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A Transformational Week

Author with Jillina

A Fan’s View of Jillina’s Weeklong Intensive

Report by Sa’diyya of Texas
posted March 24, 2011

I have always been a huge fan of Jillina.  I admire her ability to create flashy staged presentations of Bellydance.  She continues to educate herself and stay ahead of the trends.  Her musicality and creativity are impeccable and her costumes are unique.  I took classes from Jillina every time she came to Texas and studied her DVDs, too.  I heard about her 1st Annual Weeklong Intensive, but unfortunately couldn’t attend the first year. 

So I was determined to catch the next one, and I did.  And it was one of the best Bellydance experiences I’ve ever had.

The weeklong was held on January 2-7, 2010.  Back in July of 2009 I went to her website to pay for all the classes and noticed a scholarship application.  Her website stated that she was going to start offering scholarships on a regular basis for various workshops that she teaches.  Of course we have all heard of this in terms of higher education, and I have heard of it in the mainstream dance world, but rarely in Bellydance.  I thought it was a neat idea and extremely generous.  So I filled out the extensive online application and wrote the required essay.  What meant to take a few minutes of paying with a credit card online for the event turned into an all-night typing and proofing fest, and badgering my husband to edit my essay until it was just right.  I really didn’t think I’d receive the scholarship.  I imagined that everyone who went to pay for the classes applied for it, plus she was only giving two scholarships out for this event.  I figured I had nothing to lose.

The News!

I called Jillina a couple months later to ask her for some advice, which she always takes the time to answer, and she said, “By the way, you got the scholarship!”  I couldn’t believe my ears!  I really didn’t think I’d receive it.  A dancer from China named Molly and I were the two recipients of the scholarships!  So now all I had to pay for was my hotel, car rental, airfare and food.  Not bad!  I am very grateful and flattered that Jillina extended one of the scholarships to me.  She has always been one of my Bellydance heroes (and will always be), so the fact that she saw something special in me was so very special to me. 

I think that’s another benefit of having scholarships in the world of Bellydance because it gives dancers another goal to work towards: “What do I have to do to rise to the occasion, to receive this other kind of award?”

The closer we got to the weeklong, Jillina started to send out information we needed to know like the schedule, tips for surviving the week and more.  When I read some of the “survival tips,” I knew that when Jillina said intensive, she meant INTENSIVE! (She said this several times before and during the weeklong, too!) 

The event started on the second of January at 10:00AM, so I had to fly out on New Year’s Day after a long night of performing New Year’s Eve parties.  I’m sure some of the participants had the same situation.  I made sure to get lots of rest that first night I was in L.A.  We had to bring our own lunch everyday (no time to go out to eat), so I ran by the store that first night and packed my hotel fridge with healthy food for the week, including LOTS of water and calcium magnesium, as specified in the survival tips. 

The participants were from all over the world including Asia, Europe, USA, Canada and Central America.  It was great to meet such talent from all over.  It was interesting to see how these ladies, some who live on the other side of Earth, have a very similar life and schedule to mine – teaching Bellydance classes, performing on the weekends and directing troupes.

When we arrived at Evolution Dance Studios in L.A., Jillina so generously gave each participant one of her new “Bellydance Evolution” yoga mats!  Along with her generous welcome gift, it was made clear that a lot would be expected of us over the upcoming week, including being on time, attending all classes and putting forth total effort in every class. 

The week started off with an Oriental choreography to “Nagwa.”  The arrangement of “Nagwa” Jillina used was unusual and beautiful.  The choreography was awesome and the pace of the class was perfect – not too slow, not too fast.  I knew after that class that we were in for something special.

Each day was packed with about 9 hours of classes with Jillina and other guest instructors.  Jillina taught Oriental, fan veils, drum solo (with Issam drumming LIVE), khaleeji, Um Kolthum (with Issam and Naser Musa LIVE) and falahi.  The guest instructors were Ahava (Beledy), Issam (Percussion), Louchia (Bandari and Russian gypsy), Jamie-Lee (Stage Makeup), Heather (Ballet), Stephanie Sullivan (Debke), Aubre (Pilates) and Lauren (Finger Cymbals and Percussion).  I liked that Jillina featured other instructors who specialized in certain topics.  I got to see how she surrounds herself with other smart, successful people and they work well together and compliment each other.  The guest instructors were many of the same people who work with her on the “Bellydance Evolution” tour, and the wonderful synergy was apparent. 

Along with all of these classes, Jillina spent the lunch break every day leading discussions about various Bellydance business-related topics like booking parties, directing troupes, running a studio, becoming a workshop instructor and more.  I loved how jam-packed the schedule was.  I still smile when I think about our really short bathroom breaks – if we were in there too long, Jillina would come running through clapping her hands and telling us to hurry for the next item on the schedule!  It was high energy and fast-paced, but Jillina made sure we were finished by 7:30PM most days.

Class photo
Class photo
backrow l-r: 1- Jennifer, 2-Nabila, 3-Chiaki, 4-Rebecca, 5-Maria, 6-Issam, 7- Jillina, 8-Eglal, 9-Yeli, 10-Sa’diyya, 11-Ericka, 12-?
Middle row: 1-?, 2-Molly, 3-Erica, 4-Sarah, 5-Siri, 6-Dahab, 7-Emalee, 8-Daisy
Front row: 1-Neena, 2-Ahava

Day 1

As mentioned above, we learned an entire choreography to “Nagwa” on the first day.  That was just the beginning.  We also learned the basics of hand drumming on a tabla and a duff.  Lauren, from the Bellydance Superstars and Jillina’s Sahlala Dancers was the instructor for this class.  Lauren has a very clear manner of explaining things.  I had never played a duff before, so that was new and fun!

Ahava taught one of the cutest choreographies I’ve ever learned! 

It was a balady piece that had many different sections including a short drum solo.  She taught the first two thirds and then asked us to improvise the last section.  She gave us tips on dancing to balady style for the improvised section.  She was a very humorous and nurturing instructor.  She even gave individuals in her class a chance to shine by showcasing the improvised solos at the end of her workshop.

Day 2

After not much sleep (due to my racing thoughts, plus it’s hard to fall asleep without the hubs on my right side), I was up at 8AM for another exciting full day.  Day two started with a fan veil choreography taught by Jillina.  I’ve dabbled with fan veils, so this workshop gave me a lot of needed ideas and technique for dancing with this prop.  It was a piece from Jillina’s Bellydance Evolution production.  She taught it to us for use as a soloist or for a group, which was very insightful for those of us who were troupe directors.

I’d like to mention how Jillina, along with the guest instructors, let us video-record all of the dances we learned.  That has been so helpful in retaining the material.

Next was drumming with Issam.  I can’t help but smile when he’s around!  His class was super fun!  We learned how to play the entire drum solo that Jillina would teach us choreography to the next day.  It was much easier to memorize the order of the steps because of the introduction to the music the day before.

Later that same afternoon we had our first class with Louchia from Jillina’s Sahlala Dancers and Bellydance Evolution.  Along with Bellydance, Louchia is a master of Central Asian folk dances, including many Russian, Iranian and Afghan dances.  This day she taught a Persian Bandari dance, which I loved.  Louchia is very knowledgeable and a clear instructor.  She seemed like a very serious person as an instructor, but dinner later that night would reveal her wacky, wild story-telling side!

Next was Stage Makeup with Jamie Lee.  Jamie shared her extensive knowledge of stage makeup application with a sense of humor and friendliness.  I have always studied makeup application techniques, so I already knew a lot going into the class.  But I learned many new things anyway, which I still use now.  My main complaint about this workshop was that there wasn’t enough time.  I heard other attendees who admitted that they hardly had any knowledge of stage makeup and who were really looking forward to expanding their abilities, vocalize that it was frustrating to be rushed and not really have a chance to try the makeup techniques and have them “double-checked” by Jamie Lee.  I would have also liked hair styling tips to have been addressed.

A get-together over dinner was scheduled for that evening at Bucca di Beppo.  Not many people showed up to socialize, but we were already feeling the mental and physical exhaustion creeping up on us.  It was fun to see the people who went to dinner cut loose outside of the “classroom.” 

Khaliji time!Day 3

This day started with a Ballet class by Heather from Jillina’s Sahlala Dancers and Bellydance Evolution.  This class was very helpful with posture, turns and kicks.  I had only a few classes in Ballet before this, so I was surprised how much it influenced me.  I ended up choreographing a DRUM SOLO of all things with all kinds of crazy turns, kicks and jumps, inspired by Heather’s Ballet for Bellydancers class!  Heather is a lovely, articulate teacher.  She is one of my favorite new performers, as well!

Next was the Issam/Jillina drum solo!  We were all excited to learn it because we had heard the music the day before.  Let’s just say her dance lived up to our expectations.  When Jillina choreographs a drum solo, it’s like her moves were meant for those sounds.  This particular drum solo had some unique sections in it like a Persian 6/8, where she incorporated classical Persian dance steps. 

Here’s another neat quality about Jillina: she gave Louchia the spotlight to teach the Persian section of the dance.  She admitted that is wasn’t her forte and showcased Louchia instead.  It was a great dance and it was extra special that we got to dance to live music by Issam!

Khaliji-time!  Her Khaliji dance was very sassy and fun.  Jillina always finds the best music – I ended up creating my own choreography (inspired by Jillina and other skilled Khaliji dancers) to the music Jillina used in this class.  We also got to see how she used her choreography as a troupe dance with staging and level changes.  And we learned some Khaliji “fashion tips” to make the dresses more figure-hugging and attractive for stage.

This same evening was our dress rehearsal in preparation for the show that was scheduled for the upcoming Thursday.  We had only one hour to do hair, makeup and get into our costumes.  Then we performed our dances in a mock-up theater in her Evolution Dance Studios, complete with stage lights and an audience (being each other).  It was great seeing everyone all made up – we all looked like totally different people.  It was here that I realized even more all the talent at this event. 

Jillina gave us all feedback right there, on the spot, in front of everyone.  She gave your strengths and told you what you needed to fix before Thursday’s performance.  No pressure.  It was good though.  I always say that compliments are nice, but critiques are better, because I can grow that way.  Let’s just say that I went back to the hotel and choreographed “like the dickens.”

Day 4

Day four started with another Ballet class by Heather, which was just was good as the first one, with a little different content.

We had a really special treat for our next workshop, as both Issam and Nasser Musa were providing the music for our Um Kolthum class!  Jillina taught sections of choreography and we were supposed to fill in the gaps with improvised dancing.  We were supposed to focus on emotion during this class.   I wish we had been given some tools to tap into different emotions – it wasn’t covered on how to emote much.  I have to say that mental fatigue was really starting to squash me during this class.  I enjoyed the music and whole lesson so much, but felt like I didn’t get as much out of it because I was drained after almost thirty hours of dancing in only three days.

The class after lunch was Falahi.  I got a blast of energy and was ready to go again!  Jillina’s choreography was so creative and fun. 

We used drums as “water jugs” for our character, and then later danced on the drum, which I was petrified to do, but have since overcome (since then I’ve created an entire troupe dance with everyone dancing on a drum!)

  Jillina gave us tips on how to dance on a drum without breaking our necks.  The only thing I would have liked added to this class would have been more history and general information about Falahin dance and music.

The most aerobic, athletic dance was saved too far towards the end of the weeklong.  Debke.  I did learn some new steps and I really appreciated the instructor’s talent.  This class was taught by Stephanie Sullivan, who is a great Debke dancer with a laid back personality.  I became very frustrated in her class because she chose to teach the steps from the get-go in a line…with twenty people.  It became insanity because half of us couldn’t follow without the steps being broken down before we got in a line holding hands. 

As a student, I would have liked the individual debke combinations taught before we were instructed to get into a tight-knit line.

Starting off in the line meant that we couldn’t see her very well as she continued to teach the choreography.  It also meant that if I or the dancer next to me made a mistake, everyone around would get off the timing and it made it all the more frustrating.  Also, the music was exceptionally loud.  She and her workshop assistant kept turning it up and up and UP!  Even when asked to turn it down – it would just go up again.  I had an incredible headache and couldn’t hear or see her instruction anyway.  I had to leave.  I think my frustration was apparent, but it was so hard to cover up what I was feeling considering the conditions.  Now in all fairness, even though ¾ of the class had dropped out like flies (and this was the first class everyone didn’t ride though), a handful and students toughed it out and seemed to have no problems at all.  So I do attribute part of my reaction to my physical and mental exhaustion.  Luckily, along with all the other instructors, Stephanie was gracious in letting us film her choreography so we could go back and really learn the awesome choreography she taught.

Jillina's home studioDay 5

This was the day we got to see Jillina’s Malibu sea-side studio. 

It was amazing!  If you haven’t seen it, picture an open-air gazebo-like huge dance studio with one side completely open hanging over-a-Malibu-cliff over looking the Pacific Ocean.  Breathtaking. What a great place to create!

Our first class this morning was a much-needed Pilates class, taught by the very limber Aubre.  It was nice and relaxing.  But not too relaxing, as she too had to kick our behinds just a little.

We had a restful afternoon that included lunch prepared by Jillina in her home, followed by a video viewing.  It was a nice break.

Back to another of my favorite new dancers, Louchia taught a Russian Gypsy dance with a skirt.  I really liked this dance and she has inspired me to learn more about this style.

Our last class of the weeklong was with Lauren.  She taught various finger cymbal patterns accompanied with bellydance combinations.  It was a little too slow paced considering the level of the attendees at the weeklong, but it was fun.  A bellydancer can never practice her/his zills too much!

It was around 7PM when Lauren’s class concluded.  Jillina invited us in to eat dinner, chit chat, and she took the time to individually meet with everyone.  So while everyone was waiting their turn, we just hung out and got to know each other a little better.  I already had a meeting with her the day before, so I went out to her sea-side cliff-over-hanging studio that’s in her backyard for a little while and worked on my drum solo some more.  Then I realized that it was getting dark and I was alone.  I started to fear that a mountain lion might come eat me for dinner, so I went back inside her home.

I couldn’t believe how generous Jillina was with her time and advice.  She gave everyone more one-on-one time than my doctor gives me at an appointment!  She truly cares about the dance and her students.

Day 6

This was the big day.  We didn’t have to be at the theater until 2PM, so I slept in a little, woke up and practiced my dance and then headed over to the on-site dress rehearsal.  I like seeing how Jillina runs a show and I learned about having high standards in producing a bellydance show.  It makes a big difference in the outcome. 

Showtime was here and I had to tell myself that “it is what it is.”  I was getting ready up until I had to go on (I hate waiting around – it makes me nervous).  I performed and remembered my whole dance, of course adding the suggestions Jillina and my peers shared, which made it much better compared to the dress rehearsal two days prior.  I went out and watched the remainder of the show and saw incredible talent from all over the world. 

I have to say that I was disappointed there weren’t more people from Los Angeles to watch the show.  It was a Thursday night, so there probably wasn’t too much competition in terms of other bellydance shows going on.  And Jillina is such a Super Star, you’d think more of her local peeps would be out there supporting her.  I thought the place was going to be standing room only.  It was a great show, anyway, and I was proud to be a part of it.

Jillina’s weeklong was one of the best bellydance experiences I have ever had.  It was beyond expectations and I feel like I’ve grown ten-fold since I attended it.  Jillina is the consummate Bellydance professional.  I have a theory that we love the dancers we love because something kind and loving shines from within them that they share with us when they perform.  Jillina is a true star who shows those qualities both on and off stage.   


Eglal, Dahab, Rebecca, Nabila, Emalee

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