My 2 Most Influential Dance Teachers in 2019

Gratitude in Prose


As we move into the new year, I, like many others, have been reflecting on how much has happened in 2019. My life now looks very different than from a year ago: I took bold steps to live closer to my truth, felt old identifies melt away into new ones, traveled, met wonderful new people, became closer to families and artists I love and value, deepened my understanding of the cultures whose dance I am learning and representing, as well pushed beyond my comfort zone in creating and presenting my art.

There were many factors that went into making all of this happen. However, I want to express immense gratitude to 2 instructors who had a pivotal effect on my growth this past year: Khadijah and Kamala Almanzar. I had the opportunity to take workshops from Khadijah and Kamala in 2019, but did not study beyond that with either of them (yet). Still, each in their unique way opened the door to my deeper creative exploration and cultural understanding. 

I would like to emphasize that these are not reviews, but essentially my gratitude list in prose. The reason I’m doing this publicly is because I want to share what I’ve learned in the hopes that you, too, will take the opportunity to learn from these amazing artists should you ever get the chance. 

Khadijah

Group photo from Khadijah’s workshop weekend, March 2019

Khadijah is a Denver, CO based dance artist who came to Portland in 2019 to teach a weekend on khaleeji dance technique, cultural mannerisms, and musicality. Her khaleeji workshops were beyond phenomenal as she wove detail after detail regarding Gulf geography, overview of Islam, cultural etiquette, dance movements, her top 10 khaleeji rhythms to know (yes there’s more than just one), and more into the most culturally comprehensive course on khaleeji dance as I have ever seen or heard of.

Khadijah doesn’t rely solely on her Gulf upbringing as her source of knowledge, but has put countless hours into researching khaleeji dance and music in the Gulf. She also brought in much needed discourse regarding the history of racism in Arabic music.

During the movement workshops, I really valued how much joy Khadijah feels in her movements. She’s earthy, relaxed, and created an atmosphere where we could be, too. Dancing with Khadijah makes you feel like she’s your neighbor or bff who invited you to over to jam out and dance. 

More info about Khadijah can be found here: https://www.khadijahdancer.net/bio

Kamala Almanzar

Kamala with Raqs Ayana (Henna, Kate Soleil, Emilie Lauren, and Shaunti Fera), June 2019

Based in Southern California, Kamala has been called a “living legend”, “icon”, and “an inspiration” in the Middle Eastern dance community. What I loved most about learning Kamala in 2019 was, for a short time, immersing myself in her incredibly unique movement style which is at once fresh and inventive yet strongly anchored in classic American Cabaret style.

The opportunity to learn from Kamala was very synchronistic as for a long time I’ve been struggling to find breath and air in my movement vocabulary; upper body expression has never been a strength of mine. I routinely feel upward moving energy becoming blocked in my chest, unable to flow beyond some invisible barrier to finish my movements outward through my arms and upper body. However, moving through one of Kamala’s choreographies helped something click; her movements feel like the most blissful, meditative combination of earth and air which really opened my body and creative expression to greater possibilities. 

Find out more about Kamala on her website: https://kamaladance.com/


Kate Soleil

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