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

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Hey All,

All classes are online and continue for the foreseeable future. I’m doing basic beginning classes in 6 weeks sessions, with 2 weeks off in-between. You can do drop-in, but consider it a progressive series. meaning we build upon last weeks.

The higher-level classes are ongoing.  If you want more info, you can read about it here and if you want to sign up Questions?

If you want to dance, you know where I’m at!

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!

 

 

 

 

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

Is it El Kawliya, Qawilya or Kawleeya

El Kawliya, Qawilya or Kawleeya?

Hell, I’m not even sure how to pronounce it yet! One thing I know is that I have had so much fun learning about this dance.  Reading about it, watching YouTube videos, trying to disseminate it in my body.  So you who know me, I’m not a writer.  I made my apology about my amateurish attempts at writing from the get go, when I started this.  But I do love to study dance and I am a note taker. I’ve got notebooks from 30+yrs ago, that I still refer to.  Now, I’m putting it here for myself and you if you want it.
So, first things first.  This dance is not new.  It has been around for longer than I have danced 30++. When I started dancing, most of us didn’t know where Iraq was on the map, never mind know about this dance.  It wasn’t in the news, until the last decade or so.. There were no writings about it or YouTube videos.
The first dancer I saw do this Malayeen. I loved the wild music and hair flipping, but didn’t get it. in 2010 I was seeing Yana  adored her and the dresses she wore with this new style of dance I was learning.
In 2012, I watched her dance live in Eliat, Israel. Amazing!  Too bad the music has been muted in the link. Read a little about it in Amina’s blog and I referenced it here.  Then 2 years ago, found this video. All this time mind you, there were lots of Russian and Ukrainian dancers emulating Yana, that were a delight to see. Last year, I read about an Iraqi woman residing in London, Assala Ibrahim who is the expert and compiled this awesome, fricking video, if you missed the 1st time I linked to it.  Told you I was amateurish! Of course there is this woman, I think of her as an Arab Lady Gaga.  She’s amazing, a chameleon.  Singer, dancer extraordinaire. I don’t know if Lady Gaga is all that ( I don’t know her work, because I’m too busy studying Kawleeya! but I do know about her meat dress). Myriam Fares, this video has been around a few years, and I still adore it and her, she is all kinds of  inspiring to me. FYI, a few Arabs I know,  well everyone over 40, hates her!
Of course there has been an immense amount of coverage of Iraq in recent times as shown in these posts from NYTimes.
Last summer GildedSerpent published Amani Jabril’s observations.
OK girls and boys, homework is over.  Except, I’m so excited to have Sabrina of San Diego come and teach us Kawleeya next month. She is the West Coast expert She is a multi awarded dancer who I consider  the West Coast expert and actually has taught this Iraqi folk dance in Egypt!  How exciting is that.  We’re so lucky.  You students are so lucky I just shared all my notes with you too!

Kawleeya with Sabrina

Kawleeya with Sabrina