I had the honor of attending the amazing Bellydance Masters conference sponsored by Stellar Advantage from July 30 – August 2 in Orlando, Florida. This event was held at the Doubletree by Hilton at Sea World, a tropical oasis with lagoons, palm trees and an exotic atmosphere.
The Bellydance Masters conference is oriented toward the intermediate dancer and those who take dance very seriously. From the 8 a.m. warm-up with Feldenkrais method facilitator, Debka (Debbie Ashton) to three intense two-hour dance workshops a day, I experienced over twenty hours of dance and dance-related instruction from Friday through Sunday.
Instructors this year were incredible: Silvia Salamanca, Arish Lam, Karen Barbee, Mia Sha’uri, Kata Maya, Shoshannah Estell, Arielle Tyson, Lacey Sanchez and the phenomenal guest artist Donna Mejia. The focus was on Fusion, though all styles of dance were incorporated. Honing technique, proper body alignment and drills were emphasized with choreography thrown in. I came home with homework to up my dance game.
Each evening featured a spectacular show.
The shows were a spectacle of dance, glamour, variety, high energy and diverse talent. Many dance styles, cultures, ages and artistry were represented. There was classical Middle Eastern-style belly dance as well as fusion and performance art. The stage set was an Arabic oasis theme backdrop with “firepots” flanking each side.
Thursday evening was the opening show and the Stellar Pro Challenge. The beautiful Shadiyah of Maryland emceed all of the shows with elegance and grace. Interspersed were a variety of unique spotlight dance performances: Raluca of Florida, the Rakettes of Florida, Linda Allegro of Florida, Lisa of Florida, Fabiola and Amarylis of Puerto Rico, and Karla of Florida. As far as the Pro Challenge, how one could judge such a talented array of dancers was beyond me. The first category was Rising Stars. This category is for dancers of less than three years experience who are emerging professional artists. There was Jesse with her flowing silk fan veils, Inger with an incredible and flirty cabaret and drum solo, Carina with her fusion routine and remarkable back bend, Melanie with her spirited veil work, the dramatic Amanda with floorwork, Samia with her snake-like grace and splits, and Yvonna with her high energy fan work and floorwork. Inger Oyoko of Kenya won with fellow dance troupe member, Samia as runner-up.
Next was the Pro Fusion category. Spotlight dancers included Shadiyah of Maryland, Madri’nah of Florida, and Shoshannah Estell of Georgia. The contestants were impressive. Heather performed a very athletic piece with power and control. Melanie Tawar danced like a hip-hop influenced snake with sha’abi attitude. Aaliyah Jenny, dancing to Katy Perry added a dramatic flair with her unique style and audience interaction. There was the mesmerizing Stephanie with her 1920’s flapper-burlesque style costume and music. Aaliyah Jenny won the contest with Melanie as runner-up.
Last but not least was the Pro Solo event. With only two competitors, it was interesting because both dancers were talented, energetic and beautiful in their cabaret routines. Ashley performed a classical cabaret routine with zills, veil and superb floorwork. Anais performed a spirited classical zill routine, engaging the audience with her every move. Anais won over the judges as well.
Friday night’s show, the Bellies for Babies Spectacular Showcase offered a variety of dance styles by professionals. Opening the show was Florida troupe, Amajo Dance Company who did it all: zills, canes, candle balancing veils and even engaged the audience. Amira Ariz of New York City was next with her classic cabaret veil routine with shimmies galore. Olga from Tennessee danced a spirited Gypsy routine in flowing floral skirt and fringed shawl. From Florida, the Anile dance Collective performed fusion. Karla, the 2014 Rising Star Soloist danced in black lace with a Spanish fusion influence. Delores Christina of Florida amazed with her controlled layering and powerful shimmies dancing a drum solo. Yana came out with a flamenco-influenced dance. Rising Star Soloist Samia danced a fan veil routine with floorwork. Debka and Olga performed a spirited Gypsy routine with tambourines. The River City Rakasas danced a fun cane dance. The Sahara Silk Fusion Dancers of Florida brought down the house with their western-inspired cowboy tribal routine. With calico prairie dresses, white ruffled bloomers, suspenders and boots, they added ho-down to fusion. Incredible! Next was the inspiring Mia Sha’uri performing a hip-hop fusion piece … no props. Arish Lam’s Little Temple Dancers and Miracula were next. If a belly dance troupe should be on Broadway, this troupe from Puerto Rico is it. Mesmerizing is all that I can say. With a troupe of talented young dancers, children and teens, adults and Arish himself, the theatrical drama on stage was an honor to witness. The creative costuming, staging and the dancing were beyond what one could ever expect to see. I was rendered speechless. Terry had to follow this act with a lovely fusion dance. The lovely Shoshannah Estell from Georgia followed with her amazing flexibility and non-stop shimmies. Lacey Sanchez, the dynamo Florida fusion dancer was next with her snakey movements. She is truly tribal fusion at its best. Silvia Salamanca ended the show. What an ending. She came out with one sword, added a second sword, dropped to the floor, did Berber walks, body rolls in a sparkling harem outfit fusion style. If that wasn’t enough, she added a third sword, between her toes no less. She spun like a Whirling Dervish. Always in control yet maintaining her trademark sense of humor. Her performance was jaw-dropping. No kidding!
Saturday night was the Bellies for Babies Gala Showcase. After Friday night, I truly did not know what to expect.
Always expect the unexpected. Mia Sha’uri opened the show with a fierce hip-hop fusion piece. After, she was “roasted” because she was getting married on Saturday, August 8. A sparkle cap was placed on her head and shimming Isis wings adorning her shoulders as she sat front and center before the stage. What transpired was hysterical fun. Dancers came out emulating her. One danced with every prop she could handle playing on Mia’s title of “queen of props.” Another pranced around with Mia’s signature tambourine. Yet another imitated Mia’s flirting with her long hair. Arish Lam stole the show dressed as a female belly dancer with long black wig and when his bra padding fell out, everyone was about to roll in the aisles. Last, Karen Barbee came out dancing to the song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Mia will never forget this moment, I’m sure.
Pro Solo winner Anais came out dancing with her zills and veil and followed-up with a spirited drum solo. Aaliyah Jenny, Pro Fusion winner performed a touching, heart-felt fusion piece dedicated to the belly dance community and to her family who helped her beat cancer. Kata Maya, winner of the 2014 Pro Solo and Pro Fusion categories danced the fusion routine she taught in her workshop to “Shatter Me.” Guest Artist Donna Mejia was a vision in blue as she performed a haunting world fusion piece, showcasing her amazing talent and love for dance. Donna from Colorado was next with a unique international fusion dance. Next came the dynamic duo of Silvia Salamanca and Mia Sha’uri dancing Bollywood as only they can. Najmah Noor of Florida came out in a sleek black dress performing a dark, haunting romantic piece. Arielle of Florida added drama to the already dramatic. She began dancing inside of a life-size gilded birdcage. Adorned in showgirl sequins and feather plumage, she was the trapped bird emerging from the cage, fluttering her feather fan wings with burlesque fusion at its most theatrical. Karen Barbee showcased her mastery of the zills as she pranced and danced in a blue baladi dress with energy galore. Yana came on stage adorned in feathers as more of an angry jungle bird with shimmies galore and attitude. Donna Mejia came out with fusion attitude, pops and locks, backbends and shimmies. Shoshannah Estell of Georgia danced in true fusion form with mechanical precision, gliding shimmies across the floor, splits, hip-hop and even some twerking thrown in. Lacey Sanchez epitomized Tribal Fusion with her snakey, very sinuous style. Silvia Salamanca was the gypsy fusion artist in purple velvet: flowing skirtwork, frenetic, dramatic, emotional. In Campo style, she interpreted a song about a husband who kicked her out and her emotional reaction to this deed. Arish Lam and his incredible troupes, the Little Temple Dancers and Miracula closed out the show with another Broadway-worthy production. This time, his troupe traveled to the bottom of the sea with a tale of good overcoming evil with King Neptune saving the day. Quite a lavish spectacle.
A highlight of the long weekend was special guest, Donna Mejia. Donna is an assistant professor at Colorado University, Boulder Theater and Dance. She is a renowned scholar, choreographer, director and performer “specializing in contemporary dance, traditions of Africa and Arab Diaspora and emerging fusion traditions in Transnational Electronica – a genre that provides a rich arena for the study of cultural imperialism, gender representation and electronic/digital globalization. Her dance knowledge, study, certifications, honors and experience are vast. Her knowledge was impressive, her lectures and workshops impressive. I will cover them in a future article.
Throughout the event, there was a silent auction of an array of dance and related items from conference packages, Disney park passes, Persian prints, gift certificates and donations from vendors. All proceeds of the auction benefited the non-profit charity, Formula One Life. Their mission is to collect and distribute baby formula to orphans in Ethiopia, Guatemala and Haiti.
An array of vendors sold quality items. Represented were BJ’s Bazaar, Dahlal International, Pharaoh’s Treasure, It Works! Kasab Jewelry, The Eyes Have it, Diva Dreads, Stellar Advantage, The Henna Studio and more.
The resort hotel was a tropical paradise with lush foliage, lagoons, multiple swimming pools and activities, elegant suites, a variety of food options and shops. It was also a short freeway ride from Orlando International Airport.
There was never a dull moment at this conference. It was all dance, all the time. The atmosphere, instructors and attendees were friendly, helpful, professional and non-competitive. So much was covered that it will take awhile for things to sink in and settle.
Save the date, August 4-August 7, 2016 and plan on attending the next Bellydance Masters featuring Karin Jensen & Mandala Dance Works of California. Be ready to master the dance!