Review: Khaled Mahmoud’s Beledi Taqsim Workshop

On Saturday 22nd of September, I attended Khaled Mahmoud’s Beledi Taqsim workshop with live musicians, as part of the Shimmy in the City event. This was my first workshop with Khaled, although I am very familiar with his style. A disclaimer is in order here, as nearly all of the troupe I am in has studied in the past or currently studies with him, and we use a lot of his choreographies for our performances. This means I am not unbiased; I cannot be, as my whole time learning belly dance I’ve heard everybody singing Khaled’s praises. I am not sure whether that was a good or a bad thing, but my expectations were quite high. I was not disappointed.

We started with a light warm-up, which was fun but wasn’t too focused on stretches or particular groups to work more in preparation for what we would be doing. In his defense, a lot of people did come from previous workshops, and when he asked, most said they were warmed up already. He then divided us in two groups, left and right side of the room, and worked at teaching us at different points along this divide, and so we could see both his front and his back. I am not sure this approach worked *that* well for me, as I got distracted by trying to decode the left/right situation when seeing him perform in front, and a couple of my “problem areas” for the routine were definitely those where I had him in front and I copied him mirrored.

Having said that, the workshop was *not* about learning a routine, and he made this abundantly clear. The idea was to teach us about what  “makes” the Beledi Taqsim, what sort of movements to expect, how the execution differed from Oriental style and why, a bit about general Egyptian mentality and attitude, with even a little bit of body-positive attitude thrown in. There was so much information that my head was buzzing, and I worked so hard that my clothes were drenched by the end of it and I needed to towel-dry my hair. Khaled did explain the moves carefully, and watching him dance less than 2 metres away from me was an education in itself: I’d only seen videos of him on YouTube so far, and they just don’t do him justice: there’s a LOT of delicate, subtle movements that he adds while he dances that are just not captured properly on video. He also made sure to add information like what to do with our hair while dancing and why, and, in quite a funny turn, also feminising the routine to add those little extra touches we should aim for. He split the work between legs/big hips first, then adding the smaller hip details (shimmy shimmy shimmy), then arms and attitude.

Working with a live band was also quite interesting, although the band didn’t arrive on time. There were a couple of misunderstandings between Khaled’s instructions and the band’s execution (wrong parts picked up, for instance) that provided some confusion or comic relief, but overall, being able to notice the differences between the CD and the band playing live, and how that affects the dancing, was invaluable, and not something most of us have much of a chance to experience within a learning setting. I was expecting we would learn a bit more about the music itself, but this did not happen; I am not that bummed about this as it was a long shot, and I understand this is my own particular point for obsession at the moment. (as a side note, if anybody can recommend some books/videos/CDs that teach about Arabic and Egyptian music that go beyond “this is a beledi, this is a maqsoum” like Saida’s or Hossam Ramzy’s do, and explain more about scales, harmony, composition, history and styles, I would be extremely grateful).

The workshops were marked for intermediate/advanced students. I don’t consider myself anywhere near an “advanced” level, and I am not sure I could be “intermediate”, since I’m just brushing the 2 year mark. I found it challenging, sometimes bordering on difficult, but not impossible. I really liked Khaled’s teaching, he was fun and engaging, and a few of the things he said resonated with me quite deeply, in particular the reminder that this sort of dance is about the dancer, not the costume, not the show; and after his little speech about beauty and curves I could have kissed him.

Would I take another workshop with Khaled? Hell yes, I would happily take weekly classes if I could! Although next time I would probably do a more thorough warm-up on my own, as I know my body has some specific quirks that it needs addressed before starting something as demanding.
Would I take another workshop on beledi style? Probably, I find it suits my personality (and body shape!) better
Would I take another workshop at Shimmy in the City? Yes, definitely, and I am already lamenting not taking at least one or two more.

In closing: great workshop, I can now understand the excitement about Khaled; I feel I learnt a lot, and have material to improve my technique for quite a while.

Watch the choreography Khaled taught us; sadly, the low resolution video means that the more subtle moves are completely lost, but trust me, there were a LOT of tummy tucks and pushes and rolls and shimmies used as accents.

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