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Fest celebrates the art of belly dance

JasmJahal performs onstage with Arabic musicians previous Shimmyfest Galperformance.

Jasmin Jahal performs onstage with Arabic musicians at a previous Shimmyfest Gala performance.

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Shimmyfest 2012 Gala Performance

♦ 7 p.m. June 9

♦ Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble

♦ Tickets, $20

♦ (773) 777-4037;

‘The Best Egyptian Dance Show in Chicago!” is the billing for the Shimmyfest 2012 Gala Performance, a showcase of solo and group belly dance performances and live Arabic music taking place on June 9 at the Vittum Theater.

Now in its 10th year, Shimmyfest is the creation of Jasmin Jahal, a Norridge resident who’s established herself as a leading artist in Egyptian dance.

“In the U.S., Europe and the Middle East they know me for what I do and for my crusade for the dance as an art form,” said Jahal.

Jahal’s initial exposure to dance was ballet as a 4-year-old. By the time she reached her teens she realized she wouldn’t be a professional ballerina; she didn’t have the right body type or, in the late 1970s, live in the right city to advance professionally, she said. Intrigued by belly dance, which was “all the rage in nightclubs, at the time,” she enrolled in a Norridge Park District class.

“I didn’t know that it would become my life’s challenge,” she said. “But when our teacher danced for us in full costume at the end of the class, I was amazed. She just blossomed.”

Hooked, Jahal applied the discipline she’d learned from ballet to seeking out the best and most demanding Middle Eastern dance teachers and immersing herself in the dance cultures. She ultimately concentrated on the Egyptian and Lebanese styles, attracted by their movements, costume and music.

Today, Jahal is one of only six dancers to be named “Best Modern Egyptian Dancer” by the International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance. She has taught professionally since 1991 and opened the Jasmin Jahal School of Dance in Chicago in 2001.

The Shimmyfest Gala performance culminates a four-day intensive workshop series, which Jahal’s school hosts annually for dancers of all levels to study choreography, improvisational dance, understanding rhythm and other aspects of Egyptian dance.

“It’s a beautiful form of artistic expression and an awesome workout,” she said. “It’s something that every woman, of every height and every size, can do, and through which they can express their femininity.”

Because the dance incorporates movements that are natural to the body’s joints, women can continue to dance much longer than artists in other more physically taxing dance forms, like ballet.

“Most of the best dancers are over 40,” Jahal said, adding that the ability to keep practicing as they age is a top reason why women are drawn to belly dance.

“The people who have adopted this art form, as I have, see it as a fountain of youth. The women who do it stay beautiful inside and outside into their 50s, 60s and even 70s.”

Jahal will demonstrate her skill as a dancer and choreographer at the gala. Her company and Shimmyfest workshop participants from across the nation will also perform choreographed and improvised works.

Meredith Morris is a local free-lance writer.

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