August 9, 2006

I Heart the Ramzy's

Those who know me know that I am not someone who normally gets special treatment. I am not the kind of person who cares that she is in the "in" crowd nor am I the kind of person that people are drawn to. I am most comfortable in a dance environment.

This past weekend was the Hossam and Serena Ramzy workshop weekend in Wellington. My flight from Auckland was suppose to leave for Wellington at 8:30 AM, but due to heavy fog, I was put on a 6:30 PM flight. By the time I was allowed to go to the Air New Zealand check-in desk, I was so cross at the Air New Zealand agent, that I told him, "Just get me there!" I got my flight rebooked at around 1 PM. I lingered around the small domestic airport, with one florist shop, one book store, and 3 cafes. Luckily, I had my laptop with me and there was an airport hotspot. I spent some time updating my dance website with the new photos. I waited at the Auckland airport for 12 hours!

I arrived at the Wellington airport at 7:40. I ran out of the airport and got into the first taxi I saw. I said to the driver, "How fast can you get me to Wellington? I need to be at Victoria University by 8 PM." The driver was modest and said he would get me there as fast as he could. What I didn't know was that the airport was a mere 15 minutes away from Wellington city center. The $30 NZD taxi ride got me to the concert 5 minutes before 8:00 PM. What great timing! I was the only one there with luggage, but that was all right.

The show started with a local band put together specifically for this concert. They played the middle eastern inspired music beautifully. Then, a number of local New Zealand dancers performed. The second half consisted of only Hossam and Serena's performances. Hossam began with a tabla impromptu jam. He is an amazing tabla player and entertainer. He left the stage, and Serena appeared dancing to Mahasin Essodaf, one of my favorite songs. After that Hossam came out with a tamborine. He played the tamborine as if it where a tabla accompanied by finger cymbles. This was a first for me. Then, Serena danced to Enta Omri II, my other favorite song! Then, Hossam appeared on stage with a huge tamborine. The drum portion of the tamborine had a low pitch, and he played it like a one-man-band. Serena came out for her third piece and dance to one of Hossam's tabla CD's. Finally, Hossam joined her on stage and they did an impromptu session together. Hossam would purposely mess up sometimes to get the crowd laughing. Sometime during the show, I can't seem to remember when exactly, Serena performed a folkloric piece. In total, she had 4 costume changes. I just love watching her dance. It's so enchanting, it's like no one else.

After the show, I waited in the front with their fans. Hossam saw me, gave me a big hug, and told me to wait for Serena. Finally, Serena came out from her dressing room and we hugged. She was surprised to see me because she had thought I wasn't coming to the show. Soon after, I left because there were people waiting for autographs and pictures, I was tired, and I knew I would see her tomorrow.

I stayed at the Central City Apartment Hotel in Wellington. To be frank, the place was a dump. I was on the first floor (one above ground), the linens weren't terribly clean, the shower thundered a bit as you turned on the water, and I could hear street noise as if I were sleeping on the street. Granted, I paid $88 NZD a night for this place, so I guess I can't expect much.

Saturday morning, I walked to the Wellington High School. The workshops are held at the Riley Centre, where there is a big stage and plenty of room to dance for everyone. I did not count, but it felt like there was about 80 workshop participants. We began at 10:30 AM with Hossam explaining the different rhythms and how one is a derivation of another. After that, we organized a little drum solo to Hossam playing a few rhythms. At around 1 PM, we broke for lunch. Serena came and got me for lunch. Hossam, Serena, and I walked to a nearby cafe and enjoyed a small lunch while catching up. A few of the workshop participants dropped by the table and chatted with us. Hossam remembers everyone. It's amazing, the amount of people he meets around the globe, that he remembers everyone's name and dancing.

The afternoon session consisted of Serena teaching a choreography to Enta Omri II. Unlike all the choreographies I have learned at workshops, Serena's are the best... They fit with the music so well, that you don't really have to "memorize" the steps. Hossam and Serena's teaching focuses on what they call "E=E". If the music is loud, your movement is big; if the music is whining, your movement is curvy. Basically, you portray the music visually. It's very simple. I think I had an advantage because I had been studying with Serena for the past 3 years now, so I'm used to her teaching.

We finished at around 5:30. Serena invited me back to their hotel. Glen, the workshop organizer, drove us to the hotel. They stayed at the City Life Hotel, which is really nice. Their suite was larger than my apartment and had modern furnishings, 2 large bedrooms, living room, dining room and small kitchen. Amir, their 4 year old son, was there with a nanny. I was so surprised when he remembered me. Amir is an active and dramatic kid. Serena has so much patience with him; I admire her for that. I just hung out at their apartment while Serena showered and got ready for dinner. Hossam showed me some of their pictures from Singapore. They have been on the road for the past month, first to Singapore, then a few cities in Australia, and now Wellington (NZ).

Around 8 PM, Glen drove us to Cafe Instanbul, a nice Turkish restaurant. They had their regular bellydancer, and Glen organized a duet belly dance performance by two dancers. They're ok; technique was good, but there was no dynamic in the performance. They were both doing the same exact things beside each other; there were no floor patterns; no originality. They seemed like they were at a level where you would expect that. Afterwards, 7 drummers gathered around and had a jam session. It was awesome. Several girls got up and danced. At around midnight, the crowd lessened, and I left.

Sunday morning, I checked out of my hotel and arrived at the workshop by 10 AM. We reviewed the drumming exercise and introduced a few latin rhythms. It was raining the whole day. For lunch, one of the ladies had a van, and she drove us to the near by cafe. It was hectic in there, so I only got a muffin and tea because it was quick. Over lunch, we had a bigger table and so the conversations ranged from Dina's chest to house boats.

The afternoon session consisted of Serena teaching a choreography to "Tool Omri Ba Habbek" from the El Sultan CD. I had listened to it before, but never thought I would dance to it. It does have cha-cha and rhumba rhythms in it. I was surprised because I was able to pick up the choreography really easily. The movements just made sense. The chorus was repeated a few times, so we did the same movements for the chorus parts. There was no changing of steps for the sake of changing, but you moved with the music. I loved the choreography. It was simple, clean and not boring. It just made sense because it went with the music so well. At the end, Hossam asked for volunteers to perform the choreography on stage. Of course, no one volunteered. Hossam called on one girl. She did well. Then he called on me. I danced, and he said some nice things afterwards. Then he called on a third girl.

At the very end, we had a few minutes for question and answer. One girl asked about how belly dancers are seen in the Middle East. His first answer was the most brutal, typical Hossam, which was they are looked down on... that is because the people are ignorant, they don't understand art. However, the perception is slowly changing. Now, you have dancers in the most pretigious night clubs in hotels. It's true. I was on a scuba diving trip in the Red Sea and one of the dive masters was a Bedouin. When I told him I studied Egyptian dance, he asked "Why? Why don't you study Egyptian history?" However, if you told him that you studied Egyptian music, he probably wouldn't ask why.

There was another question asked regarding where to go from here. This was this girl's first workshop. She loved it, learned alot, but at the same time overwhelmed. Hossam's answer was to take classes. He said, "You have so many teachers here," and he named a few. Then he named me, and said how NZ was really lucky to have me here even if it was only for a few months. I was gushed. I didn't think he thought _that_ highly of me. Serena had told me before how Hossam liked my dancing, but that was a few years ago.

After the workshop, I exchanged contact details with a few girls. Then, I went back to Hossam and Serena's hotel. Hossam went to get Chinese food while we hung out. Amir was hungry and started misbehaving. Serena and I chatted but only for a bit because she had to take care of Amir. Then we ate dinner, and I had to leave for the airport soon after. The cool thing about Wellington is that the airport is about 15 minutes away from downtown. It took me a few seconds to check in and get my boarding pass from the Self-Checkin machine. I was on the airplane within minutes... which happened to be 15 minutes before departure time... Only in New Zealand!

To be honest, I was a little disappointed that I wasn't able to perform in front of Hossam and Serena because they've only seen me perform once and that was 2 years ago. Hossam said it himself that he can see the improvements from that one time to today on that stage during the workshop. That was great encouragement. On the plane, I was crying inside. Half due to happiness, half due to sadness. Sad because I know that I wouldn't be able to devote as much time to dance as I would like... at least not in the near future.

Thanks to Serena and Hossam for making me feel like a part of their family this weekend.
Lots of Love,

Posted by oneray at 6:55 PM