Level Two: 1.1 Oud, Kanun, and Veil
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
welcome to the melodic musicality semester! For anyone who didn't get this as an introductory student, here's my guide for picking out and getting used to finger cymbals.
I start teaching phrasing with call and response because I think the change between them helps to draw attention to the end of one "sentence" and the start of another. However, a call and response can have more than one sentence in it, like the sample from "Bel Arabi" and a few of the others we used in class. I start with call and repeat to ease everyone into improvising. Listen to your favorite MENAHT songs this week, and try to notice when a call and repeat happens. Also, review ways you can do variations on a movement/movement family, and think of how you can use those variations to change a combination that fits the call to better suit the response. Is the response more orchestrated than the call? You might make your movement bigger, smoother, or take the shape and travel with it. Is the call coming from an airy instrument but the response sounds earthy? In that case, how can you ground the movements used to translate the call, so they better reflect the response?
Again, remember that these things are not meant to nail you down to a single right answer, they are there to help you generate ideas, to feel confident in your choices, and to help you become acquainted with music, incase you didn't grow up listening to it.
Instrument of the Week
We're starting with the "plucked" family of instruments, which includes the kanoon, oud, bouzuki, guitar, saz, bouzuk (different instrument from the bouzuki), and all of the percussion instruments that we'll learn about during the rhythm semester.
We also talked about takeem (also spelled taqasim, taqsim, takseem, taxim, etc, etc). There is a structure to it, but that's pretty technical and for now you should just be aware that it is the musician following their feeling and displaying artistry. One interesting thing, it means "division" in Arabic, and something along the lines of "bridge/connection" in Turkish. It is often used to create a smooth transition from one song to another, especially if there is a maqam (mode/scale/key) change from one song to the next.
The Kanoun has levers that let the musician switch maqam, and has a bright sound. It makes me want to shimmy, but this is a fairly modern-style response. You can also follow along with the rising and falling melody. Even if you do respond with a shimmy, I recommend layering it over smooth moves that follow the melody, and speeding up or slowing down your shimmy as the musician speeds up or slows down their playing.
We also worked with the warm tones of the oud. This is a fretless for-runner of the guitar. In my opinion, it has a warm and relaxed sound.
Watching the musician play can give you ideas for how to dance to an instrument.
You can also hear how the sound of the oud impacts familiar songs
Prop of the Week
If you're in this class, you've been doing raks sharki/dans oryantal for over a year. So it's time to deepen your background information and get you more context for the things you see in bellydance. This semester, each email will have some background information about a different prop, and this week that prop is VEIL!
Here's an account from Shira, from an old article about the fantasy origins of the "dance of the 7 veils":
"So, Did Anyone Actually Dance With Veils in the Middle East?
In the Middle East, a "veil" was (and still is) a modesty garment which was worn to shield a respectable Muslim woman from the prying eyes of male strangers. It would be unthinkable to use a "veil" as a prop in a dance performance, and even more unthinkable for such a dance performance to incorporate removal of seven veils until the dancer stands on stage totally nude.
Before the 20th century, women in the Middle East performed Oriental dance fully clothed in normal, everyday garb. There was no such concept as a dance "costume". The dancers who performed at weddings, saints' day festivals, and other events simply wore the same type of clothing as everyone else.
Nightclubs arose in Egypt and Lebanon in the first part of the 20th century to satisfy the hunger that British, French, and other European visitors had to see the local dancers. Catering to their expectations, dancers began to adopt the type of costuming that Hollywood had invented: the bra/belt/skirt ensemble. But still the dancers did not do any kind of "veil" dancing.
According to research performed by the dancer Morocco, in the 1940's (nearly half a century after Oscar Wilde hatched his notion of the "dance of the seven veils"), Samia Gamal whisked on stage carrying a large piece of fabric. This was the first known occurrence of a "real" Oriental dance artist using a length of fabric as a dance prop. She did it because she was taking dance lessons from Anna Ivanova (a famous Russian ballerina), and Ivanova had instructed her to use the fabric as a way of improving her arm carriage.
It's important to emphasize that neither Samia Gamal nor the Egyptian dancers who later followed her example have ever referred to their pieces of fabric as "veils", and they have never worn them as a garment to be removed. Instead, Egyptian dancers hold the fabric in their hands as they enter, swirl it around to the music, and quickly discard it before moving into the main content of their performance."
We'll get into different styles of raks sharki/dans oryantal in another semester. I will note that dancers, even in Samia's day, would wear a stage-version tarha (a long head covering that resembles one kind of modesty veil) during certain character dances, but they wouldn't dance with it in the same way we dance with a bellydance-veil. I included the above passage as a simplified orientation, but of course it is always more complicated than that!
Now that we've got some basic info about veil taken care of, here'e the eye candy!
First, Samia in a theatrical piece.
Samia in color! In the second half she uses a chiffon veil
and Taheyya Karioka with super long fabric.
Mona Said's unique take on the veil
Souheir with some fun fabric choices (oh, the 80s! lol)
Fifi entering with a Cape, a sort of cousin of the veil
Veil in the vintage Turkish style. I am still looking for information to determine if veil dancing in Turkish style was introduced and elaborated on from Egypt, if dancing with large pieces of fabric was a convergent evolution, or if Turkish dancers brought it back from the US after dancers here developed the oriental fantasy style that was popular in the 60s/70s.
Here is the amazing Turkish dancer, Tulay Karaca.
A languid Am Cab veil to a Turkish song. Am-cab dancers would enter and dance a lively song with the veil wrapped around themselves, then remove it and dance with it as the second song.
Here is an example of the veil section of a traditional 5 part am cab routine (more on the styles another semester, and more on the parts of a set in yet another semester).
Corey Zamora, doing a mini-routine in the Am Cab style:
Layla Isis, playing cymbals AND dancing with veil at the same time! (I have not trained up to do this. But I will do my best to teach you to hold your veils in a way that will make this possible for you to learn.)
Aziza of Montreal
Mariyah, demonstrating what TO DO when your veil misbehaves, and it is inevitable that it will misbehave sometimes.
I couldn't pick just one clip of Aziza <3
Some examples of veil in modern American styling. Silk is often the favorite these days, although you do still see chiffon. You also sometimes see two veils used, called double veil. Dancers often go for a surprise reveal of the second veil.
Some modern Egyptian styling: in this style, as in vintage Egyptian, the veil is usually entered with before being discarded fairly early, if it is used at all.
And veil in a modern theatrical piece
Song of the Week
Lastly, From level 2 on I will also include one "must know song" per week. These are picked based on how important they are to know, not so much based on how easy they are for dancing to. In the future, I hope to have more info about each song up on my site. For now, I'll just include playlists of each song. The more versions of a song you listen to, the easier it is to hear the parts that stay the same and the parts bands like to change. More on that next semester, when I send info about working with live music ^_^
For this week, the song is Aziza, it was in this film (although not the song in this clip. The original footage has been taken down), where Naima Akef's character dances to it, but it is a very popular piece and you can find versions of it in just about every style of bellydance music imaginable.