Carnival of Stars 2018

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COS 2018 Queen of Egypt Contest
Has transformed into a Showcase.
Last year i was up on stage introducing the contest and espousing the idea of the contest as a concept of living history, much like the Renaissance Faire had started out to be. I also spoke of the long history of BD contests that started here in the US and now has spread worldwide, to showcase new talents as well as promote a culture of dancesport within the BD community.
This year the producers of COS and Amina have decided to let the contest model go realizing it doesn’t align with preservation or presentation of the Golden Era of Classical Styles of Bellydance. Instead of a contest, it will be a showcase, where dancers can share their efforts at the study, embodiment and preservation of the music, musicality and stylings of dancers of the classical era.
Each of the dancers today, whether they are past winners or contestants in the contest, or local stars in the community, put in a considerable amount of effort in study to share with you some of their inspirations from the past.
We are in an amazing time in “our BD history”, so much excellent talent and artistry-on contest stages and Youtube. It has become obvious to some, that the Western talents are now influencing the way some of our Egyptian superstars are dancing or at least choreographing for their Western students!
Today’s dancer is more likely to be influenced by a Russian, YouTube superstar or a contest winner, nothing wrong with that, I’m not attaching a judgement to this, it just is. I too like great dancing!
Not sure why I think of food, except for the obvious, LOL>>>food like cultural dances are a representation of the heart of the peoples in which it was born. But if you think of the popularity of cooking shows & competitions that has created a cult like following of viewers and connoisseurs of food. It’s beautiful, expertly prepared food, sometimes spare in it’s portions stunning in the presentation, but may leave you hungry and unfulfilled. This is what we are used to in dance now.
On the other hand of that “cult- like” following, you might find a chef with a more discriminating palate, who is wanting to satisfy his long time customers who need nourishment and satisfaction in good quality food. Customers who enjoy the camaraderie and celebratory nature of mealtime. He isn’t going to look for inspiration in a chain or even a Michelan rated establishment, he is going to travel to some small town not written about in the travel books and try to reproduce the recipes which aren’t written down and have been passed on for generations. Recipes with only the finest, freshest ingredients, nothing out of a can, untainted by chemicals or fly by trends. Food that is better the 2nd day, plenty to share and you can share in an evening of conversation over. Meals that are Delicious in their simplicity, sophisticated in taste, nourishing to the families and community in which they are served.
Traditionally, the food from Middle Eastern regions took all day in preparation and all evening to consume the food and not only was the immediate family present, but extended family and other members of the tribe.
Today, In reality, they may be purchasing the humus and bread from TJ’s!
And in reality, the 2 analogies of food aren’t true either! They are extremes! How often do your meals look, feel or taste like a cookbook cover, when was the last time you cooked all day and fed a houseful?
When was the last time you had a contest worthy, picture perfect performance, that satisfied you and your audience completely, when was the last time you had a long, luxurious performance that met the appetites of a community and reminded them of home?

Lest, the younger generations of dancers think I’m demeaning or degrading of their dance or style, or romanticizing the past, please take no offense. If you stick around another decade or 2 or 3 you may be bemoaning the current dance scene as well. It seems it’s the natural order of things. As In life as in dance!
Hopefully you can appreciate the subtle nuance, musicality, humour and the joy these dancers are hoping to transmit.

LifeTime Achievements and Public Service Award for Amina Goodyear 2018

 

I had the honor of presenting at COS this year. In case you missed it!

 

Carnival of Stars 2018
Lifetime Achievement Award ++++A Lifetime of Service
Noone in our local community or in the US that I’m aware of has made as many important contributions as this artist, educator and promoter. She’s sponsored many world renowned scholars and acclaimed dancers to teach and present their work here in the SF Bay Area.
This artist has been a recipient of several Lifetime Achievement awards including American Academy of Middle Eastern Dance (AAMED) Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement from BDUC, Lifetime Achievement award from Isis and the Belly Dance Chronicles.
This icon in our community has hosted many dance and music shows, and some would argue is almost single handedly keeping live music available to Bay Area dancers.
This dance artist who started her career in the 60’s at the Baghdad has continued to share, collaborate, teach, inspire and mentor generations of dancers in the SF Bay Area. We in the San Francisco Bay Area would like to present our own token of appreciation and respect to this generous artist.On behalf of Pepper and COS, it is my pleasure to present this award for lifetime Achievement. Please give a warm applause and Welcome to Amina.

transitions, as in dance as in life

 

 

This year is the first time in my  life that dance has taken a back seat in my life. (Because of family obligations) I began Belly Dancing as a teenager, as well as other forms, so that’s a long time now.

After 24 years of weekly classes, 40 years of study next year! I never started in dance with the intent to teach, or with an idea that it would be such a BIG part of my life, even though as a small child it took up hours of my day. I started teaching regularly in my  community because I was getting requests from fellow students that sounded like this…show me that step you did last weekend when you were performing  at…I had been a “working dancer” for many years before i even thought i had something to say as a teacher. My class attendance was  all word of mouth, rarely advertised, I didn’t even have a mailing list for 5-6 years.  Back then i adored, i mean adored (still do) making a 7-10 minute choreography….dissecting  the music, researching the history and sharing it with my dancer friends who came to dance with me. My classes were geared on understanding the music and learning the technique that was needed to dance on that music. Training them to become a working dancer. I also started teaching because I needed to step up my own game, because i was working so hard, 5-6 nights a week, multiple venues and private parties after hours…there were no classes in my area that supported that kind of physicality, or the giving me the information to help me make my shows. I’d take an 1.5 hour dance class, then go home and practice some with music and the technique I needed to perform my  shows. Along with watching a lot of gigging dancers. At that time there were 1/2 dozen or so nightclubs with full bands and a complete dance show, and that was an important part of my dance education.

Change is constant..and I must say I’m enjoying the transition. . It’s been 9 years since the last big nightclub closed in SF bay Area. Gone are the steady stream of parties and regular gigs. I’m not talking pizza parlor, shisha bar, there are still those places to dance in. I’m speaking about night clubs that seat 2-300 people, support a band, cater to audiences from the Middle East.  I consider myself lucky to be part of what i think of the “tween” generation of working dancers in SF. It was right after North Beach Clubs closed with their format of multiple dancers doing 45 minute sets throughout the night. A whole slew of nice clubs filled the gap, along with a ton of talented ,  experienced musicians, anxious to make their club the BEST! So of course they wanted the dancer to look her best. The “tweens” were granted the House Dancer status. That meant you were the only dancer at the venue and showtimes  were at a time that suited me fine 10:30 or 11pm, for the live music venues, preceded by the dinner houses that did a 7:30 and 9PM show. It was perfect! Rarely an audition, it was word of mouth, or if a club or audience member saw you at a party you were hired. Often at least for me, if you were available at last minute when the house dancer was unavailable (maybe she took a party or a gig, calling in sick…which by the bytheby is a nono or injured herself, she was out. Out, finished, khalis..sometimes just showing up week after week, month after month, year after year is the way you stayed working)  Nowadays, a dancer has multiple opportunity to perform but… (there are more dancer generated gigs,  where dancers dance for other dancers than there are more “organic” opportunities. Meaning, a venue that caters to Middle Eastern Audiences, has a Band, that is native to music, and an audience that is paying a dancer to come and entertain for their family or community event. Don’t get me wrong, there are MANY WELL PUBLICIZED EVENTS! Festivals, competitions, proscenium stage events, casual regular events to great live music, where the line can consist of over 20 dancers a night!

Back to transitions..my format is based on my experiences with a curriculum based on performing for a Middle Eastern Audience. That isn’t happening right now and when the demand returns, the expectations of shows will be different. The people of origin, will be in a different age bracket, with a shorter attention span as their American counterparts have and different expectations of a “show”.

My motto for teaching has always been for Fun, Fitness or Serious Study of Middle Eastern Dance.

I now have a small middle-aged student population that have been with me for years, and with the exception of only a few, have no desire to be on a stage, but continue in their interest in the dance. We still train for show, as if we are performing for a ME audience, cause that’s what I know. When we get younger students in we’re ready to pass it on. We all agree, in all of years in dance and other fitness pursuits, that nothing feels so good as Belly Dance! Nothing moves the nooks and crannies of you body, to amazing music and has such benefits!

So I am considering how to be relevant in my offerings to my dancer friends, some who are wanting to be on stage, others who are trying to maintain an upright, engaged status in life…

I guess my motto remains….

Belly Dance Classes for Fun, Fitness or Serious Study of Middle Eastern Dances

See you in the studio!

Transition definition movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another; change

Photos above:

My last public gig baring my stomach! Laughing at a selfie, because if I had to take a selfie every time I gigged, I’d never get anything done….and tips of good fortune.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BellyDance in Dubai

Photos, L-R, top-bottom on taken on a i-phone 6 .

Top 3 photos of the “Darth Vader Wand, unknown dancer at an outdoor desert safari, Tannoura dancer at Safari, Warda, me and my BFF partying into the wee hours!

Dubai, one of 7 emirates, collectively known as UAE , is situated on the Persian Gulf. By some reports the work force is 80-90% expats, and from what I saw the professional belly dancers are 100%. Favored are the very petite and very young of course! The small sizes of the majority of dancers, gave the illusion of prepubescent to me, that maybe because I’m getting s little long in the tooth as the saying goes! Although not considered a place of destination for Belly Dance per se like Cairo, there are abundant nightclubs and cabarets featuring full length dance shows, with incredible musical accompaniment and soulful singers. Like Cairo, the shows start late and go into the wee hours of the AM. Shisha and alcohol fueled (but not too much as public intoxication is a no no) is the way to enjoy these evenings. And of course a hearty appetite! The mezzas are divine and generally 2 coursed, hot and cold. In the states I’m only used to a first course, but when in Rome … Or Dubai..you get what I mean!

The Belly Dance shows are what you would expect… Well kind of.

First, it is illegal to tip the musicians, singers or dancers. So no money showers, no tip necklaces, no discreet palm shakes after the show. In addition to no tipping that means that none of the entertainers leave the dance floor. Even during the folkloric section where it’s generally acceptable to even go out into the audience to do a greeting or photo-op with distinguished guests.  Instead, tipping is done by the audience through a token purchase of champagne and it turns out that its cheap champagne! So bottles of champagne are placed on the dance floor with these mega-sparklers and poured either for the singers and band members, but no money exchanges hands.

The dance shows are typical five or seven parts with lots of folklore and every dancer had a gulf dance included in her set, some more vigorous than others. A lot of props were seen, the dancers started their marjence or majency with poi veils, fan veils or Isis wings. An interesting prop, new to me, was the Darth Vader wand! This prop was accompanied by a Saidi  or Debkhe song. The pictures below do not do the prop justice! They expand with an ever changing array of colors, designs and symbols. Ranging to country flags, club name and logo, national icons like Feiruz and Oum Kalthoum, and I swear I saw Sara Palin on one of the Darth Vader Wands…

The dance itself is very fast with a very modern musical interpretation. Which left many audience members reminiscing about Fifi, Mona, Sohair etc… Per conversations overheard at neighboring tables.

If you are looking to take a dance class while you are there, look up Warda. An expat from Brazil, living in the region for well over a decade definitely has the feel for the Gulf.

If you are looking for an adventure and dance and or shopping is your thing, Dubai will be sure to please.

 

Zar, Ritual and Meaning

MeRedritualZar, Ritual and Meaning.

I have adored spinning since early child hood. Do you remember the feeling of being outside and staring up at the sky spotting and spinning until you dropped in laughter? Maybe you don’t…or maybe the “Merry-Go-Round, Ring- Around the Rosies? …but I, can still feel that sensation of delight in my bones and am smiling with the feelings of that memory right now. Maybe with the change of seasons, I am being drawn to rituals that sustain and ground me, and movement and dance has always played a big part in my life in how to accomplish that sensation.

Many countries have rituals of movement and dance for medicine, self-help, connecting with the Divine, finding your divine or releasing demons of the mind. My favorites are the Zar, Sufi Spinning, and Tarantella, which I’ve had much less experience with, but feel a profound connection because of my Italian heritage.

Most of you may know the ayoob rhythm, but there are many rhythms that are used to induce trance..If you are so inclined might I suggest Yasmin Henkish’s workshops and if that’s not a possibility get her Zar CD, get a hard copy, not a digital download. The text accompanying the CD is a lesson unto itself and a important scholarly work for an inquisitive dancer. You can get that here.
Enjoy a little Inspiration

Shoo-Shoo Amin doing a Zar as part of her nightclub act. I think this is around the late “80’s in Egypt.

This documentary (please turn speakers down, as it loads immediately into a high-pitched sound) from Iran, I had always thought of Zar as an Egyptian phenomenon, and maybe it is an error of the producer of this video to call it as such, but this shows us the boundaries of geography are liquid and dynamic when it comes to ritual.

Whirling Dervish I was exposed to this form of spinning from one of my dance teachers who studied with the Mevlevi when they came to America, I think in the late ’70’s or early 80’s. Prior to that time no women were taught this or included in the ritual in its land of origin. This tongue in cheek essay, gives a good overview with instructions and video links for your enjoyment. Of course, if you ever get to Turkey, you must, must go to see them.

My little Ayoob. This was part of my nightclub show in the ’90’s, and is/was performed after the drum solo as a culmination or the finale  part of a 5-7 part show. I  can still remember the first time this was played for me, of course no rehearsal…not that you can really rehearse, well you can but it defeats the purpose!

Finding a movement ritual, done with intention and mindfulness, is a powerful tool and can give meaning to the mundane.

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It’s all in the Music

DSC_0333Middle Eastern Dance aka Belly Dance..it’s all in the music!

I’ve often said to my students, unlike any other dance, our dance is intrinsically tied to the music. Learning music, theory and rhythms is a big part of a serious students journey.
Music facilitates our understanding of the movements. It’s that important. I’ve been very lucky to have had opportunities to work with amazing musicians for extended periods of time (like years) and that experience alone  expanded my understanding of the dance, comparable to the years of efforts spent in the dance studio.
This is why I like to offer live  music opportunities for students who choose the path of performance. For this reason, dances are made to explore music. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two.

Things to remember:

Even if you choreograph a dance to a recording, technical snafus occur. Including, but not limited to:
The DJ plays the wrong song
The electricity goes out
Poor sound system and it’s not loud enough or the applause from your audience is drowning out the music and all your well laid plans.
Your DJ is on the other side of a banquet room and you won’t be able to catch his eye and or he won’t understand your pantomime to go to the next song. If you are dancing right next to him, and he doesn’t understand your language.
Electricity goes out….you have zills right? Can you hum it? A beautiful moment happened a couple of years ago in Acapulco at a dance performance I was attending. The sound system was crap! It was interrupting almost every single dancer and group, some were so frustrated they left the stage, others kept dancing in hopes they could catch the musical cues when the music returned. The organizer of the event and her large dance ensemble  closed the set and of course the music tanked. The audience started humming the piece and the dancers finished the piece, it was magic!

Live music snafus:

Music or songs are different versions than you know
The band played it differently than they did the last time
The arrangement is all wrong
The band doesn’t know it or doesn’t know the finale.
It’s Ramadan and the keyboard player doesn’t want to play for the dancer

No matter how many recordings of the song or music you listen to, or even if you have had the band play it for you dozens of times before, there is no guarantee that it will be played the same way again.

While I generally prefer live music, I’ve been dancing long enough to have had a few musical nightmares.  Really, kind of like, me wondering to myself….what possessed you to become a dancer???

I was working at a nightclub that my regular band and singer had brought me to work with them. It was kind of an interim place until we could get our show back into a club that seated more than 100 people. (The club where we had worked together for 10 years had closed.)
During the transition…I stayed at the old club, while the band went to the new one. Of course all the parties involved knew what we were doing, so there were efforts all around to keep both owners and audiences  happy.
Two weeks went by with fill in musicians I had worked with before. Fun shows, happy audiences and owners. Third week, not so much. In place of the four piece band was a keyboard player with an additional drum pad machine. Nowadays,  the keyboards have drum machines built into them. They are like computers and can be programmed…or so I’m told. This musician had a classical opening piece or majenci, taxim/takseem and a saidi piece programmed in. I was pretty impressed how well the music was going and we were all having a great time. Then he started playing Salamet Om Hassam….and kept playing it. I mean he kept playing the opening verses, over and over again. Over and over again. over and over again.

Over to another nightclub, different night, different keyboard player, who I have worked with before.  Beautiful opening music. I love dancing to the richness of the classical majenci…it’s really for me a show case of art, not just entertainment.  Well, I guess it also is for this particular keyboard player. In the takseem/taxim section of the opening piece, he elaborated. I mean taxim means solo and improvise literally, so I get that, but these are classics!  I didn’t know Korgs could play a jazz solo….His solo went on long enough for the drummer to leave the stage and go to the bathroom.Thankfully, there was a wedding party, where I could occupy myself with pictures and audience interaction.

Another night, different keyboard player. It’s Ramadan, no keyboard player for the show.

Another night club, different band, different state, keyboard player doesn’t show up.

All of these things can and more will happen. Rule number #1, don’t panic. Rule #2, keep dancing, or not!

 

 

 

 

Missionary, Mercenary and Bedouin

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BEDOON 003 WADI RUM 037 BEDOON 004

Jordan Desert

Travel to foreign and exotic places opens my eyes and reminds me of other realities unlike my own.

1/Cold nights in a Bedouin tent, smoking and drinking with the natives.

2/Two Mikes
On the left our bodyguard, whose presence allowed us entry into the most unlikely places, safely. Mike on the right was a minister in a small mid-western town, sent on  a missionary journey by his family and congregation with no return date projected. He had never tasted alcohol and couldn’t wrap his head around two  American women in Jordan, he had to sit when we told him we were bellydancers.

3/No name mercenary. Translated  by our bodyguard about the “arms deal” being made around the camp fire. We gladly shared our alcohol, but kept our charms hidden.

Photos purposely kept raw and untouched…

Note to self, this was almost a year to the day that we had departed from Egypt on the eve of Arab Spring, highlights of news were reports of Mubarak’s trial.

 

So you are Invited to a Wedding.

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I’ve performed in literally hundreds of weddings  with audiences who are Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian, Syrian, Persian or Lebanese. There have been some interesting combinations of ethnicitys marrying each other also. An Egyptian marrying outside of their culture to a Samoan. A Jewish Egyptian marrying a Syrian Druze. Needless to say, I know my music and I know how to “do” a wedding!
A musician I’ve worked with (Arab) was getting married and was inviting all of his (older: age and length of acquaintance)  friends as guests and his newer friends to work. So many of the musicians and several other professional dancers I’ve worked with were in the wedding party and not performing. Of course I was excited to attend an evening of great music and dance.  Well, it didn’t turn out as I expected…don’t get me wrong, it was a great party. I’d envisioned a 10 piece orchestra, no, just a 3 piece.  Thankfully they were the most seasoned of the pros there and the rest were in the wedding party and guests. So despite not being a 10 piece orchestra, the music was rocking!

So speaking about the music, the dancers.  The first dancer slayed me, or her choice of music did, literally. She was a lovely dancer…but her music was better suited to drilling in a dance studio than entertaining a discriminating audience. So irritating and inappropriate that it distracted me from any enjoyment of her show.

Enter second dancer, who was also lovely. Her musical choices were dynamic and appropriate for a wedding show. Her musical choice connected every member in the audience to her dance and the cultural traditions in which she was representing.

Some ideas in what not to use in a show for a wedding.

Tarab...enjoying the music as a guest.

Tarab…enjoying the music as a guest.

 Drum drills….anything that repeats for convenience sake, like perfect for the classroom is not what you want to use.
A remix…Even if it’s to a well known song…just don’t.

A 9 minute majenci or opening piece. I love the elaborateness of this format, works great in a nightclub where you have a 40 minute show. When was the last time you saw a 40 minute show? My point, your show is only a very small part of an elaborate evening planned on showcasing the bride and groom.  Save that 9 minute opening for when all eyes are on you and you are a big part of the evening’s entertainment.

Some ideas in what to use..

A short dynamic majenci, yes there are many of them available.  Some are classics or remakes of classics. Using music with multiple rhythms makes your job as a dancer so much easier. Double points if it has a strong beledy or baladi beat, every one can connect to this rhythm, even if they don’t know the name of it.
A classic folkloric song, there are a lot of choices depending on what ethnicity of your audience.  Chances are the parents are involved in the payment of your performance, and if you can connect with the elders in your audience with your musical choice (as well as the women and children)…you’ve got a winning combo.

These are a just a couple of ideas.  Teachers, don’t withhold valuable info from your students, it makes us all look bad in the audience’s eye. Students, if you don’t know, ask.

Belly Dance Tantric or Tantric Belly Dance?

I should probably just call it one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me in my performance career.  Long before Tantric and Belly Dance were ever used in a sentence before, or used to describe a style.  Which I don’t do, but this experience felt tantric when it happened 25 yrs ago even though I did have moments of eww in remembering it! I was performing at Mammounia in SF in the late 80’s to 2008 when it burned down.  In one of the small rooms..in the “red” room….hot, sticky, smoky, packed with so many people and their excitement, making it hard to hear the music.  Dances and locations like that often have their own rhythm and musical accompaniment even if everyone can’t hear it. Audience’s breath, your breath, sound of the utensils, hand clapping, hand slapping, my costume..my finger cymbals!  I was performing for a group of people who later became some of the leaders in the Tantric Movement in SF so one woman’s response to me isn’t much of a surprise.  A small room often leads to a sense of intimacy that that can be a challenge for a dancer to navigate, but I’ve always manged to protect my boundaries, but this woman’s touch was so unthreatening….one single index finger came up to my bare, damp waist and caught several drops of my sweat and brought it to her mouth and licked it.  I told you, I should have called this post Way Bizarre!DSC06625

Why I can’t stand white belly dancers or do I care

firestormIt’s been a firestorm of opinions, counter articles and rebuttals about Randa Jarrar’s article in the Salon, since publication on March 4, 2014.  It has led to page long threads on Facebook and other social media.  There have been literally dozens of articles! I haven’t been motivated to take part, I don’t really have anything new to say about the subject.  You know, cultural appropriation.  That’s what everyone is really talking about.  You may have heard that term in the media, when there was big discussion and outrage over Miley Cyrus’s misappropriation of “twerking”.  Even though I don’t have any commentary to add that hasn’t been said already, I did want to take this opportunity to use this media firestorm as a catalyst for conversation and further exploration for my students. I’d like you to read these articles, arguments and rebuttals.  See if you can find your voice among the hyperbole and clarify an opinion or gleam an understanding of the debate.  It will give you clarity about what you are learning and performing and what it is you are not.
I’m speaking to my students personally, but I’m sure my sentiments are common to every Belly Dance Instructor who teaches traditional belly dance, regardless of who and what decade your biggest influences are or were.  Below you will find a reading list (in no particular order) and brief commentary from me.  I welcome your comments.

Four Ways to Profit From a Belly Dance Brew-Haha (or any other kind of brew-haha) Julie Eason of the BellyDance Business Academy  Julie has an interesting take on it! I’m not as flippant or as irritated at the media for taking advantage of our dance community’s conflicts for their own gain and she poses a challenge with a prize!

In Praise of Polyglot Culture—and Multicultural Belly Dancing published in the Atlantic. This is a well written counter article to the original, linked in the opening paragraph.

Naked and Articulate Penned by a “white belly dancer”.  Christina author of Enchanted Mirror. She’s finding her way and she has a really nice beauty blog!

Interview with Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray from Bellydance NewEngland  This article wasn’t specifically about the media storm, but she did comment. Plus it was with delight that I was able  to learn more about this highly respected dancer scholar.

From One White Bellydancer to Another Kimberly Mackoy  This tribal dancer gives a  well written and thoughtful response to the original article.

A “brown” dancer responds to “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers”
Author Nazaneen speaks from the perspective of a Persian professional dancer and eloquently expands on some forgotten truths the author of the original author forgot to mention.

Luna of Cairo Always a breath of fresh air with her brutally honest commentary from Cairo, spins the article in a new direction you may not have been aware of.

So to my dear students who may be reading, know that I’m doing my best to represent to you, belly dance in an organic manner in which it was or is performed in its country of origin.  That being said,  it doesn’t mean I will never create a fusion choreography for you. It just means it I won’t use  Oum Koutsom’s music. And if you think you might ever want to use it in an Arabic wedding, don’t OK?