Rakkasah East 2001 Report
part 1
by Zulieka

Zulieka here, reporting back on my trip to Rakkasah East on October 19th, 20th and 21st of 2001, in New Jersey. I went to the event to see Rhea (my Belly Dance teacher who lives in Greece) and her two daughters, Piper and Melinda. Rhea and I timed our flights so that we arrived at the airport around the same time and Piper picked us up. We all stayed at the Marriot in Somerset, New Jersey, which is a very scenic town. Fall colors were in abundance, and Somerset is not a bit like Richmond California where Shukriya holds Rakkasah West.

The Ukrainian Cultural Center where the festival was held was literally across the street so we walked to classes and the festival, which was convenient. The hotel was 100% sold out with lots of different events. Somerset is a "happening town" apparently. Melinda, her daughter, Zoe (who is 19 months now and the cutest girl in the world), and husband, Jamie, arrived the next day.

Melinda and Jamie have produced a creditable professional teaching video and CD for Rhea to sell at events in which she teaches or performs.

We had a sales booth with flyers and literature about Melinda and Piper too. They have a web site and are marketing themselves as: www.daughtersofrhea.com

Rhea was scheduled to dance on Saturday. Melinda, Piper and Piper's students were scheduled for 20-minute slot on Sunday with seven different numbers featuring costume changes. In addition to manning the booth, shooting pictures and shopping, my job was to be the dresser/nerve calmer on that day.

Rhea's first class was "Finger Cymbals for Dummies." Class participants were guaranteed to be able to dance and play cymbals by the end of the lesson.

I've known Rhea for thirty years and have taken many classes from her, and still she can tell stories that make me laugh that I've never heard before.

She is so knowledgeable about history and the culture of the dance! People were really impressed and her video sold like "hot cakes"! When she danced on Saturday, everyone in the room was riveted. She has pioneered a new type of costuming. It is part Indian, part Turkish, part Egyptian. She wears hats and veils and the colors are maroon, orange, gold and red.

She came out and looked like no other dancer! She wore a veil across her face and began her presentation with a slow dance. Then she went to the side of the stage, removed her veil and one of her hats and returned to continue her dance. Again she went to the side stage and removed more of the veils. At one point, she returned to the side where Melinda handed her the dance sword. Each time she went to the side you wondered what was coming off next!

When I saw the sword, I thought, "oh, jeezzz! Here comes my 100,000th sword routine!" But, no. Rhea did tricks I've never seen. She balanced it on her finger, and executed a dramatic spin. She did all kinds of stomach moves with the sword. She did the only Turkish drop at the Festival! Rhea went to the side stage again and Melinda handed her a glass of wine, which Rhea put on the floor, put her hands behind her back like the Greeks, and while arising from a deep back-bend, drank down the wine! People were howling. What an entertainer! When she was done, the Master of Ceremonies said, "…Rhea will teach all of you that on Sunday morning in an hour and a half!"

And do you know what? On Sunday morning at 8:30a.m. Rhea filled the ballroom at the Marriott with students. I thought that was phenomenal.

Then it was Piper and Melinda's turn to "kick some butt"! It was stressful for me, but it was great. I'll have to see the video because I was backstage pinning people in costumes. At one point in the show, Piper had a minute and a half to change her costume. We did it in time! They began to dance in the sexy gold costumes and did a two-woman routine that got three rounds of applause. Their performance was both provocative and entertaining. Piper's beginning group performed and her advanced group also performed. The advanced group danced a choreographed a routine to Aretha Franklin's song "Respect", which I look forward to seeing. The show ended with Piper and Melinda doing a drum solo challenge. They were very popular and did a great job. All of us were all glad it was over.

Most of the dancers at Rakkasah East were student quality but there were some standouts. I tried to take pictures of my favorites or anything unusual or different. Leila Haddad and Dalia Carella were the highlights of Friday night. They were both teaching at this Rakkasah. On Saturday I enjoyed Zarefah from Germany. Artemis' wacky, inventive costume was a hit. (Check out my pictures of her.) Rhea, Jamilla Al Wahid, and Suzanna Del Vecchio were all great. Troupe Miraj was outstanding, costumed in jeans, tattoos and blinky navel jewels. Sunday's highlight was the music to which "Dancers of the Pharoahs" danced. Totally hot as were Piper and Melina! I loved Jihan Jamal, the Rakkasah teacher from Florida. She wore a fall colored costume that was gold, orange, and red. It reflected the colors of the leaves outside. Morocco danced with a cute guy [probably Tarik]. They had matching costumes in Royal blue and gold. Mashuqa Mira Murjan is always wonderful.

One of the biggest differences between Rakkasah West compared to Rakkasah East was that the show in New Jersey ran early. Rakkasah West always runs late. The venue of R.E. is smaller, about the size of the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland where R.W. was
originally held. Seats were plentiful, which was nice. (I can never find a seat close up in Richmond.) They also had a decent food vender, which I appreciated.

I'm glad I went. We all had a great time together. I always swear I won't spend any money at these belly dance festivals and what happens? I'm like a heroin addict. Melinda found a used Turkish costume for sale. The dancer who owned it was retiring. Costumes
of this caliber go for $550. to $850. It was marked $250, but for Melinda she'd sell it for $200. It was an unusual shade of pink, more like a salmon color. I went with Melinda to the bathroom to watch her try it on and she hated the color on her. However, the color
was "perfect for you", she declared, and the next thing I know I'm buying this "Belly Dancing Barbie costume". I have never before owned one of those fancy-dancy rhinestone costumes. I've only owned costumes I've made; so this was a treat. It fit perfectly. It was strange, however. It had the skirt sewn to the girdle with matching underwear. I've never seen that before and the first thing I did was to cut that underwear out! When I tried the costume on, I found out why underwear had been sewn into it. The skirt is squished up in front, there is a gap, and then the skirt hangs in the back. In other words, your legs and posterior are exposed, making for a very sexy look, but, "Hello!" That is more than I care to share, if you know what I mean. Fortunately, I inherited a veil in the same material as the skirt, so I'm going to cut up the veil to make skirt panels for each side. And of course I need to re-fit the bra. But it's worth it. It's gorgeous! So that's my souvenir of Rakkasah East.

I hope you can all go and check out a fun time at a reasonable price. I loved the Somerset area, it's a beautiful time of year and we need to support our East coast sisters/brothers in dance. Remember, Zulieka says, "Check it out!"

Stay tuned for Part 2- More of Zuleika's pictures from Rakkasah East!

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