Choreographing didn´t start as a passion of mine – quite the opposite.
From the age of 5 until I was fifteen years old I was “pushed” to memorize classical ballet choreographies me and my ballet colleagues were supposed to present in a theatre (every three months). Although I loved dancing it was impossible not to feel that “something” was missing. Classical Ballet and its rigid rules and choreographies were beautiful and a challenge in themselves (Beauty and challenges have always been two of my favourite things) but they all seemed to lack the organic side of the body´s movement, the freedom, the rule breaking, the pleasure and the “roundness” that I later found in Oriental Dance.
My ballet teachers often corrected the movements I – instinctively – performed with my hips, hands, shoulders and hips. I moved too much, too round, too free: I was a fish out of my kind of water.
From many years of memorizing classical ballet sequences I didn´t feel and forcing my body to move in ways that didn´t seem natural I gained a strong aversion to choreography and a temporary rebellion against ballet itself. It is clear that this early dance education has served me VERY well, despite my resistance to many aspects of it. A serious and early classical training offers you advantages other dancers will hardly get if they didn´t go through the process: discipline, muscular and bone flexibility, harmony and control, coordination, intelligent use of space, musicality, strength and fluidity, elegance and a deep respect for the hard and consistent work involved in the path to becoming a professional dancer.
I am aware – right now – of how much of this early quest is used in my Oriental Dancing and – particularly – in my CHOREOGRAPHIES.
Once I arrived to Egypt and started to regularly perform with my orchestra the idea of choreographing my own dance sets seemed more absurd than ever. Notice that IMPROVISATON is at the core of Egyptian Oriental Dance – specially when you´re performing with musicians who tend to alter each song according to their mood and the mood of the audience in a particular show. My improvisation skills were required on a daily basis and I loved every second of it – seeing myself as an innate improviser.
This improvisation exclusivity drastically changed once I started to study and work with my dearest Mahmoud Reda ( founder of the Reda Troupe and fairly considered the father of Egyptian Folklore: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmoud_Reda).
Not only did I have to study and memorize all of Mahmoud´s choreographies in order to teach them and eventually break them down in the case any students asked me to but I was – once more – pushed to choreograph my own pieces.
I didn´t see it in me: Mahmoud did (bless his heart for his immense faith, generosity and patience towards me). He started suggesting I would choreograph just as a training tool –not to teach or to perform.
-Just do it for yourself – as training. – He would suggest even against my whining and claiming I would not know what to do.
-Oh, yes, you do. – He would keep pushing.
-Choreograph something- anything – and show me, will you? – He concluded hence starting what it became a huge passion of mine.
My choreography style:
I may be the worst person you can ask to define my own choreographic style but there are some basic features I clearly focus on:
- Surprising myself: always trying to discover newer, fresher, more interesting ways of speaking through movement.
- Dynamic. Yes: I am a stage girl – therefore my choreographing style (may it be for the stage or to teach) has a LOT of stage knowledge in it. I want to build choreographies that look and feel exciting for me as a spectator. It´s not so much about doing impressive movements or showing off how smart I may be but creating dance pieces that challenge dancers, students and audience in ways they are not expecting.
- The feeling – of course. All my choreographies are impregnated with self-expression and feeling (and without those I can certainly affirm that Egyptian oriental dance cannot exist).
- Technical quality and clean movement.
Yeah: we all love instinct, creativity, spontaneous outbursts coming from the depths of our souls. That´s all great and essential. But having a good quality technique is a MUST for anyone who learns my choreographies. If you haven´t done your basic homework, you´re toast.
Because choreography is – for me – about BREAKING the RULES (first know them: then break them), it´s more than certain that my dance sequences are full of intricate technique that I see as words and phrases that must be clearly and powerfully communicated.
I choreograph all kinds of styles within the Egyptian Dance realm but there is a common thread to all of them: doing my own thing instead of repeating what others have done and repeated till exhaustion. I am not a copy machine: I am an artist and it´s that spirit that I instil in all my work – including the choreographic work.
- Distinguishing between choreographing to PERFORM and choreographing to TEACH.
For me, they are not the same. If I am hired to choreograph a piece for a specific dancer or group then my focus is on the STAGE and on the EFFECT that piece will have on the audience.
If I´m choreographing to TEACH then my focus is on the GOALS I want to reach with the students. It´s not a question of doing an interesting sequence of phrases for the stage but a pretext to develop several – predefined – skills in the dancers who study with me.
As Mahmoud Reda once told me: a dancer is heart and head. Using your head is part of the reason why you should choreograph – even if you don´t intend on using it for work or to pass it on to other dancers.
The effort of thinking and searching for new – more interesting and surprising – movement and step combinations will make you a better dancer (and that includes a better improviser).
Once we ONLY improvise and never dare to check which vocabulary our bodies (muscles, bones, genes, skin and inner memory) and minds have already digested and turned into our natural language we will never quite know how developed – or underdeveloped – we really are.
Choreographing forces you to see yourself in the mirror and face your insecurities, ghosts, weak and strong points. Yep: that´s scary: as it is every GREAT adventure*.