Gilded Serpent presents...
with Cruz in a San Francisco event
and Reason Series,
by Mary Ellen Donald
published in Bellydancer Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing
column. This magazine was published by Yasmine Samra in Palo Alto,
is on my mind. I’m thinking back on some very special experiences
which some of my bellydancing friends and I shared – experiences
spotlighting Middle Eastern rhythms. I’d like to share some details
about these so that you might see clearly how you can enrich your
bellydance performance with rhythmical fun and excitement.
dance and Flamenco
couldn’t believe we were there – I and my 6-piece Middle Eastern
Drum Ensemble at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco with
an audience of 1,800, providing an accompaniment for the famous
flamenco performer and instructor, Cruz
Luna, and the outstanding flamenco dancer and professional
bellydancer, Reyna Alcala. We are performing
Arabic Suite as part of the Ole! Ole! Spanish
Dance Company’s flamenco presentation.
The stage is darkened; a single light begins to shine on Reyna;
flamenco guitar breaks the silence, Reyna begins a standing taqsim,
the singer Isa Mura wails her lament and fades.
drum along with a tambourine plays a sensuous bolero as Reyna
slowly moves around the stage. Shrill zaghareets, the entire
drum ensemble plays a powerful Baladi rhythm as Cruz suddenly
appears onstage; their spirited duet in Baladi ensues.
a floor taqsim, the music changes to a sweet 4/4 Spanish rhythm
– the Zambra – with tambourine, guitar and singer joining the
ensemble. Music is enriched with cymbals, then one drum enters. Cruz begins clapping Baladi and dancing
the debke; guitar and singing fade and full drum ensemble takes
over with excitement and drama building. The mazhar, giant Egyptian
tambourine, adds its outrageous sound, hitting accents wildly.
Our ensemble abruptly shifts into 3-3-2 pattern, Spanish Rhumba
and the guitar player and singer rejoin with fiery finale.
flamenco aficionados, our audience gave our Arabic Suite
a clamorous response. This liason of Belly dance and flamenco
had begun as a flash of imagination in Cruz’ mind! He asked me
what the rhythms should be in a typical, short Belly dance routine.
I told him, “They are usually Baladi, Chifte-telli, and Baladi
again.” Starting with that stark schema, we each came up with
some “Couldn’t we add this?” and “How about that?” and ended up
with a more sophisticated presentation.
I have shared
these details about our Arabic Suite so that you may envision
how shifts in mood, tempo, and instrumentation incorporate into
a performance effectively. It could go, without saying, that
to do this successfully requires a great deal of rehearsing!
With all of this, I’m not suggesting that you run out and look
for the nearest flamenco artist with whom to join forces next
month for a show. It takes a great deal of professional experience
and creativity to combine Arabic and Spanish forms of dance.
My hope is that you realize the versatility of Middle Eastern
percussion rhythms so that you utilize them more imaginatively.
Night at the Bagdad
you heard about the student nights that we periodically present
at Belly dance cabarets in the San Francisco area? During such
events an array of students from one or two dance instructors
take the place of the professional dancers usually scheduled for
the evening. Often these students are enjoying the experience
of dancing with live Middle Eastern music for the first time.
In this way the students get a chance to see what it feels like
to be a professional dancer in a night club setting. "Then
why not have such an evening for drum students?" you may
ask. We did just that.
George Dabaie, drummer at the Bagdad
Cabaret in San Francisco and I co-sponsored a drum student
night. Thirteen of our students took turns sitting in with George
Elias, owner of the club and oudist and vocalist,
for 10-minute sets. Some of them performed in pairs; most took
the drummer’s seat alone! Many professional (and some student)
dancers performed that evening. With dance, cymbals, drum, and
tambourine, rhythm was in the spotlight. In keeping with this
emphasis my drum ensemble performed an Egyptian drum number that
we copied sound for sound from a solo from a tape which Bert
Balladine brought from Cairo last fall. In previous
drum ensemble presentations we had created our own arrangements
using Middle Eastern rhythms as the base. This was the first
time we had tried to reproduce the exact sounds that one would
hear in the Middle East. We found work on this number an exciting
challenge as well as a real enrichment to our rhythmical repertoire.
The grand finale of Rhythm Night came with a guest performance
of Khadija Rabanne. In addition to performing
her famous standing and floor taqsims, Khadija danced to two of
her favorite fast selections: Feiruz’ Kaan Azzamen as sung
in a well-known Lebanese musical, and Taroub’s Ya Sitty Ya
Khitara, a lively Spanish rhumba with dramatic breaks. Guest
drummer Nilu Khalil who is also a professional
dancer matched Khadija’s rhythmical ability in the dance, and
they performed a completely rehearsed drum solo, taken sound-for-sound
from one of the solos on the album Belly Dance! Spectacular
Rhythms of the Middle East.
No one in the audience could doubt the amount of time and energy
that went into such a well-coordinated drum solo. Again I am
sharing these details in hopes that you will seek out more ways
to have fun with rhythm.
When we go to see bellydance productions we usually see too many
bellydancers. When we go to see productions with a variety of dance
forms represented, we usually don’t see any Belly dancers. This
situation was not so in Berkeley, California on December 17, 1977.
That evening at the Berkeley Community Little Theater, “Harvest
for the World” was presented as a benefit for Everybody’s
Creative Arts Center of Oakland. Well-know Bay Area dance companies
performed Modern, Jazz, Tap, Latin, and African dances. One Belly
dancer appeared in this show – Khadija
Rabanne. If you had been there, you would have been
proud of your profession that evenin!. Khadija performed with Nilu
Khalil on tambourine and doumbec and me playing doumbec
and mazhar. Egyptian Suite was what we called it.
permission given, I’ll spell out the rhythmical and instrumental
changes we incorporated within a 10-minute performance. We tried
to capture the flavor of Egyptian style music and dance, of course
using our own imagination to embellish the rhythmical schema.
starting with cymbals, then tambourine, then drum;
2. single doum baladi, 8 simple measures;
3. baladi, improvised with solid heavy
4. single doum baladi, 4 simple measures;
5. chifte-telli, 4 slow patterns filling in and opening up the
last beat dramatically together;
6. 3-3-2 patterns, fast and light, speeding
up and going directly into the slow section;
7. bolero, slow with Khadija
showing off her abdominal control and snaky hand and finger
8. bolero, fast for a North African
style floor taqsim;
9. baladi as Khadija rises, Nilu playing
drum instead of tambourine now – two drums beating as Khadija
gets audience clapping loudly, then I begin with mazhar. (This
giant Egyptian tambourine, about 14 inches in diameter with
cymbals 3 ½ inches in diameter, beautifully inlaid, usually
causes a flurry of excitement in an audience just as I pick
it up. Then the powerful sound just drives them crazy.);
10. 6/8, 8 measures with a thunderous boom
at the end.
We (in the ensemble) wanted you to know the details of our Egyptian
Suite not just to dazzle your brain but to excite within you
the fantasy of your doing something similar. Given the scarcity
of musicians who can play the melodic Middle Eastern instruments,
we encourage you to work on similar presentations using percussion
creatively. Of course we should add that we don’t think that
a typical 5-part or 3-part Belly dance routine can be performed
as effectively with percussion only. It’s the many and dramatic
rhythmical changes that made our suite what it was.
In short, we are very pleased with the results of combining high
quality Belly dancing with high quality percussion. We wish the
same for you.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
The Rhythm and Reason Series
1- Cymbals, Beyond Basics by
Mary Ellen Donald
rhythm has a distinct arrangement of accents. If you are sure
of where these accents come, you can bring a unique flavor to
each section of your routine.
North Beach and Mark
Bell from an interview with Lynette
was Italian and had black hair down to her ankles. She was a dancer
in the club, and maybe studied with Jamila at some point. Her
best bits were in the Casbah, where she would really work over
a guy with her eyes and expressions
Making New Musical Inroads
in France and Ireland by Mark and Ling Shien Bell
takes Rhythm Diatribes Workshops to Europe, series continues...
Initiating Dance Dialogue: Current
Trends, The Panel Discussion at Carnivals of Stars Festival,
from video by Andrea, Panel members included: Heather as moderator,
Monica Berini, Shira, Barbara Bolan, Amina Goodyear, Debbie Lammam.
"What is Belly
Dance?" The First Presentation in the New Symposium Series,
by World Arts West A report and review by Sadira There
has been much controversy surrounding the particular groups and
soloists who have been chosen to represent the Middle Eastern
Dance category in the Ethnic Dance series throughout its entire
25 years of production.