Serpent presents... I
Dance; You Follow by Leila
returned from teaching at the Joy Festival in England
and a few weeks later, I received emailed feedback from the workshops
about my teaching.
criticisms can be a scary thing, and since I have been concentrating
on performance for the last four years, and not teaching, I
am very open to anything, no matter how pride-wounding, that
will help me improve my teaching skills.
criticism of a class I titled “Shaabi”
(the un-choreographed, spontaneous street dance of Egypt) that
particularly stuck me, (and always has when I have heard it applied
negatively to Egyptian teachers) was, “She was an ‘I-dance; you-follow
teacher.’” As a student, I felt that I never really started to
grasp Raqs Sharki until I came to Egypt and began studying from
teachers who commonly used this method of instruction. As a teacher,
therefore, I was trying to pass on what I learned in the exact
way that I learned it. I have to wonder if it is always beneficial
to expect to apply Western teaching standards to Oriental dance.
such as ballet and modern, is systematic and methodical in it's
instruction so it makes sense that a Westerner who is used to
these dance forms would prefer to learn Raqs Sharki in a way with
which they are accustomed. However, if you look at the way in
which Middle Easterners both learn and teach Raqs Sharki themselves,
it is drastically different from Western instructional methods.
Raqs Sharki is taught almost entirely by the “I-dance; you-follow”
method and it is only recently that Egyptian teachers have begun
to rely heavily on choreography and movement breakdown to please
the foreign students who pay to study with them. I mentioned this
to an Egyptian friend of mine who is a professional modern dancer
with the Egyptian Opera Dance Company. (He is also a
very talented oriental dancer.) He said, “One doesn’t learn Oriental
dance in the same way as ballet. When we were kids, and a Belly
dancer appeared on TV, we always jumped up to imitate her. Also,
our mother often danced at family parties and we stood behind
her and tried to copy her. Dancers learn steps from copying other
dancers, and then, they adapt them to their own style. Oriental
dance is not ballet. If you learn Oriental dance by counting “1,2,3,4,”
you will dance it like 1,2,3,4. (Maybe that is why so many non-Egyptians
look so stiff when they dance
Westerners interested in an Eastern dance form, we might want
to ask ourselves if we are missing certain critical aspects
of Raqs Sharki because we are not open to Eastern teaching methods.
teacher, who has been primarily an Oriental dancer (as opposed
to a Folkloric dancer), will generally teach in an “I-dance; you-follow”
method. Many Raqs Sharki teachers who have had extensive folkloric
backgrounds will teach with a more systematic approach, applying
folkloric teaching methods to Raqs Sharki instruction based on
a ballet style training system.
instructors listen to music with students and just start moving.
They expect students to follow along. Generally, a teacher will
correct major problems in technique but not correct minor differences
between her movements and those of her students. In this way,
the student learns, not only by a breakdown of movement, but by
repetition, giving her body room to interpret movements to suit
her own body type and personality. The student also learns how
her teacher makes instant transitions from one move to another.
a lesson following a pre-set choreography does not give any
insight into the creative process of building those steps. When
the teacher is improvising or creating a choreography on the
spot the student begins to understand the creative process within
the teacher in choosing those steps to interpret the music.
dancer who has spent many years on stage will make up new moves
and movement patterns in front of an audience. As a teacher, she
will also do this in front of the student, giving a sense of the
organic qualities of the dance form. By following the teacher,
a student can start to understand the subtleties and nuances of
the dance as well as it"s technical elements. The result
might be that of a dancer who is free from a reliance on choreography
and methodology and is better able to interpret the music.
imbedded video of Soheir Zaki is originally posted on youtube
Click on graphic above to start video clip.i
I have seen
quite a few incredibly talented Egyptian dancers labled “bad
teachers” because they practice the “I-dance; you-follow”
way of teaching. After arriving in Egypt, one of the first workshops
I attended was with Sohair Zaki in the Ahlan w Sahlan Festival.
It was a huge class, and Sohair Zaki got up on stage and just
danced to the music for three hours!
remember that the girl next to me went and sat by the wall after
45 minutes saying, “She’s not teaching anything…” In fact, many
people left the class and demanded their money back!
was teaching something, although it
was not complicated step patterns, layered combinations, or choreography.
Sohair Zaki was teaching stage presence, timing, musical interpretation,
style, and she was teaching technique the way she had learned
it. Many students will leave a workshop or session feeling disappointed
if they have not successfully learned new choreography or perfected
10 new steps. This is a shame because the steps will be meaningless
if you do not know how to incorporate them into your dance or
use them to interpret the music. Also, choreography is not what
is important to an audience.
many instructors all over the world who teach oriental dance using
programs, methods, and formats that offer students steps and choreographies
broken down to their most minute elements but by studying in this
way exclusively, a student may run the risk of her dance looking
programmed, methodical, or formatted.
you are studying in Egypt or anywhere with an Egyptian or Egyptian
trained teacher, open your mind to the traditional way of learning
Raqs Sharki! You may discover that this overtly relaxed method
of instruction can covertly work its magic on the freedom, creativity,
and individuality of your dance.
for more? 11-17-06 Interview with Safaa
Farid by Leila These
days there are times I feel I've seen everything an Egyptian dancer
can do in the first five minutes of her show. She doesn't change.
But foreigners study the dance very hard and they put much time
into their show so that is it interesting for a whole hour.
My Moment with Nagwa by Ahava While dancing I kept eye contact with the judges and
guests of honor. I still remember their mannerisms and what I
perceived to be their glares. Randa and Dr. Mo were conversing
and smiling contently, Faten and Zahra were clapping. Also, there
sat Nagwa Fouad, “Queen of Cairo!”