|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!
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. “
AMANI JABRIL & MAZAAG
CD RELEASE PARTY
MON, NOVEMBER 4, 2013 AT SKINNY’S LOUNGE
Featuring ROXXANNE SHELBY, KAMALA ALMANZAR, DEVILLA, NASILA and PRINCESS FARHANA… WITH LIVE MUSIC BY AMANI’s band MAZAAG!!!!
4923 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA
For more info on Amani, visit her website:
See Amani in action here: http://www.youtube.com/user/AmaniJabril
Amanai & Mazaag’s workshops at Dance Garden, Los Angeles
Nov. 2: Iraqi Kawleeya and Nov 3, teaching with Mazaag