I’ve been back from holiday for a just over a week now but already the sunshine and the simplicity of life in northern Provence seem very far away. I’m left with some lovely memories and a greatly expanded waistline from relaxing lunches in the ancient towns and villages of a beautiful part of France. We were feasting on salty black olives from Nyons, light young wine from the local vineyards of the Cotes du Rhone and cool goats cheeses and bright salads from the bustling farmers markets of the area. And yes, my shimmies now have a life of their own!
But I’m really glad to be back. Holidays are wonderful but my ‘real’ life is so rich, varied and full of exciting possibilities that I’m never that happy putting my life on hold, although I do relish the opportunity of a proper rest.
Most of all I’m so glad to be back to work with my new dance company on the preparations for our show in January, where we will be showcasing the new style of bellydance we are creating together. (Save the date: 25/26th January at the Cockpit!) This month is particularly exciting because Ozgen is back from his travels - he was touring in Australia with One Day in Istanbul and then spent a month fulfilling his national service in the army.
It’s marvelous to be working with a male dancer, especially one as superb as Ozgen – it gives a completely new dynamic to the group. And Ozgen’s style is perfect for the work we are doing – dramatic, contemporary and full of exciting footwork and spins.
We’ve been working on the new style since February. Each Friday I hire a studio at Danceworks in London and we work hard from 2pm until 5.30. We begin with an hour and a half class, starting with a warm up, before going on to bellydance drills, floorwork and strength and flexibility conditioning work. The next 40 minutes is a ballet-based class, including barre work, spins, jumps and some challenging leaps!
Then we have two hours of choreography development and rehearsal. Sometimes this involves me teaching a section of choreography I’ve already prepared for everyone to do in unison, but more often than not I’ve got the outline ideas, but either I need to see them working on the dancers’ bodies, or we have to work out travelling floor patterns for the dancers to weave in and out of each other around the stage.
As the company director I have the challenge too of trying to create a shared movement style amongst dancers with very different backgrounds, whilst still honouring their individual dance personalities. A ballet, jazz or contemporary choreographer knows that all her dancers have had pretty much identical training from a very early age, so is able to create a very uniform look. But bellydancers don’t have such rigorous early training and are encouraged to develop their own dance identity. I need to try to get everyone looking very coherent in the unison sections but don’t want to end up squashing their individuality.
We’re gradually becoming very pleased with what we’re doing. It’s challenging and I know they were all very sore and exhausted when we first started out back in the spring, but all the work is really paying off. I remember there were times when we were first working together, I’d ask them to do something particularly demanding and they’d look at me as if to say, “you can’t be serious!” But now they’re pushing me to do tougher and tougher stuff and I love to see them working together – trying out exciting new ways of getting down onto the floor (and up again!) creating amazing shapes and difficult dance tricks, sharing and learning so much from each other.
Last week was exciting but scary when we started working on lifts with Ozgen – something I’ve been wanting to do for ages. Without giving too much away, I wanted to create the sense of an explosion in one of our dances, and a big lift was part of that. Bellydancers don’t usually do lifts (we do so little partner work) so this was very new for most of us, although Ozgen and Caasi had both done them in the past.
We were all trying to find ways for Itziar to climb up Ozgen, getting up onto his shoulders and then spiralling back down again. She tried coming up from the front, from behind, from knee to waist to shoulder, from a chair, everything. But nothing was creating the explosive effect I was looking for.
And then Agata suggested she (Agata) could stand behind Ozgen and do a handstand into a backflip, ending up with her ankles round his neck. She asked Ozgen to use his core muscles to jerk forwards a little and at the same time she would use hers to pull herself upright from her handstand to end up sitting high on his shoulders.
It was daring and brave. I couldn’t believe Agata had even suggested it – the very idea seemed terrifying to me. But both of them were game and off they went. It took two or three goes before they got the co-ordination right but when they made it, it looked amazing! It was so fast and exciting.
They tried a couple more times and everything worked smoothly so it was time to try and incorporate it into the dance with the music playing. I was excited and very tense in the build up to the big moment, Chantel, Caasi and Itziar were in the front of the group, Ozgen at the back, with Agata hidden behind. The music slowly built to a climax and on the count of seven Agata did her handstand, on eight Ozgen leaned forward and Agata flipped herself up onto her shoulders.
And then the pair of them crashed to the floor! Ozgen on top of Agata, Agata in a heap underneath.
Agata had fallen from six feet high - a real shock to us all. Everyone rushed over to them. Ozgen was mortified and kept apologizing and Agata was silent at first, I thought she was going to cry. But then she shook her head and said she was fine, not to worry. Of course we did worry – a lot. Her shoulders were scraped and were clearly going to be bruised and she had broken a nail. Agata is a high profile burlesque dancer (check out Ms Veronique DeVine on Facebook) so bruises and broken nails are not good news for her performance work.
But she was amazing. Once she’d got over the shock, she insisted it was all part of the job and she was game to try it all over again – just not immediately!!
So, this Friday we’ll back at Danceworks and giving it another go. But this time I’ll be hiring studio 1, upstairs from our usual studio. Why?
Studio 1 has mattresses!