This past weekend was filled with one things: Raks Nativity (well, that and a paper due Wednesday). Raks Nativity is Nepenthe’s interesting idea to tell the story of Jesus’ birth through Middle Eastern dance. The experience was interesting, because most of the people acting and dancing are not religious people, and I don’t think any of us ever did a Christmas play.

My role was the “village girl/kind innkeeper.” I enjoyed my bit role, even though I would’ve liked some extra practice with the people I’d share the stage with. Mainly because it is difficult to figure out how to navigate showing off a small marketplace by oneself, but also because I really liked everyone who was in the play. Perhaps this is a me thing, but I don’t feel like we often come together to work on something as community. People will throw haflas or invite others to perform in their shows, but I cannot think of a time a group of dancers who are not in the same class come together to work on a project together. There is something nice about that. I imagine that it is logistically difficult, but it something I’d like to see continue.

The audience was nice collection of non-dancers and dancers; I must say that it was touching to see how many people came out to support the show, because it was quite far from Boston (about an hour or so drive). The play I believe went well; I hope I did well. I didn’t see most of it that night, but at rehearsal, it looked good. The concept seems odd, but when you see it, it really was a solidly good show. I like that the show had a mix of comedy, acting, and dancing; even for someone who loves watching dance, a show can seem long if there is no variety. The show felt like it went by quickly to me; it was inherently a short show, but also I think the pacing was good that left you satisfied but wanting more.

It was a lot of fun, and even though I’m sure Nepenthe and co. are tired, it would be awesome if we could do this again during the summer or spring.


One of my goals this year was to make myself more active in the Middle Eastern dance community. It meant not only perform but also pitch in. I can’t think of a single dancer I personally know who couldn’t use the free help. The Middle Eastern dance community, at least the ones I’ve been a part of, isn’t at a point where we can have hired help. Even if someone can afford to pay people for the actual event, there are a lot of tasks a long the way; a former teacher of mine told me that you never truly break even for events, because they involve so much planning, advertising, organizing, etc. They’re labors of love, and although it is not required to help out, I think it’s nice because I benefit on some level from their work.

Helping out has taught me a bit about how dance events are run and given me the chance to meet new people; being in a position where I am not establishing a core group of people to hang out with, extra opportunities to meet and connect with people are more than welcome. Things do get stressful at times with volunteering, but so far, things have overall worked out well. We can’t all dance at everything, but you know what? I don’t know if that’s such a bad thing. At Raks Spooki, a Gothic belly dance event, this past Sunday, I felt an immense joy from seeing the scared performers enter the stage and leave feeling accomplished. The feeling isn’t the same as performing, but it is just as good and worthwhile. I highly recommend volunteering to help out, even in a small way, at a dance event in your community.

My Bharatanatyam class performed a dance yesterday; to your left is a photo of me all decked out my costume. The show was lovely; it’s nice to see such talented dancers. I have a lot of work to catch up on, due the extra rehearsals and losing Sunday to the show, but here are some important things I learned:

– Plan at least an hour to get ready. The photo doesn’t show it, but I also had a fake hair braid down the back. Everything had to be pinned (hair pins or safety pins) or tied with string; if you look at my left arm, you can see the string on the arm pieces. There are a lot of components to that costume.

– Try to break in the costume. My costume was brand new, and I think that contributed to my fan (the piece on the middle) not spreading beautifully. The fan was very stiff, albeit beautiful. I noticed most people had silk fans, rather than the stiffer gold brocade. I think wearing it more will soften the fabric a bit.

-The rhinestone jewelry does look stunning on stage. Some of the dancers had especially sparkly jewelry and it shimmered and sparkled when they were barely doing anything. Beautiful!

-Get better cases for big jewelry. I had separated out some of the smaller pieces using plastic food containers, but I need something bigger for the belt and head piece. I think it would make finding pieces a lot easier when I need them.

All in all, I learned a lot from participating and am glad I finally had the opportunity to perform something I learned in classical Indian dance.

MassRaqs was an awesome event. My commitment to MassRaqs took more time than I had anticipated, but it was genuinely rewarding to see how much people enjoyed the weekend. I still feel good about whatever part I played in bringing something like this to New England.

Friday night was a history review. It turns out that the Boston-area is ripe with Middle Eastern dance history. From Shadia, a local teacher, discussing her history to the ladies who are creating the Aziza! documentary about Boston’s role in the dance community, we are surrounded by history. The Friday night event ended with a dance show. It was good to see a variety of styles. I was asked to film, so I didn’t exactly see the entire show. I mean, I did, it was just through a small LCD. Filming dance is difficult. I wasn’t sure how everyone was going to dance and use the space, so I hope I did an adequate job. All I remembered about filming dance, from what I heard from others, is that I should have the face in the shot as much as humanly possible and not do some crazy zoom in on the midsection stuff.

Saturday was Meiver and Bozenka teaching; Cassandra unfortunately was injured pretty bad and was unable to teach. Meiver taught “Oriental Combinations.” Some of the combinations or at least parts of them were from the dance we learned; it was cool how things did stick with you. However, it made it challenging to learn the variation of the combo; sometimes my body wanted to autopilot what it thought was next. Bozenka taught Hands and Arms, as well as what would’ve been Cassandra’s beledi workshop. The Hands and Arms was tiring. A lot of the exercises reminded me of the ones my teacher, Danielle of Chicago, had me do. It was a good reminder, because I’ve been negligent with them. The beledi workshop was a good intro to beledi; I was impressed that Bozenka could figure out what to teach so quickly.

I’m going to cut in here and just mention that Bozenka is a great instructor. She is warm, always looks like she is having fun, and is able to communicate what she means clearly. I really like that she attended the Friday panel and appeared to have a great time; it’s nice to see people, especially top caliber people, who are interested in participating as a community member (even temporarily) and not just there to promote themselves, if that makes any sense.

Sunday was Shadia and Bozenka. Shadia is a real hidden gem in this area. I don’t hear much about her, which is a shame. She taught double cane and Bedouin dancing. She is a very encouraging instructor. Double cane is difficult. I think I will, once my life settles down again (schoolwork was put aside for MassRaqs this weekend), practice twirling and doing cane with my left hand. The line dancing was fun. Shadia ended the workshop with her performing; she is so charming and talented as an instructor, dancer, and costumer. I’m really glad that Meiver has made an effort to include and celebrate our local instructors.

Bozenka on the second day taught Oriental technique and drum solo stuff. The Oriental technique was interesting, because I typically have not had the opportunity to practice things across the floor. My favorite part, though, were facial exercises. Bozenka had us practice various emotions expressed on our face while we walked across the floor. I liked her philosophy that it’s good to know the range of expressions you can have, even if you don’t use them all. The drum solo workshop was a highlight of the weekend, because a live drummer was present and we were able to see what it was like to communicate non-verbally with a drummer. There was also a circle dance that was fun at the end.

The show was a good mix of styles. Mirza, Shadia’s troupe; Chantal; and Bozenka all did folkloric pieces. Bozenka’s was particularly interesting to me, because I didn’t know she did meleya leff. I always think of her as this beautiful, refined, classic looking dancing. Hers was excellent and to the live band. Yes, there was a live band with singer. Act 2 was an Oriental act, entirely to the live band. All the dancers were stunning. I like how Nina came through the audience, rather than starting on stage. I didn’t get to see her dance at Meiver’s recital, so this was a particular treat. Meiver looked gorgeous and danced beautifully; Phaedra was impressive with her dancing and zill playing. The standout for me was how Najmat and Hanan really interacted with the band; Najmat’s interaction in particular made it feel like she was a part of the band. It was really an amazing performance from her, and I usually enjoy her performances. Bozenka came out and performed another great piece to top off the evening.

I could go into a lot of detail of how things went logistically with the event, but I don’t feel like that’s the most important thing right now. Of course, there were things that should’ve, could’ve, and will be different; I wrote my list up last night, so I remember when we start planning MassRaqs 2011 next month. We’ll work on improving them for next year. Right now, it’s nice to bask in what went well. The community came together and celebrated dance. With who knows how many things that could’ve gone wrong, we didn’t do too poorly for our first year.

At my Bharatanatyam class yesterday, our teacher mentioned that some dancers from another class would join as at the beginning of our dance. The reason was that, although there are 11 of us, we simply cannot fill one gigantic stage.

What intrigued me on this is that I’ve heard the same thing about Middle Eastern dance, that a performance should include many dancers and that few dancers can do solos that are captivating enough to “fill” the stage. If you’re sitting in the back part of a huge auditorium, I imagine it would be difficult to see someone executing most moves. I never considered that the same idea could conceivably be applied to classical Indian dance. The facial expressions, eye movements, even the visual of the footwork could easily be lost in a huge performance venue.

I wonder how much has been adapted to make the dance more dynamic on stage, what really went into going from a temple dance to a stage performance. I remember watching a documentary about this, in regards to Odissi, but I think the documentary was more about secular vs. religious, rather than a close up setting vs. a large stage.

Does anyone have any books, documentaries, papers, etc. on this one?

I spent most of today resting. All the practices and the high of the performance yesterday called for today to be a day of rest. My neck is a bit sore today from the Khaleegi, but other than that, I feel pretty good.

I think the show went well. Many people I respect said very kind things, including Nepenthe who was kind enough to even write a review of the show last night on Facebook (and be present with a huge sincere smile on her face). It’s really touching to see that people are supportive in the community. Speaking of community, this being one of the only student shows I’ve been in, it was neat to see how everyone did pull together the night of the show. Things have been stressful, and yet, we’re all willing to lend a hand to help people change costumes, make sure everyone looks good, share snacks, etc. With 4 costume changes (or 5, if you were a soloist), we all worked together as team to make sure things happened as scheduled.

The show was fun. I think we did well. I know there were parts I didn’t do so hot (my fan veils and I were too close to the curtain, so the silk couldn’t go back when it needed to, and that caused issues), but I kept going since there is no other choice. I think it overall went well, and most importantly, people enjoyed it. It was a really good evening overall. The Modern Oriental was a good opening number. My favorite to do was the Saidi, but I heard most praise on the Khaleegi. My SO loved how the hair tossing looked at the end (and somehow missed that I almost fell backwards when sitting up after that). In Nepenthe’s review, she wrote that she enjoyed this piece, because it made a social dance interesting to watch. I admittedly am not fan of watching most Khaleegi, simply because it isn’t that dynamic on stage. However, Meiver made the dance like a party and gave us all different roles to do, while still making the dance cohesive and performance-worthy.

The MataHari people are absolutely fantastic. They were very kind throughout the evening and so appreciative; they even purchased flowers for all of us. It felt good to do something for such kind people who work for such an amazing cause.

I couldn’t see any of the show, unfortunately, but judging from the applause, it sounded like it was enjoyable. We haven’t heard a tally of how much money we raised for MataHari, but I wasn’t expecting to hear that yet. I imagine Meiver is rightfully resting. If you are interested in giving money to MataHari or reading more about them, please go here.

The experience certainly had its ups and downs, but I really enjoyed learning these dances, being forced out of my comfort zones, and getting to know some of my classmates better. A few of us were talking about what we had hoped to get out of this experience. I definitely ended up with what I had wanted (troupe/group experience, growth as a dancer, etc.). It’s a little strange to not be at Meiver’s studio tonight with everyone, like the routine has been since May.

There hasn’t been much to write about on my end, because I’ve been either at a dance class or working on personal things (to be discussed later). The rehearsal schedule has been ramped up, due to the performance being less than 2 weeks away. I’m surprised how taxing dance classes/rehearsal have been on my body, though. I consider myself to be in good shape. Maybe not triathlon shape but good shape that I didn’t think 2 hours or so a day of dance class, 5-6 days a week would be so tiring. I’ve woken up a few mornings feeling achy. Anything from my hips to my neck/back. The rehearsals are intensive, not only because of the choreography but also because of the heat/humidity. Most of the places we rehearse lack good air conditioning. Boston has been abnormally hot and humid (at least from what I remember/have been told). We start off class, without even moving, warm and a bit sweaty. By the end, most people are quite sweaty and unfortunately, the weather provides no relief.

In short, if you don’t see me around, it’s because of being busy.