and Reason Series, Article 13
About Cymbals & a
Mary Ellen Donald
published in Bellydancer Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing
This magazine was published by Yasmine Samra in Palo Alto, California.
Revised for Gilded Serpent April 8, 2006
my usual custom of fully developing a single theme, I would like
to share a few unrelated commentaries and helpful tips.
CYMBALS IN TIME TO MUSIC
it or not, playing cymbals can be a real pleasure. Playing
them well can greatly enhance your dance performance. Playing
apologetic or offbeat cymbals can ruin your dance performance.
cymbals well does not necessarily mean playing millions of fancy
patterns; it means playing in time with your musical accompaniment
and tastefully mixing rhythmical variations, making a connection
between the music, your feelings, and your cymbals.
If you have
any doubt about your ability to play in time with the music, ask
a friend with good listening skills to check you out. Put
on a moderate speed 4/4 piece of music, most Egyptian music would
do, and play your cymbals with even, alternating strokes – right,
left, right, left, etc. Ask your friend to let you know
if your strokes are fitting evenly between the beats of the music.
Repeat the same experiment with 4/4 music of various tempos.
When you and your friend agree that you are in time with the music
– with no irregularities in your playing – then breathe a sigh
of relief, enjoy playing your cymbals assertively, and skip to
the next topic in this article or maybe on to see how you might
help a friend with her cymbal playing.
If your friend
reports that you are playing offbeat, then turn off the music
and ask your friend to clap steadily at a moderate speed.
Try to fit two alternating strokes to each clap – that is, a right
coinciding with her clap, and a left half way between one clap
and the following clap. (Playing along with a tape recording
of even clapping might be necessary if you are far from playing
evenly.) Put on a piece of music again after your friend
agrees that you are playing within her clapped-out beats.
Ask her to clap on each beat of the music, counting “one, two,
three, four,” as she goes. You again try to play two alternating
strokes to each of her claps. After you do that with ease,
then play the same music and ask her not to clap and you again
play two alternating strokes to the beats. By this time, you should
be hearing and mentally counting the beats. If that doesn’t
work, then ask your friend to clap and count again. I know
this sounds tedious.
a tedious task to retrain your listening abilities. Concentration
is what’s called for, and these days we are so pushed around
by multi-dimensional stimuli that even the simplest demand for
concentration boggles our minds.
When you are
sure that you are listening well and playing evenly, try playing
four alternating strokes to each numbered beat, repeating the
procedure with clapping if necessary. This is just an exercise;
I’m not suggesting that you play alternating strokes continuously
If you determine
that your listening skills are fine but you just can’t keep up
the speed you know the music calls for, your task is to build
up strength in your hands and fingers. To help you with
this, I’d like to suggest an exercise my friend Khadija
calls “race with the devil.” Play a fairly fast 4/4 piece
of music, play four alternating strokes per numbered beat, pausing
on beat four with only one right hand stroke on that beat.
Keep repeating that over and over, pausing on beat four.
When you can play that evenly, then play alternating strokes to
the music for eight beats in a row, pausing with one right-hand
strokes on the eighth beat. When you can do this with ease,
pause on the twelfth beat, later only on the sixteenth beat, at
sometime playing the entire piece of music with alternating strokes
without a pause. When that comes easily, do this again to
even faster music.
find yourself playing with jerky strokes, then introduce more
pauses. Evenness is crucial.
If you find
your listening skills are fine and your hands are strong enough
to enable you to keep up with playing alternating strokes continuously
for a good while – but your problem lies in the area of doing
all this while dancing – what you have to do is work on simple
cymbal and body coordination exercises. Get as basic as
you have to get until you have success at coordinating cymbal
playing with body movements. Begin by walking around the
room with each step coming on one of the beats numbered from one
to four. Do this without musical accompaniment at first
but a friend clapping or playing single strokes on a drum might
help. While walking around the room, repeat the above outlined
exercises with alternating strokes and finally do the above to
music. When you can do this with ease, then keep alternating
your cymbal strokes and vary your body movements, maybe step/hip
combinations or simple undulations and later try it with shimmies.
Whenever your coordination falters, back up in the process and
simplify your movements. Again, what you are doing is retraining
sections of your nervous system and it is tedious.
I don’t think you have much choice about whether or not you want
to work on such unexciting aspects of your dancing.
as a professional Bellydancer or instructor is questioned every
time you play cymbals or dance offbeat.
I might add
that as teachers you owe it to your students to teach good rhythm
until you’re blue in the face from doing so, if that’s what it
SUCCESSFUL WORKSHOPS, SEMINARS OR CONVENTIONS
not convinced that one person can really teach another about how
to put on a successful event, I’d like to share a checklist of
questions which might orient you before you undertake the task
of putting on an event.
do I expect to get my main support, locally, or from out of
- If from out
of town, then:
people want to make a trip to my town;
b. Is there good transportation leading into my town;
c. Are there reasonably-priced motels which I would recommend
near the site of the event?
- If I expect
mainly local support then:
I a good friend of a number of local instructors whose events
I’ve enthusiastically supported so I could reasonably expect
them to support my event bringing many of their students;
b. Do I have any reason to believe that my big rival across
town will let down her guard and send people to my event?
- Has my area
already been workshopped and seminared to death recently?
- Are the talents
of the person I’m sponsoring highly acclaimed in the bellydance
- Have I personally
experienced the instruction and performance of the person I
plan to sponsor, so that I can wholeheartedly recommend that
person to others?
- Do I have
the energy and imagination to come up with promotional techniques
far more effective than the mere sending out of flyers?
- Can I honestly
say that I’ve demonstrated organizing skills, or should I hire
someone else to handle the endless details?
- Do I have
friends and family on whom I can count to work tirelessly by
my side to supply the extra hands and legs necessary to make
such an event successful? For me to consider an event
successful, it would have to combine inner satisfaction with
financial gain – that inner satisfaction that comes from providing
a worthwhile experience for the participants, respecting the
personhood of each?
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
6-5-06 Rhythm and Reason Series,
Article 12 Moved by the Music by Mary Ellen Donald
did all this because those sudden shifts in rhythm and tempo and
the abrupt breaks in the music that were unfamiliar to me could
have made me look like a fool...
and Reason Series, Article 8, Leadership
Mary Ellen Donald
you lead people, you take certain risks. One such risk is that
a Middle Eastern Dance Festival by
"It is necessary to combine your organizational and public
relations skills with your creativity."
Rimitti, Queen of the Rai
by Linda Grondahl
Unlike most of the music that we are familiar with from
the Middle East that are usually unrequited love songs or patriotic
love of country songs, the rai songs are about drinking, suicide,
suffering, colonialism, poverty, exile, homesickness, corruption
and the passion and pain of actual love making.
“Gypsy” Dance in America,
by Caitlyn, photos of author by Rachel Ong
Roma dance usually brings to mind tambourines and skirt-swirling,
but these images are mainly a fantasy.
Drummer's Advice to Beginning Dancers
- by Kirk Templeton
your rhythms! I have drummed for bellydance classes where the
instructor not only couldn't clap baladi but didn't even know
what it was..."