The Art of Less

Dancing to Oum Kalthoum Songs

Last night in class we danced to the beautiful song Alf Leyla wi Leyla (A Thousand and One Nights).  This is a classic song originally performed by Egypt's most beloved singer, Oum Kalthoum.  We danced mostly to the intro but when the part with the lyrics came, we talked about how we dance to that.  We don't do too much, because the lyrics are the star.

This is a clip that I mentioned of the Egyptian dancer Dandash dancing to the same song.  She is dancing mostly to the lyrics part here.  This is a very subtle performance!

I am going to share another clip, this is Dina dancing to another Oum Kalthoum song, Sirt El Hob (The Topic of Love). I like this one because it flashes to the audience and you can hear them singing the words!  It gives a taste for how much this music and words mean to the audience, and why as dancers we need to respect it.

And just one, this is Dina again dancing to Hobi Eh (What is Love?), again by Oum Kalthoum originally.

In this version of the song, the singing is represented by the oud.  Notice in all of these clips, the lyrics are not sung, but the dancer and the audience still all know what they are and let them take the front seat.  She does not travel, spin like crazy or do anything too flashy when the singing starts.

Clearly, to dance this way you need to understand what the song means.  As foreign dancers, we have a lot of research to do!  

There is a very good article about this on the Gilded Serpent by the Egyptian singer and band leader Safaa Farid.  In it he says, 

Each song has a story, but you won’t be able to tell it until you know what it’s about. Your movements must match the song’s atmosphere. When I watch a dancer twirling, kicking and jumping while Om Kathoum laments “you were the best story of my entire life” it makes me sad. The song’s emotions are completely lost.
— Safaa Farid

I hope that helps a little.  We are so lucky here in the Bay Area that we have live Arabic bands who actually play these songs and we get to dance to them.  It is a beautiful tradition that we get to be a small part of, and there is always so much to look forward to learning.

Happy dancing!!

xo Alisa Greer