Oriental Dance and life as we knew them are over – accepting it or denying it won´t change reality. It´s not only a question of the world taking in an art form (not recognized as such in its birth place) that used to breathe exclusively in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East/North Africa.
Schools, festivals, sub-styles of different Oriental Dance styles are showing up from different corners of the globe. Although most of the exemples we have do not make justice to the richness of this dance, there is a great effort towards evolution.
I see the mess: the chaos: the ignorance. I also see the BIGGER picture: although mainstream cultures (in the East as in the West) haven´t yet enjoyed a truly interesting version of this dance (therefore, not building a positive image about it), there are sponsors, dancers and teachers with a genuine thirst for QUALITY and a Revolution no one will be able to stop – thanks God.Some of the issues that will – I hope – turn Oriental Dance around came up on my last lecture based on my book
“The Secrets of Egypt – Dance, Life & Beyond“. The lecture took place in Petrozavodsk, Russia, and the dancers were true to their nationality: they were intelligent, committed, passionate, eager to go deeper into their craft, curious for knowledge, thirsty for a higher level of a dance they respect. It´s not difficult to understand why I love to work in Russia.
Many questions came up: how do we step up to that OTHER LEVEL of dance? We have nailed, more or less, technique and choreographies, but we haven´t got the MAIN POINT. How do we teach ourselves and our students to LISTEN, FEEL, INTERPRET the music and deliver their soul in each step?
Opa! Tough questions to answer in a blog post. I would have to write another book in order to properly answer them (I probably will…). For now, here´s the appetizer:
1. Stop believing Oriental Dance is all about the steps, the combinations and the choreographies. It´s NOT.
Technique and choreography are ESSENTIAL tools in this dance but they are not THE DANCE.
2. Learning Oriental Dance means re-learning how to LIVE, how to look at life, creativity, boundaries. You have to reeducate your way of EXISTING in order to fully understand the dance that lies within. I know: not a comfortable, easy challenge. Yet the Ride is so beautiful – well worth the effort to step out of your comfort zone.
I´m known for doing the strangest exercises during my classes/workshops/seminars. Many of those exercises come from my educational bakground (as a dancer and actress), others come from the moment and what that moment intuitively suggests. I often go back to the lessons I learnt in the Superior School of Theatre and Cinema (Spasiba bolshoi, Mr. Stanislavsky!) as well as precious gems I´ve gathered in my dance training since the age of 5.
I also pay attention to each specific group of dancers and their particular needs – no teaching program can be inflexible. It´s all about THEM and what they need, not me and what I had planned. Attention, generosity and intuition to REACT to the moment must be there at all times.
Plus: I don´t rely ONLY on what my teachers have passed on. I go deeper, wider and more creative than that. Portuguese often say: “There are many roads to Rome”. They´re right.
Sometimes, if occasion allows it, I will take my students on street rides just to LISTEN and take notice of the sounds/music present on our daily lives. I´ve also made food tasting challenges and visits to Painting exhibitions in order to develop a certain aspect of the dance. Students look at me as if I was an alien, at first; then they understand.
3. Oriental Dance is not only about Egypt – it´s about HUMANITY. We have to take that little exotic picture down from our dancing room walls. Yes: Egypt was and still is in some ways a CENTRE of the dance but it´s not what the dance is all about. Don´t get stuck in exotic, touristic mambo jambo – this dance is so much more interesting than that (and so are YOU).
HUMAN LANGUAGE is a concept new teachers of a new (old) dance in a new world will have to accept if they want to save the CORE of Egyptian Dance.
4. We all tend to associate dance – any kind of dance – exclusively with the body, the material, the visible. Oriental Dance is about being human, as I already referred, so we have to take in consideration what we see and what we don´t see but feel.
Body + Mind + Heart + Soul = Egyptian Oriental Dance. Anything less won´t work.
5. Realize the relationship women have with themselves (and, consequently, with each other) is decisive in the quality of this dance. Competition, envy, comparisons that lead to gossip, frustration and evilness are a loss of time and energy. They also work against you and your dance.
Love, respect and support yourself AND your dance sisters. This will create the ground for creativity, originality and UNION, all essential to the development of this dance.
6. Remember Oriental Dance is an infallible X-RAY: whoever you are will be exposed while you dance. In other words: your dance is a reflection of who you really are beyond the masks and the acting attempts.
Work on BEING the best version of yourself and your dance will reflect it.
7. Knowing the tools (your body, mind, heart and soul) is essencial. Memorizing movements is cool and useful but it´s not enough to educate a body for efficiency and freedom in the moment a song starts to play.
Get acquainted with your muscles, bones, organs, feelings, fears and dreams. Get to know The Tool – that´s part of your dance education. Then you´ll be able to have some real fun with it and do some seriously interesting dance.
8. Open your students´ minds: study and instill in them the curiosity to know about the contexts that surround Oriental Dance (History, mentality, politics, religion, sexuality, Literature, you name it…Oriental Dance is connected with so many interesting things…). Practice and theory should go hand in hand.
9. Be kind to yourself and to your students. Everything worth doing comes from LOVE (that includes teaching and practicing Oriental Dance).
“Give and you shall receive” – dance and teach from your HEART – not from your ego – and the results will match that frequency.
“Il Hob howa dah il kanun” (“Love is the Law”), I wrote on my book “The Secrets of Egypt – Dance, Life & Beyond”.
10. Don´t presume, not even for a second, you´re God. You´re not. Offer all you´ve got to your students and audiences, admit what you know and what you don´t know and allow QUESTIONS, DOUBTS, DEBATE.
Who wants to teach dancers without a head and personality of their own?! I don´t.
Not only do I allow dancers to QUESTION everything I teach – I insist they do so. If you don´t understand what I´m doing/saying, don´t be afraid to tell it; if something I´m teaching doesn´t make sense to you, don´t be afraid to come forward and (respectfully) ask for clarification; if you have an opinion or contribution of your own (everybody has), please be so kind to EXPRESS it out loud. If you´re not confident enough to put yourself and your own vision of dance out there while you are in the safe environment of a class/workshop/seminar, you´ll never be able to do it while you´re dancing.
11. Mix serious work with playfulness.
This is not only an entertaining way of learning/teaching but also an essencial skill for this particular art form. Dance workshops tend to lie on one extreme: too serious and boring or too loose and superficial.
Making hard stuff look simple is an art every teacher must practice. Plus: laughter is healing, cooling and relaxing; secret doors are opened when people feel at ease and have fun while surprising themselves with new skills.
12. Create a space where students feel SAFE to open their minds and hearts.
Erase – as much as possible – small talk, gossip and competition between students. Build a space where everybody feels respected, valued and free. This space will allow dancers to feel the music and express it without the fear of being judged or a target of negative energy/comments.
In order to open up, people need to feel safe – another golden rule for every teacher.
13. The last but not the least: aside from the knowledge that is passed on from generation to generation, there are GEMS we can only find inside of ourselves. I can offer you the tools to dance but I cannot dance in your place: the things that will make your* dance shine are already inside of you – no one can teach them, touch them or take them away. Offering you the CONFIDENCE to access and express those gems is my job as a teacher.
Re-direct dancers towards their own soul – that´s the only place from where they can truly dance and that´s the most precious gift you can ever offer them.
This post is dedicated to Tatiana Dubrovina and the students, teachers, dancers and audience that participated in the Northern Oriental Festival in Petrozavodsk, Russia (28, 29, 30th November 2014).
They know why*