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Mohamed El Hosseny

by Thalia
posted November 30, 2010

For Mohamed El Hosseny, more is…more.  Any dancer who has worked with this instructor knows his signature choreographies and "El Hosseny Technique" feature intricate footwork and isolations.   His intensity directs the classroom.  Engaged with all of his students from start to finish, he frequently comments that a teacher should never sit down.  Not only does this teacher not sit down, during the entire weekend he remained "on" from the moment he stepped into the classroom.  He believes deeply in his craft and abilities and invests his attention in his students, seeing they grasp what he has to offer.

This was my first time studying with El Hosseny, an energetic and lively teacher from the Suez in Egypt, making a sweeping tour across the United States, Canada, and into South America with sponsor Nourhan Sharif.  I attended three of his workshops during his five day workshop in New York during July, 2010.

The first workshop I attended presented an advanced level choreography "Fakarouni: Ulm Kalsoum." As with many choreographers, his tastes turn toward movements that complement his own body type, in this case lithe and angular.  He encourages a slightly turned-out position of the thighs akin to ballet, unusual for the belly dance field but central to his exacting hip work.  His choreographies incorporate a multitude of tiny isolations, layered accents and locks at all angles in the hip and abdomen. 

During his 2009 tour, El Hosseny earned a reputation for moving through his choreographies at top speed.

 While this assessment is generally true, he does pause to break down and drill individual movements.  For example, during "Fakarouni," he introduced us to a thirty-two level hip drop.  He returned to the thirty-two level hip drop in each class I attended over the weekend.  Here is the movement in detail: Starting at the top of a hip lift, the dancer hits 32 specific accented points before reaching the lowest level of the hip drop.

"See?  Easy!"  El Hosseny claimed as he demonstrated the move for us.  Breaking up a single drop into 32 levels certainly isn’t easy, but his enthusiasm made us all try it again.

At the end of class, after insisting that part of his teaching philosophy is that he must sweat more than his students, El Hosseny presented the last part of the choreography to .”Fakarouni.”  There are certainly artistic tastes. 

Some might find El Hosseny’s creations busy.  The popular approach is to slow down to interpret  the music whereas El Hosseny’s approach is just the opposite.

His constant insistence that each dancer work to be "the best!" seemed to evolve from her being able to articulate a movement for every note–every string pulled  in the kanoun, every strike of the tabla, or in the case of the evening’s forthcoming Saidi dance workshop, every note sounded from the mizmar.

A good dancer hits most of the accents he informed us.   A great dancer hits them all. 

"Imagine Saidi" 

Mohamed El Hosseny’s style puts an unusual slant on the weighty movements I usually associate with Saidi dance.  Not surprisingly, his Saidi choregraphy moved faster than is typical, and we plunged into the routine at full speed.  As we worked, El Hosseny spoke his observations on Egyptian folkloric dance.  In his opinion, dance styles should reflect the weather in the various parts of Egypt.  Movement patterns should indicate an urban setting or a desert setting or a Nile setting.  Movements from Alexandria should incorporate the feel of the busy waterway. 

He kept reiterating that in traditional Saidi culture, women do not typically dance.  The Saidi stage adaption has become so common in the field of Middle Eastern dance, many mistakenly believe the women native to this area are dancers.

El Hosseny teaches through expressive absolutes.  He frequently makes a correction and implores the dancer to remember the correction– "Forever!"   These exclamations were saved for those habits common to many starting out.

Bent elbows?  Straighten them …forever!

Arched tailbone?  Release it…forever!

Tight shoulders?  Relax them…forever!

Forgotten wrists and fingers?   Open them….forever!

Outside of our eighth floor studio not far from Times Square, a tornado warning was in effect.  Lightening flashed.  "American Idol" auditions were going on in adjacent rooms (or so I was told).  The heat never broke in the humid studio.   At the end, we stood back in exhaustion as Mohamed El Hosseny blazed through the choreography we didn’t complete, just as he’d done in the earlier session. He loves his dance and watching him certainly inspires.  

The concentration in his work, his drive, and his constant commands to be "the best!"–and perhaps a bare-chested press photo I’ve seen–made me think of him as the Michael Flatley of Egyptian dance.

The discussion of folklore styles continued later in a coffee shop where several of us recuperated before going on our separate ways that Friday night.   I asked El Hosseny to define the Shaabi style dance, a label frequently used in the United States of late.  He explained that Shaabi dance is the everyday dance style of the urban centers.  Shaabi means the folklore of Cairo and Alexandra.  There is music considered specifically Shaabi.  He smiled and said the microbus drivers listen to this music very loudly.  Shaabi lyrics are earthy, but he loves it.  Shaabi dance is the folkloric dance of the big towns.

"I love baladi," he said as we wrapped up our talk.  "I love shaabi.  I love them both."

"Follow Mohamed El Hosseny: Learn How to Be a Better Choreographer"

Sunday’s choreography workshop focused on a choreographed baladi taksim, an unusual choice as that part of a solo dance typically draws on skilled improvisation from both musician and dancer.  The musical track we worked with reflected his favor for modern techno styling.  However, his goal in choosing the piece was to train us again in listening and to try to listen as he would.

We watched a selection from his 2009 show with his company in Finland, a montage of different styles of belly dance: shaabi, baladi, and Oriental.  He told us he became a choreographer while still working in Cairo when he was hired to make a program featuring dances from the Suez.  (His dramatic career trajectory is told in detail in Zsusi‘s article in The Gilded Serpent.)

In his view, a good choreographer makes dances for the classroom or videos or the learning environment.  A great choreographer makes works for the stage.

Returning to the dance floor, we again moved at his signature, El Hosseny pace, filling every moment with precise movement.  Again we did the thirty-two level hip drop and this time also did pelvic isolations in the same divided manner. We broke the horizontal figure eight into thirty-two breaks.  Then we applied the technique to the vertical figure eight.

A dancer has to be better than the drummer’s fingers, he said.

Because he was teaching choreography skills, his comments that day were directed toward teachers in the room.  During the previous evening’s discussion, he had also talked about his own teaching and the process of breaking down a piece of music. Feeling is first, he said.  A song must be imagined. Secondly, a dancer must analyze her own emotions.  The third step is to translate the imagination and emotion into movement.  Then, a dancer must learn through a teacher first about the rhythm and what the song is addressing (in class, he used clapping and verbal syllables) and what the song is addressing.  Sometimes translation of the words is necessary.  Regarding style, El Hosseny said he studied the expressions from old movies for his baladi pieces. 

Successful fusion must involve both Western and Eastern movements in his opinion.  Applying Western movements alone to Middle Eastern music doesn’t qualify.

Mohamed El Hosseny believes in his students.  He frequently called on students to take responsibility for honing their craft, as he does.  Near the end of Sunday’s session he said, "Maybe in this room, there is a great choreographer and she doesn’t know it yet." 

Youthful and energetic, he believes in possibility.

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