An overview of my weekend at Essence of Belly Dance 8 (September 21-23, 2018)
Essence is one of the highlights of my year. It's filled with reunions, awesome classes and lots of hard work. I work the event as part of Team Essence therefore fitting in all the classes I would like to take is tricky without a time turner. For Essence 8 class options included classes with Sadie Marquardt, Mardi Love, Kami Liddle, Victoria Teel, Lebanese Simon, and dual Salimpour Format Certified dancers Abigail Keyes, Rachel George and Sabriye Tekbilek. Additionally Suhaila Salimpour held a Suhaila Level One intensive and a Jamila Format overview. Add to that the Friday night Competition, Saturday night Gala and The Bal Anat 50th Anniversary Tour Show on Sunday afternoon, we had an action packed weekend! Time was tight but I did get to indulge in all of Mardi's classes and take Victoria's Teel Fan Method class.
I was most excited about taking class with Mardi and she did not disappoint,
I was in dancer heaven.
In 2009 Le Serpent Rouge was the first professional belly dance show I saw and while I enjoyed every second of it Mardi's musicality and her calm and regal demeanor completely mesmerized me. I was fortunate enough to be her assistant for the weekend and it was a pleasure to get to participate in all of her classes. Offerings included a fun and dynamic choreography, a focus on deliciously slow movement and new movement combinations featuring twists, a personal favorite! I'm excited to see her popping up at more festivals next year; Migrations and Art of the Belly.
In October 2016 I went with a couple of friends to Huntsville, AL to see Moria Chappell's show Incantation. Hosted by Lisa Wylie's Nomadic Tapestry and featuring Victoria Teel. I had seen a video of Victoria performing the Teel Fan Method (seen here with her super fan) and wanted to study with her. I must admit that I haven't been consistent in my studies but I'm re-inspired to commit to them once again. Victoria meshes dancing and fan work seamlessly. We were treated to a beautiful and emotional performance on Saturday. It's very cool to see if you're not familiar with her, be sure to check it out. She offers a variety of classes via PowHow.
While I'm not personally drawn to dance competitions I do understand why others do it. If you want feedback from top performers/educators it's one of the few ways to accomplish that nowadays. The prizes don't hurt either. The Essence competition was split into three categories Essence Rising and Essence Soaring with both an Orientale and Fusion category. Many wonderful contestants showed up and represented their styles well and they should all be very proud. It takes a lot of courage to get on stage for the sole purpose of being judged by leaders of your art form. Congratulations to our Essence Soaring Winners Ciana in the Orientale category and ShoShannah Estell in the Fusion category who each walked away with $1,000 in cash.
I enjoyed the show on Saturday immensely it had a lot of variety and all of our guest instructor pieces where a joy to watch. Kami's pieces in particular were very moving and showed strength and vulnerability simultaneously. She always moves me and these two performances were works of art and some of my favorites of the night.
#soapboxmoment My only grievance is one shared with quite a few other community members, performers leaving before all of the performances have been presented, what!?! I will never understand the mentality of I danced, I can go. It shows zero consideration to the other dancers who have worked just as hard as the dancers walking out to get their piece ready for the stage.
In a gala setting like Essence those who are closing out the evening are all engaging performers in their own right and you can learn so much by simply watching them. If you missed Simon and Sadie's debke finale I'm sad for you it was a fun way to close out the evening, we were all up clapping or dancing by the end.
The leaving before the show has ended is a huge problem unique to the belly dance community. I would ask these dancers to please stop and consider how you are projecting yourself to the rest of the community. While I understand that things come up and emergencies arise, you can't possibly have an emergency every time you perform. At the end of the day we all do what we feel is best and in this moment all I can do is point it out. I do hope that it gives those in the habit of leaving before the final performance of the night pause and they take the time to reflect upon it. #rantover
While I have deep respect for the style and acknowledge that Jamila is at the root of my dance studies, stylistically the Salimpour style is not my cup of tea. I was concerned about how much Salimpour flavored belly dance I'd be treated to over the course of the weekend. However I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Salimpour certified instructors' performances on Saturday. I appreciated what Abigail (top right), Rachel (bottom right) and Sabriye (left) presented.
The Bal Anat 50th Anniversary Tour performance was on Sunday afternoon. Jamila Salimpour's passing in December 2017 was a loss felt across the greater belly dance community and this was a lovely reminder of her contributions to our art form. It's also fantastic to see a company with such a long and strong lineage persevere. I had a few friends participating in the Bal Anat show and I know how hard they've worked and how much they've sacrificed to bring this vision to life. That particular experience will never repeat itself again and I for one am glad that I was able to witness it.
The show opened with dancers coming out through the aisles pumping up the crowd before the first piece. I kept trying to place a lady who's energy was contagious and was working the crowd. I realized it was Rebaba of the inspiring Hahbi'Ru, (photo on the right with Heidi) also a former member of Bal Anat! It was so cool to see her and local Georgia teacher and performer Alima up on stage celebrating their belly dance roots. The beauty of this dance is it's inclusiveness of people from all walks of life. The dancers up on stage ranged in age from late teens to late 70's, there's nothing more beautiful than that in my opinion.
I liked that the show has evolved, the Bal Anat revival video I'd seen in the past was perhaps more true to Jamila's original vision. Keeping the tradition of having a chorus of performers on stage for the entire duration of the show is very smart. Transitions are quick and the energy level was up the entire time keeping the audience fully engaged. The new numbers that were added keep the show fresh without losing it's roots. The new voi (veil poi) piece being a personal favorite, the dancing and voi work was intricately weaved together.
I'm very proud of the Georgia Salimpour Collective members especially the four ladies who did the Moroccan piece. It looked really good and the audience was proudly cheering you ladies on. All the pieces featuring members of the collective: Algerian, Pot and Sword were a delight to watch. The whole thing was produced well and I really enjoyed it.
This leg of the tour has a final stop in Chicago but already plans are being made for future tour dates in case you missed out this time around.
It was a wonderful weekend of learning, seeing old friends, making new ones, witnessing art and fueling my creativity and love for this art form. I can't wait for next year!
Shout out to Atlanta's favorite belly dance event photographers: Studio Jaki for the wonderful images she captured throughout the gala and Kismet Photography for the competition shots. Thank you for allowing me use of your photos in this blog post be sure to check them out.
Tickets are now on sale for Essence 9
Save the date:
September 19-22, 2019
Mohamed Shahin, Arish Lam, Aziza of Cairo and Amy Sigil (UNMATA)