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: http://emmabellydancer.co.uk/how-did-you-start, 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!

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