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Gilded Serpent presents...
Rhythms of Oriental Dance
Starring Nesma and Khamis Henkesh,
DVD Review by Leyla Lanty

In February, 2007, Amina Goodyear and Gregory Burke, co-founders of the Giza Academy, held a 10th Anniversary and First Non-Competitive  Awards Celebration in San Francisco, California. Amina honored "Rhythms of Oriental Dance" as the"Most Inspirational" video in this 10th Anniversary program.   Intrigued by the excerpts they'd selected to show that evening, I soon watched the whole DVD and found it to be innovative and inspiring. For years, I've wished for an instructional DVD that would give non-Arab dancers a deeper understanding of the rhythmic foundation of Arabic dance music and the why's and how's of the interactions of the rhythms, drummer, and dancer.  "Rhythms of Oriental Dance" is the fulfillment of that wish. 

Touches of humor make "Rhythms of Oriental Dance" easy to watch again and again.  For example, before watching this DVD, I'd never seen a dance or music instructor use fainting as a teaching tool (see description of "An Improvisation with Percussion and Dance" later in this review).  As light-hearted as it is, this DVD is brimming with important and useful information for dancers and drummers.  Nesma Salmeron, who has lived, studied, and, for five years, performed in Cairo, and Khamis Henkesh, world famous Cairo-based Egyptian drummer who has played for some of Egypt's best known and loved dancers and musicians, have truly put together (from the cover) "A creative, entertaining way for dancers and musicians to learn the basic rhythms of Egyptian music" that is "An exchange of ideas and insights between musician and dancer with lively demonstrations of percussion rhythms and choreography throughout". 

Nesma and Khamis's discussion of the complexity of Arabic music and dance is both appealing and easy to grasp.

This professionally produced and directed work is top notch in every way. Its video quality is excellent and the packaging is elegant.  The director, award-winning Spanish film director, Gustavo Salmeron, employed three cameras and numerous other professional techniques in its production.  Dolby Digital Sound TM on both the DVD and the accompanying CD results in clear and pleasing sound on both.   On the DVD, all discussion in the educational section is in Egyptian Arabic. Subtitles are in a large white font against a dark background, making them easy to read, letting you relax and feel like you are sitting in on the conversation. Subtitles are in Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, and "No subtitles", the last being a good way to practice those Arabic lessons you've been studying.

Who would benefit from buying this DVD?  Every dancer from amateur to full-time professional who wants to understand more fully the rhythmic foundation of Arabic music and dance and to learn how to dance well with Arabic rhythms will find something they can use. Drummers will find it educational too.  Those who teach will enjoy the presentation and find inspiration for teaching this material to their students.

The Booklet:
You will get the most out of "Rhythms of Oriental Dance" if you read the booklet and watch the "The Making of Movie" section before watching the actual instruction ("The Movie" and "Karaoke") or listening to the practice CD. The booklet contains detailed descriptions of the nine rhythms covered by the DVD and the practice CD, including beat structure, and how each affects the music. It includes definitions of the music terms used in the booklet and in the instructional sections, "The Movie" and "Karaoke".  If you've never studied music or you studied music so long ago that you've forgotten the technical terms, this information is essential. 

There are also directions on how to use the rhythm practice section, "Karaoke", in particular the notation that appears on the screen for each rhythm.  The 31-page booklet is in three languages English, Spanish, and French, 10 pages for each.

The DVD:
The DVD has three parts:

  • Part I "Rhythm and Dance Encounter with Demonstrations"
  • Part II "Improvisation with Percussion and Dance"
  • Extras", including "The Making of Movie", "Photo Gallery", and "Bios"

The total running time of Parts I and II is 125 minutes.  "Extras", including biographies, photos, and "The Making of Movie" is 10 additional minutes.   Purchasing information is at the end of this review.

The DVD opens with the Main Menu screen, a simple set with Nesma dancing to Khamis's drumming in slow motion.  In the background is the sound of a taqsim (improvised solo) played on the nay (Arabic flute).  Links to the sections of the DVD appear on a line at the bottom of the screen, "The Movie – Karaoke – Chapters – Extras – Subtitles".  The Main Menu, "Chapters" and "Extras" screens feature the sound of a soloist playing a Middle Eastern instrument in the background, the nay (flute), oud (lute), and qanoun (zither), respectively. 

All instruction and discussion take place on this set.  "Percussion Improvisation with Dance" is on the same set, backlit in pastel spruce green instead of the golden yellow used for most of the DVD.  I wasn't sure I liked the silhouette lighting of Khamis and Nesma for the rhythm and dance demonstrations, until I realized that it is an excellent way to highlight Nesma's movements. It allowed me to concentrate on how Nesma's body expresses the rhythms without being distracted by her or Khamis's facial expressions. I was happy to find that almost all of the views of Nesma's dancing are full body with no arms or legs cut off.  The few close-ups are mostly of her torso, with only occasional zooming in on her hips or upper body.  

Part I - "Rhythm and Dance Encounter with Demonstrations"
Part I has two sections:  "The Movie" and "Karaoke", all chapters of which are accessible via the "Chapters" menu.

"The Movie" 
The first chapter of "The Movie" finds Khamis and Nesma sitting face to face in simply designed chairs in the center of the set. They greet each other as two close Egyptian friends who haven't seen each other for a long time would do.  After the greetings, she asks him to explain the basis of Egyptian percussion. They briefly talk about how important the relationship of rhythm to dance and between drummer and dancer is. This leads into a demonstration of the basics of, as Nesma puts it, "the language of the drum" - the sounds called "doum", "tak", "zak", and, just as important as the other three, "es", the silence between the other three sounds, how the dancer reacts to all of them, and how the drummer plays them in reaction to the dancer. Khamis explains exactly how he produces the sounds and gives many examples, all the while explaining the importance of each.  

If you only see this first chapter of "The Movie", you will have learned the basic principals of dancing with Arabic rhythms, in particular with a live band.  Continue on with the rest of the DVD to learn how to put those principals into practice.

The remainder of "The Movie" consists of 10 chapters, each of them showing one of the nine most common rhythms used in dance music plus "roll".  The rhythms are:

  • wahda sogayara
  • wahda kibira
  • masmoudi sogayar
  • masmoudi kabir
  • maksoum
  • fallahi
  • saidi
  • malfouf
  • ayoup
  • roll

Most of these names have alternate spellings elsewhere.  For example, in many other publications, "ayoup" is spelled "ayoub" and "sogayar" and "sogayara" are spelled "soghayar" and "soghayara".

For each rhythm, Nesma and Khamis comment on how it is used in the music, such as malfouf for the entrance of the dancer or ayoup for  finales.  Khamis often comments on how a rhythm affects the mood of the music and thus, the movements of the dancer.  He demonstrates each rhythm as follows:

  • basic pattern with only the required doums, taks, zaks, and es-s
  • same pattern with some silent beats filled
  • same pattern with many silent beats filled and variations

Then he then plays a short solo using all levels of only that rhythm, while Nesma performs a choreography using movements, which complement it.  Many times, she seems to become one with the drum.

In Chapter 12, "Tabla Solo", Khamis plays a drum solo demonstrating how all nine rhythms plus the roll can be used in performance.  He plays each rhythm in turn in its simplest and filled forms, with some variations and then he improvises, alternating all the rhythms in a spectacular drum solo.

This section has its own menu where you may chose a rhythm or a particular sound, doum, tak, zak, roll for practice.  "Karaoke" employs an innovative technique for visually representing the beats that Khamis plays as he demonstrates each of the nine rhythms.  Timing notation appears across the bottom of the screen with the count for each execution of the rhythm, e.g. "1 2 3 4".   Above that is a row of letters showing where the doums, taks, and zaks are played.  As Khamis plays them, the letter representing each doum, tak, or zak turns from white to yellow, making the drum sounds “visible” on the screen in a way that is easy to understand.

Part II, Chapter 13 "An Improvisation with Percussion and Dance" (and fainting):
Nesma performs while Khamis and two accompanying duff (hand drum) players play a percussion improvisation.  The mood turns playful when Khamis creeps onto the dance floor in order to encourage her to dance with more intensity.  She tries to send him back to his chair, but he persists and finally she dances as if possessed by the drum, soon collapsing onto the floor in a faint.  Khamis uses the drum to revive her, showing that the drummer can make the dancer unable to resist moving with the rhythms he (or she) plays.  He shows that the drummer can even revive the dancer when her (or his) energy is waning.  Later on, the tables are turned when Khamis faints because her dancing has pushed him to exhaustion.  The dancer can make the drummer unable to resist playing for her (or him).  What a clever way to show how much influence the dancer and drummer can have on each other, using fainting as a teaching technique! 

Bonus CD: 
As in the DVD, each rhythm is played slowly, simply, then in a more complex way and then faster with variations.  There are three-minute and longer tracks for the rhythms, plus an assortment of shorter ones for practicing the variations. This CD would be equally useful for dancers and drum students.

Buy "Rhythms of Oriental Dance" and watch it right away! Don't wait! 

It's available online:

  •, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Japan

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

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