Achievement Unlocked: Teacher Training

With Mama Carolena

With Mama Carolena

Just a little post to note that at the end of August, 2017, I did both my ATS® General Skills and Teacher Training, and therefore I am a qualified ATS® teacher, although I won’t be teaching for a while yet, and I want to get more experience on other areas before I do so.

I want to write about both GS and TT in more detail, but for the time being, this should be enough as a reminder of the hard work and the five years that went into achieving this.

TeacherTraining Rochford Class of 2017

TeacherTraining Rochford Class of 2017

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: Hilde Cannoodt’s Belly Dance Geometry

I took this workshop on the same day I took Alexis’, so I was tired, but that didn’t stop me. Now, in the interest of disclosure, Hilde also happens to be my Tribal Fusion teacher, and I’d already taken a workshop with her before at Orient Expressions, but the concepts she was covering this time are a bit more abstract.

Basically, Hilde uses her background in Choreology and mathematics to view a completely different point of view to dancing, including a whole new sense of your space, body, and relationship with the audience. A lot of these concepts also, quite interestingly, overlap with traditional arts concepts like planes and symmetry. And if you have a background in 3D, like I do as part of my day job, then it becomes even more interesting.

Hilde introduced concepts like kinesphere, planes of movement, symmetry, dynamic oposition, rebound and locks, and how these started shaping our dancing and our moves. From the start, even with the warm-up, we took this concepts and applied them to become more aware of what they meant and how they applied to our specific style of dancing, there was a lot of exploration of space not just for ourselves but also in relation to dance partners, and I do remember having a fleeting amusing thought about how that can go wrong when a venue invites 10 dancers to a stage the size of a stamp and expect all of them to dance on it.

We then worked on a medium length sequence where these things came into play, with the idea that we should try to identify all of the things that were happening, and why. The combo used modern dance as well as belly dance moves, and exemplified a lot of the concepts used.

Overall impressions: this workshop does sound initially like it would be good only if you’re thinking of starting to choreograph, or if you already do, but trust me, it will bring a whole new level of understanding to your own dancing, and those of others. Don’t get me wrong, if you do choreography it will be invaluable, but even if you mainly do improvisation, committing the concepts to heart should aid you about how you approach your dancing, how you position yourself for your audience, and even the sort of movement you do, postures and gesturing.

Would I take another workshop with Hilde? I take weekly classes with Hilde and I feel very privileged for that! She’ll be doing a Choreology Intensive in February, and hubby has booked me into it as my birthday present (all together now: “Awww!”). Spaces right now are extremely limited, but if you want to know more, head over to Hilde’s Website.

Hilde will be teaching this same workshop next year at TribalFest! More info at the TribalFest website!

Review: Alexis Southall’s License to Drill

I took this workshop a week or so ago, almost on a lark, after I found out about Shimmy in the City’s cancellation. I wanted my workshop, damnit, and I was going to have one! I’d seen Alexis dance at Tribal Café before, had been quite impressed by her precision and technique, and thought it would be a good idea to take this one.

The workshop was advertised as follows:

“This workshop focuses on conditioning and drills for Tribal Fusion Bellydance. Alexis will be sharing her favourite tried and tested methods of achieving strong and precise movement, as well as her latest discoveries. Come and learn how Alexis structures her personal practice sessions, what she practices and why. We will sweat, and you will work hard, and your dancing will be better for it! Some bellydance experience required. Please bring a yoga mat, lots of water and a notebook.
Level: improvers”

The workshop started with a very long conditioning session. Now, while I hate conditioning with the passion of a thousand blazing supernovas, I understand it is needed, and do it as much as I can, and not just in class, so anything new in this front comes handy. A lot of the conditioning exercises were not new to me, but there were a few extra twists and variations that made things more interesting. She offered a few exercises to work particular sections of your core, including one to work on the hip flexors and lower abs -an area that I find difficult at best of times- and that was different from the usual suspects. The one issue I had with the conditioning was personal. I do have problematic knees, and I need quite a bit of padding under them if I am going to put weight on them, otherwise they start aching. Alexis did request people with sensitive knees to roll the mats or add some clothes to give this padding if necessary. Problem is, some of the sequences, like the downwards dog into plank pushing into tabletop, didn’t really leave room for these adjustments to happen… you couldn’t stop to roll the mat under your knees as you were caught halfway through and the point of the sequence was to do these transitions smoothly, and if you were using the lighter versions, on your knees, then you had even longer time pressing on them. And some of the more intense conditioning, like side planks, were quite punishing, requiring you to support your weight on one hand and one foot. There were plenty of options to lighten up the load, and Alexis did give us all the possible variations, like doing low planks on knees instead of toes, or side planks on one knee instead of the foot, or forearm instead of hand, but while those variations do make the exercises lighter on the core, they can put additional weight on the joints. and sadly, if you’re carrying quite a bit of extra weight, these can be *killer*. I’m sure that if I’d had knee pads I probably wouldn’t have had much issue, but as it was, my knees were not happy at all. I also understand that whoever the workshop instructor is, unless you go through the whole lot of your possible “triggers”, they can’t know this. I should have been smarter and just take note of the conditioning exercises instead of actually trying to do them straight away, and sadly, I suffered the consequences later on.

And then we started drilling. First basic moves, then more complex ones. There was a *lot* of layering, which I think was far beyond the “improvers” level that was quoted. It was nice to see, nice to get an idea of how to work with, but if you’ve never done that sort of layering before, it can be daunting. And this goes WAY beyond the usual layering you see used more often, like a shimmy over a hip circle. This was more hardcore layering, of, say, a sidewinder over an omi, or a sharp “flag” on the chest over a soft omi, or a chest circle over sharp alternating hip lifts. There were lots of “sharp over soft” and “soft over sharp” layering for upper body/lower body. And afterwards even adding some footwork to that. The sharp jump in complexity was rather frustrating, and even more since we were adding moves like the flag and sidewinder that I’d never done before. Yes, most of these were drills to take home and practice, but for me, still an “improver”, it was quite difficult to do, as there’s not really much “explanation” that you can give to these, other than just trying them. And as this was my first time doing this, trying to grasp them in the 5-10 minutes of each drill did not give me great results, and expecting great results so quickly when the technique is new is totally unrealistic. But I expect it will be great once I put it into use during my normal practice.

About half an hour before the end of the workshop, the initial aching I’d noticed on my knees during the conditioning started mutating into sharp pain, so I had to step aside, take some painkillers and a long break. I missed doing half the drills on mayas, and the combos. The combos were not so intensely layered, thank goodness; they did look pretty, gave a better idea of how Alexis works on her style, and she did perform them at the end of the workshop for us to film (as long as it didn’t end up on YouTube, so sorry, no video).

We had a nice cool down and stretch at the end of it.

Overall impressions: Alexis has superb technique, and is lovely and engaging; her conditioning is *killer* but if you’re looking for new ways of punishingimproving your core, it is great. Just beware, if you carry quite a bit of extra weight, that your joints might not be too happy with some of the weight-bearing. The drills were a bit advanced for my skill, but I figure that was the whole point: start to push the boundaries to get those layers working. I took back home lots of ideas, and a LONG list of layering moves that I’d like to try, SLOWLY. And hopefully next time I won’t find it so difficult. I felt challenged and inspired, though, so it was useful for me overall, despite the small issues I had (and that have nothing to do with the instruction provided). My one and only real complaint is that I didn’t like her music choice, which was mostly within the hip-hop family. Yes, it did work well with the moves we were doing, but I just don’t find it engaging, and I find it very difficult to dance -even drill- to something that I don’t particularly like.

Would I take another workshop with Alexis: probably, although it is quite likely that I will wait until I can do some decent layering myself without issue, then check the subject matter, and if I am going, take along some knee pads, or be smart enough to stay out of the conditioning exercises that will trigger pain points all together.

Upcoming Events

A quickie to list some events coming next in the next few weeks/months, which I should add to the event calendar, but want to also mention specially:

  • September 15th: Workshops with Hilde Cannoodt and Alexis Southall in London: Drills and Belly Dance Geometry, more details and booking on Hilde’s website
  • September 19th: Tribal Café at the Blue Man in Brighton; details and booking also on Hilde’s website
  • October 13th: Orient Expressions; Tara Ibrahim will be teaching Khaleeji. View details in their Facebook Event page
  • December 14th-15th: Fantasia Festival; lots of workshops in different styles, competitions and a show. View details and bookings
  • February 8th-9th: Choreological Study of Tribal Fusion Dance with Hilde Cannoodt; view more details
  • May 2nd-5th: Tribal Remix in Brighton; Tribal Fusion at its best! Details and early bird booking
  • June: ATS General Skills and Teacher Training Certifications; no further details yet, other than it will be taught by Carolena Nericcio

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