Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Advent of the Belly Dance Troupe era - mid 1980s

   I was lamenting the downslide of my dance career, feeling rather sorry for myself, when I received a call from Latifa of Laguna Beach, CA. She remembered me from Stox II and said she wanted to start a dance company comprised of popular dancers. Apparently many corporate clients told her they would be more interested in a group of dancers than a soloist, and being very enterprising she got to work organizing a commercially viable company the "Arabesque Dance Company". All it took was for Latifa to tell me Sahra Saeeda (Kent) was onboard to convince me to join my first dance troupe.
Sahra, Kamala, Latifa, Asmara & Amira in our Cleopatra inspired gear

   This was a great learning experience for me, yet a very difficult one. Rehearsals were at Latifa's house in Laguna Beach - a good 2 hour drive. This eventually became a bone of contention. Long drives through horrendous traffic made me a salty girl indeed. The upside was Learning Sahra's choreographies & paying attention to how she constructed group choreography. My jazz background came in handy now - I was accustomed to learning choreography quickly & retaining it. Latifa urged me to come up with a piece, yet I was unsure of my choreographing abilities & reluctant to try my hand at it, so I didn't contribute, except for an improvisational number where I was dressed as a snake & came out of a basket.
   Latifa's American husband told her Americans would never be interested in watching traditional Middle Eastern dance or hearing Arabic music. Hence, she set out to find "acceptable" music for the large "Arabian Nights" corporate parties that were popular in the day. It was the Orange County Disneyland version of Belly Dance. A husband wife team, Amira and Kevin were added to the troupe.  Latifa contracted Jimmy DeFore, a jazz dancer who had performed with legend Jack Cole to choreograph a fusion number for us. The troupe's lack of jazz skills became apparent immediately & the routine was watered down to a Jazz 101 ridiculous routine. There were a few movements we learned from Mr DeFore that I loved & have incorporated into a few of my own choreographies later in my career.

Amira, Kamala, Kevin, Sahra & Latifa

   One particular party we were booked at was located at a grand Beverly Hills mansion. We were to perform our "Cleopatra" number, with Latifa decked out in Cleopatra wig and fancy costume. As we stepped onto the stage we were immediately met by the violet eyes of no other than Cleopatra herself, Liz Taylor, sitting in the front row. She smiled very graciously, while Latifa looked a little flummoxed, & Sahra & I did our bookend background dancer shtick behind her.
   Latifa and Sahra both had studied with the famous Farida Fahmy of Egypt's Reda Troupe while she was in LA. Farida was attending UCLA & had become Sahra's friend & mentor. She was to be honored at a large Egyptian function at the Beverly Hills Hotel, & we were fortunate enough for her to decide to choreograph several numbers for us to perform at this event. I was a huge fan of Mahmoud Reda's fabulous old Egyptian musicals. It wasn't easy to find these videos, but I was, & still am, enamored of the style, flair & technique Mahmoud & Farida brought to these vintage films. To work with Farida was a dream come true, & still a highlight of my dance career.
Sahra, Kamala, Latifa & Amira, inspired by Farida Fahmy

   After a few years Sahra was to visit Egypt, but she didn't return, as she got a dance contract at a 5 star hotel. Amira became very ill, & put up a valiant fight against ovarian cancer, but sadly succumbed. Latifa added the beautiful Sultana (who I had discussed in an earlier blog about Stox II). Once we added her we discovered she was not able to retain or even learn choreography, as brilliant a soloist as she was. We had to rearrange our shows to make her the center dancer doing her own thing while myself and two new dancers were doing the choreographies around her.

Sahra, Roxxanne Shelby, Latifa, Amira, Asmara & Kamala

   I was going through personal strife at this time with the death of a beloved grandfather & my parent's pre break-up stress. I started to experience anxiety attacks, & a violent hair tossing drum solo choreography of Latifa's caused great damage to my neck - exacerbating the anxiety attacks. This was a darker period in life for me.