a Dancer's Perspective:
Tarab or Tyranny?
by Najia Marlyz
or “Taqaseem” (however you prefer to transliterate the
word into your own language) is an Arabic musical term that refers
to a special section of a musical arrangement in which a musician
displays his mastery of the technique of playing his instrument.
Flexible in length, and primarily featuring one instrument more
prominently, the taxim is improvised. Far
from being random in structure, Arabic taxims are comprised of
one or more basic structures, each called a “maqam”, which acts
something similar to a scale within a key of music. Each maqam
has its own name and general tone or mood. As the musician
plays a maqam as part of a taxim, it is his option to improvise
around the part of the form he has reached, the process is much
like taking little side tours to museums, historical sites, and
shopping on a vacation trip. Inevitably, he must get on
with his progress along the set itinerary.
would be nice if every dancer knew exactly what maqam she is hearing,
it is not essential to recognize it specifically or even know
its name; that is the business of the musician. The dancer
has only to feel the impetus of the music to anticipate when the
music will pause, when it will resume, and with what strength.
The process similar to reliance on the gut-level instinct one
develops that enables one to hum along with a tune one has never
to consider the instrument that one is hearing. If it is
a wind instrument, for instance, the dancer knows that the musician
activates it with a breath and that the exhalation can only be
sustained for a finite period. In other words, the musician
is going to have to stop blowing if he is to take another breath.
musicians who have played a wind instrument for many years have
unbelievable capacity to take in air and to budget its release
beyond what would seem normal for an ordinary person.
then, must be aware of her musician’s ability in this regard.
Musicians do not merely stop for another breath however!
They pause after each section much like placing a period at the
end of a musical sentence; in a sense, they create punctuation
and organization to music much like one does in speech.
knowledgeable dancers expect most maqamat (plural of maqam)
to proceed with a particular ascent along a sort of “scale”
and resolve with a decent. Most accomplished dancers
are intuitive about music; it should not be a mystery to the dancer
where this musical meander is heading or where it will resolve
has to be familiar enough with the different forms of taxim
not to step out of taxim’s flight without her parachute, ending
her dance before the musical passage has landed!
A major concern
for a dancer will be the length of time of any taxim lasts. This
is a matter that is dependant upon the virtuosity of the musician
as well as the dancer’s ability to match it. In some cases, a
dancer is able to add fuel to the fire of the musician’s presentation.
The advent of electronically produced music has muddled the historical
clarity of interpreting music for the modern day dancer in this
(in some ways) electronically produced music has expanded possibilities
for some musicians, it has changed the traditional relationship
between dancer and musician. The dancer’s ability to easily anticipate
pauses in the taxim played on a wind instrument is somewhat compromised:
nowadays, your “wind instrument” may be, in reality, a keyboard
synthesizing the sound of a nai, zourna, clarinet, or other wind
instrument. If this is the case, the musician playing the
keyboard does not need to stop for breath and you, as a dancer,
must accustom yourself to this musician’s tuneful whims along
the road he travels to the destination of his taxim!
because the instrument and its player is controlling the actual
musical taxim, the dancer is obliged to improvise her dance as
the musician improvises around the traditional form. Many,
perhaps even most of the time, there is no percussion
in use behind, or accompanying, a taxim.
the dancer should not assume that there is no rhythm in a taxim.
skilled musician has an innate sense of rhythm that emerges subtly
within his taxim much as the “beat” emerges within captivating
to reason that the more dancers are familiar with the various
Arabic maqamat, the easier it will be for her to anticipate the
musical progression and dance accordingly. A skilled dancer
will suspend movement when sound is suspended, sustain it when
sounds elongate, increase intensity as sounds become louder, or
more rapid as the musician increases speed. “Where is the artistry
in that?” you might ask. My answer is:
dancer is artistic in her choice of her repertoire of movements
that give life, breath, force, and special meaning to the particular
sounds she perceives and the images they create within her mind!
mentor, Bert Balladine always had a favorite saying: “You have
nothing to dance about until you are at least 30 years old!”
That statement always irritated the younger dancers because, usually,
they had no idea what the years between 20 and 30 could do toward
accumulating memories and experiences that add passion and conviction
to one’s dance. Those memories and experiences form a wellspring
of mind images that emerge from musical moods and the strains
of a heartfelt taxim. In turn, the images compel or ease the appropriate
choice of movements a dancer might fit to the improvisation.
few Oriental dancers excel in the art of imagery—and therefore,
improvisation. One apparent cause of this lack in performing
artistry lies in the attitude that choreographed dance is superior
and more respectable than extemporaneous dance.
dance accompanying improvised music does not lend itself to
rehearsals and preset staging for purposes of lighting for theatricals
the skill of improvisation in dance is deceptively difficult to
perform with polished movement; thus, many dancers shy away (whenever
possible) from placing themselves in the position of dancing with
even a short taxim.
aspects, dancers have reduced the art of Oriental dancing to
the same sort of “sound-bite” pace political campaigns, and
news-media reportage have become.
factor in the apparent overlooking, avoidance and fear of performing
the taxim is that dancers, these days, try to launch their careers
in Oriental dance by winning series of competitions that have
neither time nor atmosphere for the patience and serenity of the
subtle art of the taxim. In order to win, dancers begin with high-energy
music that builds in intensity from that high point to a more
raucous and climactic end. However, it is sad to note that some
musicians have limited skill with their instruments, and the need
for a taxim disappears in the slap-dash playing of whatever tunes
he seems to have mastered currently.
between the dancer and the musician playing the taxim creates
a superior performance. Similar to the dance that emerges
along with the drum solo, the dancer expresses what she hears
and the feeling (tarab) it produces. Her skill at doing
so may cause a musician (who is open for such repartee) to sustain
portions of his taxim through improvisational playing.
these improvisations can be quite elaborate. The effect is somewhat
like modern jazz and stays within the framework of the traditional
maqam or maqamat.
In some cases,
more than one maqam blends into one taxim. The resulting give-and-take
produces Oriental music and dance at its best and can be breathtakingly
dancers’ movements with taxim are not necessarily all slow—they
can become dynamic and fast paced if that is where the particular
maqam leads. She will, through intimate association with this
sort of improvisation, dance within a set framework that has become
familiar to her with much experience in listening. Her gut-level
instinct for the resolution of the journey of a typical taxim
through a maqam will guide every move; the more experience she
has, the more competently she will dance, displaying polish and
certainty. With just a few instances of success at this
type of dance improvisation, often a dancer will become enamored
by its seductive adrenalin and feeling of inspiration. Few who
achieve dance success in this fashion continue enslavement to
these days, a current dancer ignores the short taxim passage that
begins many arrangements, preferring to make her grand entrance
with her sagat ringing out and her veil ablaze with movement.
Most likely, dancers who include the taxim in a set will request
that one or more of them are included after each popular song
or medley of familiar tunes. In that case, the taxim becomes
a sort of mood change or buffer zone between musical arrangements
of traditional or modern tunes. However, we might also recognize
its contribution to an audience’s relaxation and its retreat from
bombardment by constant, irritating high-energy musical sound
and dance movement. Audiences thrive and respond positively
to variety and contrast. As much as in any other part of a dancer’s
artistry in storytelling and drama, a taxim provides excellent
opportunities for both.
plays, poems, songs, and dances need discernable beginnings, middles
and ends; the taxim can become sensuous veil dancing, dramatic
and fascinating floor-level dance, or simply mesmerizing movement
patterns demonstrating a sort of unearthly, unreal, soiree with
whatever persona a dancer has created for stage her presentations.
this level of performance, one can readily see that a recorded
taxim is not in its proper element when used for a troupe dance
or as a mere background noise for a preset choreography.
for dance improvisation with either a live or recorded taxim:
to connect with the source of all dance movement generated from
your solar plexus along your spine (the site of the core
of your dance).
to discern between movements generated by your intellect and
movements that start and end in your dance core.
how to listen to all genre of music analytically and to transfer
your understanding of the form and resulting imagery to your
dance core so that the music becomes a guide and your inspiration
without causing you to become its mind-numbed slave.
to become an entity involving and interpreting, but not “becoming”
the music. You, the musician, and the music he creates, have
the potential become greater than the sum of all these parts—without
either of you becoming the dominant entity.
- Stay focused
on the instrument, and do not wander thoughtlessly into any
accompanying percussive sounds or intermittent companion instruments.
- Be cognizant
that the solo improvisation is the musician’s moment of
stardom—his time to bask in the spotlights and be recognized—while
you have the floor (mostly alone and non-stop) for your entire
performance. Your use of proper stage manners will cause
your audience to admire your dance persona with more conviction,
especially when some musicians are overcome, momentarily, by
the searing heat of the spotlight and your amazing virtuosity
expressing the music you have created together!
let your audiences forget that you are aware of their presence
and that your dance is for them; they are not there to become
voyeurs to your inner prattling. Though you do not have
to look into their eyes directly, you can acknowledge them in
your gestures and observe them in your peripheral vision.
If you cannot see them because of the lights, pretend that you
can! After all, remember that one important element of
dancing is being a competent and believable actress!
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