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Bellyqueen – Traditional Belly Dancing and Beyond

by Robert Abrams
March 21, 2007
The Kraine Theatre
85 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
www.BellyQueen.com
Bellyqueen Dance Theater danced their hearts out on March 21, 2007 at the Kraine Theatre. This was not the sort of mock come-on style of dancing one often finds in restaurants. This was full on theatrical dance, some traditional and some less so, that was backed up by talent and discipline. If you are a Belly Dancing devotee, you will love Bellyqueen. If you are a general dance fan, there is a chance you will overdose by seeing this much Belly Dancing at once, but you will most likely have a very positive experience.

The show consisted of 18 numbers.

Kaeshi Chai, Elisheva and Fayzah performed "Hip Pop NYC", which was labeled BellyPopping. This was a slightly MTVish adaptation of Belly Dancing. Their slow movements were very controlled. They had great isolations. I particularly liked the use of canon, such as an arm roll relay.

In "Desert Eclipse", a modern double veil solo, Sandralis proved you do not need to be anorexic to be beautiful. She was also alluring without being overtly suggestive. I liked the cool effects produced with long scarves.

Anasma danced "Beauty and the Beast", a theatrical dance solo. Her body undulated like a cat with a flexible spine. Some of this number might have been a little repetitive, but she was so engaging that I didn't really mind.

Amar Gamal and Kaeshi Chai danced "Banat Skandariah", a cabaret duo. I thought this number bore a resemblance to Sevillianas with the flowing feet and the circular motion of two women around the stage. There was also a slotted section which suggested that Bellyqueen could do some interesting fusion of belly dancing and West Coast Swing. Both dancers had presence. Their moves were finished nicely.

"Rhythm of the Heart" was a beatboxing drum solo danced by Elisheva. The first part of this number was very slow, which provided a good contrast to the previous number. Soon it sped up. The dancer's hands guided the audience's eyes to other parts of her body. While it is true that she, and everyone else in the company, have nice parts moved attractively, that was the least of the attraction of the show. I almost wish they would dance in less revealing outfits as it would make for a greater challenge for the dancers. Not that I am complaining about the outfits, mind you.

Susan Frankovich performed "James Bond meets Charlie's Angels". This was a Bond girl number with a Charleston crossed with a Cha-cha. I thought the number would have been stronger if she had had a partner to play off of.

"Funk It Up!", a middle eastern jazz number, was danced by Kaeshi Chai, Amar Garnal, Sandralis, Elisheva, Fayzah and Anasma. All six women let their hair fly. The choreography included nice canon moves as a group across the stage.

Guest artist Arthur Gulkarov performed a dance with Indian influences. He spun rapidly, always in control. He was a contortionist whose arms seemed to be made out of Twizzlers. When he smiled he was perfect.

Elisheva, Sandralis and Anasma performed "Nagwa", a modern Egyptian wings trio. Their silver wings flowed while framing the dancers. They needed a bigger stage for this number. Bellyqueen deserves a bigger stage in general.

Kaeshi Chai danced "Web of the Black Widow", an improvised veil solo. Her black outfit with a white scarf was very striking. She was better when she smiled. This number might have been a little too reserved.

The next number had two men, Hypno and Tiny Love, assisted by Amar Gamal and Dariya. They performed a Thriller type dancing with a Rocky theme. There was some Disco in the mix. This was definitely not Belly Dancing, but the isolations were just as good. They were very funny.

Fayzah danced "Musings Tribal Fusion with Tango" to Tango music. I thought this number had a lot of isolations for the sake of isolations, which isn't a bad thing. I didn't think she used the entire floor enough. I would like to see what she would do with a partner in this kind of fusion number.

Julia Kulakova, in "Russian Gypsy", used the floor more. I thought the use of a partner to play off of here would have been interesting as well. I thought she was better when she was smiling.

"Electro Mechanica Tribal Breaks" was danced by Geneva. Sometimes she sucked her stomach in so far I wondered where the rest of her body went to. This number was also fairly reserved.

Kaeshi Chai, Elisheva, Fayzahg, Sandralis and Anasma danced the Egyptian folkloric "Saidi Cane Gathering". The dancers balanced canes on their heads as they moved across the room without dropping them. There was a breezy quality of the movement. They also expertly twirled the canes.

Amar Gamal danced a "Modern Baladi Solo". This was an elegant number. It made me think of Foxtrot.

Susan Frankovich, Elisheva, Sandralis, Anasma, Geneva and two dancers not listed in the program danced in lines and circles with a call and response. They had unison at speed. This was not just random shaking (which can be said about much of the show).

The next number doesn't appear to be on the program. There were two women who danced enthusiastically. Their mid-sections were moving wildly, but their shoulders were still. They would have made a Ballroom instructor proud.

The finale, "Bellyqueen Group Drum Solo", featured Amar Gamal, Kaeshi Chai, Elisheva, Fayzah, Susan Frankovich, Anasma, Geneva and Sandralis, although I counted eleven dancers. They danced one line and then another in unison. They had flair from beginning to end. The dancers were assured but accessible.

As it turned out, the story did not stop with the final curtain. I liked the performance so much that I bought their DVD. A few days later I was babysitting my niece and nephews. Dancing well may take training, but babysitting well takes a serious bag of tricks. I tried to get the kids to watch the Bellyqueen video. At first they resisted. They wanted to watch "The Little Mermaid" for the 100th time, but eventually they relented. We watched three or four numbers from the DVD. Later that day, the kids had been so impressed with the Bellyqueen video that they were asking me to play it again.

This leads me to my suggestions for improvement. The members of Bellyqueen are very good at what they do, but there are a lot of people who might not be reachable if all that is on offer is an entire evening of Belly Dancing. I suggest that Bellyqueen try three experiments. First, take the sort of dancing that they are already doing and weave it into a story. That will help attract people who like dance well enough, but aren't necessarily going to attend pure abstract dance on a regular basis. Second, work with other dance companies who perform other styles of dance to create a multi-dance show (either with a story or in a pure dance form). That will help Bellyqueen reach other segments of the dance audience and will likely show Bellyqueen in a favorable light when they are seen on the same stage with the more traditional theatrical forms such as Ballet and Modern. Finally, Bellyqueen should create a children's show and DVD. Based on the research I have done to date with some very demanding consumers of children's television (i.e. my sister's kids), I am confident that with the right story Bellyqueen would be capable of producing a hit that will sustain them for years to come and will be an effective way to introduce kids to dance while keeping them from destroying the furniture.
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