Dance Shows – a weekend of Bellydance and Cabaret

I’ve joined two Bellydance classes since being in London.

One is what I would consider an Advanced class, focussing on Arabic Theatrical Cabaret.  The teacher is an Egyptian man called Shafeek; the ladies in the class have been dancing for years, some teach classes themselves. I’m really enjoying extending myself.

The other is a Beginners Class with Hayaam Bellydance. I’m taking it because I like to see how people teach the fundamentals. It’s good to go over them myself too. I was drawn to Hayaam’s website from a Google Ad, and found it to be a very professional site.  Adrianna is a Brazilian teacher who is invigorating her new students into Bellydance.

This weekend, both teachers were performing, and I went to the shows.

On Friday 27th, Arabian Dance Theatre had organised an Egyptian Cabaret night. It was at Concrete at Shoreditch High Street. A group of ladies from the dance class had booked seats at a table. The dancers were really enjoyable. The crowd were predominantly Arabs and Bellydancers – I take that as a good sign. The performers were amazing. Shafeek performed a traditional Saiidi with sticks. His wife Tara Lee did an amazing drum solo. I saw Anne White perform for the first time. She had an amazing stage presence, a je ne sais quoi. I don’t know if she appreciated me complimenting her performance afterwards though.

There were live drummers, on a darrabukka and frame drum. They asked people to get up and dance with them. I was surprised more people didn’t get up. (I would’ve, but there were people on either side of me, so I couldn’t).

There was a surreal moment for me. There was a pop singer, performing three songs to a backing track. In NZ, we don’t really have a pop music scene – or, rather, we don’t have girl bands and boy bands for people to join (or if there are, I don’t know about them). So the idea of seeing someone get up and perform in a club, dressed and acting as though they’re in a girl band – – I’m just not used to the pop music culture. Call me strange, but that’s how I found it. Y’know, where the act is more important than the singing? Where the stage presence and dancing overrides the music? I’m just not used to it. I kept comparing to some amazingly talented pro singers that I know in NZ. Anyway, the singer was fine, but I found it surreal.

The show ended with a trio of Samba dancers, including Isa (on the right in the pic), who helps Shafeek with the dance classes. The ladies were amazing, and got us all up dancing with them.

And then the DJ took over, and we all got up to dance. It was a fantastic night.

If you’re in London, you can find out more about Egyptian Cabaret by liking their FB page.

Vicky, one of the ladies in the Hayaam Bellydance class, was helping to organise a fundraiser for Bonobos, an endangered ape that share 98% of their dna with humans. Vicky had arranged for Adrianna Hayaam to perform. So on  Saturday 28, I found myself at Bonobo Burlesque and Cabaret, at The Gate in Farringdon. I didn’t know anyone, so was introducing myself to people. Vicky was introducing me to people as well. (Hi to the people I hung out with and to whom I gave my card.)

There were three burlesque acts, three music acts, and the bellydancer. The venue is an oblong, with the bar running down one side, and a raised sitting area at the opposite end to the entrance. The performers weren’t on the raised area, but at the foot of the stairs. As such, only the people at the front could see them. The rest of us either had to stand on chairs or tables, or just accept that it was a charity event, and we couldn’t see what was going on. Even standing on a chair, I couldn’t see all that much. Also, the sound guys were having a tough time: the people at the back couldn’t hear anything. And they were to the side, behind, higher than the performers, so couldn’t hear what the audience was.

Burlesque requires a lot of confidence, so we whooped and clapped and supported the performers (even without seeing most of what they were doing). When Hayaam came out, I clapped along to the beat. The Germans I was sitting with weren’t necessarily interested in Bellydance. But after seeing me get into it, they stood up on chairs and joined in too. Hayaam performed two songs – the first of which involved avoiding a drunken guy who tried to take part. (The toilets were unfortunately behind the ‘stage’. So if you got caught during an act, you had to wait until they had finished or had a break to come out. Drunken man didn’t wait.)

The Massive Violins, a cello ensemble playing covers, were stand-out performers. Amazing voices. Talented musicians. The sound mix could have bought the cellos out more (forgiven due to aforementioned problems), so I’m looking forward to hearing this band in a different setting.

Another stand-out were Elle and the Pocket-Belles, a swing quintet performing standards from the 40s and some covers. Amazingly talented. There were a couple of swing dancers at the back of the room, making use of the music and space (now that the crowd had massed at the front).

All in all, the show was good fun, and what I saw of the performances were good.

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