Archive for the ‘Creating Dance’ Category

Have You Failed Lately? Thoughts on Growth and Challenge in Belly Dance

February 12, 2013

FAILWhen was the last time you failed at one of your belly dance pursuits? You haven’t lately? That’s too bad. If you have, good for you. Last week I was listening to an episode of The Accidental Creative and this topic really hit home.

Failure is good – and it’s good for you. Not only does it keep your feet on the ground, failing means you are stretching the borders of what you are willing to try in expanding the range of your skills. If we take challenging new workshops, we can find ourselves struggling through unfamiliar drills or long choreography. A lot of experienced dancers shy away from this kind of situation because they’re afraid of being seen by their peers doing anything less than perfectly.

There is so much to learn in belly dance and the associated regional folkloric styles; we could live and dance a full lifetime and still have new ground to cover. One dancer who I’ve always admired in this area is Helena Vlahos. When she still lived here in Phoenix, she would regularly show up at the workshops of dancers who weren’t even born yet when she was already a star on the ethnic club circuit. Not only did she show up with a gracious attitude, she was never afraid to try things someone else’s way and say with good humor “that’s hard, I’ll have to practice that.” A great example for us all.

There’s another up side to this kind of failure – one that is especially  important for belly dance instructors. I firmly believe that it is essential for teachers to consistently challenge themselves. Not only does it grow your dance skills, it reminds you of how your students feel when they are learning new material from you. New skills may feel awkward or require new levels of coordination they haven’t yet mastered. As teachers, we should never lose touch with what that feels like.

Personally, I relish this kind of failure, which is only temporary if we persevere.I try to follow Helena’s excellent example and laugh at myself, then get back to work.  I find that things  just beyond my immediate reach don’t discourage me – they fire me up. It’s why I keep going back to aerial yoga and knitting, even though I’m not particularly good at them.

Some failures are a little harder to take. I’ve produced some truly innovative belly dance shows with quality dancers and musicians… that were all but ignored by my dance community. The financial hit is just as tough as the emotional hit, but hey – this isn’t a business for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. Do I regret these risks? Not at all. It was awesome – too bad you missed it!  I may have lost enough to buy a Bella, but I know that I pushed my creative and production experience to new ground and even more importantly I learned a ton along the way – that will never be lost.

When belly dance opportunities present themselves in the form of a visiting instructor, a new style or the inspiration for a show, maybe we shouldn’t ask ourselves “why should I?” but rather “why not?”.  No, it might not work. Or it might. Either way, there is a “win” in there somewhere if you’re willing to look for it. We need to step away from the idea that failure to fully reach the goal line is a badge of shame. It’s a badge of courage that you try with all you’ve got.

What belly dance challenge (large or small) have tried and failed? What good things did you learn from it? Tell us in the comments below…

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Making the Leap to Live Music!

September 10, 2012

Performing at Tagine in New York City with Rachid Halihal and Majdi Kurd.

A dancer’s first solo is an exciting and scary experience, but  the first live music performance can induce a whole new level of stage fright – even in dancers with plenty of performance experience under their belt. Dancing to live music can – and should –  be a thrilling experience for both the audience and the dancer, but as with most worthwhile things, there’s a hurdle to jump or a challenge to face first before you can claim the thrill.  Spontaneous creative collaboration is the height of performance to me – I’ll take live music over recorded any night! When I think back over the “golden moments” I’ve had so far, they have all been live music situations. There is an undeniable magic that can happen when you open yourself up to this possibility.

Preparing Yourself for Live Music Performance
You spent weeks, maybe months, rehearsing for your first solo performance. Stepping up to dancing with live music takes a broader preparation approach, because you don’t always know exactly what’s coming. There are things you can do to get yourself ready, however. Here are a few:
  • Know the standards and classics of Arabic, Turkish and Greek music. It will give you some peace of mind. It will also increase the odds that the band will play something that you are familiar with. Even if they don’t play a standard, by being acquainted with well-known and popular songs from these genres, you will get comfortable with the common features of belly dance music from different regions.
  • Work on your improvisational dance skills with an emphasis on channeling the melody and rhythm. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…”in the ears, out the hips!” Practice staying “present” in the music and dancing to the elements that come forward and to your attention. Part of the artistry in improvisational dance is that each dancers hears and feels the music a little differently. You may even hear and feel the same piece differently on different days. Today the deep underlying rhythm may draw you, tomorrow the flute melody may be calling your name. Practice following your intuition; this is not a right or wrong scenario.
  • Learn your rhythms so you can navigate your way through unfamiliar songs. Face it – you can ask for “Miserlou”, “Alf Leyla” and “Sawah” and the band leader may nod and smile, but don’t be surprised if they play whatever the #>%$ they want! Sorry to burst your bubble. In the case of long Egyptian belly dance classics like “Enta Omri”, they will likely play a few selected sections. They may not be the same sections in the 6 minute version you have on your CD! I’m not saying this to scare you, but rather to point out how important it is to be able to find your way through unknown music using skills and strategies. There are some bands that will give you exactly what you request and that’s fabulous – but hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Here’s an exercise to help prepare you for the “live” experience…
Ask a dancer friend to make you a CD of 10 danceable songs that are not “classics”  or things she knows you are familiar with. Do the same for her and trade CDs.
When you’re practicing, play 1 or 2 of those songs and dance through whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not – no excuses. Dance on the rhythm. Dance to reflect the melody lines of each instrument. Try to catch the accents and changes as they occur. Your instincts and reflexes will get sharper with practice – I promise!
When you’re on with a live band, you have to keep the show going no matter what so learn to dig deep and push yourself – it’s far better to get used to it in your living room than in front of an audience!
Let me tell you about the wedding gig where I had to dance to an Afghani accordion… really!

Once upon a time, before I learned the lesson of avoiding a “middle man” when booking a gig, I arrived at an Afghani wedding only to find that they had no CD player (this was before the dawn of the  iPod). They only had a cassette deck and I had already abandoned those. “That’s ok”, the host cheerfully told me, “Uncle Mo has his drum and Uncle Ali has his accordion. They’ll play for you!” And so I proceeded to do a 45 minute show(they wouldn’t stop!)  to Afghani accordion and drum music. I knew nothing about Afghani music, but I grooved into the drum line and opened myself up to playing off the accordion melody. Even though Uncle Ali didn’t speak a lick of English, we communicated plenty and it turned out to be a great show for an ecstatic audience.
Tell us about your first live music performance or your most “surprising” one in the comments below…

CD Review: “Nasrah” – Turkish Bellydance

June 25, 2012

Turkish belly dance CD review

Although I readily confess that my heart belongs to classic Arabic music, even I get a craving  for the lively energy of Turkish belly dance music now and then. And 9/8… that is a delicacy all its own in my book! When “Nasrah” by the Huseyin Turkmenler Ensemble found its way into my hands, I was very pleased with it’s mix of performance tracks, teaching tracks and soul-stirring 9/8s. Let’s have a virtual listen together….

Arabia (6:01)  Ironically, this Turkish CD starts out with a Turkish interpretation of Arabic bellydance music. This tune has a lively start with an interesting melody then progresses into a violin solo backed by a fast chiftitelli. The violin line is full of textural interest to play with. This track includes a fast drum solo before winding up with a fast, melodic close. This makes a nice selection for a showcase piece of limited length.

Rast Oyun Havasi (5:30)  Track 2 starts out fast then slows down to a moderate chiftitelli with a melody that takes turns the  qanoon and violin. There’s a fast-firing drum solo before  the melody returns, punctuated by drum breaks. This also is a good choice for a single-song performance.

Bekar Gezelim (4:34) This track takes off with a short drum intro that opens onto another lively melody. It mellows out with a clarinet solo. After a brief revisit with the melody, the violin takes a turn for a solo then changes rhythm abruptly changes to a  more flowing feel before fading out. This is usable for both performance and in class for combos.

Calgici Kansi Binnaz (5:19) This song starts out subtly with a clarinet solo backed by a veil of qanoon. The  melody begins at a nice walkling pace in a 4/4 time, but with a Roma feel. There’s lots of drum ornamentation to play with behind an expressive a melody that you can really sink into as a whole. The feel and tempo are very even throughout the piece, picking up the pace just for the close.  It’s even nature would make it a good piece for teaching.

Tekirdag Karsilamasi (4:37) This track also has a gentle qanoon introduction. But don’t relax, the drum comes in with a brisk 9/8 that will compel you to get out of your seat! There are some sporadic vocals and a really crazy repeating accent that sounds like a glissando-type effect on a qanoon – have fun with that! The pace throughout is steady until the final close. This is a really good track for practicing 9/8 combinations as well as a fun show piece.

Percussion Improvisation Konyali (6:09) This drum track starts off with unforgiving speed right out of the gates. The lead drum keeps up the speed till around 1:45 when it slows down to a moderate pace and the accents become more defined for a short while. This track feels related to” Tekirdag Karsilamasi” with it’s glissando- like features and would work well in combination for a longer performance.

Nikris Oyun Havasai/Ya Mustafa (4:11) If you are looking for a good Turkish-flavored class piece for combos, the first 3:00 of this track is a perfect choice.  After the 3 minute mark, it morphs into a fast close with the familiar “Ya Mustafa” melody.

Karacbey Ciftetellisi (7:00)  Another excellent choice for class, this moderately slow 4/4 piece would be very handy for combos or drilling smooth movements. Its relaxed feel would make a nice interlude between faster pieces in a Turkish set, but a bit long for my personal tastes – Audacity to the rescue! It does  gain some speed in the final 2:30 minutes before it fades out.

Mastika (4:39) This track is a delicate 9/8 with a light feel that I love. I think this is an especially nice “intro to 9/8” piece because it is easier to hear the rhythm and feel its pulse through the melody,more so than other 9/8 tracks commonly available. There are some vocal interjections of a man calling “Bravo!”.  “Mastika” is a girl’s name, perhaps he is cheering on a dancing girl? It speeds up slightly toward the end then slows down to a soft, clean finish. This is a lovely track for all-around 9/8  use. It is my personal favorite on the CD and will soon be taking up residence on my iPod!

Azize (5:22) This is a wonderful Turkish interpretation of the Arabic classic. A little  lighter and sprightlier than traditional Arabic recordings, it would make an excellent and uplifting performance piece. The drum accents are crisp and the violin taqsim is eloquent. The melody plays out on a dual layer of violin and qanoon that are delightful and fresh sounding. Even if you have several Arabic versions of this classic, this one is a unique addition to your performance music library.

CD Review: “The Essence of Bellydance”

May 14, 2012

Essence of BellydanceAl-Ahram Orchestra’s “The Essence of Bellydance” was released in 2008. In the years that I’ve had it, I have returned to its tracks over and over for both performing and teaching, so I thought I’d let you get to know it if you aren’t familiar with this versatile CD already. Overall, the album has a modern Egyptian sound with lots of keyboard, complex melodies and well-placed accents. Several of these songs really are staples on my bellydance show playlists!

Lylet Al Naseeb (7:28)  This classy entrance piece gets off to a traditional Malfouf start then drops into a moderate Saidi rhythm. The melody alternates between phrases of keyboard and ney for the main theme of the piece. It slows down midway in with a Chiftitelli, then picks up for an upbeat section with a Khaliji feel then drifts off to a waltz that is lovely for travelling around the floor. If you are doing a performance where you can only do one song, this one gives you lots of opportunities to show off different elements of your dancing. The song closes with a reprise of the main melodic theme and a Malfouf exit.

Tamr Henna (4:55) This is the “other” Tamr Henna. This piece has a melancholy melody and a steady pace. It works well for running slow, smooth combos or veil combos in class.

Nagham al Hob (3:33) Another good teaching track, this one has a steady Maqsoum rhythm at a nice moderate pace. The drum is rather “up front” in the sound which makes it a good choice for practicing combos with zills in the Maqsoum rhythm.

Sahran Alayya (6:36) This dramatic entrance piece always suggests whirling to me. It starts off with a qanoon taqsim,  then transitions with a fast gallopy section. It moves on to a slow Saidi with a sultry keyboard line interspersed with fast segments. It really invites you to show lots of personality through the changes of tempo.

Ikhlasik Fen (4:36)  This track also starts out with a qanoon intro then progresses to a moderately fast Saidi rhythm accompanied by a qanoon and keyboard melody line.  This song has some nice “stop accents” to play with. It feels vaguely like a traditional beladi, but not quite. The melody line in the last section is where you hear that most clearly.

Sahrawi Ya Wad (4:30) I am tempted to call this song “a meditation on the saxophone.” That is the melodic instrument at the forefront of the sound. It’s joined by a keyboard in some parts and has a very spare Maqsoum in the background. It is steady and subtle and makes a better teaching track than performance track, in my opinion.

Habayibna Gayyin (3:36)  This is a moderately paced Saidi track that presents the rhythm straight up and with heavier variations for phrase emphasis. It takes a few Malfouf  side trips along the way. This one is steady enough for teaching  but interesting enough for a show thanks to a nice melody and the rhythm changes.

Soublil Alashra (3:53) This track is a bouncy 2/4  with some scattered vocals. The melody is carried on keyboard and keyboard-synthesized mizmar.  I like to use this track for drilling and teaching small travelling “flat/ball” steps.

Mizamir Arabaa (3:47) With a keyboard mizmar, this track has the heavy feel of a Saidi but with an electronic modern sound. At 1:15 it changes to a drum break then features a call and response section between the “mizmar” and the keyboard. I’d use this for a Saidi performance if I was looking for a decidedly modern feel. I’d also use it for cane drills.

Altablalal Ghallab (2:14) This drum solo has a crisp, clear sound, nice changes and good flow. My crazy dance partner and I used it for a duet a few years back. It has nice tempo changes and some unusual riffs that are fun (if challenging to choreograph). The piece wraps with a heavy wind up and a clean end.

Ala Baladi Il Mahboob (3:24) This is one of my favorite  performance songs because you can play really interesting, musical zills to it. It also has a qanoon opening and then sets the mood with a  heavy Masmoudi variation. It progresses to a slow Maqsoum that breaks pattern to occasionally merge with whats going on in the melody line – which is where the zill fun is. There is a nice call and response between the qanoon and keyboard. The track moves into a fast section with plucky little surprise accents that I love – then straight into a 6/8 section. It closes with the same Masmoudi melody theme that it opened with.

Ouilli Ya Baboor (5:13) This track begins with an almost painfully slow and moody atmosphere from strings and ney. At 2:15 it turns up the intensity and pace but keeps its serious mood. This could make a good sword performance piece.  The melody line leaves a lot of room to work within it for sword tricks. It has another nice transition around 4:15 that reverts primarily to drum till the close.

Ana Hashik (3:53) This is a true gem with a coy attitude and fun moments! Its very playful opening develops into a sassy walking pace with great vocals to play off of. I have always found this song to be real crowd pleaser and especially great for parties where you are right among your audience. Try it, you’ll like it!

If you have this CD, what are you favorite tracks and how do you like to use them? Tell us about it in the comments below…

CD Review: Hossam Ramzy’s “Baladi Plus”

February 13, 2012

Baladi PlusI recently got a copy of  Hossam Ramzy’s “Baladi Plus”. True to its name, this CD has a heavy, folksy feel throughout its eight tracks. As an instructor, I find a lot to like in this CD and my students can count on hearing a lot of it in class. This one will definitely be taking up permanent residence on my teaching  iPod!

The CD opens with “Night Foal” (2:29) which sets the tone for the music to come. It starts out with a rebaba improvisation that is shortly joined by a mizmar. The rebaba drops into a drone in the background while the mizmar takes the lead in what I can only describe as a succulent and delicious taqsim. Mizmar is one of those love-it or hate-it instruments. If you love mizmar, this will move you. If you don’t… well, move on to the next track!

The second track, “Arabian Knights” (8:33) is a straight up Saidi. The liner notes say this was written for the dance of the stallions the Said region is known for. If you don’t have any dancing horses around, don’t worry. This mid-paced, even tempered Saidi makes a fantastic drill track. I can see it being used for ATS drill, Saidi zill drills or cane practice where its over 8 minute length is a real plus. This will be a mainstay on my playlist for teaching Saidi workshops.  Just because I’m recommending it for drill, don’t think it’s too boring for performance. The mizmar has a fun melody line and the rebaba pops up for some cute little accents in the background that could be expressed in choreography or improvisation.

“Mashalla” (8:08) is a rhythmic play on the similarities and differences between the Masmoudi and Maqsoum rhythms which have the same pattern but in different time signatures. I think this is really cool because I’ve demonstrated this with zills to my classes for years – now I can let them hear it directly in one piece of music too. Aside from this fun musical trivia bit,  this would also make a good drill track for shimmies.

Track 4, “Alla Hai” (5:58) is a Zaar, an Egyptian ritual dance to rid the particpants of evil spirits. It starts as a slow, plodding 2/4  that gradually picks up speed. This would be a very good track for drilling basics with zill triplets.

“Baladi We Hetta”  or “Baladi Plus” (9:17) is the title track. It has a lively pace and an accordion melody that you takes you on a great ride for improvisation. To me, this track feels like the second half of a traditional baladi progression. It has a built in drum solo starting around the 5:00 mark to the end, which is pretty handy for a performance piece.

If you like the flow of soft Chiftitelli pieces, you will most likely enjoy “Wahda We Bas” (7:16). This track has a Wahda Kabira base rhythm holding up a pretty oud melody, which playfully teases at Chiftitelli a couple times in the song. But just when you’re settled into the flow around 4:15 it gracefully sneaks into a Samaai (10/8) which makes it all the more interesting in my book. This would be a lovely piece for veil work.

“Malfouf Ala Westi” (6:54) means “Wrapped Around My Hip” – what a great title for a bellydance song! This track is entirely in the Malfuf rhythm, most often used for entrances and exits in cabaret pieces. Here it is the backdrop for a baladi piece with more of that juicy Egyptian accordion. This would make a really good show closer for a full set – it has a nice build up to a strong finish. Off the stage and in the studio, this would be a good piece to use for practicing the fast travelling steps we use to enter and exit the stage.

And the best comes last…. dear “Roah Albi” (7:20), where have you been all my dancing life? That’s ok, if I heard this too early on as a performer I wouldn’t have been able to handle it! If you are into doing virtuoso drum solos this track is manna from heaven. You better eat your Wheaties if you plan to dance to this – it’s long and unrelenting in dishing up rhythm changes and  interesting hooks you just will not want to pass up. It has some fun call and response passes between the tabla and zills and a great roll section perfect for some fun shimmy-play. All that would be enough but to gild the lilly, that Samaai is back around 4:00 – and that really pleases the rhythm junkie in this dancer. When I said eat your Wheaties, I meant it because Mr. Ramzy will work you hard for the last 2:30. I LOVE it. This IS my next drum solo – bring it on!

You see, I told you there was a lot to like about this CD! From stage to studio this one will get lots of use around here.

Already own this CD? What are you favorite tracks and how do you use them? Tell us in the comments below….

Taking On Your Worst Critic

December 27, 2011

Most of us know we are our own worst critics. Never is this more apparent than when we watch our own performance videos. As tough as the experience can be at first, there is a lot that can be learned and it doesn’t have to be an entirely painful, cringing experience. The first thing I suggest you do is to make a promise to yourself that you will be fair and look for the things you did well along with the things that could use improvement.

I like to view videos a few times with a different objective for each one. Depending on what you are currently working on (specific goals are good) you may choose just a few of these or come up with ideas of your own. If you’re doing more than 2 or 3, try to do it in different sittings. You can use this to evaluate improvisation or choreography.

Here are a few ideas to start:

  • Watch solely for posture. Few things can upgrade a performance as wonderfully as great carriage. Are you starting out strong and staying that way? Are you fatiguing toward the end?
  • Turn off the sound. Watch for a good mix of body variety. Are you using hips, upper body and arms? Don’t get picky on the movement quality on this one, you are looking for mix and variety. Do you use both sides of the body fairly equally?
  • Again with the sound off, watch your floor patterns. Are you using your whole space, however small or large?  Are you coming toward your “center stage” for the impressive and impactful portions of the music? Do your floor patterns have some structure – circles, travelling side to side or front to back?  Did you use any strong diagonals from back toward front?  If you are performing in a round, did you give all parts of the audience some “face time”?
  • Turn on the sound and listen for the phrasing, instrumentation and accents in the music. Did you use them effectively or pass too many of them up? If you did a good job catching your accents, did you do so with variety – some on hips,shoulders, chest, arms?
  • With sound on or off, watch just the arms. Are you keeping them moving from one interesting place to another? Do their positions have purpose (framing, showing direction, etc.)  that enhances the body line or movement?
  • Watch for the technique of each movement. Are your shapes and directions distinct? For example, do your hip ups and outs clearly look different? Are you completing each shape or movement? How is the variety?
  • If you performed with zills (yay for you!!) did you stop and start your playing in places that make sense musically? Is your timing steady? Give your self a pat on the back if you embellished on any rhythms!
  • Watch your face.  Is your expression engaged and fitting to the mood of the music, whatever it is? You don’t need the super-happy face all the time. In fact subtle, introspective moments with soft music can really draw your audience in.  Do you look like you have to think about what’s next? Does your expression truly reach your eyes?
  • On your last run through, pick your favorite moment from the performance – don’t skip this! Did you flash a great smile over your shoulder at the perfect moment?  Did you have one really elegant backbend with great arm position? Whatever it is – OWN IT –  you did it and it’s yours! Ask a trusted fellow dancer to tell you their favorite moment – you may be surprised what they pick!

Performances get better a little bit at a time. We can cultivate that progress by taking an objective and fair look at ourselves.  If you’re feeling down and need some perspective, maybe check out a video of yourself a few years back and see how far you’re come! Maybe make a resolution to tape yourself this January – no one but you ever needs to see it. Give yourself a fair critique and decide one or two specific areas to work on. A few months from now it could look very different.

How do feel about watching your performance videos? How do you use them to progress? Tell us in the comments below…

CD Review: Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock The Tabla”

December 12, 2011

I recently received a copy of  Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock the Tabla” CD for review. It arrived in the mail as I was headed out to teach so I popped it in the car CD player for a first listen. From the title (and the artist) I expected a CD of hot drum solos but this CD was quite the surprise!  If I had read the notes first, I’d have know that this is a collaboration CD.  Ramzy has been a guest percussionist for many other artists and in this CD  “Egypt’s Ambassador of Rhythm” invited his favorite artists from other genres to swing on his playground.

“Rock the Tabla” has 11 tracks that run between 3:00 and 6:00 minutes each. The guest artists include A.R. Rahman, Billy Cobham, Manu Katche, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Jimmy Waldo, Chaz Kkashi, Phil Thornton and John Themis.

The opening track, “Arabatana” (5:07) set me straight with a Spanish guitar and a very “Santana-esque” electric lead guitar. The opening guitar melodies give way to a drum break and then back to the guitars. I think this could make a very interesting skirt fusion piece.

“Cairo to India” (5:51)  is the second track. This selection has a modern Middle Eastern feel with a kind of “India -meets-Jazz” vocal melody in parts.  This song has a good, steady pace and would make a better drill or combo practice song than performance piece, in my opinion.

Next up is “6 Teens” (4:31). This piece is lively and has great energy, drum breaks and accents.  It also has varying time signatures, primarily 7/8 and 9/8. This is a really interesting piece and I am drawn to listening (and dancing in my office) to  it over and over – I love unusual rhythms!

Track 4, “Ancient Love Affairs”  feels like cool water poured all over me on a hot day. It is soothing and relaxing, but won’t put you to sleep thanks to a light layer of interesting percussion. Now, I’m not a tribal gal, but I imagine this would be a perfect slow combo song for ATS – listen to it and tell me if that’s right.

Yes, there is a drum solo – “Shukran Arigato” (3:52) combines Egyptian tabla and Japanese taiko drums. The two drummers use a “call and response” format with  Karatchi and Malfouf rhythms as a backdrop. This doesn’t sound decidedly Japanese and could be a fun drum solo. This will definitely make it onto my “Shimmy Drill” playlist for class.

“Blusey Flusey” (5:05) is  another 7/8 track. The rhythm feels right up front with a melancholy violin in the back. That’s all cool with me, but when the mizmar jumped in I found the song much more appealing. For me, this is a piece to just enjoy listening to and dancing freestyle just for fun.

Yet another rhythmically adventurous track, “Billy Dancing” (4:32) (no, that’s not a typo) switches between a 9/8 and Saidi rhythms. For that reason, it doesn’t make a good drill song, but might make for a fun choreography if you dig accordion.

According to the liner notes, “Sawagy” (4:04) is a blend of rock, Latino and Egyptian Fellahi styles. This track has full vocals and I’d say it feels mostly modern Egyptian at the beginning till the rock guitar comes about two minutes in and dominates by the end.

“Dom and Doumbia” (3:03) is another drum duet, this time between Ramzy on Egyptian tabla joined by a Malian djembe player.  Personally, I like more distinct riffs and accents for my performance drum solos but the overall steady nature of this track makes it another good one for a “Shimmy Drill” class playlist.

The title track “Rock the Tabla” (5:33) features Omar Faruk Tekbilek on mizmar – but don’t be scared away if you’re not a mizmar-lover. It’s not the dominant instrument. This track has vocals and a lot of electric guitar. The liner notes say Ramzy was inspired by his work with Led Zepplin in creating this track and you can hear that in the last minute or so.  If you’re inclined to use fusion music in your class, this would be a good song for teaching or drilling combos.

I love the playful title of the closing track , “This Could Lead to Dancing”. This final track seems to be  a reprise of “Cairo to India” and it makes a fine send off to a varied and interesting CD.

What do you think of this CD? Tell us in the comments below…

Jump in the Stream….About Musicality

November 7, 2011

We talk alot about musicality in bellydance, perhaps because improvisation is such a strong tradition right down to the roots of the style. Like the concept of “stage presence”, musicality can be difficult to define in practical terms. It is interesting to view it through the lens of another dance style, particularly one that is traditionally choreographed. A recent post by one of my new favorite dance bloggers got me thinking.

New dancers spend (or should spend) a considerable amount of time learning to hear and dance properly on the most common rhythms for their style. These will differ for bellydance students learning Egyptian, Greek or Turkish styles for example. Some beginners come to class and find their first challenge just keeping the basic beat, before they even attempt to work with a rhythm pattern.

With time and practice, body beats get steadier and rhythms speak more clearly to the dancer. The next pursuit is to move beyond a simple approach to rhythm and take the music in a more holistic sense… learning “musicality”. Every instructor’s definition of this would be unique in some way. It should be – it’s about personal impressions of the music and how you express them. So I’ll just speak for myself here.

When I am looking to help a student develop their musicality, I want them to be more aware of the larger structures in the music such as the phrasing, verse/chorus arrangements and the rise and fall of energy in the landscape of the piece. Whether improvisationally or through choreography, these can be reflected in floor patterns, scale of movement and repetition of movements for a sense of “theme”.

Musicality also includes attention to the details. The characteristics of the instruments heard up-front , whether they are smooth, vibratory or percussive, should be evident in the movements that occupy the music they make. The flourishes and sudden accents are like exclamations – they are important and interesting and deserve visual  representation.

These are just a few of the elements that we tap to develop a better physical connection with our music. It’s a subtle process and one that deepens with time and experience. It’s best learned with music that truly inspires you and that you really love. The best analogy I can give my students is this:

When you dance correctly “on” the music, you are riding in the boat and letting the stream take you at its pace. When you take note of and use the structure, energy, mood and details of the music along with the pace, you are dancing “in” your music and now you are swimming in the stream. It surrounds you and moves you and caresses all of your body.

Wouldn’t you rather swim?

How do you define “musicality”? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

The Pro-Zill Position

May 20, 2011

We all have things we struggle to learn as dancers, for many it’s zills. They are challenging for sure in that “rub your belly, pat your head” kind of way. So many dancers seem to not play them these days that it just gets easier and easier for new dancers to justify passing them up like some optional prop. Heck, your instructor many not even play – so why should you bother?

Investing the time to learn and practice zills is about much more than being able to make a bunch of noise while you dance. Learning zill rhythms intrinsically changes the way you hear your music – it’s like seeing down to the ocean floor through clear blue water. You know so much more about what’s there than if you only watched the sunlight glinting off the waves. That deeper understanding of your music’s structure lets you dance closer to its heartbeat and really bring the music and the movement together as an integrated visual presentation.

When you can play zills proficiently  – maybe even boldly – you take on the additional artistic role of musician as well as dancer. Even if you are performing to recorded music, you can bring extra excitement with a “live” music element at your fingertips. If you are performing with a live band, you absolutely become part of the music-making. Done well, this interaction is exhilarating for both the dancer and the audience.

Whether live or recorded music, zills are a voice that let you express yourself creatively within the framework of the music. You can embellish a melodic flourish, add drama with accents or use them as a bridge between the rhythm and punctuation of your movement, and the basic meter of the song. The possibilities are creative, endless and FUN.

You don’t have to play for every performance, in fact, your preferred styles and music choices may come off better without them. You’ll still benefit from the rhythmic understanding and musical thinking that learning zills brings. Last year in a workshop, Princess Farhana told us about a student of hers  that didn’t want to practice. The student justified her position by saying she hardly ever saw her play in performance. The Princess’ answer, “Yes, but I DO know how if I want to!”

So all I’m saying is, give zills a chance!

Next time….. my top 3 tips to make learning to dance with rhythms easier.

What was your first impression of or experience with zills like? Has it changed over the time you’ve been dancing? Tell us in the comments below!

“She’s Got Hips” Podcast Episode #7

April 11, 2011

LISTEN HERE: SGH Episode 7 (April 2011)

Final installment of the interview with “The Costume Fairy” aka Rukshana aka Gail Wolfenden-Steib on costume maintenance, post-show cleaning and storage, caring for silk veils and…..safety pins!  Review of Sadaqah’s self-titled CD, event news and more.

SHOW LINKS

Episode Sponsor: Fairy Cove Silks

“The Costume Fairy” Rukshana Raqs website

Daily Bellydance Quickies

Jenn Shear at the Grisly Pear April 10th

Mahin’s Teacher Feature Night – May 7th

MECDA’s Cairo Caravan – June 3-5th

Levant al Sonora’s Desert Shakedown – Oct. 8th

Milsoft

Synthropol

Sadaqah’s Homepage