Brisbane with Dr Mo (2016)

Published in the MEDANZ newsletter, 2016

The Brisbane Winter Warmups started in 1996 by Maria Masselos after her frustration at being unable to find accurate information about the dance. Rather than taking herself off to study with experienced teachers she brought them to Australia for many dancers to share. Her standards were high - teachers needed to have been born in the Middle East and have decades of experience. The study was intense - 8 days with a single teacher - all day and often some of the night.

Over the years many of us built connections with dancers we would only see at the Warmup. It was interesting to see how people grew and in what direction - or, less happily, to watch the ravages of age on the body.

2016 saw the 5th return of Dr Mo Geddawi, co-founder of the Reda Troupe (from Egypt) and who has now been teaching for 50 years. But this year was a little different. The first four days were dedicated to learning five choreographies (two Orientale, three folkloric). This was the usual hard slog; drilling the pieces over and over to get them to stick (one of them being over 8 minutes long!). Even at 78, Mo would teach in two hour blocks with only a single very brief break. We were all drenched in sweat well before then.

To add a little more stress for me, this year the local teacher who normally takes the warm-ups was unavailable; so an hour before start time I'm informed I'd be taking a 45 minutes warm-up - no prep, none of my music, and with a number of professional dancers in class.

But what made this year stand out was the second four days - this was teacher training. For this, Mo was joined by Jrisi, Maria, Lynn England and Adel Amin to deliver a mix of theory and practice. We didn't just hear about ways to drill our students - we did it ourselves. Weight changes, direction changes, arabesques, manipulations, folk steps, cane, and veil - we drilled until we got it - and developed empathy for our students.

Classes ran to 9pm with lectures on the history of our dance in Egypt, costuming, props (including care of snakes), Arabic music and rhythms, dance ethics, studio management, anatomy, and teaching methods. It was all very informative, useful information that any teacher needed to know.

The last day started with a very vigorous (physical) revision session - followed by the exam. Those that were left were faced with dancing (alone) in front of a panel of three (Mo, Jrisi, and Adel) and answering a series of questions from each. When each of us returned after they had a confab we heard not only how we went on our performance, but also our progress over the eight days. (And yes, I passed) This took a bit longer than expected. Great for those who went early - but torture for those who had to wait hours for their turn.

This was the best intensive to date. I only wish it had been available when I started teaching. (And a pity there were not more teachers there - especially from NZ). I've returned with new combos, ideas, and energy. I almost wish I hadn't cancelled term 3 (too cold). But it will all keep for term 4.

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