Home/Articles, News/In the Shadow of the Pyramids … Raksanna’s Annual Journey’s to Egypt

In the Shadow of the Pyramids … Raksanna’s Annual Journey’s to Egypt

by Raksanna (Roxanne Larcher)

Imagine a beautiful hot summer day, sitting out on your porch enjoying the scene. To your right is a pitcher of ice cold water and four or five empty glasses. You pour the water from the pitcher into the glasses and empty the pitcher. You enjoy the refreshing drink and then head to the kitchen to refill the pitcher.

What does this image have to do with belly dancing? As a teacher, the analogy can be made that you are the pitcher. As you teach, you pour knowledge and creativity from yourself into the glasses of your students. Eventually, you realize that you are nearing empty and need to refill. Replenishing can come from a wide variety of sources such as seminars, videos and haflas to name a few.

Nourishment for the Body, Mind and Soul
One of the best sources for my personal and professional replenishment comes from the birth place of our dance art form: Cairo, Egypt. At least once a year, I travel across the ocean to train with the world’s top teachers and immerse myself in the culture. I come away from the experience a deeper person, a stronger dancer and a more developed artist. The investment in time, money and energy is absolutely worth it.

Cairo: A City of Modern and Ancient
Cairo, literally translated, means “The Vanquisher” or “The Triumphant.” It is also known as Al-Qahirah or Old Egypt and is the capitol of Egypt, with a population of approximately 17.2 million people.

Cairo is a very old city, officially founded in 751 AD, with a rich culture and heritage that traces its legacy back to the ancient hieroglyphics found in the Pyramids. Today, you can see the combination of old and new in every day life. The Pyramids – made by hand and human effort – oversee today’s industry and manufacturing. The streets are lined with cars, donkeys and horses alike and while restaraunts are primarily authentic Egyptian, you can find McDonalds and Pizza Hut in select areas.

Refilling the Pitcher: University Level Dance Training Sponsored by Raqia Hassan
This year and last (2007 and 2006), I attended Raqia Hassan’s Winter Intensive Teacher’s Course. Raqia is an internationally recognized teacher and producer of the world famous Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival that attracts nearly 1,500 dancers from across the world every June.

In December, Raqia sponsors a very special course: the Winter Intensive Teachers Course. It is designed to provide teachers with a full spectrum of styles, critiques and more. Because of its unique nature, Raqia intentionally keeps the class size small. This year, there were about 70 (seventy) teachers from more than 12 (twelve) countries including Latvia, Russia, Spain, England, Indonesia, China, Tawain, Brazil, Columbia, Switzerland, Sweden, Algeria and the United States. The course is absolutely perfect for one on one attention and for true immersion in the culture, the class content and the dance. The small classes are ideal for a rich dance education and the opportunity to build friendships with teachers from across the world that will last a lifetime.

Equivalent to a university level class, this rigorous course is 10 (ten) days in length and features daily belly dance classes from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. Participants study with dance masters such as Raqia Hassen, Dr. Mo Geddawi, Randa Kamel, Dina and Momo Kadous (to name only a few) and delve deep into both folkloric and Oriental styles. Evenings are filled with lectures on topics ranging from the Golden Age of Belly Dance to important dance rhythms to Egyptian history to current issues and trends.

At the end of the course, participants earn their certificate from Raqia – a tremendous addition to any professional’s credentials.

Dance, Dance, Dance!
There are two major categories for Egyptian Dance: Oriental and Folkloric. Oriental style is characterized by orchestrated music (think Alf Layla) and may also feature modern music, depending on the dancer and choreographer. Folkloric dance includes styles such as Saidi, Nubian, Hagallah and Melaya to name a few.

One fabulous Oriental routine was taught by Nabil Mabrouk. He choreographed a beautiful, challenging dance to a gorgeous piece of modern music. The footwork was intricate, the movements graceful and the feeling oh-so-nice. Nabil’s teaching style is top-notch – he is a professional and expects professionalism from his students. Every minute of the class is utilized as much as possible – with instruction on the choreography, tips to improve technique and a steadfast commitment to expecting the best from the class. At the end of the workshop, he had us dance the piece three times – and each time, his expectation was that we would really dance the piece, not just mark it or walk through the movements. He also expected that, as professional dancers and teachers, we would hold the ending pose to accept the applause and wait for the lights to fade, just as they would if it were a full show.

Shalaby returned to this year’s course with a joyous, lighthearted Saidi stick (Raks Assaya) dance. He used traditional Saidi music, filled with melodic mizmar (oboe-like wind instrument) and rababa (grandfather to today’s violin) and happy, intricate footwork. His teaching style is very encouraging, friendly and good hearted. His engaging personality makes students give their best, even when the footwork is rich and challenging. Shalaby will repeat the movements as many times as you need and at the end of class, gives a fun performance of the dance so you can see how the dance looks in its entity.

For participants who love drums, Morocco (Rocky) had a nice surprise. Her choreography was sassy, picked up fun accents and is a great piece as a crowd pleasing finale. She made sure that students left the workshop knowing the choreography inside out.

Technique – the Foundation!
Dr. Mo Geddawi and Raqia presented great technique sessions. Dr. Mo discussed the importance of the dancer’s presence – how you can dance even with a simple walk. He coached us on body carriage, posture and poise. He discussed the different types of shimmies and led the class through a series of great exercises and combinations designed to fine tune the foundation and ensure a solid base.

Raqia’s technique session focused on entrances and the importance of the first impression. She worked with a beautiful piece of orchestrated music. Then, she went around the room and gave each dancer a chance to present her own interpretation of an appropriate entrance to the music. All of the students enjoyed seeing each other and also appreciated the opportunity to demonstrate her creativity to Raqia in a class setting.

Fun Time – A “Must Have” for the Complete Experience
As with any experience, it is important to have a healthy mixture of recreation with study. This years adventures took me to several places including a great performance by Reda Troupe at the world famous Balloon Theater and the Church area of Cairo. Raqia also treated the students to two great dinners, one of which was a Nubian and Zar show.

Reda Troupe Performs I had the fantastic opportunity to be the guest of Magda and Atef and see the Reda Troupe perform. Founded by Mahmoud Reda in 1959, the Reda Troupe is now supported by the government and they perform beautiful dances from different regions of Egypt. Magda and Atef were once performing dancers in the Reda Troupe and are currently directors.

Atef and Magda took seven of us to the show. We drove through immense Cairo traffic for about an hour and arrived at the famous Balloon Theatre. We walked a small alleyway to get to the theatre and then were treated to a stunning performance by the troupe. There are about 15 men dancers and 12 women dancers currently in the troupe, many of whom are my friends (Raghatee, Doa, Ibrahim, Alli and his brother, to name a few). The show included Hagallah (when the men dance for one woman and she chooses her husband at the end of the show), Saidi (a country style of dance that uses sticks), Oriental, Melaya Leff (from Alexandria by the sea) and a breathtaking grand finale of Nubian style dance that really got the crowd going!

Another evening activity was a great dinner and show. Raqia treated the conference participants to a mouthwatering dinner at a very nice restaurant. The buffet featured chicken, roast beef, pasta dishes, salads, vegetables and tantalizing deserts. After dinner, we were treated to an energetic show of Nubian dance, followed by a Zar presentation.

Nubia is located in southern Egypt (or Upper Egypt) and has an estimated population of 10,000. Their language is referred to as Nubian (Creole) and some report that the language is a mixture of Swahili and Egyptian Arabic, which comes from their association with Kenyan African Society. The music is very earthy, vibrant and fills your soul with joy.

The Zar dance is a theatrical presentation of a religious trance dance. Drums are used to play heavily and the dancer (traditionally male) spins and spins for what seems like an eternity, lasting up to 30 minutes. The goal of the dance is to go into a trance-like state and rid yourself of negativity or bad energy, similar to an exorcism. When put on the stage for performance, the dancer will spin and while spinning, do many things such as use tiers of skirts to make shapes like a top or a baby. It is quite gorgeous to watch and, from a dancers perspective, certainly a feat to keep spinning for so long! On this night, we saw both a single male dancer and two young boy dancers that were simply amazing!

The energy that night was amazing. Everyone (almost) got up and danced like there was no tomorrow. Spirits were high and playful and it was such a wonderful evening – a great treat in the middle of the conference that provided a much deserved night of entertainment and camaraderie!

Ancient Churches (Very Beautiful!) In Egypt, religion plays a major role in daily life. Approximately 70% of the country is Islamic, with the remaining 30% Christian. There are only 4,000 Egyptian Jews living in Egypt today, according to Bassem, my travel guide. Bassem, Claudia (my friend from Madrid, Spain) and I took a day to visit the Churches of Cairo.

The first Church we visited was the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. It is a 4th-century Church and is considered to be the oldest of Cairo’s Christian churches. It is believed to be the home of the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary and the infant Christ), where they lived when Joseph worked at the fortress.

Then, we visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue. The synagogue was originally a Christian church that was sold by the Coptic Christians of Cairo to the Jews in 882 AD to pay annual taxes imposed by Muslim rulers at the time. The church was purchased by Abraham Ben Ezra, who came from Jerusalem during the reign of Ahmed Ibn Tulan. It was a place for pilgrimage for North African Jews and the site of major festival celebrations.

Our third and final church was The Hanging Church. Known in Arabic as al-Muallaqu (literally translated – The Suspended), it was built in the 7th century and is the most famous Coptic church in Cairo. Named for its location about a gatehouse of the Roman fortress in Old Cairo, it is suspended over a passage. To enter, you must walk up a flight of 29 steps. Both inside and outside, you are greeted with beautiful murals, icons and a gorgeous marble pulpit.

Sound Fun? Join Raksanna This June for a Life Changing Dance Vacation
I am honored to have been invited by Raqia to teach at this years Ahlan Wa Sahlan dance festival from June 27-July 3. Because my experiences in Egypt have made such a difference in my life, I am creating a program for dancers and teachers interested in traveling to experience the magic first-hand. To make sure that everyone has a great time, I’m keeping the group limited to less than ten.

If you are interested in joining me for a vacation mixed with dance, please send me an e-mail (Raksanna@raksanna.com) or give me a call at the Studio (630-978-1149). The US dollar is still strong and you will get a good value for your money.

More importantly, you’ll return home with a much deeper appreciation for our dance, meet wonderful people from across the world and have a more global perspective on life.

About Raksanna: Raksanna is a highly sought after, award-winning international dancer and instructor known for her energetic, lively personality. She has studied Belly Dance for nearly two decades and travels across the world to perform and teach workshops. She was nominated in 2007 for both Instructor of the Year and Favorite Cabaret Performer of the Year. Based in a Chicago suburb, Raksanna is a studio owner, event sponsor, a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer and holds a Masters degree from Clarkson University. She is available for workshops and is currently booking for 2008. For more information, please visit: www.raksanna.com.

By Published On: June 10, 2022Categories: Articles, News0 Comments

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