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Habibi, join us on a groovy carpet ride across ancient deserts: Disco Iskandar embarks on a voyage of belly dance, folklore, cinema, and history in a theatrical dance production, JOURNEY FROM THE NILE TO THE TIGRIS. Highlighting the prominence of belly dance in films of the Middle East from the 1940s through the 1970s, we present a live showcase exhibiting dances from Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, and beyond, performed with a projected backdrop of glorious dance scenes from retro international movies. It goes so much deeper than you think. Hookahs! Swords! Giant kittens! This cross section of entertainment and education is the culmination of years of obsessive learning, two national tours, and travels to Egypt & Lebanon. JOURNEY FROM THE NILE TO THE TIGRIS is a trip unlike any other.

 This production’s cast, alphabetized, is Gabi Corazon, Gia Bee, Karina, Liz Azi, Vania Ojeda, and director Veronica Lynn.

In this show, we visit four regions: Egypt, Turkey, the West, and the Arabian Peninsula. In each of these regions, cinema has thrived for decades, with the 1940’s through the 1960’s considered the Golden Era. A trend pervaded these movies, going into the early 80’s: that of belly dance being presented in long, fabulous, sometimes delightfully kitschy scenes. This trend demonstrates the prominence of these dances in their cultures of origin. Additionally, the casual, unremarked upon presence of folkloric dances such as tannoura (Egyptian whirling dervish) in fleeting scenes of everyday life provides an insight into how deeply embedded dance is in Egyptian & other Middle Eastern cultures.

This all plays out as the backdrop to JOURNEY FROM THE NILE TO THE TIGRIS: we select scenes from movies that coincide with the pieces we perform, with a few particularly beloved selections receiving a feature of their own.

We open with a grand entrance: Gia, Karina, Veronica, and Gabi perform a wings piece, followed by a fast and hair-whipping drum duet by Gia & Veronica. As we travel to Egypt, the dancers of Disco Iskandar perform six Egyptian dances. First, Liz & Veronica perform saidi, a folkloric dance from the Said region (also known as Upper Egypt). This dance is performed with canes, inspired by the ancient martial art of stick fighting known as tahtib. Next comes a solo performance by Gia demonstrating baladi. Baladi means “of my country,” and is used broadly to describe a dance style, a music genre, or a specific rhythm. This style is characterized by earthy movement-- a dance more of the working class than of big, glitzy stages. Following that, Vania & Karina present a twist on the shamadan. Instead of the traditional candelabra, we balance rhinestoned hookahs on our heads as we dance (acquired in Cairo on a visit in 2022). Next, we present a duet by Liz & Gia honoring the quintessentially “belly dance” prop: the flowing silk veil. This piece highlights a small slice of the mejance, a dancer’s grand entrance, that usually begins with a veil and samples varied rhythms and styles as a preview of what will follow in the dancer’s show. Next, we are graced by an Egyptian cabaret solo from Gabi.

Lastly in this section, Liz, Veronica, and Vania perform a theatrical dance called melaya leff, invented by Egypt’s Reda Troupe. A melaya is a long scarf that became popular in Alexandria in the 1930’s and was later adopted as an element in a stage dance that caricaturized the flirty but innocent young Alexandrian woman hanging out on the docks and dancing for the sailors. She wraps and unwraps her veil and swings it about in a fun, cheerful performance. There is so much more to share—the depth of dance and music in Egypt is an endless well of wonder—but in the span of sixty minutes, we can only just scratch the surface.

The next stop in our journey is a more brief but delightful visit to Turkey. First, Gia and Veronica present a Turkish style belly dance duet performed with finger cymbals, also called zills or sagaat. Turkish style belly dance is distinguished by its earthy, exaggerated movement, a tendency to strut rather than glide, and saucy floorwork. Zills are a common accompaniment in belly dance. Following that, Liz graces us with a luscious solo performance set to a 1970’s Turkish jam that absolutely slaps. The psychedelic rock trend hit Turkey particularly hard in the 60’s and 70’s, producing the unique and rich style of Anatolian Rock, a genre heavily featured in Disco Iskandar’s repertoire.

Onward to the West: we visit the United States, the UK, and Italy. Belly dance entered the consciousness of Americans & Europeans sometime in the late 19th century, and became a sensation in the early 1960’s and 70’s. In this era we see the development of the styles American Cabaret and what is now called Transnational Fusion (a fantasy interpretation of tribal cultures, evoking an old-world feel). As in Egypt, belly dance appeared in Western movies of the time with some frequency, one of the most well-known examples being the two-minute belly dance scene in From Russia With Love in 1963—but there is much more! In this section of the show, Gabi, Karina, and Veronica present a sword choreography, a distinctly American prop, likely inspired by the European Orientalist paintings of the 19th century. Following that, we are graced by a transnational fusion solo by Karina, and next a 1970’s West Coast solo from Veronica inspired by the Renaissance Faire belly dancers of Southern California (some of whom appeared in movies in the 60’s and 70’s). Next, Gabi, Liz, and Veronica present a Western-style drum solo choreography (so-called because the music exclusively features percussion). Lastly in this section, Vania graces us with a solo featuring fusion belly dance with Venezuelan influence.

JOURNEY FROM THE NILE TO THE TIGRIS culminates in a visit to the broadly Arab regions of the Middle East, specifically Iraq and Palestine. First Veronica, Gabi, Liz, and Gia perform a wonderful, amazingly fun dance from Iraq known as kawleeya. This dance is named after the people by whom it was performed; the Kawleeya gypsies who live mostly in and around Baghdad. The dance kawleeya as it exists in the big cities is nowadays mostly found in lower class hotels and nightclubs, although it is also danced in more rural parts of the country at weddings and celebrations. Kawleeya women are often the breadwinners of their family, working as singers, dancers, and sometimes prostitutes. The style of kawleeya presented by Disco Iskandar in this show is characterized by grounded, relaxed movement, showing off your long luscious hair, and a generally celebratory air. We pair this piece with Iraq’s 1956 movie “Bride of the Euphrates.”  

Throughout this show, we’ve explored dance scenes in movies from the late 40’s into the early 80’s, from Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, and several other countries. During our research for JOURNEY FROM THE NILE TO THE TIGRIS we’ve also enjoyed movies from Syria, Iran, Jordan, and Lebanon. We have shared none from Palestine. That is because there is a tragic dearth of films from Palestine predating the early 80’s, resulting from events during the 1982 Lebanon War. When the Palestinian Liberation Organization was forced out of Beirut as Israel besieged the city that year, the PLO (who funded the creation of many of the Palestinian films made at the time) stored thousands of films in an archive before fleeing. At some point during the siege, this cache of Palestinian films mysteriously disappeared—only to later be found languishing in Israeli Defense Force archives. There are approximately 38,000 films and more than two million photographs kept out of sight inside the borders of Israel, accessible to very few. For our final piece, in lieu of movie scenes, we share home videos of families & friends dancing at weddings and celebrations. We conclude the show with a performance, by the full cast, of Palestinian style dabka, a traditional chain dance ubiquitous in Levantine and Arab cultures—go to any wedding, and you’ll see dabka. It’s danced just for fun at parties and in living rooms and is also performed as a theatrical dance on big stages around the world. Disco Iskandar seeks to communicate the joy of dancing with loved ones by sharing this wonderful tradition.

The majority of the costumes in JOURNEY FROM THE NILE TO THE TIGRIS are either handmade by Veronica Lynn or members of Disco Iskandar or imported directly from Egypt and Turkey. Disco Iskandar has enjoyed the privilege of working with some of the best choreographers in the industry for our folkloric pieces, including Olga Kramarova, Zoe DeRose, Karina Fonseca, and Ella Zhang, alongside original belly dance choreographies by company members Veronica Lynn, Gia Bee, and Ariel Celeste. Credits can be found below.



1. “ETEK SARI” Dancers: Gia Bee, Veronica Lynn, Karina, Gabi Corazon. Choreography: Veronica Lynn. Costuming: Veronica Lynn

2. “ANASTASIA DRUM” Dancers: Gia Bee, Veronica Lynn. Choreography: Gia Bee and Ariel Celeste. Costuming: Veronica Lynn

3. “EPIC SAIDI” Dancers: Liz Azi, Veronica Lynn. Choreography: Karina Fonseca. Costuming: Luxor Bazaar

4. BALADI SOLO Dancer: Gia Bee. Choreography: Gia Bee. Costuming: Vintage, designer unknown

5. “HOOKAH SHAMADANS” Dancers: Karina, Vania Ojeda. Choreography: Veronica Lynn. Costuming: Veronica Lynn

6. “MOSEQA NAASA” Dancers: Gia Bee, Liz Azi. Choreography: Veronica Lynn. Costuming: Egyptian imports

7. CABARET SOLO Dancer: Gabi Corazon. Choreography: Gabi Corazon.

8. “MELAYA LEFF” Dancers: Vania Ojeda, Liz Azi, Veronica Lynn. Choreography: Olga Kramarova. Costuming: Mahmoud of Cairo

9. “KOL BASTI” Dancers: Gia Bee, Veronica Lynn. Choreography: Zoe DeRose. Costuming: Wafaa of Turkey (Courtesy of Turquoise International)

10. ANATALION ROCK SOLO Dancer: Liz Azi. Choreography: Liz Azi. Costuming: Madela Designs

11. “ENIGMA OF THE SNAKE” Dancers: Gabi Corazon, Karina, Veronica Lynn. Choreography: Veronica Lynn. Costuming: Veronica Lynn.

12. FUSION SOLO Dancer: Karina. Choreography: Karina.

13. 70’S WEST COAST SOLO Dancer: Veronica Lynn. Choreography: Veronica Lynn. Costuming: Veronica Lynn.

14. “DAVAI” Dancers: Gabi Corazon, Liz Azi, Veronica Lynn. Choreography: Veronica Lynn. Costuming: Veronica Lynn

15. FUSION SOLO Dancer: Vania Ojeda. Choreography: Vania Ojeda.

16. “KAWLEEYA” Dancers: Gabi Corzaon, Liz Azi, Gee Bee, Veronica Lynn. Choreography: Ella Zhang. Costuming: Import

17. “YA GHZAYEL” Dancers: Gabi Corazon, Karina, Vania Ojeda, Gia Bee, Liz Azi, Veronica Lynn. Choreography: Veronica Lynn and Sandra Gaytan

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