Gilded Serpent presents...

2 Finger Cymbal Products

Zil Kits

Belly Dancing Book & Kit
Zill Speak, CD and Booklet by Artemis

Reviewed by Surreyya
posted December 13, 2009

Given two very different products with one common denominator, zills (or finger cymbals), I was bestowed the honor one weekend to try on, play and review these instruction tools.  Either will make a memorable holiday gift if carefully selected for the right giftee.  One is new (Artemis) and one you know you all have seen whether or not you want to fess up.  On to the confession… 

Belly Dancing Book and Kit – A kit by Nefertiti Presents, Sherry Jeffries and Mud Puddle Books
This kit is unique and interesting simply for its kitsch factor alone. With Rachel Brice slathered on the front cover and all over the packaging, it seems as though Rachel put out this product or clearly endorses it.  I am not sure why she would allow her image to be used (or if she even knows) on this product – which has nothing to do with her style of dance.  I also wonder why Sherry Jeffries does not have enough confidence in her own instruction to appear on the cover of her own book.  She is not unsightly by any means, perhaps it is the quality of the instruction?  On with the show!

The kit contains:  1 music CD,  1 set finger cymbals, 1 belly dance instruction booklet.

The music CD – the only description for songs available here is “fast, slow, fast, slow (floor),  (opening, ending, second routine), etc.”, there are only names assigned for the last two tracks.  Fortunately the musicians are at least credited.  The music isn’t fantastic, meaning the production quality is far from superb.  It does sound a bit like it was taken from an old 50s
or 60s film, minus the orchestra, and feeling.  Perhaps done “straight to tape” as they did in that era.  Any pertinent details to the songs and artists are sadly absent.

The finger cymbals:  The cheapest money can buy, likely made by orphaned children in a third world country, yet an exceptional value for $9 at Borders books.  Especially for those non-committal or exceptionally thrifty students you may have.

The instructional booklet – pure kitch.  A somewhat nostalgic reminder of the books my older sister bought and poured over in the 70s, with vintage costumes, staged poses and arrows and diagrams, only condensed with less information, highly dangerous instruction on the Turkish drop – literally, “…spin around two or three times, drop to your knees and lie all the way to the ground.  You can use your arm to help lower yourself back to the ground.”  Ouch.   No warm-up ideas and the only caution offered, “…do not go any further than your body permits.”  The best and most useful advice offered in this book is “Find a good teacher, practice hard, and you will become what you wish to become.”

Granted it is difficult to teach belly dance by written words and images, but others (Dahleela, Bert Belladine, Jamilla/Suhaila Salimpour) have managed to put quality instruction and imagery to good use.  This book attempts to brush the surface of many movements without the detail, and ads many confusing and contradicting terms, i.e. shoulder “thrusts”.  That just sounds painful.

In summary, you get what you pay for. 

Suggested uses for this product – quick set of practice zills for a student if there is no dance shop nearby, or if mail order is too long a wait.  Nick nack for your dance studio shelf.  Gag gift for fellow dancers, teachers, colleagues, or white elephant gift at a holiday party.  Tis the season!

Zil Rating: 1 zill for the clever packaging
Zil Rating: 1

Artemis's CD

Cymbals Speak: Volume 1- Zill Speak – Finger Cymbals from Almee to Zill featuring Artemis

Once again Artemis puts out a product full of insight, background and educational content that is easy to grasp, entertaining and fun to learn. Zill Speak is an educational CD full of interesting finger cymbal rhythms presented in several time signatures for the listener to digest and play alongside. Included in this CD package is an instructional booklet intended to supplement the listener with a visual and more elaborate definition of the content on the CD. 

I love this CD and would highly recommend it to my students, and for other teachers to also recommend to their students.

Artemis’ spoken presentation on the audio CD is very helpful and understandable, and she provides fun phrases to follow along “I like pizza pie with lots of pepperoni” so a beginner can begin to understand the character and foundation of the rhythms presented.  While I have seen other teachers scorned for this type of instruction, I find it incredibly useful in absorbing the musicality
of the phrasing and patterns – especially since not all dancers are musicians, or may not come from a background in music instruction.  Most of my music teachers have utilized this approach at one time or another.  Artemis offers a comprehensive overview on counting, phrasing in odd time signatures, and an explanation of the common rhythms we come to know in modern day Middle Eastern dance.  What is especially great about Artemis’ teaching style, is that she remains non biased in her approach.  

She does not insist there is only one way to play, only one rhythm to follow, nor only one technique to apply, and does not limit the listener with crazy half-baked rules and regulations to “zilling.”  What she does do is offer very common sense based ideas supported in experience and application.

My only negative on feedback on this package is the interior booklet – there is so much information – the organization of the content might be worth rethinking. While in some circumstances it may be seen as a bonus to have extras, it was difficult for me to follow along with the CD.  Frequently information is presented out of track order, and at times the content for a sequential order of tracks, or in another section of the book entirely, making the listener have to flip back and forth to keep up with the CD.  The diagram of the anatomy of hands, fingers, and forearms has too little information to support its generous real estate on the interior booklet – I found myself looking for warm-up exercises, common injuries and strains and some ideas to prevent them, but nothing was there to support the imagery.  There is a nice history lesson on zills, how they fell out of favor, and how to choose the perfect zills for your style and performance based on many criteria.  Also the colors of the booklet and small font make it difficult to read at times.

On the positive, it is easy to critique someone else’s hard work.  It must have been difficult to decide what to put in and what to edit out of this booklet without selling a student short, not busting your budget, and keeping within the constraints of a CD booklet.  I truly appreciated the content and Artemis’ teaching style shining through on this CD.  I am always amazed that when ever I watch or review one of Artemis’ instructionals that I feel l am truly getting a private one on one lesson with her – as if she were really in the room next to me guiding me step by step.  Short of an airline ticket, hotel stay and funds for several days of private lessons, this CD is an exceptional value for an almost identical experience.

Purchase information:

Zil Rating: 4 zills playing in 9/8! 
Zil Rating: 4

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