Visions of Delight
A History of Belly Dance in the United States
Third Annual Bay Area MECDA Showcase
August 24, 2002

Reviewed by Bobbie Giarratana & Susie Poulelis
Photos of MECDA performers & layout by Susie

Showcasing a much stronger connection to the theme of the performances, this year's MECDA event, held at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, California, portrayed the evolution of Middle Eastern Belly Dance interpretation in the United States. The chronology was mostly apparent through costuming, and easy to follow by reading the program. Unfortunately, without either, it would have been difficult to notice the distinction of dance movements alone for most of the performers.

Zemira and LuLu, representing the influence of Middle Eastern Belly Dance introduced at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, as illustrated below. The duo was a tight, strong act to start the show. These dancers are a well matched pair.

Parri represented Modern Belly Dance by expertly balancing a sword on her head for the majority of her performance. Her movements were extremely smooth and she had command of that sword. Unfortunately she didn't show the same command for her zils that evening and they distracted us from her other abilities.
Maia, above left, represented the 1920's having been influenced by the likes of Maud Allen's Salome, center, and Theda Bara's Cleopatra, right. Her costume and headpiece were a good combination of flapper meets starlet. However, we would have preferred her to be more influenced by Theda's excessive use of pearls than her forlorn facial expression. Although she did not appear to be too experienced on stage, she still vamped it up for the audience and both had fun.
However unclear the term, "American Interpretive Bellydance" may be, it translated as: “these women know how to entertain.” Saideh and Yasmine, above, delivered a smooth and well-rehearsed performance. The staff at GS is ever appreciative of the careful planning and hard work of performers who know the audience expects more than a cute costume and the same old routine.
Dancers of the 1960's relied on icons, such as Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, for influence in their dance. Thankfully, Yolanda, left, had more moves than Liz, right. She was thoroughly entertaining with her use of humor in addition to her graceful moves (especially those beautiful hands!
Ireena, far left, showed us how the Golden Age affected Egyptian Cabaret style. Although everybody loves Liz, influences such as Naima Akef, left, and Samia Gamal, below, were much more realistic than Elizabeth Taylor. Thankfully, their films are available on video and continue to influence today. Ireena was solidly planted in the cabaret style and exhibited grace and poise. She knew how to respond to the music and had fantastic moves. Unfortunately, the stage is very different from the screen and Ireena's performance, to a lesser extent, lacked the projection and dimension needed in the auditorium setting.
Raks Sahibat impressed us with their fabulous tight zil playing. The overly long introduction in the program didn't need to sound so apologetic - their brand of fusion worked for them and the audience was fully entertained by this additional representation of the modern genre.

Fortunately, performances like this are rare; but put a fork in them, they're done. El Ashab's "spoof" of the 1970's Middle Eastern restaurant entertainment trend displayed a confusing mass assortment of dancers and props. Throw in the cliché Arabic restaurant owner and the obnoxious audience participants and you've got a show? We don't think so. The only funny thing about this skit is that these ladies could only have been spoofing themselves.

Angelena, above left, embraced this event, showing us a strong 1960's era TV influence. Her performance, an adaptation of the Star Trek character Vina, above right, was underappreciated or misunderstood by the mostly silent audience. Her style was brilliant kitsch, and her acting ability and showmanship interpreted well into her dance. Unfortunately, her barely audible music recording sounded like the same reel to reel used in the '60's and ultimately became too distracting. Toward the end of this long performance, we too were hushed.

Samra El Helwa, left, performed Andah Alaek choreographed in the late 1990’s by Suhaila Salimpour, right. According to the program, Samra was a member of Sulhaila’s troupe in 1997. We think some of the subtlety and refinement of the original performance may have been lost since then.

Aneena, left, conveyed the importance of veil work in modern Belly Dance, as opera diva Birgit Nilsson, right, displayed in her performance of Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils. Aneena was perfectly suited to this theme – there’s no denying that veil is her strength. By the way, we have seen Aneena perform countless times, yet always in a different costume. Does she have more costumes than street clothes?
At first thought, Dhyanis' performance seemed out of order. From an historical point of view, Grandmother's Secrets should have come at the beginning of the show, but from an American point of view, the understanding and acceptance of ancient and mythical influence on belly dance is a relatively modern concept. In any case, thank goddess she was where she was in the line up - we were ready to split! Dhyanis did a lovely job narrating the history of belly dance through her fluid and crisp movements. This pro knows how to command an audience to watch her. Eye contact is a good thing!




Of course, what historical bellydance event could be complete without a showing from the newly popular genre: American Tribal (though this label was noticeably missing from the program)? Jill Parker and Ultra Gypsy gave a solid performance to end the show with a bang.

More Event Photos
4-28-02 Rakkasah West Festival 2002 Saturday Photos by Susie Poulelis
Bal Anat, Hahbi'Ru, Shoshanna, Domba and more...

9-6-02 Summer Caravan 2002, Sunday Photos from July 28, 2002 by GS Staff
extras include- extra photos of Leila Haddad's amazing show and candids shots of faces you know!

8-3-02 29th Annual Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant sponsored by Belly Dance! of Walnut Creek, CA
Sunday, May 27 Benicia High School, Benicia, CA by GS Staff
Troupes, Duets, and Grand Dancers' photos at last!

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