Special Master Class Weekend with
Amina Goodyear & Jacques al Asmar
introducing drummer Loay Dahbour 
by Leyla Lanty

The flyer for this workshop in San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday, September 2nd and 3rd advertised that attending it you would learn how to "Dance like a star! Act like a star! Feel like a star!" So I thought I might sign up and see what these two master dancers would present and to see how an Arab drummer views this important subject.

Amina Goodyear is one of my all time favorite Raqs Sharqi artists in America and Jacques Al Asmar has recently become another of my favorite Middle East dance artists. In my estimation, Amina's superb interpretation of Arabic music through danse orientale and folkloric Middle Eastern dance puts her at the top of the league. Watching Amina dance is like watching the music come alive in her body. Jacques has impressed me with his exciting interpretation of Arabic music through his dancing, often times reaching an ecstatic level that few achieve. Watching him dance is watching the music come alive in him.

These two fine dancers gave an unusual workshop in San Francisco, which turned out to be a rare opportunity to study with these masters of the dance and Arabic music. The weekend was devoted to learning about how the dance is connected and intertwined with the music, how the dancer is connected and intertwined with the musicians, and how one's makeup techniques can be updated and improved for that "star impression".

On Saturday, Amina started off the weekend with "taxim balady", which she explained is dancing balady style in a passionate, soulful, improvisational way. The Arabic word "taxim" can be translated as "improvisation". She compared this style of dancing based on extemporaneous music interpretation to the playing of American jazz, which is also highly dependent on improvisation. The dancer who can play with the dance as she interprets the music and interact with both the musicians and the audience is well on her way to being a star.

She explained to us that Arabic Middle Eastern audiences are more likely than westerners to appreciate a few movements done very well rather than a lot of movements done halfheartedly. This is why there are many repetitions of words, verbal and musical phrases in Arabic music so that the musicians, singers, and dancers can build on movements with the repetition.

She read the translation of the song she used, "Ya Hassan", before we started dancing. She pointed out the key words in the song giving us an explanation of the subtext, supplying us with the full cultural meaning behind those words. Without this basis and without dancing in the music, it's very hard to "dance like a star". She showed us how to play with the music without violating it. Remarkably, unlike many seminars, she supplied each of us with a copy of a cassette containing a version of the song "Ya Hassan".

After a short break, drummer Loay Dahbour, currently of San Francisco and originally from Jordan, gave a short presentation on the relationships between and among the dancer, the drummer, the other musicians, and the audience. He told us that all of these interactions are important to the quality of the dancer's show and talked about ways to enhance those interactions during a show.

For the second dance session, Jacques presented new exciting choreographies for "Sit el Hosn" and "Masha'al", including variations of the entrances as promised in the flyer. His new choreographies succeeded in making these two old workhorse songs seem like newborn ponies! Jacques's entrances for these numbers showed us how to enter like a star, attracting the audience's attention from the first moment. He also showed how to enter with high energy, then be able to pace yourself so you aren't worn out before the end of the show.

He also emphasized the necessity of listening very closely to the music and dancing within it, not "all over it".

On Sunday, Jacques presented the first session of the day. He started with a discussion of relationships among musicians, dancers, and club and restaurant owners. He gave us very general observations he and other professionals have made over years of experience. As Jacques is Middle Eastern, a dancer, a musician, and a member of a group which produces two nightclub shows a week in S.F., it was fascinating to hear. He answered many questions about the business of performance venues and performing.

In addition to his other talents, Jacques is a professional makeup artist who has worked with stage and fashion shows. In the main part of his session, he stressed the importance of making your first impression as you enter, discussing variations on makeup and hair styling which can help you make the best first impression and then keep the audience wanting more. Those who volunteered were treated to a makeover by Jacques. Of course I volunteered immediately! After he performed his magic on my face, there were many compliments from other workshop attendees! I wish I could have him do my makeup before ALL my shows! In fact, I was able to keep it on for the evening show that night at Galia in San Francisco at which several workshop attendees performed. He advocates dramatic makeup but prefers not to go "over the top". Because we were all different skin types, hair, eye, and skin colors, he was able to show several different combinations as he adapted the makeup to each of us.

Amina and Loay finished the day with a long session on a drum solo. Loay first gave an overview of basic drum rhythms commonly used for a drum solo and answered questions about them, showing us the differences between rhythms that are similar but distinctive, such as "balady" and "maqsoum". His explanations were clear and helpful. He then discussed the typical framework of an Arabic drum solo, how it starts with setting the pace and style, then progresses through the variations to the finale. Amina then started teaching us a loose choreography to a drum solo as an example of how to really listen to and dance with the music. She and Loay developed this particular drum solo especially for the seminar. She emphasized creating a relationship between the dancer and drummer and how it could be anything from "loving" to "combative", emphasizing that the "loving", or at least "cooperative", end of the spectrum usually produces the best results overall. To finish, Amina and Loay discussed the relationship between cymbal playing and drum solos, talking about rhythms, then demonstrating them and encouraging us to experiment with them while we danced to her choreography.

In this weekend workshop/master class, Amina, Jacques, and Loay presented a large amount of valuable information about dance performance, stage presence, spontaneous choreography, Arabic music, in a generally clear manner without any regimentation but with strong guidance and a great deal of support.

If you are able to go when and if they do this same kind of workshop again, by all means sign up, go, and advance your dancing by a few leaps and bounds!

Go to the next article:
Cairo's Costume Disasters by Leyla Lanty.
Go to another review by this author:
Club Galia Grand Opening 
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