Understanding belly dance rhythms

By Ishtar Dance on Monday, November, 25th, 2019 in Dance Coaching, Dance Inspiration, Learning 2 Comments

The importance of understanding belly dance rhythms is not to be underestimated, yet it can be really hard – even for seasoned dancers to get their heads around how these work and not least remembering their names.

Most dancers will know the rhythms perhaps intuitively and therefore improvising to them becomes fairly easy after a while. Yet fully knowing them gives you not only a different level of confidence, but also allows you to break free from the rules and play around with your ‘dums’ and your ‘teks’ when dancing [ie. your drops and your hits].

The JWAAD Understanding Music in Belly Dance is the only nationally accredited course which teaches this and allows students to work with a professional drummer – not only learning how to play the rhythms, but also how to improvise to them and build your own drum solo. But even immersing yourself in the music and the rhythms for several days may not be enough for the rhythms to become engrained in your muscles memory.

One thing that really helped me remembering the names of the different rhythms was learning how to play them on my finger cymbals, but everyone learns in different ways and perhaps you will remember them better depending on the visual structure of the dums [a tip I picked dup from my co-tutor on the recent course].

This video illustrates all these different ways of learning, so even if some of the rhythms can be played slightly differently to how they are in the video, I still think this is a great way to sum up how some of the most [but not all] popular belly dance rhythms are structured. View the video here.

Once you ‘get’ the rhythm you will of course need to dance to it in ordet to get it into your muscles memory. But make sure you practise intelligently as you otherwise might pick up some bad habits. Don’t forget – it’s ten times harder to unlearn bad habits then learning new ones, and practise makes permanent – not necessarily perfect.

Following requests I’m therefore excited to teach a new series of workshops in the New Year working specifically on nailing down the rhythms and dancing to them with confidence. If you’re not already on my mailing-list make sure you register here for all the details of my upcoming ‘Raqs Rhythms’.

Finally, if you want to remember your rhythms make sure you practise them regularly. It’s same as with any other skill – if you don’t use it you’ll loose it. So next time you’re dancing along try deciphering those dums and taqs and see if you can work out the name. You’ll be surprised how actually knowing the rhythm might change the way you dance to it.

How do you work with rhythms as a dancer? Do you go with your muscle memory or have you ever used this ‘deciphering’ approach to perhaps construct a completely unexpected combination or choreography? If you teach belly dance – do you also talk about rhythms to your students? Do you work it into your lesson or do you try to avoid it? Do leave a comment below to share your thoughts and experiences so we can keep the knowledge sharing going.

Happy and confident dancing – always 😉


Did you miss my last post? Read it here:

2 responses to “Understanding belly dance rhythms”

  1. Jennifer Cozart says:

    Thanks for putting up this video. It’s great! I do practice the rhythms on my drum which helps. I sure wish that I could slow down the zills part of this video to break it down because right now, it is pretty daunting watching and listening to the zills here.

    • Ishtar Dance says:

      I know – that’s the downside to this, but if you familiarise yourself with the rhythm and then try playing it slowly and without the video, then I’m sure you’ll get it. There are various apps that you can get that will actually slow the music/audio down for you, so you could play along, but I’m no expert on these so can’t really recommend any. But maybe try looking at the ‘amazing slow-downer’ which I’ve heard lots of good things about, but don’t use myself… Good luck and keep up the daily practise 😉

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