Madam Mozuna's Bargain Basement Guidelines:
A Professional Oriental Cabaret Show
(as performed in the USA)
A General Outline: Please remember that this is only a general outline. Many professional dancers in the United States frequently utilize variations on the following. Feel free to mix and match to suit yourself. The rhythms associated with each section are suggestions only.
(Introduction or intro.)
Opening Number up-tempo Maqsoum, Masmoudi or Karsilama
The Entrance is when the dancer introduces herself to the audience. They may actually emerge from off stage (or seem to depending on space), or they may simply be found standing in place. The music chosen for the intro. is often quick, lively and well suited to traveling steps. A fast paced dramatic intro. captures the audience’s attention. If you play zils now is the time to really let them ring. From the very first movements the dancer must impress the audience with their joy and control in performing. A dancer who is obviously nervous will make an audience edgy in response. A bored, very shy or overtly sexual dancer will turn an audience off! The dancer needs to exude professionalism, self-assurance and a pleasant attitude. Granted the only way to acquire professionalism and self-assurance are through performing. However even if it’s your first performance and you’re scared out of your wits, do your best not to show it. Focus on the music and dancing, so you don’t have time to be nervous. Keep your energy level and enthusiasm high. Remember that this is something you want to do, you enjoy doing. Try to express your enthusiasm to the audience, keeping the fact in mind that you’re an entertainer.
The intro is a good time to utilize traveling steps, turns and changes of direction, as well as large arm movements and postures. If veiled remember that isolated hip and chest work may be obscured, so use the larger movements and shimmies that flounce and swing the material. Make sure everything’s firmly tucked in, but not so tightly it’s a struggle to release.
You might begin with circumnavigating the performance area. Promenade using broad, sweeping movements that catch the eye. This gives you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the perimeters of the performance area as well as the atmosphere. It also provides time for your eyes to adjust to any possible lighting. I think of this as claiming my “space”, like an animal establishing it’s territory (which is just what I’m doing). Greet or acknowledge your audience with eye contact and smiles. If you can’t see the audience then invent an imaginary one and visualize it in the approximate area of the actual audience.
Divide the perimeters of the performance area into sectors, left, right, center or north, south, east and west, as fell as forward and back. After circumnavigating the performance area approach the various sectors and pause momentarily at each, dancing or posing. This gives the audience a chance to really look at you and you them. Enjoy this first meeting! Be charming, possibly flirtatious. Remember that first impressions are important so try to make plenty of eye contact and take full advantage of the photo opportunity. Don’t tarry too long at any sector and always return to the center (like a base of operations from which you sally forth). Try to divide your time equally in all sectors with the most time spent in the center of the performance area. Don’t forget to utilize straight lines that run back and forth and side to side, as well as lines that are serpentine.
I find it a good rule of thumb to keep the intro short and sweet. You want to be able to maintain enough energy for a strong finish. Adrenaline encourages you to waste precious energy in skyrocketing bursts, which leave you surprisingly tired quite early in your performance. Breath control can help tremendously. Rapid or shallow breathing provides inadequate oxygen to the muscles. Explore your own personal breathing patterns and see if they can be improved. Practice a variety of moves while inhaling and exhaling at varying points, utilizing different rates of respiration. Because of the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm some moves are accentuated by breathing in or out of them.
Some dancers prefer to emerge veiled at the intro. (possibly using multiple veils). They wrap the veil simply around their neck, ala Isadora Duncan; or cunningly tuck and wrap the material so as to conceal, until with practiced skill and deft manipulation the veil(s) is removed at an appropriately dramatic point. Then it is either danced with or discarded. Like many Turkish Cabaret dancers, some dancers utilize their veil(s) at the very beginning of the intro. for a short period only. They make good use of the material’s dramatic kinetic possibilities, then quickly discard it. Giving the impression more of a flourish, then the semi-erotic conceal and reveal of veil removal.
The un-veiling may not occur during the introduction. Instead it may be performed on it’s own, or as an entrancing un-veiling, segueing into a taxim (either one to follow the introduction). The un-veiling can either be an intricate prolonged process or a straightforward discard. It all depends on the music and your personal style. You may wish to avoid certain erotic aspects and simply have your veil ready to hand somewhere out of the way. It might be part of the scenery or placed in a strategic position on stage. Perhaps a friend sitting at a table could care for it. Then it can easily be retrieved for performance and replaced for protection. The point is the veil should be easily obtainable (as unobtrusively as possible) and out from under dancing feet. Veils are easily damaged and if slipped on can tear and snag becoming ruined. So take care of your veil and use forethought in its performance.
If dancing to something slow and slinky allow the veil to drape and drop around you, utilize frame-ups and dramatic poses. Learn to manipulate the veil in ways that cause it to waft and float, which takes practice but ads drama. Become aware of the delayed line created by the veil following your motions. Accentuate that delay, work with it, get out of it’s way or embrace it! Don’t forget your posture however; remember that to execute entrancing veil work the entire body is utilized, not just the arms. Veil work requires a lot of full stretch in the arms, torso and legs all at once. So don’t collapse under your veil, keep your arms fully extended as much as possible and reach and stretch with the entire body.
If the piece of music chosen flows and swells, cover your performing space well with traveling moves allowing the veil to really catch the wind. Keep the arms fully extended to allow the veil maximum expansion. You may have to move more quickly then usual to keep the material properly suspended. It takes more athleticism then many dancers realize to properly manipulate a veil. You should practice often, to assorted styles of music, utilizing various moves and different veils (heavy veils, sheer veils, circular veils, silk veils etc.)
Take care to ensure that your veil dance isn’t just a series of veil “tricks”. You must explore how the veil interacts with all of your body movements (as well as moments of stillness) not just your arms. Dancing is more than performing a series of grouped or patterned movements in rhythm, that is exercise. Dancing is artistic self-expression and good dancing is a synergism between the dancer and the music and “props” like veils. Great dancing creates a synergy between the dancer, their “props”, the music and the audience!
The veil can be discarded at any chosen point. Some dancers discard the veil and continue dancing. Others discarded it at the end of the musical selection. To discard the veil, simply toss it far behind you or make your way to the back of the performing area then drop it behind you. The veil can also be draped over a friend in the audience, with the understanding that it will be collected after the performance. Just make sure it’s placed well out of the way. Generally speaking veils are very slippery and one misplaced step can not only ruin a show but also break a leg or a hip! So always make a point of discarding the veil in an out of the way place where you have no intention of dancing.
Make sure the fabric chosen for the veil is appropriate. Some material, though beautiful, does not flow, float or even move well. I recommend that at all costs you try to avoid stiff materials such as lame and that goes for skirts as well as veils! Many dancers feel that all veils should be sheer or see-through, but I think it’s a matter of personal opinion. Also make sure the veil material is long enough for full arm extension with a little left over for flow. A too short veil will cause you to bend your elbows and can create awkward movement. I am 5’9” and generally utilize veils that are 3 yards long. Each veil has it’s own personality and kinetic possibilities so remember to match the veil with corresponding mood, movements and music. I enjoy collecting different veils and discovering their unique attributes. Having an assortment of veils helps create the novelty that I crave as an artist and helps me generate fresh performances.
(A-rhythmic often resolving into a Chifti)
A taxim is when the musician plays an emotional, improvisational solo. This is not just a solo; this is considered an intimate expression of the musician’s personality and mood, as well as virtuosity. The solo instrument might be Oud, Violin, Clarinet, Nai, Rebaba, Zurna or Vocal. There may be an a-rhythmic accompaniment.
When performing a taxim to live music you are responding to the soloist and he is responding to you, thus you inspire each other. You must listen very carefully to the musician and strive to express physically what you hear musically. To me, this is the essence of dancing, the interaction of the dancer and the music.
Begin to address a taxim through simple phrasing and take your time. When the music is soft and gentle, use delicate, smooth movements like entrancing hand and arm movements. When the music reaches up to high notes, reach and stretch as well. Do something that implies upward motion. If the music is quick and staccato or pounding and driving, try shimmies. A taxim is an opportunity to do anything you wish because self-expression and creation are the essence of taxim, but never forget that you are expressing the music!
This is a great time for balance work like swords, snakes, baskets/jugs/trays or candles. Not all dancers chose to perform floorwork, it is by no means required. Floorwork also doesn’t require a prop, it can be a dance all it’s own. The Taxim may lead directly into a Chiftitelli which is nice, but if the Chifti begins on it’s own the mood must be set immediately. You must take your time in floorwork, it takes a great deal of leg muscle, control and stretch - form and agility are everything. Practice floorwork until you can move lightly and confidently.
The style and energy in floorwork will be as individual as each dancer. Floorwork may be danced very slowly and deliberately with lots of snaky, mesmerizing movements. It might be danced dramatically with a Turkish drop and lots of head flinging and tossing of the body. Some perform it as athletically as possible, with back bends which undulate or splits with a toe touching an ear! Let the music and your own personality be your guide. Don’t hesitate to use fast movements to slow music or vice-a-versa (this goes for all your dancing not just floorwork) and don’t forget freezes, posing and moments of stillness.
Don’t over do floorwork. You don’t want to rise from the floor only to discover your leg muscles have turned to jelly and your feet have fallen asleep. The audience may not have a full view of you anyway and if they can’t see you they become bored. I recommend trying to cover a lot of space if it’s a small intimate performance and you can get up close to the audience. But if you’re on a stage you may want to stay centered.
Remember to practice floorwork in full costume so that you’re confident in your handling of it. Skirts must either be moved by hand or kicked with toes. Remember straight skirts can easily give “crotch shots” and full skirts can bind and twist, trapping the legs, so sit and move accordingly Belts, skirts and harem pants must be kept in place on the hips (floorwork can pull them right off your fanny!). Shoes may have to be taken into consideration as well, floorwork in heels is an art form all it’s own! Bras can do funny things on the floor as well. I’ve seen at least 2 dancers who have popped out during floorwork so be prepared and practice in full costume before a performance so you’re familiar with your costume’s quirks during floorwork. If you think you might pop out keep a veil handy so you can quickly drape yourself then turn your back to the audience and fix the problem as quickly and artistically as possible. Then forget about it, there’s no need to die of embarrassment, nudity happens!
Drum solos, like taxims, are physical expressions of the music, which in this case is most often entirely percussion. Sometimes the drum solo is performed as a duet in sync with the lead percussionist. Sometimes it’s performed in the “call and response” style. Drum solos from recorded music are easy to anticipate, but live drum solos really keep you on your feet.
Keep the rhythm solidly in the hips and use the rest of the body for accenting. One of the secrets to good drum solos is to do less, but do it great! Make sure your hip work is crisp, clear and precisely on the beat. That goes for body posture and arm positions as well. No sloppy shimmies, no wobbling stops when spinning, no lazy arms, no straining faces etc. This is like cheerleading, all attitude, high energy and precision, precision, precision. You want to exude a “look at me, look at me” attitude for your audience, “Look what I can do” then do it because this is where you show off what your hips can really do! You want to appear impressive, so simply act as though you are. An audience almost always believes what you believe.
If you’re unsure how to address a drum solo listen closely to the phrasing and pick out the most prominent part of the rhythm. Is it the downbeat like the heavy beat of the Tabla Beledi? Try traveling hip thrusts which emphasize that beat. When the phrasing changes to focus on a different instrument and a different aspect of the rhythm then you express that change as well. Move from a traveling heavy hip thrust to syncopated hip drops in place. If the drummers speed up into a roll, you speed up into spins or shimmies (always in time with the rhythm). When the drummer accents within their rolls, you accent your shimmies, peppering them with drops and freezes, lifts and thrusts. Both with hip shimmies as well as chest shimmies. Just keep it crisp. If it doesn’t look crisp to you, try a slower, broader, better-controlled shimmy and be very precise in your accenting and accompanying body posture.
Beware of executing too many “tricks”. Drum solos look best if the rhythm is constantly underscored instead of too frequently broken up with moves like repetitious (and eventually boring) rib lift - pelvic drop combos or sloppy, never ending hip shimmies. Most drum solos are constructed following the “rule of four”:
The finale is as important as the entrance and requires the same degree of energy, eye contact and audience acknowledgement. You might reprise the music used in the intro. and the corresponding moves. Just keep in mind that like the Piped Piper you must gather your audience up and carry them to your conclusion. If you were saying “Hello” in your Entrance, you’re saying “Good-bye” with your finale.
Use music that builds to a climatic and recognizable ending. Use moves with dramatically climatic endings like spins which end in Turkish drops, or sharply defined poses (photo ops). Strive for good technique. If you end on a sudden and dramatic drop or pose, make sure you can “stick your mark”. In other words if you’re bringing a fast spin to a sudden stop in time with the music make sure you stop exactly when the music does, that you’re facing in the right direction and that you are solidly in perfect posture, no stumbling or swaying. Precision is the key, hitting the floor or snapping into position right on the last note-boom! Hold it a second for dramatic effect, then take your bow and exit.
Your exit is equally important. This is the last impression the audience will have so make it good. You should acknowledge the applause you receive, but I recommend avoiding melodramatic or ostentatious bows. Be wary of bending forward from the waist and over exposing an already exposed cleavage. Simply strike a pose, bow your head graciously, then leave the stage with as much elegance as possible. Or make your departure with a flourish by smiling at the audience, quickly execute some flamboyant move (a final chance to show off), then run lightly off stage. You may wish to express your gratitude to the audience for their warm appreciation of your performance, if so applaud them in return. Some performers dance off to a musical accompaniment.
If you have to retrieve something from the stage like a sword or veils try to take it with you as you depart and do it either as unobtrusively or as entertainingly as possible. Obscure it or underscore it but don’t walk back on stage, bend over and then just waddle off with whatever it was.
Once again, always acknowledge any musicians before you take your leave and maintain your performance attitude until you are out of sight
Some Basic Advice
Sprinkle your movement vocabulary throughout the various different segments in your show. A chef preparing a 7 course meal would be thought insane if he combined all the ingredients of every course together in one bowl, then served it 7 times. Another important concept in phrasing is suiting the movements to the mood of the music. Easy to do if you have skills in choreography, however it might feel a bit restrictive if you perform in a free-form manner. None the less, try to discipline yourself. Phrasing in this manner can allow you to develop a dramatic progression to your dancing, creating exciting, memorable performances.
My husband once told me that when I danced for him I had an intense look on my face, as though I were trying to tell him something. I explained that in fact I was trying to express to him something of the love I feel for him. He said “Thanks, but could you please smile more often? You appear so intense you look like you’re in pain! Try dancing for me as if you’re dancing for your best girlfriend or someone you haven’t seen in a long while and you’re happy to see them.” What I thought would look passionate and intimate to the person I am most passionate and intimate with, instead looked painful, heavy and confusing. After my ego recovered from the shock I realized my best friend had just given me some of the best performance advice I’d ever received. Smile, smile, smile, but look like you really mean it! Try to smile naturally, you don’t necessarily want to look like a grinning Cheshire Cat, but you do want to appear to be enjoying yourself. Practice a pleasant Mona Lisa-ish smile to utilize in general, but don’t hesitate to show your delight in seeing a friend or loved one in the audience and I always have a genuine smile for children. Try not to look too intense or tranced out and beware of the “Deer in the headlights” look, eyes kind of staring in a frightened manner at nothing in particular, making it obvious the dancer is franticly counting out the choreography in their mind. Maintaining demeanor can be difficult, but practice helps as well as remembering you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself. So endeavor to do so and that is what your audience will read in your expression. I don’t however mean for you to keep an inane smile plastered on your face. You can and should express a wide range of emotions while dancing.
Quickly address any mishap that occurs during your performance. Unfortunately accidents do happen, such as zils flying off or veils becoming hopelessly entangled. If you find yourself in a difficult situation while performing, you shouldn’t ignore the problem, instead address it with as much finesse as possible (even if it messes up the choreography). You might consider turning it in to a bit of comic relief, laugh at yourself and turn it into a bit of schtick. The audience will appreciate your sense of humor and showmanship. If you ignore the problem you and the audience will both be uncomfortable.
If a zil flies off take the rest off as well. If your veil eats you alive, get out of it as best you can. Try releasing it and it might just drop to the floor and you can simply step out of it. Then continue without it. If the music stops keep zilling and dance to that, or get the audience clapping in time for you and dance to that. If the problem is your costume, definitely fix it. Just smile and pull that bra strap up, or untangle the hem of your skirt from the fringe of your belt.
I once popped out of one of my bra cups! Fortunately I was dancing veil at the time, so I instantly hid under my veil and franticly struggled back into the bra. It was excruciatingly embarrassing, but makes a great story now! If you suddenly forget your choreography or become overwhelmed by stage fright, try turning your back to the audience, close your eyes and listen to the music. Begin to dance again listening closely to the music, hopefully this will help you refocus your concentration and you can continue your performance.
If your belt starts to fall off pull it up with a grin and giggle for the audience. If it’s fallen too far to be pulled up easily, push it down, step out of it and dance on. The audience will totally support you. If however you choose to ignore the problem the audience will drive itself crazy trying to will your problem away for you. Don’t torture them or yourself; resolve your problem as quickly as possible with as much grace as you can muster.
Eddie Kochak, Sirocco and Brothers of the Baladi CD’s and tapes (as well as one side of SuSu & the Cairo Cats) have many recordings designed with a cabaret performance in mind.
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This page last modified: December 22, 2005