When Teresa Tomb’s belly dance teacher, Suzanne Armetta, unexpectedly passed away in 1998, she wanted to continue dancing while honoring Armetta’s legacy.
Even though Tomb was just a “baby dancer” as she describes herself at the time, having only studied for about a year and a half, she founded tribal fusion belly dance group Rakadu Gypsy Dance. The troupe is now mounting a special 20th anniversary performance Sunday evening at the Lyric Theatre.
“In the short time that we studied with her, she shared many styles from earthy folkloric Moroccan dances to the more showy Cabaret style,” Tomb says. “Her passion became our passion and piqued our interest to dig deeper into the roots and diversity of this dance form.
“We really felt that the best way to honor her would be to keep dancing, so we continued and began traveling and studying from different teachers around the country.”
One year after founding the dance troupe, Tomb also opened Mecca Dance Studio, which teaches belly dance, flamenco, fusion, and many other styles of dance.
The group performed at many large and small venues around the region, including an annual appearance at the Woodland Art Fair.
Tomb’s group also went on to found one of Lexington’s signature cultural events: the annual Thriller parade. But the aim of Rakadu is about more than filling the street with dancing zombies.
“We are best known for our very strong improvisation and that we use improvisation to weave storylines and to weave beautiful stories,” Tomb says.
“A lot of what we present is kind of a response to the human condition,” says Tomb. “The story lines that we put forth may be as simple as gathering water or something like that, but we use these very simple conditions of daily life to dance them forth and bring them to the stage with a live communication among musicians.”
The audience attending “1001 Nights: Our Tribal Roots” will enjoy a retrospective of Rakadu’s signature pieces throughout its 20-year history.
“There is our cult classic that we refer to as ‘Goddess’ which is a multi-arm, veiled, beautifully colorful piece,” says Tomb. “There is a ‘rockabelly’ collaboration which is kind of our tongue in cheek nod to our comedic side, which is a lot of fun, then also a Spanish fusion fan dance. Those are some of the big ones.”
The troupe will also be sharing the stage with Amel Tafsout and Dalia Carella, two guest artists who have influenced Rakadu’s unique style.
Algerian dancer Tafsout is an international first source master dance artist of North African Maghreb as well as a poet, a storyteller, a singer, a socio-linguist and a dance anthropologist.
And Dalia Carella, founder of the Dalia Carella Dance Collective, utilizes both ethnic and contemporary movement that is ingrained with a deep spiritual and mystical essence.
“I wanted to bring in guest artists who have had a big impact on our style and the things that we choose to present and bring forth in our style,” says Tomb. “I chose Dalia Corella from New York who is just amazing master dancer and has been a big mentor of mine for years and Amel Tafsout from Algeria who influenced our style a lot with a lot of the North African folkloric styles.”
“Amel and Dalia are very close comrades and friends as well in the dance world, so it was just beautiful to bring them together,” Tomb says. “They’ll teach workshops from Thursday to Sunday, and then we finish this whole celebration with the show on Sunday.”
Tomb says the kind of improvisational and conversational work that Rakadu is known for has created very strong bonds among troupe members.
“It has a really wonderful intimacy because of the creative energy,” says Tomb. “Learning how to work together, how to be patient with each other — you’re building your own family. It’s the family you choose — your creative family.”
IF YOU GO
What: Celebration of Rakadu Dance Theatre with guest artists Amel Tafsout and Dalia Carella.
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 18
Where: Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third St.