Banat Beledi, or ‘Country Women’, was an outgrowth of a group of adhoc Minnesota Renaissance Festival bellydancers called The Habibi Dancers. Banat Beledi’s artistic director/founder was Anne Farrington (Amira). Amira had been developing choreography for local dance students, and had performed with the Habibi Dancers, when she proposed the idea of a more permanent bellydance troupe. Many thanks to Amira for providing me the information used in this article.
Banat Beledi’s style was primarily a combination of Egyptian raks sharqi and Egyptian folkloric (raks shaabi) styles, and also included Saidi, Turkish Karshlima, and American veil dances. The troupe performed primarily to pre-recorded music and choreography which was either developed by Amira or taught to the group by Amira from choreographies she learned at different bellydance workshops she attended. These included bellydance choreographies by Suhaila Salimpour, Conchi, and Sahra. Improvisation was not a primary component of Banat Beledi’s performances, but the choreographies could change over time.
Fifteen years is a long time for a dance troupe to be consistently performing, and over that time frame Banat Beledi had many different bellydancers: Fran Anderson, Lisa Bah (Inaki), Terry Brennan, Anne Farrington (Amira), Jan Geisen (Jana), Jocelyn Gorham, Kay Marszalek, Corinne Olson, Wendy Peterfeso (Majidah), Kathleen Shovelain, Barb Tate-Lunde (BaBaRa), Mary Turgeon, and Helen Volker (Elena), There were usually between 3 and 4 people in the troupe at any one time.
Some of the dancers had successful solo careers in addition to their performing with Banat Beledi. Amira and Jana danced at Giliana Jema restaurant, which was located on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. Other company members performed for local fundraising events and ethic festivals.
Where are some of the Banat Beledi dancers now? Fran Anderson lives in a retirement community outside of Las Vegas, NV where she is the director of a dance troupe; Anne Farrington is a technical writer/programmer and currently performs with Totally Northern Tribal bellydance troupe; Jan Geisen is employed by a local county government; Kay Marszalek is a Baroness in the Society for Creative Anachronism; Barb Tate-Lunde is employed by a Minneapolis architectural firm; Helen Voelker is a medical researcher for the University of Minnesota.