Statue of Hermes in Brugge, Belgium.
© Sharif
Photography 2008

Belly Dance Blog 2009

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 2010.

- o O o -


November 19: Don Quixote belly dance show.

Tonight I visit Helené belly dance show at Don Quixote's in Felton - by myself this time, but there are of course many of our local dance friends in the audience. The show features music by Light Rain, the band that also played on our recent belly dance cruise, this time with Armando on the doumbek. The four dancers tonight are Crystal, Ma*Shuqa, Hala and Sese, so my two main teachers are featured! I do my best to capture the best moments of the dances photographically. Between the dancers there is opportunity for open floor dancing, and I happily accept that as can be seen in a picture taken by Crystal.

Crystal Ma*Shuqa Hala Sese
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif). See the album for selected pictures (16 pictures) or the web album (115 pictures).


November 15: Performance at Crystal's Student Night.

Once again the twice-yearly edition of Crystal's Student Night is upon us tonight. We are again at the Menara Moroccan Restaurant in San Jose. Although normally the restaurant is packed during these events, this time (due to the economy?) there is only a light crowd - next time we'll be sure to invite everyone we know! We have a great show and my performance with the veil poi goes off well (except for hitting one of the lamps with my hands during the windmill turns - no damage to either of us). We enjoy the other dancers and find that the new camera does pretty well even in these near-dark conditions. ISO 12800 f2.8 1/100 s for the connaisseurs - about 4000 times less light than on a bright sunny day... See the album for selected pictures (12 pictures) or the web album (121 pictures).


November 6: Performance at Cherry Bean.

This evening we head off to Salinas on invitation of fellow dancer Mariama. I do my veil poi routine again to "The Sultan's Dance" by the band Solace. I have practiced a bit more and the choreography is now pretty solid. The performance goes off very well, except that a part of my costume gets wrapped around my arm at one point and I have to stop the veils from spinning to recover. Not much you can keep going when one arm is blocked and the other is needed to untie! Anyway, that lasted maybe 5 seconds or so, but it goes to show that you'd better do some practice with the actual costume before you hit the stage.


October 25: Halloween Cypress Raks.

The monthly Cypress Raks event has a Halloween theme this time, and because our friend Imzadi promises to invite us on stage for a reprise of the "Thriller" choreography we feel compelled to be in attendance (if we weren't already...). I decide to try photography again in this pretty dark venue, and this time I find that the light is a bit better, and that my new camera enables me to get decent shots without much blur - and without using flash. We see a nice variety of performances, and of course have fun keeping a secret and joining Imzadi at the right moment for Thriller. See the album for selected pictures (32 pictures), or browse the larger web album (~175 pictures).


October 24: Performance at Thrill The World Santa Cruz.

Our teacher Crystal has promoted a special event in our class. It's a worldwide tribute to Michael Jackson (who passed away a couple of months ago) called Thrill The World, an attempt to break the record for the most people dancing the same choreography. Of course it's set to his song "Thriller" with a definite Halloween theme. We have been practicing it in class - it's a lot of fun to do but there are definitely a few tricky and fast dance combinations in it, and it is of course quite a different dance style. Yesterday we had another one-and-a-half hour practice, and today we all arrive dressed up in our best zombie outfit at one of the local dance studios for a final rehearsal and to sign in. The official performance is at 5:30pm local time here - all over the world people will dance at exactly the same time (some areas in the world, like the Netherlands, will dance in the dead of night!). We walk over to the dance area together (in a downtown street) and find a large crowd of dancers and spectators already gathered. We do the dance once for practice all together, and then the countdown starts for the official performance. The crowd cheers every time we go from a chaotic getting up from the pavement (zombies rising up from the dead) to walking forward in lockstep - fascinating that such a simple dance move can be so compelling by sheer contrast! We have a blast performing the dance, things work very well and it's a great feeling to do this all together and be different at the same time. There are quite a few videos out on the internet of this event, and we'll hopefully have some pictures soon.


October 10: Santa Cruz Ethnic Dance Festival.

For the first time we have an Ethnic Dance Festival right here in Santa Cruz! The organizers have succeeded in creating a varied programs with dances from all over the world. We especially like the Argentine tango, the Venezuelean Joropo and the Indian Odissi. Of course belly dance is represented as well, and our local dancer friends have put together a fast-paced showcase of talent. Helené, Janelle and Crystal each perform with their troupes, and Tamara Nelson does a nice solo performance. It's outside in the late afternoon, and around 6pm it gets pretty chilly, so we miss the last hour of the show. Perhaps they can start earlier next year!
See the album for selected pictures (26 pictures), or browse the larger web album (~50 pictures).


September 25-28: Arabian Nights at Sea belly dance cruise.

We have booked a spot on the Arabian Nights at Sea belly dance cruise again this year. We have attended this event twice before, but we missed out two years. It's good to see many familiar faces back on the boat! As usual, we take classes for most of the cruise and don't get to go off the ship in Ensenada at all. Our teachers this year are the Shimmy Sisters, Fahtiem (twice), Paulina, Aradia and Jill Parker. We both find that we have learned something in the past few years, we can actually keep up pretty well with the classes now! We enjoy the Gala Show with performances mainly by the teachers, and the Student Hafla at the end of the trip. Of course we get to dance ourselves too, at the Drum Circle on Saturday night and in the bars. We get quite a few compliments on our dancing from the regular cruise guests!

Paulina Aradia Shimmy Sisters Natanya Anja Dilek
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif). See the albums for selected pictures of the Gala Show (45 pictures) and the Student Hafla (32 pictures).


September 12/13: Performance at the Desert Dance Festival.

This weekend is one of the larger local belly dance festivals, Desert Dance. Both Nakisa and I have managed to claim a dance spot in the telephone tombola a couple of months ago. We are both rehashing the routines we have practiced for Sese's Soloist Showcase class, and we have practiced diligently for the past few weeks to brush it up and improve on our previous renditions. And we are present on both festival days to take pictures of our belly dance friends.

It's a bit chaotic to get ready for my performance, and as these things tend to go I am relegated to the men's room to change. It's a pity that the American prudishness and the small number of male dancers makes me miss out on most of sharing pre-dance jitters, fun and support. Fortunately, our friend Siwa guides me into to main dressing room to queue up for stage. I get a last adjustment of my veils (wouldn't want to have those come off prematurely, huh?) and them I'm on. Show time!

About twenty seconds into my routine my left veil falls off my shoulder. Guess I'm not so sticky anymore... I plan to pick it up later on in the routine, but then the right veil falls off as well. There's just no way I can replace both of them with some grace, so I have to think of something else! Instead of trying to tuck them in again, I flip them simultaneously over both arms and pretend that's how I wanted to do it anyway (this happened once before in class - good thing I practiced disaster recovery there!). The rest of the performance goes surprisingly well, no major clashes of the veil poi which always detracts from the lines of the dance. And I'm having fun doing it! Afterwards I get quite a few compliments about my dance, and questions about the props. My veil teacher Hassan watched my performance and said he is reluctant to try his hand at veil poi, for fear of hurting himself - yes, you could whack yourself badly with those weights!

Nour Mommina Khalilah Sharif Amira Nakisa
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif and Nakisa). For highlights see selected pictures (32 pictures), or for hardcore fans and local dancers who performed, browse the local dancers web album (~200 pictures).


September 4: Performance at Cherry Bean.

One of our troupe members proposed we sign up for a quarterly dance event in Salinas with our troupe, and the organizer invited us gracefully. So tonight we're dancing the same choreography from two weeks ago here in a coffee place in Salinas called the Cherry Bean. It's Labor Day Weekend and traffic is tough, but the organizer, Mariama, is very accommodating and moves us back in the line-up until we are ready. Again, I think we make a good impression! The audience is generally a bit subdued, but we get good response and our dance goes off without much of a hitch. We have a great time performing, it's getting better and better!


August 23: Performance at Cypress Raks.

Tonight we have signed up to perform at Aruba's performance evening at the Cypress Restaurant here in Santa Cruz. "We" are Nakisa, local dancers Mona and Mardel, and myself, and we call ourselves Arba'a - arabic for "four". We are doing the "beginning cymbal choreography" to the song "Lili S'en Fout" that we all learned in Crystal's workshop earlier this year and rehearsed quite a bit later on. We are on third in the lineup, and we are quite a hit! The audience is very enthusiastic during the dance, they are clapping to the rhythm almost immediately and really seem to like the part where we step forward and our arms come up. We have a great time performing, and really get something back for the rehearsal time we have put in the past few weeks. After the dance we get complimented by several other dancers how together we were - I think we did a good job!


August 15: Beach Blanket Belly Dance!

Today is our teacher Sese's big summer show. Nakisa is taking part in the warm-up act as a fairy, but otherwise we are playing audience this time. Sese graciously asked me to come out and take pictures of the event, and of course I am happy to do that. I take up position on stage right (on the left hand side for the audience), because dancers tend to prefer that part of the stage (going from upstage left to downstage right). It's always good to have some inside information!

The show is very entertaining with a 60's Rock-A-Hula theme and is well received by the audience - and the place is pretty full! We enjoy the performances and I take a lot of pictures in hopes of some good ones.

Fairies Sabra Bibi Intisar Amara
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif). For highlights see selected pictures (24 pictures), or for hardcore fans and those who performed, browse the web album (~250 pictures).


June 27: Dance Synergy Recital.

Our dance studio Dance Synergy has recently moved a bit down the road in Aptos. Our teacher Crystal has asked us to perform the cymbal dance we learned earlier in the year for the studio's recital. We have spent the past few weeks rehearsing the cymbal dance again after class, and also at our home. Yesterday we ran the whole show in a dress rehearsal, probably a good thing because there were quite a few wrinkles in getting the show to run smoothly.

Today we have two performances, one late afternoon in a show including some kid's classes, and one in the evening for adults only. Our dance goes pretty smoothly both times, we have improved over our first performance on the student night. In the second show we actually get some audience response (what was wrong with the audience in the afternoon? Smile). In between we drive to one of our dancers home for a delicious light meal. An afternoon well-spent!

Cymbal Dance Troupe Cymbal Dance Troupe Cymbal Dance Troupe
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photographs supplied graciously by a fellow dancer).


May 2: Birthday party performance.

One of our fellow dancers, Basima, invites us to perform at a birthday party for her daughter Carry, who's a belly dancer herself. She's danced with the troupe Shivaya in the past, and they are doing a performance as well. Nakisa performs with a subset of the Belly Dance Basics dancers, and I do a solo with the LED poi ("glowing orbs"). Of course I ask to be at the end of the evening, because the party is outside and I need as much darkness as possible. This means that I am on after Shivaya - a hard act to follow! Our dances are well received and we get to talk with a lot of new people. Keep those invitations coming!

Belly Dance Basics Shivaya Carry Sharif
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif and Nakisa). For highlights see the web album (16 pictures).


April 18: Sese's Soloist Showcase.

This year Nakisa and I signed up again for our teacher Sese's class to create a new solo dance piece. We have spent the past few months putting our own choreography together to a piece of music we selected, and helping other dancers to create their pieces by offering positive feedback. Early on I decided to use my veil poi for this dance - it's a fairly new thing among belly dancers, and it looks really nice when done right.

The class has been a real struggle for me - first I selected a piece of music that is interesting in itself, but the English lyrics really did not work well with the props. I also got really frustrated with the props and almost decide not to use them altogether. Fortunately my teacher pointed me to a band (Solace) that creates music that works well for me, and she encouraged me to keep the veil poi. A complication was that I had so many choreographies to work on at the same time, that this one (the last to be performed) got short shrift. One time when it was my turn to perform it again in class I found that I had forgotten most of the order I had used last time... Anyway, I developed a genuine love-hate relationship with the props and my process like us guys are wont to do - sensitive like anyone else. But in the final few weeks I had more time to practice, and after a couple rather disastrous class performances (veils slipping off, poi falling off my belt, veils getting tangled) managed to create a choreography that I feel good about. I made several changes to address the problems (tuck the veils in better, keep the poi weights in my hands, practice on veil recovery) and changed the choreography to move the good parts further back for the surprise element. My attitude towards the dance and the props also improved over time. This last week I have practiced my routine 25 times total - I'm ready!

There are twelve solo dancers this evening, and a performance by the Belly Dance Basics troupe. I'm on in the first half close to the break, and I'm doing a new routine to "The Sultan's Dance" by the band Solace. We have invited several photographers from our photography Meetup group to come take pictures, and of course take pictures ourselves as well. I am already in costume (with cover-up) and cover the first dancers photographically, including Nakisa, who does a beautiful elegant veil dance in her new black-and-gold costume. It is a very eclectic set of performances ranging from tribal to cabaret and fusion, and all dances come out as good or better as I have ever seen them in class. After handing the camera to Nakisa, I hurry to the dressing area to get my veils on and get prepped by my personal dresser Amara (thank you!). Sese introduces me as the guy from the TV commercial (wish I got some more of those! That's a long time ago.) and then my music starts. Things work out pretty well and I hear some good response from the audience during the dance. The veils behave well, they come out of the costume nicely when I want them to and unfold well. I have to make one correction when a veil gets caught on itself, but manage to cover it up by keeping the other poi spinning. I have practiced at home to really perform this, showing off each new move and topping it with the next one. I am having fun doing that, it's really working! All in all, I am very pleased with how this turns out, and I get a lot of compliments afterwards.

Zurah Malikah Saffanna Sharif Sharif Fadilah Aruba
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif and Nakisa). For highlights see the web album (16 pictures).


March 22: Crystal's Student Night.

After months of practice, we finally arrive at Menara for Crystal's Student Night today. We learned a choreography with finger cymbals from her in a workshop in January, and we have been practicing it for about two hours a week ever since. Now the eight of us that have survived the training will get to perform it! It's actually the first group choreography that Crystal has put together in her career, some four, five years ago. We have seen others perform it, and were always in awe of the control and tight group movements in this dance. In addition, I will be performing the LED poi dance that I have been practicing for a couple of months. This time I haven't forgotten my props, it's quite a drive from Santa Cruz!

I'm on fourth in the line-up for my solo, and then thirteenth for the troupe performance. I get into my costume and do some stretches in the back - that layback can be tricky if you haven't warmed up before! Crystal rounds us all up for a warmup in the front room of the restaurant, and before long my slot comes up. My poi routine goes off pretty well, with a slight tangle of the poi that I can quickly correct and a few less than perfect transitions. But the audience loves it, and the poi colors must look pretty good in the restaurant where it is always extremely dark. I get a lot of praise after the routine, and then we have time to watch some other dancers until our slot comes up.

The zill dance goes very well, I lose my bearings for a second when my arm hits a low-hanging lamp and I do a slightly different move than the rest of us, but apart from that it's as good as it has ever been in the rehearsal. I think the audience reaction and the excitement of actually performing it gives us that bit of extra energy that really makes a dance attractive to look at. We see some friends that have come out especially to see us, and enjoy the food the restaurant presents us, as we are pretty ravenous after our performance. I am very pleased with the evening overall! Sorry, no pictures, we left the cameras at home probably also because it's always very iffy at this venue.


March 21: Nowruz.

Sese organizes a celebration of the Persian New Year, that coincides with the spring equinox. We are all invited to perform a dance that has a personal meaning to us for the occasion. We have Crystal's Student Night the next day, and I ask if I can do the routine that I am planning to do for that show. The tie-in is that it's about a rose, and spring has really just started with lots of flowers and blossoms in our garden. It's also very high energy, and I wish we can have that kind of energy throughout this new year. And world peace, of course.

When I get ready I notice I have forgotten to bring my props - not much of a performance is possible without them! Nakisa volunteers to drive home and pick them up (it's only a couple of blocks away). I am doing a dance with LED poi to Sting and Cheb Mami's "Desert Rose" song. I have practiced quite a bit to not only keep the poi moving, but also dance at the same time, often mimicking the poi movement with the body (or the other way around?). It comes together really nicely, most transitions go smoothly and I don't get the poi tangled as often happens (I have a spare set with a member of the audience so I can switch them out quickly instead of fumbling on the stage - we all need insurance!). Everybody is very nice and gives me lots of compliments on the performance afterwards!

Zalika Leila Shahina Sharif Rahi
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif and Nakisa). For highlights see the web album (16 pictures).


March 14: Rakkasah.

One of the belly dance highlighs of each year is the Rakkasah festival. Nakisa has again managed to secure me a spot on stage in the telephone marathon that is the call-in. Because I am on early in the afternoon (12:24pm) on Saturday we have to be there pretty much when the show starts at 11am to get ready. We see the first few performances and get our cameras tuned to the light and colors on the stage. A journalist who contacted me earlier about doing a piece on male belly dancers joins us there, and we talk a bit and enjoy the show. About half an hour before show time we go to the "designated" (after some back and forth) men's dressing room together with the journalist to get changed. However, 15 minutes before I was supposed to go up I get warned that I have two more minutes! I hastily finish my makeup and get a bit stressed out about the whole thing - is this my fault? But I make it to the stage in time and everything else runs smoothly. The seats are about two-thirds filled (some of our friends are too late to see the show because I am on earlier than expected!). I play out to the audience and meet a few friendly smiles, but don't get much of a response otherwise. I guess a lot of people haven't seen a male dancer before and it takes them most of my performance time to get used to the concept... But I get a very nice applause and the video that we pick up later looks pretty good (although there is always room for improvement).

After the performance we talk some more with our friends and make a tour of the bazaar to give our journalist friend some photo opportunities. The rest of the day we check our schedule constantly and move between the two main stages to take pictures of our friends' performances, and of our favorite performers. Halfway the evening we get something to eat and move to the hotel for a party in Sese's room and then the traditional hotel dance party downstairs. The band Djinn is playing for us, with a bunch of guest musicians, and we have a great time dancing to their music. Some of the other performers of the day are mingling with us as well, and I get some really nice compliments from Elisheva, from Bellyqueen fame - I have a lot of fun dancing with her and trying to copy her moves!

The next day we have breakfast between all the other belly dancers (the hotel is pretty much sold out to the festival), and head out to the festival again for more dancing, shopping and photography. At around 6pm we have seen so much belly dance that we're ready to go home - it's so much, we never quite make it to the end of the festival... We'll be back next year!

Sharif (photo by Oz) Shoshanna Kaeshi Nubian Moon Daughters Suhaila Dance Company
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Sharif, Oz and Nakisa). For highlights see selected pictures (~40 pictures), or for hardcore fans and those who performed, browse the web albums for Saturday (~450 pictures) or Sunday (~250 pictures).


March 6: Monterey Mystique Show.

At the last moment I ask our friend Lana if I can perform at her final Monterey Mystique Show at the Wave Street Studios in Monterey, and she gracefully accepts the offer. The show is streamed live over the internet, so it's a bit like a local TV station. The show has a lot of dancing, but also a variety of other acts like a magician and musicians. This is a good opportunity for me to do a dress rehearsal for Rakkasah (next week). I have practiced my routine to "Feenak" from last year quite a bit again to prepare for the big show.

I'm scheduled somewhere halfway the show, but it's still unexpected when I'm called on - I am taking pictures while in costume with cover-up... So I quickly put down the camera, get the cover-up off and enter the stage. When the music starts I'm a bit puzzled, because it's not at the beginning of the song! I improvise a bit and fortunately I find my bearings quickly, and the dance comes out without much of a hitch. I get a nice round of applause and nobody seems to have noticed that unexpected beginning, so I did a good job covering that up. We enjoy the rest of the show and are looking forward to finding the footage on the internet later on! See the picture album for some images of the show.


January 11: Sese's Live Music Showcase.

Last year we have done a refresher course in dancing to live music with Sese. It's always more of a challenge because you never quite know how it will turn out, and I'm not too eager to enter the stage for this today. But hey, I've signed up for it and it would be impolite to bow out at the last moment, huh? So I get ready in the tribal-style costume that I put together for a performance with Crystal's class, and just hope for the best.

I'm on sixth in the line-up, so I have some time to take pictures of the first dancers. After her performance I hand the camera to Nakisa, and get ready for stage. I start off with a nonchalant leaning pose in the doorway while I'm getting introduced - nothing like a little attitude! I picked the song "Hani" for our musicians to play, which has some nice accents, and the dance turns out pretty well, in fact - I am having fun on stage, do a layback for good measure and play out a little to the audience. I am pleased with the results, and get some nice compliments as well. Mission accomplished!

Aruba Nakisa Shahina Zurah
Malikah Saffanna Sharif Desma Amara
(Click on any picture for a larger version - photography by Nakisa and Sharif).


January 4: Rakkasah West 2009 call in.

I've danced a short solo at the Rakkasah festival for the last two years, so it's become a bit of a tradition now. If nothing else, it gives me a target to work towards and a reason to polish a new dance and get ready for a big stage. Today's the call-in for Rakkasah West 2009 and we got through around 2:30pm, after dialing pretty consistently since 10:30am... I have a good spot on Saturday in the Exhibit Hall at 12:24pm - you can take your lunch break after that, I promise I won't spoil your appetite. Please all come on out to cheer me on!


January 1: Happy New Year!

Have yourselves a great 2009 - dance on!

Fireworks over the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
© Sharif Photography 2007


Previous events are described in Belly Dance Blog 2008.