Sunday, September 15, 2019

Frankenstein, Fan Veils, and Reflection, oh my!

The Davis & Elkins College Theatre Department is producing a version of Frankenstein this fall that makes me oh so happy.  It incorporates video projection, jamming rock and pop music, and modern dancers using fan veils.  Stick with me.  That's where I come in.

My husband started as the new Theatre and Film Instructor at D&E College last fall, 2018.  He's directing the October show this term, so of course he chose a version of the famous Frankenstein tale called After Frankenstein, Playing With Fire, and decided to incorporate video, rock music, and add a modern dance element to the production.  Because, why not.  Because he's married to me and has seen way too much belly dance over the years, he asked me to choreograph the show and use fan veils to add to the sense of drama and to help fill the space of the Harper McNeely auditorium where the show will be performed.  It's a big space to fill, but the vastness of the space lends itself well to the idea of being stranded in the deep Arctic circle.

My dancers are playing arctic sirens- predatory mermaids who act like a greek chorus and provide some levity and comic relief to what has the propensity to be a heavy narrative about male ego.  When not in use, the fan veils become part of the costume, serving as the mermaid's tails.  It's clever if I say so myself.  Finding new and interesting ways to use the fans and the fabric has been both a challenge and a joy, and I credit Jillina and the amazing way she creates props with getting my brain outside it's normal box for this show.

My girls are fabulous, and I can't wait for them to own the stage in October.  We're working together four days a week, and we still have a month to go, but already I can see the vision taking shape in rehearsal.  I've had a hard transition in the move back to West Virginia this last year, and honestly a long four years with losing loved ones and general life upheaval, (hence this being my first post in four years) but my sirens make me excited to face each day head on.  For the first time, I'm thankful that I'm right here, right now.  I feel like I'm exactly where I should be.  And that's a nice place to find myself.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

So, a lot of exciting things have been happening!  Look for more posts coming soon.  First up: I'm the new outreach coordinator for Sahara Dance in DC, and was the community feature in last month's studio newsletter.  A transcript of the article is below:

Community Feature: Al-'Anqa

What is your role within the Sahara Dance community? I’m the new outreach coordinator, a studio assistant, student, company member with Raqs Caravan East, company member and manager for Sahara Dance Caravan traveling troupe, and all-around enthusiastic ally for all things Sahara.

What was your childhood ambition?
You mean besides being a princess?  I really wanted to be a marine biologist when I was little.  I love the ocean.  My lack of enthusiasm for biology when I hit high school nixed that pretty quick.

What was your first job?
My first job was an internship as a marketing assistant at Wonderful WV Magazine in college.  Their office was based at Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park, so at the same time, I got work at the camp store as a cashier.

Favorite indulgence or guilty pleasure?
I KNOW it’s hazardous, but I love laying in the sun.  My husband swears I’m part lizard.  I love everything about summer: the heat, the sunshine, beach trips, hiking and camping, biking, grilling outside.  These days, I slather myself in sunscreen when I go out and wear a stylish wide brimmed hat, but I still can’t resist the lure of a sunny day and a good book spent on a lounge chair.

What's on your current music playlist?
My I-Pod is an eclectic mish-mash of Top 40, Arabic and Turkish belly dance music, rap, and pop.  I’m a little obsessed with Maroon 5.  I promise it’s not “just” because Adam Levine is so pretty.  I also love, love, love Dar Williams, Natasha Atlas, Eminem, and Imagine Dragons.  My favorite belly dance song is Alf Leyla.

What is your dance background?
I took jazz and tap until seventh grade when my parents moved and I found myself in a tiny WV town with no dance classes or stop lights.  (We got a caution light at our town’s exit on the 4 lane that passed nearby when I was in high school.  That was exciting.)  I was on the drill team in high school.  When I got to college, I had access to classes again.  I helped co-found the Concord Dance Ensemble on my campus and was a member, student, and choreographer.  I lost dance for a few years while I worked in theatre and film, but I found belly dance eight years ago, and have been hooked since.  I’ve turned my spare bedroom into a studio and my costume wardrobe is as large as my normal wardrobe- I’m happily, irrevocably entrenched.

How did you get interested in belly dance?
I was a runner.  I ran track and cross country in high school, cross country in college, and continued doing 5ks for fun until my knees started bothering me.  A physical therapist suggested I find something less stressful on my cartilage damaged knee caps.  I picked up “Belly Dance for Fun and Fitness” at the local library.  It sounded fun, so I found classes to the South in Fredericksburg, VA with Kawakib (Anthea Poole) and stayed dancing with her for five years.  I-95 traffic made me look for classes in the other direction from my house, which led me to Sahara Dance three years ago.

So far, what's been your favorite belly dance moment or experience?
My favorite experiences have come from dancing with groups of women that were close to each other.  It wasn’t belly dance, but my first memorable moment was in college when our dance ensemble performed a modern Irish-inspired piece in the WV Dance Festival in Charleston, WV.  We were all either co-founders of the ensemble or close friends from the theatre department, and it felt so good to be on the festival stage with a piece we had created, dancing with a group we had formed out of our passion for dance.  I feel the same now about my Raqs East troupe mates.  We gel really well together as a group and feed off each other during performance.  It’s a great energy and an open, creative collective:  no divas, we’re all equals.  I love the group dynamic.  I think it comes from my love of theatre and acting which is all about give and take with your fellow actors and channeling all that energy back out to your audience.  It’s pretty special when a cast or crew clicks like this in theatre or film- it doesn’t always happen.  I feel lucky to have found it twice in dance.

What are your current dance inspirations?
I’m inspired by everything Roma.  I love reading about the history of the Rom and how various groups who ended up in different countries contributed to local folkloric styles.  I love the energy with which Tülay Karaca moved.  She was a Turkish Oriental belly dancer from the 80’s who had some wonderful signature kicks and spins, and coincidentally, had Romani heritage.  Re: Egyptian style, I love to watch Soheir Zaki and Fifi Abdou.  They’re so elegant, precise, and relaxed.  I love watching dancers who make it look effortless.  And in general, nature inspires me.  Art and movement that are based off things found in nature, like spiraling leaves or waves on water, are very appealing to me.

Finally, what do you love most about Sahara Dance?
I love the community at Sahara.  It’s very welcoming and so far, I’ve noted a definite lack of in-fighting and competition.  That’s refreshing, and I appreciate the effort Rachel makes to ensure the studio is a safe place for all of our dancers.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dark. Zero Forgiveness?

(March/April 2013 article in Zaghareet Magazine addressing the film Zero Dark Thirty and how we go about healing our global differences if we can't forgive and forget.)

By Al-‘Anqa

Author’s Note:  By now, most of you who were gung-ho to watch the Oscar nominated film Zero Dark Thirty which chronicles the CIA’s 10 year hunt for Osama Bin Laden, have probably taken the initiative to do so. IF you are someone who wants to see it but hasn’t yet found the time, be fair warned that this article contains SPOILERS.

I was one of the people who couldn’t wait to see Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s film which tells the story of the decade long manhunt for 9/11 mastermind, Osama Bin Laden. Being made and released so soon after the May 2011 raid in Pakistan where Bin Laden was killed, I was excited to see how it would portray this event and what new information might be revealed that we, the public, hadn’t yet been privy to.

The acting, I thought, was very good. The movie was cinematically beautiful. The locations and events felt authentic. I give a big kudos to the location scout and the continuity team. I was highly moved by the film. But, perhaps, not in the way the filmmakers intended.

I certainly didn’t walk away with a feeling of patriotic pride in being an American. I walked away devastated. I cried during the movie. I cried for two hours after the film was over. I think my poor husband, who went to the screening with me, was concerned for my mental health.

Because I’ve read a lot about the development of terrorism in the wake of the destruction of the twin towers, I understood most of the events that were about to be shown on screen before they happened. As soon as Jessica Chastain’s character, Maya, walked into the Islamabad Marriott hotel and sat down, I tensed up, waiting for the bomb to go off, knowing what had happened there in 2008. It was heartbreaking to see these events unfold before my eyes.

I’m a filmmaker whose production company works in the horror genre. I wouldn’t call myself particularly squeamish. I’m used to both watching and re-creating violence on the screen: sometimes purposefully over the top for comedic effect and sometimes meant to be realistic. In either case, our theory for film is to show just enough and then allow the audience to fill in the blanks, because what they can imagine for themselves is far worse than what we can show them. Not the case here. Visually seeing these events on screen was far worse for me than how I had imagined them while reading about them.

The question that stayed on rotation in my brain at the conclusion of the film, and that still haunts me, is this… What have we wrought? All of us, on both sides. How do we get to a place of forgiveness and acceptance with each other’s cultures after the decades of atrocities that have been committed by all parties? This dilemma encompasses so many countries and cultures, east and west. World War III? Are we in it?

Those children who watched the Navy SEAL Team kill their parents in their own house, who will they grow up to be? Will they ever feel safe again? And can we really be shocked if they grow up to continue the cycle of violence they’ve been thrust into by no fault of their own? Would I choose peace if I’d been force fed violence in my formative years? I think and I hope I would, but no one can know what they’d do until they find themselves in that situation.

How have our service members been effected by their missions? The film did a wonderful job of making the SEALs human. I saw the conflicting emotions they were working through as they carried out the raid. I have no reference point for how war affects the participants on the ground. But, I can only imagine that recurring nightmares are involved. The faces of those children haunt me, and I didn’t encounter them in the dead of night with blood on the floor and the murder weapon in my hand. How do we care for our service members when they come home…

How do we get to a place where both sides stop killing innocent people for politics! Terrorist attacks have broken families and left hearts bleeding all over the globe. Retaliations for these attacks have also taken innocent lives. It’s near impossible for war to miss every civilian. Make no mistake that hearts bleed and grieve the same in every culture.

I could keep going with the questions, but I have no good answers. I just have one wish:  That everyone takes the time to see this film.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Despite the sadness the film made me feel, it does an excellent job, in my view, of promoting a sea change toward peace and acceptance by visually chronicling the cycle of violence and revenge we’ve been stuck in for so long.

There are certainly those who disagree with me. Zillah Eisenstein, Distinguished Scholar of Anti-Racist Feminist Political Theory at Ithaca College, is sad to think of Zero Dark Thirty being seen globally, stating, “It will be read as another story of imperial empire with a (white) female twist”[i].

Yet, Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association commenting on the brutal death and rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey, says: "Gender justice needs to be brought and kept in the centre stage of the debate, not the death penalty” [ii]. My understanding of what she’s saying is finding peace within so that you can focus the community toward conversation that elicits real change. I believe that involves forgiveness.

“It is not enough to scream ‘death penalty’ and wind up the issue”, says Krishnan. “I find it funny that the BJP is demanding death penalty for the rapists, when within it’s own constituencies it gets goons to chase down girls who wear jeans or fall in love with members of minority communities — saying that women must adhere to ‘Indian sensibilities’, or else. We need to create a counter culture against this ultimatum. We need to create a counter politics, one that asks for the right for women to live freely without fear.” [iii]

There has to be room for forgiveness, on both sides. We didn’t get to this level of dissidence overnight, and we won’t change it overnight either. But, we have to start somewhere. The sooner we initiate forgiveness in our own hearts, the sooner we can get others to do the same, stop bombing each other, and start talking. What’s our other option? Keep attacking until one side is annihilated? Didn’t we fight World War II to avoid that scenario?

There I go with the questions again.

I understand humans have been fighting each other for resources, religion, power, and politics since our dawn of time. But our weapons were far less advanced before the 20th century. We’re in the 21st now and the rate of technological advance is only increasing. I just can’t believe in my heart that the majority of humans on this over-populated planet have failed to evolve toward understanding each other and accepting, even embracing our differences.

My hope is that everyone who views Zero Dark Thirty walks out of the theatre with a global consciousness on their mind and forgiveness in their heart. Because that’s the world that I hope for, and change starts inside, one person at a time.

The opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author and are not intended to reflect those of Zaghareet Magazine.  Al-‘Anqa is also known as Cindy Marie Martin.  She double majored in Broadcasting/Journalism and Theatre at Concord University.  You can read more of her ramblings at  

[i] Zillah Eisenstein, “Dark, Zero Feminism,” Al Jazeera, January 21, 2013,

[ii] Kavita Krishnan via facebook, “Indian Women Say It’s Time for Change”, Burrows and Barrels Blog, January 2, 2013,

[iii] Kavita Krishnan, “AIPWA National Secretary Kavita Krishnan Addressing the Protestors in front of Delhi CM's Residence Demanding Justice for Rape Victims”, AIPWA Blog, December 20, 2012,

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Egypt and the Middle East Today

(Nov 2012 article in Zaghareet Magazine discussing my struggle to keep up with the changing dynamic in the Middle East and what the changes mean to me as a dancer.)

So, I had begun writing this article back in July.   I wanted to document my own struggle to understand the foreign culture I choose to represent in my dancing, in the hopes that it might assist someone else’s journey for understanding or spark a desire for others to jump into the fray.  I found myself struggling to keep up with the rapid changes happening all across the Middle East and how these political and social changes affect the culture. 
As Middle Eastern dancers, we are representatives of the culture we choose to portray through our dance and therefore must be knowledgeable about that culture.  How else can we answer questions and explain our artistic choices if we don’t fundamentally understand what we’re portraying or what sources we’re drawing our inspiration from?  Ideally, we should strive to be experts. 

Granted, to be a Middle Eastern dancer, one doesn’t need to be a high level expert on current political policy, that’s just my own obsession.  But, a firm understanding of the history and origin of the dance and the dance region you draw inspiration from is absolutely required.
My particular dance interests lie with American cabaret (easy- that one I understand) and Egyptian oriental and folkloric dance styles (specifically Saidi and Ghawazee).  That being said, when I perform Egyptian styles, I’m relaying a representation of Egyptian culture to my audience. 

I had hoped to narrow in on current Egyptian culture after exploring broad Middle Eastern dynamics.
But, to be an expert on the complex culture of Egypt and its ever changing climate today, is a tall order not easily filled by an Appalachian girl, born and raised in West Virginia with British and Irish ancestry.  I have no leg up on this question, and after the events of September 11, 2012 in which Egyptian demonstrators scaled the US Embassy in Cairo to tear down the American flag in protest of a film they say insults the prophet Mohammad, I scrapped the entire article I had worked on.  I was back to ground zero, as it were, in trying to understand today’s Egyptian and Middle Eastern dynamics.

I was left with a burning eagerness to answer how I, as an American choosing to perform dances based in a culture that is not my own and is (in many respects) not currently approving of American ideals, am viewed (by Egyptians).  My confusion changed my question from what is the current culture to how does that culture view me?
Being the co-producer of a film production company also left me with the brain splitting question of freedom of speech versus personal responsibility for one’s actions and words.  One film had sparked protest and violence across the Muslim world.  Yet, how could the creators of the film not have realized what the reaction to that work would be?  Certainly, they had been inciting reaction just as sure as various groups in the Muslim world had used and steered the protests to their own ends. 

Speech should be protected, yes, but humans should not abuse that liberty in order to inflict pain on others.  Isn’t purposeful incitement of pain and stereotyping equivalent to a hate crime?  Can’t we all just get along?  The age-old question.  For me, it comes back to personal responsibility.  As a filmmaker/writer/dancer (insert designation here) with freedom of expression, it’s my duty to exercise that freedom with great care and understand exactly what I reference and what effect I’m likely to have on my audience.
I no longer have any illusion that I can ever cultivate more than a layman’s grasp of the current Middle East.  The political and cultural changes occurring across the Middle East will continue to evolve and shape the landscape both there and globally for years to come.  The forces eliciting this change are varied and complex.  Experienced scholars are working hard to keep up.

Which leaves me to believe the best I can do is become an expert at the history and origins of the dance and remain an informed student of the current cultural climate.
What do Egyptians think of an American performing Egyptian dance?  As varied as the inhabitants of Egypt are in their backgrounds and views, I can’t know the answer to this generically wide question any more than I could answer what an American thinks about an American performing belly dance.  It depends on who you ask and where you are. 

With neither of my questions answered, I’ve come to the determination that my job as a responsible dancer is to understand the references I make in my performances and execute them with great care and upmost respect.  That’s all I can do.  How each audience member interprets the performance after the fact is their job.  Just like with film, once it’s distributed into the marketplace, the filmmaker’s careful crafting of the story is over and it’s for the viewer to interpret.  If only every filmmaker/dancer (insert your choice here) would execute with the same care. 
In my efforts to master the history of the dance, I’ve had the pleasure of studying with Sahra Saeeda in her Journey Through Egypt 1 and 2 classes.  I highly recommend them.  Sahra will be the first person to explain the dynamics of Egypt are “complicated”.  But, she’s able to unfold the dance’s evolution in a way any student can understand.  And, in her dedication to further dance research, she continues to plan trips to Egypt for Journey Through Egypt 3 and 4, Egypt as classroom expeditions.  She’s my hero for continuing on even though many, myself included, are scared to travel to Cairo at this time.

I understand not everyone is as obsessed with following current political events in the Middle East as I am, but for those with a deeper fascination and driving urge to try and comprehend the dynamics, the following are some of my favorite finds so far.  May your journey lead you to a new understanding and excite further exploration. 
1/2 Revolution, a documentary that follows a group of friends living in Cairo during the initial 11 days of the Egyptian Revolution and suggests more revolution is yet to come.  Co-directed by Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim, it’s available through Focus Features.

Frontline:  Revolution in Cairo, available on NetFlix, is a documentary that goes inside the “April 6th” youth movement group that sparked revolution on the streets. 
The Arabs by David Lamb is a very readable study of the Arab people that works to destroy common stereotypes.

Both Holy War, INC and The Longest War by Peter L. Bergen document the life of Osama Bin Laden.  While not dance related at all, they provide some fascinating insight on the rise of extremist groups in the Middle East and around the world. 


Al-‘Anqa is also known as Cindy Marie Martin. She double majored in Broadcasting/Journalism and Theatre at Concord University. More on her exploits can be found at 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Odyssey of your Columnist:  Tribal with a Twist

By Al-‘Anqa
(May 2012 article in Zaghareet Magazine featuring Kawakib and her TRIBAL ODYSSEY Bellydance™ Egyptian style group improv format.)

Zaghareet readers know and love Anthea (Kawakib) as the insightful columnist providing user friendly tips geared toward helping them find their feet in Zaghareet’s “For Beginners” column, which she’s been writing since 2001.  Kawakib is also known for her mastery of zills, well displayed in Serpentine Video’s “Lifting the Veil of Time”, which can be viewed online along with her series of free online instructional videos for dancers on playing finger cymbals.  Those can be found on her YouTube channel, DanceEternal.  Personally, I know Kawakib as a generous instructor of Egyptian style raqs sharqi and folkloric dance, having been her student for four years now.

She’s also the primary founder of Tribal Odyssey Bellydance™, a group improv tribal format based on Egyptian beledi-style movement which combines all the reasons we love her into one fun, brightly colored package.   
TOBD has over three dozen combinations, all unique to the format, spanning four levels of study.  The combinations include veil work, skirt moves, and finger cymbal patterns.  Pixie, another of Kawakib’s students, notes “Using zills for tribal taught me the basic techniques which are a stepping stone for advancement and a plus for any drum circle.”  Galiyah, Kawakib’s longest running student, adds “One of the values of playing zills during Tribal Odyssey is that we hear the others playing and that reinforces the pattern in our brain and our hands.  We build confidence because we are playing with others and not put on the spot.”
That spirit of community, bringing dancers together in dance, is one of the things Kawakib loves best about the tribal style of group dancing.  “That is something that’s unique to group improv- the fact that dancers can so easily create together a little bit at a time,” she says.  She expanded on this idea in a recent post in her blog at
Odyssey seems a fitting name, as Kawakib notes the style is “a work in progress” and that new props and combinations are still being added at Level Four.  I like watching FCBD do sword, and think we can improve on that. Sword is pretty easy after all, and the audience always really likes it. I'm getting lots of encouragement from students about developing some Tribal Sword, and I do have some moves worked out but not ready at this moment to bring out yet.”
When asked how many items/ideas have been discarded along the way while developing the format and what causes her to discard something, she replied “I'm guessing, 25%? I have no idea really. What causes me to discard something is either 1. It's not easily workable in the group improv format (for instance, regarding sight lines; differentiating cues, etc.) or 2. The idea is opposite to something we currently do in the format that is working well.”
Staging options that have passed these tests and been incorporated into TOBD include a crescent line (also called the chorus line), a circle, or a staggered line that allows dancing in any direction and any size space.  Solos, duets, trios, and quartets of dancers can all perform in front of the chorus line.  Kawakib’s favorite combinations?  “The slow ones, many of which are in Level One, and used in the chorus line.”
Why bring out a new tribal style at all?  After viewing some FatChanceBellyDance videos, Kawakib’s curiosity was peaked.  She was strictly a "cabaret" dancer at the time, though she did do some folkloric dancing.  She was moved to attend Kajira Djoumahna’s workshop on American Tribal Style bellydance sponsored by Artemis in Maryland, and what she found excited her.  “Experiencing the group dynamic was a big eye-opener,” says Kawakib.
“When I saw ATS, I loved the energy of the group dancing but the required posture looked very “flamenco” and stiff to me.  I wanted movements that felt more natural, more “beledi”, and I also wanted more variety of finger cymbal patterns.  Creating short dance combinations (with different cues) that fit together well is not that easy but I have a talent for dance composition, for fitting dance to music- especially in terms of tempo and rhythm- so I enjoyed this challenge.  Dancing with the music is a huge deal in the cabaret world.  Musicians don’t want to play for dancers who don’t use the music and beat correctly.  So having this skill and background of live band experience, I felt I could bring something valuable to the bellydance world, even if it was limited to my own community.” 
From 2000-2002 she worked with the members of her troupe, Pearls of Rhythm, developing the combinations, cues, lead throwing, and group formations.  She also collaborated with fellow dancer, Miramar from Winchester, Virginia, who contributed several combinations and staging ideas.  “Without the active participation of my dancers,” says Kawakib, “I doubt that I could have developed this group improv format. Miramar also provided feedback and suggestions from working with her students.”  Miramar has now gone on to develop her own flavor of the format, called Tribelle Chic.
What has emerged for Tribal Odyssey over the years is a style of group improv that fosters community and a group dynamic between the dancers while still feeling familiar to dancers used to Egyptian cabaret or beledi technique.  As put by Nancy McAndrew, the head of Lynchburg Tribal, “Tribal Odyssey is a real gem”.  
And of course, the costuming itself is a gem:  colorful and jewel toned.  When asked if the costuming style she uses for her student performing group, PRISM, is intended to carry across the format to other teachers of Tribal Odyssey Bellydance, Kawakib explained:
“"Tribal Bellydance" traditionally had a certain look; in a nutshell, chiffon and sequins say "Cabaret", rayon and yarn say "Tribal". Much of our costuming was developed because of Kajira's "Tribal Bible" recommendations, as I really did look to her writings for guidelines on all things "tribal". You have to take into consideration what effect you'll have on your audience, what image you're getting across, as well. Teachers are always going to have their own ideas on what to do, for instance, I'm not a fan of Harem Pants, I think they're unsafe, so I recommend salwar instead. Our usual TOBD costuming is not really that formalized; except that the Tribal Veil moves were developed using a certain type of veil so that's what I recommend for my students. And the Skirt Combinations of course won't work in pants or a beledi dress, although I have some ideas on how to work around that, which we haven't implemented yet. “
At this time, there is both a DVD and instructional manual available for those wishing to learn more and incorporate Tribal Odyssey Bellydance™ into their dance practice.  The Tribal Odyssey Bellydance Level One Foundation DVD is an instructional DVD for anyone new to group improv or teachers ready to add an exciting new performance option to their troupe.  The Tribal Odyssey Reference Book covers all four levels of current combinations, cues, lead-changing techniques, stage formations, and finger cymbal patterns and includes step descriptions, staging diagrams, and costuming ideas.  You can find more information at or 
“If this format moves into the larger bellydance world I’m sure other dancers will relate to this style, this feeling, and how it fits with the music,” says Kawakib.  “I have no “conquer the world” agenda, I’m content to let things play out as the Creative Spirit dances through our lives.”

Al-‘Anqa is also known as Cindy Marie Martin.  She double majored in Broadcasting/Journalism and Theatre at Concord University.  More on her exploits can be found at