Dancers Belly Up
to Beat Bush
Photos by James Dudek & Victoria Seidman
A group of talented dancers gathered on October 6th, 2004, to try and shake up the results of the upcoming presidential election; more than a dozen dancers donated their performances to "Dance for Democracy," a fundraiser I organized for John Kerry. The evening turned out to be more successful than I had hoped; the standing room-only crowd at the Afghan Oasis Restaurant in Berkeley, a solid mix of dancers (including Stasha, Asia and Zuleika), fans and "civilians," raised over $2100 for the Kerry campaign.
I was inspired to bring dancers together for a political cause after attending Café Bellie, a quarterly benefit organized by Luna for a homeless women's shelter.
From the beginning, enthusiasm for the event was tremendous. The Suhaila Dance Company and Asata and her troupe, Raks al Tasneem, were the first to sign on. Others soon followed- Fat Chance Belly Dance, Frederique from Bellygroove, Luna and her troupe Shuvani, and Zari. As word spread about the event, I reluctantly had to turn down dancers eager to support the cause. Dancers and non-dancers also contributed by donating prizes raffled off during intermission- Dhyanis offered a beautiful beaded choker of her own design; Suhaila donated instructional and performance videos; other "mainstream" merchants gave gift certificates for dinner, yoga, and facial and massage treatments.
While dining on a buffet of Afghani cuisine, the audience enjoyed the diverse lineup of styles: The Suhaila Dance Company opened the evening with a bang, performing a hip-hop cymbal dance to one of Suhaila's original compositions. Cymbals segued into a sword dance, also performed to an original fusion of hip-hop and Arabic instruments. Frederique improvised a self-described "urban tribal" dance to electronic music, mesmerizing the audience with her snaky moves. Many folks got to their feet for better views of Frederique's backbends and floorwork. Luna entered through the audience and worked the crowd, dancing to "High Noon" by Kruder and Dorfmeister. Everyone was wowed by her dazzling, award-winning "moon goddess" costume, complete with moon mask and Isis wings. Zari demonstrated her dancing and language skills, mouthing the lyrics to "Helwa Loaaba Di," and capturing the patriotic spirit of the evening in a bright red beledi dress and blue double canes.
After intermission, Shuvani's first appearance of the night paid tribute to Bollywood. Dressed sumptuously in velvet, the dancers performed a bouncy, Indian-influenced number to "Dhola re Dhola" from the musical soundtrack of "Devdas." In one of those backstage panic moments, I was forced to stop the performance when the loudspeakers threatened to topple over from Shuvani's high-energy jumping! Raks al Tasneem danced next, and continued to back up Asata who entered playing finger cymbals. Several women in the audience told me afterwards that they found her dancing particularly inspirational. Colette Hunter, Wendy Allen and Anita Lalwani of Fat Chance Belly Dance showed impeccable tribal precision in an improvised set that included music by Mahmoud Fadl, Amr Diab, Hossam Ramzy, and the Master Musicians of Jajouka. The final act of the evening was another turn by Shuvani, this time dancing to traditional Egyptian Saiidi and Ghawazee folk songs. Dancer Holly Shaw performed a spirited cane dance, Hannah Romanowsky showed off her balancing skills and flexibility with a tray dance, and Luna brought down the house by dancing on glasses while balancing a flaming sword!
Before this event, I was not involved in the dance community except for occasionally attending festivals. In the course of organizing it, I found a vast amount of community support, both material and moral. I was offered advice and encouragement from many sides. The entire experience was overwhelmingly positive and convinced me that activism, for whatever cause, is self-affirming and something we should undertake more often as individuals and as a community.
Ready for more?
It was the first all tribal belly dance event sponsored by MECDA IE and took place on August 21st, 2004 in Montclair, California.
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