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Gilded Serpent presents...
Farida Fahmy
Workshop review

by Perizad

Workshop presented by
Hala Dance Company

Odd Fellows Hall,
Redwood City, California
August 7 & 8, 2004
reviewed: August 7th, Saiidi Folkloric

What you know, leave at the front desk in a little bag.  Then when you leave, you can take two little bags home with you.what you knew before, and what you learned today.  This was the request Farida Fahmy made to her workshop students this past August.

Despite the swap of instructors when her renowned brother-in-law, Mahmoud Reda, couldn't get a visa in time, the class was full to capacity with eager dancers.  An elegant and poised lady who looked to be in her fifties, Farida was garbed in a comfortable pants ensemble, without a hip scarf. 

Her manner was engaging and sometimes joking, yet with a certain no-nonsense confidence that must come of leading an influential dance troupe for decades. 

She began the class with some simple arm movements and steps.  She often stopped to correct the class, usually trying to demonstrate the incorrect movement (often comically) rather than calling attention to particular dancers.  Even at this early stage, it was becoming clear that it would be hard work for us to "leave what you know at the front desk."  Yet she complimented the class and California in general for its aptitude.

Farida's style is distinctly different from what was already ingrained in our muscle memory.  She discouraged bent knees, and taught the class to hold themselves tall and poised, yet relaxed and grounded.  Even during hip drops, when most people reflexively let their standing leg bend, we were instructed to keep our limbs straight and carriage upright.  At all times, we were supposed to feel grounded yet lifted, relaxed and neutral.

She also showed us how isolations don't need to be "popped," but rather to let surrounding body parts follow the movement a little, so that the effect is loose and graceful rather than sharp and tense. This also puts less strain on the body.

I also noticed that her kick when she did hip-drops was the opposite of what I had learned.  Instead of letting the foot flick forward on the lower hip drop, Farida let her foot come off the floor on her higher hip drop.  The movement of the hip made her foot flick without any extra effort, when it wasn't touching the floor.

As the class progressed to across-the-floor movements, another contrast between Reda-style dancing and California bellydance was highlighted.  Sweeping steps and turns were used, rather than simple "step-hips" or camel walks.  It wasn't really ballet or modern, but it wasn't bellydance as we were accustomed to it. 

It was difficult to execute all the aspects she had taught us, all at once - posture, steps, spotting, arms, hips, and energy!  Don't forget to smile!  She insisted on this last point. 

Perhaps the gliding style led the dancers to feel that they should focus on grace more than energy, so that many students had a certain limpness to their expressions and manner. Once we were more or less solid on the technique and choreography, Farida emphasized the need to do it all with spirit.

Throughout the four hours, Farida took steps to make sure the entire class was getting the most out of her instruction.  She would periodically move the back lines towards the front so they could see better, and broke us up into groups to perform the Saiidi dance we learned.  I was pleased that she chose me to be leader in the front line of my the words of Eeyore, "thanks for noticing me!"

The only downside was that we all got a little tired out, almost cranky, towards the end of the class.  Perhaps three hours would have been more appropriate.  I have to say that Farida managed this gracefully, even acquiescing to do a final encore performance of the dance, despite pleading fatigue.

Overall I found the workshop to be an enriching and amusing experience. 

Farida's style is an interesting challenge to undertake, and is well worth a try.  It offers techniques that are easier on the body than some other forms of bellydance, and perhaps most importantly, a boost for your stage presence skills!

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