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The annual Pittsburgh Bellydance Festival kicked off Saturday, November 11th at noon

with a serious of workshops held at Art in Motion Pittsburgh’s International Dance Studio in
Sharpsburg, PA. Created and directed by Janim, studio owner and bellydancer, the festival
consisted of a series of lectures, workshops, photo sessions, intensives, and performances.
Amartia of Baltimore, Maryland held a workshop entitled “The Golden Age of
Bellydance.” As dancers sat in chairs or lounged on the studio’s wooden floor, Amartia chassed
through this historical time period beginning with the 1920s. She drew correlations between
historical U.S. events and the Middle East to show the underlying themes between female
liberation and repression. Her lecture culminated with the showing of video clips in which
dancers made notable comments about costume and movement evolvement. One dancer, Emily,
commented that “these dancers [from the Golden Age] do a lot less movement…less
tricks…than today’s dancers.”
One of Art in Motion Pittsburgh International Dance Studio’s owners, Luciana Brussi,
introduced bellydancers to Brazilian samba during an aptly titled workshop: “Hipwork, Heels,
and Rebolas.” For an hour, a dozen belly dancers and half a dozen dancers from the Pittsburgh
Samba Group worked together to find commonalities between the two dance forms. Aminah, a
bellydancer from Washington, D.C. commented, “I can definitely see a similarity in movements.
I’ve seen other dancers fuse some of these steps into their choreographies, but I didn’t know
what they were from.” Luciana Brussi, a former Brazil carnival queen, teaches regular samba
classes for both children and adults.
The workshop titled “Rhythm & Raqs: Conversations with your Drummer” was led by
Bryan Bowman, a drummer with the belly rock band Ishtar. Part of this workshop involved
Bryan relating questions and information that a dancer should discuss with a drummer prior to a
performance. Bryan explained that it is important to “maintain eye get a cue when a
rhythm is about to change or the drum solo is about to end.” Then Bryan put various rhythms
into contexts, such as when the rhythm falls in compositions and the clues to listen for to signify
the beginning and end of each rhythm. The workshop culminated with workshop attendees
engaging in improvisational dance as Bryan drummed each rhythm.
Ishtar, Pittsburgh’s belly rock band, led the day’s final workshop, “Dancing with a Live
Band.” Melissa Murphy, the band’s lead clarinetist, reiterated Bryan’s earlier point about looking
for and paying attention to nonverbal cues: “dancers have to watch me to know when I am cuing
the band to repeat part of a song or when the song will end. I can’t talk and play the clarinet at
the same time.” Melissa then told dancers about songs with stinger endings followed by Ishtar
playing a few for dancers to practice watching for nonverbal cues. Ishtar also played a series of
slow pieces in order for dancers to practice what is called a taxim. This part of a bellydance set
involves dancing with Melissa as she plays the clarinet. Ishtar can be seen playing at various
public and private events throughout the U.S.
Saturday evening’s events will include a fashion show exhibiting dance fashions created
for Amartia’s Carrie Bradshaw of Bellydance line and Shanna’s Dance Couture followed with
performances by the Pittsburgh Samba Group, Aminah, Amartia, Catty Whomp, Nawal, Troupe
Faraatha, Emily, Haniyah, Victoria Teel, and Janim. On Sunday, November 12, dancers will
enjoy a day of intensive training with Washington, D.C.’s Victoria Teel, a former Project
Bellydance contestant.