Experience Amel’s Authentic Maghreb Dance
posted May 7, 2015
After taking a prior workshop with Amel Tafsout, a dance professional originally from Algeria, I realized that I knew very little about dance styles of the Maghreb. Eager to learn more about these dance styles, I signed up for the five-day Maghreb Dance Intensive at the Amador Athletic Club, in Sutter Creek, California, which this year was held during the last week in February, 2015.
The early-bird price of $750 was much friendlier to my wallet than international airfare to the Maghreb would have been! This is because the Maghreb is in the region of North Africa comprised of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania and the disputed territory of Western Sahara which is quite a long distance from my desert southwest. There is no comparison to studying with a dance professional with authentic cultural insight, technical skill and accurate interpretation of dance styles from another part of the world. After growing up in Algeria, Amel has since lived in Europe and now the U.S. As a result of her time outside of Algeria, she is familiar with how Western students have a need to count out steps and break down movements. She accommodates that style of learning. She can also teach in the “follow me” format too. Amel is proud to share her knowledge of Maghreb dance, and she does indeed act as a cultural ambassador in that regard.
The event participants consisted of six ladies. Two of us were Maghreb dance neophytes, but we did the best we could to be quick to learn. Another lady studies West African dance and she caught on quickly. The remaining other three ladies were more familiar with North African dance. Two of the ladies learned the drumming rhythms quickly and the rest of us focused intently to manage the simultaneous frame drum playing, singing and dancing. We had a lot of fun regardless of our skill level.
Each day included 4 hours of dance instruction plus an additional hour or more of lecture, quizzes, review, videos, drum instruction, and discussion. During each dance segment, Amel taught us how to properly wear appropriate costumes, which meant that we all got to try on Amel’s costumes, and dance in them which was a treat! The first day of the five-day intensive included a brief introduction of the course, and an informative handout regarding the Maghreb, with country specific details, important vocabulary and dance explanations such as the importance of fertility and protection in the dance, as well as explanations of the various musical influences from the Middle East, Turkey, Medieval Spain and of course, Africa. The handout was background information that Amel had prepared. In terms of simple geography, for instance, I learned that Algeria is the largest country in Africa. Amel also brought books on the Maghreb with her and allowed us to borrow them after class, for additional background on regional dress, travel and other historical topics.
The North African music was infectious and fortunately, Amel had reasonably priced CDs and DVDs available for purchase. Amel explained which CDs had which kind of music on them so that we could decide for ourselves which ones to buy. Since frame drumming was an integral part of some dance style we were going have frame drum instructional segment. The frame drums were provided by Amel, as most of us traveled to this event.
Day 1 – Introduction and Amazigh-Berber Dance and Culture
Our first day of class was an overview of Amazigh-Berber dance. With her roots in Constantine, Algeria, Amel has Amazigh-Berber dance and music in her blood. What a treat it was to learn the Amazigh-Berber shimmy and partner dances from Amel, with her feedback regarding our progress and hands-on corrections. I will not forget her demonstration of the Maghreb hand and wrist movements, full of energy and grace!
Nisreen, Valerie, Melody
Day Two – Tunisian
The second day of class included Tunisian dance with its strong hip movement. This was a day for much constructive feedback from Amel as Tunisian dance was completely new to me. I will not forget her instruction to me to keep my knees closer together, as she had to remind me about that detail. We also began learning to play the frame drum. This was something I had never done before. We started with the basics – how to hold the frame drum and progressed to playing slowly and then faster, playing while singing, playing while dancing, and then playing while singing and dancing. I am accustomed to playing my finger cymbals while dancing, but I was really challenged by this exercise. As the days went on and Amel patiently lead us through this new experience, we all improved to the point where we could actually play the frame drum while singing in Arabic and dancing. Although it is something that will take much more time to truly master, I am glad that Amel included this frame drum exercise in the event. I plan on buying a frame drum so that I do not lose this ability!
Melody, Amel, Nisreen
Day Three – Algerian Including Andalusia
The third day was dedicated to Algerian dance, which was another completely new experience to me. Amel’s expertise guided us as we learned how to coordinate a group dance and how to dance with a partner. We learned that Andalusia music is the classical music of North Africa. Andalusia music is based on the Nuba, which is like a symphony, hence the classical identification. Andalusia refers to the fact that various outside musical influences (particularly Spain, but also Arab and Turkish) are represented. You can see for yourself how the costuming for Andalusian dance is very colorful! We learned an Andalusia scarf dance which we performed with Amel at the hafla later on the fourth day of the event in the weekend.
Andalusian Scarf Dance
Janine Ryle, Allison, Helena, Valerie, Melody, Nisreen
Day Four – Moroccan
On the fourth day we commenced a Moroccan dance, music and costuming segment. We were able to learn about the status of Western Sahara as land that Morocco claims as its Southern Provinces and that Morocco has had a history of independence that others in the Maghreb have not enjoyed to the same degree.
Nisreen, Allison, Valerie, Helena, Melody, Janine
Also on the fourth day Amel asked us in advance if we were interested in performing the Andalusia scarf dance or if we wanted chance to share our dance expression at a hafla. Not everybody was expected to perform. Once I heard that there was the possibility to dance to live music, I was on board! We were cheered on by a very receptive and appreciative audience at Sophia’s Well of Wisdom, which is a cozy wellness center full of positive energy. I was on cloud nine as Amel’s husband, Ishmael, a master Kanoun player, played the Kanoun and Amel sang and played the frame drum while I was dancing. The Kanoun is my favorite instrument, and I prefer to dance to live music, so I am grateful to Amel for making that very special dance experience possible.
1, Allison, 3, Janine
Day Five – Sufi Spirituality
The last day of class was a spiritual journey. We were already a cohesive group, so we entered the world of Sufi spirituality in a safe environment. Sadly I was unable to stay until the very end, as I had to catch a plane, but I can attest to the fact that the connection among the workshop participants was strengthened through that experience of music, movement, breathing and spiritual and emotional release. We all received a certificate of attendance as a final touch of Amel’s thoughtfulness and to commemorate our participation in the event.
In the end, I left the Maghrebi Dance Intensive with the same impression of Amel that I had when I arrived. What a joy to learn from a woman who dances like a rainstorm in the desert! Amel Tafsout offers a rare chance to nourish your mind, dance and spirit with a few sprinkles here and there in the form of an overview of the Maghreb or in a deluge of dance information; with a soft flourish of the hand or a veritable flurry of Berber shimmies; or with an introduction to Sufi spinning or an emotional/spiritual release. Do not miss the chance to learn Maghreb Dance with Amel Tafsout!
Dancers in Moroccan dress with Amel
Nisreen, Allilson, Valerie, Helena, Melody, Janine
Ready for more?
Aside from Ahmet’s satisfying performance and the professional live music, the local Romany festival-goers were quite proud and eager to show off their own dancing skills. Their enthusiasm was contagious so the locals invited one of our dancers to dance with them in front of the stage, a highlight for any dancer.
- 10-20-13 Entering the Sufi Spiritual World of North Africa, Sufi Brotherhoods and Trance Ceremonies in the Maghreb
…the Maghreb consists of many Sufi-brotherhoods, often recognized and set through their Zawiyas and initiations. Sufis have always worked toward reform through advice and education of the individual and internal purification through providing a model and example of tolerance, solidarity, brotherhood and selflessness removed from anything that would give a bad image of Islam.
- 9-20-07 The Passage of Time
Her performance brought tears to my eyes; not only was she technically outstanding, but she had a whole persona, stage presence and her aura… no younger dancer could be compared to her. Many times I went to see the show to watch her again and again!
- 8-9-12 What Lies Beneath, Part 1, The Morocco & Western Sahara Tourists Don’t See
When you say you are going to travel around in Morocco, usually, the response you get can be summarized with one word: "Marrakech". Sure, Marrakech might be the "best of Morocco", but it also wasn’t going anywhere.Some other places, however, may not always remain as accessible, and I had a few questions on my mind.
- 2-19-13 What Lies Beneath Part 2, The Morocco Tourists Don’t See, Suspicion, Lifestyle, Wedding, & Rescue
What’s depressing about Laayoune is the idea of it: what it represents, not the city itself. Buildings, painted in salmon color like Marrakech, palm trees planted in pretty town squares, clean streets, restaurants and cafes, busy market places and a gorgeous plaza where people stroll at night. If you didn’t know any better, you would love this place! In reality, you are inside an enormous military base, while the city is a mere facade.
- 4-21-14 Colorful Maghreb in Los Angeles, A Celebration of Music and Dance,
“Dancing In The Sunset ~ A Celebration of Maghreb Music and Dance” held February 1, 2014 at the Live Arts LA Theater in Los Angeles, California
- 3-18-02 Salah Takesh and Janine Ryle present 911 Fund Raiser Middle Eastern Music & Dance Jam
There were more than half a dozen bands…
- 7-31-01 Salah Takesh
For years, he was involved in the San Francisco North Beach scene during the eighties as a drummer while his brother, Jalaleddin Takesh was a kanoonist and restaurant owner. We asked him to recall some of his experiences for our North Beach Memories series.
- 12-30-10 Dances of the Mahgreb, Tamazgha, or Berbers, Amel Tafsout in Performance,
I’m glad Amel included her singing and drumming along with her dance performances. Her Berber Chaoui song is especially strong and powerful.
- 4-26-15 Attending My First Belly Dance Convention (But Not My Last)
Austin Belly Dance Convention 2015 by
Austin, in addition to being the “Live Music Capital of the World,” also has quite an impressive number of talented and committed belly dancers. Every week performances, showcases, and meet-ups can be found around town, and accomplished instructors are available nearly every night of the week for classes.
The only way the audience knows there was a deviation from the plan is if I hesitate or break character. They are none the wiser if I continue dancing purposefully.
Encore: Verb – To add to or repeat a performance, an extra or repeated performance. I was privileged to have the opportunity of an encore, a reprise that provided a look back at how very much I loved to dance – I still do! – and to teach and share my knowledge after nearly 15 years away from the art I spent most of my adult life practicing.
- 3-7-2015 Facts and Misconceptions about Kawliya, Interview with Assala Ibrahim on the topic of Iraqi dance especially Kawliya
My first encounter with her was in her Kawliya and Iraqi Zar workshops at Amani’s Oriental Festival in July 2014. I was excited by this rare opportunity to learn the dance from a native Iraqi dancer because dance for me is not a fantasy but a way to understand the culture behind it and to make a spiritual connection with the people of the dance.