Category Archives: Workshop Repertoire

Hannah’s specialty workshop repertoire

Dances of the Roma

Originating in India and moving west into Europe and North Africa, the Roma have played an essential role in the development of the world’s musical and performing HannahRomaarts traditions, creating new music and dance forms through combining their own unique flavor with the musical traditions of the cultures they encountered.  In this workshop series, participants will learn Romani dance from India, Turkey, and Russia.
Indian Kalbelia ~ The Kabelia are a desert tribe of snake-charmers, musicians, and dancers in Rajasthan India, considered one of the original tribes that left India hundreds of years ago and moved west, where they because known as the Roma (Gypsies). Their dance is called Sapera in homage to their totem animal, the snake. Workshop participants will learn an upbeat and vivacious choreography to music by Musafir from the album Gypsies of Rajasthan. A long full skirt will be needed and kneepads recommended.

Turkish Roman ~ Turkish Roman music is known for its signature 9/8 rhythm that lends a spunky feeling to the dance. The dance is characterized by complex pelvic isolations, including tossing of the belly, and expressive gestures often mimicking aspects of life, such as playing instruments, cleaning clothes, churning butter, or drinking coffee. Delightfully cheeky and playful, this solo improvisational dance provides an opportunity for each dancer to show off her or his personality. Workshop includes instruction in: history of the Roma, traditional gestures and footwork, pelvic isolations, some theatrical movements, turns, and floor-work. Loose pants, a hip scarf, and kneepads are recommended.

Ruska Roma (Russian Romani dance) ~ In the 19th century Gypsy choruses became quite popular among the Russian elite, who romanticized the Romani way of life and expressed these idealizations through literature and art. Following the Gypsy choruses came the Romen Theater, which opened in Moscow in 1931 and featured ensembles of dancers, siHannah-Romanowsky-Turkish-Gypsy-Roman-214x300ngers, and musicians performing operettas with Romani themes. With an established history as a theatrical genre for the stage, Russian Gypsy dance blends traditional elements, such as foot stomping, with theatrical staging and takes inspiration from Russian aesthetics.  Joyful and energetic, the Ruska Roma women’s dance uses a wide full skirt in large graceful swirling movements, expressive arms held high over the head, exuberant turns and backbends, and exciting percussive footwork.  Please bring a long full skirt and hard-soled (character) shoes as there will be some footwork. A full choreography will be taught.

Iranian Folk Dance

Gilaki dance with the Saja Middle-Eastern Dance Company at Cal Poly

This workshop series features and introduction to Iranian regional and folk dances.

Kurdish ~ The Kurds of Iran inhabit West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah Province, Kurdistan Province, and Ilam Province.  Music and dance are central to their cultural identity and are incorporated into many aspects of life. Unusual compared to most other dance traditions in the region, women and men dance together, holding hands or otherwise linked in circles, lines, or semi-circles. In this workshop participants will learn an upbeat choreography to music by The Kamkars, a Kurdish-Iranian family from the city of Sanandaj, the capitol of the Kurdistan province of Iran.

Gilaki/Ghasmabedi – Ghasamabedi is a harvest dance from Gilan, a very lush region in northern Iran know for its rice, tea, and tobacco cultivation. The women wear full skirts with colorful ribbons and dance with flat baskets in a circle, miming activities related to rice-sorting, socializing, and enjoying music and dance together.

Qashqai – The Qashqai are semi-nomadic peoples of Turkic origin renowned for their beautiful carpet weaving. Their dance utilizes scarves and is simple and joyful.
Azeri – The women’s styling is characterized by long arms, articulated wrists, and a floating elegance. It is popular to see a daff (frame drum) used as a prop in contemporary choreography. This workshop will feature a choreography in the Azeri-Iranian style.

Bandari ~ The Bandar region of southwestern Iran is located near the Persian Gulf and shares cultural similarities with the neighboring Gulf countries of the Middle East. A port region that has seen many travelers, traders, and immigrants, Bandari music and dance shows a blend of Arab, African, and Indian influences, with movements highlighting rapid hand and shoulder shimmies, hip isolations, and hair tosses as would be found in neighboring khaleeji dance.

Jaheli/Baba Karam (Tehrani Urban Dance) ~ Baba Karam is a humorous early 20th century urban dance in affectionate imitation of the jâhels, a macho gangster-like working class character that holds a special place in the heart of Iranians. Popular at Iranian social and celebratory gatherings, Baba Karam is performed as an improvisation dance by both men and women in urban environments and diaspora communities. Characteristic western-style men’s clothing, including a fedora, neck scarf, and jacket are often utilized. In this workshop you will learn about the fascinating history of this dance and its relationship to both film history and the Zurkhaneh “House of Strength”.

Tajik / Uzbek

Uzbek Dance – There are three regional styles of Uzbek dance, each with clearly defined styles and systems of training. In this workshop participants will learn choreography in the Khorezm style. Khorezm lazgi dance is an energetic, sometimes comedic dance characterized by the shaking and trembling of the hands and shoulders. Dancers wear bells and jewelry on their wrists, chest, and head to accentuate the movements.  In this workshop dancers will learn a full routine to “Kisil Alma” by Yulduz Usmanova.



Persian Dance

Hannah Persian Red

I want to share a little about my background in Persian/Iranian dance. Initially inspired by the work of dance scholar and artist Robyn Friend, I began my own training in 2003 under Ustad Sharlyn Sawyer, director of the esteemed San Francisco Bay Area Persian dance company Ballet Afsaneh.  During my 10 years as a principle artist with the company, I had the opportunity to perform frequently with world-class Iranian and Central Asian musicians; and at such venues as London’s British Museum, Houston’s Museum of Fine Art, San Francisco’s acclaimed Ethnic Dance Festival, and the Roof of the World Festival in Khorog, Tajikistan.  Currently I am on the Afsaneh Dance Academy faculty and teach weekly classes in Berkeley California, continuing to perform at Iranian weddings and other events, and teaching speciality workshops to Middle-Eastern dance aficionados both locally and abroad.

The San Francisco bay area has a large Iranian community, and both Iranian and non-Iranian artist-scholars continue to research, create, and innovate within this beautiful tradition. Sometimes referred to as “classical” or “art” dance, Persian professional dance for the stage as we know it is a relatively new and evolving art form, blending the aesthetics of Persian social dance and professional entertainers from times past with ballet and contemporary stagecraft.

Persian or Iranian dance takes inspiration from other traditional Iranian art forms, including poetry, calligraphy, architecture, and miniature paintings. While stemming from an ancient culture with highly refined aesthetic sensibilities, dance in Iran has historically suffered from low status, inhibiting its documentation, transmission, and preservation.  This has to do both with the historical relationship between dance and prostitution in the greater Middle East, and also the power attributed to music in Islamic culture that can both bring one closer to Divine experience or distract one with worldly pleasures.  (I will post more on this topic another time.)

While the development of dance within Iran is sadly hampered by governmental restrictions Hannah performing Persian dancethat essentially outlaw dance activities except under very controlled circumstances, many in the diaspora community strive to keep the tradition alive.

General qualities of Persian/Iranian dance: Persian dance is an improvisational solo art form high-lighting delicate flourishes of the hands, sculptural arm patterns and engagingly coy facial expressions (noz). The professional dancer may also include complex footwork that traverses space, a wide variety of turns and whirling sequences, and languid torso extensions.  In contrast to Arabic dance which places emphasis on the more earthy movements of the hips and torso, Persian dance focuses on the upper body, is lighter in feeling, and may contain a mystical quality or relate to spiritual themes.

Though there was a long history of professionally trained dancers employed by the courts, likely going back into the ancient history of the civilization, Persian dance is not codified (ie does not contain a specific set of standardized vocabulary) as is European ballet or the classical Indian dance forms.  However, there is an aesthetic quality that an Iranian would immediately recognize as Persian. Similar to classical Persian music or American jazz, the skill of improvisation within the genre is key, and the dancer’s unique personal expression, particularly when it comes to facial expressions, is highly valued.

I fell in love with Persian dance many years ago and it continues to be an important feature of my creative-artistic life. My expression of this art form is rooted in my years of training and experience as a principal dancer in Ballet Afsaneh and involvement with the Iranian diaspora in the San Francisco bay area. It is an art form you don’t have to be Iranian to appreciate, and I look forward to sharing more about this beautiful dance with you!

Here is an example of workshop offerings:Hannah Persian dance purple

Drawing the Wind: the Art of the Hand as Devotional Expression in Persian Dance – Taking inspiration from miniature paintings, calligraphy, music, and poetry, Persian Art Dance emphasizes delicate hand flourishes, languid torso extensions, and ecstatic turns; and through fluid shape-shifting expresses the mystical experience of spiritual longing and the intoxication of union with the Beloved.

In this workshop we will explore the body as a vehicle of breath through the Persian framework, with an emphasis on developing fluidity through the fingertips, sculptural hand and arm patterns, and spiraling turn sequences. (Int-Adv)

(This workshop was presented at The Austin Belly Dance Convention in 2016.)

Learn more about Iranian folk dance workshop offerings

Visit my Iranian music resource page




Afghan dance

image1-200x300Pomegranates and Tea: An Introduction to Afghan Dance – Located along the historic Silk Road, Afghanistan has a rich and deep artistic heritage blending influences of the Persians, Indians, Chinese, Arabs, and other groups who exchanged ideas and art along with commodities during centuries of trade. Before the 1980’s, music, song, and dance were part of the daily lives of women and how they entertained each other and their children. With the grief caused by war and restrictions placed on music-making, the transmission of Afghan expressive arts to the next generation suffered some setbacks. In spite of these challenges, Afghans have found ways to honor their heritage and express themselves through music and dance, which continue to be an integral part of weddings and other celebratory occasions in diaspora communities.
Characteristics of the Afghan women’s solo improvisational dance include expressive hand and arm gestures that frame the upper body and face punctuated with dynamic turn sequences. Traditional dances include Logari, an Afghan “freeze dance” where the musician and dancer dialogue with one another, and Attan, the national dance of Afghanistan, a circle dance that originated with the Pashtuns.
In this introductory workshop participants will become acquainted with the characteristics of Afghan women’s solo dance, and will learn a delightful choreography incorporating elements representational of the rich diversity and ancient heritage of Afghan culture. (All levels)

Hannah teaching Afghan dance in Barcelona
Hannah teaching Afghan dance in Barcelona