Entertainers from Martinez, Benicia perform at Rakkasah West

Rakkasah West, one of the largest belly dance festivals in the world, featured performers from multiple countries from around the globe as well as from as close as Martinez and Benicia.

A longtime celebration of Middle Eastern and North African dance and music, the festival features both dancers and musicians.

Its workshops give practitioners a chance to study with entertainment masters. The festival’s site, Centre Concord, was lined with vendors’ tables full of colorful scarves and veils, glittering metal-embroidered Assiut shawls and dresses, antique and modern jewelry, musical instruments, dancer swords and sparkling costumes.

Al’Azifoon, a Martinez band featuring Yosefah Rose on a zither type instrument called kanun, played for dancers on both the ballroom and cabaret stages. During some of their appearances, Bay Area drumming legend Mary Ellen Donald joined them.

Zyphire’s Sister Sirens, also of Martinez, were among the dance troupe performers, and Martinez dancer Asima was a soloist on the ballroom stage.

Among the Benicia dancers were the Grateful Sirens of the Bay, led by Saiedah, and Belle Epoque, led by Johanna Prink.

While many teachers came from California and other Western states, Leila Haddad flew in from Paris, France, and Naheda came from Ludwiggstady, Germany.

Aficionados of the dance form saw its many interpretations, from strictly traditional, such as Saidi cane dances, called raks assaya; to American cabaret, a style derived from Egyptian nightclub dancing that remains popular after more than half a century.

Others presented the various tribal styles, such as the American Tribal System developed by Carolena Nericcio, whose Fat Chance Bellydance entertained on the cabaret stage, and tribal fusion blends that incorporate styles of several cultures or are innovative original creations.

Rakkasah West has been a longtime annual event in the West Coast bellydance community, having been started in the late 1970s. It is one of several festivals organized annually by Shukirya and Michelle De Vine. Its website is http://www.rakkasah.com/west.

Photos by Donna Beth Weilenman

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