Posts Tagged ‘Summer heat’

An Exerpt from “The Zar Tales”, Chapter III

August 21, 2009

I know this drives some of the readers of this blog crazy when I do this, so I apologize up front. This jumping from one story to another.  But this blog is a writer’s blog and I confess I use it for feedback for the writing. Readers always give me the goods on things that work and don’t.  Things that sing or sink.

I am test driving the rewrite of “The Zar Tales” for publication later this fall, and put up this chapter.  I do it for a couple of reasons, and one is I have a couple of impatient private readers of “The Zar Tales” and this chapter was rather important for the novel.  I am not sure if it makes it’s mark.

The other reason is my belly dance students.  I was having lunch with one yesterday, a woman who has many multicultural experiences  in life and is old enough to sum up the important lessons.

We talked about why it was so hard to get back into the physical swing of life in the South in the summer.  She thinks it’s something in the DNA…the heat is withering to  flesh and spirit. Dancing is suspended in all forms because there just isn’t enough air conditioning to allow survival in this heat.  Anywhere, in studio or house.

She is familiar with Hyperarousal Trance, and we talked about the problems with that.  I can write long passages where I feel transported:  I can enter into the spirit of the piece, and I believe H.T. takes me there.  It’s a developed technique, and not a mystery at all.  I have been using it for about 5 years.

However, since the heat of the summer, all physical movement is a chore.  I can’t tap into H.T. with the dance right now, and that got me worried.  H.T. first came to me with Belly Dance, and I rely on it for patterning (not choreography) of movements, in fact, movement throws me further into trance.  It’s that tap into Muscle Memory, and any person who is ‘in the zone’ will recognize what I am writing about here.

Talking to other women, writers and dancers, we tried to explain our own avenues to the ‘zone’ and we generally agreed that music AND the resulting movement is the path.

I am hoping this chapter of “The Zar Tales” expresses some of that, but I am sure I will hear from them if it doesn’t.  Perhaps it’s just getting off our asses and moving and throwing it all up to fate.

Lady Nyo

“The Zar Tales” is set in a Middle East country around 1980’s when the Zar (which is a dance of exorcism of demons, a communal gathering of women) was threatened by religious authorities for their ‘pagan’ and un Muslim behavior.  A zar is also a demon, a devil, that possesses a woman.  They are handy little buggers because you can blame things on the zar and your husband can’t blame you.  It’s actually a very old ‘mental health’ solution used in many countries, especially   Egypt and Africa and some M.E. countries.

Wmen have been jailed for holding the Zar dance, and it’s practiced in secret in some countries, like Egypt, but it’s a popular event, even amongst rich Egyptian women.  It also must be practiced in Morocco and parts of Spain because I have met a couple of Moroccan and Spanish flamenco guitarists who were very knowledgeable of the ayoub beat…which they called the zar beat.

This chapter is rather self explanatory, except for the history of the Zar dance.

(Note:  The word “Ayaaaa!” is  an exclamation used on the floor to encourage the dancers, to introduce them, to create excitement.)


Chapter III

Shakira looked at the women sitting on the floor. Some were smoking, most talking and the sound of clinking bottles could be heard though the women’s  robes muffled most of the sound.

Aliya, don’t be so stingy with that bottle. Pass it over here, woman.”

You will guzzle it, and then we will have to clean up the mess.” Laugher sounded throughout the room. Some of the women sipped from the hidden and forbidden bottles of their husbands. They were not the young ones.

Give them time, thought Shakira, the wine will flow as easy as their tongues and their laughter.

It was not often they could gather, and each yearned for a time where inhibitions would lessen and gossip, the companionship of women, was allowed.

Jassa”, called Shakira, “come spread the cloth on the altar. We must do this properly if

we are to catch a Zar tonight.”

Perhaps cousin we catch two Zars tonight. My Farah has been complaining of stomach troubles and maybe a Zar has gripped her middle.”

Shakira shook her head and laughed. “Farah eats too many dates and she is fat as a ewe. No Zar would have room to lodge in her stomach. Too much food in there.”

Dried fruit, stuffed dates, nuts and sweet breads were passed around on large trays. A large brass one was placed on the altar, made of a high stool in the middle of the room. This was for the spirits who happened to come wandering in during the drumming. No mortal would dare touch that offering.

A number of women had drums, smuggled under their voluminous robes. The tamboura , an ancient lyre-like instrument, was already in the hands of Leila, and she busy tuning it to suit the mood of the evening. Leila usually started with sad songs, and as the wine made the rounds, the tempo of the tamboura , followed by the drums, would increase and the women would make little effort to confine their happiness.

Ah! Life could be good! It was just a matter of side- stepping the men.

Tonight Shakira had an idea, something she had been thinking about for a while. The festival of the Goddess Nut was approaching, and though no longer celebrated openly, Nut was a Goddess close to the heart of women. Protector of the dead, Nut was also beloved by the living, for she spread her body over the Universe and fed and comforted them from her teats. There was always enough milk from generous Nut and she was beloved by mothers, and most of the women in the village were mothers. So many babies now in the arms of Nut, resting like stars in her bosom. She had lost her only babe, along with her husband many years ago. So Ali was both to her and tonight she would dance in celebration. Allah was the men’s god, but Nut had the heart and devotion of women.

Leila started to play her tamboura, and slow, sad chords and plaints tumbled from her fingers. Women around the room hushed, listened with their ears and hearts, heads nodding. This was the music reaching up to their wombs and lifting the sorrows of their lives off their bosoms. Shakira could imagine the ghosts of children and husbands long gone floating like wisps of smoke in the center of the room. Tonight they would join together, still part of the village though no longer in corporal form. The magic of Leila’s fingers drew forth tears along with these invisible spirits.

Then her playing changed and the drums picked up a faster tempo. Gone was the mourning of the women, to be replaced by joy. Voices were lifted in song and personal chant, and shoulders swayed and hands clapped out a counter rhythm to the drums. She felt a trance take over her body, slip up her loins and envelop her mind.

Ahhhh! It was a warm embrace, and it wasn’t Ali! Warm enough to make her hips and breast start to move. Shakira rose to her feet and discarded her outer garment. She shook out her arms and rolled her head around. Her white cotton undergown was loose over her swelling breasts and haunches. She kicked off her sandals and her long black hair streamed down her back, unplaited, flowing like dark waves. She paced around the circle, her body picking up the rhythm of the drums and tamboura, her hips defining a pattern of movement, her arms held out from her body. She was dancing the age-old dance of women, for women, to greet the cares and concerns of their tribe. For, men aside, women were the heart beat of the village, they were the blood coursing through the alleys and up to the well. They were the waters of Life and they lived it.

Shakira stalked the room, now a tigress, the drums following her, she commanding the rhythm. Shaking, bowing, swaying, each movement mirrored in the watching eyes of the women. She danced alone, but the movements were blood, flesh and muscle of each woman that sat before her. Heads nodded in time with the drums, hands clapped, some women pounding the floor in counter rhythms, swaying with their own bodies in imitation of Shakira’s dancing. She moved around the room, hips shaking, belly rolling, shoulders thrown back and forth, hair cascading outward like the whirling skirts of the Dervishes of Turkey as she turned in circles, feet pivoting beneath her body in time to the drums.


Sheikha Shakira dances in the river of life! The Sheikha captures our hearts and lifts them to the Goddesses’ lips!”

Ayaaa! We dance with you, Shakira!”

Voices were raised in chants, joined together in different harmonies, rising up to the ceiling, taking wing in the nighttime air. Shakira’s feet pounded out rhythms deep into the earth. Her hands and flinging arms commanded the winds, and the women’s chants rose to the ears of heaven.


Sweat dripped on the face of Leila as she played the tamboura, her fingers flashing on the lyre-like instrument and the drums beat different cadences, creating multi-layered sounds. This drone of music underlaid the vocals of  women singing in strange harmonies. Pagan magic filled the room and Shakira’s body radiated the energies of an older culture. Gone were the cities, the stuff of modern life, the mullahs, the chadors and berka that veiled the beauties of women and in their place were the teats of nourishing Goddess Nut, spreading her body over the universe, the stars coursing through her body, the planets, the moons, the comets, too. The sun crept up her holy woman’s place at night, to be born out of her mouth at dawn. The moon too, came forth from her body, and the passage of the hours were marked by her Houri, the original women of the night, dancing with lessening veils till they lay under her belly at daybreak, sleeping.

Praise Nut! Goddess of women. Goddess of our own, time before time, Goddess before any God!

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

Belly Dance, Spiritual Connection, Muscle Memory and Summer Heat!

July 22, 2009

Jesus!  It’s hard to get back to it in this sultry heat.  Even air conditioning doesn’t make much difference when you are working hard and fast.

The summer is always the dead zone for classes, and my students and I (the few I have…..we aren’t talking hordes here…) have agreed to ‘can it’ for the duration of the heat.  Late September is when I go back to studio or dancing in public, and my students are welcome back then.

However, I realize that there is a deep and enduring body/mind connection for me with dancing.  And in particular, belly dancing.

I’ve been dancing for a little over 5 years now, and people would have thought that I would have lost interest by now.  At least some.  But belly dancing is something that goes deep in your body.  Five years of moving in particular ways means that muscle memory is  up and working, present even when you aren’t.

And then, there’s that spiritual connection that is intangible but we feel it.  The flesh made Spirit.

It took me a couple of minutes, putting on music and listening to ALL of it….not just the tracks I like, but the ones I don’t like.  When you dance in clubs, venues, you don’t get the privilege of choosing most of the music you like.  Sometimes, but that is  not always.  But the music goes deep (most of it) and the body on a very primitive level starts to respond.  It twitches.   The  shoulders go back and down, the shoulders start to rotate, the breasts lift, the arms come up and at least the upper torso starts to come alive.  The neck and head perk up.  Something responds at a very deep level, and you find movement and satisfaction in this beginning movement.  It floods the senses and soon you are on a different ‘plane’.

I think it’s this ‘hyperarousal trance’ thing.  After a few years of training your body to respond to movement, and particular, repeated and enforced movements…something clicks in the brain.

Something magnificent and and transcending.  Little zars running around your brain and body.

Yeah.  I have missed this fundamental part of my life for the past few months.

Just enough to make me realize what is bedrock in my life.  Today I’m going back to self-classes, to regain that power and confidence that all dancers have…at least those who recognize the inherent power of their bodies and movement.

Some good dance music a la Arabic/Turkish style:

“Beats Antique” tribal derivations.

“Wash Ya Wash” Sharif & Hassan  (takes a bit to get used to: warning: Popular Egyptian music…but of some merit for dancing, especially the middle passages of most songs.

“The Kabila Project” Eventide Productions

“Alif” Omar Faruk Tekbilek  (a personal favorite, for listening to  and also dancing…)

Part of the problem with most canned music is finding songs, tracks that are SLOW enough to really work the zones.  So much of bellydancing music is too fast.  You end up doing some weird things.  Slowing down the tempo makes for a concentrated application of movement particular to a zone that can be repeated again and again to develop muscle memory.  The second track on Wash Ya Wash is a pleasant surprise.  Slow enough, and with repeat phrasing to go decently through combined movements, or just single movements.

And the fact is — you can dance until they place coins on your eyes.

Teela/Lady Nyo

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