Greek Flavor and Flair
Rhea & Laikis Orientale and Greek Folk Dance Workshop
sponsored by Ma*Shuqa,
held Saturday, August 19, 2006, at the Empire Buffet restaurant,
in San Jose, California
by Rebecca Firestone
Photos by Carl
that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not touched by the frost."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
the bellydance world include Egyptian cabaret, hip-hop fusion,
Urban Tribal, Raks Gothique, Turkish Rom, and most recently Bellydance
Burlesque (gasp!). You'd think at this point that no stone was
left unturned, but last weekend there was a blast from the past
when Rhea of Athens
taught a Greek bellydance/folkdance workshop in San Jose on August
lot of people skipped this one, saying, "Oh she's just doing
rehashes of Jamila's
old stuff." She may have studied with Jamila Salimpour back
in the 1970s but she's been doing plenty of thinking on her own
since then, and living in Greece for many years has influenced
her instruction and dance repertoire. She also worked with the
renowned Dora Stratou dance company, which presents in-depth
the regional dances of Greece.
talks to her class
at 60, Rhea is on the short side, strongly built, charismatic,
confident, with sparkle and wit, a cute upturned smile, very much
an entertainer and a showman, tough and game for anything. She
could easily have stepped from a Renaissance Faire, which is where
she got her start originally as the Sword Dancer and one of the
featured dancers in Jamila Salimpour's original Bal Anat.
reminiscing about her past adventures with Rhea in Greece, says,
"Rhea's engaging stage personality definitely was a hit with
the Greeks. Joining Rhea dancing in Athens was truly a dancer's
dream adventure, rushing from one nightclub gig to another throughout
the ancient Plaka, and dancing to large live great bands was a
dream come true."
in tandem with her partner Laikis, a native of
Greece. They interspersed Greek folkdance - Hasapiko and
Hasaposerviko - with bellydance done to Greek music.
Rhea taught us the performance form of the Greek Tsiftetelli/chiftetelli.
In this case, Tstifetelli refers not to the rhythm of the same
name but to the Greek "social dance" form of what
an Egyptian might call "Raks Baladi".
a very strong dancer, graceful, authoritative, and masculine.
During his sets, we really traveled fast and covered a lot of
ground - literally. I was also interested in Rhea's approach to
styling, which had more traveling steps, grapevines in particular,
and more emphasis on twists and whole-body movements rather than
isolations. The tandem teaching made it easier to see the connection
between her dance and the regional dances led by Laikis.
Ghaditana, a local dancer of many years' standing who also
attended, says of Rhea: "She was well-organized, presenting
steps in a logical progression; she was also clear in her verbalizations,
did sufficient repetitions to allow the dancers to internalize the
material, and reviewed the material at the end of the teaching segment
to reinforce the learning. Her combinations flowed easily, with
simple transitions. She also gave useful background information
about the mind-set of the Greeks in relation to the dance, and life
in general." Ghanima is accomplished in several areas (Oriental
dance, Balkan, Greek, Turkish, Middle Eastern and Scandinavian folk
dance, Balkan music theory and performance, folklore and cultural
history of the Balkan and Middle East regions, Labanotation) and
she has intellectual as well as physical depth... so for me, at
any rate, her words carry considerable weight.
teaches Debbie? Ghanima, ?, ?, ?
began the workshop with a brief history of herself, and then presented
some very interesting theories. First, she mentioned the "posture
of Aphrodite" which is that rather coy sideways stance shown
in classical art, best known through the da Vinci masterpiece
"Birth of Venus", AKA "Venus on the Half-Shell".
She said that it was the turn of the ankle that was important,
and this is something that I had already found to be true, especially
in the sideways traveling steps used not only in line dancing,
but in some Oriental dance as well. You need flexible feet and
ankles, and not just the ability to go up on releve either.
the feet and ankles need to roll and twist. Most of those bellydance
workout DVDs don't mention this at all, in fact nobody mentions
protecting your back by doing backbends from the knees rather
than the low back - another method that I also had arrived at
Compton of Hahbi'Ru is a good example of
this. Check out how he goes down during his tray dance. It looks
more like the Limbo than a Tribal style lean-back.
about how classical Greek dance emphasized economy of motion.
Some of what she demonstrated looked a bit like Martha
Graham, who always reminded me of a perpetual-motion
machine: effortless, perfectly balanced, performing feats based
on coordination rather than strength alone.
mentioned the principle of opposition as another point of dance
theory that promotes the economy of motion idea. When the hip
goes out, the arm goes back to compensate. If you do it right,
the arm stays in the same place in space, so the hip LOOKS isolated,
but really it's displacement that moves the hip rather than "locking
down" the rest of the body in an unnatural and forced manner.
thing Rhea said was "Dare to try things with your body."
there is a strong connection between Greek and Turkish influences,
in music, food, and dance. Recent regional history of Greece and
Turkey includes several population shifts as well as tragic wars
and conflicts that, in the 20th century, resulted in formerly
Greek territories changing hands. Rhea touched upon this as well.
stressed the importance of including men's dance in her teaching
presentation (Laikis presented this quite well). Much modern
bellydance treats the Oriental dance as purely a "women's
scholars would contest this view, but it's commonly held
that only women do it (or gay men), and it's a very feminine style.
They forget the men's traditions - tahtiyb in Egypt, the debke
(some very masculine interpretations by L'Emir Hassan
Harfouche and Amir Thaleb, among others),
and here, the Greek men's dances and styling which women can do
as well as men.
The part about
how classical Greeks might have danced centuries ago seemed a
bit fanciful to me. How can anyone possibly know? All we have
is how people are dancing today, and by that standard, yes, there's
a smooth economy of motion in Greek folk dances, and also a peculiar
sneakiness to the footwork.
of whether we can really know what went on centuries ago, there's
nothing wrong with reconstructing ancient dances as best we
can. Rhea wouldn't be the first person to seek dance inspiration
in classical art.
Oriental dancers have worked with "Pharaonic" elements,
or have taken inspiration from classical art such as Persian miniatures.
Ghanima comments, "As resistant to change as traditional
societies are, it's a safe assumption that many rural dances changed
relatively little until the 20th century. The two-handed finger
snap is documented on Egyptian tomb walls, and if you allow for
the stylization that required ancient Egyptian art to show to
wrists and elbows at right angles, the S-shaped arm movements
we still do are on the
tomb walls as well."
demos the famous finger snap
It is said
by some that many Greek mens' dances were originally martial in
nature - no surprise, really. And I could see some applications
in the footwork, particularly for wrestling or hand-to-hand applications:
foot traps, fake-outs, and low kicks could easily come out of
these line dances in the right circumstances. I also have a totally
unsupported theory that the footwork in some of these dances evolved
as a natural response to living in rough terrain.
some renowned teachers who emphasize learning regional dances
along with Oriental dance, as the root and foundation, Sahra
Sa'eeda for one. Artemis Mourat, although
she doesn't teach folkdance herself, also incorporates Turkish
Rom into her solo style. And, many Egyptian dancers put a folksy
section into their sets, where they get more earthy. So, it seems
that one vision of a well-rounded dancer is to really know the
regional dances and be able to do them as "one of the guys/gals".
Well, if the Egyptian dancers do it, why not the Greek ones?
are some basic problems when trying to combine Oriental dance
with regional folk dances, especially when the dances are from
a totally different region. For one thing, Oriental dance, at
least the Egyptian style, seems to stay in one place whereas folk
dances, at least the Greek and Balkan variants, travel and use
a lot more footwork. Another obvious difference is that Oriental
dance as we conceive it is mostly a solo art form.
the posture and expression of rhythm is quite different, and
attempts to fuse them can run into problems that either the
bellydance gets too "bouncy" or the folkdance gets
too "slinky". This could be again a problem of combining
styles that essentially come from different regions, since Greek
and Turkish style Oriental dance does have a lot more bounce
to it than Egyptian style.
remarked to me that back in the old days (the 1970s), many of
the dancers worked in clubs, mostly Greek clubs, with live bands.
The bands were not strictly faithful to one region but were sort
of a fusion of Greek, Armenian, and Arabic influences. Leyla
Lanty, another local dancer, says, "[Rhea] does
the mixture of styles which inspired American dancers in the 60s
and early 70s, which include Greek, Turkish, Arab, with a dash
of Armenian and other folk dancing. Her costuming is reminiscent
of many San Francisco dancers of the 70s which had an eastern
Mediterranean ethnic look, often incorporating real antique pieces
from the area."
So the dancing,
sometimes referred to as "American bellydance" or maybe
now "old-school American cabaret" may seem a bit outdated
among all the modern specialties, and yet, it is less pretentious,
more free and easy, and less choreography-obsessed.
said that back then, the club dancers *had* to know the
Greek dances and be willing to get out there and do them as
one of the crowd.
venue was very relaxing. The Empire Chinese Buffet & Restaurant
in San Jose is at first an unlikely setting, but we had a huge,
airy, and totally unused private ballroom all to ourselves for
the workshop and the show. We could run to the next room over
and get a buffet plate of very tasty and MSG-free food whenever
we needed to keep up our strength. There were plenty of booths
around the side for people who needed to sit down and relax. The
vending consisted of Ma*Shuqa's Boutique, who had a huge
table and rack filled with costumes and veils, Dhyanis
of Goddess Dancing in Marin who displayed her Goddess
Wear, and Aruba, who displayed her handmade
workshop was an evening open-stage show with performances by Dunia,
Dhyanis, Ma*Shuqa, Leyla Lanty, Sabiba,
Ghanima, Rhea, and many more. At the evening hafla of
this workshop, Rhea displayed her effervescent dance personality
and style. A consummate professional performer, Rhea took
to the dance floor with a borrowed sword and performed a spectacular
sword dance floor taxim. We had a professional-quality open stage
area, complete with 2 sets of free-standing stage lights, gaffered
wires, and taped-down carpets courtesy of Ma*Shuqa and her husband
Carl. Several dancers took full advantage of the 20-foot ceilings
and treated us to spectacular veil shows. Although most dancers
used pre-recorded music, we did have live Greek musical accompaniment
for two of the performances: Paul Wernick (from
a local Greek group, The Smyrna Time Machine) on the
bouzouki and Ghanima's husband Lew Smith on doumbek.
The workshop itself was very smoothly run by Ma*Shuqa and Carl,
who paid attention to every detail. All in all, it was time well-spent.
thanks:Ghanima Ghaditana, Leyla
and Carl Sermon
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