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Belly Dance Hafla

by Susan Weinrebe
May 13, 2005
Tommy's Place
12237 S. Western Avenue
Blue Island, IL 60456
708.389.7810

Belly Dance Hafla

Belly Dance Hafla
Performed at Tommy's Place
12237 S. Western Avenue
Blue Island, Illinois 60456
708.389.7810

Susan Weinrebe
May 13, 2005


With a doum tek tek of reverberating drumbeats and a swirl of gossamer scarves, the hafla, belly dance party, (see Interview with Ellie Pickering) at Tommy's Place was underway.

A sense of joyous anticipation permeated the crowd occupying all the ample seating around the spotlighted dance floor. Tommy sat at his DJ's booth and played the Middle Eastern CD selections each performer requested for her showcased dance.

At this regular gathering for professionals, students and admirers of the art of belly dance, the performers were all female, though men were certainly welcome and very much a presence in the audience.

For first time attendees, the evening was a good way to lose some stereotypes and inhibitions. Women of every age, size, shape, and ability performed and enjoyed the opportunity to take to the dance floor. And they didn't have to wait for a man to lead them! They danced in groups or individually or moved back and forth doing both, depending on their inclination.

One of the performers told me it was a particularly friendly, non-competitive group. Everyone I observed seemed to be having a swell time. I was even asked to join a dance group by some women I'd never met!

Announcing each performer, Sumaya, who organizes these haflas, called them onto the dance floor. Using names perfumed with exoticism, Na'ama Rose, Magda, Kailia, Badiya, and others, wowed the audience. They wore costumes designed to show their bodies and movements to best advantage, the bras and skirts exploding with brilliant color and light-reflecting embellishments. Coins and bangles, beaded swags, and encrusting sequins added to the visual richness and gave extra liveliness to already vivacious movements.

About those movements…. Just as in any other dance form, there is a basic vocabulary of movement for a belly dancer. How an individual uses the vocabulary to present a dance is what defines the quality of a performance.

Look for physical expressiveness that fits the music as well as for seamless transitions. Muscle groups should be moved and stilled in profound isolation. Inventive choreography is also desirable. Above all, expect the dancer to show passion and joy for the performance.

The dancers were as varied as their presentations. Unlike some dance forms that seem to require a particular body type, or a company that seems to have used a template to select performers who fit its physical mold, belly dance has a place for everyone who feels the emotion of the dance.

Particularly lyrical movement, elegant line, and graceful hands are identifying traits of Na'ama Rose's style and reveal her classical training. There is always a sweet and engaging expression on her face, and does she know how to use her eyes!

In the folkloric manner, Kailia demonstrated finesse using a cane in her turn on stage. The Upper Egyptian style originated as a man's dance, using a sort of wand employed in horse training. Kailia put a crowd-pleasing spin on the usual repertoire with her sassy prop.

Sylph like, Magda's technique showcased especially quick and controlled movement. Varying her routine with a spin among the tables to fetch her zills - finger cymbals, she held everyone's attention even when not center stage. Long after she should have been exhausted, she continued her dance segment. I asked her what vitamins she took, but she just laughed and wouldn't tell!

Christina wore a tribal style costume that she said, "…looked ethnic, but was not authentic." She worked her hips, belly, bust, and arms in stops and starts showing mastery over each muscle group- all the while balancing a scimitar on different parts of her anatomy!

Veils figured in the routines of several dancers. Cleverly used, a length of silk is a seductive addition in a routine, its sheerness hiding and alternately revealing.

Jade floated onto the stage with a waft of orange silk. I envisioned a dancing girl in a harem enchanting a sultan with the same coyness she showed in her compelling use of the veil. Then she dropped her veil and proceeded to dominate the stage with shimmy work that didn't quit. Later I asked her when she had first realized she was made of Jell-O! She, too, laughed, but she wouldn't tell!

This was one of the most exhilarating evenings imaginable. Adding to the enjoyment was the involvement of the audience, which clapped, called out encouragement, and ululated its support for the performers. I asked one man if he'd ever thought of trying to belly dance. "No," he replied, "it's a goddess thing." Indeed.


Azziza Performing
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe



Audience Participation at the Hafla
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe



Christina's Sword Dance
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe



Sumaya Dancing
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe



Magda Using zills
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe



Tommy's Place
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe



Tommy Playing Music
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe



Na'ama Rose
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe



Kailia's Cane Dance
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe



Jade With Veil
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe

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