When I left a big corporate job a decade ago to devote myself full time to teaching and owning a business, I knew that things would be much different. And boy, they sure are!
From building up local weekly classes to teaching on the workshop circuit, things are busy – and very rewarding. This past week is a prime example.
It started with hosting our 4th Annual Got Hips Awards and Banquet show on Saturday, Feb 9. This special event is the pinnacle event for my studio and dancers. We take a moment to pause, celebrate our accomplishments and recognize the effort and dedication it takes to embrace the beautiful art form of Belly Dance. I feel strongly that it is an important element of what makes our studio community special.
The event is held at a hotel and includes a full dinner, show, awards and open dancing. Each year showcases a different theme. We’ve indulged in the Roarin’ 20’s and dressed up for a black tie Masquerade Ball. This year, the Intermediate class selected “Jungle Fever … Animal Prints” for the night. It was really fun – the room was filled with zebra, leopard, tiger and snake prints that included dresses, cummerbunds and matching bow ties for the tux, purses, shoes and sparkly hair accessories.
There are many awards and much recognition that takes place throughout the night. New dancers who step out of their comfort zones to perform for the first time on the big night get ‘pinned’ right after their dance. This year, we pinned twelve (12) new members and their big smiles lit up the room even more than the sparklies did!
Awards are divided into two categories: Peer Recognition and Faculty Acknowledgement. Peer nominations are fun and light hearted, with designations of Cleopatra and All Star. There are only a few select awards that come from my faculty. They include Most Improved, Ro-He and the Raksanna Award. For Most Improved, the faculty reviews the development that each dancer demonstrated over the past year, then as a team, we agree on who is the recipient. Ro-He (Soul) award is a special designation set aside to recognize the person who embraces the studio vision and brings it to life through his or her actions. The Raksanna Award goes to individuals who go above and beyond the call of duty and make a lasting, positive impact on the program.
The other special feature of the night is the Featured Entertainment spots. My commitment and vision to the art form is to train the best dancers in our area. To put my money where my mouth is, and to build an incentive for dancers to keep raising the bar for their dance, I offer two paid-for spots in the show. In order to be selected as one of the featured performers, dancers must audition in front of their peers and other students. Then, the peers give feedback on the overall audition, plus give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” as to whether or not they feel the dancer should be a featured performer with an event where tickets are $99 per person. I collect the feedback, and then add my own thoughts. IN the spirit of open, honest communications, the dancers receive the raw feedback along with the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ verdict. The two dancers who are selected are paid directly after their performance, in cash, the night of the show.
This year, we had our first virtual audition. Cora Camielle of Final Veil is based out of St. Louis, MO. She is a cast member of Confessions of a Belly Dancer; Secrets of a Belly Dancer ©. Cora wanted to audition for a paid-for slot, but given the travel time between St. Louis and Chicago, we decided to try our hat at a Skype audition. My husband, David, brought in his large screen monitor, high speed internet connection and computer. We called Cora via Skype and she auditioned singing and dancing in front of her own computer screen four hours away. It was really cool! And yes, Cora was the first time recipient of our Star Trek Award!
Once the festivities ended, I boarded the plane and headed to my home town of Las Cruces, New Mexico to visit family. While I was there, Susan Jewell hosted me for a special weeknight workshop on Wednesday.
Jewell is the owner and operator of “My Place,” a fun, eclectic store and studio space located at 140 Wyatt Drive in Las Cruces, NM. She features imports from around the world such as drums, costumes, music, fabric, books, ethnic and vintage clothing, art classes, dance classes and more. She also specializes in creating the most beautiful silk dyed ½ circle veils. Another totally cool offering at “My Place,” is her workshops for Spinners – and I don’t mean the exercise class of indoor cycling. No, I mean weaving – the process of making fabric with yarn or threads and using looms to create clothes like silk, satin, twill and the like.
The night of my workshop was a big hit and a ton of fun! I reconnected with friends and fellow dancers from my home town and met a new friend, originally from Michigan who now spends winters in Las Cruces to enjoy the warmth of the southwestern desert. And Ginnina, a fellow dancer and friend of mine, came to the workshop – she’s also a deep fan of Oriental style dance and travels around the country studying with top Egyptian instructors. It was great to see her again.
After visiting Las Cruces, I headed to Dallas where Dee Dee Asad of Little Egypt sponsored me and Lebanese Simone for a workshop weekend and hafla show.
Dee Dee is a very special person who is known around the nation and loved for her charismatic personality and dramatic flair. In addition to importing Egyptian artifacts, costumes and merchandise, she produces first-class workshops, gala shows and festivals throughout the country including her signature Ahlan Cairo Nights & Queen of Raqs Sharqi Competition held annually in Dallas. She is committed to preserving the beautiful art form and culture of Egypt and bringing top talent to the United States so that dancers can immerse themselves in intense authentic folkloric and Oriental dance training from the best in the world. She has sponsored Randa Kamel, Aida Nour, Mona Said, Osama Eman, Asi Haskel, Faten Salama and Khaled Mahmoud, to name a few.
This year marks the second time that Dee Dee invited me to teach at Little Egypt’s Dance Studio in Dallas. It is such a honor for me to be her invited teacher and performer because I have such tremendous respect for what Dee Dee provides our community and such a deep love for her both personally and professionally.
And how fun was it to be paired up with one of my all-time favorite male performers, Lebanese Simone!! If you have not yet had the chance to see or learn from Simone, please – make it a priority. He takes your breath away with his amazing Debke, beautiful Oriental and authentic Lebanese dances!!!
I taught two workshops on Saturday. When I walked into the class, I was so excited and humbled to meet dancers from Australia, Toronto, Quebec, New Mexico, Missouri and cities from around Texas like Corpus Christi, Arlington and Dallas. The level of dancers was quite high and the excited energy in the room was a great way to start the day.
The first two-hour workshop was dedicated to Drum Solo. I divided the time between two different drum solos. To begin with, I taught a complete, fun-loving basic drum solo choreographed by my assistant director, Ruth, to get the dancers into the mindset of hearing the music, the beats and the accents the way my faculty and I do. I decided to teach this piece first and then follow it with my own 5 minute choreography because I knew, from past experience, that even if we dedicated the entire 2 hours to my 5 minute piece, there was no way we would finish it before the end of the workshop. So, in order to give each dancer the satisfaction of successfully completing a dance in its entirety, we started with I Love Tabla then jumped into Katia’s Drum Solo, recorded in Egypt with Katia’s orchestra.
After a short lunch break, we resumed with the second workshop focused on technique. I presented different patterns and technique. The goal was to provide dancers with challenging combinations that could be used either for training or to include in choreography. We worked together to break down each combination and then connect them in different ways so that the patterns always remain fresh for the audience and the dancer alike. We drilled combos, practiced technique ‘across the floor’ and laughed a lot while we enjoyed the dance. There was about 20 minutes left, so I treated everyone to a ‘sneak peek’ preview at a choreography that is currently in the works – it left everyone with smiles on their faces!
Yamina from Australia interviewed me for a feature article in Australia’s premiere belly dance magazine, Belly Dance Oasis. We spent an hour talking about dance, what the future holds and both of our hopes and dreams. I am blessed to have met her and look forward to a very nice friendship for many years with her.
That night was filled with a hafla show at Dallas’ Habibi Café owned by the amazing Egyptian singer, Amr Kamel. His wife cooked a fabulous dinner of kabobs, Moroccan chicken and couscous, rice, salad and hummus. The show featured twelve performances from dancers from the workshop, Simone and me. It was a great show! I was very impressed with the high level of dancing and the variety of each piece. The show had baladi, cymbals, stick, veil, Oriental and of course, amazing debke from Simone that left everyone’s heart pounding!!!!
I closed the show with a 25-minute set that included a fast-paced opening number, an intense taxim, an audience interaction piece and my signature drum solo ending. During the drum solo, one of the dancers got up and showered me with rose petals – my eyes filled with tears of joy and my heart was seared with a beautiful memory that I will always cherish.
On Sunday, I boarded the plane and returned to the Windy City that is my home. The week filled me with inspiration – as a student, we look to the teacher to give us inspiration and nurture us … but the flip side is that the teacher also seeks inspiration from her students.
I thank, from the bottom of my heart, every student – from my weekly studio classes and ensemble to the workshop attendees – who filled my mind with creativity, my soul with love and my heart with joy.
Your passion and brilliance is the reason I have never looked back or regretted leaving corporate America.
About the Author: Known for her energetic, powerful and fun-loving original style, Raksanna is an award-winning, internationally recognized Middle Eastern dance artist. She is a highly sought after educator and workshop presenter and travels the world, teaching and performing at premier festivals and in intimate workshop settings.
The author of her original book, Confessions of a Belly Dancer, Secrets of the Hieroglyph ©, Raksanna co-produced the theatrical adaption of the book with the legendary Momo Kadous, and is now launching the shows’ international tour.
Raksanna is a featured soloist dancer in videos and DVDs including two featured performances in Dr. Samy Farag’s new DVD release, Melodies from Cairo. In addition to teaching multiple classes each week, she is the artistic director of both the award-winning professional belly dance troupe, Raksanna and the Desert Flames and Raksanna’s Near East Dance Ensemble.
Raksanna (Roxanne Larcher) holds a Master’s degree in Management Systems (conc: International Marketing), a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and a Bachelor of Science in Social Sciences. Her corporate experience includes Sr Leader, Communication at GE Specialty Insurance, Vice President of Marketing at TSG Real Estate and director of marketing at financial investment trade associations. In addition to her dance career, she owns and manages her own marketing consulting firm: Roxanne’s Smart Ideas, Inc. (www.rsi-corp.com)
Raksanna is available for workshops, performances speaking engagements and consulting projects. For more information, please visit www.raksanna.com, email Raksanna@Raksanna.com or give her a call at 630.689.3611 – and of course, follow her on Facebook and Twitter: Raksanna Larcher