Becoming a Fanana of the
by Najia Marlyz
years ago (in the early
1980's) I wrote an article
titled "Teaching Key" for the Habibi Magazine. In that
article I outlined basic ways in which a dance teacher could engage her students
more closely and spend less energy in the pedantry involved in teaching specific
of steps or even entire choreographies.
In that article I stated:
major teaching key is to awaken the student to structure
and complexity in the music on more than a primal level.
The primal level remains undiminished,
however. It is the rhythmic construction and understanding of the rhythmic
use. You do not have to be a professor of music to accomplish this step -
only an understanding of basics and elements such as sound, pattern and
variation. Once that is accomplished, one is free to search
for tonality, harmony and
emotional content of the arrangement. In short, it is the visualization of
that point I began a dissertation on techniques for making
the music visual, a technique to which my own teacher,
Bert Balladine had referred,
and frequently. Upon looking back at that article, I remember vividly
my dissatisfaction with the field of belly dancers who
were making a great
outcry about "dancing on the
music". (Here one should actually read: "dancing on the beat
of the rhythm" because that is what was being taught in those days,
for the most part.)
few dance instructors actually paid any attention to
content of the music, stating that "belly dance is a dance of the
upper torso should be isolated and still".
did this stillness technique originate? We will probably
never know, but that technique permanently
the face of Belly Dance for some dancers. It may never have been
obscured except for the marvel of the advent of video for
home use. Can you imagine
of input we had as dance students only twenty-something years ago?
We either had to lay down thousands of dollars to travel
to the Middle East to research
dance further - or, second best, run across the Bay Bridge to San
Francisco to the "Arab movies". There in the movie-house, we would sit
through a two-hour non-subtitled movie just to see five minutes of Samia
Gamal or Tahia
Well, any port in a storm!
It wasn't until Bert Balladine treated me to my first exposure to
live Raks Sharqui by a visiting dancer from Cairo in the late 1970's,
I understood just how
fortunate I had been to study dancing with Bert. He taught passion
and sensual movement above counting out the rhythms and doing set
choreographies. Yet, I
was stunned. I saw a dynamic technique of movement that evening which
completely belied the typical Belly Dance movement du jour that was
prevalent in America.
I could say that that one dancer, whose name was unimportant to me
at the time, inspired me to begin a quest for mastery of dance that
went beyond just the game
of body isolations and clever juxtaposition of steps.
Bert had been talking about "making your audience feel the music with you" but
it was a mystery to us students as to how to proceed beyond just
pouring oneself into the execution of the more sensual movements.
began to realize that what made it possible for Bert to
teach dancing in this fashion was his innate ability
to give his students some image upon which to hang their movements.
I decided to pick up this ball and run with it, and found
that I could produce a more compelling
dance simply by elongating the technique - which I called "making a Felini
movie". This meant that I had to find voices and moods within the music,
suggesting content. Sometimes it was the instrumentation, sometimes the interplay
of instrumental "voices" to which I responded. This
freed me from the tyranny of the percussion and allowed
a more lyrical interpretation of the music.
I realized about that time that the old saw stating, "Your job as a dancer
is to make the music visible for
the audience" is only part of the story. Just this month I have received
in the mail Saudi Arabia's centennial issue of Aramco World. In this issue there
is an article about Saudi music and dance that states that the only critical
criterion used was whether the performers had power to "move" the audience.
I found this to be a familiar notion. During my relatively long involvement with
Middle Eastern people, this has been a frequent comment I have heard. Once, I
was with a group of Middle-easterners at a San Francisco restaurant called "Pasha" when
the belly dancer for that evening invited herself to sit with us after her set.
She proceeded to talk about
her current studies in college and stated that, "I only dance to make money,
but I really care about my nursing
studies." After she left the table, the Arab men said she
shouldn't be dancing if she only did it for money, and the women
why her dance, though perfect, was unremarkable.
After all is said and done, what would happen to you, the dancer,
if you are "stuck" dancing
with less than scintillating music? Would you not, then, be forced to dance as
lack-luster as you perceive the music? No, no, no, my pretty!
your dynamic personality must present itself and let the
movie making begin! You will dance
with your body as a finely tuned instrument - layering the
movements and giving your audience some content in the
movement that is actually missing in the plebeian
will attempt to follow the tones up and down the scale,
more or less, but then take the audience on a scenario
with your mind. You are, for instance,
a lonely young virgin looking into the Nile in the moonlight,
longing for a far away love. Ohkey, dokey, let's get
real. You are, in actuality, a corporate working
woman who has worked hard all day, banging her head on the
glass ceiling, and have
come home to your faithful dog "Tut" who is at least
willing to have you walk him around the block before dark. Still,
can be as exotic
as you can imagine! This technique, if you can remain focused
upon it, rather than the commonality of the music, or your true,
if banal existence,
your face, causing it to be mobile, touching your audience with
the thought that you have some hidden passion you are willing
In order to accomplish your foray into "passion", you can use the music
as a prompt or a "key", but to adhere it doggedly is to cheat yourself
of the opportunity to become a true Raqsa Fanana (artist of the dance). When
a theme repeats. You repeat. When it repeats six times in a row, it is time to
dump the movements with which you have undertaken the first three or four repetitions
and introduce some variation or - even - attach yourself to some other part of
the music. Western dancers (and I do include Europe in that thought) appear to
be compelled to have and do it all. They are emboldened to become absolute slaves
to the music and their so-called vast knowledge of technique. They play finger
cymbals while whirling the veil, shimmying an over-lay, and doing
a "camel-walk" all at the same time, keeping up a furious pace that
produces a frenetic movement that
is truly astonishing. It is, indeed, "sound and fury signifying nothing".
They tire the spirit.
In my studio, I have a reader board upon which I post my
fees and other information. Somewhere in the middle of the
post a dance quotation
- usually from some long dead dancer, but not always. Last
month, I quoted myself as follows and found that my own students
deciphering its meaning:
"A dancer dances to the music, but an artist makes choices. Never be a
slave to music; let it be your heart's voice." -- Najia El-Mouzayen
It is important to use the music as your guide to mood, sometimes
letting it suggest the theme of the movements you make, and
keeping your dance
framework of time. However, if the dancer lets the music
be the dance by becoming its visualization, then she is not
interpret, to translate, and to suggest.
She becomes its
exotic slave, trying to do and be all of it.
of a musical slave, I believe it is your calling as a dancer
to interplay with the music. Let it speak to
it call up from your experiences,
your fantasies and your secret heart a meaning meant to
touch your audience emotionally.
ability to visualize within is why the
dancer who considers
himself a skilled
entertainer must also care a great deal for people and
their hidden agendas. Those dancers who are self-absorbed
by their mastery
of abstract form are never quite able to make the little
hairs on the back of
your neck quiver.
Are you a good dancer,
a good entertainer, or a true "Raqsa Fanana"?
World Magazine, January/February 1999 issue, "Days of Song and Dance",
by Kay Hardy Campbell,
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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
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