Gilded Serpent presents...
Egyptian Dance Seminar
of Sausan's Academy of Egyptian Dance
you think if you heard somebody say, “There are no isolations
in Egyptian Belly dance"?
be skeptical about it, as I was when I heard it; however, when
the person who made the statement has produced many creditable
professional dancers in a short time, you would probably want
to hear what else she had to say.
of San Francisco gave her first-ever intensive dance seminar this
past January. Though Sausan has been known on the San Francisco
Belly dance scene for many years, you may be surprised to learn
that she taught her first guest workshop last year, and only began
teaching group lessons two years ago. I, among seven diverse and
enthusiastic women, attended Sausan’s first seminar and was extremely
brochure for the seminar promised “four days of intensive Egyptian
dance.” Each day was intended to cover one of the four courses
in the current Sausan Academy program. As a current student of
Sausan’s Academy, I knew that each course is ordinarily 12 weeks
long, with classes held once per week. I wondered how all of that
material could be covered in only four days!
The first course covers upper body movements,
the second incorporates one’s lower body with the upper body.
- The third
course dissects classical Egyptian music into its common elements
such as: drum solos, bridges, etc. Students learn how
to recognize and interpret these components in their own dance.
- The final
12 weeks contains application of what has been learned in the
previous three courses. The student learns Sausan’s original
choreography for a nine to twelve minute classical Egyptian
dance piece, usually a standard like “Mashaal”, and is
then encouraged to go past the choreography to find her own
interpretation based on her personal style and perception of
the music, all within the framework of what Sausan terms the
“Egyptian Dance Code.”
of the first things one was likely to notice is that Sausan
had done her research! On the evening before the seminar began,
each seminar participant was provided with a thick binder
containing the fully-documented choreography they were to
learn, biographies of the great 20th century Egyptian
dancers and musicians, and even CDs of music and DVDs of dance
clips taken from the golden era of Egyptian cinema, each illustrating
one or more key principles of the Egyptian Dance Code.
even included quizzes on the biographies that the participants
could take home to use with their own students. Each biography
was also accompanied by a CD of the musician’s work or a DVD of
the dancer in action. Also included were Sausan’s instructional
DVDs of Egyptian dancers subtitled with the names Sausan uses
for the moves the dancers were performing. All of this was for
the participants to keep and was included in the price of the
were a diverse group, in terms of age and ethnicity, but we were
all experienced dancers ready to try something new. There were
only seven of us, and the seminar was formatted so that we were
able to form personal relationships with each of the other attendees
in the four-and-a-half days we spent together. Not only did we
spend six to seven hours per day in class, we also shared three
meals per day! Sausan had breakfast and lunch at her studio in
Glen Park catered from her restaurant, Al
Masri, in the Richmond District. The out-of-towners stayed
in hotels close to the restaurant, where we had dinner and saw
two dance shows per night. Everything was included in the price
of the seminar registration and Sausan chauffeured the group between
their hotels, the studio, and the restaurant.
there wasn’t time for anything else. Although I didn’t hear
any complaints, I imagine that the dancers attending from far
away may have wished they had more time to see San Francisco.
and second days focused on the Egyptian Dance Code. It’s difficult
to explain, but here’s a peek:
isolations; (Think of Keanu Reeves trying to bend the
spoon in “The Matrix”. The little boy told him ‘There is no
spoon.’) In this dance there are no isolations!
- Keep your
upper body as involved in the dance as your lower body.
give the first and third beats an upward emphasis, and the second
and fourth beats a downward one, which is opposite of Western
dance forms, and a common mistake of Western bellydancers.
This is the
sort of thing that can take a person like me, who has studied
with numerous other instructors over the past eight or so years,
some practice. If there’s no isolation, why have I been practicing
mayas in a doorframe and other lower-body movements in
a mirror covering my lower half and trying to look still on top?’
I wondered. I suppose what Sausan would say is that although I
may have been Belly dancing, I wasn’t dancing in the Egyptian
style. If you don’t believe any of this, just pop in a video
of an old-style Egyptian dancer with these three principles in
mind and see for yourself. We watched several videos in class,
and by the end, we were all EDC converts.
which focused on listening to and interpreting Arabic music, well-known
local musician, Musa Hanhan gave a presentation
on musical theory and then discussed a few of the great composers
and entertainers of the early half of the 20th century.
Although some of the theory discussion went over our heads, I
was impressed that he tried to explain the tonal scales of Arabic
music in addition to rhythms. (Most Arabic music discussions
tend to focus only on rhythm.) We were amused to hear him demonstrate
how anything from “Jingle Bells” to the “Star Spangled Banner”
can be Arab-ized simply by changing the musical key.
the fourth day, which focused on application of method, Sausan’s
Cairene partner, Hatem el-Sayed, pulled the whole
seminar into perspective by leading a discussion on Egyptian culture.
He explained how people often confuse independent but overlapping
groups like Arabs, Muslims, Arabic language speakers, and Middle
Easterners. We had an engaging question-and-answer session. Topics
included these questions:
- “How are
professional bellydancers viewed by the Egyptian public?”
- “How have
things changed in the last 10 or 20 years and how might they
change in the future?”
- “What role
has government played in regulating bellydance (who can do it,
what can they wear, etc.)?”
also introduced four or five of the most influential dancers of
the 1920s through the 1950s, like Samia and Tahiya,
and he shared some interesting gossip on more contemporary stars
like Fifi and Nagwa from his
personal connections in Cairo during the 70s and 80s.
Musa and Hatem are staunch supporters of our dance art. Together
with Sausan and other concerned parties, they have founded the
Egyptian Dance Preservation Society, whereby they intend
to create an archive of film, music, and costumes, and promote
and educate on Egyptian dance from the early- to mid-20th
century. It will be fascinating to see where their endeavor
at the restaurant were exemplary. We had the same reserved table
all four nights right in front of the stage. On Thursday night,
Al Masri’s newest dancer, and one of Sausan’s recent graduates,
Gabriela, was the performer. Her first show was
a classical piece and the second was a really cute rendition of
a Nancy Ajram song.
featured beautiful Amani, who also did two shows.
The first was a cane number in a beautiful tiger striped velvet
costume with rhinestone accents and almost no fringe. The second
piece was to Musa’s live accompaniment. About ten or twelve members
of Musa’s family had come that night, and when Amani started pulling
people up to dance, between his family and our table of dancers,
it seemed that the whole audience was dancing.
learned a great deal from feedback she was given from her first
seminar’s participants. The next one she teaches will have fewer
hours per day classroom time, more breaks, and there will be more
than four days. There will be more free time to explore independently,
or spend time as participants choose. Sausan’s next seminar will
likely be held early in 2006. Melinda was given this workshop
as a gift from Sausan and then asked to write an article about
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Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Rakkasah West Festival
2005 Page 3-Sat & Sun, photos by GS Volunteers including:
Jasmine, Lynette, Michelle, Monica, Sandra, Susie, Zaheea, and
probably more! Festival
date- March 2005, Richmond, California, One page left!
Tips on Dancing to Live Music (a
Musician’s Perspective) by Frank Lazzaro
dancers find performing to live music intimidating, but with a
little preparation, good communication, and a positive attitude,
you can make it the most exciting part of your dance performance.
Rakkasah 2005 Casual
photos by GS Staff
maybe two more pages of photos coming yet and then we are done!
The Untaught Teacher by
then, do we do about a teacher who has been misled, apparently,
concerning the history of our dance?
Calling all professional dancers!
How much do you charge? by Nanna Candelaria
the years, we dancers have unwittingly kept the general rate ridiculously
low in restaurants and nightclubs.
Interview with Mahmoud Reda
Part 1: The Beginning by Morocco
Ministry of Culture should be of help, not a source of problems.
But anyway, they had control of all the theaters, so to find a
theater we must go to them, but they gave us problems. I don’t
know why; maybe they were jealous!