Review: Khaleeji workshop with Tara Ibrahim at Orient Expressions

Dancer Corrosie wearing a traditional thobe

Corrosie wearing a traditional thobe

Tara’s workshop at Orient Expressions last year was the very first time I attended any type of workshop, and where I realised that I was at a level to benefit from them. I did enjoy it, so I was curious when she came up again as a guest teacher this year. The subject would be Khaleeji (or Khaliji, Kaliji and other variations). The word means, literally “of the Gulf”, and within the dance community, it refers to music and dances of the Persian Gulf. Tara worked there for a while, and while I wasn’t terribly caught by the idea of dancing with big thobes (check the photo to the right to see what I mean), I wanted to learn more about the style from someone that had experienced it first hand, instead of hearing every now and then something like “this is a bit of khaleeji” when what they really mean is “this uses footwork like that of Khaleeji”.

Tara explained to us the basic steps and moves that we would encounter, why they were so centred around the head, hands, and upper torso (easy, the thobes do cover pretty much everything else), although we did have some hip moves later on. She said we would work on a pop Khaleeji, and did mention that nowadays most people danced to it just wearing street clothes, unless they were dancing for heads of state or doing dance shows. She also read us the translation of the song we would be dancing to later, so we had a better idea of what it was about.

Dancer Mena and Shaira wearing thobes .

Mena and Shaira wearing thobes .

We started with a warm up that focused on the ankles/calves, hands, torso, and neck, and with a bit of hip thrown in. She then covered the basic footwork (rather simple) and some other moves that we could encounter, mostly including arms, “showing off jewellery” as she called it, or mimicking heart beating, floating in front of the body, or framing ourselves. Then followed turns and travelling that mixed all that we’d done up to that point. The style very often requires the arms to be extended away from the body (check the photo to the left for an example), and this is one aspect where my ATS training came handy, but it was still rather hard work! Then we covered the hair tossing and turning with it. This wasn’t as bad (read: disorienting) as I expected it to be, although I did make sure I was driving the move with my upper body instead of just the neck, but for some of the turns you just had no other option when bringing them back up… Think of it as hair tossing of the kind you’d encounter in a shampoo commercial, and you won’t be that far off the mark. I hadn’t danced with my hair loose in a long while and it was rather exciting to be doing all this moves with it, but as my hair is far longer now than when I started dancing three years ago, and it was hard work so it was heavy with sweat, it did take its toll, and I am still feeling some side effects from it. She did give us a quick primer on floor work, but considering the effects kneeling down without padding has on my knees, I opted out of it.

After the introduction to the basic moves, Tara guided us through a bit of a drill, and then let us do about a minute or two of improvisation so we could feel the music and get the right attitude for it before starting work on the choreography. The choreography was pretty, quite feminine and sweet, and Tara made sure to remind us of the lyrics so we could imbue each move with the appropriate feel, which was good… quite often that aspect is left out of choreographies and everything ends feeling a bit robotic. Tara also let us video the whole chunk of choreography we learnt by the end of the workshop, which will be good to have as a reference point if I want to revisit it in the future.

My *one* nitpick (and it is really a nitpick, not a real negative) is that we did seem to work on the choreography by going over the whole thing every time and then adding a new chunk, which means that each successive part got less and less practice time. So you have a fully polished first combo, as it’s been done so many times, but each successive combo has had less and less time dedicated to it, and is therefore less polished in comparisson. I know a lot of people work better this way, as they need to learn the whole sequence one after another, but I’ve always found it more efficient to practice each chunk/combo by itself the same amount of times, and then practicing the transitions between one combo and the next.

Final impressions: the workshop was a good balance of information, technique, and a choreography to reinforce the other two aspects learnt. It was a great way to get a good overview of the style with someone who obviously enjoys it.

Would I take another workshop on Khaleeji? No. This isn’t because of Tara’s instruction, which I think was very good. It was fun to learn about the style, but I just don’t think it “calls me” to do more research into it, or to dance it, although I suspect some of the gestures and moves might creep into my usual dancing.

Would I take another workshop from Tara? Very likely, depending on what it is. She’s fun, obviously very dedicated and encouraging, and explains things clearly.

Photographs above courtesy of Corrosie from Arabian Nights Belly Dance, and Mena

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