Monday, July 29, 2013

Tribal Umrah/ Marseille 19-29 July 2013

Words cannot express the magical atmosphere at the (itinerant) Tribal Umrah Festival which took place in Marseille this year. Of all the dance events I have been to in the past few years this has by far exceeded my wildest expectations. Not only was I blessed enough to be picked to partake in the Pro-Track program, but the social activities and many dance events organised throughout the week just blew my mind. The talent and immense love and support shared were simply overwhelming and it will be take my quite some time to process all the impressions I had during my stay in the South of France.

We arrived the weekend before the festival kicked off, and I am glad we got some time to explore Marseille before being immersed in dance related events and training the week after our arrival. On getting off the plane at the airport on Friday 19 July, we were hit by a wall of heat and it took some time to acclimatize despite the heatwave in Dublin the two weeks prior to our departure. We were so lucky to have booked a flat on Avenue de Mazarques which we we discovered was just a convenient few houses up from the studio (Olga Semanova Dance Studios) reserved for the Pro-Track. My first experience booking a flat via Airbnb was really quite positive, and I am thinking of resorting to this accommodation option when travelling to events in the future. It really makes all the difference to be staying and living in a local's flat. It automatically gives you a feel of home and a certain sense of familiarity. We loved our flat right from the moment we stepped into the doors. It was great having a chat with the landlady in French and to discover that my French (spoken) skills are not as rusty as I thought they would be due to a lack of practice in recent years. The landlady gave us a few pointers as to what places to check out in the surrounding area, and we were chuffed to discover that the beach was just a short walk from the flat and Parc Borely was just down the road also. All in all, the ideal place to stay for our dance ventures.

My friend Teuta and fellow dance soul then joined us that Friday afternoon, driving down to Marseille by car, as she is currently undertaking a road trip through France. It was so wonderful to see her again after a year, and to catch up and hear about her French adventures so far. The next day (20 July) we decided to explore the neighborhood and walk into town (leaving dripping pools of sweat behind us on the way in). I am so glad we made the trip to the Old Port as it's just absolutely stunning. I loved sitting on the edge dipping my feet into the water and enjoying the view across to the boats and harbor. We also got to see the Gay Pride that paraded through town as we walked in and it was super fun to see everyone's make up and dress. The participants had a mad good time dancing and partying though their choice of music was rather questionable at times. The markets around town were also fun to check out, and the whole of Marseille smelled lovely, of handmade soaps and lavender. We also stuffed our faces with Macaroons which was definitely an occasion for me to make a vegetarian exception and for temporarily "abandoning" my largely vegan lifestyle. The sun was shining all day, and we were spoilt rotten by the weather!

The Sunday we finally spent on the beach, and I loved just being in the water, and reading a really stimulating book on neuroscience/brain plasticity.

Our Pro-Track adventures got kicked off by a four-hour Black Sheep workshop on Monday morning, and I loved it. It was nice to study their group improvisational format which is very informed by American Tribal Style and it gave me food for thought for group work when teaching my own classes. The following morning class consisted of the Suhaila Salimpour format taught by Ashara (assisted by the gorgeous Maelle from Belgium) and it was great to review the format as I have been studying it for quite some time now. Deb Rubin's "Dance Therapeutics" class on Wednesday was amazing, tying into and expanding on what I learnt from Deb at the Infusion Emporium in Wolverhampton last year. Amy Sigil then rocked our world the following morning with her "can do attitude" (despite her broken foot). Reciting "I am ready" at the beginning of class was super fun and summoned our energies for a highly energetic, powerful Unmata style class during which Amy also managed to put together a full group choreo (consisting of 21 Pro-Track dancers). The main message being that the movement is already within us and that we need to listen to ourselves and discover our own movement repertoire organically. Another lesson I took away from Amy's class was that even any day to day activities can inform our movement vocabulary as dancers. The last morning class of the week was delivered by Sharon Kihara, and I am so incredibly blessed to have finally studied with this stunningly beautiful and exceptionally talented dancer. Sharon had us do a really strong and much needed yoga warm up which I absolutely loved. She then went on to analyze two drum solos with us which was really informative. In this class, we also learnt a lot about the social dynamics between dancers and musicians before tackling and learning Sharon's extremely fun and unusual drum solo (which she also performed at the closing show on Saturday, 27 July).

Moving on to the afternoon sessions, April Rose worked very hard to create her water choreography with our Pro-Track group. It was such an honor to be working with April and also to be able to collaborate with so many talented dancers. I particularly loved the interactive approach which involved everyone's creative input. While I started out in the "underwater group" and contributed some movement to their routine, I then moved on to joining the floorwork group. It was six of us and I just adored the floorwork despite the hard, concrete floor at the Olga Semanova studio (Nr. 52 on Avenue de Mazargues) and many bruises acquired as a result.

I truly think being part of the Pro-Track was a necessary step towards greater professionalism and integral to my further development as a dancer teacher and dancer/performer. It was amazing to be able to work with dancers that boast such a high level of proficiency, everyone catching on so fast and being so pro-active and supportive of one another. Witnessing this high degree of mutual support and dedication really inspired me, we had such a great sense of community and fellow dancey kinship, it was heartwarming. I just loved getting to know all the amazing Pro-Track dancers and hope we will be dancing together again soon. Our performance on Saturday was just amazing and I am absolutely dying to watch the recording of the piece. Considering we only had two hours four of the afternoons to put together and learn the choreography with April Rose, I thought we did a great job of supporting each other on the night. The Pro-Track water choreography was a lovely way of opening the closing show! Words cannot begin to express what I felt on the night of the performance- The whole atmosphere was just so magical with the stage being set up at the seaside in open air. Dancing outside with the refreshing breeze in our faces was just wonderful and seeing all the other outstanding dancers perform was such an honor. All the performances were just stunning, and I was particularly moved by Sharon Kihara's first number which was so emotional, powerful and truly overwhelming, moving me to tears as a matter of fact.

Our first Tribal Umrah participation got rounded off by a hike to the Calanques which was organised by Djeyenne and her Tribal Umrah crew. The hike was a perfect way of winding down in nature after an intensive week of dancing. Swimming and enjoying the beach after the hike was such a great reward for our hard work throughout the week and gave us the opportunity to socialize and get to know each other better. The trail of pools of sweat we left during the hike to and from the Calanques was so worth it and I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed I will be able to join Tribal Umrah next year also!

Thanks to Djeyenne and her Tribal Umrah chicks, April Rose, all the Pro-Track performers, my students Grace and Yukari and my gorgeous friend Teuta for such a memorable dance holiday!

~Namaste~

J.V.S


Photo by Ne├» Mad Photographies

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