A Force When We’re Together

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Etang's blog headshotWe have history. Tammy and I have been dancing together since 2003, when we were in a larger troupe together. Since 2006, we have danced as the duet Raks Africa, performing and choreographing as a team. I remember our very first performance as Raks Africa at a club in San Francisco when someone passed out right before we danced. What? We cleared the stage, huddled in a corner, hearts beating fast. What would happen? Was the person alright? All of this build-up…would the show get cancelled? The show was interrupted for close to an hour, an ambulance arrived to the venue to swiftly take the person to the hospital, and then we hit it. The audience that remained loved us and cheered so loudly that it felt like a full house.

In this time together, we have learned each other’s rhythm. I’ve discovered that in a pinch, Tammy will sink into an omi, and she’s learned that my default movement is a full body figure 8. We may interpret the story of a song differently, or we may hear different accents in the music. That is okay and part of the process as a duo. It is our willingness to listen to each other and respect our differing perspectives, then finding agreement that makes us powerful.

In our process together with Girls Raks and Your Body Raks, we have discovered a team teaching dynamic that works for us. We alternate in leading the different components of our classes. For example, in this week’s classes, I am leading the warm-up and muscle memory components of our class. “Muscle memory” is a term that we use instead of “drills” because—let’s face it—drills sound militaristic and so far removed from the pure joy and fun of bellydance. Plus, we prefer to highlight that muscle memory is exactly what we are doing to learn a movement.

This week, Tammy is leading the choreography component of the class. Our students are learning a fun Hossam Ramzy drum solo that Tammy choreographed just for our classes. When we are the lead teacher, we demonstrate the movements, and give students praise and adjustments, while the one acting as assistant teacher serves as the demonstration model for students to follow, aka “the bouncing butt.” We informally trade off on the Soul Train Line and Closing Circle parts of our classes. The Soul Train Line is an opportunity for students to improvise with the dance and take some spotlight for themselves. Our process offers students the opportunity to experience each of our teaching styles, personalities and joy.

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