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An amazing weekend of Belly dance and fun with Dina

By Yonisha

In June of 2006 I had an amazing Belly dance experience - a workshop with Dina in Minneapolis, hosted by Little Egypt. I am so glad that I made the decision to go because it was absolutely fantastic! Dina is an amazing character, an incredible dancer, and a down to earth person, who is always looking forward to FUN dancing!

I couldn't say much about Dina until I went to this workshop. All I knew about her before that was what I had seen in video clips, and what other people had said about her. After meeting her, I realized that she is an extraordinary, authentic Egyptian BELLY DANCER, who created and dances in her own style.

My adventure started when I was looking for a good workshop to attend for the year of 2006, and I discovered that Dina was going to be in Minneapolis. How close would she ever be again? I asked myself, and I immediately decided to go. I contacted Little Egypt by phone, and I spoke with Ahmed and Dee Dee a couple of times to make the reservation and arrangements.

The event program included two shows. Friday's show featured Little Egypt's special guests, and Saturday's show featured Dina and her guests. Talking with Dee Dee on the phone, I told her I would be honoured to dance for Dina in Friday's show, and a week later I got a great surprise by email, a special invitation to perform at the show for Dina along with several professional dancers from all across America.

I convinced my significant other, Bob, to go with me, and we decided to drive down from Winnipeg, province of Manitoba in Canada, to Minneapolis in Minnesota, USA. We booked the same hotel where the event was going to be held, and started planning our trip. While I was very excited and looking forward to the event, I was also nervous because I was going to perform for Dina, a big responsibility, and then the thought popped into my head, what am I going to perform?

I decided to perform a fusion belly dance piece I had created a few months before for a big show held by GaiaPente in Winnipeg, and started to improve the piece which included three different props, a headset, I built with Bob's help, Isis Wings, and zills. I had 6 minutes to work with, which was the time limit for my performance, so I faced the challenge of mixing a couple of songs to fit the time limit.

After a 9-hour trip, we arrived in Minneapolis in the afternoon, and after checking in to the hotel, we met Dee Dee and Nora walking in the hall. We introduced ourselves, and we were greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by the hosts, who informed us they were just about to leave for the airport to pick up Dina. Oh my god! I thought to myself, I can't believe I am really here, and about to meet Dina in person! I have taken other workshops and met other great Belly Dancers like Ansuya, Carolena Nericcio, Hadia, but this was different, I was about to meet a legend in Belly Dance, and more than that, I was going to perform for her! Feeling a mix of happiness and nervousness I went and found my room, and got ready for the Friday evening show.

I got dressed, and about a half hour before the show started, Bob and I found our way down to the specially arranged room where everything was going to take place. I was wearing a cover up, and I had my Hathor-Isis headpiece tucked safely away in a box. Still in a mix of excitement and anxiety, I felt very honoured to be the only dancer representing Canada as a performer that evening. Bob went inside the ballroom where the show was going to take place, and I went to the dressing room where I met all the other performers who were getting ready to dance. I didn't know anybody, and at first it felt kind of awkward, but a lady walked in my direction, and introduced herself to me, it was Cassandra from Minneapolis. Later I got to talk with other performers, and I had the pleasure of meeting Rikvah from Texas, with whom I shared my pre-performance moments with, while we tried watching the other dancers' performances through the half opened entrance door to the hall where we could see the stage.

I marvelled at the performances, and in between breathing exercises and warm ups, I was preparing for a dramatic stage entrance. I entered the hall with a theatrical representation of the goddesses Isis and Hathor, and once up on stage I faced the back of the stage and opened my Isis Wings, asking myself what was Dina going to think about this??? But after I turned around and started spinning with my Isis Wings and playing zills at the same time, I got to look at Dina's smile for the first time, and my soul illuminated. I realized at that exact moment that she was like all the other dancers there, someone who just loved to belly dance.

After I finished my performance I got the chance to enjoy the other performances. It was a wonderful evening with a variety of different styles and different smiles. The joy of belly dancing was present on each one of the performers' expressions and interpretation of the songs, and there was no competition atmosphere whatsoever. I felt happy, and thought, this is how it should always be between dancers.

The next day was an extension of the fun we had at the first evening show, I am not sure of the exact number, but there were like a hundred people attending Dina's workshop that morning, mostly local dancers from the twin cities. I noticed there was a mix of expectation and joy in the air while everybody waited for Dina to start teaching her workshop, and for most of the people during the workshop it was very difficult to follow her steps.

She started the workshop both days with warm up exercises, and then proceeded to explain different moves and teach a choreography. I realized she was creating the choreography as she went along. I asked Dee Dee after the class if my assumption was correct, and she confirmed by saying "Dina never knows what she is going to teach until the moment she starts teaching, because she acts according to what's inspiring her that day". I was totally amazed! I was also very happy to see that because that's my teaching style also.

Dina is an amazing interpreter of the music who captivates her students with her radiant energy. She was smiling and making fun all the time in between her explanations of the movements and kept repeating over and over to everybody "NO COUNTING! LISTEN TO THE MUSIC, DANCE TO THE MUSIC, NO 1, 2, 3..." and then laughed out loud. She was trying to make everyone understand that the music needs to be felt, and that your body dances to the rhythm of the music, not to the step counting inside your head. She dances to the music, and that's why she flows gracefully like the music and her are one. I came back very inspired by Dina's style! She is all about FUN!

The Saturday evening show started with a great buffet dinner, and after dinner, performances. Dina's special guest, Mohamed Shahin and his guest Vanessa, opened the show. I really liked Mohamed Shahin's folkloric tanoura - a form of sacred Sufi dancing. Whirling, spinning, twirling he was simply amazing. It had my eyes rotating in their sockets. Mohamed Shahin is an Egyptian teacher and performer who is currently living in the Chicago area.

Dina's performance was a presentation that was totally different from anything that I have ever seen before. She takes belly dance to a whole new level, and now it is clear why she is rated as a superstar in the world of belly dance. Her energy filled the space in a way, which could have lit up a small city. Her continuous costume change to each song was something spectacular to watch. It was all done in a matter of seconds, and never lost a beat going out to change, and coming back to the stage, smiling and dancing. The audience was simply amazed, her happiness was contagious, and I bet everyone, like me, felt like joining in.

Little Egypt had planned a fun dance competition, which consisted of dancing to a "surprise song" dressed in civilian clothes, with no belly dance costumes or props allowed. It was mostly to show how much fun you could have in an improvisational performance, and give the audience an opportunity to join in with some of the professional dancers, lots of fun was had by all and it ended in a big hafla, once Dina decided to jump up on stage and join in the fun. I also joined in the competition as one of the professional dancers, and it was a lot of fun. At one point during my competition performance, something possessed me, and I jumped off the stage and danced through the crowds' cheers and claps.

Dina presented each participant who danced in the Friday night show with a dancer's appreciation award, which was an autographed picture of herself in a very beautiful glass frame, and we each got to take a picture with her. At that moment I took the opportunity to present Dina with a gift, a Brazilian soccer t-shirt, and when she opened the t-shirt and read "Brazil" she started laughing and explaining that she has already been to Brazil before, and that she loved it.

Everybody got to rest for the night, and get ready for one more day of dance, work, and fun. On Sunday morning Dina continued with her pop improvised choreography, and I was very impressed that she could remember a choreography so well that she was just creating on the spot. I believe it is composed of movements and steps that are so innate for her to follow to the music that it simply happens spontaneously. It is part of her culture, she grew up listening and dancing to this style of music and it is naturally part of her.

Last but not least, I have to mention the amazing room filled with all kinds of Belly Dance goodies and desires brought by Little Egypt and Audrena. I went crazy the whole weekend, trying to contain myself not to buy more, but I got another two pair of wings. I couldn't resist! Audrene and Dee Dee had Isis Wings of every colour! I wanted to have all of them! I got an iridescent white set, and a see through gold - butterfly shaped one. I also got another drum, and another pair of Saroyan zills, a few DVDs, a hip scarf, and put some of the expensive costumes on my "wish list"...

In conclusion, the workshop was a blast, every single penny I spent was worth it. I never had so much fun in a workshop as I did at this one. Little Egypt makes it really FUN! They are an amazing family who works together to promote their country's art (Egypt). They produce DVDs of the different workshops, shows and festivals around the States, and I am looking forward to buying this fabulous weekend DVDs, which will have both shows, and both days' workshops. And don't tell anyone, but Little Egypt has plans to bring Dina to Toronto, so Canada can hopefully expect Dina's visit in the near future!