Gilded Serpent presents...
Fresh off the Plane from Cairo
A Workshop Review of Astryd Farah deMichele
by Betsey Flood
27, 2006 at Mission Dance Theatre in San Francisco, 30 students
gathered for a workshop by Astryd Farah deMichele, who
was sponsored by Amina of
the Aswan Dancers group. Astryd was to review steps she
saw dancers used in Cairo just months before the workshop took
Is: Based in Eugene Oregon where she spends approximately
six months of the year and in Cairo, Egypt, where she spends the
rest of her time, Astryd began traveling to Egypt and training
there eight years ago. She spends so much time there now
that she keeps her Cairo apartment year round.
studied with Raqia Hassan
for the last four years and is featured on Volume 7 of Raqia’s
training video series. It was hard work, she says, and wonderful
for her development as a dancer. She has also taken classes with
Aida Nour and her assistant, Medhat Fahmy; Mahmoud
Reda; Shalaby, who is also a former Reda Troupe
performer and Mervat Mongy. The teacher she credits with
instilling many of her fundamental dance skills is Diana Tarkhan,
a French Algerian who performed in both Cairo and Alexandria and
who is currently retired. Diana Tarkhan has shared
her knowledge of the older Egyptian dancers from Soheir Zaki’s
heyday with Astryd.
what she terms the “mean-spirited” behavior between many performers,
Astryd had shied away from becoming a professional dancer in Cairo
– until 2003 when she received a panicked phone call from a friend
who was performing on an upscale Nile cruise boat and who needed
to quickly return to her native Australia for a while. Revealing
that she felt nervous and unprepared to perform for an Egyptian
audience, Astryd says she hesitantly agreed to audition by doing
a live show on the boat and was accepted as the replacement dancer.
her debut as a dancer in Egypt on the Nile cruise boat in 2003,
Astryd has been performing in Egypt at various other venues as
well, including two different hotels, weddings, parties and a
week in the resort town Sharm el Sheikh as part of an international
revue (she was the belly dance section of the show). In
the past year, she has mostly performed at weddings and parties
at the Marriott and Sheraton hotels in Cairo.
content: As a professional, Astryd makes an effort to observe
the shows of other dancers as much as possible. Last June,
Randa started working
at the Zamalek Marriot, just down the street from Astryd’s apartment
so she saw many of her shows, before the high season hit while
they were still affordable. In the last year, she saw Soraya
at the Sheraton once or twice and saw maybe three of four shows
by the “no names” in Cairo’s nightclubs. During the Ahlan
wa Sahlan festival she saw Dina,
Randa and Katya among others. When she is out dancing
with her friends, she picks up moves while watching younger Egyptian
women there whom she says have “really original” moves.
how does Astryd select the signature moves she wants to teach?
What she looks for first and foremost is being entertained.
she also looks at different movements and styles and pays attention
to the music choices of dancers and how the dance interprets the
music and words. She observes the way dancers interact with
the audience and their costuming styles. She says she tries
to understand the differences between dancers. Sometimes
she jots notes down and sometimes she just enjoys the moment.
taught: On August 27, Astryd began the two-hour workshop with
a warm-up that began with a posture review. Feet direct
under hips, knees under hips then lifted all the way up spine
into neck. Shoulders are over hips, which are over the feet.
The necessary posture according to Astryd (as well as most other
Egyptian-style instructors) is very straight, tall and lifted
while retaining a soft and easy feeling. She then included what
she considers core movements in raqs sharqi: horizontal
and vertical figure 8-s; undulations, hip slides, circles and
she has in her previous workshops, Astryd distributed a detailed
handout that described 13 “au courant” movements fresh from Cairo
that she intended to teach. She also described three themes
that summarized what she saw used in 2006: pelvic locks, layered
shimmies and heavy accents. As a teacher, I find the handout extremely
useful as I can go back and practice what I learned, relying on
her cursory descriptions along with my own handwritten notes to
accurately recreate these movements.
of Steps taught by Astryd deMichele in 2006
pop shimmy walk
with cross step and “out” pelvic accent
with shimmy traveling side with accent
Dina, Randa and others:
hip accents with level down
two different pelvic locks, one using the hip flexors and gluteus
maximus and another using the knees as well, to help push
the pelvis forward. She spent a great deal of time on shimmies
and layered shimmies, ensuring everyone had good form.
Using a selection
of the latest Arabic pop hits to showcase her teaching, Astrid
only rarely suggested what kind of music would fit the movements
– for example she mentioned that the Souheir Zaki-style one-hip
down accents she taught would be great with kanoun music.
It would have been be helpful if she had described the music that
she observed being played for each of the steps she taught.
This was one of my very few beefs about this gem of a workshop.
A list of
some of the movements Astryd taught – and the dancer who uses
them -- are included in the sidebar in the review.
As usual, codification challenges arise when someone tries to
describe a belly dance movement on paper but, just for fun, here
is an example of one of the movements Astryd saw a lot of in Cairo
in 2006: The “Cairo 8” is a reverse horizontal hip figure 8 where
each loop of the 8 (as you pull the pelvis in to center) is combined
with a camel. Astryd suggested doing three loops (that is
one and a half 8’s) with an overlaid shimmy followed by a pelvic
lock and release.
be under-reaching and could be capable of doing much more than
teach disparate movements. I liked learning these steps
in this well spent two-hours and definitely plan on attending
the next workshop. It’s hard to tell yourself that you can’t
spare two hours out of a day – no matter how busy – to take a
class from an excellent teacher with valuable content. But
she could offer a longer workshop using one piece of music, incorporating
the new movements wherever possible. After her recent years
of performing in Cairo and working so closely with Raqia Hassan,
I believe she is ready for this next level.
I found Astryd
to be a thoughtfully prepared instructor and unlike so many others,
one without arrogance, willing to answer any question, no matter
how elementary. The workshop also made me a better teacher.
I was able to integrate many of these steps into my performances
and the choreographies I teach my on students. Not only
have these new movements enriched my dance but also more importantly,
my students absorb them like sponges. They are all delighted
to know that what they are learning is fresh off the plane from
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Bellydancers of Cairo” An interview with filmmaker Natasha
Senkovich by Betsey Flood
a maid you can find yourself in compromising positions—not
good situations for a woman to be in—but in Egypt, it is
considered so much better than being a dancer.
Antique Textiles: Renewed Life for Dance by Najia Marlyz
we often danced for many little luncheon gigs in offices and other
places as a surprise birthday gift—to the music of our own
solo sagat. Now, that is a skill that I have never seen anyone
repeat since the early seventies!
A Marriage Made in North Beach
by Amina Goodyear
stage was alight with the flames of the candelabrum’s candles
and the eerie glow of her costume. Fatma’s costumes were
always comprised of material that glowed in the dark as her show
began with no light—except for “black light”.
Finger Cymbals by Melina
of Daughters of Rhea
all this cross-cultural cacophony soared my mom’s perfectly
paced zills, right left right, right left right, right left right
left right left right. If you put me in a room blindfolded, I
could distinguish her playing from any other dancer on earth.
Randa Kamal in Cairo The Photos
of Susie Poulelis
fortunate to travel to Cairo on business in April '06, and managed
to take some time to see a few sights and, at least, one dance
performance: Randa Kamal at the Marriot Zamelek's Empress Nightclub
Bellydance in '70s Berkeley:
Cedar Sposato's Photo Archive
was a member of Masha Archer's Troupe...
The Photos of Susie Poulelis,
Sunday March 18, 2006, Rakkasah Festival, Richmond, California
shines at 9!