Saturday, 30 January 2010

Imman Mussa - a workshop review

Imman Mussa is still somewhat an enigma. A new dancer appears from nowhere in last 6 months in the Scottish, well UK, dance scene and people are talking about her. So I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. I have heard some positive things about her dancing and seen little snippets on You Tube and Facebook, but would she have something interesting to teach?

Imman originally comes from United Arab Emirates and has been dancing for many years. She moved to the UK a few years back and has recently been teaching some community belly dance classes, in Glasgow. She also had a popular You Tube presence for a while with her "Imman Bellysylin" brand (and although many of these videos were unfortunately taken down, the clips posted by her fans still get considerable traffic). However, in all this time, Imman and has never made any contact with the Scottish dance scene up until she performed at Belly Dance Congress in the South of England a few months back - a performance which was received well.

Since then, Imman has set up a new dance business, the Imman Mussa Middle Eastern Dance Academy (IMMEDA) to expand her work beyond her local belly dance classes in Glasgow. Today's workshop, in Edinburgh, was marketed specifically to Advanced or Professional level. There is something quite appealing about the idea of trying out a new dance teacher, especially one who comes from outside of the UK so I went along to give it a try.

It was a small class. There were only 5 other students - unfortunately the price of the workshop meant that a number of others who would have liked to have joined us were unable to come. For me, the workshop didn't start all that well. First there was improvised dancing before any warming up, and then the body conditioning billed as integral to the workshop turned out to be about 15 minutes of untutored stretching left to our own devices. An unusual opening.

Once this was over with, we got on with learning some different areas of technique. Interesting stuff. Some shimmies, focusing on the backs of the thighs and hamstrings, which we then layered into some travelling movements. A few fast spins. And there was an interesting version of a hagallah walk - a little bit soheir zaki with a little bit of a maya. Then in the final part of the workshop we learnt a short combination (about 16 bars).

The overall workshop, however, was a little bit disappointing for me. Probably more so, because Imman does have a lot of potential as a performer. And to her credit, as a teacher she is attentive and very observant, and able to see and correct, and she has some understanding of how to break down the movements. She is also a nice, sweet girl and wants to give what she can to all of her students.

My personal block to learning is a disconnected approach between move and music - the moves were demonstrated, practiced and delivered without the music they belonged to. As a result I was frustrated, I didn't feel I was really dancing, and had no sense of achievement of a new piece of technique first absorbed and then performed. Although a technical element is an important discipline, the whole picture - the dance to a piece of music, the art that we are all striving to achieve - was absent. I needed the energy, the beauty, the physical exhaustion and the joy that accompanies.

Despite limited experience, Imman is a skillful dancer and has an encouraging teaching manner. As a teacher, she would most likely benefit from some formal teacher training and I really hope that she pursues this at some point. She describes the way she teaches, as a little bit like how she practises in her front room, with friends. Meeting to dance, trying to get the hang of a few moves. I can see how this might work in the setting of a weekly class, but I'm not sure Imman is quite really to translate this approach to an advanced or professional level workshop. Would I go back? Well perhaps not, I guess I can probably stay at home and practise in my front room.

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