The band is there to support the dancers and entertain the audience. For belly dancers
and musicians who haven't worked together before, it helps to have a common
vocabulary. Here are some tips to help things along:

DANCER SIGNALS. There seems to be no standard for how to signal the band, yet it's
common for the dancer to want the band to speed up, slow down, change rhythm, or
come to an end. Here are a set of signals that we'll try to follow:

    SPEED UP: Play zills at a faster tempo, or face the band and twirl your finger in a
    fast circle a few times (like dialing an old phone), or other fast cranking motion, or
    raise the tempo with palms up.

    SLOW DOWN: Play zills at a slower tempo, or face the band and put two fingers
    down and have them walk (the Yellow Pages logo), or "push down" the tempo with
    both palms. Good to know if the band is killing you!

    CHANGE RHYTHM: This works best if the dancer and band have agreed on one
    or more changes beforehand. Common signals are the dancer spinning, raising
    both arms and posing, or dropping / picking up a prop.

    STOP: A hand slit across the throat or belly is the most common sign. A short
    "drumroll" on the zills sometimes works. Request an ending before you have to
    stop, and give the band time to end the piece gracefully.

DRUM SOLOS. There is a bellydance tradition known as the drum solo, in which one
dancer improvises moves while the drummer improvises riffs and changes. The rest of
the band is silent, except maybe one other musician keeping time. Search YouTube for
"belly dance drum solo" for examples of common drum riffs and how solos can start and
end.

The drummer often plays rhythms in sets of four (the Rule of Four), with the fourth rhythm
often sounding different, helping the dancer adapt to the rhythm and anticipate where it
may change.

A common way for a dancer to request a drum solo is to go stand next to the drummer
and shimmy in place. Unless agreed on beforehand, the drummer may not always
launch into a solo. If a drummer starts a drum solo, the rest of the band should fall silent.

At the end of the solo, it's common for the dancer to do a spin, or shimmy, or raise her
arms, and then point at the band or the drummer. Do something you can maintain until
the last beat, then pose. Practice this with different solo recordings.

Here's a drum solo video you may enjoy:
Djinn with Ava Fleming

ENDINGS. There are many ways for the music to signal the dancer that the piece is
ending. It's best if the dancer and band agree beforehand to one of the following, but if
that's not done then be alert to one of these signals:

    DRUMROLL: A solid, uninterrupted drum roll often signals the end. The dancer
    will often shimmy or spin until the end, then pose.

    DROP OUT: Musicians stop playing one at a time, until one is left, then end.

    FADE OUT: The music gets quieter and quieter, then ends or does one last
    phrase at full volume.

    DRUM SIGNAL: DUM   DUM-DUM   DUM   DUM-DUM   DUM-DUM-DUM!

    RHYTHM: An agreed-on end rhythm, like Ayub followed by 8 DUMs and a slap.

PACING. To hold the audience's attention (in an open venue), a good pattern seems to
be a short slow piece followed by two or three fast pieces. It also helps to start with a
solo dancer, then add dancers by ones and twos until everyone is out there.

RHYTHMS. To keep things simple for musicans and dancers, we'll try to stick to a set
of well-known Bellydance rhythms. Ayub or Malfouf are common for entrance or exit,
Chiftitelli (chifti) or Masmoudi for slow pieces, and Baladi, Maqsoum or Saiidi for
medium or fast pieces (Maqsoum and Saiidi are very much like Baladi, and can
alternate with it). See this page for details on these rhythms:
Beginning Doumbek

MISTAKES. We don't make mistakes. We make improvisations. Just keep going and
keep smiling. Or repeat the mistake a couple times. "I meant to do that!"

WARDROBE MALFUNCTIONS. If you lose something small, ignore it. If you lose
something vital, turn away from the audience, face the band and refasten it. Crouch,
don't bend! The band will try to keep playing.

SOME MORE RESOURCES.
Secrets of the Stage 3 - DVD with sections on band interaction
Live Music and Movement - excellent DVD by Karim Nagi
How to Nail your Drum Solo - educational web page
Tips on Dancing to Live Music - educational web page
How to Dance to Live Drummers - educational web page


- Dave Goodman, Feb 9, 2011
Introduction to Belly Dance with Live Music
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