April 2009


Are you doing anything to celebrate?

I had completely forgot about it until I read a post about it. I am not doing anything exciting for it. My main plan is to go to Flamenco tonight.

Maybe next year I’ll remember beforehand and plan something completely awesome.

Mohamed Shahin was what I needed after my week. In case you were wondering about me attending the workshops I had planned on going to, I still am because I prepaid. I most likely can’t get a refund and I don’t know if I’d be allowed to sell my spot. But back to the original story.

The workshop was hosted by a dancer named Alexandria. I had only know of her loosely; she dances at quite a few restaurants around Chicago, and I think she may teach somewhere in the city. Pineapple Dance studio was the location, which was fairly easy to get to from Chicago, taking a little over an hour from train where I live (North Side). Forest Park, IL is pretty cute in an old-time town way. I was relieved, since I’ll make my trek out there again in a few weeks for the Hadia workshops.

The beginning of the workshop is genuinely the only bad thing I can say about it. People showed up late, about 20 minutes late. Alexandria is a really nice person, so she chose to delay the workshop. The other workshops I had attended in the city ran like clockwork. If you were late, you missed part of the workshop. The lateness cut into our break, which I had desperately needed. To be fair, there were maybe 20 people max there, so a good portion of the attendees were missing.

The workshop began with someone else leading us through warmup and stretches; I’m not quite sure why Mohamed Shahin did not. When Shahin began teaching, he was rather serious. Not mean, but he had a mission to teach us. He was concerned about whether we understood what we were doing with the saidi. He would dance a combo with us a few times, then step out to observe whether we had it. If we didn’t, he would explain very clearly what we were doing wrong. I was lucky to have had Najmat in Boston, because her teaching is very similar to Shahin’s. Neither of them used names for words; instead, a sound like “tock” would mean something and there’d be a bit of a demo. You wouldn’t get a name like “maya.” I think, even if I hadn’t been used to that kind of instruction, he was able to articulate what he meant and break things down a bit.

The first half of the workshop was saidi. As I said yesterday, it wasn’t too easy or too hard. Again, thanks to Najmat, I was fairly prepared to handle cane (we had done many months of it when I was her student). I felt somewhat challenged, but I didn’t think it was impossible. I liked seeing how his combos worked and learning the finishing touches. Quite a few people leave out the importance of your face when learning; Shahin would tell us where we should look at points during the choreography. Probably my favorite part of this half was he took time to answer questions. Shahin is not only an excellent dancer and movement teacher, but he is also an excellent history teacher. He talked about how beladi cane is different from Saidi and the development of Saidi cane dances as we know it today.

The second part of the workshop was supposed to be classic raqs sharqi, but they decided to do shaabi. I didn’t mind, because I am interested in shaabi, but I imagine it may have been a surprise for others. The shaabi portion was a little difficult for me, because I really threw myself into the saidi. Pineapple dance studio was also a bit warm and stuffy (the weather in Chicago was a bit humid), so it was harder to concentrate. Shahin really helped me understand shaabi. I liked how explained the gestures and the music.

I’d recommend taking a workshop with Mohamed Shahin in a heartbeat (and I plan on going to any of his I can attend). He is an excellent instructor and about business. What more can I say :)? I’m definitely a fan now.

Two major money woes occurred in the course of the past few days.

1. My lab’s money has just been frozen. I’m not sure why (according to my advisor, we still had half of the money allocated to us), but it has been. We have to get the department chair’s approval. What that means for me? My thesis is in a precarious situation. I have roughly 1/3 of the data collection done. We have to purchase something for another 1/3 of the experiment, and we more than likely will have to purchase something for the last 1/3. I’m worried that he may take awhile approving purchases or simply not approve them. I had asked my advisor what happens if I can’t continue with my experiments; he said that we’ll have to make the 1/3 work. I’m doubtful that will be allowed, since my thesis will be a 1/3 smaller than everyone else’s.

2. My TAing job for the summer is in jeopardy. My boss presented me with the possibility of not being hired during the summer, because I’m finished with classes. I’m still technically a student, since I haven’t defended my thesis. She has to investigate it further, but I’m very worried. I have enough in savings I could live off of, but I also didn’t want to deplete my savings without knowing what’s in store for me in the future. If I go without employment, I need something to live off of.

This all would have to occur right before my midterm. Great timing, huh?

I went to my first Flamenco class yesterday. I’ve been itching to work on another dance style for a while. I love doing Middle Eastern dance, but I think it’s go to change it up. I also miss the feeling of excitement and nervousness for a first class. The people who take dance before my class are in a beginning class. I think it’s awesome to see how excited they are about exploring a new way of moving.

My Flamenco class consists of mostly non-previous dancers. I think that they have an advantage on me, because they don’t have muscle memory with footwork. I still have muscle memory from classical Indian dance training. Some of the footwork reminded me of it but wasn’t quite it, which meant I had to concentrate a little more to fight it.

They are also not accustomed to dancing barefoot. The teacher said that character shoes were fine or even sneakers for the first few classes. I went with character shoes, figuring I may try doing Middle Eastern dance in them if I hate Flamenco. I think they are about two inches high. Dancing in shoes is a lot harder than I thought. I didn’t realize I was so used to feeling the ground with my feet. I also didn’t realize that my turns were powered so that I can do a 360 barefoot; my shoed turns cause me to go around greater than 360.

The only advantage that I may have in my class is I’m used to moving. I know sort of how to do floreos. Danielle has made me practice with the arms a lot before, so it isn’t as painful as it could be.

The teacher, Rosetta, is good. She looks like a really friendly soccer mom type. She’s very nice, and I really respect how she conducted the first class. She first reiterated the point about not investing tons of money in Flamenco, until you’re sure you’re going to continue your studies. I like that, since it seems like so many people invest money in costumes and stuff in Middle Eastern dance and then quit soon after. I also like that she emphasized the idea of practice; she told us we’d never get better and that we’d repeat the first lesson if we never practiced. She even handed out a little sheet of homework for us to practice. It can be very difficult to remember (at least for me) what we did in class or what’s the most important to practice. The other cool thing about Rosetta is that she is so nice but when she takes her Flamenco pose, she looks like she could rip out your throat in a split second.

So how do I feel about Flamenco after my first class?

I love it.

In honor of my significant other trying Middle Eastern dance today and my first workshop with a male instructor, I thought I’d post some of my favorite male dancers. People may talk about how it’s a man’s world, but I don’t think it’s that way in dance. I’ve heard my share of people make rather rude or prejudiced comments re. male dancers. I find that kind of reaction sad, since women in other fields have faced that kind of reaction.

I myself enjoy a good dancer, no matter what the gender of the person. These men in the clips below are just as talented as any women I’ve seen.

Tarik Sultan, Morocco of NYC (the Morocco)’s protege.

Mohamed Shahin, who will be in the Chicago ‘burbs this Sunday.

DaVid of Scandinavia, who runs a school in San Diego (and an all-round nice fella; he posts a bit on Bhuz).

I decided, after having a lesson on connecting with music and working with that a little, that I need to restructure what I want to get out of my private lessons. I’ve identified things I’d to work on, different things I hadn’t thought about before or maybe did but thought I should tackle other things. My private lessons have been very beneficial, despite me identifying new challenges. They have given me a lot to think about, practice, and fully digest. I want to have time to fully get it before revisiting those topics with a teacher, if that makes sense. I don’t think I’ve gotten everything out of them yet, and there’s no point in re-evaluating myself at something when I haven’t fully explored it.

I think I want to get schooled in rhythms. In Middle Eastern dance, there are some rhythms that frequently show up. If you’re improvving, finding the rhythm can give a starting point to the dancer. Even if I weren’t improvving, I imagine that it would be helpful for choreography.

I also want to learn how to fuse dance things together (moves, moods, music, etc.) and look good when doing that. One of the chief complaints about fusion is that it looks sloppy and/or the dancer needed to pull some tricks to look interesting. I want to be able to do fusion that looks cohesive and beautiful.

I’d like to think of some other topics to visit over the course of spring and summer. What would you like to improve on? What do you think is vital for any dancer to work on?

After reading Valeria’s top 10 popular clothes items for Middle Eastern dance, I felt inspired to write my own, using a different slant. My list is my top 10 must have items. Slightly different but hopefully informative and fun. I chose to make a slightly different list, because Valeria already covered popular items and I think it’s easy to get swept up in clothes side. This list particularly aimed at people who are just beginning or those who don’t have so much money. I don’t own all of these (yet), but the combination of my own experience and observing troupes has made me think these are the essentials.

  1. Hip scarf. A hipscarf is not only a good way to feel like you’re a dancer but is also practical. They can really help you (and your teacher) see the movement. If they’re of the noisy variety (coins, for instance), they can let you know quickly you’re moving your hips. This can be particularly useful if you’re not supposed to be moving them, ie. you hear the coins jingling when you’re doing a chest movement.
  2. Fitted workout pants. I’m a fan of yoga pants, but whatever pants you wear, they should be fitted enough that your teacher can see your movements. I have several pair from places like Target that have lasted about 5 years for me with constant wearing.
  3. Well-fitting top. If you’re moving, particularly if you’re a female, you want to stay covered and comfy. Some classes may involve small hops or jumps where your chest area may need more support than your average bra.
  4. Tie crop top. These are good classes as a quick way to show your midriff, but I’ve had these used for a few class performances. They come in many styles, from sleeves to long flowy sleeves and prints or plain. They can be found numerous places for different prices. Sharifwear is a place many people look. Melodia Designs also carries them, and a quick search on Ebay will also yield other suppliers.
  5. Costume cover. When you perform, covering yourself is important, even for a recital-style performance. You don’t want the audience to see your costume before you perform. Some ideas for costume covers are saris and caftans.
  6. One great bra and belt set. Owning what’s referred to as a “workhorse” is one of the smartest investments a new performer can make. Costuming can be very expensive, but a solid bra and belt set can help defray the cost. Mixing and matching with skirts, pants, tops, etc. allows for the bra and belt to look like a different costume. If you are of the tribal inclination, a good coin bra and some kind of belt will work well. I made a coin bra once, and it was relatively easy.  If you’re more Oriental style, a gold or silver bra and belt set can be transformed with cheaper accessories to look like a completely new costume; I’ve seen people accessories so cleverly that I had trouble telling that they were using the same set. The most popular recommendation is a Great Loop bra.
  7. Black jazz pants. I have had these called upon from time to time for recitals when we had to quickly come up with costume pieces and no one had much money to spend. I don’t think they’re a bad item to use, especially if you are more tribal.
  8. Skirt and matching accessory. To really work your one great bra and belt set, a good skirt in a flattering cut is the way to go. Matching it with an accessory, like gloves or a vest, creates a complete outfit. L.Rose Designs is the most popular place to go for a skirt and accessory set.
  9. Good underwear. Good underwear is supportive and doesn’t show through your costume (lines) or show too much of you. One of the biggest performance tips I had drilled into me was to make sure the audience does not see more of you than you want.
  10. Jewelry. Jewelry really completes a look, even if it isn’t a lot. It can be used for many costumes.

What would your 10 must have items be?

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