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Egyptian Sun performers shake it at Shriver for belly dance concert

By NATALIE BERKMAN | April 2, 2009

Last Friday, a performance at Shriver involving vibrating, swords, colorful costumes and ancient dance styles choreographed to all types of music excited a huge crowd of people. Egyptian Sun, the belly dancing club on campus, put on an incredibly entertaining show featuring the exotic art form.

As Allegra Bennett, the announcer for the concert said, belly dancing is "the movement of your organs from the inside." It is a precise art, involving a jerking or shaking of one part of the body while keeping other parts completely still. The whole process is complicated when the dancer balances a sword on her head or her mouth, twirls a cane or snaps a whip, waves a scarf or bends over backward. Overall, the performers accomplished all this and more with beautifully choreographed numbers, synchronized movements and varying styles.

The "HipSync" show began with Dori Witt and the advanced classes dancing to "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions," inciting the crowd while demonstrating impressive choreography. It was immediately apparent why the name "HipSync" was chosen for the performance - the performers moved their hips in a completely synchronized way.

The red and black costumes and the streamers all flowed well with the dancing and the whole effect was visually appealing. Obviously, the audience agreed and, as Allegra had suggested at the beginning, cheered throughout the entire show.

For this performance, there were many guest performers: Naimah, Sisters of Ishtar (Loyola College's belly dance group) and Nikki Traylor-Knowles (one of the founders of Egyptian Sun). Nikki Traylor-Knowles met Dori Witt at Hopkins in 2001 and realized that they were both avid belly dancers. They decided to create a club, which has evolved into what it is today - a group of over 30 people, comprised of some students and some community members.

When the whole group danced through the aisles during the big numbers, it was easy to see that Egyptian Sun is a massive and eclectic group that appeals to many with its somewhat hypnotic styles of dance and interesting costumes. The group is partitioned into three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced, each with its own teacher.

The teachers danced too, in solos and along with the students. They also choreographed many of the dances. The choreography was fantastic - even though the movements themselves seemed jerky, the dancing was fluid; the dancers were all synchronized and the groups performed well together.

Many of the songs were choreographed to modern music, including songs by Avril Lavigne, Sister Sledge, Rihanna, 'N Sync and more. Some songs were more foreign; one was in French, others had Eastern and Middle Eastern flavors. The dancers were as different as the music, each bringing a unique style to the music and the movements. For example, Yeamah Rainsbury danced to "Girlfriend" with youthful flair and then danced with her mother, Janice Horton Rainsbury, to "We are Family."

There were giant ensemble numbers where the dancers would leave the stage and enter the audience - the performance even ended with the dancers pulling audience members up to dance with them - and there were also solo performances and other smaller numbers.

The costumes also varied. All were colorful, but some were flowing or beaded, shiny or silky, and they really moved with the dancers. Thus, with different music, dancers, sizes of groups, costumes and styles, the show never slowed down.

Allegra gave a short history of belly dance, explaining that it was invented to help pregnant women, and the movements of the stomach were supposed to resemble the motions of childbirth. That knowledge adds an interesting level to the interpretation of the dance. The motions are only one aspect, though, as most of the dances involved more than just jiggling around. Several dancers danced while balancing swords on their heads.

This was interesting to watch because no matter what they did with their stomachs, their shoulders, their legs or their chests, their heads did not move. Nikki Traylor-Knowles even balanced the sword on her mouth. One girl danced with a candelabrum on her head, beginning in the dark with only the lights of the candles visible.

Another began her dance with a whip snaking around her costume. As she danced, she removed the whip and began to snap it. Groups danced with canes and twirled them in wide circles, held them lengthwise between two girls' stomachs and more. The streamers and long sashes were also particularly lovely the way they billowed with every minute hand motion.

The beauties and intricacies of belly dancing dazzled the audience on Friday night. The performance was energetic and stimulating and made half the audience want to try it too, demonstrating what a diverse group of people at a top university can appreciate when given the chance.

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