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Making the Most of Your Belly Dance Music

Around this time of year, I get the urge to clean out things and get rid of what I no longer have use for. I literally spent 8 straight hours ripping my bedroom apart this week.  I even vacuumed under that bed – take that dust bunnies!  Not only did I clear my room of useless clutter that just got in the way, I found things I had long forgotten I owned or that I had thought were lost – like my favorite tweezers!  The big payoff for me is waking up in my refreshed and organized space in the morning. My first sight is a pleasant accomplishment that sets the tone for a good day.

One thing I never get rid of however, is music, especially since these days it’s digital and takes up no space. But I DO take some time to go through it once or twice a year – the payoff is just as real!

These tips are based on using iTunes, but most music library programs have similar characteristics.

An example of ratings and comments from my iTunes library.

An example of ratings and comments from my iTunes library.

Categorize your music by how you USE it.

Do you have all your belly dance music in one category? I used to years ago. 80% of my catalog was one category! That didn’t help to narrow things down at all. Now I categorize my music by how I use it. I have categories for entrance and exit music for shows, drum solos, Saidi, Khaleegy, drill music for teaching, etc.  This makes finding what I need a snap.

Use the “last played” sorting option.

I truly believe the 80/20 rule applies to belly dance music. Without intervention, I would use 20% of my music collection 80% of the time simply because they are my favorites for performance or are really effective for class drills. While that gets the job done, it doesn’t keep things fresh.

Try sorting your collection by play history with the most recently played at the bottom of the list. When you are reading email,  cleaning or otherwise putzing about the house, play it from the top. You’ll unearth songs you didn’t even know you had – and may be perfect for a show, class or your next choreography!

Use the music rating system.

When I’m listening to my least played music, I give it a rating. The rating system helps me find those standbys I love very quickly, but also reminds me of the good stuff I’ve turned up when I go looking for new combo music for DBQ video segments or the next student piece I’m writing.

Be a Comment Queen!

If your program has a comments or notes entry like iTunes does, use it to your advantage. I add info like the predominant rhythm, the “feel” of the music or even the general idea of the song lyrics so I don’t use a song about heartbreak at a wedding reception! For example, if I’m doing Chiftitelli zill drills in class, I look in my Drill Music category, then scan the comments for Chiftitelli – there it is! Another example – I have a TON of Saidi music. Some of it is very modern and some is very heavy and folksy, I keep notes on the “feel” of the music so I can find what I need quickly and easily.

Use playlists creatively.

Of course I keep playlists of party shows, holiday-themed shows, shows that include props and all the workshop topics I teach. Sometimes I use them as is, sometimes I swap out a song or two to keep things fresh. They are in a constant state of musical evolution.  I also use playlists as reminders and personal study guides. I have a playlist of interesting songs I’ve found and want to get to know better.

I usually turn these up during my “excavation” of the least played items or when I buy a new CD and a track  piques my interest.  Another handy playlist is the “I’d like to choreograph this someday” list. Sometimes I find a song I think I’d like to write choreography to – for myself or my belly dance students – but I don’t have an upcoming project at the time. One the list it goes. When the time comes, I have some pre-screened ideas ready to check out.


What tips and tricks do you use to organize your digital music collection? Share them in the comments below…

December 29, 2014 3 Comments

Interview with Egypt’s “Ambassador of Rhythm”, Hossam Ramzy

Hossam Ramzy






If you told me back in 1996, when I was a baby bellydancer, that  I’d one day  speak with the person that recorded the music I performed my very first student solo to, I’d have said you were crazy! But it happened – and here it is. An interview with the one and only, Hossam Ramzy! 

Mahin: The “Rules for Dancing” article (on your site) provides solid examples of connections between movement and music for dancers. How much room do you feel there is for a dancer to have artistic freedom of expression while staying within the Raqs Sharqi style?

Hossam Ramzy: Yes, I feel it is vital for the dancers as well as the musicians to understand one policy for dancing and making music so that both sides of the dance, the music maker and movement maker, can understand and apply the same principles.  When they feel like departing from these rules, at least they will know that they are and they will also know when and how to return back.

A dancer has as much artistic freedom of expression as she will ever need, providing she is interpreting the music. Raqs Sharqi is the dance of the cabarets in Egypt and this is where it started. The only thing a dancer is required to do is to translate the music perfectly and in her own individual style.

Moving while not interpreting the music is not ”dancing” in Egypt.

Mahin: For the dancers that do play sagat in performance (recorded or live) what guidelines or “rules” would you give to compliment the music effectively?

Hossam Ramzy: That would be to become experienced in using the sagat and to be perfect with the rhythm of the song. Another very important point is.. DO NOT OVER CROWD THE MUSIC….. play them sparingly and make them a delightful feature rather than an overbearing noise.

Mahin: In addition to your classic and traditional music, you’ve done a lot of collaborations and pieces that fuse your native style with other music traditions such as on Rock the Tabla. What are your thoughts on the fusion of Raqs Sharqi with other dances?

Hossam Ramzy: Raqs Sharqi is a fusion dance. It has been colored by every style possible. Ballet, Indian (northern, classical, folklore & even Rajasthan) , Persian, Ottoman, Greek & Russian (as brought by the Reda Troupe). It is called Raqs Sharqi as the French named this new fusion in the night clubs of Cairo as Le Danse Orientale. We are used to fusion… we have had nothing but fusion. But what is our true dance of Egypt that is being fused with these styles? It is the BALADI. This is the traditional dance of Egypt. This is what the women dance and this is what we know it by.

My thoughts are if you are going to fuse two genres of music together, you have to study both, learn both well and then amalgamate parts from both sides that compliment one another… not any haphazard throwing any two styles and saying this is fusion. Just because one may dress in a Sari and dance the Mambo… it does not qualify as fusion.

Mahin: The bellydance world has it’s eyes on Egypt’s “Al Rakesa” competition lately. As an Egyptian, a musician and someone who works with dancers all over the world, do you feel that it is “fair” (for lack of a better word) to have foreign dancers competing against Egyptian dancers in this setting? Why or why not?

Hossam Ramzy: Does it ???? I never heard of it.

I don’t believe in competitions in dance and I personally think it is a money making ploy to get the dancers to compete against each other, earn a cheap and useless title and go around believing they are “it”. Which they are not. I never pay any attention to this kind of stuff and I have no respect for it. It is a money making ploy. No competition in dance. Thank you.

Who was the winner of two years ago… no one remembers or gives a damn. Same thing will be with the next one who wins it. Plus, who is judging them? Some of the judges I have seen in some competitions dance like a 3 legged lame duck. Let’s cut this BS and let’s get down to true Egyptian dance.

Mahin: In researching to prepare for this interview, I came across (what I believe to be) your Scientology website. Did a change in your personal philosophy/religion change your approach to your music or your work in broader sense?

Hossam Ramzy: Yes, this is my page there. You may be able to say that, but I did not change my religion. Scientology is a religious philosophy that enhanced my understanding of life. I believe in all religions and I study most of them too.

Mahin: As “Egypt’s Ambassador of Rhythm” what is the most important value in your mission to share your music and culture with the rest of the world?

Hossam Ramzy: I wish to help others understand the music, the rhythms and the dance. I want them to be able to use and gain the benefits I gain from my art form too.

Mahin: In these times, it would seem that Raqs Sharqi is an art in exile from it’s native land. Do you have any thoughts to share on this dance’s place in Egyptian society in the past and looking toward it’s future?

Hossam Ramzy: I think we have a different understanding of what the dance of Egypt is…. Raqs Sharqi is not the dance of Egypt. Baladi is.

Mahin: What on the musical horizon of the Arab world has your attention right now?

Hossam Ramzy: Nothing whatsoever. They are mostly competing to copy MTV stuff. The blind is leading the blind and they are wasting their time and culture. We have some Egyptian pop singers inviting black American rappers to sing with them… what the ^&%$£? What a load of rubbish.

Mahin: And in the world music scene in general?

Hossam Ramzy: For those who are not copying the MTV gang, there is so much soul and there is so much heart in some of the great and magnificent artists such as Miss Annoushka Shankar.  Have you heard her last two albums,  “Traveller” and  “Traces of You”. Please listen and write to tell me your feeling on that.

Mahin: You have collaborated with so many interesting artists of differing backgrounds. If you could work with one artist that is no longer living, who would it be?

Hossam Ramzy: Miles Davis, RIP. I was invited by him to one of his concerts and he said “We should jam soon, Hossam”, but we both missed that chance.

Mahin: If you could collaborate with any living artist on your dream project, who would you choose?

Miss. Anoushka Shankar.

Mahin: Life is full of crossroads. If you had taken the other road away from music as your father wished, what do you think you would have done with your life?

Hossam Ramzy: It would have been wasted on material stuff, but I think I am an amazing chef and probably would have opened my own restaurant – and played music in it! ha ha ha

October 24, 2014 1 Comment

CD Review: Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock The Tabla”

I recently received a copy of  Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock the Tabla” CD for review. It arrived in the mail as I was headed out to teach so I popped it in the car CD player for a first listen. From the title (and the artist) I expected a CD of hot drum solos but this CD was quite the surprise!  If I had read the notes first, I’d have know that this is a collaboration CD.  Ramzy has been a guest percussionist for many other artists and in this CD  “Egypt’s Ambassador of Rhythm” invited his favorite artists from other genres to swing on his playground.

“Rock the Tabla” has 11 tracks that run between 3:00 and 6:00 minutes each. The guest artists include A.R. Rahman, Billy Cobham, Manu Katche, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Jimmy Waldo, Chaz Kkashi, Phil Thornton and John Themis.

The opening track, “Arabatana” (5:07) set me straight with a Spanish guitar and a very “Santana-esque” electric lead guitar. The opening guitar melodies give way to a drum break and then back to the guitars. I think this could make a very interesting skirt fusion piece.

“Cairo to India” (5:51)  is the second track. This selection has a modern Middle Eastern feel with a kind of “India -meets-Jazz” vocal melody in parts.  This song has a good, steady pace and would make a better drill or combo practice song than performance piece, in my opinion.

Next up is “6 Teens” (4:31). This piece is lively and has great energy, drum breaks and accents.  It also has varying time signatures, primarily 7/8 and 9/8. This is a really interesting piece and I am drawn to listening (and dancing in my office) to  it over and over – I love unusual rhythms!

Track 4, “Ancient Love Affairs”  feels like cool water poured all over me on a hot day. It is soothing and relaxing, but won’t put you to sleep thanks to a light layer of interesting percussion. Now, I’m not a tribal gal, but I imagine this would be a perfect slow combo song for ATS – listen to it and tell me if that’s right.

Yes, there is a drum solo – “Shukran Arigato” (3:52) combines Egyptian tabla and Japanese taiko drums. The two drummers use a “call and response” format with  Karatchi and Malfouf rhythms as a backdrop. This doesn’t sound decidedly Japanese and could be a fun drum solo. This will definitely make it onto my “Shimmy Drill” playlist for class.

“Blusey Flusey” (5:05) is  another 7/8 track. The rhythm feels right up front with a melancholy violin in the back. That’s all cool with me, but when the mizmar jumped in I found the song much more appealing. For me, this is a piece to just enjoy listening to and dancing freestyle just for fun.

Yet another rhythmically adventurous track, “Billy Dancing” (4:32) (no, that’s not a typo) switches between a 9/8 and Saidi rhythms. For that reason, it doesn’t make a good drill song, but might make for a fun choreography if you dig accordion.

According to the liner notes, “Sawagy” (4:04) is a blend of rock, Latino and Egyptian Fellahi styles. This track has full vocals and I’d say it feels mostly modern Egyptian at the beginning till the rock guitar comes about two minutes in and dominates by the end.

“Dom and Doumbia” (3:03) is another drum duet, this time between Ramzy on Egyptian tabla joined by a Malian djembe player.  Personally, I like more distinct riffs and accents for my performance drum solos but the overall steady nature of this track makes it another good one for a “Shimmy Drill” class playlist.

The title track “Rock the Tabla” (5:33) features Omar Faruk Tekbilek on mizmar – but don’t be scared away if you’re not a mizmar-lover. It’s not the dominant instrument. This track has vocals and a lot of electric guitar. The liner notes say Ramzy was inspired by his work with Led Zepplin in creating this track and you can hear that in the last minute or so.  If you’re inclined to use fusion music in your class, this would be a good song for teaching or drilling combos.

I love the playful title of the closing track , “This Could Lead to Dancing”. This final track seems to be  a reprise of “Cairo to India” and it makes a fine send off to a varied and interesting CD.

What do you think of this CD? Tell us in the comments below…

December 12, 2011 0 Comments

She’s Got Hips Podcast Episode #3

LISTEN HERE : Yasmina of AZSGH Episode #3

Interview with Yasmina on her bellydance journey from cabaret to tribal fusion and her adventures in between.

April 8, 2010 0 Comments