I just got back from an incredible weekend at the NYC Theatrical Belly Dance Conference hosted by the amazing Anasma and Ranya Renee. Based on the scheduled line up of instructors (I wish I could have taken workshops with all of them!), I knew it was going to be great, but I had NO idea it would be an experience that would affect me so deeply. Two fellow dancers, my friends from TN, Mary and Wendellyn, roomed with me, so I knew it was going to be a fun experience regardless.
I had no idea I would walk away with a new perspective on dance and life in general. Unlike so many of the classes and seminars I have attended before, these workshops didn't really focus on dance technique, but more on dancing with authentic emotion and feeling. The first class with Anasma was entitled "Presence, Intention and Emotions From Inside Out". It wasn't quite what I was expecting, which is silly considering the name of the workshop! It required us to dig deep within ourselves and to express movement with authentic emotion. We were literally rolling around on the floor expressing our feelings vocally, at one point shouting our feelings while moving. This was tough for me because it was hard for me to just let go. But, once I allowed myself to be in the moment, I began to understand - really understand - what Anasma was conveying to the students. She dances with such beauty and emotion and wanted us to do so, as well. The classes throughout the day built on the previous classes.
Aepril Schaile helped us identify and dance specific archetypes in her dynamic "Embodying Mythical Archetypes" workshop. Her moving meditation technique, a technique I’ll definitely continue to use in my studies, was incredible. We then worked with the beautiful Blanca in her “Sensual Belly Dance” workshop. She reiterated a point I’ve also shared with the students that being sensual is not the same as being sexual. Sensuality has to more to do with dancing with our senses, all of our senses. She engages all of her senses when she dances. Her movements were fluid, beautiful, sensual. Next, Samara challenged us to focus on "Theatrical Energy Through Space Design, Focus and Projection". This was my first experience with Samara (or space design for that matter) and I learned so much. She carries herself with grace and has such an incredible stage presence. I saw this first hand during her performance at the DNA Theater. Sarah Locke offered insight on how understanding the human anatomy and its functions can improve technique in her "Embodied Dance" workshop. In one section, she discussed how when we dance with someone, whether it's a partner or troupe, our bodies are communicating at a different level, through cellular communication. Fascinating! I'm also a nerd about such things!
Aszmara is just a dynamo! Her passion for dance and teaching really shines through. Her workshop focused on "Dynamic Staging to Enhance Stage Presence". She encouraged us to feel the music, then stopped us and said, "No, REALLY, feel the music." Her point, we weren't listening, we were just moving and throwing every technique we knew into our dance. And that was just the first 60 seconds of the song! She challenged us to slow down and feel the music and its changes. I learned so much and had a great time. She's got this raspy voice and huge personality on such a tiny frame. She's also a freakin’ incredible performer. Her zill technique is absolutely ridiculous! I personally gained so much from Jeniviva's "How to Give Great Face While Bellydancing". WOW! Also totally lovin' the name of her workshop! For several years I had the security of dancing with a troupe, but now that I'm on my own, I'm doing more solos. This has been a major transition for me and the method Jeniviva uses to prepare her choreographies has proven invaluable.
Lastly, Kaeshi Chai's "Body Love" had such a genuinely beautiful and honest message that I wish every person in the world could experience it. Kierra and Dixie of PURE joined her and presented during the workshop, as well. All of the exercises were focused on self love and acceptance. Too often we allow those things we don't like about ourselves to determine our self worth. Kaeshi, Dixie, and Kierra were promoting the message of loving yourself as you are in this current state. This is a great point because we're always saying, "When I lose 10 lbs, when my skin clears up, when I get my teeth fixed”… For some, the list NEVER ends. This workshop really resonated with me because World Belly Dance Alliance was started as a means to promote self love, sisterhood, and freedom to create without limits. I was moved to see how many dancers they touched during the workshop and I hope every person who attended their workshop always keep those positive thoughts with them rather than listening to the "noise" that often prohibits us from being free and confident.
I personally found the workshops to be more challenging than many of the other technique-focused workshops I've attended in the past. Make no mistake, I love the technique driven classes, but the workshops in NY forced me to allow myself to be vulnerable with a room full of women I hardly knew. It's not easy for me to share this kind of emotion; however, once I allowed myself to be in the moment, I learned so much that I'll apply to my dance studies as well as my life in general. The performances were nothing short of incredible. The dancers really shared themselves with us and we, the audience, felt their energy and passion. I met beautiful, gifted dancers from all over the world. It was truly a life changing experience and I thank all of those people in my life who have supported my artistic endeavors. I hope to one day give you all as much as you have shared with me. This includes my family, friends (both dancers and non-dancers), teachers, students, and even those strangers with whom I've had the privilege of sharing a smile or conversation for inspiring me.
I also thank Anasma and Ranya for organizing this event. They, along with so many others, worked tirelessly to bring their vision to the community.