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

Review: Emma Champman’s workshop at Orient Expressions

When I first read the theme for the February workshop at Orient Expressions I was very excited. I’d never seen Emma dance, I hadn’t heard of her as a teacher either, but the workshop theme sounded different, the kind of thing we normally don’t see. “Don’t just do something, stand there!” was the title, and it suggested work on stillness and slow movement while maintaining energy levels. I booked in December, as I was leaving the OE December hafla.

Now, at the beginning of February, I hesitated about going, mainly because I am still recovering from the tendinitis and sprains I did back in early January, but I thought a slow workshop, even if long, would not be counter-productive. Emma did ask if anybody had any injuries or issues before starting, but said the workshop would be slow and shouldn’t cause much problem, but to be careful and judge my movements because it would be “light”. Well, the workshop didn’t cause any problem, but it wasn’t “light” work, and I’m glad!

We started with a handful of basic core movements: takseems, undulations and omis, slowing them down to almost treacle-speed. This was a wonderful core workout, and allowed us to focus very much on technique and intensity. We then moved onto a couple of basic slow combinations, where we covered things like initiating movement, strength, energy containment, stop and release, weight shifting, focus, shapes and lounges.

We then moved onto what was, I think, my favourite part: she asked us to dance with a single hand. I know it sounds strange, but we could all focus on following the music, and start to add feeling and intensity to this little, “simple” thing, which we then increased by adding the second hand and simple weight shifts and stances.

We finally moved onto the end of the workshop, where we used the two slow combinations we learnt before as part of a long improvisation to “Yearning” by Raul Ferrando. The piece is very soulful, and of course it was perfect to apply everything we’d learnt. I had to say that I felt really emotional dancing, simply because I allowed myself, for the first time, to actually connect to something inside me and to let that flow. I know I normally look happy as a clown when dancing, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but that emotion is not suitable for everything, and so far I’d been avoiding the slow pieces because, mainly, I didn’t feel “right” dancing them. Mostly, I have to say, because I wasn’t sure what to do. I was so very surprised when I realised that by the end of the workshop I’d done not one but two full improvisations to the song, and that I had been in my own little world doing them, without a care… I was so focused on letting emotion flow from inside out that I couldn’t give a flying hoot about what the people around me where doing. It felt fantastic.

This was also a first for me on something else. For the first time, my technique felt like it was fully on par with what was requested, all that extra conditioning I’ve been doing as part of the ATS training, and all the painfully slow work in ATS suddenly came out to play along with the years of musical training -which always helps when it’s improv time- and I could *dance*, not just try to get the movements right, but actually let the moves take over because my body knew exactly how to do them in the way I was requiring it to do them, effortlessly.

I have to say that by the end of the workshop I felt my undulations had improved quite dramatically -whether they remain like that or not is still to be seen- and that my moves were very gooey and sensual, something I had hoped to achieve but had never been comfortable about, and my core muscles felt the effects for a couple of days… apparently there is such a thing as “too slow”!

Emma was a great teacher, incredibly encouraging too… “I wish you could see yourselves dancing, you are all doing such beautiful shapes” and other positive words abounded. She also walked around us to correct technique, took her time to help people that were having issues with one thing or another, and did that personally and discretely too… nobody was embarrassed or got corrected in front of the others but everybody got personalised attention.

After the workshop, and during the Hafla, I walked to Emma to thank her for the workshop, as I found it incredibly useful. It did feel like a little leap into a new level for me, it allowed me to finally let go and do the kind of work I’ve been wanting to do for ages but was afraid that would look weird or not work for me and my body, and opened up the well to start experimenting with adding a new interpretative layer to my dancing. I felt excited about the workshop for days afterwards, which I think is the mark of a good one!

Would I take another workshop with Emma? Definitely! She was warm and likeable, her explanations and images were spot on, and she *clicked* quite right with my brain and body in her approach to dancing.

Would I take another workshop at Orient Expressions? Repeated question, but the answer still remains affirmative; I’m already booked for next workshop with Hilde Cannoodt.

You can visit Emma’s Belly Dance blog, and read how she got started, here:, there are also plenty of videos showing her dancing there. My favourite, that I think shows off a lot of the technique we worked on this workshop, is below. Enjoy!

Reviews: Katie Holland Double Veil Workshop at Orient Expressions

I’ve always loved veils. They are very closely linked to the popular image of belly dancing, and most people that have never even seen a dancer before will tell you “oh the seven veils dance!” if you ask them what they know about belly dance. Veils are alluring, mysterious, and incredibly feminine, and can add an extra layer to a performance.

I’d learnt basics of veil usage with my teacher Val in class, and later when I started with the advanced group I also had to learn a full group dance with a single veil. But we never really had any more advanced techniques, and the opportunity to take a workshop was too good a chance to pass. So off I went.

Katie is an engaging instructor, very clear when explaining and fun. She has an interest background too, and this reflects in how and what she teaches. Her workshop took us first into getting re-acquainted with our feet and step (more on that on a different post), and learning to turn properly, including two different ways of turning (toe-heel and paddle turns), and spotting. This first part of the workshop was wonderful, well worth the full price, and has helped me immensely.

And then came the second part, working with the veils themselves. Sadly this didn’t go that well, for several reasons.

Firstly, there was just way too many of us. I understand people do need to make a living, but the hall had about 25 people in it, and for using double veil you need at least 5sq.metres around each, which is understandable when you have an adult with extended arms and two pieces of fabric of about 3 metres long each. We were just too many, even when split in two groups, so many that I could barely extend my arm without my veils coming into the path of someone else’s, which completely ruins the flow of whatever it is you are trying to do. It also means that since you cannot do what you’re supposed to, you cannot pose proper questions as required. This, sadly, ruined my mood halfway through the second part. Having said that, this is not something I would land squarely at Katie’s feet.

There were other things that also, sadly, added to the miserable feel during the second part. I had put my hair up in two small chignons to keep it out of the way, but these turned out to be absolutely *fatal* for double veil work, as they blocked the veils flowing every time I try to get in or out of them, and since I had secured them quite tightly, I couldn’t take them down easily. And to add insult to injury, my veils turned out to be slightly too long and slightly too deep and entirely the wrong shape, and against my better judgement, I would have been far better with my smaller, cheap semicircle veils from the Turkish Emporium, which I despise because they’re too short, but in this case would have been absolutely perfect. Both these issues are 100% my own fault, but combining with the space issue, they made quite a bit of the actual veil work rather difficult to achieve, which resulted in much frustration and less enjoyment.

The instruction from this second part was not that different from what you can find in Petite Jamilla’s Double Veil DVD, except that with the workshop, we got a few things explained more thoroughly, like how to hold the veils for this sort of work, or why it’s a good idea to have an edging on them. To be perfectly honest, I think the workshop has complemented the DVD at least for me; I don’t think I came out of the workshop anywhere near confident enough to do a routine with double veil, but with the instruction I got, I do feel it was a great way of getting started. I would probably still suggest you get the video, for getting a bit more, and to refresh concepts you might have forgotten.

Overall, if I’d had the right veils, hairstyle and enough room, I do feel I would have been able to take more advantage of the workshop, but as it was, even just the first part was well worth it, so much so that when discussing the particulars with my martial-artist husband, he praised the approach Katie used and mentioned that, again, the sort of instruction we got for that was invaluable.

Would I take another workshop with Katie? DEFINITELY
Would I take another workshop on double veil or veil? Yes, but only as long as I am absolutely, positively certain  that there will be enough room, and that I own the required props to avoid frustration. And this time, I’d wear my hair down.
Would I take another workshop at Orient Expressions? Yes, and I’m already booked for one.
So in closing: good workshop, too bad about the number of people present.

Watch below an impromptu performance of Katie, showing off the type of moves we learnt through the workshop.

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