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.

T

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!

 

 

 

 

Magic Carpet Ride Checklist before Takeoff!

There have been all kinds of articles , how to’s and blogs about the art of performing belly dance. Read them! They are important! Someone may expose you to an idea that you may never have even thought of, or inspire you in a direction in your dance you may never have considered.

Fueled by your love of the dance you are learning and motivated by the dancers you have seen share their art, you want to too!

More than likely your first experiences will be dancing at community or dancer generated events. You know what I mean, haflas, recitals and festivals. You’ll be dancing for other dancers, among a long line up of other dancers.
You’ve worked really hard, taking regular classes and workshops.
You can step hip in a dozen different ways, snap your hips like no one’s business, undulate and figure 8 in a variety of ways. Your costume is well put together; skirts not to sheer, too long, too short, your belt stays in place and doesn’t limit your movements, your bra keeps your breast contained and stays on. You’ve got the grooming thing happening, hair, makeup, nails.

The Art of Middle Eastern, or Belly or Raks Sharqi is intrinsically tied to the music.  Ahh…dancer girl, this is the fuel for your magic carpet ride and one of the most important elements to your show being successful..You’ve been listening and studying the music, the classic composers, dance music, pop, tarab, shaabi. You can identify regional compositions and know your fusion from  Oriental.  You listen to it with your eyes closed, with headphones on, with the volume up loud and your windows rolled up while you are driving and you dance to it for your dance practice.
You know your music so well, you hear what it tells you to do and you have enough technique to instantly choose from a repertoire of appropriate movement.
“Oh, I’m going to do the choreography that I’ve been working on in class, it’ll be perfect”, you say. OK, you read that thing about the music, and enough technique? Good because you will need to remember that. Even in the best of conditions, enough space, music loud enough, appreciative audience, knowing your dance inside and out there are many variables that can and will happen eventually if you perform long enough.
You get to the event and realize it’s the size of a postage stamp with people all around you, or it’s in a bar, long and skinny or worse yet, no stage, just around tables. Yikes! The choreography your teacher made you is made for a big stage, has long sweeping phrases and staged for frontal viewing.

Think Fast! Adapt your dance to your conditions. This is when you have to use a different set of skills. You have to be that dancer who brings to life that music using your body as the canvas; like a painter who paints a picture.

Improvise! Remember all the technique and musical study you’ve been working on…this is how you apply it!

So that choreography, that you worked so hard on, will be a distant memory as it undergoes a metamorphosis as you dodge waiters, patrons going to the bathroom, or the wandering, enthusiastic, infant of the event hostess! That’s OK, because you know the music and before you know it you have made your own made in the moment dance!

The Art of Belly Dance unlike other dance forms and particularly in this setting (small) is interactive.

It’s going to be three-way between you, your music (even if it is canned) and the audience. “Oh, that’s OK, I’m dancing just for myself”. Well, if you are dancing for yourself, it’s easier to stay at home and do that! Acknowledge your audience! They are sharing this special occasion with you and granting you their attention. This doesn’t mean you have to go around and shake people’s hands (although I have) as you enter, but a smile and eye contact goes a long way in connecting you with your audience.

Don’t forget when that magic carpet ride is over and you are disembarking, to thank your passengers (your audience)! So that they may remember the ride fondly!

You are ready for take off on a magic carpet ride!

Next up….refueling with unleaded, leaded or diesel, refreshments, side trips, checking your passenger manifest and decorating on that magic carpet ride!

This is a very expensive carpet ride...don't worry those white spots are just the flash....this is my 25K ride.

My Thighs Slapping Together!

On one of those hot summer nights, where nature’s air conditioner had taken the night off….Set the stage.

At the time the Renaissance Fair was still at Black Point and one of the guilds was having a party. I just called them the guild of handsome young buff men in leather and metals! You know the type? Buff, big muscles…vibrant…way before Johnny Depp but that same appealing rogue… ladies, I know you know what I mean!
It was a packed house that Saturday night.  It always was, which I was always amazed at…so out of the way…but they offer a real dining experience suitable for all.  One year there was a review on Moroccan themed restaurants in the San Francisco Chronicle.  There was a comparison between dance shows at Mammounia (where I was) and Pasha (where I would later work) …..the reviewer alluded to something off-color about the dancer at Pasha, I don’t recall exactly what now, but categorized Mammounia’s dancer (me) as your exotic fantasy of the girl next door!! Some weird statement like that, but essentially suggested our place was more family friendly.
Anyway, that night I was headed into the “red room”….remember the small rooms have small speakers.  Those of you who  know me intimately, I always want my music louder….If I can’t hear it I can’t feel it.  I can always tell how challenging it will be by how much noise I can  hear even before I go in.  It was going to be tough, the guests were really loud.
Well they were loud until I  glided into the room, finger cymbals ringing, hips a swaying, all I heard was a collective gasp from all of these effing beautiful men!!!!  OK! said self here I go, and we all proceeded to enjoy my dancing. This is all in silence mind you except for the small speaker, the swish of my skirts on my skin, the tinkle of delicate coins on my bra and belt and zilling.   As the moments wore on and our mutual awareness meshed (that’s really the only way I can describe it)! and the music began to change  to pulsating drumming…my body started to respond. Another sound infiltrated the moment….it took me a moment or two to realize what it was; it was my sweaty inner thighs slapping together as I shimmied!  At the same time I realized what it was, so did my audience…now I had groans accompanying me as I danced!