Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Giving a Soloist Her Due

Recently someone asked me whether a dancer may have been insulted or upset when her group started doing a tribal improvisation behind her performance at a hafla. Not being there, I couldn’t really say whether she left because of them or whether she had an urgent phone call to make. However, in her place I think I would have been at best annoyed. Here are some of the reasons that I can think of:  
  • If you are going to do this, first ask the dancer if she is okay that you do this.
  • A soloist is performing to an audience – asking her to share its attention with a group moving behind her is at best rude.
  • Worse, this dancer was doing an orientale piece with a lot of emotional connection and display of technique which deserved the audience’s full attention.
  • The (beginner) students had lots of friends and family in the audience which made it all the worse as they cheered on their mates.
  • At the best of times Orientale and Tribal don’t really mix.
  • Similarly, it is tricky to mix professional dancers and students. It can work with a teacher and her students if she adjusts her technique to fit with them – some times.
So, no, I have no idea if the dancer was upset – or if she was, if any of my reasons overlapped with hers. But I would strongly suggest, even in an informal hafla situation, you don’t show your joy of the dance by getting up uninvited and boogieing along behind a performer.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Becoming Fifi

Me as Fifi
It’s not often you get a chance to become Fifi Abdou – but that was what was handed to me by the organizer of a local hafla when Zumarrad suggested performers take the challenge of dancing in the style of a well known dancer.

Foolishly I thought it would be easy. Fifi has been one of my dance role models for many years due to her relaxed beledi styling and her attitude. I can do beledi and I have lots of attitude!

I started by gathering several hours of video I have of her performing. Then I watched them – and rewatched them. I danced along with them - mirroring her posture and moves. I sat and analysed – taking notes about characteristic moves and transitions.

After a month or so, I had found one part of her style that I thought I could do justice to – late career beledi. Now to select music and costume. I selected music that I could (in theory) maintain the loose beledi shimmy throughout that is one of her trademarks. I had already had a white, silk gallebaya from Aida Nour and a trip to a costume jewellery shop got me chunky, shiny anklets and bracelets. Red nail polish – of course!

Next I made a short list of characteristic moves that I would include. I had already noticed that Fifi was able to play with a single move for minutes at a time. The question was – could I? Did I have that much confidence? I was willing to try – I intended to improvise in her style hitting the three or four moves I had noted (loose, continuous shimmy, flat footed hip drop-swivel, bust shimmy and chest heave) – with typical manipulations.

The hardest aspect, though, seemed to be her arms and hands. Sorry, but they really are not attractive. The often static beledi second with splayed hands (palms forward) is a look I’m forever trying to train out of my students. My own dance also tends to use a lot of soft shoulder rolls, arm undulations and weight shifts with ribs. All scratched.

Time to go solo – and I froze. Instead of dancing I was thinking – “is this typical?”, “where can I fit that in?”, “mustn’t do that!”. The flow had gone. The connection with the music became mechanical. It was almost like learning to dance all over again. I briefly toyed with the idea of creating a choreography to smooth out the rough edges but in the end hung in there. Practice. That’s what it takes.

When I night finally arrived, I was glad I’d stuck with improvisation. That gave me the chance to interact with the audience in a way no choreography would have allowed. I mean, I’m sure if there had been cell phones in Fifi’s day she would have stopped and checked members of the audience’s text messages just like I did. Oh, and yes I did dance too. I suspect a little more busily that Fifi herself would have but not at all like how I would have performed as myself.

The whole experience was very challenging – but very valuable

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The New Normal and Dance Classes

A recent offer from an overseas teacher to take workshops in Christchurch brought the reality of the new normal to my consciousness. Apart from the difficulties of arranging a workshop for someone unknown in the community at short notice, I realized I wouldn’t be able to do it even if Fifi gave me two weeks notice.

Over two years (and 13 218 earthquakes) on, here’s the reality of living in Christchurch if you are interested in dance.


Many venues are damaged. Many fell down or have been demolished. Many others are unable to be legally used (Red or Yellow Stickered). Space that is left is at a premium (any space – forget having a dance studio with mirrors). With enough warning you might be able to get a class to move so you could use the space for an extended time for a workshop. But not every one is willing to give up their own class – or multiple hourly hires. So if you can find something it won’t be cheap.

Something you organized last week (let alone last month) may no longer be available. When they decide to repair you get very short notice. I have heard with private homes of only 24 hours notice being given - although a few days is more common. Buildings are also being closed at very short notice. A few weeks after the February earthquake, I was in the middle of teaching a class when the hall we were in was deemed unsafe and we had to leave. But even within the last month or so, our local shops were closed and the shopkeepers given less than 8 hours to vacate.


The roading infrastructure is being repaired. That’s great – and when it’s finished we’ll be able to get around like we used to but in the meantime …

Our local bridge has been closed one way for about five months – and it’ll be closed for at least another seven. The way out is at best rutted gravel. On some days you get to drive on the side that is just half a metre of semi compacted gravel with wheel eating potholes. The way in is an extra 3km and until last week was also rutted gravel – with the additional fun of threading through a road narrowed by cones as they try and fix something; from there a choice of a maze through a shifting set of streets – or chance the river road isn’t under water or closed for repairs.

Then you hit Estuary Road where the underground services are in the process of being repaired – ongoing for the last two years. Sometimes one direction or the other will be closed. There is a sink hole that keeps appearing that is about as long as my car and about half a metre deep.

When they finish our bridge they will start on the next one over. So then our bridge will be able to carry both 10,000 cars a day from South Brighton and will be joined by as imilar number from New Brighton. Yes, in theory the New Brighton people could go upstream (assuming they aren’t repairing that bridge). But the road around the river which is now below high tide level and sandbagged, still floods. This does not just mean getting brackish water sprayed under your car but also the regular flooding has destroyed the road service and it is heavily pot holed. Cover the potholes (some quite deep) with water and it really starts to get exciting.

But all of that is known. I can plan an extra few minutes as I know I will have to detour to get home. What you cannot plan for is every other road. You never know when you set out somewhere whether or not the roads will be open. On two occasions I have been sent in circles in areas I was unfamiliar with trying to get back to where I wanted to go. Oh, and many landmarks – buildings and shopping centres have gone and are replaced by sections of rubble so often you have no idea where you are. (And no, GPS systems don’t help – they can actually make things worse trying to push you back into closed streets)

My students are reporting over 15 minute delays due to detours. Add congestion due to vehicles threading through fewer and narrower roads and you can add at least an additional 30 minutes to cross town.

The upshot is many people don’t take non-essential trips – such as going to dance classes, or won’t travel at night (easier to get lost in detours or hit unexpected potholes or flooding), or arrive with nerves shot and totally stressed.


Many of us are stressed. Still. Yes, I know – boring. Apart from the roads, there is the effect of continual aftershocks which some people cannot handle as well as others – adrenaline surge followed by crash over and over does nasty things to your body. Yes, the aftershocks are now infrequent and mostly light but for many the damage is done. (In the past week there were only 14 aftershocks – all small.)

A very small number of people are still living without services such as sewage. Many are over-crowded. (A two bedroom flat next to my parents’ was home to three families with children. Some were sleeping in the garage and some in an old horse float!)

Then there are a list of losses, including for some the death or serious injury of a close friend or relative; thousands have lost their homes; some have lost their whole neighbourhood; many have lost their jobs (and income); many are losing their schools, some are upset about the loss of the architectural heritage which defined the Christchurchness of home.. Add to that a swag of “things” smashed, damaged or irretrievable – sure some things can be replaced. But some have emotional significance and are mourned.

Adding insult to the loss of income or equity there are increased costs as insurance premiums skyrocket and vehicle repairs increase with the crappy roads.

Then there are a range of physiological effects. Not only feels of loss, but unease, lack of trust, uncertainty, fear, anxiety. All made worse as people struggle to sort out insurance and get repairs done (if they still have a house) and live day to day.

No wonder then numbers are right down. By offering extra classes outside my own studio (being in the Eastern suburbs is a distinct disadvantage with most of the written off houses and the worst roads), and being willing to hold classes even when only one person can make it, I’ve held my losses to only half my pre-earthquake income. But I don’t have extra energy to organize workshops that won’t be filled in venues that I cannot get hold of.