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Gilded Serpent presents...
Freedom From Choreography:
A Lucy Report
by Nisima

It was Saturday afternoon at the weekend Dallas workshop taught by Lucy, the Raks Sharqi star from Cairo, and I had gathered up my courage to ask her for clarification on a traveling step she’d taught us that morning.  Several times, Lucy had encouraged us all warmly on Saturday morning saying, “Ask questions; don’t be shy. Come up here on this stage with me and ask!” 

So, (after I demonstrated what I thought was a fairly decent back walk to a count of 4 with alternating hip drops) there I was up on stage with Lucy who said to me, 

“This is what I hate, all this counting, 1,2,3,4 and I’m going to free you now!” 

She proceeded to demonstrate a lovely “Back-walk.” Yes, of course, it was in time to a basic 4/4 rhythm, but with a midriff contraction and the whole step continued to “flow” with the musical phrase, not counted as 4, 8, or 6. In fact, I think she may have done five or seven but—I am not sure! 

She told me, “Feel the music; it will tell you how many times to do a step.”

I was overjoyed; this is exactly the approach to performing to live Arabic music I had used in my career working club dancer in the early ‘80s!  The big difference, however, was that I was dancing American Cabaret style, in which everything becomes big and theatrical.  The “Egyptian Raks Sharqi” style that started to surface in the American Middle Eastern dance community in the late 80s. had not yet influenced my improvised dance steps and combos. Still, most of us dancers at those clubs were well aware that even if the Arabic musicians played the same song ten times in one night, each time, it would be different. There would be little nuances and improvisations; trying to count and do choreography was not the way to respond effectively to the music!  We could always tell when a dancer tried to do choreography with live music because it simply looked like she was ignoring the music, which in effect she was! I can assure you that Arabic musicians did not appreciate it when dancers would not (or could not) follow the music that they were playing!

Therefore, I was familiar with Lucy’s approach to responding to music already but was hoping to learn more about Egyptian style of Raks Sharqi than what I could see on videos—or hear described by countless teachers and dancers on various on-line articles or open forums.

Lucy certainly did “Free me”!  Here are some highlights of her intensive two-day workshop:

*The split second that Lucy started teaching on Saturday morning, her body-carriage impressed me; she gracefully pulled her ribcage high up, with her shoulders down. She held her arms in perfect and curved frame, and I thought, “This dancer has had ballet training!”  As it turned out, Lucy told us (through an interpreter) that for years she was a member of the Cairo ballet troupe but left as a teenager to start performing Raks Sharqi because (big surprise) she “wanted freedom.  “For every count in ballet,” she said, “one’s foot or hand or arm must be in the same exact place each time.”

*The next obvious characteristic of Lucy’s dance was her lovely, flowing, rippling hand movements. Lucy demonstrated them and then came around to show each of us "what you are doing right”.  She spent time on the hand ripple (for want of a better term).

She insisted that we do it with our fingers held together, rather than with our middle fingers pointing down, which was  “Very rude,” she said, “to do that!”
  • On Saturday, one could hear the big sigh of relief all over the room of some 100 participants of the workshop, when Lucy told us at the beginning of the workshop that she would not teach choreography!  Personally, I regard choreography as necessary evil for troupe or duet work, but it is not what I like to learn in workshops.  As in the old saying: Give a man a fish, and you’ve given him meal for a day; teach him to fish, and you have fed him for the rest of his life!
  • Lucy proceeded to feed us for a lifetime of dance, telling us repeatedly throughout the weekend, that she loves to dance to live music and especially likes working with new musicians because even a song she knows well will be different every time different musicians play it.  I think she said that she works with about forty-five musicians in the Hotel Parisienne where she performs nightly!
  • Other highlights of Lucy’s workshop were: an afternoon of cane “Raks Assaya. She showed us a couple of very useful grips for the cane and how to change our grip in mid-air with cane swinging. She demonstrated many times how she dances from the core; all her undulations midriff contractions involve muscles, not the whole spinal column, as with American Cabaret style dancers tend to employ.  Shimmies, whether shoulder or hip, that Lucy taught were precise and delicate.  At times, I saw variations of hip shimmies that appeared to be tiny vibrating layered under midriff undulations; little side-to-side hip shimmies done while walking, no, she floated across the stage. Most of all, everything Lucy did was synchronized with the music, but not counted; she just followed the musical phrases.

Lucy was an excellent teacher! I was amazed to hear her say that it was her very first experience teaching a workshop!  Because she is also a working actress and singer, perhaps that makes her able to reach every person in the workshop. Lucy made everyone feel that she was receiving individual attention, which is no small feat in a workshop for about 100 participants.  As a person, she is warm, and has a comedic talent that was very upbeat and refreshing!

Author & Dee Dee

I had a wonderful experience at this workshop. From the first minute to the last, DeeDee of Little Egypt, along with her family, the workshop organizers, worked hard to make every workshop participant feel welcome and cared for; the shows were well-organized, and all ran smoothly.  I am grateful to DeeDee and commend her for bringing Lucy to us. I look forward to her next Little Egypt Workshop.

One cannot obtain this level of dance instruction from a video! A couple of days, with a “real-deal live instructor (who can provide feedback and individual attention) are necessary.  I bought a couple of Lucy’s videos, but they are only pale reminders of my experience of having been in the presence of a mega-star Raks Sharqi performer the caliber of Lucy.

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