“Oui! Je parle un peu de Français!”
In November of 2014 I was looking for a belly dance instructor while studying flamenco in southern Spain. Figuring I was close to Morocco, I was sure I’d find a belly dance instructor without a problem! Well, I was wrong about that almost as much as I was wrong about how well I thought I knew French!
I found Nada through a combination of a friend’s recommendation and wandering the streets of Jerez De La Frontera. Nada’s style of belly dance is very different than the style I’m taught in the northwest. She is Lebanese and that has a big influence in how she moves. There’s less pops and locks and more emphasis on roundness and flow in her movements. After taking a few of her classes I realized how very special she is. She is a warm and welcoming person, and that transfers to her students as well, who welcomed me so freely in her classes. Her style of dance is sensual and feminine with a lot of intricate hip and ab work and is not taught by anyone where I live and I fell in love with it! So when she announced that she was hosting a belly dance/flamenco beach retreat, I was immediately on board!
Entre Dos Orillas is what the retreat was called. In between two corners. It couldn’t have been a more appropriate name! We were in Jerez De La Frontera, in what was once the frontier between Arab and Christian Spain, at the far southwest corner of Europe and the northwest corner of Africa. Our group was a confluence of cultures. French, Moroccan, Lebanese, Syrian, American and Spanish. We were from many corners united by a common language. Nope, not Spanish! French. My 3 years of high school French didn’t quite prepare me as much as I thought it would. However, I must admit I’m a Franophile and I was giddy with excitement knowing I’d spend the rest of the retreat trying to improve my very rusty French!
Nada teaches us several belly dance choreographies and a debke routine. We also go to flamenco classes taught by Rubia. The beginner class learns a tango and the advance class works on bulerias. bulerias is a 12 beat rhythm that is an improv dance style done as part of a festive gathering. It’s very difficult to learn. One has to know the compas very well to know when to enter on the music and then stay on compas as one improvises throughout. In the previous trips I’ve taken to Spain I’ve studied bulerias and I struggled very much. But I wasn’t alone, the rest of the group also struggled with this palo. Rubia saw that and immediately broke everything down to the most basic level, that by the end of the first class we had all managed to find and stay on compas! She taught in a style that I hadn’t seen before. She sang, did palmas, danced and taught all at the same time! All that was left for her to do was play the guitar, but fortunately we had someone there for that! She is truly a gifted dancer, singer and teacher and I’m grateful for her finally making me confident in bulerias.
Our classes were in Jerez at the beginning of the retreat so that we could visit the Feria at night. However, as much as I like Jerez, I was really looking forward to continuing the retreat at the beach in Bolonia.
Our hostel at the beach was in a great location. The beach is part of larger national preserve and so development is kept at a minimum. The town is small and consists of a few hostels/hotels and restaurant/bars. Cows and horses roam freely and are a novelty to see hanging out on the beach every morning where we have our daily warm up session. Classes are held at our hostel, in a studio with hard wood floors, full-length mirrors and windows that look out onto the beach.
We were divided into beginning and advance level classes for both belly dance and flamenco. Alternating between flamenco and belly dance in the mornings and evening, with just enough free time to explore the nearby Roman ruins, the beach, the sand dunes or do nothing!
By the end of our week together, not only had my understanding and fluency in French improved (an unintentional but very much so desired outcome) but I had learned 4 new belly dance choreographies and I was dancing bulerias on my own (a very big accomplishment)! We wrapped up our retreat with a recital joined by a few guests. It’s a great way to ensure we’ve solidified what we’ve learned and a wonderful way to end our time together with a celebration of dance!
Next blog: Morocco
For more info on:
Nada and her dance school – Tarab Al-Andalus