AAMED MAGAZINE 1996What’s In A Name…By Amara Al Amir
“As a dancer you are unique. What you bring to the dance from yourself can never be imitated or forgotten (good and not so good). Since this is a dance of the Arabia, Egypt, Middle East, Greece, Turkey, etc. you may want to consider a name that originates from the region of dance you find yourself most attached to. Avoid common silliness and remember if you choose a name that is of foreign descent, it has a meaning all its own. (Do you want to be known as a branch of tree or a rosebud?) Your name should roll off the tongue. Harsh sounding names will conjure up visions of ‘goodness knows what’ when told to those who have never seen you.
The first name I selected was Mandala. I soon found out that no one knew how to pronounce it correctly. Actually Mandalla is the name of the circular designs symbolically used in Buddhism to represent the never-ending circle and inter-connection of all life. By sheer accident, Serena, my first teacher introduced me at my first paid performance and found she couldn’t remember my name, so she just said uh uh M. Mara (my real name is Marion). I used this name for many years until I decided to specialize in Egyptian dances both folklore and Orientale. Various Egyptians commented and almost laughed at my name. I then found out that Mara, which I thought so unique, really meant Woman (but a very earthy street version of hot mama). So, it was suggested I change to Amara.
Bands like to introduce you wit three syllables and if you don’t have three, they will sound it our so slow as to add that third syllable whether you like it or not. i.e. Basma,…Bas-si-ma. Amara simply means nice. So I added the Al Amir (which means Price or Princess) to create the meaning: The Nice Princess. A nickname I was given by Egyptians all the time here and in Egypt.
You will, always be inundated with information through your dances classes, friend’s opinions, comments from the ME community, books, music, videos, etc. But when you have an identity, you can pick and choose what matches and enhances that identity instead of trying to be all things to all people. When you personalize movements to fit the image you have of yourself via your name, you will also enjoy the act of dancing more (often what motivates us in the first place.) Dancing also involves acting. Actors may play many characters but always with the particular flair that is uniquely theirs. Creating distinction will help avoid the robot syndrome when dancers really don’t know who they are as a performer. We weren’t born wearing a belly dance costume although we may have shimmied our way out into the world. We may have different images we want to portray. Ala, herein lies the art of belly dance. A clear image of what we want audiences to know and remember about us is the starting point for all your growth and fun you can have in learning and performing this dance.
Respect is key to building dance opportunities. Respect is gained by paying attention to all the possible repercussions a name for yourself can bring, Remember; it is never too late to change or adapt your name to fit your personalized goals. I live with one name for 10 years and the adaptation now for more than another 10 years.
Valuable Advice from Amara Al Amir
Regarding carrying money and wallets on shows, fraud and credit card theft.
As a Dancer you generally carry your pocketbook with your wallet with cash, drivers license and credit cards, etc.
Leave all home except for $20 and a copy of your important papers like your driver’s license, insurance card and registration. If necessary, one credit card or bank card for emergencies.
If traveling by car, leave your pocketbook in the car, again not all your wallet contents and papers, what if your car got stolen. I once did a big show at the UN and 2 of the girls were traveling with their entire costume collection in a station wagon. After the show, they went to a nightclub to celebrate and their car was stolen.
Anyway, if you do not have a car, then hide your few emergency dollars and papers in a sock in your dance bag. If in a restaurant, then ask the bartender to hold behind the bar or lock the dressing room door,
Never leave it in an open bathroom where sometimes you are forced to change into your costume.
If in a bedroom of a private home, then bring it to the room you are dancing in to watch.
If in a catering hall, ask the manager to lock the dressing room or office door where you change.
Or ask someone you trust to hold it for you. Many times the money you just made gets stolen in between shows.
Just be extra careful.
and make a copy for your files in case you need to refer to it someday. [Unable
to display image]
Subject: An Attorney's Advice
Maybe we should all take some of his advice!
A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company:
o The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them.
o If someone takes your check book they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
o When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number and anyone
who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it.
o Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box use your work address.
o Never have your SS# printed on your checks (DUH!)
you can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
o Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine, do both sides of each license, credit card, etc., You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel.
o Keep the photocopy in a safe place. I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel either here or abroad.
o We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards, etc.
Unfortunately I, an attorney, have firsthand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more.
But here's some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:
We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them easily.
o File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, this proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).
But here's what is perhaps most important: (I never even thought to do this).
Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for
credit was made over the Internet in my name.
The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done.
There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves' purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert.
Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend.(someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them in their tracks.
The numbers are:
Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
How To Choreograph A Dance
By Amara Al Amir 2001
Over the last 25 years, I have choreographed several hundred dances that have been produced, staged and performed, not counting countless more for class routines. Therefore, I needed to come up with a formula. The idea of using a formula really came from my job.
Outside of dance I work as a sales strategist and am required to write and produce sales presentations and scripts for companies I may not know much about. As well as I teach workshops on marketing and sales techniques. All this taught me the value of formulas as a method of designing or writing or remembering. Therefore, now I like to think of myself as a designer of dance rather than a choreographer.
I will share some of my secrets and maybe they will work for you. They sure have made my life easier. To start, what motivates me to design a dance is usually either a costume a piece of music or a just a concept.
Once the music is selected, some time is needed to sit and listen to it. If you are a musician this step is easier but those of us that are not, it is more difficult to do the following.
I often sit and close my eyes and see a dancer dancing to the music to get an “out of box” idea for an approach. I also look at videos to get ideas for steps. I also just dance to it to see what comes up in style and interpretation of the music.
I would try and research other dancers work if the piece is ethnic in origin. I will get assistance to translate any works so I am comfortable with how to reflect the feeling of the words in my choreography.
Then I sit and notate the music. There are professional ways to notate music for choreography but I don't know them, so I developed my own language of using different lines and marks to note the phrases, instrument rides a (when an instrument is featured about the other instruments), accents in the music, beats, rhythms, This is the outline. I can demonstrate this and have taught this to many others.
Then I think in terms of concept, for the style of movements I want to portray. I always take basic choreography and try and give a new twist.
For a simple approach to get started, I think and visualize several categories of stylized turns, several traveling steps, several undulating movements, several hip accents with and without traveling. Choose only a few of each since these will be used through the dance to create a cohesive piece that is becomes subliminally familiar and comfortable for the audience.
I usually try and break down the music into phrases or sections. Sometimes you can easily hear these sections. I shoot for three parts to the dance; one is an introduction to what I am about to say, and then I say it, and then say what I said.
So what I mean, is that for the first third of the dance I use one of each of the basic categories listed above and keep the combinations simple, 8 of this and that, there are no rules here.
I am going to use very simple steps to demonstrate these formulas so you can get the idea easily.
First third of the dance:
Step Slide Step 8xs.
Hip Drops 4x
Hip Circle 2x
The middle is my highlight this is where I go for something to be remembered, step out of the box and reach for an outstanding statement.
Hand Clap for 16 beats
Shimmy shifting weight for 16 beats
Hip Circle w/Shimmies for 16 beats
Walk with Shimmies or Running Step Shimmies for 32 beats.
Start Turning with Whirling Head Dervishes for 32 beats.
Then for the third part, I return to the formula as used in part one but this time, use 4 of each choice of movements, ex: traveling step, undulating movement, turns and sharp hips, in measures of 16 to 32 beats. You can also now add varying levels to this.
Step Slide Step 2x
Step Slide Step 2x
Hip Circle 1x
Hip Drops 4x
Hip Drops other side 4x
Shimmy down while bending knees into plies
Hip Drop front, side, back, side
Using these formulas, you have excitement building that keeps the audiences attention and is very entertaining. To often choreography is nice but goes nowhere, level - flat and doesn't leave you wanting to clap and feel excited and good about what you just saw.
It takes me usually 8 to 16 hours to choreograph a five-minute dance. Then you should practice and perform it so you can see what works and what doesn’t. After choreographing the framework, I start adding more difficulty, depth and interest to the basic choreography.
Once done, video and critique your dance for more improvements.
Sometimes I design movement without props first. Then add the props for will require a lot a practice for segways and execution. I always challenge myself.
Another approach I have used is to dance improvisationally to music while being videoed. Then I break it down into a set choreography.
For groups, there is another challenge, staging, interplay between dancers and different choreographies. If you make it too difficult - where each dancer is required to do something so different, you may find that if one drops out you are in trouble.
Here are a few more helpful hints.
- Remember that when designing your dance, it should hold up even if one or two dancers are not there.
- Also bear in mind that your surrounding may change each place you perform. This can severely affect the success of the piece. Once we were all set to do some dances with 8 dancers and found ourselves in a room with a large pillar in the middle. What fast shuffling we had to do to accommodate that.
- Also, when staging the dance, insist that dancers not change spacing even if the space is larger, that could really throw them off.
- Don't look in mirrors; you might lose front and it looks terrible to the audience.
- Use staging in circles not flat Rockette lines to soften differences in styles and techniques.
- I have also asked different dancers to do choreographies to the same song and stage that together.
- Ask several dancers to dance to a phrase and pick the best interpretation.
- Practice the routines facing all four directions, so you can handle different room designs.
OVERCOMING PERFORMANCE OBSTACLES by Amara Al Amir
As a performer in any art, one is faced with a set of challenges unlike any other profession. But it does mirror life in many ways. I have danced for 30 years and can speak as a veteran although I cannot believe it has been so long.
My life has been nothing but an uphill climb beset with so many challenges and obstacles, you would think I would be weary and disillusioned but the exact opposite has happened.
I fell into the dance as a diversion from a life that was boring and not inspiring, As a result, I found the artistic skills inherent but not known on a conscious level.
Each time you set your foot onto a performing platform or venue, you challenge yourself and your audience to step outside the box in perceptions and tolerance. Obstacles are only obstacles when you set expectations based on your own level of experience and awareness. Every obstacle is an opportunity to gain a valuable lesson.
But let’s be specific here:
- Dancers learning to dance with live musicians often expect the music to be like a CD, perfect execution, timing, and quality. How do you handle, shifting music that is unknown or confusing. What if the format is not as you requested. Do you pout and run off the stage, never to try this again. Yes, some of you just get it but many of you are just frightened to death.
- How about when the audience doesn’t respond to your performance, the same one you did before to accolades. Do you blame the audience or yourself? Is it you or just the where the moon is today affecting everyone’s moods or did you not relate well to your audience?
- How about when a prop falls off ones head or gets tangled, do you feel foolish and unprepared, therefore not a master at your art. Do you keep trying to put it back or adjust it or ignore the mess or realize you are not prepared and move into a part of the dance that you feel more confident and skilled at?
I, when training dancers to improvise and perform encourage the dancer to trust in them to find their inner knowledge that their body and mind trained for. What wells up inside yourself often is some of the most talented and gifted work you could hope to find.
At the same time, you need to be aware of where your mind is when you perform. Did you get to the gig late, get lost getting there, have a disagreement with someone before the show, think too much of yourself to prepare for your event with precision and grooming. Do you expect others to know, understand, appreciate, honor or respect you when you have not given them any reason to?
This issue of trust in yourself is a key to all your successful outcomes. How does one know if you have trust? It lies in your basic sense of honesty with yourself and others. When you go the extra mile to resource, prepare and execute a task, you become more than able to handle unexpected challenges, and to welcome and receive the gifts of a new experience.
Take a few moments this month and examine a few experiences that come about that generated anxiety, anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion, insecurity, and mistrust in you. Step-back and for a moment view the situation completely in the opposite way than you are thinking. This exercise changes your consciousness forever and therefore your experiences to follow. This process after a while can become habitual in a wonderful way then let us *pay forward our joy in welcoming the unexpected as a gift for growing and changing in a positive way.
Each month, I will take various performance issues and discuss generally with you in our MEDLS newsletters. MEDLS is organized to bring our performance art to the a higher level through the study and presentation of dance, thereby promoting the art together, expanding your skills set and the public’s awareness of this art.
Amara is depicted in this picture in the legendary **Candle Dance "Offerings" Choreographed by Serena Wilson and Amara Al Amir. Performed at Lincoln Center Fountain and Damrosch Park Theatre and various other theatre productions sponsored by New York Department of Cultural Affairs. Also, featured in * Serena's book "The Belly Dance Book" and video "Veils of Salome." wearing a golden wig of plaitlets and beads, golden body suit, Pharonic hip and neck pieces. *Posed with Amara is Patrima and Layla Mary of the Serena Dance Theatre. Amara performed this piece to different music like "Walk like an Egyptian" but the most outstanding, effective and unusual was to sounds created by Scott and Rip Wilson using a creaking machine from *Alan Rip's TV studio. These sounds resemble the creaking and movement oflarge stones possibly ofPharonic tombs
History of Pharonic Dance in Egypt by Amara AI Amir
"Probably the most unique solo was that performed by Amara Al Amir in which she emulates poses from the 18th Dynasty Egyptian sculpture. The movements-
of poses on Egyptian friezesbrought to life the art of the old dynasty ... and it seemed the ultimate
in control and balance." ... Jennie Schulman, Dance Editor, Dance Diary, Backstage Newspaper,NYC.
For many, the scope of Egypt's history is difficult to comprehend. Its history covers some five thousand years, and encompasses the origin of civilization, the rise of the Greek and Romans, the establishment of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions, the colonial era when first France and then the English ruled the country, and finally, a retum to independence.
That dancing has a very long history in Egypt is clear from pre-dynastic clay figures with hands raised above their heads and in some scenes with women in this posture accompanied by others shaking rattles on pre-dynastic vessels
From the very beginning, there were several words for dance, of which the most common was ibe which might me properly translated as "caper." In writing the word, a game piece was frequently included in
its hieroglyphics suggesting that there might be some resemblance between the movement of the game piece and the dancer. Another common word usually considered to describe an acrobatic dance was hbi. The rwi, which may mean "run away," dance involved performers who frequently bear clappers ending with animal heads. Another dance, the ksks, perhaps meaning "twist," was practiced mostly by non-Egyptians or even animals. After the New Kingdom a proliferation of new words appear, which only confuse matters. Though it might seem that each term would apply to a different dance, graphic evidence fails to confirm this view.
known depictions of pair-dancing between a male and female. Within the performance, dancers could execute particular movements solo or in unison with one or more other dancers.
However, all dancers were part of the same choreography even though they might execute differ-
ent movements at the same time, just as in modem dance. There appears to have been no clear borderline between dancing and acrobatics or gynmastic performances.
Unfortunately, body gestures of the ancient Egyptians are not well understood. Undoubtedly, many of the dance movements had specific meaning, but alas, this aspect of Egyptian dance is difficult to ascertain. One must remember that the depictions are but a snapshot of a dance movement
There were also dancers associated with the funerary procession. On the way to the tomb, those carrying funeral equipment and the statues of the dead were followed by dancers.
Tomb scenes depict groups of dancers performing acrobats, looking more like circus performers than dancers. A group of dance performers known as the hnrt are known to be associated with childbirth ceremonies, but might have also been associated with funerals in helping the deceased enter a new life. Dancing was an accepted part of life, a part of religious ritual even before it became secular.
For the most part, dance groups consisted of either male or female, but not both. There are actually no
Women who danced (and even women who did not)
wore diaphanous robes, or simply belt girdles, often made of beads or cowrie shells, so that their bodies could move about freely. Though today their appearance may be interpreted as erotic and even sensual, the ancient Egyptians did not view the naked body or its parts with the same fascination that we do today, with our sense of possibly more repressed morality. Relief's on tombs and temples show dancers running, leaping, pirouetting, sinuously bending, with weighted hair-plaits swinging side to side, using tambourines.