OPA! News, Victoria Spring 2008
by BOBBIE BARRY
Lynette is the quintessential teacher. After 30 years of teaching and performing this art form, she knows her stuff!
My first meeting and experience of Lynette Harper as a teacher was back in July 2003. At that point I had been studying Middle Eastern belly dance for a year and a half. My first teacher and Mentor, Pamela Ball asked Lynette to travel down from Nanaimo to do a workshop with those of us who had fallen under the thrall of this beautiful dance form.
Pamela told us we were in for a treat and a treat is what we got. Though I still consider myself in the toddler stages of my study of this dance, back then as a baby dancer, I remember being very nervous taking a class outside the comfort zone of my own teacher’s methods and style.
But not to worry. Lynette is the quintessential teacher. After 30 years of teaching and performing this art form, she knows her stuff! And without being overbearing or forcefully opinionated, it is clear that she expects you to continue your own education if you are a seriously dedicated student. On the other hand, she is encouraging, supportive and very generous with her knowledge and skill towards those of us who are still in the learning process.
My first experience of Lynette as a performer was in that same workshop back in July 2003. It was exciting to see her earthy, confident Rom style! Since then I have seen Lynette perform other styles of dance at various events and venues around the Victoria area. I always enjoy her wonderful stage presence. Whether, celebratory, playful, introspective or any myriad of other moods, I always find her performances fresh and in the moment. She is always genuine for the audience and I love that in a performer.
So with that in mind, I eagerly looked forward to another fun, informative and expressive day on December 1st.
The workshop was held at the Pro Patria Legion. First, let me say it was a really nice venue. Nothing fancy but easily located with plenty of accessible parking (I live close by so that was an added bonus), with a Tim Horton’s and a few other restaurants within walking distance.
We started the “Raqs Sharqi” morning workshop by warming up with folkloric steps and movements. This not only served to get us moving and the blood flowing but gave us a base from which to discuss the origins of Raq Sharqi (Oriental dance). From there we began to refine those steps, form them into combinations and add more detailed arms and hands. We discussed and implemented intention in our movement – being aware that the just-for-fun, spontaneous social aspects of the Beledi (country) dance becomes more intentional, elegant and stylized as it moves towards engaging and entertaining an audience in the classical and modern styles of Oriental dance.
We ended the morning by learning a small portion of a Randa Kamal choreography as taught at the 2007 International Bellydance Conference of Canada. It certainly was a lesson on the innovative modern Egyptian style developed by Randa – showing that this dance is certainly not static!
After the short lunch break we reconvened for the “Turkish Inspirations” afternoon portion of the workshop. This was the portion in which I was particularly interested as I feel that my own personal style leans more towards American Cabaret that, in the past, borrowed heavily from Turkish music, styling and costuming.
In this portion we discussed “earthiness” and “airiness” – how we might flow between the two energies and where we feel our personal style lies along the continuum between the two. Lynette even had us place ourselves along an imaginary line between “earthy” and “airy.” That was a very interesting and profound moment. Some dancers’ perception of their particular place on the continuum was not how they were perceived by the other students! Food for thought there! We spent some time paying particular attention to hands and emotion. We also discussed, practiced and experimented with spins, pauses and poses at various speeds and levels. These provide that dramatic flair that, to me, is characteristic of Turkish style and which gives such rich texture to a performance (though it is, of course, present in other styles as well).
Though we followed Lynette’s direction and instruction, she also gave time and room for improvised expression. For me, this is the essence of Middle Eastern dance. Learning choreography and combinations are fun, useful and, for me, a necessary way to hone technique and transitions beyond the drilling stage. However, just as each person is unique, expression through dance is also unique. Each dancer must be able to come to a point where she/he is able to translate what the music is saying to her/him. Lynette’s teaching never loses sight of this important truth and she always makes room for even the least experienced and proficient dancer to begin to find that individual expression.
Lynette ended both sessions with a stretch and emphasized throughout the day to modify movement or use similar but different movement to accommodate existing personal physical injuries or conditions.
In addition, the music used was excellent and made available by mail to those who wished to purchase.
My only suggestion goes to OPA not Lynette: I was very happy to pay for and attend the full day workshop. However, I did have a few people mention to me that they would have liked to attend either the morning or the afternoon sessions because personal commitments did not allow for freeing up an entire day. I know it’s a lot of work to put on any function and have it run smoothly and successfully. When all is said and done it’s nice to see that hard work pay off in attendance and participation. Perhaps providing the option to pay and attend only one of the sessions would have seen a few more people at these most fun and informative classes.
Having one of Vancouver Island’s own teaching a workshop was a great way to celebrate 10 years since OPA’s inception. A BIG thank you to Lynette and OPA.