Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Amani with  her band Mazaag:George Sedak & Jonaton Gomes Derbaq

Amani Jabril is a sizzling blonde fireball on stage as well as in “real life”. Though she’d been on my radar for years, I hadn’t seen her dance live until the 2011 Las Vegas belly Dance Intensive. Her two performances, a raucous shaabi number in the evening Pro Show and an uber-juicy Egyptian number on the festival stage the next afternoon raqqed my world…and I wasn’t alone! The audiences for both sets were eating her up and howlin’ for more! 

In June 2013, we met again on board the Queen Mary, as instructors for MECDA’s Cairo Caravan. Once again, her performance blew me away- but even before she danced, I was stalking her…not a difficult task considering her cabin was across the hallway from mine!  Her interpretation of Arabic music is incredible, and she has that hard-to-harness, luxuriously laid back Egyptian thing going on like its second nature.  In fact, even though I knew she came from Georgia, I was taken aback to hear her bona fide Southern Belle accent when she spoke- that’s how transporting her performances are!
Amani & me at Cairo Caravan 2013
Again that night at show, she killed it with a completely jaw-dropping contemporary Egyptian piece, in a stunning nude net gown with insane sparkly star-shaped cut outs over her girly curves. Her interpretation of Arabic music is incredible, and she has that hard-to-harness, luxuriously laid back Egyptian thing going on like its second nature. This isn’t surprising, cause she’s danced and taught across the Middle East and North Africa, including stints in the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.  She was also one of ten professional dancers chosen to participate in Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy’s Egyptian Dance Intensive, held in Cairo. She also spent the better part of July 2013 in Iraq, researching Iraqi kawleeya, an indigenous gypsy dance that’s akin to khaligi with lots of intricate foot patterns and lots of hair –tossing.

 Though kawleeya is kind of trendy right now (especially among Russian belly dancers) it might seem somewhat crazy for a dancer to pick war-torn Iraq to conduct her field research… but this woman is not just a super-hawt dancer; she’s a smart cookie, too. Amani has a Master’s Degree in Anthropology, and is a Middle East specialist, and she teaches at Atlanta’s Kennesaw University.        
Amani at BDUC photo: Carl Sermon

In fact, she’s so knowledgeable and talented, I’m co-hosting her in early November in Los Angeles, to teach at Dance Garden   on the 2nd and 3rd and perform with her band Mazaag (featuring George Sadak and Jonatan Gomes Derbaq) at Skinny’s lounge November 4th. Scroll down to bottom of this page for info on that.

But let’s get to Amani’s Backstage Rituals, told in her very own words:

“When Princess Farhana invited me to share my backstage rituals, I began to seriously think about what I would write about and my thoughts turned to those important practices I turn to time and time again that help me to cultivate a strong performance.
 I’ve come to think of these rituals as the ground in which my performance is rooted. Actually, this starts weeks and even months in advance working through music and refining movement so that I can be well prepared for whatever a show might demand. The day of any performance, however, there are a handful of steps that I take to get myself stage-ready.
These include: a long nap to energize and reset; then it’s time for make-up and hair, done alone and by myself; after a bag check, I commute to my gig while listening to lots of fun music; after arriving in the venue, I really take time to look around the space and check out my audience; after that, it’s a matter of staying loose and relaxed; finally, before I step into any performance, I say a little prayer, and just take time to breathe. Like most of you, preparing for performance requires preparation of mind, body and heart and I have become rather attached to my pre-performance routine.

So what happens when you are tossed headfirst out of your normal environment and the rituals you regularly turn to for comfort are unavailable to you?

I have been very fortunate to be given opportunities to study, perform and even teach dance in the Middle East. My experiences in Egypt, the U.A.E. and Lebanon have been very rewarding but they have also come with some truly unique challenges, especially when it comes to maintaining my grounding rituals.

The story I would like to share with you is of one performance while I was in the Middle East and the preparations leading up to my five minutes of fame on national television. To tell you the truth, it has taken me several attempts to write this post. Recalling the events and trying to find the best way to relate them you brought back all the acid butterflies, the tension and doubts I had in those moments. While I am happy to be able to share this story with you, I am also challenged to be able to relate the whole story to you from my point of view while respecting the privacy of others who played a part in the story. Names of people and places have been changed or simply omitted for this reason.

As I mentioned earlier, my typical performance day would include a long nap to charge-up and reset before I begin to get into make-up. This particular performance day, however, I had spent with friends walking around the downtown of a certain Middle Eastern city. Our hotel was easily located across the street from the theatre where we were working from and the neighborhood included many wonderful little cafes and shops. Within walking distance from our neighborhood was the corniche where you could take in the breathtaking view of the sea while strolling past private beach clubs and high-end seafood restaurants, smaller coffee shops and the odd fresh juice or flower vendor.

We had arrived in the city only a few days earlier and were starting to get a feel for the atmosphere of the event we were at. Checking in and meeting the Sponsor the day before, I was greeted with a contract that I was expected to sign. Of course, contracts are a regular part of any working relationship and can be pretty mundane, but this one was unique.

This particular agreement detailed what dance movements were considered unacceptable and those, like big hip-circles and belly work, that should not be performed at all. Wow! What was this? Was I expected to agree to these conditions because I was going to be part of a televised show? Was this actual censorship or was it one man’s ounce of power and sense of aesthetic being held over our heads? It was hard to tell, but it certainly gave me a sense of what working here was going to be like.

The next day, performance day, we set out downtown. At the top of my shopping list was double-sided tape to help secure the costume I’d be wearing later that day in the show. I loved the curve-hugging costume in question; a beautiful dress with just the perfect amount of lift, cutouts in all the right places, but still covered enough to appease more conservative tastes. Just in case.

 Earlier that day, my costuming and music choices had come into serious question, which had led to an impromptu inspection and criticism of both. As I understood it, the Sponsor was concerned whether or not my costume and music would be appropriate for the televised performance I would later be seen in. Standing there, feeling their critical gaze upon me, and the entire contents of my suitcase, I started to worry what would happen if they did not like my costume selection. I had worn the same thing in another Middle Eastern country without a problem. Would they simply cut me from the show if they deemed my costumes unacceptable? Finally, my favorite dress, the one with cutouts in all the right places was “Ok’d”. Still, they had serious reservations about the cut outs on the thighs and the plunging neckline. In fact, it was suggested that I cover-up the cut outs completely. Instead, I employed copious amounts of double-sided tape up and down the thighs and around the neckline so that the dress wouldn’t move an inch or expose any more flesh than tolerable.

After finding the tape, we made it back to the hotel and were able to settle in for a bit. Finally! I could get back into a more normal routine, get a nap and get my head in the game. Only moments after closing my eyes, however, there came a knock at the hotel door. It was my new friend Sheila staying just down the hall, “Are you sleeping? Aren’t you getting ready?” It didn’t seem like she meant to let me go back to sleep, so I got up, plugged my curling iron in. Sheila chatted and chatted as I started in on my make-up. I never realized until then how private putting on make-up is for me. Now, the only person I can comfortably share that with is my husband. Otherwise, I truly prefer to be totally alone with the mirror and my thoughts. Well, that wasn’t going to be an option here, clearly.

“So what music are you dancing to? Let me hear it!” Sheila demanded. Wow! That was bold! Yes, folks, here is where I just kind of lost my mind. The day had simply piled up around Sheila’s and me friendly, but totally intrusive demand just sent me over the edge! Despite years of experience I lost it and started to cry. My new friend, really not understanding how tensions surrounding the show had piled up and not understanding that she was intruding on my backstage preparations, looked me in the eye and told me to stop crying.

“You don’t think that Dina cries do you?”

 I had had enough. “Of course she does!” I snarled,
“She just doesn’t let anybody she her do it.”

My well- intentioned friend stayed for a few moments more and then departed in a huff. I certainly didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I was glad to see her go. Finally, I could just be alone to prepare. I repaired my face and packed my bag for the trip across the street to the theatre. “



  DOORS:  6:30 PM    SHOW 7:15 PM   $15.00

Skinny’s Lounge
 4923 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA

For more info on Amani, visit her website:

 See Amani in action here:

Amanai & Mazaag’s workshops at Dance Garden, Los Angeles
 Nov. 2: Iraqi Kawleeya and Nov 3, teaching with Mazaag


Monday, October 21, 2013


 You do know that stretching in itself is not a warm up, riiiight?

Years ago, it was considered a safe practice to stretch as a way of getting warmed up, but nowadays health and fitness experts uniformly agree that it is unsafe, whether for sports or any type of dance. However, stretching is an important part of getting ready to dance- or for cooling down after you dance.

Time and time again I’ve seen dancers just jump right into full on dancing without any sort of warm up at all, let along stretching.  In the past, I was frequently guilty of doing this, too…but not any more! Though this might occasionally fly when you’re twenty, or that rare instance when you’re super late for a gig, it’s definitely not a good or healthy habit to be in. You want a long career, right?  And to be able to dance without pain? This might sound crazy to you, many dancers, even seasoned professionals don’t know how to stretch properly.

 Stretching is absolutely necessary for your body’s performance- whether you’re on a playing field, doing every day tasks or on a stage. Stretching helps our muscles stay limber, elongated and flexible. As dancers, these three things grant us a greater range of motion, which is important for our technique overall, and in general is essential proper posture, as well as our off-stage well being. Every one of us has a different physiology-and some are definitely more limber than others. Many of us can go easily into the splits naturally, while others have a hard time doing a simple lunge. No matter how “tight” your body feels you can still increase your flexibility by stretching properly and safely… and by working up to being more elastic slowly.
Let me say this one more time: stretching in itself is not a warm up.
Here are some hints to help you stretch safely and effectively:

Ready, Set, Go!
 If you’re about to begin a stretching regimen, make sure you have everything you need: a place where you can really spread out, a fluffy towel or yoga matt,  resistance bands and/or a balance ball if you use them…and ample space. Make sure you’re well hydrated. If you’d like to work at home by yourself, make sure that you have done some aerobic dancing before you stretch, or taken a very brisk walk.

Before You Stretch
After  about five or ten  minutes of walking or dancing, begin to  move your limbs slowly, deliberately and gently by doing modified dance movements before you focus on stretching.

Stretch…Don’t Strain
Never ever stretch cold muscles, do not force your body into a stretch, and please don’t bounce when you are stretching.  This is and called ballistic stretching, and could make injuries more likely. Holding a static stretch (where you stay in the same position for some time) can be injurious if your muscles are not already warmed up. Passive stretching, the kind where you use a ball or a strap to assist your muscles to stretch is far more gentle that either of the previous two.

Ease Into Stretching Slowly
 This means before each session, as well as pacing yourself and not taking on more than you can initially handle! A good way to begin a weekly stretching practice is to aim for a couple of ten or fifteen minute stretching sessions each week.  If you are in regular dance classes, this may already be covered, but if not, make sure to ease into working each major muscle group for maximum results.

There are many awesome resources on DVD as well as online which will help you identify certain muscle groups and the stretches that help you target specific areas, but there’s nothing like getting feedback from a live teacher!  If you are unsure how to begin a safe stretching practice, or are working towards definite fitness goals, get some instruction.  You can’t go wrong with Yoga or Pilates, but even a “stretch and tone” class at a local fitness center would  probably be beneficial.

 Make Stretching A Regular Part Of Your  Dance Practice
 Once you’ve gotten used to stretching, your body will crave it, so be sure to  warm up properly- and then stretch before and after  each  rehearsal, and show as well as at dance classes.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


It’s a few weeks before Halloween, which has always been my favorite holiday ever...  so, in honor of the season, here is an article about the way I feel about lending out my costumes at this time of year. 

 I wrote this in October 2010, but of course, it still applies!

If you are like me- and if you’re reading this, I’m relatively sure you are- you're already aware that this is the time of year when everyone you know hits you up about borrowing or even renting your stage costumes.

 Call me selfish, call me witchy, or just call me a “Hallo-weenie”… but I NEVER lend my costumes out for Halloween (or  for Burning Man, or any other event for that matter) unless I already know it’s something that could be replaced, or is an item  I could easily part with.

The stage costumes I own, not to mention my crazy collection of circus outfits, pirate hats, robot suits, saloon girl headdresses, feather fans, vintage corsets, kitty ears, rhinestone studded masquerade masks, wigs, super-hero boots, vampire capes, real and fake fur coats- need I go on? - are the "tricks of my trade", not a treat for someone who won't respect them. 

They took a long time and a lot of money for me to collect, not to mention the cost of  maintaining them.

My costume collection could probably have it’s own episode on the show “Hoarders”, but there’s a reason I have all this stuff around: it’s my livelihood! 

These pieces are my tools, my office supplies, and my working uniform... and in most cases, very expensive. But whether it’s an Egyptian  belly dance costume I paid $700.00 for, a vintage  burlesque outfit  or pair of  old character shoes  that I embellished myself, they are professional accoutrements that I can’t do my job properly without.

Oh, I used to be very generous about lending out costumes and costume pieces for non-dancers to use at Halloween parties, but it always ended badly.

Things would come back to me (usually months later) ripped, stained, with burn-holes from cigarettes or wax from candles, or just covered in cheap drugstore make-up or greasepaint from  Halloween Headquarters or The Spirit Store. And some things never came back at all!

Would you lend someone your laptop if you knew they were going to use it-and maybe accidentally leave it- at a club? Would you let a friend borrow an expensive camera to bring to a party where all the guests were going to be falling-down drunk? I thought not!

I think the reason most “civilians” want to borrow costumes is simply because they want to look good… and they also have nothing but the best intentions in borrowing these things.

  But the average person doesn’t realize that for their seasonal party-needs, a $30.00 costume from the toy store would be fine.

Want some help with your Halloween make-up? I’d be happy to assist you.

But don’t even think about asking to borrow my costumes… cause you’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hands!