Last week in class I mentioned the Egyptian dancer Tito Seif in one of my classes, and I often refer to the technique I’ve learned from various male belly dancers, so this week I thought I’d share a bit more about this on the blog too.
As many before me, I probably didn’t really consider learning from a male belly dancer, until I encountered no less than three of them in one day. It was at the 2013 Shimmy in the City festival in London, the year the Egyptian government decided not to grant visas to any of the female artists that were booked to come and teach, due to turmoil within the country. However, two male dancers; Tito Seif and Mohammed Khazafy, both top Egyptian dancers, managed to get their visa, and teamed up with Khaled Mahmoud, also Egyptian but residing in the UK, the festival utilised this amazing three clover to deliver a range of workshops.
I studied with all three of them in one day, and it was an amazing learning experience, as I felt they all had something very unique to teach and not least an infectious way of sharing their passion for dance.
If you’re not already familiar with these amazing male belly dancers then I suggest you take some time out to view some of the videos below. Word of warning – you may get side tracked and spend a lot longer looking at many more video clips of them, because they are all truly amazing in their own way!
Before encountering Tito, Kazafy and Khaled, I mainly associated male belly dancers with jumps and acrobatics, something many incorporate into their dance routine. There are also some that apply the most amazing isolations techniques, which due to the male physic, look totally different. Check out fusion dancer Horus Mozarabe and Rachid Alexander. There are obviously many male dancers who are truly amazing at what they do, without having to reply on gimmicks, but I just didn’t feel excited about learning from them. But words can’t express how excited I was having danced with the three Egyptian master teachers that day in London here’s why.
Never think you have to fit a stereotype – just be yourself. Different styles and moves suit different bodies, but the beauty of belly dance is that there is enough variety and range to make the dance your own. Let your personality shine through and you will have the foundations for an endless creative process that will bring you great joy for many years to come. I love Tito’s cheeky stage persona, and the way he uses it to define his performance, and in many ways I see myself in that, as I too like being a bit cheeky on stage. I will never have the physic of a dancer like Saide, so I will never aim to dance like her, even if I like to utilise some of her dance technique.
Learning from a female dancer you have a clear image of what a move should look like, but as a female learning from a male dancer, you are truly free to interpret and envisage how a move will look on you. I knew it in my mind before not to compare myself, but after these workshops, I had experienced in a way that was far more powerful, and it’s a lesson I have carried with me ever since.
Dancing in public requires lots of guts (or no shame – depending on how you look at it!). But sharing your passion and allowing your joy as well as your vulnerability to come across on stage, takes it to a whole other level. It may be scary, but it’s also hugely rewarding. I still remember the passion I saw in Khaled’s eyes wen he was talking about his love for the dance as well as his home country, and it shone through his dancing and choreography too. It was clear that he danced from his heart, and didn’t follow any receipt or expectations, and that is the only way to truly dance.
When I teach I always try to convey the emotions behind my choreography and technique, because I feel that in many ways this is a far more powerful thing to take away from a workshop than a few technique combinations. If nothing else, hopefully my students will dare to share and express their own passion as a result.
You can use all your charm, charisma and passion, but if your technique isn’t strong in at least some places, then you’ll have to start working on it pronto. The pure strength and power, but also the discipline to keep practising despite it looking almost perfect, was one of the things that blew me away working with these male dancers. They obviously do it for a living, but it’s obvious that they didn’t get there by cutting corners. They worked very targeted at it, and they still do. And so should you, if there are elements of your dancing that you hope to improve and develop.
Kafazy’s story about how he as a child would watch the Reda troupe practise, just in the hope that one day he could also be a dancer, was something I could relate to – having watched endless rehearsals myself as a child, itching to get on stage too. His balletic skills are second to none and although he may not be what people think of when you say ‘male belly dancer’ he’s probably one of the best technically trained.
So there are some of the things I left with following my workshops with these lovely male dancers. I have since danced with them in other contexts, and every time I’m amazed by their different technique, stage craft and professionalism.
Here are some videos of them in action:
Have you learned or danced with/alongside a male belly dancer? How did you find the experience? Who would you recommend? Don’t forget to share your thought and experiences below so we can keep the knowledge sharing going. Happy dancing always – no matter who you are 🙂
Did you miss my last post? Read it here: Hip circle improvisations