I recently spent a weekend studying with the world-famous Sadie Marquardt. Okay, it wasn't just my weekend with Sadie, but really Seattle's weekend, organized by the lovely and talented Roxy. It was a whirlwind weekend of dance and shows. I participated in six of the ten hours of workshops offered, and attended one of the two evening shows.
Before starting out on Friday in the first set of workshops, I was curious to see what they would hold. Sadie skyrocketed to international fame after her appearance on America's Got Talent, performing a belly dance duet with her dance partner Kaya. I wondered, would she act like the dance celebrity that she is? Additionally, Sadie is also known for her elaborate and intricate drum solos. They are definitely impressive. But I was curious, would there be a deeper, artistic dimension to her dance and her teaching as well? Or was she just a one-trick pony? And lastly, I couldn't help but think about Sadie's other TV appearance: the semi-scandalous one on a reality show that shalt be named here. Was she just a party girl seeking attention like that episode had shown?
Let's start with day one, the first workshop. The workshop topic was on Creating Your Signature Dance Set. One of the first exercises we did was just walk. Sounds easy, right? We all know how to walk. Nevertheless, slowing down can frequently be one of the hardest things for a dancer to do when nerves take over. Sadie had us work on executing this simple movement with enough confidence to snag our audience's attention by adopting postural and facial adjustments. The instruction in this workshop showed me, that yes, Sadie definitely had a deeper dimension to her dance than just the pops and locks of her spectacular drum solos.
Sadie also shared some stories from her beginning days that made her seem more relatable. She discussed how she cried from nerves at her first ever performance and how she, like myself and many dancers I know, is extremely shy and has had to "just get over it" to be a successful dancer and entertainer. She also said that to this day she still gets nervous before performances. She brought out a great point about nerves: if you aren't nervous at least to some extent, it probably means that you don't really care about the performance or the audience. Sadie also discussed the joys and trials of being a dancer in restaurants, and how it can be an immense challenge to get diners to look up from their plates of food and watch the show, even for a few minutes. She's preaching to the choir on that one! But she said, and I would whole-heartedly agree, that restaurant experience is invaluable for honing your performance skills. Restaurants are a great environment for working on up-close and personal audience engagement, as well as practicing and perfecting new skills. Although, if a dancer as lovely and technical as Sadie has issues capturing and keeping audience attention, I fear for the rest of us!
Rolling into day two, the first workshop was Phenomenal Abdominals. As someone who already does belly rolls and flutters, I was somewhat skeptical that I would learn anything new in this workshop. Man, was I wrong! Sadie took the abdominals to a whole-level level with intense layering that I will need to practice for some time before gaining proficiency. For example, when I say intense layering, one drill we worked was belly rolls with mayas while walking with arms floating up and down, with various timing for each movement.
The second workshop was Drum Solo Secrets. Again, oodles of involved, quick, and complicated layering. At about half-way through the workshop, Sadie started to go into teaching choreography and my reaction was to groan inside. Everyone has their personal preferences in this regard, but I really dislike learning choreography in classes or workshops. After the class is over, the choreography is really of no value to me because I'm never going to use it again. I'm certainly not going to go out and perform some else's work. Thus I prefer to focus on exercises and drills to build skills, technique, and artistry. Fortunately, a couple dancers in the class asked some specific questions on technique and the direction of the class changed. In particular, we moved to working on pelvic shimmies, which I really enjoyed, as to date, this hasn't been a move I've had much exposure to and would love to master it and add it to my repertoire.
Concluding out the weekend for me was the gala show on Saturday evening. It was a line-up jam-packed with some of Seattle's top talent. Amazingly, it even started within 5 minutes of being on time! Shows that start past their scheduled time are one of my biggest pet peeves about belly dance events. Some dancers like to chalk it up to Arab time. Frankly, when it comes to this, I ding-dang don't care that the dance originated in Arabic countries where punctuality is a fluid concept. If you are producing a show in the U.S. you should cater to your American audience who expects the show to start on-time. Otherwise it's unprofessional and you are alienating potential audience members outside of the belly dance community. Kudos to Roxy, the show's producer, for keeping to the clock. Alright, soapbox rant over, back to Sadie.
Sadie did one choreographed drum solo set in the first half of the show. Her choreography was so loaded with intricate, fast moves that I wondered how she even remembered it, let alone executed it. Sadie then did a second, improvised set with the band House of Tarab in the third section of the show. My one small critique of the performance is that I would have liked her to include zills in her set. Of course the highlight of her performance was the ending drum solo, with more of her signature fast-paced, highly technical pops and locks. My favorite part of her set was right at the end of the drum solo when she really just let the music take over, got down on the floor and did a mix of accented movements combined with zaar/Iraqi/Khaleegi-based moves with lots of hair tossing. Given that she has, oh, about a mile of hair to toss, it was pretty breathtaking.
That's my review of the parts of the weekend that I attended. If there are any Sunday workshop participants reading this, are there any major takeaways for you from that set of workshops?
And as far as that scandalous video goes? Well, we've all probably done or said things at various points in our lives that didn't highlight us at our most spectacular, or showcase how we want to put ourselves out into the world, but fortunately, those moments weren't video-taped (at least I hope this is true for you!). So at least for me, I'll refrain from passing judgment.
To Sadie, thank you for the fun, informative, and fulfilling weekend!
Photo Credit: Sadie, www.sadiebellydancer.com