It not very often that bellydancers have the opportunity to work with professional live musicians and drummers, but once you do, something magical is likely to happen, not only to your dancing, but also your confidence! Most dancers shy away from live-drumming workshops and events, because it feels so alien to get up and dance with a live musician. But it’s the essence of bellydance and every dancer who’s serious about her or his dancing should make the most of these opportunities, because they will really push you and your dancing.
The nature of bellydance is at its core – improvisation. Originating as a folk dance it would be performed at parties, gatherings, anywhere where people would get together to have a good time, play some music and then eventually dance. I believe the urge to dance is in all human DNA, and you really only need a good beat, hence the drum being the original instrument, not only for bellydance, but most other folk and tribal dances.
In our modern society we’re used to recorded music, or musicians playing a set tune, which we can only but follow. It goes back to concert hall times, and has been carried through to all recorded music. But when a dancer gets up to dance with a live band or a drummer, it become fully interactive! It’s no longer a question of following the music, it becomes a partnership where the drummer and the dancer work together to mould the music and performance into the best that it can be. Yes, this is improvisation at its best, and that’s also what may seem so scary to many people.
So why would you want to put yourself out there and dance to something you don’t know, and you aren’t quite sure you can follow? Well, once you’ve done so a few times you’ll experience the pure thrill and joy that it gives you and you’ll never want to go back! It gives you a sense of control and confidence, that you can build on for any future performance, whether to recorded or live music. There are only a few things you need to know before getting up there to dance. I cover these in much more detail in my Dance Development Course for intermediate to professional dancers, but here are some of the key elements.
When working with a drummer, or an entire band, you are as already mentioned venturing into a partnership. You become part of the band, as the band becomes a part of your performance. Together you will create the magic that is the full performance. Any partnership requires respect, trust and time to develop, in order to get the most out of it. You may not have much time to practise or rehearse with your musician, but every minute counts, and it only takes a few goes before you’ll start reading each others signals and cues. Communication is key, and it helps if you know your Egyptian rhythms, not only so you can respond better, but also when talking to the drummer about the structure of the music for your dance.
When you dance with a live drummer, you are in many aspects controlling the music. One of the most important things to keep in mind, is that the drummer wants you to look as good as possible, so he/she will do their best to follow you. If you want to slow the rhythm down to for example go into a break, you will need to prepare (or pose just for a few seconds) before you melt into the slower pace. Likewise if you want to speed things up and go into some fast hip drops, you prepare, allowing the drummer to do the same, and then start on those drops. If the drummer doesn’t get the beat of the drop he/she will look like they’re behind you, but likewise you also need to understand the structure of the music, so the drummer has time to capture that beat for you. With only a little bit of practise you’ll be surprised to find how easy it is to control the music like this, but you will need to stick to your guns, and keep doing the dance moves you want. This feeling of control can be quite intoxicating, and it will leave you on a real high afterwards. It will give you masses of self-confidence, and it’s the confidence during the dancing (or faking it if you need to), that will make the experience even better. In many ways, dancing with live musicians is the ultimate confidence boosting exercise.
In Egypt, most professional dancers will have their own band, but that is not a luxury many dancers have in other parts of the world. So try to grab any opportunity you can to experience dancing with professional musicians. If you are new to it, you may want to start out with a few workshops on the subject. Checkout both the JWAAD Summer School, and the Fantasia Festival, where several workshops tend to be on offer with experienced drummers. Check out your local area for workshops or events too. The Arabic Quarterly offers the opportunity to perform with a live band at their shows in London, a rare treat which any professional, semi-professional or even recreational dancers should allow themselves to experience. I am also working on a few live musicians events, so if you’re not already on my mailing list, do sign up so you don’t miss out on any limited workshop and course places.
If you’re already a seasoned dancer, who’s danced with live musicians several times before, then head to Egypt. There are some brilliant musicians based in the UK and Europe, but even they have to admit that Egyptian musicians are playing at a totally different level. Dancing with a full Egyptian band is really something special. You can see a video of me improvising with a live Egyptian band here.
Finally, if you still think it’s too scary to go up there and dance with music ‘out of your control’, then remember that even professional dancers, who have performed with their own orchestra in Egypt for years, find it just as nerve racking to perform to a CD! Having been used to their musicians following their moves and knowing their style, they are literally slaves to recorded music, like we all are. So next time you have the opportunity to free yourself from a pre-record and explore a truly interactive dance experience, promise me you have a go…
I hope you found this article useful, and I’d love to hear what your thoughts are in the comments below. Have you danced with live musicians before? How did you find the process of shaping a performance? Have you got any tips you’d like to share with your fellow dancers? Do you know of any events coming up where people can get a flavour of dancing with live music? I look forward to hearing from you, so we can keep the knowledge sharing going. Happy dancing always 🙂
Did you miss my last post? Read it here: Do babies dance?