Director-Producer, Roxxanne Shelaby travels through time in an enchanting documentary about the art of belly dancing in Hollywood, CA. In 1959, The Fez, a Lebanese restaurant, opened its doors for the first time and allowed Americans to have an inside look into Middle Eastern culture.
Artists from the Middle East gathered at The Fez and produced mesmerizing music and belly dancing entertainment. As the restaurant gained popularity, some American women immersed themselves into the art of belly dancing as well as the culture and this is what made them the dancers they are today. This also paved the way for belly dancers to perform at venues and events.
These dancers were inspired by the allure of the music and dancing; and began to fine tune the dance to their own unique personalities. Many of the women interviewed in the documentary are still heavy influencers in the belly dancing community. A consensus was reached among most of the women: that improvisational dancing is at the heart of the dance. If there is live music available to the dancer, even better.
I first learned about this film a couple of years ago on Facebook. I saw some postings about a red carpet premier and several women were sharing the website links in Facebook groups. It wasn’t until recently that I did a little more digging into Roxxanne Shelaby’s Facebook profile and website and saw more information about The Fez. To view it, you’ve got to connect with Roxxanne. So I did and I paid $10 to download it and watched it on my living room television on a Friday night with my husband. I felt a deep connection to the story about her father, Lou, and how instrumental he was in putting his Lebanese influence in the souls of everyone that came in his restaurant.
I was pleasantly surprised to see my favorite belly dancer, Ansuya, being interviewed with her mother, a dancer from The Fez, Jenaeni Rathor. Ansuya is actually my favorite dancer because of her improvisation and uniqueness as an entertainer. There is no one else like her and she seems to command the stage and audience and make them mesmerized by her attitude and convincing facial expressions. The very first teacher I had as a freshman in high school, Angelika Nemeth, was also interviewed and it was great to see her share some insight about her past and experience at The Fez.
This documentary is important because a lot of the women that were interviewed are the teachers of belly dancers that perform today. Some of these dancers from The Fez went on to inspire dancers in the belly dance communities around the world. There is a strong influence that these women still have in the belly dance community, and you might not realize it until you watch this documentary. I understood that in the past many of the basic movements did not have proper names, so some of these dancers from The Fez have given them titles.
This is a great documentary to invest in and watch. Not only are you supporting history, you’re supporting the art and uniting with some beautiful pioneers of American belly dancing.
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