Gilded Serpent presents...

Workshop with Raqia Hassan

Review by Shanna
January 2000, San Francisco, CA

Raqia Hassan is one of the top choreographers in Egypt. Formerly a principal dancer with the National Folkloric Troupe of Egypt, she now works with some of the top dancers that grace the stages of the East. I was fortunate enough to attend one day of her weekend workshop here in San Francisco, organized by Tina O'Neill. I spoke with Tina on the phone a few days before the workshop and she was gracious and friendly. She did a bang up job getting things together and was very accommodating despite being under tremendous amounts of stress. Zahra Zuhair, who I believe coordinated Raqia's tour schedule and was acting as a liaison, was up here visiting from Southern California and helping out as well, taking checks, selling Raqia's videos and music and working the CD player. I had seen Zahra and Tina both dance only once before but this time I had the opportunity to see them going through the choreography also and they are both talented dancers.

So... to start. Run! Don't walk to her workshop if Raqia ever comes to a town close to you. (Or even not so close to you.) it's worth the driving distance and this was evidenced by a few ladies that drove the approximately four hours up from the Central California Coast to attend. I could only attend one day of the workshop unfortunately, but it was worth it.

One day with Raqia is better than none, in my opinion.

I would recommend Raqia's workshops to intermediate and advanced dancers no matter what style of Middle Eastern dance they have spent the majority of their time studying. For example, I have just begun my foray into Egyptian style dance, but I also have solid technique in standard American style, folkloric Egyptian and some Turkish style of dance. So on one hand, the workshop was extra challenging for me because, not only did I learn the choreography that Raqia taught, but I was also learning a slew of new technique, an entirely new way of moving my body, centering my weight and a totally different way of interpreting the music. On the other hand, I was still able to keep up with Raqia. I did not have any real problems and didn't run into many questions. I feel this is due to the technique I had already developed, even if it was different.

Also, I think that the dancer who already has a strong knowledge of Egyptian technique and philosophy would also benefit from Raqia's knowledge and experience. Every dancer has his or her own specific style, combinations and musicality, and I feel that everyone can benefit from another's viewpoint. Also, Raqia said that she is constantly working on creating new movements, combinations and choreographies so there is always something fresh to learn. I would not recommend the workshop to a total beginner though, as it was assumed that everyone had been dancing for a while and had already mastered proper posture, a fairly large repertoire of standard movements and could follow along without hesitation. I think that a beginner may feel a bit overwhelmed.

We started off with probably two hours of focus on technique. We focused on breaking down and repeating the movements that we would later use in the choreography which was a fabulous version of Tamra Henna from Raqia's new CD with Yousry Sharif of New York, entitled Wash Ya Wash II. During that time Raqia also talked about:

- how important good technique is,
- how Egyptian dance has evolved and continues to evolve, and
- what it means to perform Egyptian dance.

I worked up quite a sweat just working on technique, prior to anything having to do with putting movement to music!

After she felt we understood the technique well enough to continue, we touched on the opening portion of the choreography and broke for a half hour lunch break. Applause filled the room after Raqia first danced the opening of the piece and continued to erupt almost every time she added a new section. I couldn't help but squeal with delight also during some particularly sassy portions of the piece. Raqia has a way of combining sassiness and total elegance that is very inspiring.

After lunch it was drill-drill-drill on the choreography, adding a little more each time and repeating from the beginning until it was beginning to sink in. Then we moved on to the next segment. We finally reached the end about two and a half hours later. Raqia claimed the choreography was simple but tell that to someone who's just learning it. It was beautiful, however, and there were many quick and unexpected changes which really kept you alert! Also there was a lot of switching from a flat footed stance to a tiptoe stance with each movement so it was quite the workout. I can say with confidence that what looks very simple can be very strenuous. However, we all know that's part of the secret.

I can't put a simple name to half of the movements yet because, as with most movements in this dance, there is not necessarily a set name. I have to think of a way to describe them as I see them. I think this is good, though, because I can use terminology or descriptors that are familiar to me and the next person can use terminology familiar to him or her. Thankfully, however, Zahra Zuhair is selling Raqia's videos which have technique and the choreography (plus several other choreographies) on them so one can have a visual reminder as well. I, of course, get nothing for my little plug aside from Zahra and Raqia's undying gratitude. (Wink!)

I think Raqia's teaching style is top notch.

She is friendly, professional and patient. I found that she knows just what she is aiming for and is very clear in her explanations. Her English is excellent save for the occasional crisscross of words. She uses the occasional ballet term as well, which I found helpful because they are familiar to me. She is sure to demonstrate and repeat movements on both sides of the room so everyone can see her as well as repeating the movement (and choreography) on both sides of the body. This was great for me as I am predominantly right hipped so, I need an instructor who is sure to work with the left side of the body as well as the right. I think she tried to give ample attention to everyone and to help her students or explain further if you were one who was having trouble. I think she wanted to make sure all her students understood and were enjoying themselves as well as working hard and learning new things.

As a dancer, she is absolutely phenomenal, and she worked just as hard as we did, dancing the piece with us all the way through every single time. When she dances, one can tell that she loves it. She is an expressive, relaxed, confident, sassy, flirty and sensual dancer. I enjoyed watching her as much as I enjoyed learning from her.

I can't wait until she comes around my way again.

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