The longer I continue down my belly dance journey and the more I learn, the more I realize there's so much that I don't yet know. This last weekend was no exception, as I had the opportunity to take Sahra C. Kent's Journey Through Egypt 1 study intensive.
For anyone not familiar with Sahra C. Kent (Saeeda), she is a world-famous dancer, teacher, and dance ethnologist. Sahra lived in Egypt for six years while working under a contract with the Meridian Heliopolis. Additionally, she holds a Masters of Art with a concentration in Dance Ethnology from UCLA. Her experience and education have lead her to create a series of four immersion workshops called Journey Through Egypt that provide a systematic overview of the dances of Egypt.
Journey Through Egypt 1 was a 20-hour study intensive spread over three days. Sahra's system splits Egypt into eight major dance zones: Nubian, Sa'idi, Cairo, Delta, Suez Canal, Bedouin, Siwa, and Ghawazee. As she taught us over the course of the weekend, it was readily apparent that her depth of knowledge was incredible and we were only tapping the surface.
In addition to her extensive cultural and anthropological knowledge, Sahra also had personal anecdotes sprinkled throughout the weekend that really made her teaching come alive. She shared how on her first day of her master's classes with UCLA, she ended up sitting in the same class with Farida Fahmy, and how a friendship shortly ensued and they became roommates. Sahra also described conducting zeffah research with Mahmoud Reda in tow and how once people realized that Mahoud Reda was "crashing" their wedding, mild chaos would erupt.
My only "criticism" of the class (and I use that word loosely), was that it felt like we needed more time! The bulk of the class was devoted to lecture, and it would have been constructive to also do a bit more actual dancing to learn more of the movement vocabulary of the dances and regions covered. My knowledge of the cultural history and significance behind the folkloric dances of Egypt is certainly much expanded after taking this class, but I wouldn't necessarily say that I learned how to perform any of these dances that I didn't already know. For me personally, I would especially say this in relation to the area of the Suez Canal dances, as this is the region I had the least knowledge on when entering the class.
Nonetheless, I overall immensely enjoyed the weekend and would highly recommend it to any dancer. You better believe I will be signing up for JtE 2 when it comes through Seattle next year!
While studying with Sahra in person would be the best resource, for those who can't currently, or just any dancer looking to further her knowledge, I thought I would end this post by sharing some of the supplementary resources Sahra recommended to us during the course of the weekend. And of course, don't forget about Sahra's blog and YouTube playlists.
Veiled Sentiments by Lila Abu-Lughod
Belly Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism, and Harem Fantasy by Anthony Shay
40 Days and 1,001 Nights by Tamalyn Dallal, as well as related movie
The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians by Edward Lane
Zar - Trance Music for Women available at serpentine.org
Egypt Dances by Madga Sala, only available for viewing at the Lincoln Center Public Library in New York
Aza Sharif performing a theatrical version of haggalah
Fifi Abdo performing beledi style with raqs assaya
Sahra Saeeda (Sahra C. Kent) performing melaya leff
Photo Credits: Alessandra with Sahra with traditional Egyptian clothing in the background