The New York Theatrical Bellydance Conference

Although my time with the New York Theatrical Bellydance Conference seems like a faraway dream, without a doubt, I’m still recuperating from my experience.  First and foremost, the Theatrical Bellydance Conference is exhausting.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re just a participant, a volunteer, a vendor, or the organizing duo, Ranya Renee and Anasma, it is equally exhausting to all.

The mornings began early with classes at Ripley-Grier studios starting at 10:00 (if you were a volunteer like myself that meant you had to be there by 9:00).  Then we were sent on a whirlwind of classes, two before lunch and two after.  Almost all of the classes whether we were taking the Oriental or Tribal Fusion track placed greater emphasis on “theatrical” theory  rather than “bellydance.”  Even the tiniest bit of dancing came as a huge relief to the intellectual brainwork we endured hour after hour.  Notebooks were an absolute must to keep track of all the different ideas generated by both classmates and the outstanding faculty.  And if we thought lunch would provide a welcome mind-numbing break, we were wrong.  Lunch panels and presentations were held everyday, and students eagerly piled into folding chairs often forgetting to eat their food as they hurried to take notes (totally guilty of this myself during a presentation by Jeniviva).

Classes were followed by a quick dash to the Lafayette Grill where Full-Conference participants and guest dancers from the Tri-State area and beyond performed to both taped and live music.  I was fortunately enough to manage a show with Elena Faye the night Scott Wilson and Brian T. Carter were playing.  It was really inspiring to see my fellow students transformed into their stage personas and really brought home the fact that the conference is filled with talent from top to bottom.  And as if that wasn’t enough, once the show at Lafayette wrapped up, everyone shipped off to Dance New Amsterdam (DNA) for a curated show featuring a motley of styles, theatricality, and (sometimes) quality.  But before I go into a review of the performances, let me tell you about a few of the workshops I took.

Between manning the registration desk and tending to other odd tasks as a volunteer, I was able to addend workshops taught by Aepril Shaile (Shamanic Dance Theater), Sarah J. Locke (Dance/Asana), Wendy Buonaventura (From Duets to Groups), Dalia Carella (Becoming One with the Fan), Fayzah (Being Your Own Best Critic), and Zoe Anwar (Discover the Relationship between Music, Dance, and Space).  I also got to peek in on workshops by Ranya Renee (Perfecting the Imperfect Movement) and Yael Becker (Stylizing Everyday Life’s Gestures into Dance Elements), although I was unable to take them in entirety.

One of the workshops I found particularly intriguing was Aepril Shaile’s.  Going into this workshop I was a little hesitant because I thought it would be a little too “New Age” for my taste, but in fact, it was extremely thought provoking.  We began with a deep visualization and grounding exercise where we imagined ourselves as trees (yes, we sent our roots through all 16 floors of the building to reach the ground).  It was a surprisingly necessary and emotionally opening exercise that prepared us for the vulnerable tasks ahead.  We then danced colors while Aepril played a neutral piece of music.  Trying to dance such abstract ideas was a great way to come up with unique and innovative movement, but it was hard to concentrate on myself when I caught a glimpse of the incredible stuff my neighbor was coming up with.  Probably the most emotionally taxing and inspiring exercise of the workshop was when Aepril asked us to dance our ancestors.  Because the class was so large, we only had seconds to convey these poignant and personal stories, but it was incredible how clear and relatable each story was.  We all left feeling closer and inspired.

Another workshop I’m still buzzing about was Dalia Carella’s fan workshop.  I’ve never been a huge fan of props (I always feel like they’re more hassle than their worth), but I’ve been drawn to fan work since my early ballet years.  Dalia went through all the basics such as opening and closing the fan, twirls from the wrist, and strategies for framing your body, but the technique wasn’t what made this workshop powerful.  I’ve had many dancers tell me what an adventurous and encouraging instructor Dalia is, but I always reserve judgement until I’ve taken an instructor’s class personally.  Dalia far exceeded my expectations.  She spoke about how much our artistic intention matters to our work–not how the audience interprets your intention, how the fan can be an emotional conduit that reflects even the subtlest nuances in our mood, and how we should be fearless when it comes to bearing our experience of the present for all to see.  She allowed us to experiment in both short choreographed snippets as well as through a follow-the-leader format.  After taking this workshop, I am definitely going to pursue her classes here in the city.

Finally, Zoe Anwar’s (She came all the way from Spain!) hands-on workshop was extremely well thought out and useful to developing a flexible choreographic process.  She explained the necessity of deep listening when it comes to approaching your music.  You need to listen to the emotion it conveys (not the emotion you want to convey), the spacial/directional distribution the music desires (not the space you want to use to execute your favorite movement), and the flow the music requires (not the flow that comes most naturally to you).  Through improvisational exercises performed in front of the class, we experimented with these complex ideas and everyone left feeling that their dance practice had progressed in some profound way.

Now for the DNA performances (If you’re still reading, you’re a champ)!  If you missed the Friday or Saturday (especially Saturday) night shows, you’re a fool.  I’ve made a point of attending most of the big name bellydance shows this year, and Friday and Saturday night at DNA took the cake.  For the Thursday night show, I was fortunate enough to be invited to dance with Ranya Renee’s company, and if I do say so myself, our Andalusian piece was one of the highlights. Thanks to Ranya, we were well rehearsed, shared a strong emotional intention, and had gorgeous choreography.  The other outstanding performer of the evening was Elisheva who performed a delightfully reptilian solo inspired by lizards.  If you haven’t gotten a change to see Elisheva’s work, then shame on you, because she’s absolutely fabulous and one of my favorite performers in the Tri-State area.  On Saturday night, stand outs included the Dalia Carella Dance Collective with a sword piece and Bellyqueen with an excerpt from their full length production Journeys Along the Silk Road.  Last but not least, Saturday night featured astounding performances by powerhouses such as DaVid of Scandanavia, Karolina, Francesca Pedretti & De Nova Luce (all the way from Italy!), Zoe Anwar, Anasma, and Ranya Renee.

Finally, we all finished the weekend together at Jebon with impromptu solos by faculty as well as an official show with music provided by Beatbox Guitar at Jebon.  It was easily one of the liveliest shows I’ve been to at Jebon in a long time, and it was the perfect way to unwind after a stressful week.  Look our for the next Theatrical Bellydance Conference in 2013!

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