Monday, March 18, 2013

Workshop Review: Riskallah Ryad

Riskallah Ryad One Day Workshop, Waltham, MA. March 17, 2013, Sponsored by Phaedra.
WARNING music plays when you open this website.

1. Location: Moody Street Circus, 397 Moody Street, 2nd Floor, Waltham, MA 02453
Telephone: (781) 893-2491, contact email:
Melina’s studio is a lovely, welcoming space. I’m not sure how to get there on public transportation, but it’s quite easy in a car. There are public parking lots so it’s relatively easy to park. The studio itself is large and sunny, with some spaces where it’s easy to toss your gear and keep it out of the way. Melina also has some offerings for sale, awesome vintage finds that are pretty difficult to find elsewhere. She is a lovely hostess, ensuring that things run in a timely manner and working the sound system. In this space, you know that it’s for hard work, but also many laughs and smiles.

2. Studio: A Proper Dance Studio. Good hard wood floors at the front, excellent mirrors to “love yourself” as a workshop participant put it yesterday. The back part of the room has carpeting, so wear dance shoes if you’ll be coming here for a popularly attended workshop. I’m not really sure how many people it would hold. The times I’ve been, I’ve either been gabbing with friends, or paying attention so didn’t really get the opportunity to do a count. All of the workshops that I’ve taken there have been full, so didn’t get a headcount. Melina IS the staff, so you are treated graciously from start to finish
3. Timing: as in starting and ending, perfect. While not a harsh taskmaster (but a very consistent, firm one) Riskallah started on time and kept on track, even when tempted by an interesting question (always the sign of a good teacher) to segue into something else. No complaints, whatsoever. I have a pet peeve about timing, my own habitual tardiness notwithstanding. It's a lot easier to be the person who shows up late, than it is to be the organizer who causes people to feel like they're losing money because you charge for the hour and some of that is eaten up by the set up. The warm up was excellent. She did a full body warm up thoroughly ensuring that every part was warm and ready to work. After our lunch break, she repeated the warm up, although not as full as initially. I really appreciated this as the body does get cold and stiffer when you’ve sat around a bit.
4. Communication: Phaedra kept the community informed through the New England Belly Dance Calendar yahoo group run by Erzulie, and through the website Belly Dance New England managed by the inimitable Amy Smith. If you’re connected to these things in this area, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what’s happening through out. Most of the organizers here use these 2 resources to good effect.

5. The Teaching! Finally!: Riskallah’s style is an excellent demonstration of a more than competent teacher who is confident in both her material and her presentation of it.  

I very much enjoyed Riskallah’s style. In the first workshop, we worked on combinations and adding the unexpected into your performance to keep it interesting. There were a few exercises designed to spark some creative thought from the participants. I have to admit, I didn’t do very well there. Riskallah instructed us to “add something you’ve never done before” and I went *totally* blank. I couldn’t think of a single thing I hadn’t done in performance or practice.*
This is something, however, I will try to incorporate into my own dance and use this (subversively) when I attend shows and similar to try to *steal* glean inspiration for my own work.
I unfortunately had to leave before the end of the workshop, and chose to do so as she was starting to teach a choreography to Shik Shak Shok (which I love) and it was ADORABLE. At least the first combo’s I saw.
I carefully and unobtrusively made my way to the back of the room where my gear was and was putting on my socks in preparation to leave. Riskallah noticed that I wasn’t there (how did she do this? It’s a mystery. In a room full of women, she picked out just one who wasn’t there.) and came over to see if I was leaving. She had done this earlier as well, with a woman who had sat out a portion, to ensure that she was ok.
I see this as a sign of a teacher who cares about her students and wants to make sure they’re all ok.

6. What has it done for my dancing?: As noted above, I will be incorporating some of the techniques she talked about into my practice to make my performances more interesting, so obviously, the workshop delivered what it promised.

I loved the seemingly obvious in this workshop. An example was a combination as part of a larger choreography that she taught which incorporated a step she called a “karsilama”. Karsilama is a typically Turkish rhythm (9/8) which has some unique footwork associated with it. Riskallah incorporated a step from this typical Turkish rhythm into an Arabic styled choreography. It looked good, it worked with the music and was all around completely inspiring.
Why is it “seemingly obvious?” Well, although I’ve trained extensively in Turkish and American Cabaret, I would not have thought to put this step into an Arabic combination. Seriously, the rhythm and the sound are so different that it would never have occurred to me. 

7. Would I take another workshop from Riskallah?

Yeeeeeeessssssss! Also, she’s theoretically not too far from me.** In my list of teachers who I’d like to take private lessons from, she is certainly one of them.
And in my mythical free time, who knows? Maybe I can make it out to her a few times…

8. Additional thoughts about Riskallah as a teacher:

  1. Very warm and engaging

  1. She must be amazing to watch in performance. Her flair for drama and intensity comes across even in a short choreography

  1. She is down to earth and a fun teacher to take a class from.

More thoughts: I usually take notes during a workshop, often haphazardly. I used for the first time “A Belly Dance Journal” created byLauren “Zehara Hass. There is a section specifically for workshops where you can record “lightbulb moments” “to practice” “notes” and “people I met”. I really enjoyed using this to write my notes into AND the confidence of knowing that they wouldn’t get lost in my notebook since I take notes of EVERYTHING (including school and meetings at work) and don’t always have the right notebook on me. That’s when everything gets jumbled. It’s also when hoarding begins as then I’m afraid to get rid of anything that might have my precious workshop notes.

* except maybe incorporate the feeling of dalla that of being coy and flirtatious, something I feel highly stupid doing (to the despair of my primary teacher, Najmat, who pulls it out in every class and which I successfully ignore, maybe because she uses her hair for this, which if I allow it would take over my whole arm if I tried to pull a full strands forward. Can you imagine? The entire routine would devolve into a comedy skit of my trying to escape from my hair)

** In my perfect life, I’d hit the megabucks and would do nothing but take dance classes from amazing teachers. Sigh. Also, this tells you just how highly I rate this particular teacher.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Well, better late than never!

Back in August, I talked about doing a dvd companion project. I thought maybe a month or two would be enough time to really get into the meat of the dvd's, which it was.

What I neglected to take into account was the difficulty in finding sufficient time to write.

Also, y'all had ONE task. ONE. You were to nag me. Did you?


I'm quite pleased about that, so I'm not gonna bitch.

Too hard, anyway.

So today, Dear Reader, I'm neglecting my other stuff in order to at least START this damn project.

So the dvd's I selected were Karen Barbee's "Belly Dance Drillz and Intermediate Variations", and Jillina's Bellydance with Jillina, Vol. I, Entrance Choreography.

The thought was that I would use one DVD for training and see how that impacted my performance of the choreography.

I found this interesting to do, because I enjoy drilling for one thing, but also, I really wanted to see how they worked together.


So, let's try this and see how it goes, shall we?

Karen Barbee's intermediate drills and variations:

Format, it's a low budget* dvd, which features Karen talking into a mirror with her back to you (so you see both sides of her). She's dressed in work out clothes (tank top, sports bra and yoga pants) in a gym, it seems.

Karen is holding in her hand the remote control for the stereo which she uses to at will.

The dvd is roughly about 45 minutes long. A brief warm up and then it's down to business.

Karen uses the 8X8X8 method. 8 basic completions of a movement, say a hip circle, just like in class, front side back side, then smooths it out for 8 then full speed for 8.

In one section, she drills hip downs. Hip downs with 1 foot flat, the other on the ball. Then in a modified passe (both hips level, however and knee pointing front, arms raised), finally double hip downs on the working hip in a rock step


While you won't get a good cardio workout with this dvd, you WILL sweat, it's intense muscle work, so you will warm your core.

I like the variations with layering. In one section, you are... well, it's not a full shimmy, but very metered, oblique intense hip lifts on each side, while also raising and lowering your arms to a different count.

You can do this dvd without leaving a 3 square foot section.

I *like* this dvd. It's exactly what I reach for when I want to work on perfecting certain moves. 

Karen has amazing posture and range of motion, she is no nonsense, there is no messing about, you WILL drill.

I did this AFTER doing the drills above. I think I might have been better served to reverse the order. While Karen is all about precision and muscle isolation, Jillina is all about curves and fluidity. The two didn't really mix well together and I will refrain from reviewing this excellent dvd based on trying to do it after drilling.

I think this may actually serve as a HELLA warm up, and THEN drill. 

I'll try that this weekend and report back.

YOU should try it to and tell me if you agree with me! If you don't want to comment here, email me at

*low budget does NOT = cheap, low budget means that production costs were low and are in now way a comment on the content of the dvd