The Arab Quarter

Hello! This month Zameena are so happy to welcome Chalf Hassan and Melanie Norman from the Arab Quarter. They are an unstoppable partnership running  quarterly Bellydance stage shows in London - all with authentic, live music!

We talk to them both and get a little into the minds of these great artistes - giving the UK bellydance scene a touch of class, that some may have assumed was a thing of the past.  

We also have an EXCLUSIVE offer for you on the Arab Quater CD - a beautiful oriental dance CD, 

The Arab Quarter talk music, dance and more .........

Thank you Melanie and Chalf for agreeing to talk to us. So, to start us off Melanie please tell us how The Arab Quarterly came about?
One of my past teachers passed on some advice she had been given, which was, "If you can't find work, make your own!" At the time there were not many opportunities to experience and dance to authentic live Arabic music - so The Arab Quarterly was set up to help showcase the work of myself, Chalf Hassan and The Arab Quarter Band.

In putting on shows we knew we needed to have guest dancers in our programme to bring the necessary variety to The Arab Quarterly, and recently we have extended that to group dancing, both our own groups and invited groups.

It must require a big investment and a strong belief in your vision to bring The Arab Quarterly into being?
Yes, it requires a lot of investment, not just financially, but it also needs a lot of courage to see such a concept through, as well as a lot of time, training and energy to make it all happen.  Building an audience that can support live music shows on a formal stage also takes time.  

However, it has become a source of deep pleasure to see other dancers in the community be enabled to have an experience which is truly unique and very rare.  Dancers return to our stage and through this challenging experience, they learn and grow.  

The Arab Quarter is very grateful to all those dancers who have shared this experience with us, contributed hugely in their own individual way and we would like to say a big thank you to them. 

So yes, it does serve the community and if we observe the bigger picture in life, this is part of the driving force behind this highly privileged event.  

I remain personally indebted to Chalf Hassan and The Arab Quarter Band for their patience, trust, perseverance and many other qualities, alongside their very special music making.

Chalf, you want to add something?
Yes, The Arab Quarterly is a result of hard work and insisting to reach a goal.  Thanks go to Melanie for spending days and nights of hard work.  It is requiring more hard work than ever before!  It is all due to the crisis in the dancing market, and the need to come out with the best, and be perfect, making sure that we only deliver the best of belly dance performing and teaching while respecting the originality of the oriental music and art.  Of course, for that, all thanks go to our Arab Quarter Band of stars!

You spoke about a goal.  What, exactly, is the goal?
Our goal is to give the correct picture of oriental belly dancing and also insuring the survival of the live music, which is the jewel of the oriental dance. 

Melanie, why is it important for dancers to have the opportunity to dance with live music and what does it give dancers that a CD cannot?

Firstly, certainly within Europe, to be able to have the chance to dance with a live Arab band of standing is a rare and special privilege. 

Hence the opportunity to experience dancing to an authentic Arab band in a stage setting is highly unusual and very unique.
Creating an event like The Arab Quarterly takes exceptional patronage.  So whilst it is desirable for the survival of Arab music making in London for example, which in a sense does hang on a thread in these recessive times, and desirable for dancers to have this very authentic  experience, it remains an opportunity which is somewhat very much out of the ordinary. 

Dancing with The Arab Quarter Band enables the dancer to explore his/her emotional range in a far more vibrant and literally “alive” setting; it enables the oriental dancer to explore the wonderful art of improvisation in dance which is a key feature of oriental dance in its authentic form;  it allows a different kind of aural connection to the music whereby the different qualities of each instrument are more apparent, and often in “rawer” form than CD; being that the band may improvise, it sets up a unique situation whereby the dancer and musicians may draw from each other and create in that moment on stage, and with their audience.  This creates a totally different experience artistically in that the dancers’ connections are with the band and their music, his/her interpretation and the audience:  and such is not built on a handful of performances by anyone!  It takes time to build such a unique artistic response, much practice, much training, much getting to know the band and their repertoire, and so on and so forth! 
It is an unpredictable, exciting and thrilling experience!  This is in direct contrast to a CD whereby you press play and you know exactly what you will have each time, and there is no human contact on stage with musicians, because they are not there!  The music from CDs is produced in such a way that it is processed especially for CD production, creating a less raw sound than live.

Is it important that shows on stage with live music continue to exist?  Is it keeping some element of the dance alive? 

Yes, I think it helps keep the authenticity of the oriental dance in that dancers are encouraged to respond from their heart, to be heart led, and this strikes at the core of oriental dance, especially in its improvisatory form.  The Western approach has a tendency to be more thought out, to prioritise technical aspects of the dance over interpretation (e.g,. I have plenty of dancers asking me to teach technique; it is very rare that I hear anyone asking for classes on interpretation).  Dancing with live music draws greatly on our “feeling”, our interpretative response, and in that way it is very seductive to the senses, and it is this element which moves our audiences most of all, this element which helps draw out and develop artists.  

It is paramount that The Arab Quarterly survives if the dance community at large wishes to have the experiences outlined above.   It would be unlikely that anything comparable would be set up in its place currently if it did not exist owing to what it takes on many levels to stage such shows. 

Make sure you are displaying all the lovely images These shows bring our musicians together, giving them a chance to play all their well loved songs and lesser known ones.  Our musicians rely on practising and getting performance work in order to keep their art alive. 
There is no sheet music and at rehearsal and in performance, they feed off each other in the unique way that is peculiar to the Arab music making tradition.  It is extremely special and without such shows our musicians would have less call to come together and their music making become rarer, especially in these recessive times.  Musicians, like dancers, need to practice, need to rehearse together and need to perform their precious art form!  

 In spite of the urgency of the need to build an audience to 
ensure the survival of The Arab Quarterly, it has to be seen as a process which takes time and not some kind of right of passage.  Audiences take time to build.  And our precious audiences are what makes this possible in part.   Our audiences at The Arab Quarterly are definitely building and we have some wonderful regulars who are always there!  We thank them all wholeheartedly.

Finally, can you give us some tips for dancing to live music at The Arab Quarterly? 
1. Relax and enjoy!
2. Have the confidence to lose yourself in the music emotionally!
3. Let the connection between the audience, the band and their music and what you are dancing come with time and with naturalness and honesty.
4. Know your songs very well and practise improvising!
5. Enjoy getting to know members of the band socially at rehearsal – those odd moments of laughing, or during a break, and relaxing together are part of the bond that carries us to the stage where we all need to feel we are a “family”.

Thank you very much Melanie and Chalf.  
We wish  you every success with The Arab Quarterly!
Enjoyed this interview?
Check out more about The Arab Quarter here.
(photos by Manni)

The Next Arab Quarterly Show is on Monday 9th of September
We will be there! Will you?

Islington Assembly Hall, London, 7.30pm
Exclusive offer for Zameena readers on the Arab Quater's Chalf Hassan CD! 
The Cd you have to have
we are offering our Newsletter readers an exclusive discount on the Arab Quarter Chalf Hassan CD 
(usually £15 MASSIVE SAVINGS) This CD is packed full of great oriental dance music with fantastic changes in speed and sound to add variety to your performances - a great addition to  your CD collection. 

Just type the code AQoffer into the code box when you check out online: Find the CD HERE
Only £9.99 
with promotion code 
Get it here
ARE YOU IN GLOUCESTER? or the surrounding area?
Then I'd love to meet you - I will be teaching two fantastic workshops - so come along!

Zara in Gloucester
Eva Green in London
An unmissable opportunity to train with 

Eva Green  in London 

If you are able to travel to London on your Sundays - don't miss out on this opportunity to take advanced classes with the established and renowned Eva Green:

START DATE: 8th September 2013 (no class the 22nd of September due to Shimmy in the City) 
END OF COURSE: 20th October.
LOCATION:  The Academy North London Music, Camden Town
TIME: 11 am to 1 pm
For more info:
 In Southend, Essex?
Saturday 28th September 2013

A Charity Evening of Dancing, Fun and Frolics with
Akula Ratnavali Tribal

Tribal Unity, 
Affinity Tribal, 
The Cancan Collective, 
Ipswich African Drum Group, 
Jive Boogie, Tempus Experientia,
Zara Dance, The Sunshine Melody Band,
Mystik Hips and some of their Bellydance Tricks!
........and much more.....!!

Including Zara's Zouk!!
Join in the fun on the facebook page

We have been having LOADS of fun on the Zara's Zouk facebook page. We have started the bellydance A-Z and it has been EXCEPTIONALLY popular! Everyday we post a letter and then people have been commenting with ANYTHING bellydance related that begins with that letter. WE HAVE LEARNT SO MUCH and HAD FUN TOO so our tip is: expand knowledge - take a look and join in!

Check it out and like the facebook page and:

Aladdin Auditions
Last Notes: 

Belly dancer AUDITIONS for ALADDIN are still running as they have been extended -  Become   princess Jasmine or an evil sorcerer , or any other of the amazing characters . So BELLYDANCERS check out all the information here - you have nothing to loose by going for the auditions! LAST CHANCE this SATURDAY 7th September
Also, I have written a guest article in Helen Santa Marie Bellydancer's Ezine this month. The article is about Umm Kalthoum and WHY we bellydancers should know and study her. All too often people believe that bellydancers should know about her because she is famous in the Arab world but I believe it goes much deeper than that! Have a read and see why we should know her Check it out here

Hope you have enjoyed this month's (September 2013) Zameena! We look forward to next month's - Until then.......... 

XXX--- Happy Shimmies ---XXX

Yours, Zara and Sandra 

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