Last week I travelled to Breda for two days filled with Sadie. For those of you who don’t know Sadie, she broke through around 2004 and has been performing and teaching all over the world. Her trademark is been her strong technique and isolations that are best shown in her drum solo’s.
Why did I take these workshops? Because I want to become a better dancer and I want to keep on learning. The Raqs Flow program is about more than strong technique: it shows Sadie’s vision on the basics that should be in every dancers toolkit. What do I really need to work on to become a level 1 certified Raqs Flow bellydancer? And more important, what should I be working on to become a better dancer?
Disclaimer: I am no stranger to certification programs. I certified as a Bellyfit instructor in 2014. I took Suhaila’s level 1 intensive in 2015 and choose not to take the certification test. In my working life I am an IT professional and I am swamped with certifications. As a dancer and long time contributor to our local bellydance magazine Raqs wa Risala (Dutch) I’ve written articles about the rise of certification in bellydance and whether it is useful or not. In short, certification and me, we have a history.
Day 1: technique, drills, basic arm patterns
The first day I travelled by car and I got there early because I had to extract milk. It was the first time for me of doing so in a dressing room. I was glad that they had a couple of smaller dressing rooms that could be locked. We gathered in the huge studio in the health center, above a swimming pool where people were doing their laps. This is where Badra Falak, the hostess, teaches her weekly bellydance classes. She is a very graceful, upbeat and warm person who did everything in her power to make us all comfortable.
I was excited to see Khalida again. We’ve known each other for over ten years now I think, and the rare occasions that we meet in real life are always a pleasure. If you don’t know her yet, check out her awesome online classes or instructional dvds. It was also nice to see Havva again, a dancer I met in Ghent in 2015 during the Ava Fleming intensive. At the time we talked about being a mom and being a bellydancer, it was so nice to catch up.
After ten minutes Sadie arrived, together with the film crew of ‘Beyond the Glitter’. Sadie is starring in the documentary, showing what it’s like to be a professional bellydancer travelling around the world. She gave a short outline of the day: we’d do a warm-up, focus on technique and drills, have lunch and then go for some more technique and drills. We were ready!
I loved the warm up with elements of Pilates, a couple of planks (I have a love hate relationship with planks: they are so hard, yet so effective for building core strength), dynamic stretching and exercises to loosen the spine. Sadie is very, very fit and flexible so she was way ahead of us during the stretching but the good news is that the stretches worked, no matter your own range of motion.
We started out with basic arm patterns, something I love on account of arms being the hardest part to get looking polished. Creating a basic set of arm positions, much like the arm positions in ballet, really helps with basic arm placement and drilling.
There were a couple of ‘aha’ moments for me. Sadie makes a clear distinction between the weighted and unweighted leg, added with basic hip movements like up, down, front, back, etc. She had us sweating in no time. It was nice to discover that I prefer certain movements over others, so much so that some movements feel unnatural.
We closed with a short cooling down and the prospect of the second day of practice.
Day 2: Rhythms, steps and turns and background of bellydance
The second day we started off with a warming-up and due to my bus being late I ran in fifteen minutes after the class started. We worked through the drills we did on day 1 and Sadie explained a bit about footwork, using steps and techniques from ballet. We practiced tendu’s to show the importance of pointing the toes and feet. After the warm-up I had time for a quick hug with Luna, who couldn’t make it on Thursday.
In the afternoon, Sadie’s husband David dropped by to play three basic rhythms for us and explain a bit about each rhythm. I loved that part because rhythm is seldom discussed in classes and workshops, while it is the heartbeat of Arabic music.
Then Sadie talked us through the questions of the written part of the certification. She explained to us why certain topics were added and encouraged us to discuss the subjects. She hit several key aspects of our dance, like ‘what name should we call our dance’ and ‘where did it come from?’. The talk went on longer than anticipated but we all didn’t mind as it was fascinating.
After sitting down for the talk we got up and Sadie taught us a short and sweet choreography to Hebbina, incorporating the drills and moves we worked on. It was really nice to see it all fit together into a beautiful flow, and it helped me realize why the program is called Raqs Flow. The choreography can be used as a training tool. It showed how thoughtful the program is put together.
I had to finish at six to catch my bus while most of the students stayed for the certification. My main reasons for not certifying are:
- Originally the certification was planned after dinner, and I wanted to get home at a reasonable time frame. I left at six and was home around eight thirty, just in time to have dinner with my family and put my baby to bed. Had it been originally planned right after the workshop, I could have made arrangements in advance to stay the extra hour. Ah well, such is life.
- It was unclear to me what the certification signified. Sadie told me she’d be adding more information to the website soon but so far I couldn’t find answers to questions like: does it require to take a certain amount of classes with Sadie to stay certified? What is the difference between level one and two? How many levels are there? Considering that certification for level one has been available for three years, I’d expected a bit more information on the long term effects of certifying. This is what I found on her website while I was writing this post.
I had a great time during Raqs Flow, as it is a carefully assembled to contain basic elements of bellydance, yet also challenges the more experienced dancer. One of the participants had four months of bellydance experience, others danced over a decade. Every one went home with a satisfied feeling and material to work on. That in itself is a great accomplishment for Sadie. I loved the in depth talk about rhythms and the roots of bellydance: this was also carefully selected to touch on important subjects without steering our thoughts towards a black and white answer.
The drills were good and are similar to Suhaila’s drills. If you are a drill enthousiast, I’d say go for Suhaila’s certification program. But if you are looking for improvement on basic technique, Raqs Flow is far more accessible and affordable. I found the amount of drilling okay, as my body disagrees with me more often these days.
This review wouldn’t be complete without a couple of points that I’d rather see different. So here we go:
- Time management. Class started late, ended late, certification was moved last minute to a different time slot. As I had to travel over two hours to get there and have family commitments, this didn’t work for me. I am sad I couldn’t join dinner on Friday for the same reason.
- One of the strong feats of the Raqs Flow program is that it incorporates technique from Pilates and ballet. It is also it’s weak point. Practicing tendu’s and turns was nice but without the context of a ballet class, I wonder how effective it is and what dancers take with them. I hope that they go home and find an adult ballet class. If they don’t they might end up teaching tendu’s with not enough background knowledge. Also, having a barre in the class would have been very helpful for balance.
- I already mentioned the lack of information about the certification program and what it entails. The good news is that certification is not that expensive (75 euro) compared to Suhaila’s certification program (I think it was 250 euro in 2015). The bad news is that I’m pretty sure I won’t be earning a dime more because I am certified. I am also unclear about the benefits of becoming certified.
I’d love to get more information about the certification program because it is valuable as a learning tool and well thought out. I’d attend again and test at a later event if possible. So overall, I’d say check it out if you want to learn more! As I arrived late on the second day and had to leave on time, I missed out on the group photo but Sadie graciously posed with me right after lunch. It was a great experience to look back on and enough material to work with for the next year 🙂
I am a professional bellydancer and costume-a-holic living in the Netherlands. If you enjoyed this post and like to be kept in the loop, please like Kyria Bellydance on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Leave your questions or comments in the box below, or let me know through Facebook.
Thanks for reading and see you soon!