World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Shabnam Dance Company

DANCE ORIGIN: Middle East and USA
GENRE: Belly Dance
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2007

Shabnam Dance Company was formed in 2010 with the goal to perform visionary and artistic interpretations on Near Eastern dance and to elevate the dance form for presentation on theatrical stage. All dance company members are hard-working apprentices of Shabnam, award-winning dancers with countless first-place titles. Artistic director/choreographer and dancer Shabnam is a multi-award winning performer and perhaps the most decorated belly dancer in the world, with an extensive repertoire in Near Eastern dance. She is dedicated to sharing the beauty of the art form, performing, teaching, and motivating women of all ages, shapes, and sizes at her dance studio on Grand Avenue in Oakland, California.


DANCE ORIGIN: Middle East and USA
GENRE: Belly Dance
TITLE: Arba’ah (Four): Dancing Drums, Mystical Zaar, Showstopping Shamadan, Hypnotic Hipwork
DANCERS: Anita Gaind, Mandanah Gallegos, Julie Huang, Karimah Keene, Paula Mitchell, Heaven Mousalem, Colleen Orlando, Diana Prendergast, Shabnam
Shirvani, Emily Taft, Katrina Totten


—is a World Premiere of modern belly dance from choeographer Shabnam—a performance celebrating the future of belly dance and summoning the vitality and life-energy of the four elements:

Earth is a drum dance, featuring the grounded Arabic rhythms of Saiidi, Baladi, and Fallahi with earthy and grounded movement. The beating of the drum symbolizes the sound of the beating heart of both humans and the Earth. The circular shape of the drum symbolizes the Earth and cycle of life.

Wind features movements from the tradition of Zār —a women’s healing ritual of drumming and dancing from Eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Zār is performed to harmonize the inner lives of participants, and its mesmerizing movements often bring on a spiritual trance. Here, the dancers’ swaying hair evokes the power, motion, and energy of the wind.

Fire is a performance of raks al shamadan, a daring balancing act performed with a candelabra—a headpiece adorned with candles.

Water features a high-energy solo, a rhythmic finale of thundering finger cymbals and wave-like body movements to evoke the flowing nature of water. Persian-American Shabnam first learned belly dance as a child where it was commonly performed at family celebrations. Baladi—Middle Eastern dance—evolved from one of the oldest forms of dance and it is still evolving. Belly dance is known in Greece as cifte telli, in Turkey as rakkase, and in Egypt as raks sharki. In America, it’s known as the flashy stage version called danse orientale, a form evolved from the glamorous group ensembles created for Cairo’s 1920s casinos.

Modern choreographers like Shabnam continue to add their personal and contemporary touch. Shabnam brings western staging and an athleticism and physical strength to belly dance, evoking empowerment and femininity. In this performance, the dancers also honor glitz and glamour, with modern costumes in the old Cairo style of draped skirt and glimmering sequined and beaded tops. They play the middle-eastern tabla, or darbukka, as the lead voice of percussion, a drum traditionally played only by men.


ShabnamTITLE: The Flirtation of Girls (Homage to Badia)
Sumaia De La Camara, Mandy Gallegos, Alicia Gonzales, Jules Huang, Karimah Keene, Heaven Mousalem, Diana Prendergrast, Shabnam


The Flirtation of Girls−Homage to Badia is a four-part performance of belly dance fusion. Inspired by the 1949 Egyptian film “Ghazal Al Banat”, it honors the elegance of a bygone era and the dynamism of contemporary belly dance. The piece begins with an original finger-cymbal routine, with a fast-flowing malfuf 2/4 rhythm, a 4/4 baladi rhythm, and percussive riffs commonly played by Egyptian drummers. Next—the dancers perform a veil dance with spirals, body extensions, and tosses. The third piece is a unique goblet dance, daringly performed on overturned wine glasses. Choreographer Shabnam’s inspiration was a vintage photograph of Fatma Akef, a dancer from a circus family. The set ends with a raks sharki drum solo, with accentuated hip isolations, shimmies, and line formations reminiscent of Cairo’s Golden Era.

The Badia of the title is Badia Masabni, mother of raks sharki dance (a form also known as Egyptian theatrical dance and contemporary belly dance). Badia moved from Lebanon to Cairo in the 1920s and opened the Opera Casino, Egypt’s first music hall, showcasing international comedians, dancers, and singers. Enchanted by Hollywood, Badia trained her traditional Middle Eastern dancers in a new and flashy form. She choreographed sweeping veil movements and dramatic floor patterns to fit the proscenium stage, and she designed a revealing two-piece costume.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Cairo attracted western and wealthy Arab tourists with sophisticated nightclub acts, orchestras, and western haute couture. The Arabic recording industry was born, as was Egypt’s Golden Age of Cinema. Badia’s dancers became film stars, and the world fell in love with belly dance. Today, early development of the style can be traced in Egyptian movies and on YouTube: from Tahia Carioca’s awalim style, danced demurely in one spot; to Samya Gamal’s balletic Hollywood-star performances; to Naima Akef’s athletic choreography (also from the Akef circus family); to Soher Zaki’s baladi solos with their precise hip isolations; to Nagwa Fouad’s expensive spectacles. Belly dance choreographers continue to shape the traditional form.

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