One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

September 25, 2010


So the workshop in Calgary with Mohamed El Hosseny was AH-maaaaaaazing. People ask how it was and then right after I expostulate “AH-maaaaaazing,” I do this big “OMG, it was so fun. We learned a Simsimaya piece – which is sailor dancing. SAILOR DANCING!!! OMG. Look, you hold your hands like so, and they represent your knives because the men of the Port Said region would dance with their knives to show their proficiency and you skip around with your knives. Look! And hopping with toe pointing and playing spoons on your body! No end to the awesome.”

And then people say, “I thought you were into belly dance?”

“Uh, yeah, middle-eastern dance. The middle east is a diverse region. (duh.)” Also, if you had a choice between wearing an evening gown and acting like a refined diva or wearing a freakin’ sailor suit and skipping around playing spoons on your body – which would you choose? Hmmmm?

Not that I don’t love sparkly evening-gown style costumes too. I nearly bought a $250 costume. Came home and told Ian that and he said, “Wow, two-fifty seems really reasonable for a costume.” And I was like, “yeah, I know. But I didn’t love it the way I love the seven-hundred dollar costumes. And I feel like if I’m going to spend anything over $100-150ish there’s no point getting something I don’t adore.”

One of my travel companions tried on an amazing $400 dress with power mesh cutout down the side. She was talking about it that evening at the show and another woman (from Calgary) said, “I think I know the dress you’re talking about. We’ve been waiting for it to find the right person because everyone else who tries it on finds that cutout comes just a little too low on them.”

That’s the way they always seem to be. When I bought my white costume, the woman assisting me said, “Oh, that one seems to fit everyone really funny. It kind of gapes at the waist or something. But it ended up fitting my hips & waist quite well, I guess because my waist is higher and less pronounced, so the transition from hips up to waist is a more gradual slope.

One of the other pieces we learned at the workshop was a Sha’abi piece. The opening paragraph from wikipedia is probably adequate to explain it:

Sha’abi is the name of a style of living, a style of dance, and a style of music. The word is Egyptian Arabic شعبي and refers to the poorer, commoner sections of the city. An English equivalent might be “ghetto.” The name came to characterize the style of music enjoyed in such neighborhoods. The style is somewhat rougher and more playful than the rest of Egyptian pop music. Naturally, the style of dance acquired the name “sha’abi”. The dance is more assertively sexual than is ordinary Egyptian dance.

The Sha’abi was maybe my favourite. Though I don’t rave to people about it as much because it would be harder to explain why it’s awesome. There aren’t any new moves, just a new attitude and the attitude trumping the moves to the point where the moves become something different. For example, hip circles are traditionally done quite level and with your body posture upright and refined. Nothing moves except the hips  unless you’re layering another refined move on top of it. And you get warned, “don’t let it get too wild or people will think you’re something you’re not.” “Keep your legs together or it looks like a very base move.”

Naturally, being a bit of a goof, the group of friends I’m in love the moves done wrong more than the moves done right. When our instructor says, “everybody make sure to do it like this because if you do it like that it looks like this” then she demonstrates how it looks wrong (greatly exaggerated of course), I always have an internal moment of joy watching her do it the ‘wrong’ way. Because she’s so good at making it giant and comical.

Well, it turns out that Sha’abi is about being giant and comical. The hip circle in this choreography had legs slightly spread, butt stuck our behind you and while whipping your hips around, you also had a hand in the air and you synchronously circled your head and your raised finger as well.

Here’s some of the attitude pep talk we got from Mohamed at the workshop. I’ve tried to preserve the charm of his foreign grammar – so you have to read it with an egyptian accent in order to understand how charming these speeches were.

“This is very low class dance. The people of Sha’abi, they watch belly dance performers dance on stage and they do it in the street. For this you must think you are world’s greatest dancer. Dancers will be drinking when they perform, so it is very loose, very big. …It is very horrible dance. Every move must be horrible. So today, if I say ‘you are horrible’ that means you are doing it right.

“Let’s start.

“No, no. Where is your attitude? That is very nice attitude. You must be horrible. Imagine you are very cheap person. Work with your mouth. Imagine- you has a gum [illustrates some crass-looking gum chewing], and you are waiting [puts hands on hips and cocks one hip slouching his shoulders] maybe for your lover? You has a glass of wine. And you are Nekkid.”

And then we’d do a run through and he’d say, “No, no! More Nekkid.” Or, with a slightly curled lip he’d say, “well, that was very …Nice. But not Horrible. Do it again.”

What was really so wonderful about doing the Sha’abi piece is that I feel like it gave me permission to loosen up and be a lot more expressive with my dance.

Friday night when we arrived, and he was just doing a little demo choreography, warming us up and running through moves, he kept tossing his head when he was totally into a move. One of my companions whispered, “look at the way he moves his head and shoulders?” And I said, “it’s wonderful, but I’m never going to be able to do that. I’d feel stupid.”

But by Sunday we were all tossing our heads. Probably still only a fraction of what he’s capable of. But I do feel like my own physical expression is five times what it was.

One of the songs that I’ve been wanting to choreograph something to has been back-burnered so long because it’s so up-beat that whenever I dance to it I can’t ever seem to insert any personality. I feel that the music has tonnes of personality, but the only dance I could put to it was a bit frenetic “shimmy-shimmy-shimmy-shimmy, hop-hop-hop, accent, shimmy-shimmy-shimmy.” I couldn’t seem to vary it or find the right thing to express. I was cleaning up yesterday and put on loud music (because that always motivates the cleaning) and this song came on. And I stopped to dance to it and it was amazing. Instead of being an uncertain dancer trying to keep up with the music, I was all Sha’abi attitude (Sha’abitude?) – the best dancer in the world, and the music was just backing me up. Out of the blue I was finding places to slow things down and pause for emphasis right before an accent. Where to emphasize moves with a head turn or toss or shoulder crunch. And I finally realized that the traditional lifted posture and ballet arms were just wrong for this song.

Before this last weekend, if you’d asked me to toss my head from side to side in a dance, I’d have said, “Oh, I can’t. I’ll look stupid. Who does that?” But during the weekend, I guess I just came to understanding that dance is a full-body activity. If you asked me to do a figure 8 with my hips I wouldn’t say, “I’ll look stupid. Who does that?” Because it’s a dance move. But at the beginning, I did refuse to lift my arms up past shoulder height. Now that’s no big. I’m sure I can get to the point where acting a part with my head and shoulders is also no big.

On the drive home Sunday night, we were listening to a lot of ABBA – because that was what the driver requested to keep her awake and happy. Was not wild about it until, during ‘Take a Chance on Me’, one of my companions said, “You know, I feel like you could do a pretty good Sha’abi piece to ABBA (Sha’abba!). So we sat in the back seat throwing out some of the wilder Sha’abi moves that you could actually do in a car. And I said, “I double-dog dare you to put together a choreography to this and perform it at the Christmas party.” And then we spent the rest of the drive planning and discussing it and then decided that Voulez-Vous was a way better candidate. It has a better pop-dance feel and lots of opportunities for great accents (uh-HUH!!)

Now it’s in her hands, though I did volunteer that our whole group could provide feedback if she wanted to run it past us before December.

I think I should probably suggest that her costume should look like one of these.

« Previous post
Next post »

Leave a Reply