The Gilded Serpent

Gilded Serpent presents...
Jenna Wood' s "The Dancing Cymbalist –
How to play music with finger cymbals and dance at the same time."

Book Review by Yasmela

Author Jenna Woods uses this book to introduce the Nur Method of coordinated finger cymbal practice.  On the back of the book, under her name, it states that she “…developed the original Nur Method from over 30 years experience with finger cymbals as a Middle Eastern dancer percussionist, combined with professional Aston-Patterning training in the teaching and application of fluid biomechanics.”

Whew!  First off, let me clarify that I have been playing finger cymbals since 1972, as a dancer, as a member of a Middle Eastern band, and as a teacher. 

I was eager to review this book in hopes that it would be a new tool to help revive the dying art of finger cymbal playing.  Jenna Woods seems to share that hope.

It is a thorough book, beginning with an impressive list of acknowledgements, and a glossary of terms.  In the Introduction,  Jenna Wood  gives us her personal background and explains how and why she developed the Nur Method.  The History of Zills is entertaining and informative, offering some theories about why cymbal playing has gone into decline, and how it used to be done.  Chapter 1 is Zill Choices, complete with glossary.  Chapter 2, Getting the Most From Your Zills, includes an exceptionally detailed section explaining how to put on your zills.  Included in these chapters is information on body alignment, exercises to help you get used to the weight of your zills, visualization techniques and suggestions,  and how to prepare for playing.

The book then moves into Understanding Musical Time, Chapter 3 and Learning Rhythms, Chapter 4.  Chapter 5, Voices of the Zills, is a lengthy explanation of how to get different sounds from your zills.  It has sections on terminology and technique. Chapter 6 begins the process of teaching us how to dance and play zills at the same time and introduces the Nur Method. 

Throughout the book there are italicized offerings in the margins from well-known dancers and zill players who talk about their personal experiences playing, dancing and learning.  The book is full of detailed charts and notations that are Ms. Wood’s original method of noting movement and rhythm.

So…what did I think of the book? If I was given this book and told that after I read it and studied it I would know how to dance and play finger cymbals, I would probably get to the first chart and decide that I could get by without playing finger cymbals at all. I learned finger cymbals from Jamila Salimpour, from my very first dance lesson, and then played in a Middle Eastern band for 10 years.  I found her method both logical and simple, involving repetition, practice and verbal/oral methods for matching patterns to music while learning to dance at the same time.  I think finger cymbals are essential for dancers on many different levels, even if they don’t end up using them.  I agree with Ms. Wood about why we should learn.  I just found this book overwhelmingly detailed and confusing and at the first chart, my eyes glazed over and my brain went into the same mode it does when confronted with anything beyond fractions in math.  I am not this kind of learner.  I showed the book to a friend who reads music, and she also found it rather confusing.  It is not standard musical notation, but an entirely new language and while Ms. Wood refers to this in the introduction, I found it confusing. 

One has not only to learn to play the zills and dance; one must first learn Ms. Wood’s language.  Instead of making the process of learning finger cymbals easier, it looks to me as if she has made it more complicated.

There is a lot of good information in this book that many dancers will find useful if they are inclined to diligent study and accustomed to learning music and dance from a book.  I was especially fascinated by her discussion of the way people hear music and translate it in the section on timesense and timing discrepancy.  Since there are many diverse learning styles, the Nur Method may appeal to people who want a very academic study of finger cymbals and who are comfortable with a technical style of learning.  It is not a book for beginners but may be more useful to people who want to expand their skills.  It may even encourage experienced dancers to take a second look at using zills in their performances, if they can master the method.  Would I be wrong to suspect that simply practicing on your own would accomplish the same thing?  Before you buy this book (at $33.95), I urge you to take a look at a copy and see if it makes sense to you.  As for beginners, it might be better to invest in a few classes with a live body first. 

More options for purchasing Jenna's book: "The book is also available through the book wholesalers, Ingram and Baker & Taylor, as well as Amazon. Lark in the Morning carries it in their catalogue, as does Unicorn Bellydance Supply out of Denver. Anyone can purchase my book online through my website, , which links through to my distributor, Itasca, or they can order directly from Itasca by calling toll-free at 1-800-901-3480

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