I met Nesma at Christine Yaven’s Festival el Raqesa in Jakarta and was struck by the elusive simplicity of what she does. Movements that look mundane on others were pure magic, paired with such aesthetic coherence that her style is impossible to replicate. Nesma’s approach embodies her pioneering work in what she calls ‘Neo-Andalusian’ dance. This style of dancing to Andalusian music is based on a foundation of Reda technique, extended by fusing elements of Nesma’s Oriental dance stylisation with Egyptian and Spanish folklore. When I heard about her week-long Neo-Andalusian dance retreat, I had to go…
Participants from around the world (including Russia, the United States, Japan, and England) descended on the idyllic Casa el Morisco (The Moorish House), Benajarafe on the coast of Southern Spain to dive into a dance style inspired by the era of Al-Andalus. Casa el Morisco is situated in a valley overlooking the sea, a maze of scattered buildings surrounded by lush gardens and fascinating sculptures. Classes started at 11am after a buffet breakfast (which suited those suffering jetlag), although, the smorgasbord of local organic food lent itself to overconsumption…
The classic Neo-Andalusian dance retreat was one of the best-designed courses I have attended. Not only did Nesma introduce us to her style and approach to dancing to Andalusian music, her goal was to support our own artistic and dance development. On the first day, Nesma provided a checklist of the things we need to know to dance to Andalusian music: 1) identify the rhythms; 2) analyse the melody and; 3) develop a choreography and aesthetic inspired by the instruments, lyrics, speed and country of origin of the music. The course addressed each of these points and supported participants exploring their own approach to dancing to Andalusian music with: an introduction to the history of al-Andalus and its role in musical development across the Maghreb and Mashriq; classes in music theory with Irene Shams, with a focus on the specific mizan found in different streams of Andalusian music; an introduction to Nesma’s Neo-Andalusian technique and combinations; a workshop on appropriate costuming for Neo-Andalusian dance; three whole days of workshops with live music; and a day-trip to Granada and the Alhambra. Nesma truly went ‘above and beyond’ to provide students with access to content, including a music class and didactic concert with musicologist Amin Chachoo, an expert in ‘Musica Andalusi’.
As a teacher, Nesma is a delight. Her enthusiasm and passion about Andalusian music is contagious. Nesma provided careful and well-paced breakdowns of rhythms, technique and combinations. Throughout the course, she provided insightful feedback personally catered to each student.
If Oriental dance is a minefield, it is a drop in the ocean compared to understanding the history, music theory, and technique required in Neo-Andalusian dance. However, by the conclusion of the course, I felt I had the prerequisite knowledge and confidence to explore Neo-Andalusian dance.
Nesma will run a Summer Camp in August, 2018. If you consider attending, get familiar with the music. The complex rhythmic patterns of Andalusian music from the Mashriq are demanding. Samai Thaqil (10/8) is just the start; get onto Spotify and find music in Mudawwar (12/4), Murrabba (13/4), Muhajjar (14/4) and more. Identifying the rhythms can be tough, but familiarity with popular melodies will really help throughout the course.
Nesma is a fantastic teacher, able to adapt the program to suit multiple levels, but the content is most appropriate for intermediate-advanced dancers and above. The time signatures are complex; combined with the movement vocabulary and emotional expressivity required from Andalusian music, it is easy to feel overwhelmed! Experience in Reda style and technique would also be helpful.
Al-Andalus Winter Camp 2018 “Classic”
Published in Issue 62, Bellydance Oasis magazine, www.bellydanceoasis.com
Tara Yasmin is an Oriental dance artist known for her dynamic, culturallyinformed performances. Tara has studied a variety of Oriental and folkloric dance styles since 2010, with particular interests in Tarab, Muwashahat, Arabic and community-engagement projects.