Archive for the ‘Performing Belly 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…

Putting Yourself To The Test for Dance Fitness

December 29, 2012

clipboardNew Year’s Day is right around the corner. Many people  will be making resolutions to get in shape. If one of your goals for 2013 is to improve your dancing, and your overall fitness, it’s important to know where your personal starting line is. When we know where we are now, we can accurately look back a few months from now and applaud how far we’ve come. Small successes are the very best motivators!

You could hire a personal trainer and let a pro guide you, but if that isn’t in your budget or your schedule, you can still get a read on where you are fitness-wise with a few at-home tests that require little to no equipment. You could do them all by yourself, or buddy up with a dance friend and cheer each other on.  Do be sure to write down which tests you do and your results so you can compare them to your results on the same tests a few months from now.

Doing all of these tests will give you a more comprehensive view of your strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness, but if you are particularly interested in just a few of these areas, pick just the ones that fit your needs. Follow the links for detailed descriptions of each exercise.

MUSCULAR ENDURANCE

The Wall Sit Test

You’ll need: a wall and a timer

Holding the wall sit position tests the muscular endurance of your quads and glutes. This is an important factor in sustaining a good long shimmy!  Get in position, start the timer and stay there as long as you can with proper form. Record your results.

The Plank Test

You’ll need: floor space and a timer

Holding the plank position tests the muscular strength and endurance of all your core muscles. Nothing – and I mean NOTHING – will have as far reaching improvement on your dance as a strong core. It improves posture and balance, prevents back  injury and increases the integrity of all your movement. Start the timer, get in position and stay there as long as you can hold your body in a straight line. Be honest – no lifting or sagging! Record your results.

STRENGTH & POWER

The Push-Up Test

You’ll need:  just floor space or a wall

A strong upper body supports your dance posture and keeps your arms from drooping out of position. Depending on your current level of strength, you can choose to test yourself using a wall push up, a bent knee push up or a standard push up. How many can you do with proper form? Record your results.

The Wall Jump Test

You’ll need:  a wall, a tape measure, a partner or some baby powder (what??)

The wall jump tests how much power you can generate from your lower body. Position yourself facing an open wall so that you can jump up and touch the wall. Squat down and jump up to touch the wall at the highest point you can. A partner can mark the spot as you touch it so you can use the tape measure to record your results. If you don’t have a partner to help you, put some baby powder on your hand. This will leave a mark on the wall this is easy to wipe away once you’ve measured it. Record the best of 3 tries.

BALANCE

The Tree Pose Test

You’ll need:  floor space and a timer

Having good balance brings grace to your dance – it also keeps that sword up there where it belongs! Set your timer and get into tree pose. How long can you stay there without putting the other foot down or grabbing onto something? Record your results – on BOTH legs!

FLEXIBILITY

The Sit and Reach Test

You’ll need:  floor space, a shoe box, a measuring tape, 

The sit and reach test gauges flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back. There are a few ways to record this. If you cannot yet reach your toes, record the distance from where you can reach to the soles of your flexed feet. If you can reach past your toes, place the tape measure lengthwise down the shoe box and position your feet flat against the short end. You’ll reach past your toes and record the number of inches from your best try out of 3.

You can also do this test one leg at a time. You may find that one side is much more flexible than the other – good to know!  To do this, just bend one leg at the knee and let your knee open down toward the floor, keeping the test leg straight. Record the results for each leg.

CARDIOVASCULAR FITNESS

The Jump Rope Test

You’ll need:  jump rope and a timer

This is an alternative to the “1 mile run” test, which really isn’t for everyone. Jumping as fast as you can (which may not be fast – that’s OK), count how many times you can jump in a set amount of time. How long of a time frame is up to you.  If you aren’t accustomed to challenging cardio exercise, you might keep it to one minute or even 30 seconds. It’s not where you start, but where you go from here! Count your jumps and record your results.

Although there is plenty of norm and comparison data out there to rank fitness levels,but  I believe it’s much more important to compare yourself to YOU. Your progress is best measured from the point where you started.  Nothing else really matters. Having a realistic snapshot of you fitness at this moment will help you to figure out if your exercise routine is working to improve your dancing.

Happy & Healthy New Year to you!

When It All Goes Too Fast

December 11, 2012
But it feels SOO fast!

How will I EVER learn this? It’s  SOO fast!

A few years ago, I was teaching my student troupe a new drum solo. Their heads were spinning – it was definitely challenging – and they said it felt “so fast.”  As a teacher and choreographer, it’s pretty common to hear a comment like that when students first encounter new choreography. Why is that? What makes it feel so fast when it’s on time with the music, and the music itself doesn’t seem that fast?

In my experience, it all comes down to everything being relative. The music isn’t fast – it’s just going faster than the student can execute the movements. It can also be that the music is moving along faster than the student can recall the next step. Usually, it is a bit of both in the early stages of learning new belly dance choreography.  This is especially true with drum solos because they are often full of rapid-fire isolations and accents.

The solution isn’t new or obscure – slow down the music to match the students’ current speed of recall and movement execution.  Aside from easing frustration which interferes with learning, it gives the dancers time to fully complete each movement. This is HUGE. Along with posture,improving movement follow-through has one of the biggest payoffs in terms of performance quality.  Big dance studios have had the ability to slow down music for rehearsal for years. They had expensive and bulky  CD  or cassette (remember those?) players that allowed them to run the music at whatever speed they needed.

Now that technology has taken major leaps and bounds forward, we now have this ability right on our own computers and maybe even on your phone or iPod! Let’s look at a few ways to take control of your music that you might not know about:

How To Slow Down Your Belly Dance Music in Windows Media Player

  1. Open your music file with Windows Media Player
  2. Right click anywhere in the window.
  3. Select “Enhancements” then “Play Speed Settings”.
  4. A slide bar will appear that will let you adjust the music speed.

Thank you to my resourceful and clever private student, Pam for figuring this out and sharing it with me!

Using Audacity on Windows or Mac Computers

Audacity is a free music editor program that does oh-so-much more than just slow down music. In this program you can actually record and keep several speed versions to burn on a CD or load onto your iPod. This is especially handy if, like me, you use an iPod Mini that doesn’t run apps. While we’re on the topic of Audacity, I can’t stress enough how handy this free and easy-to-use program is for bellydancers! You can shorten songs that are too long. You can edit together, fade in and out or blend pieces for a smooth show. I recorded, edited and compiled all of the In the Ears, Out the Hips Podcasts entirely in this one program!

On Your Android Phone

If you carry your belly dance music on your Android phone, you can try the free Audio Speed Changer app. This will let you select mp3 files you’ve stored on your device and play them back at your selected speed. Connect your phone to your stereo’s audio input line with a cable and you’re ready for rehearsal!

On Your iPhone

According to this blog, playback speed control is built right into the iPhone’s iPod app!  The linked blog does have instructions on how to access that setting, although they only mention going faster. I don’t own an iPhone, so I couldn’t tell you for sure if a slower setting is available – you’d think it would be. If you do have one, check it out and let us know in the comments below.

There is also a free iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app available called Anytune.

As familiarity with the movements, muscle memory and actual memory improve, you can gradually increase the speed to 100%. By using this practice technique, you are sure to see better end results on the stage. So next time you’re staring down a choreography challenge – as a student or as an instructor – check out some of these options. Take a breath…… and slow down!

CD Review: “From Cairo with Love”

September 24, 2012

“From Cairo with Love” by Zamalek Musicians

The Zamalek Musicians’ 2010 release “From Cairo with Love” is a diverse mix of Egyptian performance tracks. There are 12 in all, including 3 drum solos, classic Oriental and folkloric pieces. Every experienced dancer has her own “formula” for putting together a full show, and I could easily put  a whole show together from the tracks on this CD, plus a few for teaching my classes too!  Fix yourself some tea and let’s sit down to listen together…

“From Cairo with Love” (5:41) The opening track is a strong entrance piece. After an initial upbeat section, it moves into a qanoon taqsim and then forward into a Malfouf melody. It changes gears with a sharp stop and glides on with a keyboard and qanoon melody that slows down  and then picks up into a heavier Saidi passage with a keyboard mizmar. There is a reprise of the Malfouf melody at the close. Its many changes keep things interesting and would make it an impressive stand-alone performance piece as well as an entrance.

“Shouf Il Banat” (4:07)  Are you in the mood for some Sha’abi? This CD has you covered with this fun and poppy song. It has a bright, highly produced sound and the vocals create some cute accents that you won’t be able to resist hitting with sassy dance moves. This is a perfect pick for getting your audience up to dance – the civilians (aka non-dancers) will definitely be able to relate to this style of music.

“Zena Zena” (4:27) This track opens with an energetic drum and has a “remix” kind of feel. This song strikes me as a split-personality; it has a very modern drum machine back beat but the violin and keyboard melody is very upfront and classic. This would be a good time to disclose to you, my dear readers,  that I have a strong distaste for drum machines. Once I identify them, it’s *all* I can hear in the song and the music takes on a soulless quality for me. If they don’t bother you, you might just love this song!

“Tabbel Wa Wahid” (4:01)  Watch out – it’s a Sha’abi fake out! This track starts out like a cute Sha’abi and turns into a lively drum solo! I think it would make a fun class performance piece. The drum solo pace is nice and full of interesting riffs that are still approachable for student choreography. It has a clean sound and a crisp finish.

“Silence of the Nile”  (4:29) I think this is my favorite track on the whole CD. It starts out with a ney solo soon joined by a meditative tabla. Both instruments pick up the pace and I find the ney melody especially inviting. It is full of lots of stops, accents and detail. This track is very unique in that it’s like a drum solo with instrumental additions. It takes a complete turn at 2:20 that practically feels like a completely different song (I bet you could use it edited!). The second half is more modern with keyboard and Oriental styling, and some Saidi elements. Taken from the beginning to the end, it almost feels like a mini-musical tour from folkloric to Oriental. I wonder if that’s what the musicians had in mind – there are no liner notes on the CD.

“Hilwina Hop” (3:14) Another fast, poppy cut – this one is almost comically fast! If you want to light a fire under your class for a fast travelling drill, this song would do the trick. Seriously, click the link and listen to the sample.

“Artist Bros.” (2:25)  Let me first say that I really appreciate the lack of drum machine on this track – it sounds real and raw. Two drums, zills and a tambourine.  I dig it. It has good energy and nice clean build to a finish. If you close your eyes it’s like the musicians are in the room with you.

“Warda” (4:52) This classic makes a beautiful entrance and this version is nicely instrumented with has a pace you can really sink into.  It’s got all the goodies like a quanoon solo and spooky Zar transition into the fast and fun closing passage. This is one of my favorite performance songs. And…. it falls into that “under 5 minute” mini-show category that is so useful for showcases where your slot is limited but you want to show your dance range.

“Habibi Ya Asaf” (4:35)  This cut is one that is better suited for class than for stage, in my opinion.  It is moderately fast and remains steady throughout. You can get *lots* of laps of walking 3/4 shimmy in with this song.

“Ya’ nawaim” (3:14) We’re heading to the countryside with this folksy track.  It has an irresistibly heavy feel that just might yank you out of your seat! There are alternating male and female vocal sections. I think it would make an interesting group performance piece, playing off the vocals. It would also work well for Saidi zill drills in class – the tempo is in the sweet spot for practice and the down beat is really clear for beginners to hear.

“Lissabri Hadoud” (3:44) This song has a pleasant  violin and keyboard melody, layered with interesting drum ornamentation. It would make a nice mid-show piece, especially for a restaurant or club venue where you’ll be dancing your way through the audience. Near the end, it slows down to a short oud taqsim then resumes the pace of the rest of the song.

“Khallina Ho” (2:25) This is the last drum solo on the CD. It has a nice mix of riffs – some were “deja vu”  moments from other solos. but it’s all good stuff. I would consider this an intermediate level drum solo.

“Bastannak” (3:54) This track is a lovely performance piece. It has a soft keyboard violin opening and a flowing sound.  I like the mix of drum flourishes and instrument variety. This is just the kind of piece you can improv to often and find different things to dance to with each listen. At the same time, it’s a nice even pace for class combos with the added bonus of cultivating their ear for richly arranged Egyptian music. Everybody wins.

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: “Belly Dance Mirage” by Ya Salam Orchestra

July 30, 2012

Belly Dance Mirage by Ya Salam Orchestra

“Belly Dance Mirage” by Ya Salam Orchestra has 13 tracks with a nice variety for any cabaret dancer looking for performance music. Among them, there are four drum solos ranging from straight-forward to complex. I would consider 5 of the songs to be “classics”.  Ya Salam’s renditions bring something fresh making them worth adding to your library even if you already have a few versions of these standards. For the dancer who is just building their classics library – as every new belly dancer should – this CD has lots to offer.

Nagwa (4:42) This CD opens appropriately with an entrance piece. Nagwa has a very modern sound, heavy on the keyboard. This track is full of tempo changes with plenty of fun hooks, accents and pauses which make it a wonderful performance piece in the “under 5 minute” category.

Bahlam Beek (4:27) Whenever I hear this song, I am immediately transported back to Morocco’s New York City studio and her weeklong intensive. We spent two days learning a choreography to this in her distinctive “water torture” method of repeating practice. And yes, I DO still remember parts of it over 7 years later! Ya Salam’s rendition is true to the classic with a more “vintage” feel that the opening track. The drum line is clean and crisp behind a nice mix of ney and qanoon.

Nile Cabaret (3:14) The CD’s first drum solo has a short modern keyboard into. A drum machine provides a back beat through most of the track. The drum riffs are clear, varied and fun. However, I think this track feels like it comes to an “unexpected” end. It doesn’t build to a finish but rather the keyboard comes in with a closing flourish. This could work nicely in the context of a full show if it was followed up with a song that continued the modern keyboard feel.

Ashk Al Sabaya (4:36) Another track with a more “vintage” attitude, this one features lots of vocals from male and female choruses and a male lead vocalist. The inital upbeat intro slips into a mawal backed by keyboard and violin. When the singer wraps that up, it drops into a satisfying and folksy tempo. A quick online search didn’t turn up any lyrics for this song and none are provided on the CD. I really like this song, but as always, I recommend getting a translation before performing to music with vocals, especially if you are performing for an Arab audience – better safe than sorry!

Ya Moustafa (4:08) Yes, it’s the old classic – but this version opens with a kickin’ little drum solo. The lively drum line sticks around in the background and then comes back mid-song for another mini drum solo before slowing down – just a little – for a violin solo. If you’re looking for a lively version of this classic with some “fire in the belly” , this may be just the thing.

Bardawi Drum Solo (3:00) Another drum solo, this time without the keyboards. This one fires off fast, interesting and what I think of as “assymetrical” riffs – ones that don’t repeat the patterns- so it’s not easy to “follow” for improvisation.  It gets hot and heavy at the end and has a strong finish. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with this track’s patterns, it would make an excellent and captivating performance piece for an experienced dancer.

Fein Ghazali (4:49) “Fein Ghazali” alternates between even, mid-tempo melodic sections and taqsims with short drum transitions. The melody line is quirky, but appealing.  I would not personally choose this track as show music, but its back-and-forth pacing give me ideas  to use it as a teaching tool for improvisation and musicality in class.

Manafsaji (3:42) Although it doesn’t say so on the CD cover, this song feels like it could have been plucked right out of a Samia Gamal movie. It starts out in a moderately fast Maqsoum then slows way down for a violin solo with a slow chiftitelli backdrop. An abrupt 2/4 drum transition leads in to a short drum solo. The track wraps up with a reprise of the opening melody. I can almost see her sashaying around between the marble columns as I listen…

Zambulla Drum Solo (3:31) Drum solo #3 has repeating and more predictable riffs than “Bardawi” and would be a good choice for a new performer, but don’t take that to mean it’s boring. It has plenty of interest to hold the dancer’s and the audience’s attention. I think this would be a good “shimmy drill” track for a mixed-level class too. More experienced students could practice “catching” some of the drum patterns for a little improv practice while working on their shimmy smoothness and endurance.

Zay al Hawa (5:15) Another classic – and this is one of my favorite versions of this particular song. The accents are crisp and the pace is perfect for a lively yet laid-back feel. There’s so much going on musically in this track to play with as a dancer – the tabla is full of fun flourishes even in the background, the melody has fun twists and there moments of soft sustain to add contrast. Great features like these are why classics have such enduring power in our dance. Good music is just good music.

Tabla Zein (2:04) Short and sweet, Tabla Zein comes in fast and high-pitched then slows down, shedding layers of percussion one at a time till it’s just one tabla winding down to brief second of silence. Then POW! The whole percussion section hits back for a fast ending. Much could be done with a structure like that – have fun!

Tamra Henna (4:20) This is another version of the classic, opening with a brief qanoon solo. Unlike the original arrangement, it leaves the well-known melody early for a meandering keyboard solo with lots of “drummy bits” in the background. It does eventually come back to the melody in the last minute to close.

Moallem Tabla (2:08) Yet another drum solo! This one is also a manageable 2:00 length – just right for a class choreography or slipping into a short showcase performance. This one has some cute and funky rhythm patterns and plenty of fun energy. I especially like it “roll and pop” ending –  Ta-DAH!

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…

Sign On The Dotted Line – Contracts for Belly Dancers

May 11, 2012

Belly dance contractLast week I got an email from a local dancer asking about performance contracts and what to include in one. I’ll admit I was uncomfortable with contracts when I first started to do private gigs. Some part of me felt it was a gesture of distrust toward my client, but twelve years and a several hundred parties later, I wouldn’t do a private gig without one.  I’ve come to realize that it’s just a document of clarity and commitment that makes sure we are in agreement on the details, and most people aren’t put off by them. I call mine a “Performance Agreement”; I think it accurately describes its purpose and sounds less intimidating to the sensitive client.

Before I venture on a word further, I will say that I am not a legal professional and my contract has not been written by a legal professional. It also has never been “tested” in court – thank goodness! If you want a legally water-tight contract, I suggest you go straight to a lawyer.If you would like to draw up a document that will help you and your client  get all your gig facts straight for a smooth booking experience, the information to come should be helpful for you.

The Five W’s of a Belly Dance Contract

Like a good reporter, you’ve got to cover Who, What, Where, When and Why.

  • Who is the person hiring you and responsible for paying you? If they are representing a company, the company name should be included too. Get their full name, an address, email and a phone number. Ask if that is the number where you can reach them at the time of the event. Be sure to get an on-site phone number in case you have to call on your way there for more directions, help getting into the venue or anything else.
  • What type of performance is it?  I have several types of performance services that I provide. Include a specific description of what you will be doing. How many dancers? How long is the show? What props are to be used? Does the client want audience interaction for a party or will it be contained on a stage for a cultural festival?
  • Where will it take place? You will need the physical address of the venue, including the specific room or hall if it’s in a hotel. Be sure to ask if it will be inside or outside. I always ask about the flooring or outside surface as well.
  • When does the show start? Be clear about this. I always ask “What time do you want the show to start?”. I do not ask “What time should I get there?” I list the “Performance Time” and the “Arrival/Set-Up Time” as two separate items with the arrival usually 15 minutes before the start, unless I feel I need more than that for some reason. Everyone has different tolerances for show delays. If you will be on a tight schedule, make it clear in both your conversation and in your contract. You can do this by including something like this…”A waiting fee of $XX per 15 minutes will be incurred if the show is delayed.”  In my experience, this alone is enough to keep people on time.
  • Why? Find out the reason for the occasion and if there is a guest of honor that they would like you to pay special attention to.

But There’s More…

  • Your Fee Details Specify the total price, any deposit amount and when and how each of these can be paid. Do you want cash?  Can you take a credit card on site?  Put it in writing.
  • Changing Area Some dancers arrive fully dressed. If you will be dressing there, you may want to include your needs. For example, I will not dress for a show in a public restroom and my contract has a nicely worded line to let them know that.
  • Cancellation Policy This is very important! Be sure that it is very specific and includes what happens if either you or the client cancel.  Of course we would never cancel on a client outside of an emergency, but the fact that it is in your contract is a matter of equality and protection for both parties. This should include a date beyond which any deposit is forfeited. In my contract, I agree to “provide a suitable substitute dancer at the same fee” if I cancel. I’ve never cancelled, but I am letting my client know that I cannot and will not leave them high and dry for any reason.
  • The Sound System Does the sound system play CDs or iPod? Do they have an iPod dock or cord or do you need to provide one?
  • Special Instructions Include in the contract any special requests such as theme colors, keeping your arrival a “surprise”, leading a dabke line  or dancing out the birthday cake.
  • Additional Services If you are including live music or any other professionals, I recommend having them draw up their own separate contracts rather than adding their services to yours.

Sealing The Deal

When you have filled in the contract and it’s been approved and signed by your client, be sure to sign it yourself and return a copy to them promptly.

A Contract of Your Very Own…

If you would like a sample contract to customize to your needs, you can download a Sample Belly Dance Performance Contract. From this starter document, you can add or edit any items that are specific to your needs. I hope you find it useful!

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….