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Ahava and Her Workshops

A Fan’s Viewpoint

Ahava by Michael Baxter

by Julia Baum
posted September 25, 2011

Sacramento, California on Sunday, May 15, 2011

At some point, any Belly dancer aspiring to perfect her art usually invests in a few private lessons with a master instructor. Because private lessons can be expensive, a dancer needs to know that she’s getting every dollar’s worth! Unfortunately, many of the best dancers may not be the best teachers. However, I am happy to report that when I paid for an hour of private instruction earlier this year with the Ahava from the San Francisco Bay Area, mine was an invaluable experience. Her concise knowledge and humble, approachable personality created an inspiring learning environment that was fun, and she provided me with lots of constructive feedback. When I heard that she was teaching two workshops in Sacramento,  I could not pass up the opportunity to experience her expertise again. 

Presented by a prominent local dancer, Adriane, Ahava began her two-hour workshops with modern Egyptian choreographed dance in the essence of Dina, Randa Kamel, and Sorreya. Giving a thorough background lecture of famous Egyptian dancers from classic to modern  (Katja to recent and classically-inspired Aziza) she explained classic versus the modern Egyptian dance styles. Ahava said that the classical style puts the dancer’s accents on the upbeat, while modern Egyptian, (tying in elements of ballet, modern and jazz) emphasizes downbeat accents more.

“Usually, the up accent is on the downbeat,” said Ahava, “but if you are doing a hip drop in the modern style, the drop would be on the down.”

She said that, for the most part, the changes in Egyptian music are responsible for the changes in Egyptian Belly dancing. “The music changed; I don’t know when exactly,” said Ahava. “Now everything is on a keyboard or synthesizer; and the drummer is more prominent. So you hear the drums more, and you have to hit every accent.”

Class began with a warm-up Ahava called, “Follow the Bouncing Butt” . With its bouncing heel taps, gentle hip drops, and moderately-paced hip circles of increasingly greater range, it deviated from the usual yoga or Pilates-inspired workouts of many Belly dance instructors with whom I have studied.

After ten minutes or so, finally, we got down to the combinations. Set mostly to music sung by Nancy Ajram, the combinations were comprised largely of hip bumps, three-point turns, Arabesques, flirty kicks, and earthier moves like heel taps.

Ahava emphasized the importance of facial expressions and body gestures, (i.e. making a heart shape with one’s fingers on the chest for “habibi” references in songs). She encouraged students to use their hands and arms during movement (in whatever way they felt was right) and to develop their own unique style. Again, Ahava proved to be a kind and patient instructor, regularly asking students if anything needed more explanation. The vivid quality of the music when joined with animated modern expressions made the combinations fun and appropriately challenging. The workshop left me invigorated and, definitely, in the mood for food!

A decadent homemade Middle Eastern feast was for sale, including an unbelievable macaroni béchamel, perfectly honeyed baklava, and more Egyptian dessert classics such as basbousaand kunafa, were complements to the meal. However, the real lunch-time treat was my personal interview with Ahava. I asked her what she liked so much about the Egyptian style overall and how it inspired the workshop choreography. She answered that it was the style’s simplicity while still being expressive.

“Hip bumps carry through the combinations more because they are accents,” Ahava said. “I also like doing figure eights because they fit the music.”

After lunch, everyone settled in for the workshop titled “Graceful Arms and Hands” that began with a brief anatomy lesson of the upper body. Ahava explained how Egyptian simplicity related to the personal and emotive quality that arms and hands play in Belly dancing, and how that simplicity can be extremely powerful and dramatic. Then, everyone took turns sharing concerns about their arms and hands; many had insecurities about their arms being “too stubby” or “too long”, while others felt like their limbs were either stiff and awkward or simply got in the way while dancing. It was oddly comforting to divulge these perceived weaknesses, because it meant that Ahava would know what to watch in each student’s dance and be able to give personalized instruction as necessary.

The second workshop was constructed more around methodology and discussion instead of choreography and drilling.  Ahava explored framing highlight or accent moves with the hands, and learning about hand gestures to avoid any unintended cultural offense. She also shared helpful tips for fixing bad habits like “helicopter hands” and sloppy finger placement.

Ahava’s workshops harmonized flawlessly and left me eager to show off my new skills later that same day when dancing at my restaurant. Though I regret not seeing Ahava dance in Adriane’s showcase that evening (because of our conflicting performances) I will always be grateful for her knowledge and her help in deepening mine.

Ahava workshop, click for larger image
click for larger image
Names needed- back row, left to right:1-17
front row: 1, 2, 3, 4 –Ahava, 5,
photo probably taken by Adriane, the workshop sponsor

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