2014 Workshop at Amina’s in San Francisco
Report by Janan (Jeanne Fogler)
posted April 17, 2014
Here in the Bay Area, so many excellent instructors make appearances that I always feel I need to choose carefully to make the most of my workshop budget. But when I heard that Yasmin Henkesh was coming to give a daylong workshop on zar, I knew right off that this was one I wouldn’t want to miss – how often do most of us get a chance for an in-depth look at this fascinating ritual?
Yasmin, whose career has included time as a performer in Europe and in Egypt and who is now based in the Washington, D.C. area, is the producer of the CD “Zar – Trance Music for Women.” She was on hand on February 23, 2014, at Amina Goodyear’s studio in San Francisco to share with a limited group of students her expertise on the zar ritual and trance dancing.
Her extensive presentation, filling an entire afternoon and part of an evening, touched on a wealth of topics – everything from ritual origins in Ethiopia and elsewhere, to the types of musicians who perform for the ritual, to relevant points in Islamic history.
But the day began with a detailed discussion of a subject not found in a typical dance workshop: brain science. In the context of explaining what a person experiences during trance dance. Yasmin talked at length about the various types of brain waves – beta waves for normal waking consciousness, alpha waves for when we go into a resting state, etc. – and what goes on in the brain when a person goes into trance.
Later she related that information to the process of inducing trance state through dance. She gave an overview of devotional practices of the Sufis and showed some video clips of zikr ceremonies in which groups of men aspire to a mystical state through chanting, repetitive movements, and sometimes the familiar spinning moves.
Only men can participate in the zikr, however, which brings us to the subject at hand. The zar is women’s trance dance outlet. But rather than being a prayer ritual, the zar has to do with interaction with the jinn. These are spirit entities that are believed to sometimes inhabit a person.
As Yasmin explained it, a jinn can enter a person and make its presence known by causing trouble such as physical pain. A woman might then take part in a zar ritual in which she enters a trance state and an attempt is made to contact the spirit and find out what it wants. Each of the many possible spirits is associated with a specific rhythm, so the musicians may play one rhythm after another until the identity of the spirit becomes known.
Besides this big-picture overview, we had a look at some specific details. One thing I found interesting was sagat, the finger cymbals of Egypt. To put it briefly, the Egyptian sagat are made in a different shape and have a different tone and ringtime than the Turkish zills more familiar to most American belly dancers (you can read a piece on this by Yasmin here). We got to test out a little of the playing style of the sagat, quite different from what most of us are accustomed to, and try a few rhythms.
Venturing farther into unfamiliar territory, Yasmin demonstrated use of the goat-hoof belt. She showed us a large, heavy belt (her smaller one for use during travel, she says) hung all over with goat hooves that rattle loudly with hip movements. This is used by a dance leader to create part of the soundscape during the zar ritual. (I was among those who ventured to try it out during the break – an amazing and very loud sound!)
To finish up the whole package, we adjourned to nearby Mobu Studio for some immersion experience. Yasmin started by teaching some of the movements common in trance dancing, including both some from zikr (I’m particularly remembering the “zikr twists” of twisting the upper body back and forth and letting the arms follow freely) and some that are more specific to zar. She also gave us some basic instruction in spinning technique. After we had our own session of trance dancing, Yasmin brought us back to ordinary reality with a calming guided meditation.
After taking all this in, I realized that much of what I’d heard in the past about the zar had been extremely superficial and largely inaccurate. For years I hadn’t much questioned the original description I had first heard: that the zar is an exorcism ceremony in which the women expel the unwanted spirits through movements of flinging their hair and flicking their fingertips. “Exorcism” is incorrect, since the aim of the process is to contact the spirit rather than to expel it, and that depiction of the movements isn’t quite right either. The moral: Trust that an unfamiliar subject is more complex than it may at first be painted, and get as much information about it as you can.
Ready for more?
- 3-9-11 Off the Beaten Path Cory Zamora's "Belly Dancing for Seniors" & "Learn the Art of Male Belly Dancing"
However, I have a couple of issues with this DVD. One of my issues is that, other than stating the ages of the students (60, 63, 75) and making a fleeting mention of a few physical issues they have (problems with feet, back, etc.), there is not a great deal of material specific to senior dancers.
- 9-6-10 Saturday Gala Performance at the IBCC 2010, Photos and Video Collage,
The Saturday Night Gala Performance of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada was held April 24, 2010 at the Ryerson Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Video report consists of a collage of random clips caught of performances. Including: including:Arabesque Dance Company including Yasmina Ramzy, Delilah, Amel Tafsout, Zikrayat, Sera Solstice, Hadia, Ranya Renee & Co, Jillina, Sema Yildiz, Habeeba Hobeika Egyptian Dance Ensemble, and the Righteous Rogues.
- 12-13-05 The Zar
We do know that today thousands of women in Africa and the Middle East use this music to cure all kinds of illnesses. They literally dance until they drop.
- 6-25-10 Recreating the Live Sounds of Egypt, Yasmin’s "Dancing with Genies-Hafla al Afareet"
Upon first hearing this CD, I liked, no, I loved, the way it sounded like a live show. Exciting! Nevertheless, I question why some tracks sounded like they were recorded in a sterile studio.
- 5-31-10 Creating and Listening to Musical Ecstacy, CD Review-Yasmin’s "Cry to the Moon, Taqsim lil Qamar"
Taqsim traditionally follows a certain melodic progression… Following the introduction, the improviser is free to move anywhere in the maqam and even modulate to other "maqams" as long as he returns to the original. Taqsim is considered by many to be a connection to the spritual world.
- 7-24-07 The Zar, Trance Music for Women,
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.
- 2-18-07 Its Not Your Grandmamma’s Zar
Luckily at some point we hear the distinct rhythm for a Zar and follow the drumming right to the front door of an apartment house.
- 4-25-11 You Say Zills, I say Sagat, So What’s the Difference?
Nevertheless, many dancers outside the Middle East still think the only difference between zills and sagat is semantics – “two words for the same instrument.” If you’ve played both – correctly – I doubt you would agree.
As artists of an often misunderstood dance, we dancers understand that everything we present publicly reflects back upon us as individuals, upon bellydance as an art form, and by extension, the Middle Eastern culture. When presenting these facets in the most favorable light to other dancers or the general public, good design becomes paramount because it is the most unmistakable way to demonstrate our worth.
- 3-31-14 Beata Zadou in 1988, Winter Visit to Berlin’s Snow Princess
It is rare that reality matches one’s fantasy, but in this case, in 1988, my expectations were surpassed by the reality of wish-fulfillment.
- 3-25-14 (reformatted) Music Copyright Law for Belly Dancers (or for any Performing Artist) (commenting now available on this article)
You are not going to like what you are about to read. But if you are performing publicly to music you do not own, for your own protection, please keep reading. Every professional dancer should know at least the basics of music publishing law, particularly if she wants to appear in an audio-visual production destined for commercial distribution.
- 3-25-14 Patient is a Bellydancer, Part 1, Irritable Bowel vs. the Dancer
Weeks later my doctor told me she had never seen it that high in anyone before. Something was very wrong.
- 3-17-14 Dangerous, Dirty and Dastardly, 17 ways to Avoid It by Samira Shuruk
Every day we go to places where we are surrounded by strangers!