performances on both of the nights were great, but a few really stood out to me… and two were even dedicated to me- what an honor. One was from Superior Dance Arts, directed by Monica and Sarah Silvestri, and featured a hot chair dance: imagine my surprise when, at the end, the chairs were tipped over and the underside spelled out “F-A-R-H-A-N-A”. The other dedication was offered from Jihan Jamal’s Bellyrinas. I had never met Jihan before… and was excited to, because when I first started belly dancing, I actually carried around a picture of her in my wallet that I’d cut out of “Arabesque” Magazine. I used to stare at it every day for inspiration. I was so touched that Jihan dedicated her group’s performance to me because of my baby-dancer/ fan-girl obsession, that when I admitted this to Jihan afterwards, we both became teary-eyed. Another beautiful dancer I shared a teary moment with was Lamis, a veteran dancer and one of the “mothers” of the Miami scene, to whom the entire event was dedicated. Lamis performed an elegant fan number with huge Sally Rand fans, and was a light-filled presence both onstage and off. I had met dancer Princess Turimmi in Cairo last year, but had never seen her perform, which she did Saturday with her new Egyptian husband, Mahmoud Shalaby. They did a Tannoura (whirling dervish) duet- and for some reason, perhaps a spiritual connection, Tannoura always makes me cry… so yes, it was a tear-filled weekend, but oh, such happy tears! Last but not least, I was totally blown away by Andrus, a young make dancer who dances modern Egyptian style. In addition to being completely fun offstage, his stage presence is dynamic; he also has impeccable technique, gorgeous, clean bodylines and an impressive sense of control.
I also got to hang out with my pal Carrara Nour, a Connecticut-based dancer who was visiting Florida, and Michael Toscano, who'd been a production assistant on my movie "Stuck!". Both of them came to Miami and brought a lot of laughter with them!
After Miami, I was home for two days and then off to Northern California for Tribal Fest 10: A Decade Of Deca-Dance. One of my favorite events ever, I have been teaching and performing there for the past six years, and it’s always a blast! Even though Tribal Fest was the very first-and still the largest -Tribal and Tribal Fusion event in the world, every year it just gets bigger…and better! And every year I’ve attended, I come home hoarse from laughing and yelling- because it’s always so much fun! Kajira Djoumahna and her husband Chuck Lehnard really know how to throw one crazy party that is also another event which practically runs itself: with total precision and a lot of behind-the-scenes help from volunteers. If you have never attended Tribal Fest before- I urge you to… no matter what style of dance you like or perform, you will be left dumbfounded because it’s such an eye-opener! Such diversity of style, so many terrific up-and-comers, so much creativity in dancing and in costuming.
For starters, here’s a sampling of just some of the teachers: Rachel Brice, Carolena Nerrichio and Fatchancebellydance, Amy Sigil & Unmata, Kami Liddle, John Compton & Hahbi ‘Ru, Heather Stants, Ariellah, Deb Rubin, Sharon Kihara, Suhaila Salimpour, Tempest, Paulette Rhys-Dennis, Zoe Jakes, Artemis Mouratt, Jeremiah Soto, Elizabeth Strong and Mardi Love. Everything from folkloric Rom dance to yoga, from “old-school” Tribal to deejay mixing to all sorts of fusion is offered… everything that is except possibly strict cabaret-style dancing- but this year, even that taboo was broken- and not by me…. But by Rachel Brice, who taught an entire workshop on fusing Tribal with cabaret!
Over the course of the three days of performances, there were way too many stellar shows to mention. But some high points were: rising young dancer Frank Farinaro’s athletic set, Zoe Jakes, Elizabeth Strong and Rose Harden’s Beats Antique extravaganza, which featured everything from Roaring Twenties style showgirl floor work to fan dancing to a precision chair dance done in white Israeli gas masks… Colorado’s gorgeously blinged-out fusionistas, TribalTique; John Compton and Habi’ Ru, who are always crowd-pleasers, Ela Roger’s elegant solo, and Kami Liddle’s beautiful dance, which, unbelieveablely was performed less than an hour after a car accident: she was rear-ended on her way to the event! More jaw-dropping performances included Colleena Shakti’s exquisite Indian piece-she is always so divine; and of course the fantastic group work of, as I like to say, “The Big Four”: Fatchancebellydance, Kajira’s Blacksheep Bellydance, Unmata and Gypsy Caravan.
Perhaps the highest-or lowest… as the case may be… point in all of the shows was Kajira’s husband Chuck’s novelty tribute to Tribal Fest’s 10th year anniversary,” King Chuck and The Chuckettes”, featuring Rachel Brice, John Compton, Heather Stants, Tempest, Kajira, Michelle Manx, Amy Sigil and myself, with sign language interpretation by Lori Tawasha of Evil Eye Belly Dance.
Done to the tune of Steve Martin’s “King Tut”, King Chuck and The Chuckettes had one highly disorganized on-site rehearsal, which resulted in gales of laughter and disbelief from all who participated. Rachel Brice showed up to the rehearsal all serious and ready to tape the choreography, which mainly consisted of all the dancers doing kooky “walk Like An Egyptian” cheesy moves, perfecting our “show-biz faces” and generally hamming it up. Chuck admitted then and there that when he asked all of us to join in, he never dreamed we’d really take him up on it!
We performed our debut -and farewell - performance on Saturday afternoon in silly, over-the-top costumes, including John Compton dressed as a mummy and Amy Sigil in a cabaret outfit that nearly fell off as she took the stage! There’s nothing quite like the backstage mechanics of a “number” like this, including Chuck’s bout of stage fright and not to mention seeing Rachel Brice in a cheap Cleopatra wig dumping an entire can of baby-powder onto John Compton’s mummy rags to “age” them! Heather Stants had just run off the stage following her performance and was transformed immediately into a tacky showgirl with a cheap wig and my sparkly leopard-print caftan. The on-stage dancing was constantly interrupted by John Compton’s “Mummy Dearest” antics, as he pawed at Rachel and me, leering one-eyed through his mummy rags. Frank Farinaro even threw underwear onto the stage as though it was a Tom Jones concert!
It’s insane moments like these that could never happen at another dance festival that makes Tribal Fest unique and so much fun! If you’d like to view the hysteria, you can see it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIq1W1gckQ0
With that, I’m off to actually cook dinner…. something I NEVER gets to do when I am on the road!
Photos: Rachel Brice, John Compton and I backstage at Tribal Fest before performing "King Chuck" ; Andrus and I hanging out post-show in Miami