"I always make it a habit to learn belly dance whenever I visit a country."
That is what I wrote in every e-mail I sent to a few bellydance teachers in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka - the three cities that I had planned to visit earlier. I found their names and e-mail address through Shira's website.
Two teachers responded: Ms. Henna and Ms. Filiz Eren. Ms. Henna teaches American Tribal Style (ATS) and Tribal Fusion style while Ms. Eren teaches Oriental Style. I was really interested in learning the belly dance with a Turkish teacher (Ms. Eren is Turkish) however I had to concede to learning ATS because it is what I am interested in most and I find it very intriguing (what with all the coded movements and stuff).
However, Ms. Henna is not in Tokyo - she's back in the US for a while after giving birth to a baby boy, congrats congrats - so she referred me to her dance partner, Ms. Joe. Of course with all the recommendation and the gorgeous website, I said yes.
I also want to learn ATS dance from those who've had direct ATS learning experiences. Ms. Joe's background in Flamenco is also one of the reasons why I was sure - ATS's posture and movements are heavily influenced by the Flamenco. Plus, from what I read, Japan has some really weird Tribal Fusion style going on, and I am not wasting my time and money learning from someone with whom I can't communicate, eg. Japanese who don't speak a word of English.
At the end of the lesson, I realised that the only thing I was going to miss from Tokyo is learning ATS and Tribal Fusion with Ms. Joe. I told my friend, Tokyo is a bad imitation of Paris at its best.
I requested a four hour lesson with her, two hours in two days. On the first day of the lesson, I came very late that she crammed two hours of lesson into a short 45 minutes.
Ms. Joe taught me the ATS posture, (ATS) Egyptian steps, Turkish steps, Arabic steps, and the basic codes and cues. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was like opening a Pandora box and knowing the secrets! Or reading the Bloodline of the Holy Grail! Or discovering that T-Rex mothers nursed their babies!
We then discussed the matter of belly dance and the next day's lesson over Starbucks which was only a minute walk from the studio El Salaam in Shibuya where I took the lesson.
I was planning to buy bellydance props in Tokyo and she informed that right on top of the very studio, there's this shop called El Hobb. However, when I got there on the first day (April 11th), it was already closed. Because I was late.
The lesson on the second day (April 12th) was not held in El Salaam, but in Shop Kwaies's studio - also in Shibuya. It was a small yet cozy studio, with all the goodies in El Hobb shop left unattended. The owner of the studio (and the shop) so trustingly gave Ms. Joe the key to that goldmine. Had I been a kleptomanic, I'd surely run off with all those cool zills, CDs, and DVDs. Heck, I'd even help myself to one of those made-in-Taiwan bongos!
Before heading to Shop Kwaies's studio, I went to El Hobb and purchased a few things: bigger brass zills for my (future) Tribal Fusion pieces, FatChance Bellydance's DVDs, and a pair of pink Isis Wings. The shopgirl was a very nice young lady with good English.
They had a shamadan on display, but thank goodness it wasn't on sale, otherwise I'd be fighting with Mom on how to bring the big thing all the way to Kyoto and Osaka by trains and Shinkansen. And then I'd regret buying the whole thing. But one day, I will definitely dance with a shamadan and maybe do the tea tray dance, and the candle dance... Yeah!
Anyway, the lesson on the second day was even more interesting. We got into layering, more ATS combos and movements, a deeper look into the ATS, and finally a crazy Tribal Fusion choreography with a jazzy feel.
It's jazzy, and let me tell you something about jazz. I hate it. I mean, I LOVE dancing, but not jazz. The intricate steps, the hands, the multitasking thing, the quick thinking thing... It's just too much!
However, I think I finally got the hang of it at around the umm... 10th time we redid the dance. Hah! What a record. I usually couldn't get it together even until the 30th, or whenever I started losing counts. I think it's because Ms. Joe did a very good job in explaning the movements with clarity. The fact that I'm adding more years in dancing also helped a bit (okay, so there! I'm giving myself a bit of a credit!)
And, there was also a Starbucks near the studio. How neat is that? And we chatted for almost an hour. I gave her a little present, a pendant made from aged silver and a shell of a clam. It's a traditional handcraft from Bali - I got it from Sarinah, a famous old-school handcraft and traditional souvenir shop in Jakarta.
We chatted, shared thoughts on ATS, Tribal Fusion, and the basic Tribal scene in Japan. I was so honoured to be able to learn from her, and learn new things (almost too many new things, even) and even more honoured when she said that she could see that I am very much into dancing, and belly dance, and that I can dance well.
I was awestruck by her comments (can you believe that she even asked me to compete in the upcoming Japan National Bellydance Competition - or something like that - the first ever bellydance competition in Japan with Tamalyn Dallal and Bozenka as the judges??? I'm still not that good, but I may return to Japan for workshops. That means living frugally.) that my inferiority complex kicked in again. But I made up my mind that it won't stop me from learning and dancing.
Oh well, I still have three days until I reunite with Lilith (I miss her so much) and pursue my dreams that include going to San Francisco and learning ATS from the master, Carolena Nericcio.
El Hobb Select Bellydance Shop
4th Floor Inter Building (above the Studio El Salaam)
1-9-11 Jin Nan