Saturday, 8 November 2014

Improvisation of a different kind

TABLA Bellydance loves to improvise to live music, but Zohra takes it to a whole new arena. Here she shares some of her efforts at bringing things together to make something new and amazing, and amazingly useful. You might find some inspiration from her creative efforts, or as she puts it “making stuff up to see if I can”.

The tambourine

When TABLA began exploring dancing with tambourines, we hadn’t yet found a decent supplier for the instrument. So I went to the bargain shop and bought hob covers (the old-fashioned things that one can put over hot plates), bells and hooked loops (like the ones on wine charms) and after a bit of work with a hole punch, created some ‘practice’ tambourines.

They sound awful, but they gave us something to work with until we were able to find actual tambourines that we liked.
A hob cover tambourine
Hob covers - not just for the kitchen

The zills

No, not the actual zills. The straps. The idea came from another dancer who uses bra strap slides to tighten the zills to her fingers. Brilliant idea. When I contemplated this, I realised that I didn't have elastic of the right width for the slide I had. Then it occurred to me – use the old bra strap you just took the slide off.

Don't throw those old bras away!
There's more in Zohra's craft box ("Box? Who has just one box?") - Next time - set lists, sticks and seats.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Drumming Left Handed

Part of TABLA each week for the first section of the Group is drumming with our wonderful percussionist Richard, who mentors us in the art of Drumming, teaching us the various rhythms using both hands with the  parts of  fingers and  whole hand with different technique of the many styles involved with drumming. Some of the group play on large animal skinned drums, some on the vinyl and some play on the smaller drums whilst others play on the tambourine, but for most part they play on their own drums that they have purchased.

Most drummers will play the drum right handed, lucky for me I am right handed, but find it is easier to play it left handed - which in itself is a whole new concept and something quite challenging as I have found after discovering that it was better to use than the right hand. Learning a new percussion instrument or using a prop in Bellydance to enhance the choreography is challenging most times depending on what it is, but when having to do drum left handed, it gets interesting to say the very least.

Positioning the drum on your lap either left or right side is pretty much the same or as many choose they have it standing upright on the floor at an angle, but it's the sound that follows after its first hit that matters, with the hand hitting the centre of the drum to create the deeper sounding first beat with it's correct sound. You can usually tell by the look on faces, hearing it and possibly a raised eyebrow or two from your instructor if the sound is off...that's usually the best way I know, because they look directly at you. It gets frustrating at times when the sound doesn't quite come across right on the initial impact and even the best and experienced drummers will have an off day with it till they find their drumming groove and "get into the zone".

Practicing when you can helps a great deal to get used to the way of holding your hand flat and your fingers closed together when you get a minute or a longer length of time to dedicate to drumming. It may not necessarily be on a drum due to the noise, it could be on the side of your knee relaxing at home or waiting at an appointment, listening to 4/4 counts to a song on the car radio as you drum your fingers on the steering wheel. I have been finding myself doing alot of that lately, getting some interesting looks from other motorists whilst stopped at a set of traffic lights with the music turned up drumming and singing away. But by sticking with it and learning to play something that is new, adds to the ever vast repertoire you have, as you slowly build it up and get that quiet sense of  accomplishment when it all comes together sounding pretty good at the end.

Softer notes with the fingers on the sound of the drum will create redness on the finger pad tips and to the first digit and too far down your fingers if hit wrong, as many have found out when first beginning drumming, as the middle finger will take the brunt of the edge with the other two fingers on either side will create a softer but firmer sound - and this is only with the left hand the right hand is a whole different story. Jewellry such as bracelets and the wearing of rings, I found isn't great either,  neither is having longish all gives a different sound to the drum when the skin is hit and the sound on the side of the rim with a wrist full of beautiful bracelets and bangles...although they look very good with the bling, just not as conducive to the playing of the drum.

Learning the basic scale when drumming in a  group is important, you need to know when to go back to it, if you feel flustered and cannot find the beat you were first starting to do as other drummers in the group go faster and add different strokes and sounds to the piece you are playing. Once you find your groove again and confident of doing this, I found that I was able to add the right hand fingers with it's sharp definitive strikes to the top of the drum and rim, giving the piece you are playing a different sound as both hands are used to continue with it. Then you will find that practicing whilst sometimes ending up with a red knee at times and singing at stop lights in the car whilst drumming on your steering wheel receiving all those funny looks from passing motorists was well worth it in the end.

Left Handed drumming Ra`naa - what not to do...curved hand, open's a work in progress and the whole brain gym concept to get the left hand thinking like the right hand will come in time with much practice and guided by our teacher. 

Right handed drummers Daluna and Zohra - Right hand flat and fingers close together and arm is straight.

Play to the beat of your drum and enjoy.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014


TABLA bellydance's YouTube channel is slowly being populated! Here's a piece we all loved performing - "Gypsy Sentez" or sometimes called "Misbehaving Basimah" ...  i'm sure someone knows where the second title came from ...

Here it is for your viewing pleasure, from a performance at Bellyissimo in 2010!

If you'd like to get in touch with us, leave a comment or check out our facebook page!
Sam :)

Monday, 16 June 2014

The TABLA photo Archive - 1

"Basic to all dance is a sense of celebration. The word dance itself comes from the Sanskrit, tanha, meaning - joy of life."

                                               Wendy Buonaventura, Belly Dancing, The Serpent and the Sphinx.

Here is the first post from the TABLA image archives. I go back and look through these every so often to have a trip down memory lane. I love seeing the joy, laughter and fun we always when performing. I only wish we had images of the faces of the audience when they watch  the colour of the costumes, see the joy on the dancers faces and hear the music.

Related Posts

Shimmy on!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Behind the scenes - getting our SEW on!

It was many years ago at a National Folk Festival that I first saw these gorgeous women in gorgeous costumes, dancing. The things that caught my eye were the colourful costumes that swirled and glittered as they moved. Next were the dazzling smiles and fun these ladies were having up there on stage. It was the colour costumes that really stuck in my mind.

 One way that we in TABLA like to make ourselves unique is to have gorgeous costumes. This means getting our sew on regularly. Now, not all of us are sewers, be we sure do have a good crack at it. One year Santa bought me a sewing machine & under the careful (& patient) instruction of Zohra, my first TABLA harem pants came to being (bright yellow bloomers with 3 meters of satin - wowzers).

 When a new costume is required we chat, research, chat some more and decide on the design. There might be working bees that find some people cutting patterns, others pinning, some over-locking & the most prestigious position- foraging for sustenance (read chocolate/coffee).

Here are some behind the scenes costume creating photos

Related links
 Shimmy on folks!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Image of Belly Dance: The Performance and the Body

Zohra and Hadeeqa of TABLA had a performance for a group of social workers at ANU on Tuesday night. Planning to have one choreographed piece to open the show, each a solo, and the rest of the performance as improvisation, we were gearing up to be in our performer headspace. Having not had much experience in restaurant performances, I was a little unsure as to what to do. With coins on our hips, charcoal eye make-up, and a last costume check, we went on into the restaurant and performed our set list. The audience claimed, cheered, smiled, laughed, and some even got up to dance at the end. In my assigned week of blog posts, I'd like to explore the atmosphere belly dance brings; in particular, the divide between the performer and the audience member. I would also like to discuss a very important part of belly dance, and that is its broader transformative effect on the dancer.

The Performer and the Audience Member
            The division between performer and audience member depends on the space in which the performance is taking place. In my experience, a restaurant is different to a staged show at a festival, which is different again to paid show in a theatre. In a theatre, the audience in front of you is often family and friends; they have come to see you and they are only interested in you. Here, the performer comes on stage, lights are brightened, music comes on, and for 3 minutes, the performer is the focus and the audience stays quiet - often, in the dark. At a festival, it tends to be more casual; people drift in and out. They may stay, have a dance, ask you questions, or they may go to see what else is on offer at the festival. Here, the audience is fully visible, and the division between performer and audience member blurs as the performer feeds off the audience's behaviour and even invites audience members up on stage to join in.
            At a restaurant, it is different again; the performer is there as a prop. The audience is in full view, and even though you have been hired either by someone in the audience or by the restaurant itself, the audience member may choose to watch you, or to talk amongst themselves, eat, drink, or leave to use the bathroom or have a smoke. This is not in any way intended to critique the audience member or to grumble about not getting attention! This is merely the atmosphere belly dance creates within the restaurant. The performance itself, the music, and the sound of coin belts and other such signifiers of belly dance, is what changes the atmosphere of a restaurant, not the performer.    

The Professional Body
            Once considered grotesque and immoral by the West, traditional Middle Eastern belly dance was a signifier of the Other - "fetishised" as exotic (Keft-Kennedy, 2010). In many ways this idea still exists. By donning ourselves with dark eye make-up, elaborate costumes that are reminiscent of traditional dance, and signifiers such as coins, jewelery, and props, we as Western belly dancers transform ourselves into the exotic Other - an act labeled cultural appropriation. We transform into that fetish, the stereotype of a belly dancer. However, beneath the exterior, cosmetic transformation lies another transformation, literally - the body. And here is the division between the amateur and the professional, as we see the transformation at work.
            In the article, 'How Does She Do That?' Bellydance and the Horror of a Flexible Woman (2010), Keft-Kennedy discusses the transformation of the body within belly dance. Keft-Kennedy argues that key techniques in belly dance involving the isolation of various body parts creates a particular kind of flexible and muscular body - a body that may not be considered as such among other dancers and athletes. It is a body that may be considered grotesque in its abnormal skill, sensual in its focus on the hips, and exotic in itself. While many men around the world belly dance, it is often considered a female dance in the West, and I wonder whether this assumption is due to the particular display of the body - exoticness and sensuality are often associated with femininity. The professional belly dancer body becomes a signifier in itself; essentially, a body which is trained to do all these weird, strange, sensual, exotic, fun things... we see a body trained to perform all the hip slides, belly pops, undulations, and shimmies it wants! 
            To conclude, our restaurant performance went well despite nerves; it was a different experience, and it made me think just how atmosphere of belly dance is modified depending on the context, the space, and the audience. I found the article fascinating, and I encourage you to read more about belly dance from an anthropological perspective. I did not have time - or space - this week to go into other topics surrounding belly dance. Topics such as its feminist appeal (due to the female domain belly dance possesses), the various mental health benefits that have been found in belly dancers, and more thorough understandings of the exotic and the sensual, give a greater understanding as to why we love belly dance, and why we continue to do so.

Happy belly dancing!

Hadeeqa from TABLA


Keft-Kennedy, V. (2005). "'How does she do that?' Belly dancing and the horror of a flexible woman." Women's studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 34(3-4): 279-300.     

Friday, 16 May 2014

Raw Chocolate Brownies - a delicious mid-rehearsal snack!

TABLA's Inara Suri always has something healthy and delicious to share during rehearsals and between workshops. One of our favourites is this raw chocolate brownie recipe, and we're not alone! I know the dancers at the last Bahar Bayram enjoyed these treats as much as we all do. Not only do they taste delicious, but they also ease your PMS! Apparently, it's all that raw cacao, goji berries and brazi nuts! 




Preparation Time10 minutes
Equipment Required: Food processorSpoonBowl

1/2 cup of dates
1/2 cup of raisins
1/2 cup of almonds
1/2 cup of Brazil nuts
1/2 cup of cacao powder
1/2 cup of honey, rapadura or coconut palm sugar (optional. the mixture might be sweet enough)
1/2 cup of goji berries
1/4 tsp star anise (optional but it adds a nice liquorice flavour.)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

1. Simply blend all of the ingredients in the food processor until well mixed.
2. If you prefer, you can add in the goji berries at the last minute so that you still have some texture to the brownie.
3. Taste the mixture, if you would like a more chocolatey flavour, add a little more cacao powder. If you would like it sweeter, add a touch more honey or sugar.
4. Shape in to the desired shape, such as squares or balls.


Inara has recently started a facebook page called Healthy lunchboxes, healthy lives. There, you will find ideas to inspire healthy lunchboxes (& other meals) and to create healthy vibrant lives. It's certainly worth checking out!


THIS RECIPE IS REPRODUCED HERE WITH PERMISSION REQUIRING THE FOLLOWING CREDIT: Charlie Lagoa publishes "Happy Hormones" - a free weekly eZine for happy hormones, because happy hormones mean a happy, gorgeous and glowing YOU! If you're ready to look and feel fabulous every day of the month, get your free tips and recipes now at

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Why does it have to be so hard!? TABLA enters the Digital Age

This week we've been busy *trying* to set up our YouTube account ... There are lots of new rules about not using names that aren't actully personal names - I feel a bit bad for those celebrity babies ... Google will never let them have a gmail account!

In any case, WE NOW HAVE A YOUTUBE CHANNEL!!! Even if we can't add any actual information about us or a 'channel art' or our website, or blog ... *sigh* ... We're a bit late, but we're finally entering the digital age.

There are massive benefits to the "digital age", sharing videos, getting to know dancers from all over the place, getting to know the people who enjoy our dancing. There are downsides, of course, the main one being the tendency for computers (yes, in the plural) to die, taking all of your video, photos and other important dance stuff with it.

Fortunately we have backups (scattered between various troupe members). So we're opening Our YouTube Channel with a bit of a Flashback.

We're going waaay back to 2008 (that wasn't *that* long ago, was it?), when we made a very fancy video showing some of our choreography creation and rehearsal process, intermixed with photos (some with fantastically tacky photoshopped backgrounds - they looked good at the time, ok!), and bits of performance footage that wasn't on video (actual VHS video ... shhh! We're not that old!). Anyway, we thought it was awesome, so we're sharing it with you today!

Sam :)

Thursday, 1 May 2014

There's a First Time for Everything!

... and today marks the first time TABLA bellydance have created a blog post!

Welcome to our Blog. :)

We plan to share here our adventures in bellydance, from choreography creation through to performance, our love of improvisation and our passion for the dance. We enjoy creating quirky combinations, adding theatrical elements to our dance, as well as delving into the purely traditional ... well, as pure as we can make it! :)

You might also get to read about our struggles to create a left-hand tek, our successes in winning the 'name that rhythm' game and our further explorations of Arabic Percussion with our very patient drummer, Richard.

Our website is currently undergoing a rather large overhaul, and we'll be posting most of its content here first. That's right! You'll be getting a sneak preview! We'd love to get your feedback on what you'd like to know about our members, both past and present, so please leave comments!! :)

Screen shot from the Website rebuild. What do you think?

We look forward to sharing our journey with you!
Remember to subscribe!

Sam :)