Belly Dancing Cabaret at Zaytoon
Tucked away in the heart of Santa Barbara, Zaytoon Restaurant offers a unique and charming dining setting, but this area restaurant also takes dinner and a show a step further. Sitting around a fireplace in a beautiful outdoor garden surrounded by fresh fruit trees and lit by small string lights, I not only enjoyed the fresh Lebanese cuisine, but also experienced the magnificent belly dancing movements of the dancer, director and choreographer of Santa Barbara, Cris Basimah. .
Basimah is the artistic director of Ya ‘Ayuni, a Middle Eastern dance company that performs throughout Southern California and beyond. Working closely with the Middle East Ensemble of UCSB, a community music group of over 40 musicians, Basimah incorporates many different styles of traditional and folk dance from the Middle East into his performances.
Every Saturday, Basimah honors Zaytoon diners with a 30-minute cabaret-style belly dance ensemble. The night I went there, I was sitting at my foyer table and just placing my food order when suddenly the music changed, and Basimah slid in on the floor. His introduction was fun, lively, and immediately got people to applaud. Basimah played with the rhythm of the Middle East, keeping the beat with his finger cymbals. She engaged each table, making diners laugh with her flirtatious hip drops, shoulder snaps and shimmies.
As the evening continued, Basimah performed a sword dance that required an advanced level of technique and grace. The enthralled audience watched as she effortlessly balanced the sword over her head while performing classic belly dance waves and rolls.
After a brief drum solo, the music resumed and Basimah pulled out the finger cymbals a second time. At this point, people have indeed risen from their seats to dance with the artist. She was constantly smiling and very friendly with everyone in the audience, kindly taking the time to stop at each table to dance, chat and even let them take pictures. One boy was clearly familiar with Middle Eastern style dancing and used his towel to swirl around his head, similar to a prop used in Dabke style dancing or Lebanese dancing.
It was a treat to see so many smiling faces and community forming at the restaurant; Basimah’s belly dance performance was absolutely perfect for this kind of setting. If you are looking for an evening of music, dance and Lebanese cuisine, the Saturday shows at Zaytoon (209 E. Canon Perdido St.) are a must.
Cris Basimah performs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at Zaytoon (209 E. Canon Perdido St .;  963-1293; zaytoon.com). She also regularly teaches oriental dance in Santa Barbara at Gustafson Dance studio and at UCSB. For booking requests, classes and additional performance dates, contact Basimah at [email protected] or visit bellydanceland.com.