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Gilded Serpent presents...
Adding Dance to Her Repertoire

by Najia Marlyz

After having taught Belly dance for thirty years, one might imagine she had seen and done it all, but I am learning that there may be no end to the learning continuum in Belly dance!  I used to warn my students that if or when I found myself doing the same things repeatedly, and dance seemed to have lost its adventure and challenges, I would hang up my dance shoes forever.  That threat still hangs in the air…  However, the subtle (and not so subtle) changes in the dance scene, as well as my own growth of insight, keep each adventure in dance new and beguiling to me as the years relentlessly slip under my feet.

Not all, but many of my recent dance adventures, have become—happily—vicarious experiences that I have enjoyed through my students! Currently, nearly all of my student clientele comes to me for special coaching to meet some odd personal dance challenge in areas of their dance that seem to need:

  • a shot of courage,
  • a new insight,
  • a renewal of enthusiasm,
  • or a solution to a daunting problem in performance.

Sometimes, after years of dance instruction with several teachers, those who come to me for coaching literally are puzzling with the question: “ Why, does my dance not have the flavor of truth in the eyes and hearts of those to whom the Belly dance is part of their ethnic heritage—the Arabic and Turkish people?” Many who ask themselves this question are professional dancers and entertainers who belong to dance troupes under the leadership of instructors (other than myself, because I do not involve myself in trouping) or who are also instructors and studio owners.

My role as dance coach puts me into the privileged catbird seat for watching the development of outstanding performers, festivals, and contests each year, and I find each one fascinating because they are all so different, and yet, there are threads of “dance truths” that bind them all to one another!

In my studio, I have termed the concepts that I teach and coach as “My Dance Clinic (for Ailing Dance Techniques)”.  Most of my dance cures are basic but simple: I administer no placebos, and do not take prisoners when it comes to battling the viruses that infect dance, rendering it colorless and weak and ultimately, lifeless!

Many, if not most, western dancers mistakenly accent the heavier beats of the musical rhythms with the wrong motion i.e.:

They do not understand that all beats in a rhythm are not equal and cannot be treated as if they were. 

Even some experienced dancers have been taught to move incorrectly upward with a downbeat when they should be moving downward, backward, and/or inward on emphasized beats while only moving aggressively forward and up on special accents, and move gently, subtly upward, forward, and/or outward on the unaccented, quick light sounds in each rhythm.

Previously, virtually none of my clientele had learned any reliable method for listening to or analyzing Middle Eastern music (or any music for that matter)! So, how could one expect a dancer to respond to sounds and patterns that she had not learned to hear?

It is rare to find a Western dancer who feels free enough to express both the lyricism (not mime the lyrics) of the tunes as well as the rhythms. I share with my students a key for doing this.  Though my key is simplistic, it gets one’s foot in the door of portraying musical content. Great dancers are usually very sensitive to imagery, and I dish out imagery to heal dance flaws as if it were chewable vitamin tablets.

It is even more rare these days—these latter days of Belly dance in the U.S. and in Europe—that one can see a dancer with enough confidence in herself and in the music to accomplish a believable Raqs Sharqi—improvisational, spontaneous choreography!  In my opinion, a Belly dancer should be creating ”Choreography By Inner Improvisation” as she dances, while preplanned, rehearsed, and notated choreographies tend to be as lifeless as the pen with which they are written. 

Set choreographies are seldom the “stuff of dreams” but simply serve as crutches for the dancer who has not developed a “clean edge”.

Perhaps you might like to share with me a recent vicarious experience that I think will illustrate just how satisfying, gratifying, and fun teaching and coaching on the personal level can become. This is a direct result of the private lesson and coaching format I have adopted in this part of my dance/teaching career. The dancer about whom I write is Surreyya; she is not new to performing and not new to Belly dance, either.  However, she has become figuratively my new eyes that refresh my own adventure into dance.

Surreyya is a singer with a Turkish modern rock band and has studied dance and performed here and there.  However, she told me that none of the movements she had learned seemed to have jelled or to become useable enough for her to incorporate movements into her professional gigs as a singer with the Turkish band “Hazerfan”.  If you have not heard of Hazerfan, I predict that someday you will.  Perhaps that will happen when our government (now operating in crisis mode under current threat) is once again able to grant an entry visa for the group’s exquisite gypsy violinist to come to the U.S. from Turkey so that the band can complete work on the CD that they had expected to have on the market by now.  Such a 9/8 rhythm (Karsilamas) musical composition—I guarantee you have not heard ever before —at least, in this lifetime!

As a singer and seasoned performing artist, Surreyya realizes that she may have to accept the risk of experiencing potential flop sweat in order to begin a new way of performing.  Therefore, she danced solo recently for a fundraiser for the AIDS Ride that Team Fat Tire of the Aids Life/cycle sponsored.   Team Fat Tire’s Aids fundraiser took place on the garden patio of a home in the Berkeley hills.  Surreyya’s musical accompaniment was an audiotape and one live member of Hazerfan.

Her accompanying drummer was Murat Bayhan, from Ankara, Turkey, who is an accomplished Turkish percussionist and leader of Hazerfan.  Though the two knew that a drum alone would to be a bit “thin,” musically speaking, Surreyya decided that she would chance it as an addition to her regular taped music.  So, with Surreyya’s permission, and the permission of Heather, a professional photographer who took the photos that I have included to illustrate this story, here is the report she sent to me after her gig was over.  I feel certain that you will be intrigued by the thoughts, in her own words, that may give you some empathy for Surreyya’s magical “initial launching solo” moment of dance—as we had formed it together in my Dance Clinic:

Dear Najia,
Ok, …I went; I saw; I danced! Admittedly, I was so freaked out that the first 30 seconds of my dancer were entirely silly, but someone in the crowd started clapping and the energy was good enough that it gave me the confidence I needed to keep dancing. I tried to dance with my veil during the Natacha Atlas piece, but seemed to become somewhat stale; so, I ditched it. Fortunately, my veil landed right where wanted--yay!

It was the drum solo part of my dance that the audience loved. My dance received lots of “Woo-oo-oo-o!”  The spotlight was so bright that I felt blinded.  It made me unable to spot, making my turns—less than perfect. Our audience didn't seem to mind though.

Ok, so we got a great applause… The audience wanted 20 minutes, but I only had eight prepared. I had brought my Turkish drummer, Murat Behan, with me. He played doumbek, and did a bit of drum playing all by his lonesome while I caught a couple of breaths off the stage area. Murat began to play a fast 9/8 piece; so I came back out and danced and—they loved it! He slowed down into a less than half time 9/8 rhythm, and I did some floorwork with it. Then the audience went nuts, and we finished with our trademark—doum, doum, tek-a-tek, doum tek-tek.

I think I was good at faking through my pain, since I was on concrete and scraped the “bejeezus!” out of my feet…  My knees are totally bruised, and I am—kind of—hating life today, but it was worth my suffering for the crowd. They were very nice people who had really sweet things to say about our performance.

What did I learn? Basically, what I learned was reinforcement of what you taught me! Improvisation is better than choreography—my choreographed parts screwed me up... [Note from Najia: I told ya so…]

I will bring a carpet from now on, because concrete hurts. [Note from Najia: Not all problems in dance performance are as self-evident as it may seem from another perspective. The Boy Scouts’ motto will always serve a dancer well:Be Prepared!”  However, my mother’s motto will serve you much better: “Be Creative and Resourceful!”]

Also, I was much more comfortable with the live drums than with my music—I am not sure why. [Note from Najia: I know why…] Overall, I have tons more confidence—now that I have lived through this performance. …Although, I still may want to ask for more coaching from you this week!


I hope I have shown why I love working with performers in my Dance Clinic.  It is my plan to work with both Surreyya and Murat together to plan a more professional dance scenario for them without using a set choreography but by employing careful strategy instead. Their entire presentation will become maximal and new possibilities will become apparent to them, giving them the opportunity to receive the recognition that they deserve as professionals.


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Ready for more?
3-31-05 Defiant Dancer: How I became a Dance Pioneer In a small 1970s California Community Festival by Najia. My attitude turned from community spirit to outright defiance.

2-16-05 Lace and My Muses, Part 4 of 5:Tarnished StarDust by Najia
Not until very recent times, could I admit, even to myself, that I had lost a large part of my creative thrust along with many of my treasured friendships because I had perceived wrongly that I needed to become more like the Egyptian and Lebanese dancers of the day.

6-5-05 Rakkasah West Festival 2005 Photos- Saturday & Sunday Page 2 photos by GS Staff and Friends
More to come!

6-3-05 Belly Dancer of the Year 2005 Page 1 Duos, Trios & Troupes photos by Monica
May 28, 2005, San Ramon, California.

5-28-05 Rakkasah West Festival 2005 Photos- Saturday Page 1 photos by GS Staff and Friends
More to come!

5-5-05 Initiating Dance Dialogue: Current Trends, The Panel Discussion at Carnivals of Stars Festival, transcribed from video by Andrea, Panel members included: Heather as moderator, Monica Berini, Shira, Barbara Bolan, Amina Goodyear, Debbie Lammam.

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