A day after Rochester’s first snowfall ushered in winter, Sihir’s fall show, “Gaia,” warmed its audience with fiery energy inside the May Room.
The Friday show started with a brief speech by Sihir president and junior Anush Mehrabyan. She said she is constantly inspired, challenged, and motivated by her incredible fellow belly dancers, and encouraged the audience to participate.
The first dance, which, according to Mehrabyan, was all about “passion, fire, and energy,” indeed instantly warmed up the room with its tremendous enthusiasm. With the upbeat tempo of “Haklak Rahtak,” the dancers created flowing movements with their bodies that, under the heart-shaped light projection, gained a unique, captivating elegance. Their red tops turned into vigorous flames that set the room on fire, and the black pantaloons, accentuated with meshes woven in gold coins, became the tender night that wrapped everyone in its mysterious wind. Their faces gleamed with joy.
Whenever the performers interacted with audience members in the first row, the crowd burst into thunderous cheers. The belly dancers adequately controlled the movements of their muscles. Sometimes certain parts of the body were isolated to emphasize their undulating motions, while other times their bodies moved as one, integrating into a harmonic symphony. The performance combined beauty and artistry while exploring our bodies’ athletic potential when allowed to move freely
Two Sihir alumni, Sophia Mcrae and Hannah Tompkins (both class of 2019), took on the role of hosting for the night. Following a brief introduction of this student led and choreographed dance ensemble that started in 2003, Mcrae stressed that the two main goals in their mission were to promote body positivity, as well as cultural awareness and sensitivity.
“As a result,” Mcrae said, “we encourage everyone of all ages, sizes, genders, and dance experiences to participate — truly anyone can belly dance.”
After the sixth dance of the show, Mcrae and Tompkins introduced the history and background of belly dance. The name “belly dance” has nothing to do with the origin of belly dancing at all — it was translated from the French term “danse du ventre” in the nineteenth century. “It is also sometimes known as oriental dance, raq sharqi, arabic for eastern dance,” they said, “or ras baladi, which is Egyptian arabic for country dance or folk dance.”
During the intermission, the guest performers, the YellowJackets, made sure the crowd had a good time by performing three songs: “All My Loving” by the Beatles, “Burn the House Down” by AJR, and “Broke” by Sam Henshaw. The ‘Jackets retained their charisma as usual. An audience member was even invited up and danced with the lead vocalist.
The “annual shimmy contest” was the climax of the second half: Five people walked on stage and were each asked what their favorite dance move was. Then, Tompkins gave them a mini shimmy lesson. At first, she demonstrated some basic-level shimmys — hip shimmy and shoulder shimmy — and everyone was following along.
However, when Hannah dazed the audience by demonstrating the extra-complicated move “shoulder shimmy undulation down and reverse three quarter shimmy hip circle to shoulder shimmy chest pop, bend and snap,” the whole room burst into laughter. The five participants then were asked to compete for the best shimmy. As the music started, each participant’s dance aroused the audience’s enthusiasm, leading to audience cheering and clapping continuously.
Unfortunately, two participants were eliminated in the first round, but everyone else won the enviable prize of “free Sihir practices for the rest of their undergraduate careers, and a free invitation to perform in next semester’s show.”
The show concluded with an exuberant last dance to the song “Bikhtissar” by Douzi, and the dance’s energy continued to light up everyone’s winter night.
With their lively choreography and splendidly designed costumes, “Gaia” was an extravaganza for the eye, and, more importantly, a true celebration of the body.