It's been a few weeks since I attended Hipnosis' Spring 2009 Bellyjam and the Zafira workshops, and I need to get some thoughts down before I lose all recollection of them completely. Both the hafla and the workshops were held at the Elkins Estate, a sprawling property dotted with grandiose mansions in Elkins Park, PA. Entering through a tall wrought-iron gate and down an impressive driveway accented with statuary, you knew that this event was going to be special. The property was formerly owned and maintained by a convent of nuns, and the Bellyjam was held in a large room they had converted into a chapel complete with confessional booths at the rear. The stage was set on a slightly elevated portion of the room and was swathed in a lovely array of draped fabric, floor pillows, and lanterns.
The show opened with a performance by the band One combining doumbek, guitar and Indian tabla, and then the ladies of Hipnosis took the stage for two improvisational pieces. Following them were a series of soloists from the area. The ones I remember enjoying the most was a medley by a Cabaret-style dancer from New Jersey who took turns dancing with veil and zills, a tribal fusion solo to Amon Tobin's Easy Muffin by Laura Boyd, and an energetic Indian dance. Olivia and Maria from Zafira Dance Company performed twice, once immediately before the intermission and once at the very end of the show. After the intermission the student troupes performed and Vikki's Tribal Fusion class danced to the piece on which they had been working. As usual it was a great time. There were some vendors in the large foyer area and I purchased a hoop from one of them. I'm not doing very well with it, but the amount of time I can keep it turning (which isn't very long at all) is fun.
The Zafira workshops the following day (I was only able to attend the Sunday classes) were held in the same grand space as the Bellyjam. The first workshop focused on various types of shimmies (primarily 2/4, 3/4, and even 4/4 shimmies) and was taught by Maria Hamer. I wasn't sure I was going to survive Maria's pilates/yoga-inspired warm-up. It's not that she was a stern taskmaster (far from it actually! she was encouraging and comical throughout the entire process) but my abs and thighs were simply not prepared for that kind of work, and evidently there were many others in the workshop who weren't prepared for it either. After a break for lunch Olivia Kissel took over for a workshop focused on fluid movements and turns. I sensed a significant ballet influence in her teaching. Olivia also did a warm-up but it was of a completely different nature than Maria's: it consisted of a meditation technique called "bee's breath" which I thought was very unique and effective.
Unlike some other workshops I've attended, I really felt that Maria and Olivia were honestly welcoming of everyone who attended, despite the varying levels of skill and experience. They were also willing to be more spontaneous with the teaching material and respond to the desires and needs of the students rather than to stick staunchly to one specific plan. I would definitely say that although I was certainly in over my head with these workshops, I was left with a great deal to contemplate and I had a great time. I would not hesitate to take another set of workshops with them if given the opportunity.