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Inspiration. Transformation. Connection.

An Immersion in Self-Development with Sara Farouk

When I learned Kay Taylor (Farida Adventures) was sponsoring Sara Farouk for her final Self-Development Intensive dance course, I instantly bought a plane ticket from Chicago (USA) to Edinburgh, Scotland and registered.

Afterward, I asked myself a valid question:

  • Why did I invest significant money and time away from work right before the holidays to cross the Atlantic Ocean for study in a five-day, immersive dance workshop?

My answer was simple. I had three goals:

  • Goal 1: Get inspired by increasing the depth of my dance
  • Goal 2: Transform by getting out of my comfort zone
  • Goal 3: Connect with and learn about myself to grow

Was I successful in my pursuit? Let’s find out.

The Teacher: Sara Farouk

If you’re not familiar with Sara, you should know her vast credentials include a formal post-graduate dance and theater education and a prominent acting career in film and television. She’s lived in Luxor and Cairo for nearly two decades and offers deep insight to Egyptian culture and context that is rare to find.

As a teacher, Sara is tough. She challenges you to rethink perspectives, provides you with specific, personal feedback, and coaches you to improve with suggestions and direction. Moreover, she expects you to give your best every moment, accepting nothing more and nothing less – and holds you accountable for your learning. Sara compassionately creates then fiercely protects a psychologically safe space to try something new, so you have the freedom to learn.

The Course: Immersion in Self Development

Different workshops offer different things. Choreography workshops give insight to how an artist approaches a piece of music, their interpretation of the meaning, and what patterns can bring a piece of music to life through dance. Technique workshops strengthen dance abilities, provide a solid foundation for the physicality of dance, and establish a framework for what movements represent a specific dance style.

What these two types of workshops have in common is the lens from which you learn: they are externally focused, where you look outside of yourself to learn from a teacher.

This workshop was fundamentally different. Sara did not teach a choreography or technique, nor did she want an externally focused lens.

Instead, this course was intended to foster self-development through…

  • A safe environment where dancers receive open, honest and direct feedback on their personal dance,
  • An inward-turned lens for self-reflection, discovery and artistic development,
  • The opportunity to learn and apply new insight to develop one’s unique dance artistry, and
  • Enabling dancers to tap into and express their authentic self through dance

And it started the moment I signed up.

I completed my registration, and immediately received an assignment: select a piece of Egyptian music I wanted to work on for a solo performance and submit it for approval. I chose the epic Gabar by Abdel Halim Hafez.

Mornings 1 through 4: The Egyptian Set

On the first day of class, I joined 13 dancers from across the United Kingdom. Two were friends I’d known for years, and the rest were new friends waiting to be made. It was a good mix of people and thankfully, there were no divas; we were all there to learn and support each other through the process.

Sara outlined the curriculum: mornings were dedicated to learning how to create a formal 30-minute Egyptian set, the logic behind it, and how to effectively engage an audience. Afternoons were allocated to our solo work.

Every morning started with a proper dance warm up. We focused on body alignment, opening our joints, and dissecting the impact of weight changes on dance movements. Then we dived hip first into the formal Egyptian set, which is comprised of three main sections: the entrance, starting with mise-en-scène followed by a classic piece; the middle section, typically a folkloric and/or modern piece; and the finale to finish performance on an exciting crescendo.

Sara introduced the section of the set we were working on, announced the song with which we were working, provided written lyrics and discussed the songs meaning, feeling and context. We’d experiment by improvising with the music. Then, we were assigned to groups that took turns performing for each other. Every day, we’d consecutively build the set:

  • Morning 1 – worked with mise-en-scène, performed it
  • Morning 2 – worked classical piece, performed mise-en-scène followed by classical piece
  • Morning 3 – worked modern piece, then consecutively performed all three pieces
  • Morning 4 – worked finale, then consecutively performed the entire set

Afternoons 1 through 4: Our Self-Study Pieces

After lunch, we shifted gears to our solo pieces. Each dancer performed her piece for the rest of the class. After performing, Sara provided the class with a translation of the words and cultural meaning to the song. She coached the dancer with specific feedback on what worked, what didn’t and direction on to how to improve.

We listened to each other’s feedback and learned. Those moments offered great gems of wisdom, lessons like ….

Learn how to be relaxed and in control at the same time …. What does this song mean? Are you really communicating what the feeling of the song like you’ve experienced these feelings? ….. You do not become a dancer because you take dance class once a week; you become a dancer because you are a dancer; it’s how you experience your life. You’re standing at the bus stop – but you’re not just standing there. You are consciously asking yourself – Where is my weight? Am I in parallel? How is my posture? What does this song make me feel?

After the initial feedback, the rest of the class danced the piece for the dancer while she sat and watched with Sara. Then, the dancer repeated her performance, which gave her the chance to immediately apply the learnings and get feedback. It was inspiring to see how quickly each dancer improved as she internalized and applied the information.

Day 5: Final Course Performance

We spent the first four days practicing and performing, which prepared us for the last day – Performance Day!

We were divided into four small group. Each group performed the entire Egyptian set for the rest of our colleagues, which let us engage with each other, enjoy our friend’s performances, and have fun. It was also a great warm up for our solo performances, which followed a brief lunch.

Sara announced the show line up, and we took our places in the audience. One by one, our colleagues danced their piece – and it was truly remarkable to witness the transformation from the first performance to the last.

Every single dancer, without exception, danced with more heart, confidence, and authenticity than ever. I was so proud of and happy for my friends – I felt such joy at seeing how much each of them had grown and improved their dance!

The Results: Was it Worth It?

Right now, I’m sitting on a British Airways flight headed home to Chicago, reflecting on my experience. I had my “what I want” goals for self-development and entrusted Sara with the journey. Here’s where I’ve landed.

The truth is we all have blind spots that undermine us. We cannot see them, although they are blindingly obvious to others. It is rare to find someone with the integrity and courage to point these areas out to us, coupled with our best interests at heart and the sole intention of helping us.

This is the brilliance of Sara Farouk, and her priceless gift to her students. By creating a psychologically safe space to learn, and providing credible feedback that is open, honest and direct, Sara turns the lens inward to make space for deep, fundamental change.

Goal 1: Get inspired by increasing the depth of my dance

My blind spot is I’m inside my head. When dancing without a carefully designed choreography, I default to the intellectual side of the dance – my mind thinks, what movements and combinations should I do next? What comfortable patterns can I dig up in moments of insecurity and uncertainty, when I don’t know what to do? It shows on my face and I’m not even aware of it.

 

This course taught me how to stop thinking in the moment and start being the music. The richness comes from listening to the music, hearing it with my ears and heart, and trusting the years of dance training will cause me to respond to the music with proficiency, musicality and personality in a way people will want to watch enjoy being with. After all, that’s why we dance, isn’t it? To create shared human experiences with others as we express something through the art of dance.

Goal 2: Transform by Getting Out of My Comfort Zone
Like a child who hasn’t learned to swim and is afraid of the water, improvisation is out of my comfort zone. And, like the parent who throws their child in the water to help them get over their fear and learn to swim, Sara threw me headfirst into uncomfortable territory.

Improvisation happened because I knew only the first of the four pieces of music in the Egyptian set. Sara showed me my blind spot (being inside of my head) and challenged me to stop thinking and start listening and hearing the music.

Ah-ha! I had a plan! I’d choreograph at night and come fully prepared to class the next day!

Well, after six hours of dancing and wanting to connect with friends over dinner and wine, I realized my plan was foiled. I had to learn to embody the concept Sara taught us about being relaxed and in control at the same time.

To be clear, Sara also taught improvisation does not mean being unfamiliar with the music. In fact, her expectation was for us to listen to the music and get familiar with it. Now that, I could do. I played the music when I got ready for the day and listened before I went to sleep. That way, I could strategically map out certain places with an idea for movement while understanding the feeling behind the music, so I could express it with dance.

Voila! By the end of the course, the discomfort lessened. I can honestly say I got out of my head and into my heart when I performed the Egyptian set the last day. It was fun!

And I have committed my next step as learning one new piece of music every six months well enough to be dance improvisation to the song.

Goal 3: Connect with and Learn About Myself to Grow
None of us likes to expose our weaknesses. It makes us vulnerable and people can use it against us. We create defense mechanisms, so others won’t see what our true feelings, our authentic selves, and we’ll be safe.

The problem is people see right through it. Especially in this dance form, we cannot hide who we are.

My defense mechanism is joy and happiness. I tend to disconnect with painful emotions because they hurt, and I don’t like that.

Consequently, I can dance with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, no problem!

Except, I chose Gabar as my song. I researched the English translation to the lyrics and choreographed a great piece to Gabar, which according to my source, meant amazing.

Imagine how surprised I was to learn, after (literally) waltzing on the dance floor with my happy, joyful choreography, that Gabar means ruthless, cruel.

This song is about loving a ruthless person who cruelly betrays and wounds with full force. Dancing with awe, joy and amazement on my face was the complete opposite and frankly, looked foolish in retrospect.

Great opportunity to self-develop. As I turned that lens inward, I required myself to honestly ask if I was willing and able to Go. There. Was I willing to go back to a crushing experience that kicked me in the gut, ripping my heart out? The pain was too intense; for survival sake, I buried those feelings way down deep, like a buried treasure never to be found.

Was I willing to Go There – and then expose it, leaving myself vulnerable when I danced … because you cannot hide in this dance.

And IF I was willing, would I lose control and end up in a weeping mess, incapable of dancing?

As I considered these questions, another one arose.

One of my core beliefs is authenticity – owning who we are, embracing our perfect imperfections and every aspect of who we are, and loving ourselves because of it. I also believe I can only ask something of someone if I ask the same of myself. Every week in class, I ask my dance students to emotionally expose themselves.

  • Do I have honor for my values?
  • Or am I a hypocrite and only apply my values to others?

If I truly believe in authenticity, and I’m not a hypocrite, it’s an obvious answer. Yes, I had to Go. There.

And I did. At night, I’d revisit and explore the feelings. Not in the safety of an intellectual examination, but raw feelings. What did they feel like? Where were they in my body? Did the lyrics of Gabar resonate? Where did the music reflect my feelings?

And how could I relax into laying down my normal defense mechanisms to tap into emotions buried deep inside and expose my heart to my colleagues when I danced?

Was I capable of this, and could I trust myself to not collapse on the dance floor?

How could I relax into emotional vulnerability and remain in control at the same time?

And, please remind me, why did I sign up for this again?

I’d like to say I remember each step of the way and could offer an easy step-by-step, wash-rinse-repeat process. I cannot.

Here’s what I can say. I have a ritual I practice every time before I perform. I ask Source to connect with me, to work through me, so I can connect with the audience in a meaningful way, to touch them on the soul level.

It was my turn the last day of class. I approached the stage, practicing my ritual – only this time, I added a special heartfelt request. I asked for the courage to share my emotions, and the strength to hold my physical and emotional space so I didn’t collapse either and offered a strong performance.

I took my place, and the music started. I felt my body moving, incorporating the changes to the dance from the feedback – strategic areas of improvisation layered into a well-planned choreography – and let my heart go to the wounds and pull the emotions to a layer beneath the surface, while I looked each of my friends in the eye and shared pieces of my broken heart, connecting my mind, body and soul through dance. I felt goose bumps as my friends watched, experienced and shared the moment with me.

The music ended, and I heard clapping and felt the love of my colleagues wrap around my being.

It wasn’t until that evening when a colleague shared with me how much she was touched by my dance that the tears came, releasing momentary control.

Yes, I achieved my goals.

Yes, it was worth every moment and every sacrifice.

The investment of time, money, and effort paled in comparison to the inspiration, transformation and connections I received in return.

Sara, Kay, and all my colleagues in this course, you made a difference.

Thank you for a meaningful moment in my dance life.

About the author | Raksanna is an internationally known performer, teacher, and artist of Egyptian dance. Her credits include producing and directing Confessions of a Belly Dancer, her touring show with stops Off-Broadway, NYC (USA), and The Fourth Pyramid: The Life and Legacy of Om Kalthoum, authoring six published works, and the creator of several award-winning choreographies for soloist and group work. In 2004, Raksanna began traveling to Egypt twice a year to study and train with the world’s best choreographers, dancers and teachers. She has taught workshops and performed in Egypt, Israel, Germany, Belgium, France, England, Canada, and throughout the United States. She resides in Chicago (USA) where she teaches weekly classes and directs her award-winning dance company, Raksanna’s Desert Flames. Connect Facebook with Raksanna Raks Sharqi or visit www.raksanna.com.

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

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