Alia Thabit Traditional and Avant-Garde Belly Dance

Review of Tamalyn Dallal’s NOLA Weeklong 2016

Wow, it’s been a crazy few weeks! Tamalyn just put the icing on my sleep-deprived cake…

Tamalyn-NOLAA standard water heater heats up a big tank of water. Once hot, the heater cycles off and on, keeping all that water piping hot—until you use some. Cold water then refills the tank and the heater kicks into high gear. It once again brings all the water up to temp. It does this all day.

An on-demand water heater, by contrast, does not have a tank. It only heats the water you use, at the moment that you use it. No cycling off and on, no ready reservoir of hot water. There is still as much hot water as you want (ideally), just no wasted energy keeping a reserve tank heated.

I have always thought of myself as an on-demand water heater. I might lie around all day long, but when there is action to be had, I am ready to roll. This has always worked for me. Until now.

New Orleans kicked my ass. Tamalyn’s technique, her discoveries about the global tapestry of Middle Eastern Dance, our group’s warmth and camaraderie (limited to 10 dancers in Tamalyn’s adorable home studio), all set amid the chaotic glory of New Orleans’ frenetic energy, rich food, and late nights did me in. Yes, I’m still tired a week later. No, I wouldn’t change a moment. Here’s how it all went down.

Tamalyn’s technique is different.
She began her belly dance journey from a Western mindset of external focus, precision, and stylization, but she didn’t stay there. Tamalyn’s approach evolved and deepened as she delved ever more deeply into an Eastern mindset and movement quality. Her movement now integrates air and earth.

This is exciting to me. I have been retraining myself over the last couple of years to initiate movement from the earth with gravity and weight shifts. I learned this approach from Yasmina Ramzy. It has changed my dance for the better, and it’s a real thrill to see someone with Tamalyn’s experience and high visibility build this into her technique.

The basic idea is that movement comes from the connection between the feet and the earth. Most of us were taught to use internal muscles to do everything and the feet were only along for the ride. With gravity-based technique, however, you push into the earth to lift the hip. Weight changes drive shimmies. Hip circles come from weight shifts along the foot, from the heel, to the ball, across to the ball of the other foot, back to its heel, and so on.

The foot action drives the movement of the hips. It’s a richer, gooier way to dance, far more physically pleasurable. And while it feels more relaxed, it actually uses more muscles in a more holistic way. Each morning became a deep exploration of technique, a welcome journey through realigning movement patterns and reawakening our relationship to gravity and earth.

Tamalyn’s next revelation was the global tapestry of Middle Eastern Dance. As a world traveler and belly dance pioneer, Tamalyn visits many far-off places and teaches belly dance everywhere she goes. She has also researched the global connections our dance has—in the unlikeliest places.

Tamalyn has a glitter globe liberally sprinkled with colored jewels tracing the myriad trade and migratory patterns that have passed through or centered in the various countries of the Middle East, from spice routes and Silk Road to the Ottoman Empire. She has now been to many of these places, including Central Asia, Western China, and Eastern Europe.

Everywhere Tamalyn goes, she asks questions and gets answers about dance traditions and connections. She has found innumerable movement and musical connections in her travels. Each day after lunch, we watched dance films, traced yet another route on our maps, and discussed these global connections. Then we danced away the afternoons, prepared for a small group show, and danced by the river to the saxophone of a local musician.

On top of this (and it was plenty), we were enmeshed in the gaudy glory of New Orleans’ French Quarter. I can’t even describe the energy. Or the ever-present music. Or the amazing food. Or the weird mix of tourist theme park, classy residential area, and rich historic detail. The French Quarter is beautiful and seductive. The museum, with its history of Mardi Gras and deeply moving Katrina exhibits, is wonderful. Even the tourist traps are kind of heartwarming.

Tamalyn took us on an exciting tour with local Cajun guide Carla Bouillon and brought in some local dance artists to help us get the feel of the energy—the standout was Marissa Joseph TheMoeJoe, who teaches Bounce as well as Creole dance (major similarities with belly dance), and several other styles. It was a helluva week.

A few cautions:
Drink lots of water. I could not stay hydrated. The temperature in Tamalyn’s studio is quite pleasant, but outside it is HOT.

Choose a place to stay within a a few blocks of the studio. There are lots of hotels and airbnbs around. You don’t want to take cabs back and forth to your place every day. It adds up, and it cuts you off from the local energy.

Bring your wallet. NOLA ate more money faster than almost any place I have ever been. On the other hand, I minded spending the money less here than most other places. I resented every dime Las Vegas sucked out of my pockets, yet I happily paid my tabs in NOLA, even when it was $50 for an appetizer, mixed drink, and dessert (with tax+tip) at Tableau—the place and people were that marvelous. But oh my, was I exhausted!

Where was my hot water when I needed it? I was demanding, but nothing came out of the spout. Well, I now realize it wasn’t my heater–it was my fuel. What was supposed to be a blessed interlude of RnR before I got to Tamalyn’s turned into a crazy rollercoaster of running around and no sleep. Sleep, my friends, is the key. It is the fuel that heats the water, and I was running on fumes long before I got to NOLA.

Stockpile sleep, people! We went out almost every evening; then we stayed up talking until 3 or 4am. I barely rolled out of bed in time to get coffee before class.

I’m still tired, but it was worth it. I lived on some of the best coffee I have ever drunk, sugared with wonderful people, great places, and amazing food. It was a blast.

Tamalyn is not to be missed. She has done so much for our dance so long, and her understanding is so nuanced and rich. It is worth it to travel for her, even all the way to New Orleans.

She’s doing this workshop again in 2017. She will also be in Vermont for a week with Leila Farid and Sahra Saeeda (raq-on.net), and teaches online through DaturaOnline.

Get more information at tamalyndallal.net.
And come visit NOLA.

Love,
Alia

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