The Belly Dancer Reader makes a perfect gift!

Gilded Serpent presents...
Workshop with
Issam
Houshan
March 26, 2005
San Francisco, California

Reviewed by
Rebecca Firestone

In the solo improvisational forms of Middle Eastern Dance, the chemistry between the drummer and the dancer is a vital ingredient. However, in performance settings, the band and the dancer often don't hit it off for one reason or another. Every experienced dancer is full of stories of musicians who deliberately set out to make her look bad, or who didn't structure their music in order to make it accessible for dance improvisation. Musicians, on the other hand, often resent being told what to play when, and they don't want their hard-earned skills to be marginalized as a showcase for someone else's talent.

This review covers the workshop taught by Issam Houshan on March 26, 2005 at the San Francisco Dance Center. Issam and Jillina have a long-standing professional partnership, so he is as qualified as any drummer could possibly be to address a dancer's perspective.

Issam had an exceptionally good teaching style that quickly conveyed the fundamentals and offered a challenge to all levels of skill. The material and presentation were clear, accessible, methodical and fun!

He was both personable and energetic, and he managed to give equal amounts of personal attention and encouragement to everyone in the class as we went along.

His friendly yet authoritative manner inspired immediate confidence in all of us. He didn't spend more time talking than was necessary, instead using the time for repetition so that we'd be more likely to retain the material after we left.

We began with the basics: proper drum positioning, and the major striking surfaces and techniques. A hallmark of good drumming is clear differentiation of the different tones and a crisp, energizing sound. He got good tone out of everyone almost immediately, and we stayed in synch throughout the entire class (I was listening!). For the majority of the class, he had us all keep the rhythm while he talked and demonstrated the finer points and the "next steps" that we beginners could look forward to. We covered a few basic rhythms such as Sa'idi, Maqsoum, Malfouf, Ayyoub, and Baladi and helped us to understand the key differentiators and anchor points among them. Supplemental handouts in Western musical notation diagrammed these and other common rhythms.

I have never had a drum class before, although I have had other types of rhythm training as well as spending many hours with finger cymbals both in and out of dance class.

After this class I had confidence in my ability to at least duplicate what we had done in class.

Issam also demonstrated through example the most efficient form and movement, which is no less important in music than it is in dance. He gave us a few pointers on reducing repetitive stress injuries which were very helpful.

He also had a teaching CD for sale, which I would have purchased if I'd known I would be writing this review. However, I can unconditionally recommend his class for all ages and skill levels.

I can't think of a single thing to improve it other than to have him back again; as with all good workshops, it was over all too soon.

The event, which was sponsored by Amina Goodyear through her Giza Club organization, was well-organized and had a very pleasant setting in a large and airy room at the San Francisco Dance Center. In summary, if you can catch him at a workshop near you, run, don't walk, to sign up!

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