The Gilded Serpent presents...
A DRUMMER'S ADVICE
TO BEGINNING DANCERS
Things being as they are-that
there are many more dancers ( at least in the United States ) than there
are drummers -- you probably have not had as much experience as you want
( and need) working with a live drummer. You are right to feel the lack,
for your relationship with your drummer will make or break your live performance
more than any other single factor.
And there's the first thing to notice. It is a relationship. Never mind
that he ( or she ) can have an attitude - cultural, personal, or both - such that you could cheerfully serve them
a falafel filled with cut up clock springs.
If they are a good drummer, both of you want exactly the same thing
- for you to look good, especially in the drum solo. For in the solo, how good you look is a reflection on the
drummer's skill and talent just as much as it is on yours.
The drummer is supposed to show you off to best advantage: other drummers
will judge them on their ability to do so. But to make the most of your drummers ability and desire to make you
shine, you must know both how to listen and how to respond to what you are hearing. Now, a drum solo is kinda/sorta
supposed to be improvised, and unless you are working regularly with a band it most likely will be. If you are
skilled enough and/or lucky enough to have a regular gig, then your job and the drummer's is to make the drum solo
look improvised, but for now let's concentrate on the real thing. The problem is obvious: in an improvised drum
solo you must listen and respond to what the drummer is playing in real time: as it is happening. Now, obviously
this can be done, because dancers do it all the time. And it is really not that hard, because the drummer is on
your side, and in fact is giving you all sorts of information to help you succeed, but you have to have done your
homework in order to be able to make use of it.
First of all, LISTEN! This may sound like it's too obvious to mention,
but one of the most frustrating experiences a drummer can have is lay down all sorts of cool riffs for the dancer
to follow, only to realize that her conception of a drum solo is that it's the part of the song where she does
the same step over and over again, only real fast.
Second, KNOW YOUR RHYTHMS. . I have drummed for bellydance classes where
the instructor not only couldn't clap baladi but didn't even know what it was. The movements of Bellydance are
framed within a structure of rhythmic patterns and the two have been developed together over millennia. It makes
sense for you to know them,
especially since they are the framework within which your drummer will be setting up patterns for you in the solo.
If you know the patterns, you know what is likely to come next, and you can anticipate how to move to it.
It wouldn't hurt for you to learn to play the drum yourself a little.
You might even become good enough to play for the other members of your troupe, like the odalisques did in the
As a drummer, I made it my business to learn how to dance ( and even
performed ), primarily to allow me to be better at playing for my dancers. At the very least, you should learn
drum talk, so you can describe to the drummer what you might like him to play for you ( drum talk is simply a way
of vocalizing rhythms. It is easily learned, ask a drummer to teach you. You will see and do a written example
a little later in this article). Once you know the framework, you will start to recognize that your drummer is
serving you by creating patterns. Patterns of structure and patterns of sound. First of all, notice that the drum
makes certain sounds that go along with certain movements.
Rolls go with fast shimmies. Tekky sounds (high strokes on the rim)
go well with basic steps and slow, sharp shimmies of the shoulder and arms. The big Dums in the center of the drum
work well with big hip movements, and so on.
The point is that your body and the drum have a shared vocabulary of
movement and sound that you have to learn and make reflexive. If your drummer is good, they have done so. They
will be watching you to see what your are doing with your body and, even more importantly, what you seem to want
to be doing next - so that they can provide accompaniment for it, or even lead you to it. You should be doing the
same. Where do they seem to be going with how they are playing? Fast, high sounds? Then shimmy. Complex, rich tones?
Then give them complexity, with hip circles and a lot of arm, belly and shoulder movement. It becomes a duet between
sound and movement, based on similarity and contrast.
Over the centuries, drummers and dancers have evolved a basic pattern
for solo work that allows you to know what is coming next. It is the "three reps and a tag" pattern.
The classic example is called Hagala. If you listen to any drum solo, you will probably hear it. The drummer plays
almost the same riff three times then puts a tag - a finish - on it. Here's a simple example of what I am talking
The drummer plays:
teka teka TEK teka
teka teka TEK teka
teka teka teka teka
DUM DUM DUM
Read it out loud, with accents (emphasis) where words are capitalized.
The first two lines are identical. The third is almost the same, and the last is very different. It is also stronger,
bigger. It is the tag. That's the pattern: three repetitions and a tag. You have heard it in a thousand variations
a thousand times. So one trick to dancing well in a drum solo, is that when your delicate shell-like ears hear
that first "teka teka", deep in your dancer's brain you are already, in effect, setting up your choreography.
You can do so because you know how the pattern is likely to go. You hear that strong TEK on the first repetition,
so you are ready for it on the second repetition, with perhaps a strong lift of your shoulder, (or even better,
your shoulder and your head ). You may be experienced enough to intuit the change in the third line, where it becomes
a bit more repetitious - and match the change, maybe with hip shimmies as you move straight towards the audience,
but you know those DUMS are coming, and so your hips are ready for them: DUM DUM DUM. Left Right Left.
So how do you learn to put all this together in real time? Practice,
practice, practice. That's how anybody gets good at anything.
Listen to drum solos on CD's. Observe the four bar patterns, then listen
to what type of sounds the drummer is making. What steps and movements go with them? Figure it out, then try it:
dance to the solos. Practice arranging your movements in groups of three and a tag to match the drummer. You will
soon discover how easy it is to anticipate and embellish. Create a whole choreography of your favorite recorded
drum solo. Then try it with music you haven't heard before, to see how well you improvisation skills are coming.
Best of all, kidnap a drummer.
One last piece of advice: If you get flustered, lost or confused,
JUST FOLLOW THE BEAT.
It is amazing, and also a little sad, to see how many dancers forget
this and needlessly lose the chance to save a bad situation on stage: Okay, it's Rakkasah, the big stage, and the
band has just vaporized six months' work on the new choreography by playing the wrong song, even after you told
them and made sure that they knew it was to be Laylet Hob. You are caught between tears and a murderous rage that
would make Medea's seem like a day with Mary Poppins. Guess what? The audience doesn't know anything about it,
and probably wouldn't really care if they did. All right; New Plan: you are going to improvise a great seven minute
dance routine. But while you gather your wits, just follow the beat! That means take your best pose, look at the
audience with a mysterious smile (even if you are gritting your teeth) and, when the drum makes the loud noise,
lift your hip. The audience doesn't know. You can get away with it ( after all, there are dancers who say that
Dina has gotten away for her entire career without ever once dancing at all). It may turn out to be one of your
Ready for more?
RITUAL Enhancing our daily lives with drumming
and dancing, by
rhythmic patterns and dance movements of this
tradition, steeped in antiquity, steeped in women's
ancestry, rekindle a natural and sacred state
of well being.
Drummer's Advice to Beginning Dancers -
by Kirk Templeton
your rhythms! I have drummed for bellydance classes where
the instructor not only couldn't clap baladi but didn't even
know what it was..."
3-22-00 Dancing to Live Drumming by
Drum can express all human emotions: joy, sorrow, elation,
7-1-00 Child Prodigy grows up, Reda D! An Interview with
"I knew Sahar
Hamdi from the time when she used to be a customer watching Fifi Abdu."
Dahbour: Kuwaiti Drum Pro Interview by Yosifah
addition to teaching us about drum solos, Loay also took
some time to share with us his valuable insights as a
musician after working for the past thirteen years with
hundreds of San Francisco Bay Area Bellydancers.
Takesh Interviewed by
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.
9-22-00 Interview with Michael Beach of the Brothers of Baladi by
We are a versatile
group. One night I play blues, the next jazz, then I become part of
The Brothers, playing either a drum set or dumbek.
of drum related products and events
and Rating of 2002’S MIDDLE EASTERN DRUM CD/TAPES by
This is a review of eight of the most popular Middle
Eastern Drum recordings produced this year. Incuding works by Reda, Susu, H Ramsy,
Zaid, Mafufo, and more...
A collective of dancers and drummers plan to take music and
dance out into the streets this summer on July 15 in cities across
the nation and globe.
Masterful Teaching: Drum Solo Master Class with Jim Boz Reviewed
by: Rebecca Firestone
With his shaved head tied up in a bandanna, with a burly torso,
powerful legs, and a thick neck, he looks more like a biker, a bouncer,
or a circus strongman. Thus, his grace and posture is even more amazing.
with Issam Houshan March 26, 2005, San Francisco Reviewed
by Rebecca Firestone
In the solo improvisational forms of Middle Eastern Dance,
the chemistry between the drummer and the dancer is a vital ingredient.
With A SuperStar Jillina’s Drum Solo Workshop in Vancouver by
If you have the opportunity to dance with this amazing, educated, experienced,
beautiful, and did I mention fun? woman, do not hesitate to do it. It is worth
every penny and every minute!
el Safy's Exploring the Drum Solo “DVD” DVD
Review by Mara al-Nil
I am pleased to report that what she said was true—everything
she covered in the workshop is on the DVD. Finding it, however, is
Drum Solo Choreography Video, Volume 1
By: Al Wahid Productions Featuring: Jamilla Al Wahid and Reda Darwish on drum
by Gennevie Hebranson
If you are looking for a video that will inspire you ...
Drumming Dazzles the Dancer by
Video review of "Uncle Mafufo's Riqs & Defs: a practical approach to
Middle Eastern Frame Drums"
9-29-00 "Halawah" on
Compact Disc by Reda Darwish review by Najia El-Mouzayen
San Francisco's favorite
Egyptian drummer has again produced a musical offering for the dancer
and Middle Eastern music fans.
in Perth, Australia-Hossam & Serena Ramzy's International
Tour August 8th - 12th, 2003 report by Ayesha
presentation requires the student to listen – and I mean LISTEN.
When the Drummers Were Women : A Spiritual
History of Rhythm
by Layne Redmond
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