Ask Yasmina #16
by Yasmina Ramzy
posted July 12, 2011
Question #1: I would like to know some specific traditions relating Bellydance to the celebration of a new baby. What is the connection of birthing rites to Bellydance?
Answer: Interesting question! I think a lot of people would like this answered, including myself. In my 30 years of Bellydancing, I have yet to find any concrete evidence of any connection. I will tell you what I do know.
Having a Bellydancer perform at baptisms in the Middle East is very common. In fact, the highlight of the performance is when the Bellydancer holds and dances with the baby.
On a similar note, many a time, an Arab mother has hired me to perform the Zaffah (wedding procession) at her daughter’s wedding. She warns me that her daughter does not want a Bellydancer present because her daughter has been “Westernized” and as a result, the bride is embarrassed in front of her friends about aspects of her culture. I have never asked why it would be so important to the mother that I perform, in fact, so important that she would initiate this undertaking against the bride’s wishes. However, I always got the feeling that these mothers were worried (or possibly superstitious) that it would be bad luck for the daughter if her wedding did not include a Bellydancer. Whether this is because of luck in love, love-making, fertility or all of the above, I am not sure. Perhaps, it was just to appease the aunts and uncles of the previous generation. Even so, why this important?
Sometimes, I have seen Bellydance classes advertised as beneficial for labor and childbirth. I have not had the honor and pleasure of giving birth to a child, but many of my students attest to the speed and ease with which they were able to deliver due to strong pelvic muscles.
However, there are many who had to resort to Cesarean after a long and arduous labor as well. It might be negligent to throw around such claims.
Bellydance makes you more agile and fit, more comfortable with your body and sexuality. These claims are definitely proven across the board. Therefore, post childbirth, Bellydance must be beneficial. Is it good for pregnant moms? I would like to see more doctors attest to this before we dancers continue claiming it.
One more thing: an Arab woman told me many, many years ago that the act of shimmying while in the presence of a woman giving birth helps the new mother to loosen the womb so the baby can come out easily. I have always thought that if you couple that with an undulation, you would have great birthing technique. I wish that I had had the chance to try it out. Well, that is all I can think of right now. I hope that helps.
Question #2: In a workshop in Texas, you said that while dancing during a taqsim, a dancer should resist the urge to shimmy, especially for instruments that are plucked. I was wondering why you said that. Why no shimmy, and the significance and/or difference with the plucked instruments?
Answer: I was referring to the fact that often dancers feel the urge to shimmy during taqsims with plucked instruments such as an oud or qanun. While shimmying is an appropriate interpretation of these instruments, it should not be the only interpretation. It can be satisfying to follow the undulating ebb and flow of the melody as well with other circular, long or rippling movements.Additionally, there is Fifi Abdou who shimmies to everything!
Fifi Abdou in 1986
Question #3: Is the song “Taht El Shebak” appropriate to use for dancing with the Cane? I understand the assaya is only used with Saiidi music.
Answer: “Taht El Shebak” is Beledi music. Of all the Beledi styles of dance, the Raqs Assaya (cane dance) is the most quintessential. One of the more popular recordings of “Taht El Shebak” is sung by Fatma Serhan who used to sing for Nagua Fouad, then for Dina, and now Fatma records her own CDs. “Taht El Shebak” is not a Saiidi song, but then the Raqs Assaya is not limited to the Saiid or Upper Egypt. There is an Alexandrian Assaya, Lebanese, etc. The assaya is used throughout Egypt and, in fact, throughout the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. I have seen many night club performances in Cairo back in the ‘80s in which dance stars (including Fifi Abdou) entered with Milaya Liff, high- heeled shoes, short Alexandrian dress and picked up an assaya to twirl.
- Tahtiib sticks are particular to the Saiid. Some Saiidi musicians take classic melodies from Warda or Oum Kalthoum, play the melodies with a mizmar and a Saiidi rhythm and a dancer twirls a Tahtiib stick. (I saw this in Aswan.)
- A dance term was coined in the Bellydance community about 15 years ago called “Urban Beledi” to accommodate music (similar to the style of some songs by Nancy Ajram) that had Saiidi rhythm and some Saiidi instrumentation but with pop sensibilities. This kind of music gave room for interpretation, thus Urban Beledi was born.
- Another example is Tamr Hosni’s “Arab Habibi” which uses the Semsemeya (a lyre-type instrument particular to Port Said) but is not real Port Said music. The song “Shamundara” by Mohamed Mounir has a similar rhythm, scale, language and nuances to Nubian music, but it is hardly very traditional.
It is always wise to learn and understand first the original and traditional forms of music and dance. Then, one can know what he is doing when playing with hybrids and fusion. When teaching, it is important to pass on this knowledge so when an artist decides to interpret fusion or hybrid styles in the future, she is aware of that style with which she is working, and thus, the audience can relate to something that may be new but holds weight and still makes sense.
Tahtil Shibbak – Fatme Serhan
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