When new dancers hear this, it may bring some confused looks. What is musicality? How can new dancers achieve this integral piece to dancing Raqs Sharqi (oriental dance/belly dance)?
No matter what type of musical ear you have (or lack), musicality can be learned. Some people get it right away, while others have to train for years to understand it. Musicality is essential to this dance because there are so many nuances that we can play with in the music.
An important thing to remember is that everyone’s musicality is going to be different. We are all unique and hear the music differently. However, you can use a few tips to help you get started.
Listen to A LOT of MENAHT Music
The first tip is to listen to music. That’s Middle Eastern North African Hellenic Turkish music. I highly discourage listening to Western music, as we are not dancing to this music, especially if you are dancing Raqs Sharqi or folkloric pieces.
By listening to this music constantly and carefully, you will hear different nuances each and every time. Is there call and response elements? Do you hear one instrument louder than the rest? What rhythm is being used, and how? What are the accents? These accents are not just by the percussion section, but by the melodic instruments as well.
Know Your Rhythms
If you are studying or learning Raqs Sharqi, as a professional or hobbyist, you owe it to yourself to learn about the rhythms used. At first, it can be hard to recognize what is what. So, that’s what repetition is for! There are a plethora of rhythm albums available on digital platforms, so this is a great place to start studying your rhythms.
When we know the rhythms being used, we can instantly know how we will dance to them.
Know the Instruments Used in MENAHT Music
Often times, professional and hobby dancers alike tend to focus on the rhythm in a song. While the rhythm tends to be a no brainer to dance to, the instruments that create the melodic elements of the music are just as, if not more, important.
Instruments used in MENAHT music include the rababa, nay, accordian, violin, qanun, mizmar, mijwiz (Zummarah), oud, arghul, and many more. Classify what is a string or wind instrument first. This will help you understand how to convey the instrument’s sound into body movement. Also, make sure you can identify them when you hear them. You can use albums like Aziza’s Taxim Reverie to hear how each instrument is played.
Know How MENAHT Music is Structured
MENAHT music has a structure. First, it doesn’t use chords, but maqam. Maqam is a set of notes meant to convey a feeling. It’s important to have a basic understanding of maqam but it is not a required element for dancing.
Next, there are more notes than in Western music. In a class with Karim Nagi, he said to a Western ear, it may sound off key but it’s a note that is between the notes that we as Westerns know. This makes MENAHT music more rich and varied than Western music.
There is no harmony in MENAHT music, as we have in Western music. When listening to music, you will notice how all the instruments play the same notes together. Sometimes, one instrument will be louder than the others. You may also hear “call and response” which is a typical musical format in African music. One instrument calls out, and you will hear a group of instruments answer it.
When in Doubt….
Find a reputable teacher to help you. Your teacher should have, at the very least, a good understanding of how MENAHT music is structured and the rhythms. If the teacher can’t identify the musical elements in the song or just throw movements onto the music without purpose, find another teacher. They should be able to guide you through the process to training your ear for dance.
Gaining musicality doesn’t have to be a difficult journey. Think of it as a new and exciting adventure into the many facets of dance to gain a better understanding as a dancer. The more you know, the better dancer you will become!
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