Been There, Done That

Introduction (part 1) | Arabian Music (part 2) | Rules for Dancing (part 3)

Introduction

Dear Dancers.

Here goes my big mouth again. I think I should thank you all for reading anything I wrote before and for reading this too, as I have a feeling that this may be taken in more ways than I wish. But please assume that I am a nice guy underneath it all. I can be… I promise….. .

“BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, READ THE BOOK,
SEEN THE FILM AND GOT THE T-SHIRT?”

I have visited almost all the continents of the world, seen all the continents during the Last few years. Almost every single state of the USA, all of the European countries, all of the South American countries, almost all of Australia and of course many of the Arabian and African countries. I was very fascinated by the interest and love for our dance, culture and music and for the sheer number of dancers that just came out to welcome me wherever I went and were very hospitable and caring and gave me no less than a couple of thousand new sisters all over the world whom I love dearly, respect deeply and dedicate my musical life to making music for them.

I also am amazed by the level of involvement of these lovely ladies and their families in the Egyptian/Middle-Eastern dance, music and culture. Some of them have fully dedicated their lives to the dance.

I hope and pray that one day the Egyptian people look at our magnificent Art Form with that much respect or that much reverence, and actually, very few of us middle easterners dedicate much time to it except in weddings, birthday parties or in some government sponsored thing like our national troupe, who have to do thing in a communistic art council style, in order to impress our heads of states and to put it out in national celebration days.

So, I feel an urge, deep from my heart to help and inform all those caring people I met on the road in my travels, workshops, and who send me videos of their dancing or in the parties that were held to celebrate my visit to their city. I feel I want to advise them correctly of my culture and of the way it is used, and an easy way to approach it.

But first of all, there is one thing I want to ASK to a large percentage of the dancers I met in my travels:

WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO START DANCING TO THE MUSIC, PLEAAASE?

Quite a few of the dancers I met are interested in “The Latest **NEW** Step from Cairo?, Or the **The Latest **New** Designed Costume, or some thing that is such an extra-extra thing to the dance.

However, I actually met a very small minority who were interested in anything that is fundamental to the dance. I have seen many dancers doing all sorts of odd things in some funny strange costumes and some in super expensive costumes that were even made by this or that famous costume maker of Cairo and some have even gone to Egypt and got them made to measure.

But I have RAARELY EVER seen any of them “DANCE TO THE MUSIC “.

So of course you are going to ask me what the heck have they been doing then?
I’d say, I have no idea.

In my opinion dancing is like drumming, like playing nay flute, or like playing piano, or like playing the Oud, Quanoon or any other instrument. The instrument while dancing is the body. The dancer is a musical member of the orchestra.

In any musical sphere and style, it is known that the best type of musician, is the type who LISTENS TO THE OTHERS, while he’s playing his part, fitting with what they are playing. Hopefully playing the same song with them and accenting what they are doing, rising with them, and stopping when they stop.

As a Tabla player, when I play my drums to a song, I pay very close attention to every musical phrase that is being played. As a member of the group, I should definitely know what the rhythm is and I must know when the rhythm changes, slows down, speeds up, stops, accents or changes anyway. I must listen to every musician playing and make sure that what I am playing compliments what he/she is playing, be it a solo or part of the orchestration. When the full orchestra is belting out a string part, I have to compliment that and rise with them, and express that part, but when the music is only played by a soloist, I play very quietly, just enough to accompany him, while still keeping the timing of the music and holding the rhythmic part, I may also very gently decorate the little accentuations that he does every now and then in order to keep the whole thing aesthetic and artistic, and keeps the communication flowing between the two of us. This same attitude applies to all instrumentalists performing on the same piece of music. Or the whole thing becomes a shamble of un-related mesh.

In my contact with many great artists of the world who’s dance is relevant or related to our beloved dance, like the Indian Kathakaly dancer Nahid Siddiki of Pakistan or the Spanish Maria Belen Fernandez of Madrid, they have ALL explained to me how much time they spent learning about rhythm, counting and singing the sounds of the rhythms and learning the meaning of the body movements and what these movement of the hand means and what that look of the eye indicates and how much they loved it and how it means something in the observer’s eye and how without all of that they would have never been allowed on stage, and if by miracle they were, they won’t be accepted by the audience, as the audience knows what to look for.

“Why does anyone think that in the Egyptian/Middle Eastern dance it is different?”
Yes, I know… if you show enough leg, many people will be interested in the middle east, but I am talking about ART, CULTURE and AESTHETICS HERE.

I have seen many dancers that came out with the most unsuited choreography to the music and said:

And I quote “This choreography was specially designed for me by (#~@%$£ &^%@#~#x ) {Some famous teacher’s name}”.

I feel from my heart about this, because I want the YOU to understand the dance and to REALLY DANCE good.

So if you want to know how to go about it and how organise your dance to the music this is the way to do it. This is a free gift to you, and I hope you make good use of it.

Here is what I think:

If you have chosen this or that piece of music.

Now, try to find out a little bit more about it. What it is saying (musically and lyrically if possible), and what is the overall gesture of the composition… is it a happy song? is it a sad song?, is it an angry song? is it a melancholic song? what kind of music is it, is classical, is it folkloric, is it a Baladi song piece, is it an improvised Baladi piece, is it Saidi, and this is just in the Egyptian field …

Then find out what the rhythms are. How many bars of each rhythm it has.

Providing that you have a basic vocabulary of movement that would go with each one of those rhythms (Two or three steps that can fit each rhythm). You should do a great job. One of my favourite dancers of Egypt is Fifi Abdo. I promise you she does only three or four steps in her whole repertoire. But she does them in the right place at the right times with a lovely smile.

Arabian Music (part 2) | Rules for Dancing (part 3)