Disclaimer: I received this DVD as part of a give-away on Bhuz from Michelle Joyce, the producer.

I was excited to receive Icing on the Drum Solo for free and early, because I am a huge fan of Lotus Niraja (and we’re both from the same area). This DVD offers much more than drum solo information. Lotus Niraja is very charming and fun throughout the DVD’s narration. She is also very clear on her explanations, even including a section of the DVD devoted to some of her terminology. This dance form has no universal codification, so this section was helpful to learn what she meant

The DVD is aimed at intermediate dancers, I believe. Some of its strengths are:

  • The gestures section was well-done. It included explanations of how the gestures can communicate to others. I think that they apply not only to drum solos but really performance in general.
  • The choreography is fun and challenging. I had to rewind a part or two, but that is the beauty of a DVD.
  • Lotus showed several ways that choreography could be performed. It was shown as a solo, duet, and troupe performance.
  • There was an emphasis on really making the choreography your own. Although I don’t plan on performing this choreography, I think that it’s a good reminder that you are not obligated to do everything exactly how she does that. It is a subtle point, but I feel like that gives more value to this choreography, because some people are not comfortable performing a DVD choreography in public.
  • As always, Cheeky Girls Productions hits it out of the park with its high quality production. The audio is clear, the video is shot in a way that is easy to use.

Some of the weakness of the DVD are:

  • Not all topics on the DVD fit within the concept of a drum solo DVD. There were special sections about dancing in heels, Lebanese cane, and performance information. The latter two could have easily been on separate DVDs. I think even the gestures sections, though relevant to the DVD, could have been its own topic. Perhaps they were testing the waters with those sections?
  • Inclusion of other drum solo information. This is really a part b to the first point in this section. Stuff like working with a live drummer would’ve been interesting and relevant.

This DVD will be revisted by me this winter. I definitely recommend this one.

Najmat (my current teacher) hosted Diana Tarkan of Egypt this past Saturday for a workshop. I attended merely out of recommendation and trusting Najmat’s taste; I’ve only heard of Diana Tarkan in passing.

Diana Tarkan is really amazing. She’s very sunny and smiley (I think she smiled during the entire workshop). Her explanations were very good, even if what she wanted us to do was difficult. One of the issues with taking lessons with dancers from Egypt is that they have the “follow the bouncing butt” method, eg. they don’t have names for moves, their English skills vary, and you have to follow along. The other, general dancer issue (or really, anyone who is excellent at anything) is that some people are fabulous dancers but not so great at teaching. None of these things were issues with Diana Tarkan. She is a true professional.

I really like how she did a theme of “in and out” with the movements. Some of these were new, some of these I’ve seen before (not saying I mastered the ones I’ve seen before). She explained the essence of the moves, really driving home the point of how to execute each move. I like that she talked about using footwork; for me, that is ironically one my weakest points. I don’t feel that my teachers have emphasized it as much as the torso articulations. However, the feet can drive the rest of the body, which is what Diana was demonstrating. The workshop all in all was challenging; most people were sweating like crazy at the end.

Everyone had a great time, despite the difficult material (or maybe because of). I hope Diana Tarkan comes back to Boston; I have the feeling she could teach here for a year and still have loads more to teach.

DaVid of Scandinavia suggested his book to me on Bhuz, when I wanted to come up with a means of cateogrizin my own moves. I like DaVid’s dancing, and he knows a lot of stuff. Besides, an ebook is only $15. Not too pricey. I did consider buying the print version, but at $40+shipping, I decided that the ebook was a better deal for me.

I started out with what’s called the EDA Handbook For Middle Eastern Dance. The EDA is the Ethnic Dance Academy, also known as DaVid’s dance school in San Diego. The book is full of goodies. It takes you through many aspects of Egyptian oriental, discussing history, technique, performance stuff (improv, how to choreograph), and professional career (teaching and/or dancing). It’s breadth is the best aspect of this book. It takes you through everything. Obviously, in 90some pages, the book isn’t an in-depth look at Egyptian Oriental, but the taste it gives is helpful. For newer dancers, I can see this book helping them understand what all is involved. The dance isn’t simply about wearing a costume and looking cute. I love how DaVid goes over the fact it’s important to practice, even the basics.

For dancers who are more well-seasoned, this book goes over nuances that can take you to the proverbial next level. DaVid writes very frankly about what it means to be a professional dancer and instructor. If you lack guidance in these areas, I’m sure the book would be helpful to read. Unless you spend a lot of time on message boards, I’m not sure where you would get this information, besides trial and error.

The only aspects of the book I would say were lacking are the technique explanations and this chart in the back. The technique explanations I found a little confusing. Perhaps it’s because I’m not familiar with DaVid’s teaching or that I don’t learn movement merely through reading. DaVid does provide some diagrams of the moves, but I’m not sure if I’d know what he was talking about if I didn’t know the move to begin with. I wouldn’t use this book to learn technique. I doubt DaVid intends for this book to be a means of learning technique.

The chart in the back was a very smart idea; it shows how everyone is interconnected. However, I found that confusing to read.

Despite those two issues, the wealth of information I got out of this book was worth it. I’m sure a print copy would be nice, but I’m squeezing pennies right now. David writes in an easy-going style. I hope he pens more books. I definitely recommend checking this one out to get an overall view of being a Middle Eastern dancer.

I began looking at my calendar of what I’m taking, workshop-wise, in the near future. Chicago is lucky to have so much Middle Eastern dance. Over the course of April and May, I plan on attending:

  • Mohammed Shahin, teaching raqs sharqi and assaya (cane)
  • Fan veil and the second part of Sonya’s choreography workshop at Arabesque
  • Shaabi workshop with Kimahri at Arabesque
  • Hadia workshops whose topics include Khaleegi and Turkish Rom at Pineapple Dance Studio
  • Dina workshop somewhere near OHare, sponsored by Little Egypt

I’ve slowly signed up for these things (and still need to sign up for a few of them) to defray the cost a little; I think if I added up how much I’m spending, it would scare me. Unfortunately there are overlaps (Deb Rubin sponsored by Christina King with the Mohammed Shahin, Aradia in Milwaukee with Dina) and had to choose not to attend certain ones for cost (Tempest and Tim Rayborn at Arabesque in June). It’s nice to be able to pick and choose, though.

Although my weekends are booked solid, I really look forward to immersing myself that much in dance.  Is anyone else planning on going to these events?

I enjoyed my lesson with Aradia so much that I decided to check out Aradia’s DVD, Oriental Dance By Aradia. Besides being a fan of Aradia now, I was interested in the content, since the DVD covers Egyptian, Turkish, and Lebanese dance.

The beginning introduction gave a general overview of Middle Eastern dance and the goals of this DVD. I liked this, because she is a seasoned dancer. She mentions that the dancer is 60% emotional, 40% technique; when I met her, she told me that. I think that is important to keep in mind. I get so into getting the technique right sometimes, I forget to relax and enjoy and feel the music.

The next section was a warmup section. It was slightly odd that she did a voiceover instead of talking while addressing it. She does address the audience in the combos section.

The first style Aradia covers is Egyptian. I like that she shows a demo of Egyptian dance while she voiceovers what is Egyptian dance. Similarly, Aradia introduces the Lebanese and Turkish sections this way.

One of the strongest points of this DVD is the knowledge passed by. Not only is there a brief intro of each type, but also she shares a little bit of info while showing the combo; for instance, one of the Egyptian combos she mentions that it’s a Samia Gamal move. I also really like that Aradia tells the dancer where the weight should be (left or right) and mentions foot positions. Another nice feature is that after teaching the combo, Aradia demonstrates the combo to music.

The combo teaching I’m not sure how I feel yet. She does the combos broken down both forward and backward. She then performs the combo together without and then with music. She doesn’t do a lot of repeats in either direction. I was able to follow, but if you prefer to work slower, perhaps you should note what she did first and then try it (that’s what I’m planning on doing). Having not worked through DVDs much, I’m not sure if this is the nature of them or a stylistic choice. I’m not sure personally what I prefer yet. Aradia covers a lot of combos in 1.5 hours. I like that she is giving me my money’s worth by covering so much, rather than repeating 2 combos for a long time. However, you will most likely have to repeat the sections in order to learn them.

While I know the DVDs for dance are geared towards dancing, I wish there had been more history information in this DVD. I personally love the academic side of Middle Eastern dance. Aradia, from what I know, did a good job of going over this.

This DVD is definitely not for the beginning dancer. I do think it is excellent for a more intermediate to advanced dancer. This DVD is definitely something I will watch again and learn from.

Aida Nour, for those of you unfamiliar, is an Egyptian dancer who was part of Mahmoud Reda’s dance troupe. The significance of that is they were the group that researched Egyptian folk dances and theatricized them. Below is a video of Aida Nour.

Workshops are an interesting experience, because you see parred down versions of everyone. A few of the show’s performers participated in the Sunday workshop. While they are still beautiful, it is strange to see them not in glitter, sequins, and full makeup. There were no divas, which is nice, because some of these women are instructors and highly regarded, yet they are happy to be students. They’re very nice, too, to everyone. Aida Nour was very nice; she had a grandmotherly feel and while she demanded us to do well, she wasn’t mean and welcomed questions.

The workshop was about shaabi and Melaya Leff choreography. Shaabi music is music more by and for the poorer people. It is often, from what I’ve been told, a bit more offensive than other pop music in Egypt. Melaya Leff is simply a dance with woman going to the market in a dress and flirting with this heavy black veil that she uses to wrap and unwrap herself. Below is a Melaya Leff piece.

There was not a lot of technique breakdown (Aida’s style is to simply have everyone follow, no direction; we occasionally got which foot should be where and what move she was doing). I wish there would’ve also been more passing down knowledge, such as cultural reference information and attitude. From what I understand, Melaya Leff is coy, but I’m not sure what attitude a dancer using shaabi should take. None of the moves were new, but they were done slightly differently and the combination were different.

Besides gaining a good workout, what I got out of this workshop is the simplicity of these choreographies. Even if I couldn’t get something right away, nothing was layered a lot, ie. shimmy while traveling and undulating with snake arms. They were also repetitive, but it worked. I know I’m horribly guilty of not repeating enough in my choreographies. The choreographies only used a few moves but were interesting.

Depending on what you wish to gain from the workshop, I may hesitate to recommend it. I don’t think I could perform a Melaya Leff, honestly. However, I did walk away with a new view on some moves and hopefully a stronger body.