The 4 Stages of the Egyptian Dance Path

4th stage of the Egyptian Dance Path: Spiritual

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Your dance is as spiritual as you are.

(take that in for a few seconds; read it again)

If you´re not in contact with your invisible, energetic, spiritual dimension, you´ll feel challenged at this learning stage. If you don´t believe you´re more than a physical body, I´d doubt you´ll be able to dance from your soul.

This is probably the trickiest aspect of Egyptian Dance, one that teachers are often unable to articulate.

Spirituality is easily confused with religion, New Age mambo jambo, cheesy cults. It´s considered distant, exotic, unreacheable, weird, dangerous. We tend to fear what we cannot touch.

But, as I´ve mentioned, the spirit is who you are. You may identify with the physical body but that does not define you. Your soul does.

One of the most beautiful things I´ve observed, as a teacher, is how Egyptian Dance shows students the way to their soul. It takes them by the hand, smoothly, without them realizing it. It pulls them up naturally. Inevitably.

I use specific methods – pedagogy – to open up their physical, mental and emotional bodies but, if all the other stages are properly developed, the spiritual realm takes care of itself. It flows like water running from its source towards the sea. Nobody needs to push it, or show it the way – it knows how to get to its destination. That´s exactly how I´ve witnessed the arrival to this 4th, and higher, stage of the dance path.

We start from the ground, focused on our physical body; we move upwards, and forward, integrating the mental stage which will be followed by the emotional stage.

Sooner or later, if you keep going, you´ll be lead to the spiritual stage.

I´d go as far as telling you the first 3 stages require work, focus, proper guidance, discipline – you don´t go through them without effort or a professional, awakened, teacher.

The 4th stage is effortless – it´s a flower blooming under the sun; an ascension that feels like falling; a consequence of the work you´ve done from the ground. The 4th stage is the blooming of the flower after you´ve planted its seed and watered it. If you show up to fulfill your gardening job, the flower will bloom by itself.

It´s the most beautiful show on earth. Few things give me as much pleasure as watching my students bloom into this 4th stage of development – watching them return home, finding peace and solace in their own essence.

Once they reach this stage, they can never go back to superficiality or lies about themselves and the dance. Once they´re at the top of the Pyramid, they see the Big Picture from above. Their feet may remain on the ground but their dance belongs to the Universe – they become a Bridge between Heaven and Earth.

The question is: the top of the pyramid is a lonely place. Few ever get there.

Are you willing to climb, only to discover you´re up there by yourself?”

Excerpt from “The Egyptian Dance Booklet” by Joana Saahirah

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Education Versus Personal Exploration

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“Education is safe – you learn what others have already created, mastered, tested and approved of. If you decide to stick with what you´ve learned, and never go beyond it, you´ll become a correct, universally applauded mediocre copy machine. There is comfort, and certainty, in this choice.

But is that what you want? Can´t you see you are, and can do, so much more than that?

Self-exploration is risky, uncertain, mysterious – you´ll embark on adventures you cannot fully control; you´ll face your demons, limits and potential; you´ll test your waters and see how far you, not your teacher or an institution, can go. You will give birth to yourself without knowing how the baby will look like. What if the child is born with deformities? Or – oh my God; I cannot believe it; oh, so damn – ugly? Or just mediocre – a plain kid with no sparkle in his eyes? A regular Joe, perhaps.

Remember births can be painful and/or orgasmic. And the product of our creativity – may that be a human child or a dance piece – can disappoint our expectations. 

If given the choice, most of us will prefer to receive The Answer, or Magic Pill, from the hands of our teacher than to find it ourselves. I´ve had a few students who got mad at me because I told them they would have to use what I was teaching them and discover who they are in the process.

– Copying me won´t do the trick. You have to go into the desert by yourselves. – I told them.

They wanted to twist my neck. Who wouldn´t? A teacher who sends you off, alone though with tools in your travel bag, is not to be trusted. Is she/he?

(…) 

Explore, go within, try new things; use knowledge to empower you, not to limit you.

A good, professional, teacher will know how to guide you towards self-exploration. But, then again, YOU have to want to go there.

Curiosity cannot be taught – you awaken it in you or you don´t.

The courage to see what´s out there, inside of you, cannot be taught.

The perseverance, the discipline, the guts to find your own voice cannot be taught.

The willingness to face your limits and, what´s even scarier, your infinite potential, cannot be taught.

You, my beloved, have to get on the camel, pack your essentials, and leave for your cross of the desert.

I´ll meet you on the other side or, who knows?, in an oasis, because I, too, have my desert(s) to cross. We all do.

You´re alone on the road and you´re definitely not alone.”

Excerpt from The Egyptian Dance Booklet by Joana Saahirah (soon to be published)

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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“Going to school gives the illusion that knowledge is what makes an artist. It´s like knowing how to write English perfectly. It has very little relation to the art of writing.”

My Life and Times by Henry Miller

Egyptian Dance Practice Guiding Lights by Joana Saahirah

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Samia Gamal, an icon from the Egyptian Dance Golden Era, posing next to the Sphinx in Giza, Egypt.

Learning Egyptian Dance is a dialogue between the world outside of the dancer and the world inside the dancer; between what teachers can give you and what only you can give yourself.

In my workshops around the world, in my private online classes & at my NEW Joana Saahirah´s Online Dance School (http://www.powhow.com/classes/joana-saahirahs-dance-studio (http://www.powhow.com/classes/joana-saahirahs-dance-studio), I find a common difficulty: how to practice on your own; how to make the best of what your teachers pass on to you.

13412865_1078770638884049_6120654662268184470_n.jpgHere´s a resumed, and, I hope, helpful, Guiding Lights List for a successful learning path in and outside the classroom:

  1. When in class/workshop, be respectful of the teacher, your colleagues and the time you´ve decided to dedicate to this learning experience.
  2. No cell phones in class; no gossip; no dispersion. Be 100% present, pay attention; take notes, if necessary, in a way that you´ll be able to understand when you´re practicing on your own; don´t be afraid to share your doubts, out loud & respectfully, with the teacher. Asking about what you don´t know/understand isn´t shameful – pretending you know what you don´t know may be.
  3. Divide your private practice time into 3 parallel areas: technique, improsivation, choreography.
  4. Be curious. Research the subject you´re studying by yourself. There´s Google, Youtube and Amazon, just to name a few modern technological learning pals. Joana Saahirah´s Online Dance School has a KIT for all our students with loads of free learning tools. If you´re interested in receiving it, free of charge, feel welcome to ask for it via email (dancemagica@gmail.com).
  5. Do NOT compare yourself to your teacher or to other students. Each person is unique and so is her/his dancing path.
  6. Be compassionate towards yourself, your learning rhythm, limitations and flaws. Focus on the journey, more than on the arrival (party pooper note: there´s no such thing as “arrival”; arrival is a myth you can chase your whole life without ever reaching it).
  7. Understand the technique correctly – then practice it; repeat, repeat, repeat. There´s a huge side of Egyptian Dance which can only be absorbed through repetition, the time and focus you dedicate to your personal training. Showing up at classes&workshops is very important but it doesn´t replace your private practice.
  8. Memorizing choreographies does NOT make you a dancer. Working on technique, choreography, improvisation, culture & mentality and other important subjects surrounding Egyptian Dance, developing your musicality, self-expression and personality makes you a dancer. Write that down a thousand times. 
  9. Be grateful towards your body – it sustains you, it allows you to move, grow and recover. Bow to it. Whisper words of love, and appreciation, to it. It´ll compensate you.
  10. Dance to express, not to impress. The world doesn´t revolve around you. Make every dance step count for you, for your own enjoyment and self-expression.
  11. Make sure to include a WARM UP and a COOL DOWN at the beginning and at the end of your practice, respectively. The WARM UP opens the doors of your practice and the COOL DOWN closes them.
  12. Create a SACRED DANCE SPACE at your home or wherever you do your private practice. If you don´t have a dance studio, find a clean, beautiful corner and turn it into your Dancing Temple. Incense, a candle and smooth lighting help setting the mood.
  13. Use what you learn in class/workshop, creatively. Break choreographies down; repeat a certain movement and then make it slightly different; learn the rules and try breaking them. Be playful.
  14. Remember never to lose your connection to the MUSIC. Egyptian Dance is an emotional dialogue between dancer and music. If you don´t listen, there can be no dialogue.
  15. Be disciplined and flexible. Find consistent amounts of time to practice on your own. Some days, that can be 3 straight hours; other days, 30 minutes or less. No problem. Do your best. Be consistent. Make your dance practice a part of your weekly agenda.
  16. Set a clear intention for your practice. Ask yourself “what will I focus on today?”. Alternate between learning a choreography, or building one, improving your technique and improvising. This will increase the quality of your practice and avoid boredom.
  17. Every once in a while, film yourself dancing. Then watch it as objectively as possible. Develop a healthy, non attached, mature self-critical sense so you can identify what you´ve conquered and what is yet to be improved in your dance.
  18. Relax. Enjoy. Don´t take it so seriously you end up killing the buzz. Nobody wants, or needs, another burden on their endless TO DO list. Dancing should be fun though challenging. Combine commitment with lightness. Never lose track of what made you fall in love with this art form.
  19. Alternate between practicing with a mirror and without. Some times, it´s useful to watch yourself move; other times, it´s an obstacle.
  20. Be aware quality Egyptian Dance is a mix between structure/knowledge/control and creativity/intuition/surrender. Make sure you develop both.
  21. If you wish to go deep into Egyptian Dance, as an art form, make sure you grow up as a human being. The Dancer in the Person is what ultimately makes the dancer.
  22. Dance from your heart, not your ego. Compete with no one, except the person/dancer you were yesterday.
  23. Have fun! Life´s short & precious.

P.S: If you like these Guiding Lights and you´d like to use/share them, feel welcome to do so; please, identify author and source of quotes.

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Photo: Joana Saahirah performing, and spreading the light, in Tokyo, Japan.

 

References

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Me, photographed, in Cairo, Egypt. 

References – the ones you learn from – compose a major part of who you become as an artist and human being. I was lucky to have caught the last glimpses of authentic, soulful Egyptian Dance. Teachers like Shokry Mohamed (RIP), Souhair Zaki, Mona el Said, Nagwa Fouad, Azza Sherif and, of course, Mahmoud Reda had a great role in shaping who I am today.

They are exemples of what Egyptian Dance is – a personal, and universal, sacred language that speaks from the soul and to the soul.

Here´s a bit of the love received by my dear teacher, friend and grandfather Mahmoud Reda. This choreography was filmed and edited with his own hands at his studio in downtown Cairo (sadly, not his studio anymore). Words fail to express how grateful I am to this man and every Master who crossed my path.

It´s a brand new World: Joana Saahirah PRIVATE ON LINE CLASSES*

10421989_1458458771064829_7963125101822826149_nNever say never. I said I would never teach on the internet and I got busted – blissfully busted. Who knew this could be such a powerful bridge between me and dancers all over the world?

I´m LOVING my new PRIVATE ON LINE COURSES (go figure!).

It´s a new medium – with its particular limitations and potential – and it´s connecting me with dancers from USA, Japan, Slovenia, Germany, Spain and counting. I travel to perform and teach but my time with dancers is limited to a weekend or a week, if we´re really lucky. I leave those dancers behind hoping they´ll have digested some of what I taught and use it in the future. Yet…you cannot compete with time and repetition (or their absence). If they don´t have regular access to my lessons, it´s obvious most of what I want to communicate gets lost.

My On Line Private Courses are changing the situation – BIG time. No matter where I am, I can keep teaching dancers for a considerable length of time and actually SEE the results of my work.

Add to that the fact that we´re dealing with a machine – a computer between us – and that obstacle (for me it is still an obstacle) is also a challenge. How can I compensate for the fact that dancers are not physically present during the class? We work on Skype, face to face – no pre-recorded videos, thank you very much. I need to see the person moving and guide them according to what they´re doing at every single moment; I also need them to SEE me, feel my pauses, my questions and my notes while the class is taking place.

The most interesting point about this new teaching tool is the way we can GUESS each other´s sou11601_887156201308258_6162394282101985106_nl through a camera as well as the new creative ways of reaching that person. Nothing beats human contact, physical presence, that breath of the same air shared by two or more people in a room but the world moves ahead (so must we).

If we just keep our eyes and our faith open, we see the new possibilities this crazy world keeps offering. Evolution and adaptation seem to be the new basic survival tools – they have probably always been. Old jobs, ways of living and thinking are disappearing and giving place to a new way of living, working and communicating. Above that: I can see it: a new way of BEING HUMAN and relating to other people through energy, intuition, thought and higher levels of perception we haven´t consciously used until now.

*

Every dancer I have taught, so far, on my ON LINE PRIVATE LESSONS has been a joyful journey full of discoveries, pleasures, essential learning curves and, strangely enough, human connection.

L-O-V-I-N-G every second of this new world**********************

For infos about my lessons, feel welcome to email me (dancemagica@gmail.com)

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Getting my mojo back (Shokry´s hands)

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Shokry Mohamed (RIP, great soul)

Every once in a while I forget why I´ve fallen in love with Oriental Dance – that initial fire, enthusiasm, fascination and JOY. That wouldn´t be a problem if I took my profession – life, in general – in practical terms. Deal with it and be grateful: you´ve achieved so much, accomplished every single dream you proposed to accomplish and went beyond it …what else do you want?

Right.

I want to be IN LOVE with whatever I do and no, I´m not a practical person who can work from a cold place: I need warmth, truth, guts, enthusiasm, PURPOSE and the reminder of the reason why it still makes sense to dance, perform, choreograph and teach. In times of deep amnesia or temporary loss of passion, I go back where I started. It makes sense.

Prisca Diedrich (a special teacher with an unique pedagogy, the person who first introduced me to Oriental Dance) and Shokry Mohamed (my first long term teacher – by long term I mean 9 months which, for me, it´s a really long time) – these two divine creatures (one of them is still with us and the other, Shokry Mohamed, is already in another dimension) remind me of those first steps, a time when everything was magical and I couldn´t wait to get up and dance.

I remember I used to feel I was walking on clouds every time I finished a class with Shokry – I WANT THAT BACKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!

From all the references these two teachers offered me, the one I grab myself to with my mightiest embrace is Shokry Mohamed´s hands, two ebony birds, so soft, delicate and aquatic and yet so strong (untouchable; impossible to destroy). His hands sparkled with vulnerability and strength and they moved from his soul: no pressure to be this or that, liked or disliked, loved or hated: nothing(ness): peace(full)ness.

I lower my gaze towards the floor, I sigh and try to breathe again from that place of truth and joy and all that saves me from the dangers of boredom is THOSE HANDS: his hands: Shokry´s hands.

The incense he used to burn in his classes (Studio “Las Pirámides“, Madrid) is the same I always use in my classes, seminars, moments of lonely creation; his poems fill back my jar with roses; his smile cools me down and keeps me grounded; the immense tranquility that dominated his movements save me from amnesia – THE amnesia.

Being grateful to our teachers is not only a question of fairness, elegance, honesty and good education. For me, it´s a question of not losing track of my Purpose and Myself.

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My immense GRATITUDE to all my teachers – special thanks to Prisca Diedrich and Shokry Mohamed (RIP).