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Gilded Serpent presents...
Rakset Assaya:
An Introduction to Egyptian Saidi Technique
by Lauren

The first time I ever handled an assaya (cane) was during a Yousry Sharif workshop. Mr. Sharif is known for two things: he is a tough and demanding teacher, and he is the master of the cane. I could not have been more nervous!

Although Mr. Sharif’s English is good, his teaching method is very Egyptian — more “show” than “tell.” The first thing he showed us was how to hold and twirl the cane: fingers open, holding the cane lightly at the base of the thumb and using a gentle wrist action to flip it around the palm of the hand. It was surprisingly easy!

But the dancers who were in the habit of gripping the cane in their fists weren’t able to progress to the advanced moves, like passing the cane from hand to hand quickly while twirling it. I realized how lucky I was to have learned the easy way first!

Nourhan Sharif is Yousry’s wife, partner and student. She told me they created Rakset Assaya: an Introduction to Egyptian Saidi Technique (Egyptian Academy of Oriental Dance) to bring the Sharif technique to a larger audience. Nourhan also told me why Rakset Assaya is so important to them both. “It is a wonderful, soulful dance of the Saidi people…and as all of the inhabitants are moving towards urbanized living, this art form is in danger of being lost.” Then she adds, “My husband's family background is Saidi.”

So what could be better than learning Egyptian Saidi technique from an Egyptian of Saidi background who is the renowned master of the dance? How about learning it from his partner, who breaks the steps down verbally in the American teaching style!

The production quality of this video is excellent. The setting is simple, the camera work clean and uncluttered. Slow motion and close-ups are used sparingly.

There is no mirror on the set, but Nourhan turns in all directions while demonstrating the more complex steps.

Rakset Assaya is best suited to the intermediate or advanced student, but cane experience is unnecessary. Nourhan assumes you know basic moves, from hip drops to 3/4 and choo-choo shimmies (a student who can’t do traveling shimmies could do the steps without them). Nourhan refers to her beginner video for details of a few moves, but the only one you might have trouble with is a lock she demonstrates while wearing a galibeya. If you can’t make out the lock, you could substitute another isolation. (Don’t worry, she only wears the galibeya at the end of the tape.)

I love her constant posture reminders (“I’m very lifted here…my spine is long”).

She also reminds us to breathe, which I found puzzling at first, but soon I found breath awareness very useful for staying relaxed while keeping an erect posture.

The video covers wrist stretches, holding the cane (the same relaxed, open hand that Yousry teaches), framing the body with the cane, and several twirling variations before advancing to Saidi steps. Nourhan presents dozens of combinations (even the ones she describes as “exercises” I would call “darn cute moves”) and teaches several whole phrases from Yousry’s choreographies. Not only can you drop these bits of choreography into your own dances, but they give you a feel for how the combinations can be put together. Two  improvisations by Nourhan at the end of the video give you a deeper sense of how the steps might be used to interpret music.

 If you prefer a video that can be followed straight through, like a workshop, you may want to wait for Nourhan’s Assaya choreography video (which she has promised to do next). Personally, I don’t mind putting the tape on hold while I practice a move, or rewinding it until I get a step right. This video delivers enough combinations, steps and cane moves to build several completely different choreographies. It’s rare for me to feel like I’ve gotten this much “bang” for my video buck!

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