Hidden in the heart of Santa Barbara, Zaytoon restaurant offers a unique and charming dinner setting, but this area restaurant also takes dinner and a show one step further. Seated around a fire pit in a beautiful outdoor garden surrounded by fresh fruit trees and lit with small string lights, I not only enjoyed fresh Lebanese cuisine but also experienced the beautiful belly dancing moves of Santa Barbara–based dancer, director, and choreographer 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 UCSB’s Middle East Ensemble, a community music group of 40-plus musicians, Basimah incorporates many different styles of traditional and folkloric Middle Eastern dance into her performances
Each Saturday, Basimah graces Zaytoon diners with a 30-minute cabaret-style belly dance set. The night I went, I was seated at my fire pit table and just put in my food order when suddenly the music changed, and in came Basimah gliding across the floor. Her introduction was fun, lively, and immediately got people clapping. Basimah played along with the Middle Eastern rhythm, keeping time with her 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 rapt audience watched as she effortlessly balanced the sword on her head while performing classic belly-dance undulations and body rolls.
After a brief drum solo, the music picked up again, and Basimah brought out the finger cymbals a second time. At this point, folks actually got out of their seats to dance with the performer. She was constantly smiling and very friendly to all audience members, 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 dance and used his napkin to twirl around his head, similar to a prop used in Dabke-style dance, or Lebanese step dancing.
It was a treat to see so many smiling faces and community form at the restaurant; Basimah’s belly dance performance was absolutely perfect for this kind of setting. If you’re looking for a night of music, dance, and Lebanese cuisine, Saturday performances at Zaytoon (209 E. Canon Perdido St.) are a must-see.
Cris Basimah performs Saturday, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m., at Zaytoon (209 E. Canon Perdido St.;  963-1293; zaytoon.com). She also teaches belly dancing regularly in Santa Barbara at the Gustafson Dance studio and at UCSB. For booking inquires, classes, and additional performance dates, contact Basimah at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit bellydanceland.com.