Workshop Review

Ghawazee in Connecticut
Workshop review

On the evening of Friday June 19th, 2009, two of my troupe members and I loaded our overnight bags into the car and settled in for the drive from central New Jersey to New London, Connecticut. We were headed there for a belly dance workshop called "The Ultimate Ghawazee Intensive with Habiba" which was being presented by Farasha and Su'ad Dance & Designs.

Then it was time for the workshop to begin. Habiba introduced herself and my very first impression was how elegant she seemed to be in both poise and mannerisms. I'm partially deaf and I also quickly noticed that even in the large room her voice carried well, and that near the back I could hear her instructions clearly as she talked us through a short warm up and stretch sequence. Her approach to the warm up was simultaneously friendly and no nonsense - a balance that I greatly appreciate, and one that she continued throughout the day. She had us get right to work with basic movements - showing us and drilling us while sharing information about how the movements where unique. She pointed out the differences in arm position and hip movements, talked about how this style of dance was earthy and grounded, a dance of the common folk, not "high art", and making sure we clearly understood nuances that made Ghawazee different from other styles of dance, even ones from the same region. Once we had worked with some basic movements for a while, Habiba started showing us short combinations, 2 or 3 movements repeated and strung together that built on the basics she had shown us, and we drilled those. At this point we broke for lunch, heading back over to the cafeteria. Many of the ladies from the class sat at a few large tables close to one another and over lunch began talking in groups together. Habiba joined us at our table and the conversation flowed about dance and teaching and somehow again, husbands. Before we knew it, it was time to get back to the workshop.

The afternoon started with Habiba entering the dance studio in a beautiful turquoise, glass beaded dress. She spoke a little bit about how the dress was authentic to the costuming the Ghawazee currently wore and then jumped back in to teach us more combinations. She then continued by building those short combinations into longer and longer pieces of choreography. As she showed us each new segment and we practiced it, she played the music that went with it, and as we listened to the music segments again and again I found myself slowly beginning to recognize the changes in it that Habiba's choreography revolved around. Along the way she spoke frankly about which parts of the choreography where more or less authentic - where she had added a slightly different arm position than the Ghawazee might use for varieties sake and where she was using things new even to her as she had learned them on her most recent trip. Seemingly suddenly she informed us we had learned the entire choreography and we then danced it together to the music a few times all the way through.

It was late in the day by now - and as I glanced around the room, many of us looked like we'd worked hard all day, and we had! But now, we got a chance to sit and watch Habiba perform the choreography she had just taught us. In her beautiful dress, looking fresh despite having worked as hard, or harder, than we had all day, she gracefully danced the entire piece. I watched, mesmerized, as she held her arms just as she had talked to us about, stepped in the patterns we had worked so hard to learn and moved her hips in perfect partnership to the music. She brought the Ghawazee dancer to life for us, there in a college dance studio in Connecticut.

Then Habiba sat with us, and shared, in her soothing voice, some of the history she has gathered on the Ghawazee dancers. Passing out some photocopies of pictures we could take home with us and some text on that history, she told us stories from her visits to the very last two existing Ghawazee dancers. She talked about why this beautiful dance might be lost in our lifetime, and shared with us some video of her learning from and dancing with one of these women in Egypt.

I had never studied with Habiba before this workshop and would gladly study with her again. I found her gracious, friendly, elegant, well spoken, absolutely brimming with both knowledge and talent and a phenomenal teacher as well. Her teaching style is easy to follow, and her dancing breathtaking. It's absolutely no wonder to me why she's risen to the very top of the Middle Eastern Dance world. Her dedication to the rich history of this dance form shines through in everything she presents. I found the information she's gathered on the Ghawazee and their dance in particular, fascinating and very well presented - I wish my brain hadn't started to turn to mush by the end of the day - I was left wanting MORE!

Miriam H.F. Berger
Director, Anka Kusu