Gilded Serpent presents...
Mona el Said in Dallas, Part 1
at the Holiday Inn, Dallas Texas,
September 3 - 5, 2004
From the first time I watched Mona el Said perform on video, I've loved the way that she dances. I was so new to dancing when
I watched this particular video in which she performed a drum
solo in a gold lame costume. This is one performance that lots
of dancers relate to. I always remember it as a good example
of an Egyptian dancer that is comfortable with herself as a dancer
and who radiates joy and passion during a performance. For that
reason, I like to use that video to show students and non-dance
friends what a wonderful dance form we are all learning. As
circumstances would limit my attending the First International
Conference of Middle Eastern Dance organized by Shareen el Safy, I missed the opportunity
to meet and study with Mona, when she came to the
to teach and perform for the first time in 1997. Imagine my
delight when I had the good fortune to be introduced to Mona during
my first trip to Cairo. I couldn't refrain from taking the opportunity
to tell Mona how much I loved her dancing. Then, I braved the
legions of eager festival attendees to get my first glimpse of
Mona teaching and dancing in her 3-hour class at Ahlan wa Sahlan in June
A good article
with some background information on Mona was published in Habibi in 1996 ("Mona el Said: Moving in Mysterious Ways", Vol. 15, No.1, Shareen el Safy). This article
is evocative of Mona's essence and the whole experience of being
in Cairo; I heartily recommend reading it. In this article Shareen describes how she came to take a private class with
Mona, which was arranged by Raqia Hassan, and her visits at Mona's apartment where she
met other members of Mona's family. When Shareen asks Mona if she is influenced by anyone, Mona replies "I didn't
take my style from anyone. I have my own style and that's why
I am successful." I know that it is Mona's unique style which
draws me to her and makes me want to dance with the same feeling
that she projects. I've heard that Tahiya Carioca nicknamed her the "Princess of Raks Sharki" and I can't think of a more suitable title to bestow
that nearly everyone at the Ahlan wa Sahlan Festival wanted to
take Mona's class. When you have so many dancers in one room
with varied levels of experience, it is hard to accomplish much
more than what she did with us. Teaching a choreography would
have been impossible and technique only would have been just as
difficult. I decided that the best thing to do was dance when
it was my turn, watch when I had to sit and enjoy.
I knew that this was just an appetizer for the big Labor Day
weekend coming up in Dallas, when we would have Mona for two
days plus we would get to see her perform.
you all want to know all about our big weekend in Dallas, but
I just have to mention how "star struck" I felt at first. I got
so nervous when I was driving her to Denny's for a late dinner
that I over shot the driveway. As you can imagine, everyone in
my car was giving me a hard time, laughing and joking at my expense.
It's always nice when you find that someone, whom you've put up
on a big pedestal, is down to earth, just "folks" like the rest
of us. Mona surprised and delighted us for the whole weekend.
I feel like I made a good friend whom I'll be able to visit on
my next trip to
The weekend started out on Friday night with a star-studded
show headlined by Jasmin Jahal (Chicago
IL) and Hadia (Montreal,
of my favorite dancers to watch and to take workshops from.
It was a great night for everyone. We were all excited to be
there, to meet and study with Mona. I was in the show, but I
was not one of the stars. I was just someone who loves to dance
and was thrilled to be given the opportunity to perform for Mona.
Thankfully my star-strickenness didn't
impact my dancing. Mona made everyone feel so comfortable, smiling
at all the performers and being attentive to their performances.
Other than Jasmin and Hadia, the line-up of
dancers for the evening included RAKS (Desdemona, Alia, Rivkah, Serena, Zahara, Tamr-Henna - DFW, TX) , Debbie Lamman (CA), the duo Amani (TX), Marisela (TX), Catherine
Barros (TX), Rimarah (CT), Shiara (IA), Selena (NM), Desert Fire (OK), Layla & the Lotus Flowers (CA), Kaya (CO), Aradia (NV), Charli (AK), Shahna (mother of Charli), Isis (TX). It was a quite varied show ranging from a
fabulous double-veil by Aradia, Fusion/world
beat style, beledi style, Egyptian Pop, Egyptian style, to Isis' famous
high energy sword balancing. It was a great show and made for
a high energy start to the weekend.
For both days of the workshop, Mona picked out several songs which
we danced to. Out of the ten or so songs, I liked "Barsha, Barsha" and "Bahebak Moot" the best.
The selection was varied enough in style and type that there was
always something that appealed . . . if you didn't like one song,
then you probably would like the next one.
time Mona danced a song, she would change how she interpreted
it. The intent of this approach was so that we could understand
how you can do different things to the same music.
I had the
good fortune to talk with Mona a bit, so I have more insight into
why she teaches the way she does. I think that Western-style
dance classes have impacted a lot of the Egyptian dancers (Raqia,
Dina, Aida, Magdy, etc) in that, over
the years, they have shifted to teaching choreo more in the fashion that teachers in the States/Canada/Europe
is totally adverse to learning dance in the "1-2-3-4"
method! She told me about when she first tried a dance class
at a very early age that she got kicked out because she couldn't
follow. She didn't understand the counting that was going on.
But she wanted
to dance so much and knew that she could dance! She was just
not able to learn following this method. She thinks it is more
important to dance with feeling then count everything, and therefore,
she approaches teaching by using the "follow-me" (aka "follow the bouncing butt") method. She thinks all the
counting restricts a dancer's ability to really feel the music.
was actually a very exhausting weekend because we moved constantly
and we constantly had to change what we did. No time for memorizing
the choreography because it was different each time! You really
had to pay attention to catch on to what she was doing. Mona
also made us dance for her so she could see what we were learning
. . . each song she did this. This gave us the opportunity to
feel the music much more. Mona told me that she could really
see a change in everyone because she was watching each person
as they danced. She was happy that we did well.
her that it is hard for most of us to switch over to this method
of learning because we are used to the choreo breakdown workshops
. . . and
a bit chaotic also to begin with as we are trying to understand
the different steps she's using (although most are not that different
if you have a good basics grounding). By day two of the workshop,
I think everyone in the room had really gotten into it so much
more as they became more comfortable with this approach to learning.
Sunday was a more relaxed day.
the workshop, Mona would talk about concepts and ideas that she
felt are necessary to make us better dancers. She mentioned
that we all have an Aura that surrounds us which we should not
touch, except for the head and hair. If you touch your Aura
while dancing, then you weaken it. She also talked about love
and being happy. She said to love yourself first, then give
love to others . . . you give love and get it back. She says
that love keeps you young. Sounds like we are getting a bit of
a lecture, but the point of this discussion was to make us aware
that we show all of this in our dancing.
that our dancing should reflect all the women that we can be
(she called it "Seven women in one woman" but I don't have all
seven identified): show our feelings; dance stronger, faster,
slower, romantic, like a tiger.
change the mood or feeling to make the performance interesting
because if the audience gets bored, they will stop watching.
The mood and the movement should work together. The dancer creates
magic on the stage, catching everyone's attention, and the audience
will be focused on you, the dancer. The part about the tiger
puzzles me a bit but I think it is just one aspect of the dancer's
personality to be shown on the stage--think about the way this
big cat moves as it prowls around, thinking about pouncing on
its prey--the audience is the dancer's prey! (But I don't think
we want to kill or eat them!) Just project this aspect of danger
through strong, slow, graceful movements. I can see this aspect
of Mona as she moves around the stage--she shows her love, happiness,
grace and passion as she dances, positively radiating all of the
different aspects of her personality when she performs.
Amr Kamaal, singer with the band,
Part 2- the Saturday Performance
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