Belly Dancing in London Goes to Swansea

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Last weekend I rose at the ungodly hour of 5.00 am to make a road trip to Swansea with Sureya for a weekend of workshops with the Egyptian star, Khaled Mahmoud, organised by Joanne Langley. It was a rare occasion where I was pleased that a gig did not go ahead, as it would have meant dancing at around 2.45 am the same morning and therefore little or no sleep! The large number of London dancers that made the same trip (I think there were around eight of us) is a testament to Khaled’s reputation as a teacher and performer. I fondly remember the times when he was a regular guest star at Jewel of Yorkshire in Saltaire and I was hoping that eight or so years on, his workshops might be slightly less challenging for me.

We arrived in time to make the first workshop, which was all about stage sha’abi (as opposed to street sha’abi/mahraganat). Khaled is an incredibly patient teacher who is able to break moves down to their basic building blocks. To him, it is more important that students grab the techniques rather than rushing to finish off a choreography. In my opinion, this is more valuable as I have never ever danced an entire workshop choreography as a performance anywhere. In reality, I will use a couple of moves and combinations here and there when choreographing something of my own. We had a short break and then we covered baladi in the second workshop. Khaled demonstrated some of the men’s moves to us with a student’s walking stick (willingly volunteered of course!) Another thing I like about Khaled’s teaching is that he is prepared to go off-plan and teach what the students ask for/ask about rather than sticking to a rigid structure.

Following the workshop it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for the evening’s show. I haven’t talked much about Swansea but it turned out that our hotel was basically on the party street, Wind Street. All I can say is that people start partying in Swansea very early in the evening; there were some really quite hammered people wandering around at about 6 or 7pm in the evening. Also, somewhat incongruously (or maybe not as we were attending a belly dance event) one of the bars we passed by was playing a remixed version of Hussein Al Jasmi’s Boushret Kheir.

The hafla venue was the Grand Hotel. As hafla venues go, ten out of ten for effort! There was a proper tiled dance floor and lighting (oh, and a bar). With the cabaret style seating it felt like dancing at someone’s wedding. In London, you do often seem the same dancers time and time again (no offence meant as lot of them are my friends) so one of the best things about getting out of London is to see some completely new talent. Some stand out dancers on the night were Yasna, who was dancing her first solo and had unbelievable confidence in spite of this, Adriana, (who actually is based in the London area) and who displayed great emotion to Baeed Anak, and Amina, who I have seen dance before in Oxford and who has developed a lot since then (I believe she is involved in Aziza and Charlotte Desorgher’s Undeniables programme). Of course, the star of the show was Khaled himself who at one point was dancing on tables. It was a throwback to the Jewel of Yorkshire days when he would be dancing in the aisles or on any unoccupied chairs.

The following day we had our final workshop on oriental. Khaled gave us some invaluable tips on musical interpretation for a magence. He also took the time to give everyone who had performed the night before some personal feedback in a kind and constructive manner. He taught us some useful combinations which could be used for all kinds of oriental music. I am presently tearing my hair out trying to reverse the direction of one of them - it’s harder than it looks! Following the workshop, some of us went to have an Indian buffet lunch at a nearby restaurant - some well-deserved gluttony after all our hard work.

On the way back to London there was a little drama as we only had a few miles of petrol left and when we went to the nearest petrol station on the motorway none of the pumps were functioning. We were given some instructions on how to access some service roads that would take us to the service station on the other side of the motorway. Another motorist kindly offered to lead the way as we were nervous of going the wrong way and getting lost and running out of petrol in the sticks. I had a feeling that she was not heading the right way and was going to end up back on the motorway and I told Sureya at the last minute not to follow her. Unfortunately, the woman had indeed gone completely the wrong way and we hoped that she had managed to make it to the next service station on vapours. After we had gone to the other side of the motorway, bought some petrol and returned to the original petrol station, the pumps had started working again anyway. Thankfully, there were no further mishaps or near-mishaps until our destination in London.

My only criticism of what was a thoughtfully organised weekend was that it went by too quickly and that I didn’t have time to visit the beach. I will be keeping my eyes out for Khaled’s return next year.

professional belly dancers in London