An audience sat transfixed in a dimly lit room. At center stage was the band Flowers Of The Nile and Tezrah playing hypnotic rhythms entreating the audience to listen. Suddenly an air of mystery filled the room. A woman wound, shimmied, swirled, waved her arms in a snake-like pattern and swiveled her hips in figure-eights. Her mystical, fluid movements seemed to conduct unseen energy. A sensual dance of mysterious origins began. Welcome to the art of belly dancing.
The Belly Dance Showcase held Sunday, started at 7 p.m. in the Fair Oaks Community Clubhouse. Flowers of the Nile and Tezrah provided the live music for the evening. The showcase featured 20 dancers and four dance troupes.
Egyptian native and Flowers of the Nile and Tezrah band leader Philip Gabriel helped demystify the purpose of this sacred physical dance form.
“Belly dance is about how a woman can express herself … how God created her body and the connection between that and the beats,” Gabriel said.
“A woman’s body is an instrument already,” he added. “She can express her femininity – the feminine thing inside her.”
Exotic smells from the kitchen lured attendees to get a taste of authentic Egyptian and Middle-Eastern cuisine. The menu offered $5 dinner plates of kabobs (beef and chicken) and vegan (grilled eggplant and falafel) options. Specialty dishes included stuffed grape leaves and macaroni Béchamel. There were salad and desert options such as konata, baklava and basboussa.
“The falafels are made from scratch – it’s authentic, good food – not too salty.,” said attendee Steve Bash. “The food makes it feel like a mini-Middle-Eastern Festival right in the middle of Fair Oaks. It’s a chance for people to understand the culture.”
Attendees had a chance to sample the delicious food and shop underneath the indoor mini-bazaar. Vendor Natascha Storms of “What’s Unique” had several one-of-a-kind jewelry and other items for sale. The open-air tent added a touch of foreign flair to the event.
Watching the showcase, audience members learned what celebrating the feminine form was all about. Each movement was punctuated by music to pulsating hip movements, undulating stomach rolls, whirling veils and ringing zills (finger cymbals) to keep time and accent the dance with precision.
“I like to feel the music … the story behind the music – it’s not just about shaking, a dancer must interpret the music,” said Gabriel, a multi-talented musician who has played the oud for 25 years. The oud is a traditional Egyptian instrument that is a part of the string family.
“We play traditional music … I rearrange it to fit the belly dancer, their movements and choreography,” he added.
“Live music gives improvisation. We want to provide excitement and energy … interact with the dancer,” said longtime percussionist and former belly dancer Cynthia Rutherford.
“There’s a certain element of aliveness to performing live music with dancing,” she added. Rutherford plays the doumbec, more commonly called the Egyptian tabla – a kind of drum.
“Performing is always an improvisational experience. Even if you play with a live band, you can’t choreograph live music. As a dancer, you have got to have a lot of skills,” Rutherford added.
Belly dancing knows no ethnic boundaries. It is an overall celebration of supreme femininity and a form of spiritualism. Dancers range from slim to full-figured women adorned in brightly colored costumes and sequins. Extra health benefits include weight loss and lowered stress.
“You are healthy psychologically, too, because when you are doing the dance, you think you are beautiful,” Gabriel added.
The Sacramento Press spoke with event organizer, director of the Henna and Kohl Bellydance Company and Studio, and veteran Egyptian Cabaret belly dancer Adriane Dellorco about her love of the dance.
“I enjoy the movement, connecting to the audience – it makes me feel alive, (I) enjoy learning about other cultures,” she said.
“Egyptian cabaret is more traditional of what you might see performed in Egypt,” she added.
Dellorco has been dancing since she was 14 years old and stunned the audience with her rapid shimmies to the music’s quick melody – a move that’s very difficult to achieve.
The crowd cheered for the dancers by clapping to the syncopated rhythms. There were several performers, however, with a few unforgettable performances that impacted audience members.
“Edemia has very beautiful, mesmerizing hands,” said Smita Shende. “She has great stage presence.”
Edemia is a belly dancer from Mexico City who performs Middle Eastern and cabaret style belly dancing. The featured dancer shared what inspires her to engage in the cultural and sensual art form.
“My inspiration was my mother and father,” she said. “I started off doing folklorico dancing, salsa dancing and now belly dancing. I have a great passion for dancing.
“I like Egyptian classic the most. I like the way you can learn from their culture and they can learn from yours,” she said of infusing the styles with her Mexican heritage. Edemia said she enjoys incorporating her belly dancing to singers Marc Anthony and Señora Dinamita.
“Sawako Ama was my favorite. She kept my attention,” said Merssia Enriquez.
“She was very graceful with her hands and her facial expressions – she connected with the audience really well.”
Sawako Ama performed American Tribal Egyptian-Oriental style dancing.
“It was nice to see all the flavors of dance and talent,” said attendee Gayle Guest-Brown. “There was so much talent on the stage! My favorite was Sawako Ama – her arms were so graceful, her isolations were wonderful. I also thought Badia was excellent, as was Nyla Crystal.”