Sahaba, or ‘Companions’, was an appropriate name for this troupe which began as a circle of friends. The artistic directors and founders of Sahaba were Alison Grab (Alia) and Eden Torres (Zedena El- Sahtya). I am very thankful to Zedena El-Sahtya for providing me the information used in this article. She was also a founding partner of the Cassandra School of Bellydance in Minneapolis, but this article will pertain to Troupe Sahaba.
Sahaba’s dance style leaned towards folkloric, but also contained elements of cabaret/raks sharqi. Their style was what is now referred to as “old style”; less precise and controlled movement than today’s dance with looser hip movements. This style is closer to what would be done in Middle Eastern homes or at family parties than what would be done by a professional dancer in the West.
In the early years, Alia and Zedena each choreographed dances for the troupe. By 1978, Alia was only dancing with the troupe part time, and Zedena took over most of the choreographic responsibilities. However, each member of the troupe had input. Pieces were choreographed toward the strengths of each of the dancers so that everyone had the opportunity to shine in performances. For example, if a troupe member was really good at intricate hip work, spinning, balancing a sword, or in using finger cymbals pieces would be choreographed to highlight those talents.
Sahaba utilized some on the spot interpretation and improvisation in their performances, with the dancers using a simple voice command to revert back to the choreography when desired. This was not group improvisation as in today’s ATS style, but more of a way to showcase a particular dancer or dancers for a section of a song. Other styles of dance, such as flamenco, influenced some pieces and blending of Egyptian and Saudi styles could also be seen in their performances.
Sahaba was fortunate enough to have musicians as well as dancers. The original company musicians were Mark Black, Mike Koski, Wally Swanson, Wayne Walstead, and Michael Ziegan. The original dancers were Jere’ Caputa (Batish), Mary Christopherson (Zah’ra), Alison Grab (Alia), Nora Hedderich (Amelle), Rachel Holtzer (Raheyla), Mary Kaye Piazza (Lucretia), Peggy Shea (Marhela), Kathy Stoltz (Katia), Eden Torres (Zedena), and Grace Watkins (Sheeba).