MassRaqs was an awesome event. My commitment to MassRaqs took more time than I had anticipated, but it was genuinely rewarding to see how much people enjoyed the weekend. I still feel good about whatever part I played in bringing something like this to New England.

Friday night was a history review. It turns out that the Boston-area is ripe with Middle Eastern dance history. From Shadia, a local teacher, discussing her history to the ladies who are creating the Aziza! documentary about Boston’s role in the dance community, we are surrounded by history. The Friday night event ended with a dance show. It was good to see a variety of styles. I was asked to film, so I didn’t exactly see the entire show. I mean, I did, it was just through a small LCD. Filming dance is difficult. I wasn’t sure how everyone was going to dance and use the space, so I hope I did an adequate job. All I remembered about filming dance, from what I heard from others, is that I should have the face in the shot as much as humanly possible and not do some crazy zoom in on the midsection stuff.

Saturday was Meiver and Bozenka teaching; Cassandra unfortunately was injured pretty bad and was unable to teach. Meiver taught “Oriental Combinations.” Some of the combinations or at least parts of them were from the dance we learned; it was cool how things did stick with you. However, it made it challenging to learn the variation of the combo; sometimes my body wanted to autopilot what it thought was next. Bozenka taught Hands and Arms, as well as what would’ve been Cassandra’s beledi workshop. The Hands and Arms was tiring. A lot of the exercises reminded me of the ones my teacher, Danielle of Chicago, had me do. It was a good reminder, because I’ve been negligent with them. The beledi workshop was a good intro to beledi; I was impressed that Bozenka could figure out what to teach so quickly.

I’m going to cut in here and just mention that Bozenka is a great instructor. She is warm, always looks like she is having fun, and is able to communicate what she means clearly. I really like that she attended the Friday panel and appeared to have a great time; it’s nice to see people, especially top caliber people, who are interested in participating as a community member (even temporarily) and not just there to promote themselves, if that makes any sense.

Sunday was Shadia and Bozenka. Shadia is a real hidden gem in this area. I don’t hear much about her, which is a shame. She taught double cane and Bedouin dancing. She is a very encouraging instructor. Double cane is difficult. I think I will, once my life settles down again (schoolwork was put aside for MassRaqs this weekend), practice twirling and doing cane with my left hand. The line dancing was fun. Shadia ended the workshop with her performing; she is so charming and talented as an instructor, dancer, and costumer. I’m really glad that Meiver has made an effort to include and celebrate our local instructors.

Bozenka on the second day taught Oriental technique and drum solo stuff. The Oriental technique was interesting, because I typically have not had the opportunity to practice things across the floor. My favorite part, though, were facial exercises. Bozenka had us practice various emotions expressed on our face while we walked across the floor. I liked her philosophy that it’s good to know the range of expressions you can have, even if you don’t use them all. The drum solo workshop was a highlight of the weekend, because a live drummer was present and we were able to see what it was like to communicate non-verbally with a drummer. There was also a circle dance that was fun at the end.

The show was a good mix of styles. Mirza, Shadia’s troupe; Chantal; and Bozenka all did folkloric pieces. Bozenka’s was particularly interesting to me, because I didn’t know she did meleya leff. I always think of her as this beautiful, refined, classic looking dancing. Hers was excellent and to the live band. Yes, there was a live band with singer. Act 2 was an Oriental act, entirely to the live band. All the dancers were stunning. I like how Nina came through the audience, rather than starting on stage. I didn’t get to see her dance at Meiver’s recital, so this was a particular treat. Meiver looked gorgeous and danced beautifully; Phaedra was impressive with her dancing and zill playing. The standout for me was how Najmat and Hanan really interacted with the band; Najmat’s interaction in particular made it feel like she was a part of the band. It was really an amazing performance from her, and I usually enjoy her performances. Bozenka came out and performed another great piece to top off the evening.

I could go into a lot of detail of how things went logistically with the event, but I don’t feel like that’s the most important thing right now. Of course, there were things that should’ve, could’ve, and will be different; I wrote my list up last night, so I remember when we start planning MassRaqs 2011 next month. We’ll work on improving them for next year. Right now, it’s nice to bask in what went well. The community came together and celebrated dance. With who knows how many things that could’ve gone wrong, we didn’t do too poorly for our first year.

I spent most of today resting. All the practices and the high of the performance yesterday called for today to be a day of rest. My neck is a bit sore today from the Khaleegi, but other than that, I feel pretty good.

I think the show went well. Many people I respect said very kind things, including Nepenthe who was kind enough to even write a review of the show last night on Facebook (and be present with a huge sincere smile on her face). It’s really touching to see that people are supportive in the community. Speaking of community, this being one of the only student shows I’ve been in, it was neat to see how everyone did pull together the night of the show. Things have been stressful, and yet, we’re all willing to lend a hand to help people change costumes, make sure everyone looks good, share snacks, etc. With 4 costume changes (or 5, if you were a soloist), we all worked together as team to make sure things happened as scheduled.

The show was fun. I think we did well. I know there were parts I didn’t do so hot (my fan veils and I were too close to the curtain, so the silk couldn’t go back when it needed to, and that caused issues), but I kept going since there is no other choice. I think it overall went well, and most importantly, people enjoyed it. It was a really good evening overall. The Modern Oriental was a good opening number. My favorite to do was the Saidi, but I heard most praise on the Khaleegi. My SO loved how the hair tossing looked at the end (and somehow missed that I almost fell backwards when sitting up after that). In Nepenthe’s review, she wrote that she enjoyed this piece, because it made a social dance interesting to watch. I admittedly am not fan of watching most Khaleegi, simply because it isn’t that dynamic on stage. However, Meiver made the dance like a party and gave us all different roles to do, while still making the dance cohesive and performance-worthy.

The MataHari people are absolutely fantastic. They were very kind throughout the evening and so appreciative; they even purchased flowers for all of us. It felt good to do something for such kind people who work for such an amazing cause.

I couldn’t see any of the show, unfortunately, but judging from the applause, it sounded like it was enjoyable. We haven’t heard a tally of how much money we raised for MataHari, but I wasn’t expecting to hear that yet. I imagine Meiver is rightfully resting. If you are interested in giving money to MataHari or reading more about them, please go here.

The experience certainly had its ups and downs, but I really enjoyed learning these dances, being forced out of my comfort zones, and getting to know some of my classmates better. A few of us were talking about what we had hoped to get out of this experience. I definitely ended up with what I had wanted (troupe/group experience, growth as a dancer, etc.). It’s a little strange to not be at Meiver’s studio tonight with everyone, like the routine has been since May.

Yesterday, I took the plunge and committed myself to Meiver of Boston’s intensive repertory class. She has been advertising it for a bit, but I had let time slip and then thought I wouldn’t have the time or money. Thanks to Facebook and friends’ participation (gotta love indirect peer pressure), as well as admiring Meiver’s dancing, I contacted her, got the info, and decided to go for it.

If you are not participating, this class is going to cover a lot of material. Khaleegi, Saidi, fan veil, and an Oriental piece. This is a lot of material as is, but she’s also running this only for 3 weeks in May. Students are expected to show up to 6/8 classes or 2 classes/week. Everything is very reasonably priced (she wants people to be able to participate).

Last night was my first night there. Meiver is a great instructor; I plan on taking more classes from her in the future. She’s very warm and friendly, which is vital to any good instructor, especially if you’re dancing in the heat and humidity. I immensely respect that although this is dance intensive and we’re primarily there to learn these choreographies, that she makes a point of sharing the background information on each of the regional dances and throwing in tidbits.

Her choreographies are creative and beautiful, too. I love Saidi, so there was no worry that would enjoy that. I love the playfulness and am in general, a big folkloric fan. Although my head/neck are feeling it this morning, I had fun doing Khaleegi, which surprised me. I am not a fan of Khaleegi in general; I’m not big on hair tosses and didn’t favor what I learned or have seen of it. Granted, it hasn’t been much, but I’ve seen a fair handful. We didn’t get to the fan veil stuff but the Oriental choreography is very pretty, albeit fast.

What I like most about her choreographies is that they utilize the group. The hallmark of a good group choreography is that it isn’t a bunch of people doing the same thing together all the time. That looks good at times, but I rally appreciate when one group does something to the left while another group does something to the right or they play off of each other. From working with others on choreography and then learning the choreography, creating a dynamic choreography that uses the group isn’t easy but is visually worthwhile.

I look forward to the rest of the classes and seeing the end product. This is going to take a lot of time, but I think I’m going to immensely grow as a dancer.

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 againĀ 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.