Dancer’s Archives: Classic Drum Solos (DVD & YouTube)

Dancer’s Archives: Classic Drum Solos (DVD & YouTube)

Morocco in Bahlam Beek & Drum Solo – the drum solo starts at minute 7; a solid 3 1/2 minutes.

One of the most fascinating things about watching the really great dancers is their sense of humor – something missing from some of the younger ones.

Morocco accompanies the drummer throughout on this piece with expertly-played zills (at a tempo and with patterns that few dancers today can match). Generally, playing zills during the drum solo is a “no-no.” The idea is that the only musician playing during a musical “solo” is – indeed – the solo musician. Zills are a musical instrument, hence, the dancer should not compete (musically) with the drummer.

However, great dancers can break all the rules.

This one is worth watching.

Dalie Carella opens an improvisation with a drum solo.

Mid-East Darbouka Drum Rhythms

Five drum rhythms: baladi, ayube, masmoudi, malfouf, & karsilama

Malfuf rhythm

Top ten drum rhythms: Maqsoum, Baladi, Ayub, Malfuf, Saidi, Masmoudi, Chiftetelli, Fellahi, Khaleegy, Wahda

Four Ways to Play the Maqsoum, posted Dec. 10, 2016, 7PM.

"Return to the Goddess" by Suzanna del Vecchio – The "Challenge Dance" for Autumn 2012

Return to the Goddess (a Chifti Telli) by Suzanna del Vecchio – The “Challenge Dance” for Alay’nya Studio Members; Autumn, 2012

Challenge Dance for Alay’nya Studio Members: Autumn, 2012

Every quarter we select a different challenge dance: one that is sure to push us to our limits, both technically and artistically. Each challenge dance is one done by a world-class dancer, and available for all to watch via a YouTube clip or other (free) web-based source.

For the Autumn, 2012 quarter, we’re selecting Suzanna del Vecchio’s beautifully-rendered
Return to the Goddess from her DVD, Dances From the Heart. This is set to a beautiful chifti telli by Alan Bachman (Desert Wind).

The music for this dance is the Isis Chiftitelli, on Alan Bachman’s Kali Ma, and is one of the most-loved songs in the Oriental dance community.

Members of the Alay’nya Studio should begin by studying the portion of Suzanna’s dance that they can watch online, and practicing the first minute with her. (This would be up to the point where she starts circling the floor while doing a rib circle.

Be very careful about easing into your backbend. In our class, we’ll modify that aspect of choreography and defer it (for each student) until she can safely and confidently and comfortably do a backbend facing away from the audience (so that when she moves into the backbend itself, she’s looking “back” to see the audience and they can see her face.)

Alay’nya doing a backbend during Red Phoenix. Photo by Crystal Barnes. Used with permission.

Energy Dancing with a "Water Feeling": Flowing and Swirling Motions

Playing with Water Energy in Dance: Flowing and Swirling and “Fluid” Motions

The Autumn Equinox marks the transition from the fire energy of summer to the water energy of fall. The notion of having different “elements” (air, earth, water, and fire) comes from our classic Western European esoteric tradition, which teaches that each quarter is governed by a “suite” (swords, pentacles, cups, and rods), and that each of these “suites” is respectively associated with an “element.”

This is important for us not just because of our Western European cultural heritage, but because these various “suites” also connect us to growth stages identified in the Kabbalah, which is the earliest known “roadmap” for personal growth (leading, potentially, to God-realization). In a much more immediate and practical vein, these various “elements” connect us to a feeling of what is going on in our environments, and to how our bodies react to the changing seasons.


The “Ace of Cups” – the ultimate symbol for water energy.

It makes sense for us to invoke water energy into our lives after the fire energy of summer. This often correlates with what is going on in our weather, as well. After a late summer drought, we get rains once again. September is, in fact, a prime time for hurricanes!

And whether or not we’ve quenched the fire energy of our summer by going to the beach (getting a water energy infusion), by the end of summer, we’re often “burned out.” We desire not only the coolness, but the “swirliness” of water.

Practically speaking, how do we take this into our dance?

There are certain kinds of movements that almost shout water energy to us:

  • “Rounded” movements such as hip circles, rib cage circles, and figure-eights,
  • “Snakey” movements such as snake arms,
  • “Flowing” movements such as many veil patterns – whether done around our bodies while we are in one place, or as we move across the floor.

There are also certain rhythms – or musical sections – that speak a “watery” language to us:

  • Chifti tellis,
  • Taxims, and
  • “Lyrical” beledis.

This autumn, we’ll be studying and building choreographies with each of these different “watery” feelings.

Classic Cassandra – Review of "Cassandra Live" DVD, Vol. 1

“Classic Cassandra” in “Cassandra Live!” DVD – Elegant, Intelligent, Witty!

Let me just come out and say this right away: I just love Cassandra! I’ve been to her Oasis workshops a couple of times, and have treasured the videos (yes, it was video technology back then). I’ve studied them time and again, shown them to my students time and again, and am very much in danger of wearing them out.

So it’s been a healthy and refreshing step to finally get copies of her two performance vids, remastered into DVD format, Cassandra Live!.

Three things characterize Cassandra’s work: Her ebullient, effervescent joie de vivre, her magical sense of humor and whimsy, and her natural grace combined with flowing and connected movements. Taken together, it’s no wonder that she’s widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest exemplars of classic Oriental dance.

This collection of seven dances presents the full gamut of early Cassandra dance styles, ranging from a well-crafted opening Danse Oriental to a deeply moving and dramatic Zar (folkloric dance depicting an exorcism ritual). For a tongue-in-cheek approach, there’s the witty take on the early (mid-1980’s) rock videos, “A Atala Khadra.”

My absolute favorite, though, for showing Cassandra at her warmest, wittiest, and most tongue-in-cheek best, is her second “Danse Orientale” piece (Cut #6), shot in an outdoor location (possibly an early Minneapolis Renaissance Fair). Her “zill duel” with the drummer is both funny and technically inspiring. Her dance, done with live musicians in the relaxed and comfortable setting of a summer festival, is both lively and relaxed, technically flawless and yet supremely comfortable and endearing.

This is why I watch Cassandra – performing as Cassandra Live – time and again.

Her DVD is available through her company website,, although not yet on Amazon. On her website, she offers a 1 1/2 minute “sample clip” – from her “Drum Solo” (Cut #2). Lively and upbeat, this “Drum Solo” gives a great sense of how to improvise with the music, show a full range of emotional expression, and create an exciting moment with the audience. Careful study will reveal many little technical details and subtleties that will enrich the practice of any dancer.

P.S. Cassandra has had hip surgery, and is requesting support from the dance community until she is “back on her feet” once again. Honor Cassandra, and yourself, by supporting her – visit the Cassandra page on the Jawaahir website, and contribute generously today!

Morocco’s "You Asked Aunt Rocky" – Fascinating Read, Significant Contribution!

Morocco’s You Asked Aunt Rocky – A Major Contribution to Dance Ethnography!

Morocco’s You Asked Aunt Rocky – the culmination of years of study, travel, practice, ad writing – has just been released via Lulu. I’ve just submitted a review article to The Belly Dance Chronicles, for their April/May/June issue, and also published a five-star review on, where it already has three other five-star reviews.

Currently, you can order You Asked Aunt Rocky directly from, and it will be available from by March.