Baladi, the Mother of Oriental Dance, is improvisation to well known and well-loved traditional songs. It is Arabic women dancing together in celebration. It is pure improvisation; spontaneous and natural as they continually inspire and get inspiration from one another. As Egypt embraced the virtues of the Occident in the 1930’s, public presentation of this dance began in the Parisian inspired cabarets. Then, a selected few dancers were elevated to soloists and stardom through the birth of the American inspired Egyptian film industry. What we now know as Raqs Sharqi aka Oriental Dance was born. American movie choreographers and ballet classes were incorporated into the training of the stars and even the newly formed folkloric companies. A handful of icons such as Ibrahim Akef worked as personal coaches and choreographers with oriental dance artists such as his niece, Naima Akef, who is one of the most underrated of the great Egyptian Stars of the Golden Era. Naima also created many of her own choreographies, while other artists such a Fifi Abdo where 100% improvisational dancers through their entire career.
I LOVE to CREATE, TEACH and PERFORM CHOREOGRAPHIES to rich, divine and delicious Oriental music!! The process of creation demands that I delve into the depths of the music, study it and unravel its intricacies in a way that is much more profound than what I would do if were improvising. It often takes me a month or more to create a choreography to a complex and dynamic sharqi composition:
- I listen, map out, try out different movement options, listen, focus on phrases (musical sentences), explore movement sequences that fit the phrases, listen, step back and listen again for repetitions of, or variations in the phrases and alter the sequences accordingly.
- I focus on the major progressions of the music (which would be more like paragraphs), and experiment with my movement sequences to make sure that they are following the ebbs and flows, the dynamics and emotional impact of the entire piece of music.
The result of this process is a choreography that allows the audience to actually hear the music breathing through the movements, their variations, the textures, the strength, the softness, the delicate, sweetness, the playfulness and even the heartbreak – yes, we have lots of that in Arabic music!
This type of creation is one of my greatest passions!
When I TEACH,I use choreography as a very powerful and effective tool to present technique, musical interpretation, and stage presence to my students:
- This lets me share all of the minute details such as rhythm cycles, instruments, maqams, phrasing, dynamics, emotions, and variations. In order to avoid overwhelm for my students, we connect the musical components and structure to the movement patterns piece by piece, section by section. Although this can be a fairly intense group process, the more we move through the music, the more the students start to “light up” and plug into the process.
- When we work together in this way, they are finally able to overcome the “stress factor” involved in trying to remember the movements and sequences, because if they do forget (which they almost surely will), the music will give them the cues to know what the corresponding movements are. This is what I refer to literally as the embodiment of the music.
- The other indisputable benefit of teaching through the framework of choreography is that it enables the class to learn in a unified and progressive group situation.
- Finally it enables the instructor to let the group take control and actually dance unassisted by the instructor, rather that simply following the bouncing bottom (which does not ensure learning). This is perhaps the greatest benefit of all.
When I PERFORM on stage to intricate and complex orchestrations, I also enjoy having at least a partially set choreography under my belt. This allows me to comfortably “sit in the pocket” of the major progressions so that I can focus on and react to the minute details, the strengths and soft places and totally invest every aspect of myself into those YUMMY magic moments of the music.
I would like to invite to you to watch a short section of my “Tales of Sahara” instructional choreography DVD and would like to know if you are able to see the music in my movements. I would also like to give a special thanks to my dear friend and fellow artist Jalilah for her latest exquisite contribution to the world of Oriental Music, Volume 6 - In a Beirut Mood. If you don’t have her incredible collection click here for more information: http://www.piranha.de/jalilah
On the other hand, I absolutely ADORE creating movement in the moment that I hear the music being created – the inspired and inspiring ART of IMPROVISATION. It is indeed an art form and requires more knowledge, understanding, practice and confidence than one might realize.
- The most important skills to develop are very acute body awareness and an excellent understanding of technique. After all, our body is our instrument and must be finely tuned if we hope to create beautiful music. Speaking of music, the more you listen to Arabic music the more you can anticipate and sense the progressions before they are played.
- Then, the best way to learn how to improvise is to just do it! Put on your favourite music - yes any old music will do – jazz, hip hop, R&B….. Just empty your mind, get into your body, turn up the volume and move! Let go of all expectations or plans and just notice your body moving, then follow the movements and see where they can go and how they can transform. You may be completely surprised at what you can come up with!
- After you are comfortable with this approach and really having fun with what you are coming up with, try doing this with some easy, simple shaabi/pop Arabic music, then gradually continue to experiment with more complex music until your “expectations” no longer get in the way of your exploration and creation.
- The next step will then be to listen to as much Arabic music as possible, gradually progressing to the orchestral compositions created specifically for Raqs Sharqi and the classics from the Golden Era. Remember, the more you listen, the more you develop your relationship with the music, the more you hear inside of this music, and the more you can anticipate or “feel” what is coming next.
- Finally, if you are among those who live in areas that have a large population of Arabic, Turkish, Persian people, one of the absolutely BEST ways to get comfortable with improvising is to go to their dinner restaurants and dance with the ladies. They will teach you about attitude, expression, sheer fun and even encourage and inspire you to play with them, which is one of the greatest gifts that music and dance bring to us all.
I have selected a few short clips from my Layali Zaman so that you can see some detailed choreographic breakdowns and improvisation tips. I would also like to thank my dear friend and colleague Sahra Saeeda for this lovely music: http://www.sahrasaeeda.com
In closing I would like to address this all too common Question:
Why can some people learn choreographies so quickly and remember them so easily and why can’t I manage to remember them at all?
There is no mystery, there is no secret, there are no “gifted” ones. There is also no one who CAN’T remember. In fact there is no big secret to remembering a choreography. It is simply the same process involved in learning any new complex task. It only takes repetition, repetition and more repetition. In fact, the French word for rehearsal just happens to be repetition.
For more about Oriental dance choreography, I invite you to read my article on the subject: http://www.hadia.com/articles/the-oriental-choreography