Gilded Serpent presents...
Adding Dance to Her Repertoire
having taught Belly dance for thirty years, one might imagine
she had seen and done it all, but I am learning that there may
be no end to the learning continuum in Belly dance! I used to
warn my students that if or when I found myself doing the same
things repeatedly, and dance seemed to have lost its adventure
and challenges, I would hang up my dance shoes forever. That
threat still hangs in the air… However, the subtle (and not so
subtle) changes in the dance scene, as well as my own growth of
insight, keep each adventure in dance new and beguiling to me
as the years relentlessly slip under my feet.
Not all, but
many of my recent dance adventures, have become—happily—vicarious
experiences that I have enjoyed through my students! Currently,
nearly all of my student clientele comes to me for special coaching
to meet some odd personal dance challenge in areas of their dance
that seem to need:
- a shot
- a new insight,
- a renewal
- or a solution
to a daunting problem in performance.
after years of dance instruction with several teachers, those
who come to me for coaching literally are puzzling with the question:
“ Why, does my dance not have the flavor of truth in the eyes
and hearts of those to whom the Belly dance is part of their ethnic
heritage—the Arabic and Turkish people?” Many who ask themselves
this question are professional dancers and entertainers who belong
to dance troupes under the leadership of instructors (other than
myself, because I do not involve myself in trouping) or who are
also instructors and studio owners.
role as dance coach puts me into the privileged catbird seat
for watching the development of outstanding performers, festivals,
and contests each year, and I find each one fascinating because
they are all so different, and yet, there are threads of “dance
truths” that bind them all to one another!
In my studio,
I have termed the concepts that I teach and coach as “My Dance
Clinic (for Ailing Dance Techniques)”. Most
of my dance cures are basic but simple: I administer no placebos,
and do not take prisoners when it comes to battling the viruses
that infect dance, rendering it colorless and weak and ultimately,
not most, western dancers mistakenly accent the heavier beats
of the musical rhythms with the wrong motion i.e.:
do not understand that all beats in a rhythm are not equal and
cannot be treated as if they were.
experienced dancers have been taught to move incorrectly upward
with a downbeat when they should be moving downward, backward,
and/or inward on emphasized beats while only moving aggressively
forward and up on special accents, and move gently, subtly upward,
forward, and/or outward on the unaccented, quick light sounds
in each rhythm.
virtually none of my clientele had learned any reliable method
for listening to or analyzing Middle Eastern music (or any
music for that matter)! So, how could one expect a dancer to respond
to sounds and patterns that she had not learned to hear?
It is rare
to find a Western dancer who feels free enough to express both
the lyricism (not mime the lyrics) of the tunes as well as the
rhythms. I share with my students a key for doing this. Though
my key is simplistic, it gets one’s foot in the door of portraying
musical content. Great dancers are usually very sensitive to imagery,
and I dish out imagery to heal dance flaws as if it were chewable
It is even
more rare these days—these latter days of Belly dance in the U.S.
and in Europe—that one can see a dancer with enough confidence
in herself and in the music to accomplish a believable Raqs Sharqi—improvisational,
spontaneous choreography! In my opinion, a Belly dancer should
be creating ”Choreography By Inner Improvisation” as she
dances, while preplanned, rehearsed, and notated choreographies
tend to be as lifeless as the pen with which they are written.
choreographies are seldom the “stuff of dreams” but simply serve
as crutches for the dancer who has not developed a “clean edge”.
you might like to share with me a recent vicarious experience
that I think will illustrate just how satisfying, gratifying,
and fun teaching and coaching on the personal level can become.
This is a direct result of the private lesson and coaching format
I have adopted in this part of my dance/teaching career. The dancer
about whom I write is Surreyya; she is not new
to performing and not new to Belly dance, either. However, she
has become figuratively my new eyes that refresh my own adventure
a singer with a Turkish modern rock band and has studied dance
and performed here and there. However, she told me that none
of the movements she had learned seemed to have jelled or to become
useable enough for her to incorporate movements into her professional
gigs as a singer with the Turkish band “Hazerfan”. If
you have not heard of Hazerfan, I predict that someday you will.
Perhaps that will happen when our government (now operating in
crisis mode under current threat) is once again able to grant
an entry visa for the group’s exquisite gypsy violinist to come
to the U.S. from Turkey
so that the band can complete work on the CD that they had expected
to have on the market by now. Such a 9/8 rhythm (Karsilamas)
musical composition—I guarantee you have not heard ever before
—at least, in this lifetime!
As a singer
and seasoned performing artist, Surreyya realizes that she may
have to accept the risk of experiencing potential flop sweat in
order to begin a new way of performing. Therefore, she danced
solo recently for a fundraiser for the AIDS Ride that Team
Fat Tire of the Aids Life/cycle sponsored. Team Fat
Tire’s Aids fundraiser took place on the garden patio of a home
in the Berkeley hills. Surreyya’s musical accompaniment was an
audiotape and one live member of Hazerfan.
accompanying drummer was Murat Bayhan, from Ankara,
Turkey, who is an accomplished
Turkish percussionist and leader of Hazerfan. Though the two
knew that a drum alone would to be a bit “thin,” musically speaking,
Surreyya decided that she would chance it as an addition to her
regular taped music. So, with Surreyya’s permission, and the
permission of Heather, a professional photographer who took the
photos that I have included to illustrate this story, here is
the report she sent to me after her gig was over. I feel certain
that you will be intrigued by the thoughts, in her own words,
that may give you some empathy for Surreyya’s magical “initial
launching solo” moment of dance—as we had formed it together in
my Dance Clinic:
…I went; I saw; I danced! Admittedly,
I was so freaked out that the first 30 seconds of my dancer
were entirely silly, but someone in the crowd started clapping
and the energy was good enough that it gave me the confidence
I needed to keep dancing. I tried to dance with my veil during
the Natacha Atlas piece, but seemed to become somewhat
stale; so, I ditched it. Fortunately, my veil landed right where
It was the
drum solo part of my dance that the audience loved. My
dance received lots of “Woo-oo-oo-o!” The
spotlight was so bright that I felt blinded. It made me unable
to spot, making my turns—less than perfect. Our audience didn't
seem to mind though.
Ok, so we
got a great applause… The audience wanted 20 minutes, but I
only had eight prepared. I had brought my Turkish drummer, Murat
Behan, with me. He played doumbek, and did a bit of drum
playing all by his lonesome while I caught a couple of breaths
off the stage area. Murat began to play a fast 9/8 piece; so
I came back out and danced and—they loved it! He slowed down
into a less than half time 9/8 rhythm, and I did some floorwork
with it. Then the audience went nuts, and we finished with our
trademark—doum, doum, tek-a-tek, doum tek-tek.
I was good at faking through my pain, since I was on concrete
and scraped the “bejeezus!” out of my feet… My knees
are totally bruised, and I am—kind of—hating life today, but
it was worth my suffering for the crowd. They were very nice
people who had really sweet things to say about our performance.
I learn? Basically, what I learned was reinforcement
of what you taught me! Improvisation
is better than choreography—my choreographed parts
screwed me up... [Note
from Najia: I told ya so…]
bring a carpet from now on, because concrete hurts. [Note
from Najia: Not all problems in dance performance are as self-evident
as it may seem from another perspective. The Boy Scouts’ motto
will always serve a dancer well: “Be Prepared!”
However, my mother’s motto will serve you much better: “Be
Creative and Resourceful!”]
was much more comfortable with the live drums than with
my music—I am not sure why. [Note from Najia: I know why…]
I have tons more confidence—now that I have lived through this
performance. …Although, I still may want to ask for more coaching
from you this week!
I hope I have
shown why I love working with performers in my Dance Clinic.
It is my plan to work with both Surreyya and Murat together to
plan a more professional dance scenario for them without using
a set choreography but by employing careful strategy instead.
Their entire presentation will become maximal and new possibilities
will become apparent to them, giving them the opportunity to receive
the recognition that they deserve as professionals.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Defiant Dancer: How
I became a Dance Pioneer In a small 1970s California Community
Festival by Najia. My attitude turned
from community spirit to outright defiance.
Lace and My Muses, Part 4 of 5:Tarnished
StarDust by Najia
Not until very recent times, could I admit, even to myself,
that I had lost a large part of my creative thrust along with
many of my treasured friendships because I had perceived wrongly
that I needed to become more like the Egyptian and Lebanese dancers
of the day.
Rakkasah West Festival
2005 Photos- Saturday & Sunday Page 2 photos by GS Staff
Belly Dancer of the Year 2005
Page 1 Duos, Trios & Troupes photos by Monica
May 28, 2005, San Ramon, California.
Rakkasah West Festival
2005 Photos- Saturday Page 1 photos by GS Staff and Friends
Initiating Dance Dialogue:
Current Trends, The Panel Discussion at Carnivals of Stars Festival,
from video by Andrea, Panel members included: Heather as moderator,
Monica Berini, Shira, Barbara Bolan, Amina Goodyear, Debbie Lammam.