Welcome to bellydance class! If you're taking Farha's level one class, you'll want to add finger cymbals around the time you start your second or third unit of class. Here's what to look for, and how to get three different sounds out of your cymbals.
Bellydancers have come up with some incredible stories to explain the origins of our dance. And while we can know a lot about the past century, the further back we go, the blurrier the picture gets. In her article about bellydance urban legends, Shira asks "Why can't we accept that the earliest origins of Oriental dance are lost in time?" I propose the following, as a way to create some sense of resolution around this issue.
You are bound to come across some version of the phrase "bellydance as we know it today", which generally means raqs sharki as it has been performed leading up the golden era and recorded in early Egyptian cinema. This style was popular with the concert halls and it formed from the dances of the awalim and Ottoman court dancers.
As Dr. Deagon points out, we tend to want to simplify the past, conceptualizing it as straight roads, with no on or off ramps. Instead (and in light of the ancient tradition of trade, the legacies of empires expanding and falling, to say nothing of colonialism) I recommend thinking of the timeline of bellydance as a series of rivers and streams that merge and diverge, mixing together and forging their own paths. Liquids are made of lots of molecules that stick together, and are always moving. Think of it, you can never look at the same river twice.
The following is a reader's digest/compilation of three articles, "Fact or Fiction: Which Belly Dance Urban Legends Should You Believe?" By Shira, "'The Oldest Dance'? Really???" also by Shira, and "In Search of the Origins of Dance: Real History, or Fragments of Ourselves" by Andrea Deagon, PhD., as well as my own thoughts stitching them together. The water cycle analogy is also my own. I've combined and condensed them in an effort to make it easier for new dancers to get solid footing on the issue of bellydance's history, without feeling too overwhelmed. Enjoy!
It can seem like an overly intellectualizing exercise to differentiate between many different styles of bellydance, and there are a lot of contentious discussions about what makes a style of dance and when something ceases to be bellydance anymore. While it is understandable why one would want to avoid that kind of conversation there are many reasons for learning about the different styles of bellydance. Selfish reasons, practical reasons, and socially conscientious reasons.
First, let's differentiate between bellydance and Middle Eastern dance. Many styles of bellydance, but not all, are Middle Eastern dance, and a fair few styles of Middle Eastern dance are bellydance, but far from the majority. Nadira has a wonderful diagram that makes more sense of in a smaller space than my rambling about it will. It's also worth noting that in order to talk about one style or another, you HAVE to talk about the time period you're referring to. Differentiating between Turkish and Egyptian style, at least as enjoyed by the upper classes, would be useless if you're looking during the Ottoman empire when fashionable entertainment was Turkish. But during the 1960's, for example, the two countries had very different styles.
Also, remember that there is no value judgement in differentiating styles. I advocate doing it so we can appreciate each style's unique contributions and beauty, not in order to berate anyone into a mold.
It's a good idea to learn to do more than one style, but there's a lot of them! At the very least we should all learn about all the different manifestations of bellydance. Now, down to the reasons why it's worth it!
As bellydancers, we do a lot of jobs that for some other performers would be spread out amongst a team. We are our own stylists and sometimes our own costume makers, wardrobe masters, dressers, our own hair dressers and makeup artists, our own web designers, copy writers, publicists, agents and negotiators, our own choreographers (loosely speaking ^_~), artistic directors, sound editors, prop masters, producers, and stage managers. Each of these jobs in a theatre production would have their own kit to bring with them to each show, the tools they need to ensure the show runs smoothly. Luckily, we don't have to haul all of those kits with us everywhere we go! So what are the most important things to have with you at a gig?
Some dancers I know take a single shoulder bag containing just their wallet, skirt, belt, veil, and cymbals with their costume bra already on. I am on the other end of the spectrum, having been both a wardrobe head and stage manager for theatrical productions I tend to be the one that can rescue fellow performers backstage if needed. More often, I can rescue myself!
For the TL;DR crowd, there's a list at the bottom ^_~
Congratulations on signing up for your first workshop! Workshops are different from regular classes for a few reasons: there will likely be more people than your regular class, the lesson will last longer, the information will probably be more concentrated, and there's a different teacher- which means different expectations. Here are some tips to prevent you from being "that girl".
You might be thinking to yourself that you're never going to learn Arabic, so why learn the letters? Or maybe you want to learn the language but find the prospect of putting sounds into new shapes is too daunting. Knowing the basics is very helpful for bellydancers. First, it makes remembering song titles, dance styles, rhythm names, and names of famous composers and dancers MUCH easier when you can pronounce them. Second, you'll be able to make sense of why one word can be spelled so many different ways. It turns out that it's not arbitrary (well, usually. It depends on who is writing) there are simply a variety of solutions for transliterating sounds we don't have in English from Arabic.