2011 New York Theatrical Bellydance Conference Recap

2011 Theatrical Bellydance Conference

2011 Theatrical Bellydance Conference

It was really a pleasure to attend, perform and present at the 2011 Theatrical Bellydance Conference. The main event was a 4-day marathon of classes, panels, talks, and stellar performances from 10am-11pm daily! I’ll admit I’m feeling a little separation anxiety after all that quality dance time, but I’m also feeling totally refreshed and inspired by everything I learned and by the incredible (no seriously, INCREDIBLE) people I met at this conference. A big thank you to co-directors Ranya Renee and Anasma, as well as their team, for a wonderful experience.

In lieu of a detailed recap, I pulled some of my favorite workshop notes and pictures from the conference. Hopefully there will be lots more photos up on the official conference site soon. Enjoy! (and share yours if you have them)

Selected workshop notes

  • be a peach
  • no struggle!
  • belly dance is 20 moves + your essence
  • a pose is the punctuation for your movement
  • feel energy, don’t just move planes through space
  • be simple
  • come out like a slingshot
  • the veil will ALWAYS upstage you
  • you have the power to change the mood of the audience
  • stack your body
  • follow through from top to bottom in whatever you do
Najla and Aszmara

Najla and Aszmara

Najla and Ranya Renee

Najla with conference co-director (and fellow Yale alum) Ranya Renee

Wendy Buonaventura, Hanan and Najla

"Orientalism and Dance" panelists Wendy Buonaventura, Hanan and Najla (not pictured, DaVid of Scandinavia and Andrea Anwar)

Najla and DaVid of Scandinavia

Goofing around with DaVid of Scandinavia

Beatbox Guitar Jebon

Dancing to the music of Beatbox Guitar at the conference after-party at Jebon


Sneak peak! “Dancing the Other: Belly Dance in 1920s Paris” talk at the Theatrical Belly Dance Conference

Princess Ben Madhia, c. 1920s in a Parisian jazz magazine

Princess Ben Madhia, c. 1920s in a Parisian jazz magazine

Here’s a sneak peak of my talk on the wild world of belly dance in 1920s Paris, from the world’s fairs to the ballets to the bawdy music halls. This Saturday 7/9 at the Theatrical Bellydance Conference, 1:30-2:30 pm, Room 16T, Ripley-Grier Studios (520 Eighth Avenue 16th Floor, NYC). Free for conference-goers, $5 for general public.

Paris in the 1920s was a city electrified by dance, a city that moved to the sights and sounds of the latest trends at a seemingly unstoppable pace, where belly dancers tantalized audiences at the music halls and Oriental ballets played to packed houses in the city’s opera houses. The dance scene was colored by visions of otherness, stereotypes and simplifications of movement and culture that were shaped by the French colonial mindset and the wildly successful universal expositions whose presentations of “authentic” foreign dances served as one of the primary influences on the Oriental dances that came into vogue during the height of the colonial period…This talk seeks to analyze and interpret the presentations of Middle Eastern dance at expositions, music halls and concert halls in 1920s Paris and the preceding decades as both a historical study and as a lens through which we can view our present day conflicts and considerations in Middle Eastern dance, many of which center around the intersection of authenticity, fusion and theatricality.

What can a belly dancer learn from ballet? Swan Lake at the American Ballet Theater

Swan Lake at ABT

Swan Lake at ABT

I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend to the dress rehearsal of ABT’s production of Swan Lake earlier this week. It had been a (long) while since I’d been to a ballet, and I was excited to see it in one of my favorite theater spaces at Lincoln Center.

I’ve been thinking a lot about theatricality in dance and expressing emotion after my first competition experience, and in anticipation of next week’s Theatrical Bellydance Conference, and these thoughts surfaced while watching Swan Lake. While it’s certainly not a novelty to apply lessons from ballet to belly dance (see Mahmoud Reda), I definitely came out of the show with a few relevant ideas to apply to my own dance.


One of the great parts of seeing a dress rehearsal is that sometimes the same part will be danced by different artists in order to allow them all to rehearse. For the audience, that means a case study in evaluating the nuances. While the experience of watching ballet is usually done from afar, in an audience chair (and not up close at the kebab house, like in belly dance), facial emotion still reads across all those yards. That’s not to say that ballet is fully acted, but that those little extra things–like a certain expression or hand movement–can make a world of difference. Gillian Murphy brought a certain spunk to Odette (the white swan) through her coy looks and sharp accents, while Paloma Hererra’s languishing, cool extensions brought vulnerability to the role.

Something that was especially evident in Hererra’s performance–as well as in some of the better members of the corps–was the emotive power of the arms. Frankly, I could have watched just the arms and been happy with the performance! Arm and hands have been two of my key focuses for the last two years, and watching the ballerinas only reinforced my own desire to use arm placement and movement to enhance the musicality of a choreography, and to interpret the music and mood while not feeling confined to acting on each note or phrase. I’m really looking forward to improving my ability to really inhabit the music, ballerina-style!