I don't regularly open Bellydance Jakarta's website, so imagine my shock when I browsed it about five weeks ago and discovered that the great Tamalyn Dallal was coming and doing a workshop. And not just any workshop, but workshops that I had been dying to go to.
So, without hesitating, I signed up. The fact that Bellydance Jakarta was not open to male students didn't even cross my mind (I'll talk about this later).
The first time I heard about Ms. Dallal was from Miles Copeland's Belly Dance Superstars. Although deemed heinous by many belly dancers due to the fact that Copeland only hired gorgeous, young, slim dancers - albeit talented and hardworking -, the DVD was a source of inspiration for me. Through the same DVD, I was also exposed to Ansuya and Rachel Brice *shudders*.
Now, this post will be such a great opening piece for my next project, that is to thoroughly define the many styles of belly dance.
Dancing the middle-eastern dance since 1976, Tamalyn Dallal is now one of the most experienced non-middle-eastern belly dancers and a legend in her own right. Her style is gorgeously flowing, oozing endless elegance and it is crystal clear that she has reached that height aimed by all aspiring belly dancers: the height of raks sharqi.
Ms. Maria Aya of Oriental Expression Greece once told me that there are three levels of dancers. The first one is the choreographed dancer. This kind of dancer knows the beat and the music by heart. And then does the exact movement constructed (and memorized) for that one particular song. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the dancer lacks in feelings. This level is for those who just began their lessons.
The second level is semi-improvisational dancers. This kind of dancer knows the song and the beat, knows when the chiftitelli is transforming to taksim, the accents and everything, and knows the overall movements. During each of the movements, the dancer will add his/her own improvisations, making the dance more personal.
The third level is the fully-improvised dancers. You know, the kind of dancer who just heard a song for the first time and then dances his/her heart out as if he/she had danced to the song a million times before.
It is without a doubt that I place Ms. Dallal in the third-level category. Through years of experience and vast knowledge (she traveled to several Islam-oriented cities around the world, including Aceh, Indonesia just after the tsunami – she wrote her experiences in the book that I bought while she got here, entitled “40 Days and 1,001 Nights”) this is the woman whose “seven veil” dance made me cry. And on those two days, she stood in front of us all, with no goddess or diva-like atmosphere, sharing with us her secrets of dancing flawlessly. I think the only thing that reminded me that she was only human was that she was not feeling well at that time from the 20-hour flight.
One of the coolest things was when she taught how to differentiate between the feeling of aerial (for Egyptian dances) and earthy (for Tribal). She taught us (or was it only me who found the trick very beneficial?) to take control of the soles of our feet, the balls, the heels, everything. Everything down there is connected with everything on the up.
The video that made me cry.
Being with her, as being with other teachers who teach middle-eastern dances, really made me become more aware of my weaknesses: I can’t shimmy right. And I will never forget how patiently (and how embarrassing for me) Ms. Dallal went to me and taught me how to do the darn ¾ shimmy! I also suck at stepping and creating space. I think a 3-hour drill on steps was not enough.
But strangely, apart from all of those, Ms. Dallal told Ms. Christine Yaven (the owner and director of Bellydance Jakarta) to let me take classes with Ms. Yaven. I have been wanting to learn more about the true Egyptian style belly dance and so far, only Bellydance Jakarta offers the program. And in the end of the workshop, Ms. Dallal gave me this beautiful performance DVD with many male middle-eastern dance performers.
I was also very excited when Ms. Yaven told me that the intermediate class is filled with women who wouldn't care if a male joined in. It was the beginner class that's not open to men because many of the ladies who joined are married and their husbands are not comfortable if there are men in the class. I think any man who survives the beginner's class is considered serious enough to really study this ancient art. It is really hard! The steps and everything... Shaking your hips is one thing, but really understanding the art of playing zills while shimmying is totally difficult. And I thought I was a great multitasker!
All in all, I can only say that Ms. Dallal’s dance does have this transcendental, aerial quality, but when she’s stepped out of the dance and changed into her teacher’s suit, she returns to Earth and gladly assists us mortals.