screen shot from video project

Gilded Serpent presents...
Love Stories…
The Choreographies of Raqia Hassan
by Astryd Farah deMichele

Cairo, Egypt is beautiful in a very dynamic way. Equally, her people are beautifully dynamic. One such character is the incomparable Oriental dance choreographer, Madame Raqia Hassan. Full of life and energy, she is always “on”.

For many years now I’ve had the pleasure of studying with Madame Raqia, appearing in two of her videos, Volume 7 and the most recently released, Volume 9.  While working with Madame Raqia on Volume 7 (2004), several epiphanies took place for which I can thank her and her profound sense of musicality.

A new feeling emerged about how the music truly is the dance, it creates the dance… the feelings behind Egyptian music, the soul of the music, are that which we experience as artists and dance to; for performers, so that it can be visually displayed.

The song she choreographed in Volume 7 and which I perform, is an eloquent love song from the 1950’s by Mohammed Abdel Wahab, titled Koulli Dah Kan Leih, meaning “all of this why it happened?”.  Abdel Wahab sings asking why all the things happened after he saw her eyes…his heart was leaning toward her…and he was busy thinking about her.

Within this choreography Madame Raqia trained me to feel and sense how each opposite camel and vibration shimmy sings the music for the love song. The musical arrangement we worked to was a modern rendition without lyrics - yet we danced the lyrics anyhow - which is typical in Egyptian Oriental dance.

You will find many old songs played from singers such as Oum Kalsoum, Abdel Halim and Abdel Wahab used in nightclubs without singing, but with dancer and/or audience fervidly dancing and singing along. Working on the choreography for this particular song was a profound experience, through sweat and tears that music really became a part of me…and so did the choreography, the feeling, the sensation of the love story.

In Volume 9 she again had me work to a love song. I seem to be a magnet for dancing the love stories…or perhaps it’s just that so much of the most popular Arabic music is love songs! She happened to choose one of the latest by my favorite modern Arabic singer, Fadl Shaker, a Lebanese singer using the Egyptian dialect. The song is titled Illi Enta Shayfouh, roughly meaning “what you see [make]”.  A bittersweet song, he sings about a love story ending and the lyrics tell his lover to just break it off… “cut [break] my heart now, not later…no problem…I will cry two tears for you, for two days only…”. Very impassioned, Fadl has one of the sweetest voices of pop singers out there – he is true, with talent and finesse.

Within the choreography Madame Raqia showcases many of her signature techniques including opposite camels, arabesques, interesting footwork, gestures, shimmies, and of course snazzy hip and pelvic locks.  She has her very own style, feeling and energy…emitting an earthy, strong sense (gathered by pushing energy up from the floor through the body), while keeping it soft and sensuous…emoting and enjoying the art of displaying the music. Performing her lovely choreographies is a “velvety” experience…the movements flow one-into-the-other, and each phrase gives you the sense of the song.

Working with Madame Raqia has changed my dance significantly; helped me not only to gain more and better technique, but also to allow myself to feel more, to express more, to delve into that mysterious place where the emotional and physical meet and understand the musicality of Arabic songs.

Through her choreography she clearly paints a picture of the essence of Arabic music – whether old or new.

Dynamic as Cairo herself, Madame Raqia is one-of-a-kind!

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