A Lucy Report
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!”
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,
is what I hate, all this counting, 1,2,3,4 and I’m going to free
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!
told me, “Feel the music; it will tell you how many times to do
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!
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.
did “Free me”! Here are some highlights of her intensive
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.”
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
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
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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Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Noshing around the Bay
by Neran and Nisima
Neran's first visit back to Bay Area a year after relocating to
Knoxville, Tennesee she announced to Nisima, "there are no
and I mean no Middle Eastern restaurants in Knoxville; let's go
to as many as we can while I'm here.
Dance Festival or Shop-a-thon?
can you hear me now?
the “Agony & The Ecstasy” by Nisima
It’s an unnerving experience to be “critiqued”
by your peers, but my personal opinion then and now is that when
you perform in public, critiquing just goes with the territory
I Love Lucy: Confessions of a Dancer
by Yosifah Rose
Lucy does not believe that one can properly perform Oriental
dance with a set choreography.
About Cymbals & a Workshop Checklist,
Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 13 by Mary Ellen Donald
Believe it or not, playing cymbals can be a real pleasure.
Playing them well can greatly enhance your dance performance.
Playing apologetic or offbeat cymbals can ruin your dance performance.