Pava Johnson is a Peoria icon who’s been teaching, performing and choreographing belly dancing for over 35 years. That’s her above, in the yellow top. Like Madonna and Cher, many belly dancers go by one name and she is simply known as Pava in the world of belly dancing and beyond. I decided to step back in time and check out Pava and her troupe of dancers performing at the Olde English Renaissance Festival at Wildlife Prairie Park.
I had never been to the Renaissance Festival but was always curious to see folks dressed up in their medieval garb. As I entered the Kingdom I was greeted by this “Renaissance Man”and his fair maiden. I was going to sit down and talk philosophy, arts and science with him but I had to go see Pava and the clock was ticking. With his costume though he could double as a rock star.
Speaking of music, this guy was leisurely playing some soft and pleasant tunes with his flute
I doubt that blacksmiths in the Middle Ages had the pressurized blow torch this gal had for glass blowing and metal works.
I’m approaching the big tent for the show and noticed this little gal throwing knives at a block of wood. I better get out of the way because I’m directly behind her and when she winds up one little slip and I might turn into a human bulls-eye!
I hear an announcement the belly dancing is about to begin and snap a quick shot of this lady working on her archery. I see a disturbing trend here—women with blow torches, knives and bow and arrows. I definitely need to get to the soothing souls of belly dancing!
Aha, It’s Pava. She has 50 students/performers as well as three dance troupes, Pava’s Gems, The Caravan Dancers and The Habibi Dancers, and today it’s all hands on deck, or should I say, all bellies on deck. Pava is very passionate about her dancing and her students are as well. She’s been at it for almost 40 years and began by studying at the San Francisco Dance Academy. She launched the festivities by inducing the crowd to join in with a “zaghareet” chant, a high pitched sound of celebration made with the tongue associated with celebrations. Just think of it as a vocal high-five.
Maybe this is just me, but I love to see a lady dancing with a tambourine. A mini drum with those little “zils” jingling away and bouncing it off her hip. I first happened upon belly dancing in New York City and I’ve appreciated it ever since that first encounter. The distinct ethnic tunes with spirited upbeat music, pulsing rhythm and hypnotic sensuous melody that transports you to a Mediterranean festivity along the Nile River many moons ago. This tambourine dance is what Pava calls “Gypsy Style.”
Meet Emily, one of Pava’s Dancers, a friend of mine and a cool gal. As you can see the dancers are draped in elaborate layers that come to life. With smooth and graceful rhythmic moves to music—skirts and scarfs float, flutter and soar like wings in the wind. Earrings, hip scarves with coins and bras with bell tones just add to the magical, mental, musical carpet ride. Chokers, armbands, anklets, belly charms and on and on. Belly dancers are not skimpily clothed ladies, they seam fabric, jewelry, music and art into the mystic and mysterious realms of dancing entertainment. These gals spend some serious money on their glittery cabaret style costumes influenced by traditional Egyptian attire and Hollywood folklore.
Taking pictures was hard with everyone swirling around the stage, I got this shot to showcase the cornucopia of colors and Pava described it as a Turkish style Gypsy Dance where women were seeking men. Thus it started out shyly and escalated into a more fervent dance. Where was this at my high school prom?
Here the ladies are doing the “Tribal Zil” dance using brass finger zils. Imagine snapping your fingers with miniature tambourines.
Pava is the lady in the yellow and the blonde lady to her left was the most enthusiastic dancer of the show- graceful, vibrant and energetic. She also had a great tattoo. Many belly dancers have what is called a Henna, a temporary tattoo or as they call it body art that they adorn for a performance only.
This is Pava’s Gems marching at you. Originally belly dancing was for women only, that’s not the case today. If you see that white pole to the left that kept on getting in my way, I thought that maybe hundreds of years ago in a tent in the Sahara Desert a belly dancer might have gotten the idea to perform the first pole dance ever for a rich Sultan.
For a belly dancing show this was the most belly per picture I got. Belly dancing is the oldest form of dancing, which makes it a melting pot of mesmerizing Mediterranean Mermaids.
Andreana does a solo dance in which she balances a sword on a number of her body parts. The tradition is that this dance is done for her man on her wedding night or before he goes to battle.
Time to go because it is 90 degrees and humid as hell. After I left the Big Top Belly Dancing Tent I had to check out the Jousting competition. I was intrigued and skeptical. Probably styrofoam jousts. But Oh my God these guys were for real! Look at this picture, you can see the guy on the right getting lifted up off his horse and a moment later he was on his back. They did this seven or eight times and three times a guy got knocked off his horse and another three times a joust stick was broken. And these joust sticks were big and made out of wood. Ouch!
Here is the victor, who goes the spoils. He is Sir Kenneth, the winner. I guess Andreana did her dance for him.
Now here is a double horned fellow who could have had a chance in the jousting, or he could be ready for some tailgating.