...an excellent combination for the week! I decided to really pile it on during and now post-Nile Group. I'm down to about two and a half weeks now, so I'm going to go hard with the dance lessons until I head out!
Shareen El Safy
I met Shareen at Nile Group through Hallah Moustafa, who studied with her back in California in the day. It was interesting, because she's told me about Shareen and I've been studying Shareen's technique through Hallah in a way. I was glad to meet the lady herself finally, and we spent a lot of time together during Nile Group chatting, hanging out, and me helping to decipher her new cell phone.
I took a private lesson with her during the insane Nile Group week up in her spacious hotel room to try it out and see if I wanted to try and catch more classes with her when we're both back in California, since she's down in Santa Barbara. It was a really interesting lesson, and I would definitely recommend her to anyone interested in getting at the heart of real Egyptian dance. She talks about the body in a way that is pretty unique, and again was something that reminded me of Alexander Technique with her descriptions of directing the energy in one's body and the energetic relationship between the different parts of the anatomy.
Shareen's technique involves a differentiation between skeletal movements and muscle movements, but not in the so literal way of the Suhaila butt-shimmy. What she's talking about is not just dancing by moving the bones into the right form, but having the muscles active and supporting the movement on a different level. This has, in my case, a lot to do with moving with "purpose" instead of just going through the skeletal motions. I enjoyed her discussion also of different ways of using the muscles in something as simple as walking on to the stage.
One other thing that Shareen talked to me about concerning movements is the preparation that comes before the movement itself. She was saying Egyptian dancers actually do the preparation and then the step, and they may show it clearly or not depending on the styling. It's a deliberate thing, that that sort of fed into what Farida Fahmy was speaking about in her workshop of how Egyptian dancers keep a "flow" in their dancing instead of moving in chopped up steps. It's a whole series of movement, not just individual movements, and I think the preparation plus the movement means there is more continuity. The other purpose it seems to serve is when you have a real belly dance drummer watching your every move in order to play the accents with the dancer. They then have the preparation and the movement itself to watch, which gives them more information about how the dancer is moving and how they will accent the rhythm. Interesting stuff...I will definitely be trying to corner Shareen for some private lessons back in California.
I did take her workshop as well at Nile Group which was a great choreography to Alf Leila, and I liked her enough to buy her DVD which I usually never, ever do! Will be writing about the workshop in my Nile Group report for Gilded Serpent!
Everyone who goes to Nile Group Festival knows who Freiz is. She, Abou Shebika, and Aida Nour run the whole deal, but Freiz is kind of the big mama, the older, semi-retired dancer, the one who sits through all the shows every night until 5am cheering everyone on. I always liked Freiz, she seemed like a no BS, real down-home, Baladi girl with a big attitude but piles of sweetness. I decided it was about time to catch a lesson with her, so I did a a couple this week.
I arrived at her place in Mohandiseen right on time for my first lesson, and the place was luckily easy to find. I was ushered into her huge flat by her very quiet son, and the lady herself soon came out to kiss my cheeks, offer me a drink (I was swiftly cornered and told to drink tea so it wasn't exactly an 'offer' as one might think), and chit chat a bit in her limited English and my limited Arabic about the festivals and if was going to "Raqia's festival" Ahlan wa Sahlan. We got along and Freiz seemed to find me amusing to chat with, so we got down to business a bit later after establishing that I wanted to study anything she cared to work on and she smiled, saying we were going to do Shaabi at her suggestion.
We then dove straight into a Shaabi choreography loaded down with quick changes and combinations of moves! Luckily, I was familiar with most of the moves as she assumed, and was able to hold my own. After awhile though my brain began to implode with the sheer amount of choreography I was learning in a short amount of time. The breaks to swig some tea came more frequently with Freiz saying, "no, tea, tea!" if she thought I didn't seem ready to practice more. I was impressed at how much she gave me her full attention though and danced alongside me to show the moves, considering she's not exactly young and a lot of the grand Egyptian dancer figures like her have a reputation for not engaging physically in the private lesson as much as one would hope. Not Freiz, she was there beside me, watching me like a hawk or dancing right next to me holding my hand to emphasize her movements the entire time.
I really enjoyed the choreography as it was quick and clever, but with a very clear sort of chorus combination to bring it home that was solid and spunky. Freiz didn't do a lot of technique instruction for me, but I think that was partially due to the language difficulty. Luckily from training with the AUC folkloric group I know some dance terminology in Arabic, so I understood when she asked things like, "btlefi izzay??" She did show me some ways to make the moves more Shaabi, after shaking her head at me for being, "too oriental" a few times and shaking her finger at my foot pointing. That was helpful to see and encouraged me to get a taste of the Shaabi flavor from a real Egyptian, which I think will prove invaluable. If anyone plans on taking lessons with her, don't let her stern facial expressions fool you, she's actually pretty sweet.
To sum up, Freiz is excellent for choreography, and actually I made up my mind to take classes with her because she did several of the choreographies I saw in the opening and closing shows at Nile Group. I remember chatting with her daughter, saying that I found Camelia's shamadan segment of her show to be the best, when Su laughed and said, "well, actually my mother did that one!" She's got a great ear for the structure of the music and putting together clever combinations which I like, and if you have a pretty good eye you can pick up some of her Shaabi styling. Not only that, but because she choreographs for some big names, she is one of the sources of contemporary trends on the Cairo dance scene so it's important to go right to the source to see what's new in moves, styling, and music choices.
To other English-speaking dancers, be a bit warned that her English isn't fantastic, which led to some confusion at times, but she does make herself understood if she wants to. Su, her oldest daughter, translates at the lessons if you have one at a time she's awake and not at university, and her English is excellent. Her lessons are at her flat in Mohandiseen which is fairly easy to find on a major street, and she treats guests with Eygptian hospitality of course. She expects you to take tea or coffee and it's a bit rude to refuse, and she'll make sure you have biscuits or fruit after the lesson, saying, "eat, eat!" until she feels you're sufficiently stuffed of snacks and dance.
Still to come, a meeting with Karim Nagi and some great music discussion, and a lesson with Randa Kamel!