World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival



NATIONAL/ETHNIC IDENTITY: Egypt and the Middle East
First appearance in SF EDF: 2016

Alma is an award-winning and internationally performing belly dancer, instructor, and choreographer known for her musicality and stage presence. Of Peruvian and Algerian descent, Alma was born in Perú, where she was first introduced to the West African rhythms that also influence raqs sharqi.  She believes that dance makes a direct connection to the spirit of the land; the rhythmic drums pulse like a transcendent heartbeat. She began her studies in Middle Eastern dance with Sandra Heiser and continues to develop a style inspired by the Golden Era dancers.


GENRE: Belly Dance
TITLE: Aziza
MUSICIANS: The Georges Lammam Ensemble featuring Susu Pampanin—Amina Goodyear (riq, duf), Terri Anne Gutierrez (percussion), Khader Keileh (keyboard), Georges Lammam (violin), Susu Pampanin (tabla), Mohini Rustagi (percussion)

Photo by Mark Muntean

Our 2016 Festival featured a special Belly Dance Cabaret in the Palace of Fine Arts. The performance followed the modern structure created by Lebanese dancer Badia Masabni for the 1920s Cairo stage. Alma presented a lyrical and free-spirited solo, Aziza.

The form—modern raks sharqi, often called belly dance—evolved from the Middle Eastern and North African folk dance raks beladi, danced by women in their homes. Badia Masabni took belly dance to another level with extravagant stage performances, adding grand entrances, veils, wide traveling steps, upper body isolations, and lines and shapes seen in western ballet. The earthy and intimate raks sharqi transformed to a cosmopolitan, sophisticated form, and it continues to evolve today.

Alma presented the classic Egyptian raks sharqi piece Aziza, originally choreographed for a 1954 film of the same name. Alma’s interpretation draws inspiration from Golden Era Egyptian dancers, and also from her ongoing collaborations with the musicians who accompanied the piece, The Georges Lammam Ensemble featuring Susu Pampanin.

The story tells of Aziza, who leaves her lover. He begs her to return; she cannot be persuaded, deciding instead to remain happily independent, running free like the wind. The music has a melodic form associated with Aziza’s free and airy energy. As the song develops, the melody echoes the conversation between Aziza and her lover.

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