Statue of Hermes at the Louvre, Paris.
© Sharif
Photography 2006

Belly Dance Blog 2008

Here's an ongoing description of events in my belly dance journey, in reverse chronological order. Performances, workshops, festivals...
Enjoy, and check back regularly!

More recent events are described in Belly Dance Blog 2009.

- o O o -


December 12: Project Bellydancer Showcase.

This evening we go to the final performance evening of Vashti's group of solo performance proteges. The two of us are a fairly large part of the whole audience, which is too bad because there are some really good performances to be seen! See the web album for a sampling of my pictures of this event.


October 12: Painting of Basinah.

A local paint artist, Janet Mastropietro, has found inspiration in one of my pictures, and she contacts me with a picture of the resulting artwork. It's a picture of our friend Basinah, a very young and talented dancer that we had the pleasure of photographing on several occasions. I contact her about it, and she and her mother like it so much that they decide to buy it! She asks to add back some of the belly dance coins to the picture, and the painter agrees to do that. Today they are in town to pick up the final version of the painting, and we go out and meet them and see the painting for real. We're all a bit famous now!

Basinah Basinah painting
initial version Basinah painting
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif and the artist).


September 13: Desert Dance Festival.

Lots of dancing, lots of pictures. I bring my new toy, a pro-style lens that is perfect for this setting. But it's big and heavy, and after 8 hours of holding that thing, I am beat! See the web album for a sampling of the results.


September 7: Crystal's Student Night.

Crystal has moved her student night back to Menara, a Middle-Eastern restaurant in San Jose. Nakisa and I will do the drum solo again that we learned earlier in a workshop, this time with a slimmed down version of the troupe we performed it with before. I will do my solo piece from Sese's soloist class as well. I have two dancers between the group dance and my solo piece, and I want to change my costume. Curious how that works out timewise! Once again I will do my dance to "Feenak"- I'm getting some mileage out of that thing!

There are some dancers before us, of course, and I try to take some pictures. It's pretty hard to do the the dancers justice here, the colored low light just makes them appear completely red in the pictures, whereas flash lights up the back walls and ruins the atmosphere. I have some trouble with my flash, and after a while I give up. I have to concentrate on the dance performance, too. Then it's our turn and we walk out proudly to the center of the venue. Our performance goes very well, we are pretty tight after all the practice we put in, and we have one of the more conventional Middle-Eastern tunes of the evening to dance to. After our bow and exit I rush off to the men's room to get changed (yeah, yeah, the glamorous life of a male belly dancer. Well, the ladies' dressing room was so cramped and warm that I am probably better off. But in general I don't like to be relegated to the men's room automatically. Not that I necessarily want to watch the women change, but I am missing out on all the socializing and pre-performance jitters).

I find that I actually have quite enough time to change costumes in the say 6-8 minutes that I have, so that's good. So I'm ready to go when Crystal announces me, and I get a warm welcome from the audience. The dance goes well, I change directions here and there to work with the layout of the venue and ham it up quite a bit... It's all received very well and as usual, it's over before you know it. I have a good time doing it, and feel really good about it afterwards! We enjoy the food offered by the restaurant and the company of our friends. We'll be back next year!


August 23: Diva Nation.

In the past several months Nakisa and I have participated in a class to create a show dance piece for Sese's yearly show, that this year is called "Diva Nation". The dance is set to the song "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" as sung by Marilyn Monroe in the movie with the same name. In the movie, Marilyn is surrounded by over a dozen male dancers in tuxedo and top hat. We'd be hard-pressed to find that many male belly dancers in the whole of the US, so we have changed that around a little. It's now one male dancer (me!) surrounded by over a dozen ladies in nice pink dresses. Yes, I know, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it... The choreography came together pretty quickly this time, and there are some very nice moments and gags in it - and of course the movements follow the lyrics very nicely.

It's a very nice show with lots of entertainment. Sese has hung caricatures of the six soloist dancers on the walls - they are very recognizable and well done, she's such an artist! Nakisa and several other dancers are dressed up as fairies, wings and all, and are handing out programs and generally causing some stirs. The dance performances we get to see are all well executed and enjoyable. Our group is closing the evening, to finish the show with a splash! During the performance of the dancer before us we line up for the dressing room to the side, and when she finishes we go in. I only have to remove my cover-up, put on my tuxedo jacket and don my top hat. But before I am halfway ready, the music already starts! I am on after about 10 seconds, and I am still buttoning my jacket while I enter... But it doesn't bother me and I snap right into the routine. First I do a little dance with the ladies, then I get abducted by some golddigging women. After a while I re-enter the stage in a disheveled state, only to go right into a short solo dance. I have been practicing that part several dozen times in the morning to get it just right, and that works like a charm! We continue with a group circle part and then I run to the edge of the stage to pay homage to "Tiffany's". Finally we do a bit of a line dance and at the very last moment Nakisa proposes to me with a huge diamond ring - and of course I accept. All's well that ends well!

We are all very pleased with our successful performance - a good thing, because there are no repeats planned! The ballet teacher of Dancenter tells me I did very well in the tapdance-style solo, and wants me to join her tap dance class! Our friend Anisa did her first public performance, and is just glad it's over - but she did a good job! A lot of us go out for dinner together after the show, and we have a good time.

Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Steve Allen).


August 2-3: Belly Dance Fantasy Festival.

This weekend I will perform at Tatseena's Belly Dance Fantasy Festival - the easy way, on the outside stage to recorded music. The inside stage is live music only, and was booked a long time before I even thought about performing here. Well, that's probably just as well, as I find dancing to live music still quite a challenge... I will recycle my dance to "Feenak" again, and I have practiced it diligently in the past week again after returning from a vacation trip.

My dance performance is at the end of the first day, and because there are quite a few breaks in the schedule on the outside stage there is only a scattering of people for audience. But they are there, and I have some points of focus to play out to, so that's good! I change my choreography around to first go over to the side with the most audience, and play it up quite a bit. That works really well, and already during the dance I feel really good about how it comes out. Later on when talking to a few people I get lots of really nice compliments - I must have done a few things right!

We have arranged with the organizer to take pictures for sale on the outside stage, and this proves quite a commitment. Although there is plenty of light, it's not very subtle and it's not easy to take flattering pictures. Still, by keeping going and taking lots of shots we achieve some decent results.

Sharif Sharif Sharif Rebekah Janae Crysta
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Nakisa and Sharif). For a collection of show highlights see selected pictures (52 pictures).


July 13: Masala Imports Hafla.

We have a very busy weekend, but manage to attend the last couple of hours of the Masala Imports Hafla. This is always a fun event and we see a lot of our friends here. We take pictures of the dancers we see, take a look at the web album.


June 21: Performance at Hafla Santa Cruz.

This weekend we have the Hafla Santa Cruz festival, which now features the Double Crown Belly Dance Competition. Nakisa and I have received the honor of being official event photographers, and for two and a half days we work hard to earn it. There is a lot of good dancing and costuming to take pictures of, and the light on the stage is pretty good thanks to Carl Sermon. Additionally, Michael Baxter is taking pictures, so the event is very well covered!
On Saturday afternoon I do a solo performance, to my Spring Soloist Showcase piece on "Feenak". The performance goes smoothly, I even put in some improvisational steps in the middle part that hasn't been choreographed completely yet that work out well. The audience is rather sparse, but there are enough friendly faces to play out with and I get some nice encouragement. This is such a great group of people!
On Sunday I attend a workshop by the illustrious Shoshanna on dancing with a four-yard veil. It's a fun class and we learn quite a bit. I can't wait for Shoshanna's instructional DVD that's in the works to be released!

Razi Sharif Sharif Sharif Parri Mia
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Michael Baxter and Sharif). For a collection of show highlights see selected pictures (77 pictures).


June 14: Troupe performance at Dance Odyssey Recital.

Today Nakisa and I have a performance with a new troupe of our teacher Crystal. She organized a workshop to do a drumsolo, and promised we could perform it at this event. Of course she did not leave it at the two hour workshop, so she volunteered six special rehearsals in the next two months. Many of the dancers, including us, also took a private lesson to work on their skills in this dance. The music, "Saidi Street" by Michael Beach of Brothers of the Baladi fame, is only two minutes long, but there's a lot going on in the choreography!
We get on stage a bit before the break in the middle of the show. Everything goes smoothly, and we look pretty tight on the video - an important fact for a group performance! It looks pretty entertaining too, with all the fast percussive moves. We get complimented by our teacher and our fellow dancers, and we're pretty happy about it!
I take a lot of pictures of our fellow belly dancers - see the local album. I have no pictures of our troupe performance, unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control.


May 4: Veil Poi workshop and Sese's naming ceremony.

This afternoon I have a workshop with Michelle Joyce to learn veil poi (it's like the fire spinning, but without the fire. Instead, we use weights with veils attached). I have been practicing with her instructional DVD for a while already, and that proved very helpful, so I was really pleased when the workshop was announced. The workshop has just a few attendants, so we get a lot of targeted attention! I learn some new things and twists to old moves so this is really worth my while.
Late afternoon I head to Sese's residence for her yearly naming ceremony. In this ceremony her new students, after proving their mettle in dance performances, can receive their stage names. A dancer can either come up with a name they like, or Sese can pick one for you - she has an eerie sense of what works for a person, so that's a good bet. I picked my own stage name and received it officially in a ceremony two years ago. Nakisa and I promise to take pictures, and I will also take part in the ceremony. I get to "crown" our friend Joyce with a nice headpiece that Nakisa put together in the afternoon. Her dance name is now Rahi. Congratulations, Rahi!

Sharif and Rahi Sharif and Rahi Rahi
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Nakisa and Sharif).


April 27: Performance at Spring Soloist Showcase.

In the past several months Nakisa and I have attended Sese's performance class, and worked to develop a new choreography and really make the most of it. My new dance is different than much of what I have done so far, because it is very upbeat and inviting, not very theatrical and "high status". With my teacher I selected an Arabic pop song entitled "Feenak" for my choreography. Tonight is our final performance night, called the Spring Soloist Showcase. Together with our fellow dancers we will present our solo dance pieces - there are twelve soloists total.
The evening opens with two dances by Sese's dance troupe "Belly Dance Basics Dancers", featuring Nakisa and several of our dear friends from class. They set the tone for the evening with a very energetic, tight and upbeat performance. I am in the audience with my cover-up taking pictures, but I am the third performer so after the first soloist I head for the stage. When Sese introduces me I quietly enter the stage and take on my starting pose. The first 30 seconds of my dance are more theatrical to make a decent impression as a guy, but then the dance goes into entertainment mode! It works out very well, the audience starts clapping with the music after a minute or so already, so I don't have to work on that... There are a few hitches where I don't follow the choreography or things don't quite pan out, but all in all it goes very well. Afterwards I get lots of compliments, and quite a few people say this is my best piece so far and that it's very entertaining. I am very pleased with that result!
Nakisa is on fifth, and she has hardly time to change into her solo performance costume. Her dance is very elegant and varied, she has grown quite a bit and is also very satisfied with the result. I take loads of pictures - our friend Zurah Malikah, one of the performers, helped out during my performance and did a very good job. The black background works best for dancers with light-colored costumes and hair - lucky me!

Sabra Sharif Sharif Nakisa Fadilah
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif and Zurah Malikah). For highlights see selected pictures (24 pictures), or for hardcore fans and those who performed, browse the web album (all 200+ pictures).


March 15-16: Performance at Rakkasah.

This is the big weekend for belly dancers on the West Coast: the Rakkasah festival! We have a hotel room reserved for Saturday night and drive off Saturday morning to arrive around noon. The new venue in Vallejo is rather "different" - one could say rustic, because it's a fairground in a rural area, and it shows. The atmosphere is quite different from the theatre-like building in Richmond that was home to the festival until renovations started last year. I quickly find that the stage I will be performing on tomorrow is in the middle of the hall, sticking into the shoebox from the side. There are actually two halls with rather different interiors at about 200 yards from each other. Fortunately, it's dry weather and temperatures are mild.
We quickly find seats in the first hall, and see some nice performances. The light on the stage is really nice for picture taking, and after a couple of hours I find I have to pace myself or I will run out of memory cards before the show is half over... Of course we visit all the vendors, and meet a lot of people that we haven't seen for a long time, and our local belly dance friends who are there too. Around 9pm we return to the hotel for a party at our teacher Sese's hotel room, and watch the video of her troupes' performance from the afternoon. Conversations in the room become a bit animated and we get a warning from the hotel security staff. It's not a good party if the police hasn't called! After a while we move to the hotel ballroom where about 20 drummers and musicians and dozens of belly dancers are having a great time dancing - and we do too!

Sunday morning we get up relatively early to do an impromptu performance with Siwa's troupe. She had a couple of cancellations and needed some "human props" to spice up her show. Our task is to do a few small skits (gesturing to the dancers, and pantomiming to the audience during a part of the music) and otherwise be in the back of the stage and smile. I believe our performance is passable, but next time I'd like to at least attend one rehearsal... But it is also fun to get on a big stage and just wing it!
We move back and forth between the two halls for photographing and shopping, and see some really good dance performances. How about a dancer who balances a sword on top of another sword? Ava Fleming's troupe is outstanding, and Fahtiem is delightful as ever. Then it's time to get dressed and ready for my own performance. In the past few weeks I have practiced my "Kashmir" routine in the living room a bit to prepare for a larger stage, but I haven't changed much to make use of it. Now we'll see how that pans out!
It's a bit of a wait, and when I finally am ushered on stage and stand in the center it takes a while for the music to start. I wait patiently in my beginning pose, head down. When the music starts I lose track of my choreography shortly after the beginning (where should those arms go again?), but then it goes smoothly. The stage is rather slippery and my turns come out pretty good - this is fun! The audience is very quiet, I try to engage them but don't get much response. Well, it's the end of day two of a continuous stream of dance performances, so you can't expect much. So I decide to just have some fun on my own and finish my dance in good spirits. The applause is very enthusiastic, so I am very pleased. My first performance on such a big stage! I feel really good about it, especially when I see the video - it feels like I have reached a new level.

Ruka Titanya Nadira Fahtiem Sharif Sharif
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif and Nakisa). For highlights see selected pictures (40 pictures), or for hardcore fans and those who performed, browse the web album (all 350+ pictures).


March 6: Dancing to live music at Don Quixote's.

Tonight we rush off to nearby Felton for a show organized by Helené with live music by Orient'al. It's a local all-star line up with Helené, Siwa, Sese and Janelle. We eat some Mexican food, talk with our friends and get some open floor dancing in. I get some nice pictures of all the dancers, but it's so dark I have to use the flash to get decent sharpness and color. Not everybody appreciates the flashing, but as a dancer I know it doesn't bother me when I'm on stage, and I do like to see good pictures of my performance! For the results see my selected pictures (16 pictures).


February 17: Performance at Crystal's Student Night.

Tonight our teacher Crystal organizes one of the performance evenings for her students that she does a couple of times a year. It's a good chance to practice my dance for Rakkasah for a larger audience. At first we plan to do the dances on stage, but because the tables are moved way in the back Crystal decides to do them on the floor.
There's a big crowd attending, there's standing room only! Looks like all of Santa Cruz came out to watch... Nakisa is on second with her Pink Panther routine, and she does very well. I'm on a bit after half the show, so I'm taking pictures first. There's a nice variety of dances, from straight belly dance to all kinds of fusion - very enjoyable for everyone. I do my "Kashmir" routine, and my dance comes out pretty well - a couple of hitches but I manage to sweep them under the carpet. During the performance the audience is quiet, but I get a very nice applause when I finish! We enjoy the rest of the show a lot and get some really good shots in.

Nakisa Joannie Amber Sharif Sharif Crystal
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif and Nakisa). See selected pictures (24 pictures).


February 16: Cory Zamora Show "An Evening at the Cabaret".

The legendary Cory Zamora visits Santa Cruz again for a show and workshops. We attend just the show (there are only so many workshops you can do...). We see some great dancing - we are particularly impressed with Adriana, and Cory of course. We take some nice pictures despite the uneven lighting - see the web album (16 pictures)!


February 15: Performance at Bellysema Mystique Show.

We drive to Monterey for the special Valentine's day edition of the Bellysema Mystique Show. Nakisa and I both have our dances ready for Crystal's upcoming student night, and this is a great opportunity for a dress rehearsal. Our friend Lana is very glad to have us, and we have a good time performing our short pieces and afterwards get some nice open floor dancing in.


January 12: Project Belly Dancer Showcase

Our local Dance Odyssey Studio has offered a class in belly dance performance called "Project Belly Dancer" for the last few months. Tonight the students of this class will show the results of their efforts in a public show. There are eight performers in the line-up, some of whom will perform twice. We're of course present to enjoy the dancing, meet our friends and take some pictures.
Things work out really well: the dancers are very engaged and dance very well, and the stage is nicely lit (thanks to local photographer Carl Sermon). The backdrop is just gorgeous (courtesy of Geisha Moth), understated and beautiful. We enjoy the show a lot and get some really good shots in!

Imzadi Raja Fifi Vashti Yasmin
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif). See selected pictures (24 pictures), or enjoy Nakisa's highlights (36 pictures).


January 6: Rakkasah 2008 - here we come!

Today's the call-in for Rakkasah, and "my people" got through at around 2pm, after several hours of redialing, to secure me one of the last available spots (thank you so much, Nakisa! I was busy playing music at the Santa Cruz Harbor).This time it's in a different location and there is no small Cabaret stage anymore - instead there are two big stages. I will be doing a solo performance to recorded music on Sunday at 5:48pm on the West stage. I'll probably do something familiar, and perhaps something new as well... Please all come on out to cheer me on, that was such a great experience last time!


Previous events are described in Belly Dance Blog 2007.