click for larger photo

names:L to R
Saba, Sarah, Marilou, Maryfer, Emese, Samara (lower).
Karima, Mary, Melissa, Laura

Gilded Serpent presents...
Apprenticing at ADC
by Laura

The possibility of being a part of Arabesque Dance Company (ADC) was one of the main reasons I moved to Toronto in 2005. I had studied bellydance passionately in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but my options were limited there and I wanted to make this dance my career. The reputation of the company and Yasmina along with my great experience in her Professional Course (a two week course for dancers wishing to “go pro”, covering such topics as technique, Arabic music and culture, working with different audiences, representing the art form, etc) and the possibility of working with live musicians made a very convincing argument for my move. I hoped to find a job while taking classes and slowly building up some gigs while working towards joining the company.

After some feedback from Yasmina and my own comparative observations, I realized that my technique needed a lot of work before I could think about auditioning for the Company. I took regular classes at Arabesque and every workshop made available to me. I found the girls in the Company to be friendly, but they tended to all hang out in a tight group and as they are all gorgeous dancers, I found them a little intimidating.

Finally, after two auditions and a lot of classes, I was accepted as an apprentice-- under the condition that I work on my arms.

At first rehearsals were terrifying. The girls were learning new choreographies and positioning and I would follow along in the back, feeling like a bit of a dolt and getting in everyone’s way.

My experience in bellydance all came from teachers in Halifax and various workshops, so there was a lot of variability in what I was doing to how the other girls danced. I learned that there is a definite Arabesque style that is decidedly Egyptian and unpredictable. For example, Yasmina almost always turns to the back when switching sides from profile to profile, and I was used to just taking the shortest route! What I had learned in Halifax gave me a great base but was not specifically Egyptian and the technical differences were vast. Yasmina’s style is highly skilled and professional with an Arabic audience in mind; my previous classes were more recreational in comparison.

The choreographies were brilliant and difficult. I was not used to choreography at this level. I was accustomed to more repetitive numbers geared towards less experienced dancers. Yasmina has professional dancers to work with whereas my troupe in Halifax was made up of people dancing just for fun. Yasmina’s pieces aim to be unpredictable, innovative and authentic. I struggled to keep up with the generous help of the lead dancers and other apprentices. Choreography has never been my strong point and it was my goal to change this. Inevitably it would take an upcoming show that I was expected to dance in to force me to crack down and master a number. This is how I learned to do proper barrel turns and overcame some of my nausea from spinning, among other things!

It took a long time to feel comfortable and not intimidated by the lead dancers. After some time, the girls and I warmed up to each other and, one by one, I started to feel close to them.

Whether it was Emese doing the terrifying evil-bird-veil shtick, or Melissa and Marilou bumping stomachs, Mary tactfully correcting choreography, Christina’s wardrobe malfunctions or anyone’s combination of afro-burlesque-charleston-robot fusion, rehearsal was often hilarious and generally a blast.

Of course I was always stressed about getting the choreography and technique right, not disappointing Yasmina, (avoiding that exhausted look that I knew meant I should have got my shimmies down by now) but I did my best to keep up.

I became aware of habits, I had no idea that I had, such as crazy claw hands, constantly bent knees and a lack of lower abdominal strength, and started on the path to correct them. I still struggle with these issues but the regular feedback was pivotal in recognizing these details. The weekly rehearsal was something to aim for. I gained a deeper understanding of Arabic folkloric dances and props. I started performing solo and with the company at gigs here and there, and felt so proud to be a part of such a professional and artistic group. When the large-scale production “Asala” came to fruition after months of rehearsals, I was thrilled to be a part of it; representing Arabic folklore, music and culture to a large audience. The choreography “Inte Omri” was moving and beautiful and very powerful to dance. Working with the musicians at our weekly Layali Arabesque show and Asala has been incredibly valuable. Having recently been made a lead dancer, I feel that I have achieved something to be proud of, having overcome many difficult challenges while reaching major goals in my life. I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with such incredible artists and continue to look forward to our future endeavors.

Being in a dance company is not for everyone. The art comes first and personal pride and vanity must be put behind ones self in a concern for the greater good of the group.  It requires a lot of patience and humility.

For me, being in Arabesque Dance Company has given me something to work towards, and something to continue to strive for as I attempt to represent this dance with pride. Being a part of Yasmina’s vision is an honor, and the camaraderie I feel with my fellow dancers is something I would never want to give up.  I would absolutely suggest this sort of experience to other dancers as a tool for growth and as a wonderful experience altogether.

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