Super-Charged Bellydance: A Workshop with Crystal Silmi

Crystal Silmi

Crystal Silmi’s teaching style matches her performance style: driving, energetic, and just plain fun. She generously let me observe her recent workshop at the very lovely Dance Synergy studio in Aptos, CA. With about 15 students in attendance, Crystal immediately starts to pump up the energy. “I’ll be teaching a super-charged combo,” she announced, as if she ever produces anything less.

She begins with rigorous exercises to strengthen and lengthen muscles in the legs and torso. Special attention is paid to the gluteal groups which will drive the hip isolations. In a deep second position plie, leaning long and flat forward, she leads the group in glute isolations contracting one side, then the other, and in syncopated rhythms. Hip movements, she explains, should not be generated by the knees. When Crystal performs, she uses her powerful and extremely articulate glutes to execute sharp and rapid shimmies, drops, and twists. Because she works from her glutes to achieve these motions, her legs are free to move separately, to travel, for example.

She performs this same exercise in second position on the floor but she begins to challenge the students with layers of upper torso actions. While pumping the glute muscles, she adds chest isolations: front side back side; full circles; right and left. Then with arms in high fifth, she adds stomach undulations to the gluteal contractions. The students groan with the effort, grinning all the while.

They stand and she explains her method of teaching choreography “from the bottom up”: first the feet, then the hips, then the chest, then the arms. As the student learns a new layer, she is encouraged to return to “just the feet” if she gets lost or confused. Then add the hip when you can, the chest and arms when you can. They get to practice layering and traveling at the same time in the short combos section of the warm-up.

Traveling isolations drill

Crystal taught one difficult layering that would be part of the choreography section later. With feet close together in “home position” she teaches a pas de bourrée, a classical ballet step performed in 3/4 time. Then she adds a continuous hip twist on top working in 4/4 time. If that isn’t enough of a challenge, she adds an undulation then drills the whole thing traveling forward and then backward.

And that was only the first half an hour.

After a few more training drills, Crystal began teaching the choreography. As is typical in this kind of workshop, the emphasis is not on mastering a  technique (though clearly that is not ignored) but on learning the whole choreography. That’s where the fun is, where we work together in common cause, where we dance together. Even as an observer, my kinesthetic senses were engaged with Crystal’s intricate creation.

Part 2 still to come: Crystal’s choreographic style

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