Archive for finger cymbals zills

Have a seat, and dance!

So I’m injured at the moment, but dance class is tonight and I’m excited! It’s the new year, first class, and I can’t wait to get back after two weeks off.

Since I can’t dance until my knee is fully healed, I plan on teaching a bit of a sit-down class tonight – yes, my student are going to be sitting in chairs for part of the class! Not for them to study and take notes, but to go over upper body movements, arm and hand cues, etc.

If you need ideas on how to teach dance while injured, or maybe just a new idea for class material, check out my plan:


Warm up and stretch torso 

  • Shoulder lifts, thrusts, shimmies
  • Arm undulations
  • Rib isolations

1. Cymbal Rhythm Game: 4-count follow me (I play a random cymbal pattern for four counts, then students imitate.)

2. TOBD combos*:

  • Rib Circle
  • Head Slides/Circle
  • Slow Arms
  • Temple Arms

 *while facing front, then in circle, then duets.

3. Eye Contact in pairs (for 30 – 60 seconds. This is a great exercise to make Duet pairs more engaged when dancing together.)

Since I also teach Oriental Raks Sharki, we’ll go over upper body combinations from our current choreographies as well.

So that’s my plan to keep things ticking while I have to sit this out! If you have other questions or ideas on teaching while injured leave me a message in the comments.

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hips in action again

Some of my PRISM Dancers and I did a bit of TOBD in our show at the local multicultural fair yesterday. We used Sirocco’s “Intro” track because it fit in so well with the rural Egyptian music we used for our folkloric choreographies. And of course playing the finger cymbals fits right in too.
I was happy to see my hip moves coming back, I’ve been working on getting them big and clear enough; so I was happy to see this little video, courtesy of Siyala’s family.
We’re all in beledi dresses: no costume changes because it was a short 30-minute show. This also demonstrates how well Tribal Odyssey synchronized improv fits into a show that includes other styles of belly dancing. We began with this TOBD number, then went right into Ghawazee, Raks Assaya; American Oriental; slow TOBD and Tribal Sword; American Belly Dance again; then Interpretive (a fun basket dance). The dresses are a compromise between glitzy and folky – we all stayed onstage through the entire show. So convenient!

by Anthea (Kawakib)

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we take care of each other

Tribal wisdom is gained by experience

We help others create good memories when we dance together

Each performance is a chance to create good memories, and build trusted connections between each other.

In Improv Tribal Style each performance is different – anything can happen; often we have a brand new experience with a certain turn, or move, or transition between moves – you never know! That’s one of the reasons I love tribal improv so much. It’s fresh and different every time.

A group choreography works with any dancer, interchangeably – as long as she knows it and performs it correctly; whereas each particular dancer impacts the entire group in “follow the leader” dancing. Each dancer can express her personality freely. She can lead gently, wildly, do the same moves and transitions each time, or put odd combinations together; always include turns, or lead-changes, circles, etc.

So I love the feel of different energies in tribal bellydance, the various looks, faces, bodies, personalities that make up a tribe. We’re recognizable as a group yet each person has their own unique way of going.
In tribal society the older care for the younger, guiding them and showing them how to handle the world – or the performance; protecting them until the younger are strong enough to pull their weight as a leader.

“Elder” is not just a term of age, but signifies someone who “knows much” in a tradition; someone who can answer questions because of their earned knowledge.

This performance trio of widely differing experience levels tickles me because I see Galiyah calmly carrying on and gently leading the other two, who are still “young” in terms of performing. In fact, neither of them are playing cymbals during this performance, yet they’re dancing to ONLY finger cymbals. Only Galiyah and I are playing – this is something new for the others and they seem quite comfortable because they trust the leader.

When I watch these dancers, one very experienced and comfortable in Tribal Odyssey, having danced it for over a decade, with the two others with much less experience, I see an elder taking care of the tribe.

It’s natural, comfortable, and ageless.

I also love the family feel of hearing the kids (and dad) during filming!
Is this like your tribal experience?
by Anthea Kawakib
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drills for zills

On your own?

you can still drill your way to zill skills

My regular students get to pull out their finger cymbals every week, and that’s one of the reasons they all learn to play. Playing cymbals isn’t something you can do just now and then and expect to get any better. You need regular practice to really get it!

To make it even easier for them, since we only get a few minutes in class, I filmed the dance combinations that include finger cymbals, for both slow and fast combos.

Several years ago my original partner Miramar created a choreography called “Zill Drill to Fulfill” using our tribal combinations to engage her own students and develop their skill at playing cymbals. More recently, the fantastic Nina Amaya’s troupe Aubergine also created a drill using these combinations to increase their own “zill skills” as well.

It’s true that these TOBD combinations featuring cymbals are the easiest way to help students learn to play. If you want to learn to dance with cymbals try the Slow Combos drill:

if you’re familiar with playing cymbals and just want to hone your strokes or increase your speed, follow the Fast Combo drill:

Try it yourself and see – follow-me drills are the easiest way to get better at playing finger cymbals!

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easiest way to learn finger cymbals in tribal improv

I’m a very linear thinker in some ways, but in others, totally holistic. Every now and then these two tendencies cross, and one takes precedence… I’m a pisces, so that’s my excuse!

Recently I was thinking about this as it pertains to playing cymbals in Tribal Odyssey Bellydance versus Oriental style, also known as Raks Sharki, nightclub, or cabaret bellydance.

The videos I put online a couple of years ago (the ones in the free playlist on “how to play finger cymbals”) follow the linear method, starting at the baseline and working up little by little. BUT, in TOBD we learn by doing – a very different method. I think it’s more fun, and actually much easier!

Whenever my newer dancers put on finger cymbals for the first time, they can just dance along as usual, without playing. Since they’ve already been dancing our format for at least 6 months by this point, they have developed muscle memory. Another plus is that they may have been hearing cymbals playing while they danced if other more advanced dancers are with us (or even just me).

When they’re comfortable with how the cymbals feel on their hands, they can start adding the “Muted Beledi Accents” on the two slow combos, Small Hip Circle and Reverse Flat-8. That is plenty to do right there. And of course, whenever they lead the group they don’t have to play their cymbals. It’s much more important for them to do the movements correctly so we can follow them easily. So the rest of us (or just me) can keep playing cymbals while they lead.

It’s a FABULOUS way to learn finger cymbals! As their playing skills grow, and they’re able to play and dance at the same time, we add other cymbal patterns, usually the Singles on the Large Hip Circle; and the 2-2-5 on the Back Undulation and Rolling Hips. It really works well!

screenshot of video

follow-me drills

Another plus is that the cymbal patterns help anchor the movements in time, hooking the combinations onto the beat. Especially the patterns that actually start on count one, with the combo – kind of hard to explain unless you do group improv. But what this does, is make it easier for people who have trouble hearing the beat in music, or don’t understand counting time, to grasp what this means, and what it feels like. I think it makes a big, big difference!

I’ve added a Drill Video on my channel for new finger cymbal players here. It’s taken from behind us as we dance so you can follow along; and just listen to the cymbal patterns, or add them in a little at a time. You can follow this Drill Video  playing finger cymbals with the Slow Combos (the easiest to start); and next I’ll add a Drill Video on the Fast Combos with cymbals. Stay tuned!

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taste of tribal for a local studio show

The local dance studio where I teach a morning Bellydance Basics class is having a Holiday show and invited me to perform. Solos are great but I want to showcase my students so I’m bringing four of my advanced dancers along for the fun. It’s December, so of course the show is “Nutcracker” and we’re to be the “Arabian Nights” dream element. After considering our repertoire I settled on doing a Tribal Odyssey number because we can start slow and dreamy with veils, then discard them and continue with finger cymbals for excitement. This seems like the best use of our short time slot, rather than doing one of our choreographed routines.

The song we’re using is “Aphrodite’s Mysteries” from Dolphina’s Goddess Workout cd.  We usually use this song for a short and easy Veil Dance; but for this performance of TOBD it’s perfect because it starts slowly and quietly, then builds throughout the song to a faster tempo at the end. It also features the wonderful John Bilezikjian on oud, so what could be better!

I love dancing with my performers, and I’m glad we’re doing Tribal for this appearance. Doing Tribal Improv feels so different than doing group choreography. I’ve been in a lot of shows and a lot of group numbers – too many to count; first with Topkapi Troupe, then my own troupe Pearls of Rhythm. I always enjoyed the group numbers, but the feeling I get with tribal improv is different.

Group choreographies always feel like a “job of work” to be done: if the number goes well, that’s great; if not, we have a story to tell and things to work. But with tribal bellydance – and I mean “group improv” – there’s a feeling of FUN… almost like you’re in a performing game. It’s hard to describe exactly. Each performance is different and you never really know what’s going to happen. There are times we wish the performance had gone differently, and there are plenty of times one or more of us (myself included!) makes a mistake in cueing, timing, or whatever. But I love the fact that when we dance together, we’re all creating a unique performance on the spot, and it will never be the same again. Like shaking a kaleidoscope – always different, always pretty, and always “perfect” in the moment.


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and the “plan” worked, better than expected!

At the downtown sidewalk art-fest “Art Attack Fredericksburg” yesterday,we were armed with minimal weapons: a drum, our finger cymbals, and our creativity.

Our “attack plan” was pretty loose: using no recorded music, and dancing only to the beat of our finger cymbals, four of us PRISM Dancers performed Tribal Odyssey as follows:

  1. start as a group circle,
  2. break into duets,
  3. come together in a group circle,
  4. repeat steps 1 – 3 until “done”.

We also added another audience favorite, the Basket Dance. Since I’m the only one who can hold a strong and steady rhythm on the doumbek, I provided the basic Arabic set of  Masmoudi Kebir / Segir, and Ayub so my dancers Galiyah, Nashida, and Al-‘Anqa could get busy with the baskets.

And that is the performance set that we took up and down Caroline Street, stopping wherever there was a bit of shade and room, and of course checking first with any artists working in the vicinity. We didn’t knock over any easels!

It was a great experience, even though dancing on cement is hard on the body, it was worth it just to demonstrate that we could deliver a unique, impressive, and creative performance of group bellydancing.

An artistic “plus” was the fact that we had also hand-crafted most of our costuming too. Here’s a quick snap of us posing between performances:

posing between performances on Caroline St.

I’m happy to work with dancers who are such friendly entertainers, and who are game enough to try these funny ideas I keep coming up with!

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