Gilded Serpent presents...

Aubre Hill

New Fusion Energy in Taiwan

Aubre Hill fusing by Liang An

by Lisa Chen
Images courtesy of Kelli Li, Liang An and Lisa Chen
posted September 28, 2011

Part I. Dream-Come-True: A Changing Path for Bellydance in Taiwan

As I was about to become Aubre Hill’s translator for her first workshops in Taiwan, I met her for the first time. She told me candidly, “I am a very verbal person!”  So, five minutes before the first session began, I realized that during the next three days, I could expect to undertake an extremely challenging (as well as mind-blowing) stream of translation.

Indeed, it is a challenging and inspiring experience for me to be a translator for many foreign dancers and instructors during their visits and workshops at Taiwan. I didn’t anticipate it, and after the three-day project, I realize that I had become truly wide-eyed and inspired by this talented artist.

When I first learned about Aubre Hill, it was through a referral by Kelli Li, a dance friend of mine. (Kelli Li is also a talented young dancer.) She found Aubre through YouTube and immediately fell for her fusion style. I still remember that Kelli asked me if there were any chance that local dancers or instructors would sponsor Aubre to teach at Taiwan. That was two years ago and, frankly speaking, there was no market for a young fusion Bellydancer in Taiwan at that time!

Back then, our local Bellydance community was infatuated with “big brand-name dancers” and were lacking awareness of what had made those big names so big: dance and teaching technique, knowledge, and attitude.

Moreover, Fusion Bellydance has been a compelling (and yet tricky) issue for local dancers because most of them didn’t recognize the fact that a proper fusion of Bellydance with other dance forms or elements requires more than doubling one’s efforts and understanding! A truly competent Fusion Bellydance would mislead the eyes of the audience members and lead them to believe that such effortless ease and seamless fluidity comes without being earned.

As time has passed, the local community has found itself on a changing path. The heavily choreographed dance trend remains the staple of the main stream while increasingly, local dancers (and instructors as well) have begun to realize that there is something else in addition to set notations of dance movements to learn.

Somehow, when Kelli told me this spring that she was going to invite Aubre to Taiwan, I had a mixed feelings toward the idea. While I was happy that Kelli had a “dream-come-true moment”, I was slightly worried about how the local community would respond to Aubre and her workshops.

Because Kelli has both passion and training in dance and marketing, she had always aspired to combine the two things she loves so much. She thought out an innovative way to promote Aubre in workshops and performance by posting information on Facebook and providing e-registration for workshop sign-ups.

Though Aubre was a relatively lesser-known artist, with such a highly innovative promotion her event turned out to be a sold-out, as well as very inspiring, workshop and appearance. (It came as a surprise to both Kelli and me.) Attendants came, not only from Taipei, but also central and southern Taiwan! Kelli said that she wanted to give dancers encouragement to sign up for technique training, so she planned the five workshops based on a combination concept: two technique classes with three in which Aubre would be teaching a set choreography.

Therefore, local dancers could take technique classes first–in order to have some comprehension of the nature of the technique so that, later, they could understand how to apply it to a finely choreographed dance plan.

Aubre discusses styling

Author translates and stands next to Aubre as she explains concepts

Part II. Aesthetics, Attitude and Aspiration

The studio space was already fully packed with dancers. It was Friday evening and some girls arrived late. Aubre had everyone gather around, and she began the class. As she commented, “This was quite a verbal class!” It was a class featuring a choreographed dance that she had named “Fosse Jazz Fusion”.

Aubre began to explain Bob Fosse and his Jazz style. She said that a good fusion in dance requires a profound understanding of both dance forms, including the aesthetics of each one. In this case, and “Hip-Pop” also, Fusion dancers need not merely understand its technique, but the background information and attitudes as well.

The term “aesthetic” would often arise in the next two days. Aubre has been known for her versatile and adventurous presentations of different Bellydance styles: Oriental, Folkloric, Tribal and Fusion, among many others. So when she talked about fusing different dance forms, she was authoritative and informational.

Aesthetic is an abstract dance concept, compared to thinking of dance as a visually tangible form. Somehow, Aubre adopted an inventive approach to demonstrate the importance and differences of aesthetics in dance form. When she taught dynamic hip-work on Saturday, she told students that in different regions, because of local aesthetic preferences, even one single movement could look distinctively different. For instance, a “Pelvic Lock” in Turkey, Egypt, or Morocco is addressed differently in each one. Turkish Roma has more forward pelvic locking movement. Egyptian dancers use a gentile pelvic lock lacking forward movements, while the Moroccan style emphasizes movements between pelvis and navel. Such regional preferences also show in costuming: Turkish dancers tend to wear low-cut belts while Moroccan dancers usually have a large, shinny, decorative piece beneath the navel.

The first lesson about fusion that Aubre taught us was to understand and include regional aesthetics as the governing reference concerning what kind of form each of us would like to present in our dance.

On Saturday, Aubre taught dynamic hip-work and then a very tense drum solo employing a set choreographic agenda relying on musical awareness. Most dancers in the class undertook something they had tried only rarely before: notating the dance on a piece of paper! Aubre drew a horizontal bird’s eye view of the hip movements and explained how dancers could use different muscles to better express the music.

Musicality is another important and impressive component of Aubre’s teaching. First, she explained her reasoning: it used to be simple for her dance since there were only one or two musicians or instruments available for her dance, but as time went by, we dancers perform with large orchestras and increasingly complex music arrangements. As Bellydancers who must be mindful that we want to make a visual interpretation of our music, we need to improve our skills of multi-tasking.

Aubre vocalized her choreographed drum solo during the whole section. She said if we want to perform a good drum solo, which usually aims to show off the dancer’s skills, technique, and knowledge, we’d better sing the song out! Then, every movement and each step would respond perfectly to the rhythms and phrases of this music.

On Sunday, continuing from the previous day’s dynamic hip-work, Aubre led us in experiencing the concept of “layering” (or multi-tasking). In the beginning of the class, she said that it would not be easy, and she wished that students would take what they learned in class and practice it at home. After that, we took on a really funky Hip-Pop fusion she had choreographed. It was high-speed, funky, and both physically and mentally challenging. Students loved it and had fun.

While I translated, I was able to observe the entire class and was amazed about the changing attitudes of our local Bellydance community: dancers were willing to take technique-based classes and felt free to ask questions. They accepted as fact that they needed to study technique more and and that they would need time to develop their dance within it.

Moving

Fun Time! Photo by Liang An

Part III. Fusion Infusion vs. Emotion Immersion

Additionally, during her first visit to Taiwan, Aubre gave a private group class called “Intensive Performance Skill Training”. I felt thrilled when Kelli first told me about this class! In addition to choreography and technique, there is more to learn in order to develop into a dancer of good quality. We are so glad to see more and more local dancers understanding this point, and we observe that they are willing to take classes like this.

The workshop on performance skills was much more verbal than her other workshops. Aubre spoke a lot while all attendants were encouraged to speak out also. Therefore, there were a lot of conversations going on during the whole session. Aubre taught some fundamental performance concepts, including classical theatrical theories and emotional preparation.

What inspires me most is that Aubre used few and simple words to explain the effort dancers put into the aesthetic they choose to present (in terms of style). She demonstrated how simply adjusting one’s energy (or projecting the aesthetic) one could transform from an Oriental dancer into a Tribal dancer.

I observed Aubre in awe and was deeply inspired as well. I realized that there is probably no limitation on a dancer in terms of constructing her personal style. You don’t need to be Randa Kamal to be an “Oriental danseuse” nor to move exactly like Rachel Brice to be a “Tribal Fusion”dancer. You need only to nourish yourself and immerse yourself in the pertinent knowledge of the culture so you won’t make inappropriate choices. Both visual presentation and physical technique are supportive for an artist to express emotion, deliver a message, or connect with an audience.

My impression is that Aubre is well-educated and well-trained in this field that she loves. She not only shared with us professional tips and concepts, but also showed us her passionate commitment to the art with grace and poise.

By the end of this class, everyone sat down and shared what they learned or felt about this class. It was a touching moment, and the collective energy was warm and friendly. That’s why we all have fallen in love with Bellydancing: it comprises as a sisterhood-like bond and we felt that we became part of each other’s life experiences.

Group photo
Names requested!

Class photo

A Finale Never Ends

As I told Aubre, the way Taiwanese people show their hospitality is to feed their guests. After we finished the whole series of workshops, we dined at a delicious vegetarian buffet nearby. I learned that Aubre Hill has been a dancer since childhood and has immersed herself in several different dance forms. When asked about the reasons she became a Bellydancer, she replied that she just simply became increasingly interested and involved with this beautiful dance form.

Overall, this was an exceptionally pleasing and inspiring experience for me (and for my local dance community as well). Kelli ran a post-event questionnaire online, and positive feedback came in! I think this is a good sign: Aubre infused such energy and foresight into the remote, foreign land! We all felt it and look forward to having her return for more fun and inspiration.

Aubre dancesAubre dances

Aubre Hill performs at Persian Heaven, a local Persian cuisine restaurant which supports much for the local bellydance community.
Photos by Liang An

Sponsor

(L to R) Ali Amini, General Manager of Persian Heaven, Aubre Hill and Kelli Li. Photo by Liang An

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