In The Underwater Kingdom: A Different Kind of Arabic Choreography

GulfshimmyFishTeamJoyofMotionLaurelVictoriaGraystudentsBy Laurel Victoria Gray

My Arabic dance choreography for this session’s Studio to Stage Showcase takes inspiration from the ocean, portraying an Underwater Kingdom described in an Arabian Nights story. The resulting work promises to be an evocative adventure into the Gulf that borders the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

In the West, we tend to associate the Arab world with the desert, forgetting that many Arab nations border on a body of water — the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, or the Gulf. Arabs have a history of maritime exploration and sea trade that brought them into contact with other cultures. Our English word “admiral,” derives in part from the Arabic naval title amir al-bahr which means “Commander of the Seas.”

If you are wondering how an Arabic dance movement vocabulary can translate into sea creatures, keep in mind that fish often propel themselves through the water by shimmying and undulating. And, of course, these movements typify Arabic dance. Some of the hand positions have been modified to become more “fin-like” but the core movements are true to Raqs Sharqi (belly dance).

GULFfightingfishpracticeSince this piece takes place in the Underwater Kingdom, costumes and props present a special challenge. While the dancers are not mermaids, they need to have an aquatic look. Fortunately, the dancers in this particular class are a crafty bunch with awesome sewing skills. We gathered for a Saturday costuming session in February, planning and creating many of the items that will appear in the piece. To add an element of “delayed line” to the costuming, dancers created intricate braided and be-ribboned “falls” that look like long hair.

While I loaned some skirts, fabric, and trim for this project, the students themselves contributed many costuming supplies, putting in many hours to create the intriguing designs. In addition to the performance by the Joy of Motion “school of fish,” audience members will enjoy cameo appearances by an octopus, jellyfish and a couple of fighting fish.

For the next session of Studio to Stage, we will explore a joyous tribal dance of Iran in my Persian Folkloric Dance of the Qashqai class. The colorful folk costumes and scarves are a great way to experience the way another culture celebrates community. Hope you can join us as we discover the world through dance.

Sign up for Laurel’s Persian Folkloric Dance of the Qashqai class or choose from our other Spring 2013 Studio to Stage Performance Class offerings: DIVA (hip hop) with Namaad Jackson, Contemporary African with Taurus Broadhurst, Tease (burlesque) with Derek Brown and Modern with Sylvana Christopher. Sign up by Friday, March 22 and save 15%!

Plus join Laurel and her students Saturday, March 23, 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 24, 7:00 p.m., at The Jack Guidone Theater for the Studio to Stage Winter 2013 Performance Class Showcase. Tickets start at $12.