Monday, August 24, 2009

A Summer of Bellydancing in Santa Cruz

Our bellydance community is active all-year-round holding regular showcases, specialty workshops, concert performances, or strictly social occasions, and we don’t slow down for summer. Earlier in the season, Pleasure Point Dance and Fitness (formerly Masala Raks) held its one-year anniversary hafla (see blog posted July 15). In late July, Mountain Tribal (Kim, Audrey, and Renée) hosted another bellydance flea market. These are great opportunities to buy, sell, or trade costume items we no longer use. They are especially good for beginners who are just building their costume collections: good items at greatly discounted prices.
It was a beautiful day at Kim’s house in Boulder Creek. Shade was provided by a large fig tree; an old, but handy swing set worked perfectly for me to set up shop; we drank water from her collection of jelly jars and chatted happily with one another. Shoppers strolled in and joined us, alternating between browsing the goods and settling in for a visit. We had such a good time that we began planning the next one before this one was over. (By the way, the money I raised at the sale to help pay for the heater I set on fire back in May while recuperating from shoulder surgery…that money…I blew a goodly portion of it on this beautiful pink dress I found on Haight St., in SF. Look how perfectly it matches the pink tassel belt I made last year! I couldn’t say no.)
On the 30th of July, Helené hosted her quarterly bellydance showcase at Don Quixote’s Mexican Restaurant. This always includes live music by Orient’al with Armando and Michael Gruber (left) and this month with guest oud player Mark Bradlyn. In addition to her own solos, Helené invites some of our local favorite soloists and small companies. This month it included Rebecca, who carried us away with a Turkish Rom, Sese—delightful and funny as always, and Janelle wearing a gorgeous new white cabaret outfit. Malia came down from Half Moon Bay as the featured guest. Dripping in self-confidence (and black and silver sequins), she performed a traditional raks sharki masterfully. I’ve seen Malia perform Saudi Arabian khaleegi and Tunisian traditional with similar depth making her one of my favorite artists. She is truly inspirational.
The 18th annual Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz began on Aug 2. The 14-day event includes a two-day Music, Art, and Wine Festival on the streets of downtown Santa Cruz. It features all variety of music and dance and this year Janelle Rodriguez was invited to produce the final set on Saturday. She gave us an hour-long set of bellydancing with Orient’al once again accompanying the dancers. The set featured her company, Desert Dream (left), and her student group The Rakset Mizmar Dancers (who made their debut at the aforementioned anniversary hafla).  There were solos and duets by Kelly Elyse, Victoria Silva, Summer Duppen, and Anne Abraham. Helené made a brief appearance in a solo improvisation. But for me, Tribal Moon was the Wow act of the day.
Tribal Moon (right) is an American Tribal Style company under the direction of Kathy Stahlman, a former dancer with FatChanceBellyDance in San Francisco. I’ve been studying ATS (a form of group improvisation) for some years and recently, as I focused on my solo work, I thought I was through with tribal. This performance set me straight. The riotous colors of the costumes and the vibrancy and power of the dance made me want to rush home and dress up and dance with my friends…or go take classes with Kathy S…neither of which I did.
These are only some of the bellydance performances that took place this summer. I missed Sahar’s students on Sunday at the Cabrillo Festival; the Park Avenue Belly Dance Studio’s presentation “Evolution of the American Belly Dancer,” June’s Cypress Raks, most of the Saturday Crepe Place showcases, and innumerable other festivals and restaurants where our dancers performed. Last night, after a 3-month hiatus, I joined these artists and performed at the August Cypress Raks.
The beautiful Aruba is hostess for this monthly showcase at the Cypress Lounge in downtown Santa Cruz. (See my blog My SITA Chapter 7: Solo Improvised Dance at Bellydance Showcase posted April 6, 2009). I performed second, after Nathalia who I first saw at the Cabrillo performance with Rakset Mizmar. I watched from the “wings” and wondered how I was going to follow this sexy, nubile young woman. My answer: with maturity.
I was nervous all week, afraid I might fall victim to some kind of kinesthetic alzheimer’s. After a few libations to help me forget my fears, I let loose on the dance floor. I performed to a tune called “Danzon Barocco” by Cuban flute master Maraca. Danzon is an old Cuban style, with a more moderate tempo and lyricism than salsa. Maraca’s flute playing is as sweet as a songbird and I let myself revel in it. I danced for the crowd and, best of all, I danced for my husband, Charles, who rarely attends these events. He doesn’t care for Middle Eastern music, but luckily, hardly anybody used it last night. We heard Latin, techno, even Abba! But no hardcore, traditional bellydance hits. The final performance was by Ginger (aka Aruba) y Los Cubanos Calientes, who danced to a 1940s Cuban song. They were fabulously entertaining in their fluorescent green, pink, and orange ruffles.
At the end of the evening, we all got up and danced to “Hips don’t lie” and some hot salsa numbers. I danced ecstatically with all the artists: Nathalia, Sabra, Johara, Saphra, Safiyah, Rebecca, members of Arba’a and Raqs the Casbah, Ginger and her backup dancers. I was flying high and loving it. I achieved in this humble venue something I have been seeking for a lifetime: ecstasy through a fully embodied dance to beautiful music before a joyous community. Thanks, Aruba, for making this possible for me.

for more photos from these and other events visit

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