A bride and groom in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Me, dancing with a little girl in Egypt's Siwa Oasis

front cover of book
Gilded Serpent presents...
40 Days and 1001 Nights
by Tamalyn Dallal

One day, as I was driving through the mountains with my brother a name jumped out at me: "40 Days and 1001 Nights". I envisioned it as a book in which I would travel to five Islamic countries and live for 40 days in each, writing about my experiences. 

When I was traveling in Indonesia, one of my friends wrote back "You need to be filming this!" I did, and a musical documentary film was born. 

Then a music CD followed. Because of all the wonderful music I found on the road, I was inspired to produce a theatrical dance concert in Miami Beach. Finally, a charity fund to help people in the countries I visited also became part of the multifaceted project.

The book
I began on September 11, 2005, not even realizing the significance of the date and found myself in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. It was ten months after the devastating tsunami that killed 250,000 people. Houses were under water and boats on the land, and many places were gone. There was nothing but splintered wood where villages once stood. This land had been closed to outsiders for 30 years because of a fierce civil war. Since the tsunami, the war ended and many believed that the tsunami "came from God" to end the war and to punish corrupt people, or otherwise to take the good people away from a world of suffering. 

I found amazing dances and music that had been hidden from the rest of the world. Many dances are done sitting down, like "Saman", in which the women sit on their knees and hit their bodies in complex patterns to the music while singing chants. Men do "Rapa ie Geleng", singing, playing frame drums and tossing their heads.

Afterward, I traveled to Egypt's Siwa Oasis. This is the only place in Egypt where the population is predominately Berber. They have a unique culture. Women are very secluded and separated. Not only do the married women cover their heads, but their entire faces are covered and you cannot even see their eyes. 

Womens dances are very strong, to the voices of young girls playing plastic olive drums. They do bellydancing with intense hip shimmies, using no hands, arms or upper body. The mens dances are softer and more delicate.

Some of their dances are also like bellydance. Others are for the harvest and some are quite homoerotic, done lying down.

In Siwa, there was a Bedouin man who sold music from his computer in the plaza. He played a beautiful song for me called "Ifkar". It turned out to be from Zanzibar, a small island off the coast of East Africa. It is now part of Tanzania, but was once part of the Omani Sultanate. I decided to make that my next destination and spent 40 days in Zanzibar. I spent many evenings at the "Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club". This is like Cuba's "Buena Vista Social Club" in that it consists of master musicians who get together and play every night year after year. They are the ones who created the song I loved in Siwa.

Ikhwani Safaa is Africa's oldest band, now 102 years old. Their music uses Egyptian instruments such as the qanun, oud, violin and tabla. I loved their music so much that we collaborated on the production of a bellydance cd - the first ever in Zanzibar- called "40 Days and 1001 Nights, Bellydance Music for Tamalyn Dallal."

The forth country was Jordan. There was war all around, in neighboring Iraq, Israel, and nearby Lebanon. Jordan was an oasis of peace and it was clear that people were desperate for peace. So many people came from so many countries just to escape wars.

The greatest celebrations in the Middle East are weddings. I saw so many weddings and dances, of the local Bedouins. Old women used tea glasses on their fingers like finger cymbals. Bedouin men chanted with no instruments, sometimes with only wordless grunts. In the dance, Samer, women used swords re-enacting the days when Bedouin tribes raided one another and took everything including the women. Women danced, defending themselves, and if no one could touch them, they married the most powerful and rich man.

Lastly, I spent 40 days in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China. In the heart of the Silk Road, this is Chinas largest province, and is predominately Muslim. There are many Turkic speaking ethnic groups living there, the largest one being Uyghurs.

Uyghurs are reknown for their music and dance skills. Women do beautiful arm and hand movements, gliding across the floor and doing very fast spins. 

I learned many moves that I now use in belly dancing.

The book "40 Days and 1001 Nights" will be available in August of this year.

The Film
The documentary film  is based on music, like a choreographed dance, in which the scenes shift with the beat of the music. It is called "40 Days and 1001 Nights, Seeing the Islamic World Through the Eyes of a Dancer". This was shot with a small video camera and skillfully edited by George Achi in Miami Beach. Some of the music is field recordings with other images superimposed. It shows life, music, dance, how people live, and lots of food in an artistic way. This film was sold out on the premiere weekend in Miami Beach, January 13-14, 2007, and has been shown in many cities throughout the US and Canada. The people who have seen it in Egypt and Dubai gave it rave reviews.

When I was in each country, I made or had costumes made and collected music as well as ideas. I sent all of this back to the US.

A very carefully selected group of dancers, including Bellydance Superstars Amar Gamal, Bozenka and Bellyqueen of New York, Hanan, Alexandra, and Francesca of Miami, and Montserat of Argentina created dances with this music to represent my experiences in Indonesia, Siwa, Zanzibar, Jordan, and Xinjiang. 

The Show
This became a theater show, which sold out and recieved rave reviews. It was called "40 Days and 1001 Nights, Dancing Across the Lines". We then sent copies of the DVD's to musicians who made the music we danced to in Indonesia, Egypt, Zanzibar, and Jordan. The purpose was to show them how we appreciated their music from so far away and what we did with it. This show was also made into a DVD.

I decided to give something back to the countries I had lived in. Thus, I started the "1001 Nights Fund". Ten percent of all the money made from DVD and book sales plus donations from people who are inspired to help out go to worthwhile projects in each country. The first was a breast cancer awareness program in Egypt. The current project is bringing Egyptian instruments to Zanzibar and presenting them to the Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club of Zanzibar to encourage more inspiration for years to come.

Through these projects, I hope to help spread understanding between people. I believe that art is one of the strongest tools for change in the world. Our dance is one of the most healing things a person can do. While I was away, often I didn't need to speak. We communicated through music and dance, and I hope that the people I met in these five countries can have their voices heard through my book, film, music and performance projects. 

For more information including purchasing

Coming soon- review of Tamalyn's film project DVD by Barbara Sellers-Young

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
12-6-02 A Young Woman's Multicultural Adventures in Columbia, by Tamalyn Dallal book review by Sierra/Sadira,
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“Belly Laughs: Adventures with Celebrities & Other Unusual Characters” book written by Rod Long.

8-10-07 Dance of Power by Kathreen Saab
The sensual is from the realm of the magical, the psyche, rather than the physical.

8-1-07 The Summer School of Khaleegy Dance, Dance Style from the Saudi Arabian Penninsula, by Yasmina Ramzy
The “moral police” and hotel security watched every move I made. All my phone calls were monitored. I was not allowed to talk to or get into an elevator with an Arab man.

7-24-07 The Zar, Trance Music for Women, CD Review by Amina Goodyear
produced by Yasmin of Serpentine.org. “Once a spirit is called, it must be appeased. Then it will always be there.” And it will have to be periodically dealt with.

7-16-07 Fifi Reloaded! Review of Fifi Abdo Workshop and Show by Catherine Barros photos by Monica Bereni
Sponsored by Little Egypt Holiday Inn Select, Dallas, Texas May 18-20, 2007

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