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Organic Cycle Enters Taiwan’s BD Community:

2 “Unusual” Taipei Workshops Demonstrate New Trend

Karim Nagi and Kelli Li
Karim Nagi and Kelli Li,
the event sponsor had a great live percussion bridge section.

by Lisa Chen
posted February 13, 2012
Photos courtesy of Kelli Li & Jane Chung
Lisa’s Chinese Translation here
Click here for Traditional Chinese Translation

Taiwan, as one of Belly dance communities in the Asian region where Belly dance has been blooming in the past decade, is no exception from a heavily choreography-oriented mainline trend. Lately, under such atmosphere, there has been also another phenomenon sprouting among local Belly dancers (including dancers, instructors, students, and percussionists). It is a continuing educational approach which focuses on historical and cultural background information–as well as advanced techniques covering different aspects of Belly dance.

Two Taiwanese workshops that were held recently in late November are excellent examples for this new direction; they were presented by Karim Nagi and Andrea Sendek, respectively. The two workshops shared some characteristics in common but also indicated the diverse sides of this new path.

Part I. Wide coverage of what every Belly dancer should know

Karim Lectures
Karim Nagi gave a lecture to college students at
Fu Jen Catholic University, Xinchuang Dist., New Taipei City

Sponsored by Kelli Li, Karim Nagi, on his third visit to Taiwan, not only gave a series of inspiring and informative workshops with relatively specific topics, but also brought us the first-ever party featuring Arabian music and live drumming for local Belly dancers during his two-week stay in late November.

This type of class is not the usual first choice for most Belly dancers. Karim understood and appreciated this fact. For instance, the playing finger cymbals (zills in Turkish or zagat in Arabic) is not merely use of a stage prop to show off a dancer’s technique; they are instruments with which to respond to music and to make one’s own music as well. It is almost impossible to master playing finger cymbals and performing with them on stage without years of practice and learning. Indeed, in a Belly dance community where the ready-made choreographed dances are a dominant resource and highly demanded topic for a sold-out workshop, what Karim teaches at his workshops is seemingly far too “inefficient” for teaching, training and performing in a short period of time.

I translated for Karim at his five-session workshop in Taipei as well as a campus lecture on Arab music and art at the Fu Jen Catholic University. Although I had translated for him at his workshops in the previous two visits, still, I felt inspired and benefited by his teaching and demonstrations during class. Karim showed the workshop attendees that the music and performing arts in the Arab world are worthy of a life-time of learning and exploring.

Some workshop participants are not newcomers, and not all of them are dancers exclusively. This year, I saw that many young dancers, both male and female, had joined the workshops. In addition to instructors and dancers, we also had percussionists in class. This presence is very unique for our local community since we don’t have many interactive experiences with drummers or other musicians. In most cases, dancers and teachers adapt recorded music rather than using live band music, since it is unavailable.

“Rhythms for Dancers”, “Cymbal Songs” (zill compositions)”,and “Drum Solos” (dancers-drummer communications), are not new topics for this instructor’s workshops. In the past two visits, Karim had covered them already, but this time he offered more material to those who have attended his workshops before as an update. In the “Cymbal Songs ” class, dancers learned different sounds made by finger cymbals. For some, it was their very first time to successfully play the gallop pattern. Karim also guided us to listen to Leilet Hobb (written for singer Umm Kalthum) by explaining that different instruments play solo during certain phrases; therefore, dancers could apply different sounds to respond in kind.

“Music Ensemble Class”, “Maqam and Taxim for Dancers” are new topics for workshop participants. Since we don’t have many musicians available, Karim gave a vocal singing class instead. He taught Gena el Hawa by the legendary male singer Abdel Halim Hafez. While singing the English pronunciations for Arabian lyrics, Karim explained the meaning of the lyrics, and also, he explained the delicate maqams. Maqam (scale) and Taxim (sans-rhythm improvisation) is a relatively new concept for Taiwan’s local dancers. Karim said that 20 years ago including a taxim in your performance was considered to be a must-have for every Belly dancer and now it is rapidly declining because, he explained, “Many think the taxim is too difficult to learn and understand.” There is specific beauty and emotion for each taxim and dancers should understand and properly express the specific emotions they contain.

By the end of this 5-session workshop, Karim said that his teaching was meant to offer insider information and background knowledge for those who love Arabian music and art while providing techniques for dancers to develop their own styles and freely express themselves–without offending the audiences comprised of people who are from the cultural roots of the dance.

As one workshop, a participant commented: in such workshops, she/he “comes to learn how to fish rather than just be fed with fish”. Once you absorb the techniques and knowledge, you have more strength and freedom to better express yourself and your passion toward this beautiful dancing art form.

Signature Tabla Touch Group Photo
linked to larger photo
Signature Tabla Touch Group Photo, Photographer: Pippen Ma
Standing in the back (L to R): two ladies, Little Chou, Amy Ma, Jessica Sun, Dustin Huang, A-vin Huang, Christine Du,

Wen-yi Tsao, Nei-dan Hsu, Hera Dai (male), Sandra Hsu, Yu-ting Hung, Abbie Pan, Hsiao-chien Li, lady in glasses
Standing in the middle row(L to R): Lisa Chen, Shao-ping Lin, Shadow Metis, Sarah Huang, Lan Wang,

Cynthia Chen, lady hidden beside Christine Du, Sophia Chiu, May Liu, Lady in purple top, Carol Cheng (far)
First row (L to R): Kelli Li, Chia-chi Cheng, Pei-wen Bao, Irene Lin, Yu-shan Hsieh, Lina Lin, Karim

 

Part II. In-depth development for a Belly dancer with serious interest and commitment

Following Karim’s weekend workshops at Taipei, Andrea Sendek, from Suhaila Salimpour’s Dance School in California, came to Taipei as part of her Asian trip to Hong Kong and Taipei.

This time, Andrea gave an 8-hour workshop consisting of three classes: “Folkloric Fusion”, “Layering”, and “Standing Sword Choreography” by Suhaila Salimpour. Many students and attendants felt very frustrated, at first, because they found they were incapable of following the instructions in class, even though they have been training for a period of time within this system. From our cultural background and learning experiences, people sometimes cannot accept the fact that they need to take a longer time and use more effort to achieve what others can effortlessly do.

In this type of workshops, students or workshop attendants don’t come to learn choreographic pieces or techniques created based on Sendek’s own styles and her personal skills. Rather they are “updating” and reviewed within a training system on regular basis. They come to learn something advanced and return home to practice with those materials.

Attending workshops to get certification is not something peculiarly new for the local Belly dance community. Rather, it is common because some dancers require such paperwork when applying for teaching jobs at institutions, such as community colleges. As a result, many workshops with foreign instructors (as well as local instructors) have to provide a certificate stating a certain amount of hours have been spent with a specific instructor of Belly dance. Nevertheless, in addition to such one-shot certifications, there are also certification systems that require a serious amount of time, attention, and training.

For those who attended this workshop, this was quite a new experience that they never had had before: receiving updated information and something new in a system of instruction in which they have been taking training for a period of time. For most local dancers and students, it is nearly impossible to imagine the extent of time and money it take to absorb a technique while one is training to be a Belly dancer. Particularly, those who take a long-term training often don’t show instant change or effects after taking a workshop featuring choreographed dance.

When being asked why they would rather choose workshops like this, most participants said that they want to learn some techniques that could help them to develop better capacity for learning Belly dance while some told me that, with a properly-trained body, they could better execute a choreographed dance piece.

 

Group Photo after workshop
Group Photo after workshop
Back row L to R: Yu-ting Hung, Fi Fi Tsao, Vanessa Lin, Amy Ma, Panny Chou, Tzuling Huang, 高大可, Shao-ping Lin, Shu-hwa Cheng
Front row L to R: Chinghan Chiang, Tzu-Chin Lai, Jane Chung, Andrea Sendek, Purple Peacock, Christine Du, Alison Chiang, Kelly, Lisa Chen

 

Part III. A positively promising prospective for a sustainable future

Jane and Andrea
Andrea Sendek and sponsor Jane Chung

(the lovely greeting girl: Yu-ting Hung)
Karim
Friday Fever!
The first ever Arabe Dance Party with

live drum at Taipei by Karim Nagi

Indeed, Belly dance is an art form that requires years of study as well as a lot of knowledge. It is not merely some body movements, but an art form with certain cultural, historic, social values, and aesthetics.

We cannot deny the fact that the use of choreography can carry certain short-term functions. It is very easy to promote. Choreographed dance serves as the most convenient visual example for those who are not familiar with the essence of Belly dance. Many entry-level students in particular benefit very much from memorizing a choreographed dance and performing it in order to gain a sense of achievement.

Once Belly dance develops long enough in Taiwan, the local community will face the eventual urge to have this art establish deeper roots and develop. It is not a fashion trend that dissipates as the public curiosity fades away. It demands serious interest and committed passion to deliver the true beauty of an ancient art with certain historical and cultural roots, to which we should pay respect.

At Karim’s workshops, he noticed that most participants are either dancers with certain performance experience, or they are instructors who already have a job teaching Belly dance. I think this is a positive sign that teachers and dancers are willing to invest themselves with broader skills and knowledge other than just reliance upon choreographed dances. One Belly dance teacher even brought her students to attend Karim’s campus lecture about Arabic art and culture.

At Andrea’s workshops, attendants experienced that under a systematic format one could continue polishing and improving their dance so that they are better prepared and are ready for performing both improvisation and choreographed dance. In a way, now, at least, we know there are other aspects surrounding the performing of choreographed dance and teaching: musicality, notation, taxim, maqam, improvisation…etc.

The two workshops were not the ordinary Belly dance workshops with high demand. They indicate that Taiwan, as part of the global community, is stepping onto the path toward a sustainable future and is catching up with other areas and countries–in terms of developing more and better awareness, understanding and respect for this art form. In the end, such continuation of learning will result in dancers and teachers who are more skillful in executing the choreography provided to them and improvisation of their own dances. It will be an organic cycle, ensuring a positive outcome for Taiwan Belly dancers in such a highly competitive dance market.

 

 


In Karim’s class "Rhythms for Dancers",

workshop attendants learn to vocalize Arabe rhythms into their body movements.

Understanding and learning to sing Gena el Hewa by Abdel Halim Hafez

A fun time with dabke!

Karim Nagi demonstrated Dabke with some dancers on the campus lecture
L to R: Karim Nagi, Kelli Li, Terry Liao, Lan Wang, Dustin Huang
 

At Suhaila Salimpour Format Workshop with Andrea Sendek
 

 

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