This year, the Rochester Fringe Festival featured two different belly dance shows: One by the local Desert Rhythms Belly Dance Troupe, and the other entitled “A Journey Through Middle Eastern Dance” by Dylaina Alexandria and company.
Belly dance is one of the oldest recorded styles of dance, dating back to ancient Egypt. The dance is classified by its reliance on hip swaying, undulating bodies, and fluttering stomachs. As belly dance has spread globally, different variations of the dance flourished. Raqs Sharqi is the classical Egyptian belly dance, but there are also Turkish, Lebanese, American Cabaret, and Tribal belly dance. Modern styles of belly dance typically incorporate aspects of all or most of these styles.
Desert Rhythms Belly Dance Troupe is a group that has performed at the Rochester Fringe Festival for several years. The group prides itself on its 30-year history of blending American Cabaret and Tribal belly dance styles.
This year’s performance was held at the Little Theater on Saturday, Sept. 16. The dancers gracefully undulated and swayed with their music. The whoops and shouts were consistent enough throughout the performance that even when technical difficulties arose and the music stopped playing, the dancers continued their lively performance to the beat of the audience’s clapping.
Desert Rhythm’s performance at The Little featured many props as well, including swords, veils, finger cymbals called zills, canes, and even candles. Solos, duets, and group dances featured each person’s talent of balancing a sword on their head, or hypnotically rolling their abs without moving any other part of their body.
Overall, the daytime belly dance performance put on by Desert Rhythms Belly Dance Troupe was a mesmerizing showcase of self expression by individuals of all ages, shapes, and sizes. The audience were well satisfied with the free show, and left feeling energized and empowered.
The evening performance by Dylaina Alexandria Belly Dance was much more oriented to mature audiences, although that was likely assumed by the venue: The Spirit Room is a local bar serving cocktails (and mocktails!) centered around the theme of the Fox Sisters. While the venue would have likely been a wonderful spot for an intimate belly dance show, as the dance is more traditionally performed, the Fringe Festival obviously did not expect this particular show to attract such a crowd.
Tickets for the Sept. 16th performance of “A Journey Through Middle Eastern Dance” were oversold by 50% capacity — as could be heard from the overwhelmed Fringe Festival volunteers who were meant to monitor the door and collect tickets. For nearly 20 minutes before the show was set to begin, there was no one scanning tickets. When there was finally a ticket scanning system put in place, most people had already flooded into the already packed narrow room. Many people brought in folding chairs from the adjoining bar room and stood like sardines in the back for the hour-long duration of the show.
One thing is obvious: There is a large audience for evening belly dance, and somewhere along the lines of Fringe Festival planning, that was forgotten. This came not at the fault of Dylaina Alexandria and company, but rather the multitude of individuals involved in organizing the Fringe Festival entertainment.
Regardless of the packed house, Dylaina and her co-stars shined brightly onstage. Even though the show began ten minutes late, the crowd warmed easily. In comparison to Desert Rhythm’s day show, this audience was extremely vocal — although that could be chalked up to the room’s small size and the alcohol served at The Spirit Room.
Many different styles of belly dance were showcased through solos, duets, and group work, as well as usage of props such as veils, canes, and swords. Most impressive to the audience was a solo in which one dancer balanced a lit candelabra on her head and continued to dance fluidly. Unfortunately, only the front row had the spectacular view of her utilizing floorwork with the candelabra still atop her head.
Overall, “A Journey Through Middle Eastern Dance” was an eclectic performance of belly dance styles, and even some featured a blending of belly dance styles with styles of dance from other cultures. The show exposed the audience to the true diversity within belly dance as a whole and blurred the lines between each style.
Both Desert Rhythms Belly Dance Troupe and Dylaina Alexandria offer belly dance classes, which were mentioned in each performance, and audiences were encouraged to attend rehearsals to learn more about belly dance. Dylaina Alexandria is also an adjunct instructor with the Program of Dance and Movement, and teaches classes focusing on Middle Eastern Dance.