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Gilded Serpent presents...
Gitaneria Arabesca:
A Different Approach to the Student Recital
by Vashti
Photography by John Steele

Ah, the student recital. There is nothing like watching fledglings leaving the nest, discovering their own creative wings and flying off into the wonderful world of belly dance.

This year I wanted to deepen the concept of “student recital” and help dancers engage in significant cultural and artistic exploration.

So, I created a class entitled Gitaneria Arabesca (gitaneria means little “gypsy” enclave or village). The results were truly surprising and rewarding.


The students were from my Intermediate and Advanced Gypsy classes. Some had studied Romany –style belly dance with me for two years – others only recently began specializing in “gypsy” belly dance. Dancers were expected to create a “gypsy” choreography (fantasy, fusion, traditional or interpretive) and perform it at the end of the session at an informal hafla for family and friends. Additional requirements included research and presentation of a “cultural” project and maintenance of a journal throughout the class. The journals were turned in for my review at the end of the session. The cultural project and individual choreographies were to be presented at the hafla. In addition, all students were to participate in an improvisational 9/8 zil circle/dance and short finger cymbal choreography to close the show.


The class was inspired by a similar model created by SeSe (my first belly dance teacher). Her model requires students to perform on a semi-monthly basis and receive peer-based feedback as well as teacher-based critique in front of the class.


I started the session by requiring dancers to choose a piece of music, a “theme” for their dance and a rough costume sketch. We then spent a few weeks completing individual and group exercises which explored different ways to approach choreography. Outside of class, students were required to create a “dance map” for their piece. The “map” could be anything from Kamaal’s method (each rhythmic phrase written out numerically) to a series of drawings that follow the emotional threads in the music. We then moved into exercises to help students create a character and explore different methods of accessing emotional and physical projection in their dancing. We also completed practical exercises to develop skills related to use of a stage, exits/entrances and coping strategies for unexpected technical difficulties in a show. Mid-session students started to perform their choreographies and receive their critique. Simultaneously, they worked on individual research/cultural projects and wrote about their feelings in a dance journal.


The session culminated in a dress/tech rehearsal and show in mid-August. Family and friends attended as well as teachers and students in the larger Bellydance Basics family. The show/hafla was an amazingly fun time for everyone and as I had hoped, the entire experience was deepened by the addition of the journal and cultural project assignments.

The journals chronicled each student's journey and process. They also included good information about the utility of various exercises we had completed. The projects were truly amazing. They were incredibly diverse. One student researched a Romani poet; and read her poetry at the hafla. Another student created a CD-ROM containing all Internet resources she could locate regarding the Rom. There were also quite a few artistic projects: a quilt made up of images of dancers, a graphic design print using historical images of Romany people, and “gypsy” tee-shirt design.

All in all, it was an incredibly satisfying experience for me as teacher. I loved being able to provide a safe venue for dancers to share their first expressions of this art form. It also felt wonderful to be able to teach students the value of learning at least some small part of the cultural context that we borrow from in this fabulous world of Middle Eastern dance.

Zil Choreography

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