Of Dancers and Drummers

Posted by admin in Blog | Tribal Fusion
Issam and Alia

On August 14, 2011 Issam Houshan taught a free drum workshop at the Housewarming party for Los Angeles Bellydance Academy.  Having studied doumbek (Middle Eastern drum) for 2 years, I made sure to be there.  Issam is famous for being the main drummer for Bellydance Superstars, but he has also played for Sting and a host of Arab music stars and dancers.

One of the reasons Issam is so fabulous, is that he honors the dancer that he plays for.  As his website biography describes “It’s his connection to the dancer that is the essence of his magic”.  www.tablabyissam.com   Issam and Sonia (Bellydance Superstar dancer) partnered on The Art of the Drum Solo DVD, which I highly recommend for both dancers and drummers.




Issam, Donavan and dancer

It’s important to recognize the relationship between musician and dancer, that can be pure bliss when tapped into.   How can we access this bliss, this unique ecstasy of live music and dancing?  By understanding each other’s roles.

This is especially true when dancing to music that we did not grow up listening to.  Yet regardless of our initial familiarity,  we can best access the beauty and complexities of what our body can do, if we understand the beauty and complexities of the music.





Issam and his frame drum

Most Americans are used to a 4/4 rhythm or time signature.  Turn on the radio, and the song is likely to have this common counting structure.  It is even flowing, and makes for easy patterning of melodies and chorography. You can count it by clapping your hand on “one..two..three..four” or at the same speed clap on the “one (and) two (and) three (and) four (and)” or “one (two) three (four) five (six) seven (eight).”  Rhythm Counting Video
Another very common time signature is 3/4.  Think of a waltz: ONE two three ONE two three.  However, even a 3/4 rhythm might vary in emphasis: ONE two three ONE two three, or one TWO three one TWO three.  The dancer should not simply dance to his or her choreography regardless of the music being played.  The more you’re familiar with the different rhythms and time signatures, the more you can put the emphasis of your dance where it belongs.  There is so much beauty to watching a dancer who knows her music.

I appreciate all dancers, and want everyone to have time and space to dance as they want.  But I just don’t get as much enjoyment out of watching 4/4 choreography that could be just as easily placed in any other 4/4 song.  Part of the problem, is most American music is in 4/4 –and many do not immediately pick up the difference between a Saiidi and a Beladi (see Carmine’s Doumbek Rhythm Cheat Sheet ).  Spending  a few months of music training will add immeasurable depth and quality to anyone’s dancing.

I’m so looking forward to my exploration of dance around the world, but if I really want to understand the dance, I’ll also have to study the music.

Issam and Donavon


A few resources for Middle Eastern Drumming and Rhythms:

I’m actually in this video: Carmine’s BegIntermediate Doumbek Workshop

Amir’s Doumbek Technique and Rhythms

Raquy’s Doumbek Fever



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