Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Room to dance and draw

Toddlers, children and adults of all ages are increasingly looking for spaces for recreational and skills-development activities. Dina Ezzat examines some options

Room to dance and draw
Room to dance and draw
Al-Ahram Weekly

“I want to join a contemporary dance class, but I’m not in perfect shape. Is it possible for me to join? Are there ladies-only classes?” 

These were the questions that Mayar, a young woman in her late teens, had for Rézodanse, an Alexandria dance company. The answers from the director of the dance classes were encouraging enough for Mayar to overcome her worries about her shape, though maybe they also surprised her regarding gender. “You are most welcome to join,” the director said. “But all our classes are mixed.”

“We encourage people to free themselves of inhibitions about age or body shape, and as they start to dance and enjoy the movements they actually come round to start losing weight by dieting, exercising and also by dancing,” said Amr Naim, assistant director of Rézodanse.

At the heart of Alexandria on Sesostris Street in a spacious early 20th-century apartment, Lucien Arino, a ballet dancer who has worked with leading European companies, started his project to train and educate people in Alexandria about dance of all types through Rézodanse.

 “We do a lot of ballet classes, especially for the young, but we also do ballet for adults. We do contemporary dance and yoga too, which is very much in demand in Egypt,” Arino said. “Unfortunately, we do not do belly dancing because there are no good trainers. Those who can dance cannot necessarily train others,” Arino added.

According to Naim, there is a growing interest among women and men in the activities offered by Rézodanse, but the main interest that has been steady and growing since the project was launched is ballet for children.

Rézondanse accepts boys and girls at a very young age, four years old or less, in order to make sure that their bodies and body movements are formulated in the right way from a very young age. Even if a child starts learning at a slightly older age, it is important to get him or her into the right movements as early as possible. Children who wish to continue start a training programme that leads into medium and early advanced levels.

Twenty-seven-year-old Rania has been bringing her six-year-old daughter Habiba to the early ballet classes for two years. Habiba, who attends a national language school, does not necessarily get to do a lot of exercise at school or elsewhere.

 “We are not members of a sporting club, and I learned about this place from my neighbour who has been bringing her daughter too,” Rania said. “I am happy to find a space for Habiba to do something nice and recreational. Whether she will continue for long or not is a matter that I leave for the future, but for now I am happy that she is dancing and having fun,” she added.

Naim acknowledges that for the most part parents bring in their daughters rather than their sons for the ballet classes. The same, he added, goes for the adults who join the other dance classes, with the exception of yoga, which is not really dance. “For society, dance is something for women,” he said.

However, drawing can be for men and women, though in the event it still seems to be slightly more for women, according to Jihan, a middle-aged lady who has done a pottery class at the Art Café in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo.

“I think that pottery attracts some men, but I still see a lot more women in the classes than men,” Jihan said. 

“Having chosen not to take a job and to be the wife and mother of three girls, I reached my late 40s with little to do, now that the girls are independent. I thought I would like to do something that would allow me to spend a bit of the day in a way that would charge up my energy. I had heard from a friend about the Art Café, and I decided to go to have a look. I did classes for about two years,” she said.

What Jihan liked about the Art Café was the “combination of a relaxed atmosphere and serious training.”

This mix is what Hoda Kamal, the Café’s founder and designer, has been keen on right from the beginning of the project, which she started in 1999 in the comfort of her own living room. “It is really about a create-and-meditate mindset,” she said.

Like Jihan, Kamal had also chosen to be a wife and mother, and once she was sending her children off to college she was looking for the best way to use her time. Having herself developed her art skills as a hobby, Kamal was confident that she could share those skills with other people, younger ones first and then younger and older.

The originally once-a-week class in arts-and-crafts became so popular that she had to think about expanding. She went first into the garden of a family house to turn it into an art centre before she started her studio that went beyond arts-and-crafts to arts, crafts, drawing and pottery. This has been thriving since 2007 and has allowed for expansions of the studio, now dubbed the Art Café, in Sheikh Zayed City and El Gouna.

Today, the classes offered by the Art Café are divided into the disciplines of fine arts and applied arts, and they feature oil painting, decoupage, jewelry-making, design, and, of course, pottery.

According to Nesrine Nagi, art director of the Art Café, the classes are divided into ways that fit all types of interested students, with options ranging from dropping in for an hour of drawing or pottery to the more committed choice of an exhaustive and extended programme.

The Art Café offers its services to all ages. “We have a toddler class for kids as young as six months up until four years old,” Nagi said. “For these, we provide home-made safe colours just to get to them into the world of art.”

As part of its community responsibility programme, the Art Café has a weekly recycling exercise of plastic pots and cans in poorer neighbourhoods in nearby Torah.

“We realise the value art can have and its impact on the lives of people even in our day-in-day-out management. We also know that in most state schools there is not enough space for art and drawing classes. But we would like to share our experience and help those who are not in an economically privileged situation to still enjoy art,” Nagi said.

 “The interest and results we have seen since we started doing this a few years ago have been truly rewarding,” she added.

Nagi is a firm believer in art-therapy. She has seen people coming in who were “a little depressed maybe, or had a lot on their minds,” who turned into much happier people as a result of the classes. “This is essentially our concept of recreation,” she stated.

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