Monday, April 02, 2007

A Qualitative Comparison

Suhaila and I
Originally uploaded by pink-kitty.
There are dancers. Then there is Suhaila Salimpour. She is in a class all by herself.

Saturday night was the Bal Anat show, the first time ever in the Midwest and one of the few presentations outside of California. Bal is the French word for "dance" and Anat is the Mesopotamian mother goddess, so the show (and the first dance) is "Dance of the MotherGoddess".

I wish I could convey to you what that show was like. Amazing. Wonderful. Way better than Bellydance Superstars. This show should be on the road. It takes the viewer on a journey - the history and evolution of belly dance from its roots in the Mother Goddess rituals through the folk dances of North Africa and the Middle East (such as gahwazee, Algerian and the Tea Tray dance) to today with hip hop belly dance fusion and props such as veils and swords.

The opening had a processional of all the dancers coming down the aisles to the stage. The energy and joy they projected was emotionally overwhelming for me. I cried all the way through the entrance. One of the other non-belly dance performances that does that to me is Ben and Shalene Ermis dancing to O Mio Bambino Caro. I have it on tape and every time I watch it, I cry. The love for the dance and each other just pours out of the screen. See? Even as I am thinking about it right now, I am tearing up. 'Scuse me. *tissue dab*

I went up to talk to Suhaila about my injury and how it was affecting my dance. My roommates encouraged me to do so. She gave me some recommendations to take back to my physical therapist. "Tell him your your dance teacher said to do..."

"My dance teacher."

Suhaila called herself my dance teacher. I nearly squealed. I did scream when she was rolling my thigh - it hurt! She has hands like vice grips. 38 years of zil playing will do that.

Few people live up to the hype that sounds them. Fewer still exceed expectations. She launched past any pre-conceived notion I had about her and her teaching style.

I plan to go to California (eep!) to attend her Level-1 Certification workshop in later this year. After really being exposed to she and her mother's technique, I can see how it can and does transform the dance. Her mother is truly the root of belly dance in America, along with Ibrahim Farrar (who passed away a while ago). Total East Coast/West Coast drama, but according to Suhaila they loved each other and danced together often. Many of the terms we use are terms Jamilla Salimpour created. Maya. Turkish Drop. Basic Egyptian. I had no idea how much of an impact her mother had on my dancing. I can't wait to meet her.

She is 80 years old and still teaches! "And she will kick your butt, too." Can you imagine it? She has been dancing since the 1940's. 60 years devoted to her craft. The amount of knowledge and experience she has is likely to never be paralleled. Except for maybe Suhaila or her daughter (who is a doll-baby! You just want to put her on a shelf. So cute and so sweet.)

On my way home, I was listening to some songs that I have danced to in the past. I was seeing them in a whole new way after the choreography session this weekend. I heard new elements in the music. "If my feet went half time, then I could do interior hip squares full time... layer that with a undulation up to down..... while turning 6 counts to the right. Stop and turn 6 counts to the left." so you can see how complicated this art form can really be.

I am definitely blessed to have been a part of it and my dancing will be much better for it.

And it was all way better than Bellydance Superstars. Yeah - I'm saying it again 'cause it needs to be said. This isn't a smack to the dancers in that show (several of them are former students of Suhaila) but there isn't real variety in the show as compared to Bal Anat. There is no history. No depth. No real emotional experience for the viewer. Sure, you are entertained by pretty girls in cute costumes who are technically very good dancers with years of training in multiple dance styles but... it lacks depth. I would follow Bal Anat around the country like people follow(ed) the Dead or Widespread Panic.