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A Professional - Music

By Salome

"A Professional - Primer" outlines the basic traits of a professional. The series is intended to act as a reference to develop said traits. To read previous installments visit the Article Index page and look for the titles "A Professional - ...".

Can perform to live music

When two entities create simultaneously and together the magic is palpable. As my teacher said - live music breathes its own life into a dance. As a professional it is a skill you should posses and as an artist one that you will treasure.

I was fortunate enough to grow up with musicians in my family and have immediate access to Joseph Pusey and the Nile Spice Orchestra. I realize many dancers do not share the same circumstances but opportunities do exist for those who seek them out.

Many festivals, showcases, productions and similar events offer participants the option of live music. Check Belly Dance Events for opportunities in your local or neighboring area.

To lessen the intimidation factor prepare yourself for the experience. Find out the name of the band you will perform with and if they have released a CD. If yes, become familiar with their music. Be prepared to ask for songs by name from their album. If the band has not released a CD, find out what type of music they play – Arabic, Turkish or Persian. Become familiar with the most common songs (and their names) used for Oriental dance from these locals. See www.shira.net/musicintro.htm for some examples.

Introduce yourself to the band before the show. Make an effort to connect with the musicians and show your appreciation. Tell the band what music you would like for your routine. They will appreciate that you have some knowledge of the music you dance to.

During your routine communicate with the band. When you want a transition give them a signal. A good band will pay attention and respond to your cues. For example, the band has been playing a slow piece of music and you are ready for an upbeat tempo. Begin focusing on crisp hip accents, travel briskly around the stage or intersperse a few bars with your finger cymbals. The band will (hopefully) respond with a tempo change. Travel up to and stand right beside the drummer. Begin making crisp accents and shimmies, as you will in your drum solo, the drummer will understand that's what you are asking for. For an astute musician, an inconspicuous nod and expression in the eye is enough to communicate that you want a transition...

In some circumstances you will not have the option to meet the band before hand or make musical requests for your routine. You may even come across musicians that have little regard for working together as a team. In those cases your familiarity with music as well as strength in improv and presentation will serve you best.

Possesses a sizeable music collection

One of the tasks of a professional Oriental dancer is designing her/his show program. Typically a unique show program is tailored to meet the needs of each specific engagement.

As stated in "A Professional - Dance", the length of performance can be 7 minutes upwards to 45. You should possess enough music to fulfill that standard. Consider not only building quantity but also mood variety. The slow chifti, common is the U.S, sets quite a different tone than the fast paced Turkish chifti. A taqseem played on an oud, ney or kanun all inspire a different atmosphere. Take your standard routine and build a variety of musical moods for each section.

Some pertinent reasons why: you need to make appropriate musical choices based on the engagement type. A belly gram is not the forum to do a dramatic performance where you transmute your artistic vision. Its fun, its lighthearted and your music needs to set that tone. Also you want to "keep it fresh" for yourself, not fall into mechanical responses due to boredom. And when you have repeat engagements at the same establishment the client and audience will expect variation.

Building a music collection can seem a daunting task if you're not sure where to start. Before making a blind purchase I suggest the following: ask your teacher for a list of the music she uses in her class and performances. Ask other performers, whose style is similar to your own, to name music they utilize. Many music stores now have listening stations, the larger ones often have Near and Middle Eastern tracks available for preview. Take a paper and pencil and note bands that appeal to you. Visit www.mazika.com and download Arabic music. Visit other music sites like www.kaza.com – search with keywords belly dance music, Middle Eastern music etc., download, and again note artists that appeal to you.

After you have compiled a list you can make an informed purchase that will appeal to your musical senses and dance style.

Can play finger cymbals

Finger cymbals (known as Sagat in Arabic, Zills in Turkish) are a real and integral part of Oriental dance. There are lithographs and descriptions dating back hundreds of years depicting and describing men and women using finger cymbals.

Many long time and respected instructors note that the recent generation of Oriental dance artists’ neglect or discount the importance of finger cymbals. Those same instructors point to emulating Egypt as the cause.

In Egypt many dancers stopped playing cymbals themselves and hired a cymbal player to accompany their orchestra due to a trend started by Badia Masabni. Badia was a Lebanese dancer/actress that opened the famous Opera Casino night club in Cairo in 1926. She frequently played cymbals for the dancers in her club. Those dancers became legends in their own time, the likes of Samia Gamal, Tahia Cariocca, Zeinet Alwi... Later generation's saw hiring a separate musician to play finger cymbals as a sign of affluence and stardom and that trend continues today.

Whether or not it is the "in" thing to do is inconsequential. In America hiring a cymbal player let alone your own orchestra isn't particularly feasible. As a professional you should strive to be a competent cymbal player regardless of whether or not you incorporate them into your performance.

Mary Ellen Donald wrote a book called "Mastering Finger Cymbals". It's a tutorial with a cassette tape that covers basic technique, and simple to complex Middle Eastern rhythms. For more information or to purchase contact Mary Ellen Books, P.O. Box 411562, San Francisco, CA 94141-1562, U.S.A. Phone: (+1) (510) 654-DRUM, or (+1) (510) 654-3786.

Tips: Your hands should be very relaxed with your fingers held close together. The elastic should be tightly secured and properly placed so that it does not mute the tone. The cymbals should be worn at an angle and the strikes should be delicate and relaxed. Finger cymbals come in a variety of sizes and tones. I suggest having a collection of different sized cymbals as the size affects the volume. When you perform in an intimate gathering a delicate sound and tone will be most complimentary. When you perform in an outside arena you need cymbals that won’t be carried away on the wind. There are many quality manufacturers of cymbals in the U.S., check out Turquoise, Saroyan, or Zildjian.

Has at least a basic knowledge of Arabic and Turkish rhythms

Covering music in a few paragraphs is comparable to covering dance in a few paragraphs… Though I do have an understanding of Arabic and Turkish music I am not a music teacher and neither are the majority of dance instructors. In order to receive optimal education I strongly suggest learning the basics from an expert.

There may be musicians in your area that offer lessons, try searching www.bhuz.com/directory.asp. If you are in an area void of teachers you can visit festivals, like Rakkasah, that offer percussion workshops.

Try using supplemental learning tools in between workshops or lessons. I suggest Hosam Ramzy’s CD "Rhythms of the Nile". It is intended for beginning percussionists with a desire to learn Egyptian rhythms. Hosam provides the name of each rhythm, a careful and clear break down and an example of the rhythm in music. "Mastering Finger Cymbals" by Mary Ellen Donald, is an equally sound tutorial. If you are interested in learning how to read music and understand time signatures (i.e. 4/4, 8/4) I recommend "Rhythm Classes with Osama El-Gohary". Jas’s Middle Eastern Rhythms page is also worth checking out. If you download Jas's MIDI Rhythm Generator you can listen to innumerable rhythms and read a bit about the rhythm in relation to Oriental dance. For information about Arabic, Persian and Turkish percussion I recommend visiting Rhythm Web.

Tabla Tabla – known by many names, commonly darbuka in Turkey and tabla in Arabic countries. The tabla is a pear shaped drum made from ceramic or terracotta with a fish skin or plastic head. A Dahola is a bass tabla with a goat skin or plastic head two and half times larger than a normal tabla.

MazharMazhar - an enormous tambourine with a donkey skin head.

DeffDeff - a mazhar but without the cymbals.

RiqRiq - a small tambourine with a plastic or fish skin head. Very important in classical Arabian music.

ZillSagat – also known as finger cymbals and zills. They come four in a set and are commonly made from copper nickel alloy.