Halloween Treat Silvia Salamanca & Haflaween

There has been more interaction recently between the dancers in my current home of Augusta, Georgia, and in Columbia, the state capitol and largest city in South Carolina, which is approximately an hour and a half away. Some of the Columbia dancers have come down to dance with us at haflas and at our First Friday celebrations. A few Augusta dancers make the drive to study American Tribal Style with Maria Palacio.

Maria owns Columbia’s only FatChance BellyDance sister studio, and she teaches both traditional and tribal dance. She directs “Serpentine Bellydance”, a fusion belly dance troupe and also performs with “Alternacirque”. One of her goals is to present quality instructors to the local area, so in October 2012 she brought in Silvia Salamanca.

Columbia to AgustaNow based in Houston, Silvia is from Mallorca, Spain, and she came to belly dance with a background in ballet and modern. She feels that belly dance can empower women in body and spirit, increasing strength and self-awareness. The study of her own ethnic roots led her to the field of Zambra Mora (the fusion of Spanish gypsy flamenco and Moorish dance) and is the director of “Shunyata Belly Dance”.

Because I first studied belly dance with the superb teachers of Manhattan, I am often extremely critical of the instructors I’ve seen since I’ve moved to the South. Luckily, the advantage of modern technology is that we can view clips on Youtube to see if we like a particular dancer’s style and if she’s someone from whom we want to learn. Definitely, I enjoyed Silvia’s performance – there was an agile exuberance in her dance that I did not usually see in Spanish fusion.

So, on Saturday, October 20, several of us from Augusta, Georgia, went up to Columbia to attend Silvia’s workshop on “Hands, Hips and Spins,” which focused on combining the flair and fire of the Spanish gypsies with Oriental dance. Silvia is a lively, engaging instructor, and she encouraged participants to ask questions. Though she jovially mocked her own Spanish accent, we could understand her quite well, except for the occasional mercurial burst into her native tongue.

Silvia began by focusing on posture, emphasizing the position of the shoulder blades to achieve the proud flamenco torso. Next came florio, the circular “hand flower,” but she drilled us on the finger articulation for Spanish style, not merely the wrist movements of tribal. She suggested we lead our florios with whichever finger felt comfortable rather than the index-in and pinky-out finger lead that is often taught.

We continued with braceo, the position of the arms, in which the elbows are more lifted than in belly dance, then we practiced the flowing movement of the arms as they passed from one position to another, finally adding the florios. Following all the hand and arm work were the palmas, the hand claps, focusing on palmas sordas, the soft sound as the fingers of the right hand move between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand.Workshop

Silvia taught a few steps with palmas and added some basic hip and skirt work, then proceeded to teach a Spanish gypsy choreography which had some vivacious combinations. She also discussed the attitude and emotion behind the steps, telling us that the song was about bidding goodbye to a no-good lover by flipping the skirt to the rear to “show your butt”, telling him it’s over with a sassy finger snap. We were able to work through the entire choreography, which included flamenco turns and spins. She taught it as a solo but explained that it could also be done as a duet.

I was happily surprised by Silvia’s relaxed attitude to Spanish dance. I have taken a few flamenco classes with some wonderfully intense instructors but their rigidity and insistence on perfection could be intimidating.

Silvia was extremely precise in explaining the steps, breaking down the footwork, body angles and transitions, yet her approach to the choreography was warm and enjoyable. When we were able to start doing the entire piece, Silvia gave us permission to make mistakes, encouraging us to just dance and relish the movement rather than stress about the exactitude of the choreography..

One of Silvia’s goals is the reconstruction of Andalusian dance prior to flamenco, and to conclude the workshop she spent a few minutes discussing the journey of the gypsies from northern India into Moorish Spain. Her own ancestry includes gitana and Sephardic Jew, so this work is close to her heart and heritage. Her passion and enthusiasm for this dance are invigorating, and we felt inspired by her teaching.

AmandaAlong with the workshop was Maria Palacio’s annual “Haflaween”, and I adore Halloween-themed belly dance! This show was particularly special because we were opening with a tribute to John Compton, who had passed away only a few days before. My friend Mari and some of the Augusta dancers had attended his workshop and learned his choreography to Omar Tekbilek‘s Shashkin,which John often taught as a zil drill.

Mari asked if Shashkin could be included in Haflaween as a tribute to John, and graciously, Maria provided an extra slot. Mari invited whomever remembered it or could pick it up to participate. She found a clear video of the dance on Youtube, and it was the first time I have ever learned a choreography online. We met at Mari’s house on Friday night to polish it, and then six dancers who had never danced together had a great time performing it on Saturday.

DTTSHaflaween featured groups and soloists from Columbia and Augusta in all their Gothic elegance, including the Spanish witches of “Dancing Through the Skirt”, infected zombie Amanda, and terrible twins Mari and Alison. Maria danced with a lovely, long mantilla. Of course, the highlight of the evening was Silvia – her tribal and Spanish fusion pieces were dynamic and beautiful and her sword dance was utterly amazing.

She performed with two swords, beginning with one on her head, and then she held the second one between her toes, maintaining beautiful lines during floor-work that included full rolls, and then standing and extending her leg and torso. Her movements were so graceful and fluid that it was still a dance, not a circus act. She was teaching a sword workshop on Sunday, but I wasn’t able to make the trip two days in a row. However, I was very glad I had studied with her on Saturday and to have seen her perform. I also bought her DVD to reinforce her teaching.

With some instructors, I’ve enjoyed the workshop, but feel afterwards that it hasn’t really improved my dancing. After this workshop and show, I felt full of new dance ideas that flowed into sequences of movement.

I choreographed two new dances for myself in two days, and I’ve never developed choreography so quickly and easily before. I loved Silvia’s teaching and performance, but, most importantly, the work with her inspired my own creativity. For me, that’s the hallmark of a truly accomplished instructor.

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