The Inaccuracy in Isolations


Isolations.

It’s a term I hear constantly in the instructional annals of American belly dance or Raqs Sharqi.

Looking up the word ‘Isolation’, I find alternate, similar meaning words in the Thesaurus; namely, confinement, desolation, remoteness, segregation, and solitude, Lesser descriptive words include aloneness, aloofness, concealment, detachment, exile, hiding, privacy, privateness, quarantine, reclusiveness, retreat, sequestration, and withdrawal. And even lesser ones include beleaguerment, monkhood, reclusion, and seclusiveness.

I am extremely concerned. This is not how I would describe belly dance.

Where is the proof of isolations in belly dance? During my 40 plus years of study and observation of Classic Egyptian Style native belly dancers, including watching my own native born teacher, Jodette, I don’t ever recall any part of any dancer’s body performing ‘Isolations’ in dance. Yet, dance studios across the globe promulgate ‘Isolations’ as a critical, if not the most important part of their curriculum and online Internet instructional video demonstrations.

There are no ‘Isolations’ in Raqs Sharqi.

When I first realized that what I had known was true all along but was unable to articulate it during my performance years, I was awed in revelation. I knew I had hit upon something unexampled and heretofore unexplained. And, yet there it was, as plain as day, in every Egyptian Dance Great, including my own dance teacher, Jodette.

For over a decade and a half via Internet, trade magazine articles, and social media sites as well as vocally in classes, workshops and seminars, I’ve expressed my intense dislike to the proverbial Isolation methodology of teaching. It does not work. What Egyptian has ever sprung from his/her chair in a moment of abandoned joy and in celebration of life only to stop even for the slightest of moments to remember to isolate a movement? In short, it makes no sense. At least, not if you are an Egyptian.

We see and analyze the world through our own cultural experience, and when we think we have broken the world down to the minutest of points, we will still explain, describe, and perform those points via our experience. What does that all mean? Try answering this question: How can you describe the flavor of vanilla ice cream when you’ve never tasted vanilla ice cream?

Learning the art of Raqs Sharqi is not classified. Its secret to looking authentic is simple — so simple that, like any language, it takes a life time to master. Why? Because the muscle memory used in one culture will always hold sway over the parody of another culture. It is in those muscle memories that one culture will predominate over another culture’s expression in the execution of that expression. And for this reason, the use of ‘Isolations’ as a means to teach a dance that is beyond our realm of initial understanding is used.

We, in the West, have been largely influential in taking Raqs Sharqi to the far reaches of the planet. And, because of this, the Western influence of teaching ‘Isolations’ has followed it. Not surprisingly, the teachings of this dance has come full circle in Egypt, and native Egyptian dance teachers are now using these Western terms.

And this has been the detriment to the dance.

My teacher, Jodette, called me in early January. A pioneer and Master Teacher of a dance that is so near and dear to her, and to which she lays claim as native as herself, Jodette has been teaching her beloved native passion since the 1950s. I answered my cell and was overjoyed to hear her voice. “I’ve been thinking of you!”, she said, “I miss you!” “I miss you too!”, I answered. But I could feel this call was different. “Belly dance is no more!” I heard her exclaim. My heart broke. “Yes, I know.” I already knew that to be true. I could hear the pain in her voice as we spoke. Jodette wasn’t just missing me, she was also missing her Classic form of Egyptian Style belly dance, which she had grown up with, born out of the cabarets of Mohamed Ali Street and celebrated on the silver screen of Egyptian cinema. “The focus now is on the more modern Egyptian style of belly dance,” I said, “which is spilling out of Egypt by a new generation of dance teacher groomed in ballet technique.” She knew this too. Her beloved dance, as she knows it, had evolved and moved on.

Before hanging up, I told Jodette that she had been the most important teacher in my whole life, for, without her in my lifetime quest to learning the essence of this dance, I would have never been able to decipher that which I have coined as the Egyptian Dance Code®. Jodette, in her passion and joy for teaching this dance, using her own methodology that excluded the term ‘Isolations’, had unknowingly opened a gateway to my seeing and understanding true Egyptian dance expression — not through my cultural experience, but through hers. She had laid the foundation for me to what we know today as Classic Egyptian Style belly dance. Without this foundation, which was popularized by the late Egyptian Dance Greats, there would have never evolved the Modern style.

There is Isolation in ballet. There is Isolation in calisthenics. There is even Isolation in Tap, Jazz, and Modern Dance. And, so, there is Isolation in the way we, as Americans, perceive and therefore teach Raqs Sharqi. We can’t help it, it is ingrained in our “four-on-the-floor” drum beat experience — the way we hear and keep the beat of the music, unlike that of the Baladi drum beat rhythm experience of native Egyptian dancer.

Truth of the matter is, is that there are no Isolations in Classic Egyptian Style belly dance.

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from:Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

reply-to:Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

to:"sausanacademy@gmail.com" <sausanacademy@gmail.com>

date:Wed, Sep 16, 2015 at 5:27 AM

I have to disagree with your remark that there are no isolations in belly dance / raqs sharqi.

The isolations occur primarily when one is training - for example to execute belly flutters, the movement is greatly assisted by "popping" the muscles of the diaphragm in & out to create this effect of fluttering. We isolate the muscles of the upper, middle, and lower abdomen in succession when executing a belly roll. A "snake arm" isolation when one is learning how to smooth out the isolated articulations of the movement and do them in succession to create fluidity (not disjointed or choppy articulations).

These isolations are not apparent to the general public watching a performance, because the fluidity of movement transitions from isolation to isolation (or layers of isolations) in the dance.

Now I do think that American belly dancers have difficulty dancing classical raqs sharqi, not because we don't know how to perform the movements - but because we don't know how to properly listen to the music. The dance (as it is usually taught the States) consists of a series of isolations / movements, which are then strung together to form a dance. We dance to the beat or rhythm vs. dancing to the music or the song. We aren't shown the different parts of a performance and what should be occurring when - so we throw this move and that pose into the mix all willy-nilly. (I liken it to someone learning a series of words in a foreign language - but not necessarily how to correctly form a sentence or carry a conversation in that language. So our dance comes off as giberrish or "pidgon"). For want of a better dance education I brought an instructor (Amora Shams, who has been teaching in Cairo and in Spain for many years) here to the U.S. to learn how to dance properly. I have just opened a studio here in Saint Petersburg, FL - and am working with my staff to offer a dance curriculum that addresses the problem of "American Belly Dance" and teaches the what/when/how, including dance ethics and professionalism. I cannot change the world - but I can affect/influence my local dance community.

Have a Fantastic Day!

Chandra Wood (727) 520-2381

  • Owner: Scimitar Studios, LLC

  • Artistic Director: Scimitar Dance Company

  • Founder: Belly Grooves Youth™

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from:Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance <sausanacademy@gmail.com>

to:Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

date:Wed, Sep 16, 2015 at 11:30 AM

Hi, Chandra:

Thank you for your email. I read it through thoroughly. It came as a surprise to me since I had just returned from the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive and had attended a workshop taught by Bahaia (www.bahaia.com) wherein she also stated that there are no isolations in Egyptian style belly dance, as I have advocated since 2000.

My first teacher, Jodette (www.jodettes.com), was born of Egyptian heritage and still lives in Sacramento, California. She was good friends with Samia Gamal and also knew many of the Greats including the musicians. Jodette has also stated that there are no isolations in this dance, and being an Egyptian, herself, and having experienced, myself, the nuance of her cultural ability to hear the music, I agree with her.

Regarding the stomach flutter -- this is something I have not see in Egyptian film, and I have watched over 1000 movies through a ten year period. That is not to say that it wasn't performed by Egyptian dancers, and certainly, it may have shown up in some stage performance or other, but I have never seen it performed. "Snake arms" is a misnomer as the arms are not the actual originating movement, but the shoulders. If you watch Egyptian dancers, the shoulders are used more than the arms; the arms are just a follow through to the shoulder movement.

I researched Amora Shams and Youtube.com. She is a lovely dancer and most likely is a lovely person, but my interpretation of her movements are those that originate in ballet technique. Belly dance and ballet are two entirely different dances. I also saw that she offers a course that teaches people how to belly dance in 20 weeks, something I disagree with completely. It takes anywhere from two to five years to "get" this dance and how to combine movement with transitions. As you, yourself, said, "I liken it to someone learning a series of words in a foreign language - but not necessarily how to correctly form a sentence or carry a conversation in that language. So our dance comes off as giberrish or "pidgon"" Twenty weeks is not nearly enough time to learn a language, let alone a dance form.

And then there is the music, which is in a category unto itself. Because of the many Arabic scales or maqam (at least 9, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_maqam) and drum rhythms (at least 40 or more, http://babayagamusic.com/Music/oriental-dance-rhythm-diagrams-and-descriptions.htm), Egyptian music is difficult to grasp, comprehend, and learn. Twenty weeks cannot do it justice. I teach several 12-week courses in Must-Know music to women who want to expand their music knowledge and repertoire. There are about 200 songs that a dancer must know. Additionally, I teach who the composers are as well as the lyricists of these songs -- some of them obscure in name but common in song.

I have yet to see an Egyptian get up and isolate movement in their joyous expression of life, and I've been around it for over 40 years. It just doesn't happen. But what they do do is hear and keep the beat of the music quite opposite from how we in the west hear it. And this is what I have coined as the Egyptian Dance Code®. Because of our cultural experience, we "see" it as isolations.

I appreciate your time in writing your concerns to me, but I never write something unless I can prove it to be correct. And I can prove that there are no isolations in Egyptian style belly dance. However, there are isolations is ballet.

I have attached a flier to my next 7-Day Intensive Seminar on the Egyptian Dance Code®. Perhaps you'll think about attending.

Best,

Sausan سوسن

PS....

Regarding belly rolls (the one thing I missed...): Belly rolls are a product of the Yoga industry. Egyptian technique does not do an isolated "belly roll". What is done is an undulation that begins at the ribcage and moves down toward the knees or feet if traveling. Likewise, a reverse undulation begins in the knees, or feet if traveling, and moves up to the ribcage and ends in the shoulders.

Again, this is provable and I do so in my classes.

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Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance <sausanacademy@gmail.com>

to:Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

date:Sun, Sep 20, 2015 at 10:26 AM

Hi, Chandra:

I haven't heard back from you.

I'm wondering if I can place your response to my blog post online.

Much thanks,

-Sausan

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from:Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

reply-to:Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

to:Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance <sausanacademy@gmail.com>

date:Sun, Sep 20, 2015 at 10:45 AM

Sorry, the latter half of my week got extremely busy - and I am only just now getting to emails. Although I still disagree with your comments regarding isolations - you may place my comments/response to your blog online. Your description for executing a "belly roll" is what we teach as a body wave or camel (and is a movement within our dance vocabulary, but not an isolation). Our belly roll is taught utilizing the upper and lower abdominals only - making it a true isolation.

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from:Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance <sausanacademy@gmail.com>

to:Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

date:Sun, Sep 20, 2015 at 11:24 AM

Hi, Chandra:

Thank you for your quick response.

Except for Princess Sahar Hamdi, who does some cute little belly accents in a video that I have, I have never seen an "isolated" belly roll in any Egyptian dancer; specifically, from the Golden Age of Egypt when belly dancing in the West became all the rage. If you can offer a video or some kind of proof of an Egyptian doing your belly roll (not really understanding what you meant by stating "our" belly roll), I would be most appreciative.

I will post your response to my blog site along with the rest of the exchange.

Much thanks!

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

reply-to:Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

to:Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance <sausanacademy@gmail.com>

date:Sat, Sep 26, 2015 at 10:10 AM

My mentor - Amora Shams demonstrating belly rolls https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sC2xTkeYM4

An American belly dancer - Tiazza describing/demonstrating belly roll https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERr7dRYHsVg (and this is how I teach it - though I am not as adept at it as Tiazza is in her vid) I referred to it as OUR belly roll vs. how most teach it Johanna of Hip Expressions - an American belly dancer (and one of the instructors I have studied under) tends to utilize the chest and body when executing her version of a belly roll - making it more of a body wave or camel than actually isolating the abdominal muscles for true belly roll). It has been my experience as to how the majority of teachers instruct it. I do not subscribe to the same "fake it till you make it" philosophy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DffIDgQNMqs

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from:Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance <sausanacademy@gmail.com>

to:Chandra Wood <scimitarstudios@yahoo.com>

date:Sat, Sep 26, 2015 at 11:25 AM

Hi, Chandra:

Thank you for your Youtube videos on how to execute a belly roll a la American/Western style. I truly appreciate the time and energy and resources you are giving me.

Your Youtube demonstrations from Amora Shams, Tiazza, and Johanna are all from non-Egyptians, the latter two from America. Belly rolls are a Western phenomenon, and not an Egyptian expression.

Egyptian dancers from the Golden Age of Egypt -- and even through till today, do not perform belly rolls as we see them on Western belly dancers. Egyptian dancers use their entire torso in an undulation that begins in the ribcage and then travels downward to the legs. Their belly rolls are not isolated solely to the abdomen. Belly rolls are a product of the Yoga industry when belly dance was taught along with Yoga. Magaña Baptiste, a very respected Yoga master used belly rolls in her belly dance teaching back in the day.

It all looks very nice -- what these ladies are doing, but you are showing me Western/American dancers and their videos. If you can find video clip of an Egyptian from the Golden Age of Egypt performing a "belly roll" like this, you might convince me. The only one I've ever seen do anything close to this is Princess Sahar Hamdi, and she was influenced by the West.

I, too, do not subscribe to "fake it till you make it" philosophy. :-)

------- ABOUT SAUSAN -------

Master Teacher of the Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance, San Francisco, CA since 2000 • Choreographer/Artistic Director of the Sausan Ensemble Egyptian Dance Company since 2009 • Owner and Executive Chef of Al-Masri Egyptian Restaurant, San Francisco, CA since 1999 • Over 40 years of national/international dance study, travel, performance (nightclubs, restaurants, telegrams, festivals, museums, lectures, corporate events, military bases, etc.), and instruction; and over-all, all-inclusive decades’ dance experience since 1972

www.sausanacademy.com • www.sausanensemble.com • www.almasrisfca.com • www.bitchinbaklava.com • www.chefsausan.com

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#bellydance #isolations #isolation #bellydance #raqssharqi #rakssharki #Sausan #EgyptianDanceCode

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