Master Class Weekend with
& Jacques al Asmar
introducing drummer Loay Dahbour
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
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.
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".
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.
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
After a short
break, drummer Loay
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.
also emphasized the necessity of listening very closely
to the music and dancing within it, not "all over it".
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.
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.
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
Go to the next article: Cairo's
Costume Disasters by
Go to another review by this author: Club
Galia Grand Opening
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