Gulf Coast Raks Bellydance Festival
Lebanese Simon, the host of Gulf Coast Raks, and I met many years ago at his workshop in South Carolina. I was immediately struck by his authenticity and his devotion to this art form. Both as a dancer and instructor, he was focused on the preservation and evolution of belly dance artists everywhere. When I learned about his annual belly dance festival, in Houston Texas, I knew it was something I needed to get on my calendar. This year I finally made it, and I couldn’t be happier.
Each of the festival’s teachers brought something unique to the dance floor. I always enjoy classes with Aziza, in my mind, she exemplifies fluidity and grace, her warmth and passion spill over into each of her students, driving us to new heights of excellence. Sadie is a wonderful contrast to Aziza’s whimsy. Her drills are focused on not just technical precision, but on the evolution of the modern belly dance vocabulary. She’s studied the how and the why behind the anatomy each of the dance moves. I even dropped into a drumming class when my feet where too tired to go on, but my spirit still wanted immersion. Carmine’s class was excellent, even for a novice drummer like myself. He has an excellent personality for a teacher, instantly making everyone comfortable, despite the varying skill levels in the room. And, in a true showing of southern hospitality, one of the other dancers had brought several other tablas for drum-less souls like myself to borrow!
The weekend’s standout instructor for me was Guyu, a superstar from China who had more fire and compassion compressed into her small frame than should be humanly possible. Guyu’s Saturday night gala performance convinced me I needed to attend her class, despite the early AM start, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Highlights from the workshops:
- Continue building movements with intention. Focus on arm pathways and make them habits!
- Just because a baladi is a softer and loser dance, doesn’t mean it can’t be full of precision. The juxtaposition of relaxed and sharp are what elevate this style.
- The upright posture of belly dance is what gives us the most range of motion and access to more core muscles.
- So much can be done with tempo and volume, even a simple combination of drum beats can be made dynamic in this way.
- Never break into the middle dabke line – it’s just rude!