Elevator Pitch – Audience Education Version

An elevator pitch is “a brief speech that outlines an idea for a product, service or project”. The concept is mostly used in the world of entrepreneurs, the idea being that if you find yourself in an elevator with an investor you’d like to get on board or the CEO of your dream company, you have to be able to tell them what you do and get their attention in the 30-60 seconds you have until the 9th floor.

So, what does that have to do with dance – and audience education?

In November, I danced at Lou Pradas’ Oriental Romance show. I created a new dance for the occasion, a saiidi piece with cane. In the break, and audience member came up to me to ask about my dance – in fact she it in a rather tricky way, asking, “what did the stick mean in your dance?”

And there I stood, ruining this rare opportunity to provide good information to a non-dancer by beng unable to properly explain, in those two minutes I had, what raqs al-assaya / saiidi dance is.

It is complex, of course:

saiidi dance is a folkloric style from Upper Egypt, danced with or without a cane, while raqs al-assaya literally means  dance with a cane, so it may or may not be in the saiidi style (many regions of the world have cane dances). Saiidi men’s cane dance, the tahtib, is no so much a dance as a martial art, and seems to have ancient roots; women’s (saiidi style) cane dance is a much more modern phenomenon, an imitation and gentle parody of the men’s dance. In its current form, saiidi / raqs al-assaya (like most Egyptian dances) is heavily influenced by the work of Mahmoud Reda and his troupe, but  in the Rea troupe, women only took the cane from the men for a few seconds if at all.  Saiidi cane dance, even if danced by women, is considered “folkloric”, even though saiidi women tend not to dance in public at all*.

See what I mean?

I’m still working on how to put all this (and more*) into less than two minutes without making my curious audience member run away. I’m dancing this dance again next week at the Festival de Danses Orientales in Liège – get your tickets in time and I promise I’ll be ready for your questions.



* if you wish to learn more about raqs al-assaya / saiidi, click on these articles: by Shira, by Lauren, by Valeria from World Belly Dance and by Ashraf Hassan.



Festival de danses orientales – Liège, 17.02.2018.

Organised by the  Centre Culturel Arabe en Pays de Liège, this event has a long tradition, celebrating its 13th edition this year. The show will bring together over 200 dancers of different Oriental and fusion styles, making it one of the region’s greatest dance event.

I’ll bring two new dances of mine, one of them first time on stage – preparations are underway, and I’m sure all the other dancers are pouring all their love and dedication into it as well.

Places are limited, so make sure to get your tickets in time!
Order yours by calling (+32) 04 342 78 84 or by emailing secretariat@ccapl.be (French preferred, I guess 🙂 )

Practical info:

Centre culturel de Seraing, Rue Renaud Strivay, 44 – Seraing
17 February 2018, 19:30
entry fee: 6 euros // 3 euros (for kids under 12) // 1,75 euros (“Art.27”)
click here for the facebook event

See you!

Meeting the legend

Some told me her workshops were not worth it; that as wonderful a dancer as she is, she does not really teach. The were right – but they were also wrong.

In late September I went to Rimini for the sole purpose of taking workshops with Fifi Abdo. She’s a living legend, and one who doesn’t come too often to Europe, so I simply had to go, no matter the distance, the cost or the above-mentioned warnings.

She does not teach like Western teachers, or even as the Egyptian masters who often teach in the West. She offers little correction, less explanation (of movements) and no set combinations or choreographies at all. She teaches as – I assume – she once learnt: by example. She stands up, dances, and expects you to observe and imitate. She might offer some corrections; what she might explain is never how to execute a movement or another, what muscles you need to use, but rather the attitudes, stories and cultural background related to that music and that style of dance.

It has to be said that this style of teaching is less suited for larger groups and two- or three-hour workshops: learning by observation would require more time, preferably one-on-one or in small groups. It also puts much more responsibility on the learner: you need to observe keenly and read between the lines, you have to wring out your knowledge from what she offers – rather than almost being spoon-fed as you might be by a Western-style teacher.

In most workshops, you have a number of new moves, combinations, or even a whole choreography to take home; Madame Fifi will not give you such pre-packaged knowledge. But I can assure you, learning from her will enrich your dance in a lot of small, subtle ways.

Lessons in creativity

A friend of mine, who is also a great tango dancer, published a post (HU only) a while ago about the things he (or anyone) could do to become a better tanguero. He used a method he learnt from a colleague:

if you have a problem, list 20 potential ways of solving it. Finding the first 7-8 will be extraordinarily easy; with some difficulty you’ll get up to 15; finding the last five will be hell on earth.

Of course becoming better at anything lies not only in finding methods, but also, and especially, in applying them; and while I doubt any single one item on the list can in itself make wonders, no matter how diligently applied, it seems common sense that having several ideas and mixing them according to needs and possibilities it a good way to go forward.

So I challenged myself to a list of 30.

My list, of course, concerns Oriental dance and how I (or others) can become better at it. Here it is:

  1. practice as often as you can.
  2. learn with different teachers; take workshops.
  3. dance in a troupe.
  4. dance solo.
  5. work your own choreographies.
  6. work other dancers’s choreographies.
  7. learn about the use of space and directions.
  8. improvise.
  9. focus on technique.
  10. focus on expression.
  11. take every chance to perform. Perform to your best each time.
  12. go to haflas and concerts: dance for the fun of it.
  13. take part in at least a few contests.
  14. get feedback from professionals: your teachers, contest judges, etc.
  15. get feedback from fellow dancers.
  16. get feedback from non-dancers (or non-Oriental dancers).
  17. see the masters: if you can’t see them live, DVDs and Youtube are your friend.
  18. watch oriental dance in any and all of its forms, from the street to the grand theatre.
  19. listen to all kinds of Oriental music. Learn songs.
  20. work with musicians.
  21. learn how to work with a drummer.
  22. improve your communication with the audience.
  23. learn the gestures of wherever your dance style comes from.
  24. learn (at least some) Arabic (or Turkish, or…).
  25. go to Egypt / Turkey / Lebanon (and/or wherever your favourite style has its roots), if you have the chance.
  26. meet people from the Middle-East / North Africa. Talk to them. Listen to them.
  27. learn about Middle-Eastern history and culture: read books, articles, watch films (that’s where speaking the language comes in handy 🙂 )
  28. learn about the history of the dance.
  29. read poetry from the region, folkloric and otherwise.
  30. learn about the societal contexts of dancing.
  31. learn especially about concepts of femininity.
  32. learn folk dances of the region.
  33. try out other dance styles.
  34. start teaching. Make sure you’re prepared to do it.

+1: blog about it: the things you find best to share are the most useful for you as well.

Feel free to add some more in the comments.

NEW! Oriental dance course for beginners

Come and learn this beautiful and artistic dance form in an open, friendly and fun environment!

New weekly course for beginners in Schaerbeek, Bruxelles.

Time: every Monday from 18:15 to 19:45
Place: Espace Mutin, Chaussée de Haecht 140, 1030 Schaerbeek

single class: 15 eur
5 classes: 70 eur (valid for 5 weeks)
10 classes: 135 eur (valid for 12 weeks)

Classes start on Monday the 25th of September.

For more info and registration, please click here.


The dancer on two wheels (pt. II.)

Beverlo is about 3 hours distance from Bruxelles by public transport. Eindhoven is about 50 kms from Beverlo. One of my favourite musicians, Totó la Momposina, gave a concert in Bruxelles on the day I was away in Aarschot/Betekom to perform. She gave another concert, in Eindhoven, a week later, on the day there was a whole-afternoon open stage festival – organised by Johanna – in Betekom.

Guess what.

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I felt a bit bad about rushing in and leaving so early from the festival, even though the real choice was not between staying a little or a lot: it was between staying a little or not going at all – I had a ticket to a concert, after all, about 50 kms away.

This time I printed my itinerary – I didn’t have the time to get lost and find my way –, nevertheless, I stopped every now and then at a map along the road (by the way, the region is indeed a biker’s paradise, as it advertises itself) to check if I was where I should be. At one of these, just this side of the border, I ran into another biker.
‘Are you lost?’
‘No, just making sure all is ok’
‘Where are you headed, anyway?’
‘but… that’s some 40 kms away!’
‘I know’, I said, though I was a bit perturbed, as I had counted it couldn’t have been more then 30.

Indeed, it wasn’t: I even had time for a coffee/snack break and arrived in good time.

Totó la Momposina is 77 years old now, still she sings and dances through her concert. She explains about each song and musical genre they play: about their history, the related traditions, the dances, the instruments, and the lyrics, making the show as much of an educational experience as it is fun, artistic and festive. She also gives credit to all the composers, except for herself – it’s the members of the band who have to do it for her.

Totó la Momposina – y sus tambores

The fact that I planned to cycle along the Zeeland coast  the following two days , but not only I had to come home and spend the whole week at home, three weeks after I still don’t have my voice, is another story. The “three weeks after” part may or may not be due to some other factors as well, stories for another day. So, have I at least done something stupid?


Arrival 3.0 – The dancer on two wheels (pt. I.)

It’s hard to tell a story while I’m living it (for the lack of time, if nothing else); on the other hand, I prefer not to write when I’m ill, to avoid (publicly!) documenting those moods – hence the delay.
A friend asked me, when I told him, “have you at least done something stupid, to get so sick?”

I’ll leave that to you to decide.

The story starts on Friday, May 26th, a day off work. Having run some errands, which of course took more time than I’d though they would, I left Brussels at 12.30, an hour later than planned. I say I left Brussels, but this being a biking trip it took me about an hour more to get out of the city.

You’ll never hear me complain about it, but it was hot. And I had a headwind. And I got lost twice, first at Haacht and then at Aarschot, where my phone’s battery died, leaving me without a map.

Google hugely overestimates my cycling speed: I arrived to Diest at 6pm, sweaty, tired and more proud than ever.

But why was I cycling to Diest on this Friday afternoon to begin with? Why, if not for the love of dance. I was headed to a folk festival named Dafodil.
Until I joined the folk scene, I only knew gigues from J.S. Bach, mazurkas from Chopin (I played some, in fact), and the only valse I knew was Viennese. It makes quite a difference do be dancing them. And dance I did, on that warm and lively night, under the open skies.


As the next day proved, Diest happens to be a lovely, if quiet, old town. So is Aarschot, where I had lunch, though it’s less quiet, as expected from a larger city.

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My destination, however, was Betekom, where I danced at a charity dance show organised by my friends Llady May and Saratis, an event as warm, welcoming and fun as anyone could wish for.
Saratis even offered me to stay at her place, even though we’d never met before the show! She and her boyfriend have two dogs – and had a third one over as a guest –, a couple of cats, maybe two? a turtle, a rabbit, and some small chicken. And possible some more I haven’t seen – an amazing household indeed.

Coincidentally, that night was also the 3rd anniversary of my arrival to Belgium. I couldn’t have wished for a better celebration than that hafla with my dancer friends, and that weekend as a whole. When I came back last September, I decided I’d play at being new in town until and unless I felt at home. It took me long, eight months since then, almost three years altogether, but now I am finally truly arrived.

the dancer on two wheels (photo by Ludo Vanlangenakker)