by Hayam (Brianna Molter)
Have you ever witnessed a dancer perform and been utterly compelled to watch her? She may be a professional or an amateur, it doesn’t matter. Technique or no, there is just something about her that makes you want to watch her. We learn the mechanics of Middle-Eastern dance as baby dancers. As we grow, we learn that we must not only develop technique but master performance as well. For many students, the performance aspect is the most difficult piece of the puzzle to grasp. Countless dancers execute the technical aspects of Middle-Eastern dance beautifully but still have flat performances. There is no spark, no energy between the performer and audience that keeps the audience enchanted. This element is what Basimah refers to as “giving face” and can turn a so-so performance into a captivating and memorable experience.
I was lucky enough to participate in Basimah’s "Got F.A.C.E.?" workshop, an intimate class where Basimah teaches her students to “give face” and take their performance to the next level. F.A.C.E. stands for Facial Expression, Awareness, Confidence, and Engagement. I was unsure what to expect going into the workshop since performance is a difficult topic to teach. I soon learned that the class would be all about pushing students outside of their comfort zones. Basimah’s warm and welcoming demeanor immediately made me feel more comfortable, but I was a bit taken aback when she said that we would not be dancing for a while. Wasn’t this a dance workshop? She had the class sit in a circle and explained that she wanted us to think deeply about what belly dance meant to us. Why do we keep dancing? What drives us?
She told a very personal story about when she realized what performance was all about. It revolved around performing for a fellow soldier during her tour of service in Iraq. As we listened, it was like the icy walls of insecurity in the room began to melt. She asked the rest of us to share our experiences and let down our own personal walls to discover what performance was really about to us. It was an amazing experience discovering everyone’s stories, and before we were even halfway around the circle there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Basimah challenged us to take this energy and use it when we dance. She described how we should be using these very raw and real feelings to generate a connection with our audience. Following the exercise, Basimah broke down the acronym F.A.C.E. and gave some very helpful pointers about how to translate feeling into our performance. She explained that she was giving us a performance toolkit. By using the principles of F.A.C.E. we would develop our own personal performance style and spark, making the audience want to watch us.
Following our rather introspective morning, Basimah declared that we were finally ready to get moving. She paired us off and said we were going to do a “sexy walk”. I could see the anxious looks around the room. “Oh no, what is a sexy walk? I am an awkward duck.” Basimah had us walk toward our partners and try to embody sexy using the performance energy we had learned. “Make them want you!” she said as she walked between partners. It was a very difficult exercise, especially for those of us who tend to be more introverted. It was mentally exhausting to look my partner in the eye and will her to watch me as I walked toward her. But by the end of the exercise, everyone was having fun, and partners were cheering each other on. I could feel the walls coming down around us as we loosened up and learned to enjoy the “sexy walk”. This energy was later channeled into small group improvisational activities and following Basimah through a short and sassy combination. I found the progression of the activities very helpful in learning how to systematically take advantage of the different aspects of F.A.C.E.
I would highly recommend this workshop to other dancers, whether you are a professional who feels like you are in a performance rut, a beginner who isn’t sure about establishing yourself on the stage, or anywhere in between. Basimah takes a difficult concept and breaks it down into manageable pieces. I came away from "Got F.A.C.E.?" with a much deeper understanding of why I dance and how I can affect my audience with my energy. I also appreciated the opportunity to develop this knowledge in a supportive and challenging environment. It was special to be able to share the experience with an intimate group. I think we all felt a connection to one another after letting ourselves become vulnerable and learning what it meant to use F.A.C.E. Basimah is a challenging instructor who is very invested in helping her students develop a deeper understanding of their dance. She pushed us out of our comfort zones and at the same time she pushed our dance to a new level. I look forward to using the tools she taught us in "Got F.A.C.E.?" in all my future performances.
Hayam performs and teaches Middle-Eastern dance in the Boston area. She started Middle Eastern dance in 2007 and has been in love with the music and culture ever since. Her goal is to continue to share its joys with audiences and students everywhere for many years. For more information visit hayamraqs.com.
Hayam's baby daughter, Willow