Monday, May 4, 2015

Bozenka!



My year of epic belly dance study continues! First, it was a weekend of workshops with Sadie. Then it was completing Sahra C. Kent's Journey Through Egypt Level 1 program. Most recently, it was a weekend of workshops with the brilliant Bozenka!

In case you aren't familiar with Bozenka, let me provide her with a brief introduction.  Bozenka won the title of "Miss America of Bellydance" in 2000, only a short two years after she took up the art form. Her career and fame skyrocketed from there. She was one of the early inductees into the international touring troupe, the Bellydance Superstars, and she's performed for celebrities like Sean Connery, Madonna, and Enrique Iglesias. She also spent time working as Shakira's choreographer. In the belly dance community, she's pretty much a legend. If you want to see the star in action, here are a couple of my favorite performance clips of hers.





The three workshops that I attended consisted of a shimmy technique class, Egyptian technique class, and an extended masters performance class. The workshops were held down in Eugene, Oregon. With traffic, it turned out to be a six-hour drive from Seattle, but the time spent in transit was completely worth it. From the moment we started the warm-up, I could tell that this was going to be special.

From the outset of class, as we started gracefully dancing our way through the warm-up, Bozenka asked for precision and attention to detail. Her teaching style was relaxed and calm, but at the same time highly focused and professional. In turn, her demeanor required that students meet her on this elevated level of professionalism; on more than one occasion politely, but firmly, asking for no talking during class and that students return to carefully watching her alignment and movement.

That's not to say however that she wasn't friendly or personable. Early on the first day, as I was standing in line for the one shared bathroom, Bozenka struck up an easy conversation with me, asking me where I was from and inquiring about my background. Before the weekend workshops, I expected that someone who was so talented, famous, accomplished, and beautiful, would surely have an ego of a matching size. But this was far from the case. She was pleasant and engaging to converse with.

It would be too lengthy to fully sum up and recount the hours spent studying with Bozenka, but I'll summarize with a few of my top takeaways:
  • Think of turning the elbows out, rather than letting them point down at the floor. Simple advice, but oh what a difference it makes in the elegance and carriage of the dancer!
  • Use the movement of the hands and wrists to echo movement in other parts of the body. Let the hands undulate with the breath. Really think of inhaling and exhaling right through the palms. Let the wrists reflect the movement in the hips.
  • An exercise to try with a partner: One dancer (carefully) dances with her eyes completely closed while the second dancer with eyes open follows her. Then switch. Again simple, but very profound results, especially in the aspects of learning to tune into the music and letting the music be the guide, rather than being swayed by any visual cues or audience distraction.
  • Before each performance take a moment to center and ground yourself. Consider dedicating your performance to someone or something else. This will make the performance less about you, your ego, and your nerves, and instead refocus the performance as something larger than yourself.
  • When doing solo work, work with a skeleton choreography, rather than choreographing out every beat. When you don't do your choreography perfectly, there's an inherent feeling that it's somehow a "failure" on your part and the whole performance is now "flawed". But the audience has no idea! Just avoid putting yourself in this position to begin with and stick with an outline rather than regimented steps. 
Overall, it was a powerful and inspiring weekend. Bozenka teaches two annual week-long belly dance workshops on the island of Crete, where she lives. As soon as the timing works out, yours truly will most certainly be attending, anxious and eager to continue studying with this master teacher.



Top Photo Credit: Bozenka, www.bozenka.biz
Bottom Photo Credit. Alessandra with Bozenka

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