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.
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.