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Next week the wonderfully talented Bobby Beakbane will be co-hosting a Zar workshop at Summerhall Arts Complex.  There’s full information on the Zar into the winter: Dance for expression, healing and fun! Facebook event page, extract below:


Date & Time: Thursday, 15 November 2012, 19:00 until 21:00

Venue: Summerhall Arts complex

Cost: £14 / £10 concession (nibbles and wine included).

To book: email robertadmp @ gmail dot com or message Roberta on Facebook.

“Kick start the gloomy days with a Zar ritual dance accompanies by live musicians.These experiential workshops explore the cultural roots, context and the ritual of the Zar ceremony. This workshop will use led and free dance and be accompanied by musicians, it is open to women of all ages, ethnicities, orientations and dancing backgrounds.

“Facilitated by Roberta Beakbane and Ali Giles. Roberta is a dance movement therapist and tribal fusion belly dance performer and teacher currently based in Edinburgh. She has spent the last three years living in Korea and traveling extensively to learn about the cultural roots and expression of various dance forms.
“Ali is a holistic therapist and healthcare professional with a long standing interest in the connection between body and mind and its relationship with health, wellbeing and the disease process.

“A little about Zar.

“Rather than being a dance style, Zar is a trance ritual that predates Islam and is still performed in many Middle Eastern and North African countries with the sole purpose of healing.
“The zar used a distinct rhythm and movement involves hair tossing and swaying and is often described as providing a means to release emotion. Now Zar is often used for performance and incorporated into Arabic dance.”


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I taught five hours of workshops on Saturday as part of the Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace festival. I held them in the McDonald Road Library, a venue I’d never used before, but it was pretty nice. The floor was carpeted which wouldn’t be ideal for everything, but for what we were doing it was fine – a Mums & Daughter’s bellydance taster lesson and two Zaar workshops that I entitled “Wellness and Energy Through Ancient Rhythm and Movements!”

I had a really good time! The last time I did a big workshop day I was completely exhausted afterwards, so I was a little concerned that I’d be feeling the same way after this, which wasn’t ideal as I’d planned to go out for a family dinner afterwards… but I wasn’t! As I left the library after packing up from the last workshop I was buzzing, full of energy and positivity. The time went so quickly – the Mums & Daughter’s one especially – it was like I blinked and half the lesson had gone by.

One of my intermediate students explained to me that our perception of time is linked to our serotonin levels, hence explaining that time really does seem to speed up when we’re having fun!

I’ve led a Zaar workshop before, and I used feedback both from the myself and the participants to help me develop the format. I’m much happier and more confident about how I run it now. One of the changes I made was to allow for more input from the participants, which opened up a wealth of knowledge and experience in both sessions on Saturday. It was fascinating for me to hear from the others there and (I hope) interesting and possibly enlightening for the other ‘students’ to hear from one another.

Another change I made for this workshop day was to leave out a journal for people to leave any written comments they felt moved to share. Verbal feedback is wonderful and something I really appreciate, but my memory isn’t perfect and over time much of what’s said to me fades. Having things written down is so helpful in combating that issue for me. Happily the feedback left written for me was all positive, which apart from making me feel validated in the changes I made also motivates me to organise more workshops. So… watch this space!

So this Saturday is my ‘workshop day’ – 3 workshops in one day, what was I thinking!?!  Still, I am quite looking forward to it.  I love the sound of the Ayoub, I particularly love being in a room full of people beating the rhythm out together.  It’s magical. Dancing or simply moving all together to that rhythm is very powerful too.

In between those two workshop is a Mothers & Daughter’s bellydance workshop.  I’ve always had a real giggle when I’ve done these in the past, so I’m looking forward to that too but in a totally different way.  There was a bit on an American TV show called The O’Reilly Factor recently where the producer went to a bellydance competition in LA.  You can see it for yourself here. This show is a right-wing, conservative show so they had a fairly negative, stereotyped take on bellydance, with the show’s star commenting afterwards that bellydance should be “sixteen and up for that sort of stuff”.  Seemed to like an excuse to show some female skin and then condemn it to me at least.

I do take issue with the idea that girls shouldn’t learn bellydance – obviously, running the Mum’s & Daughter’s workshop I disagree with that sentiment.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that bellydance is not sexual or sensual because I believe that it absolutely can be.  I don’t think it always it – for example Zoe Jakes’ performances are not ‘sexual’ to my eyes, though they are powerful, as are all performances that I think of as ‘good’, sexual or not.  It’s this power that I think is of benefit to women and girls to learn to tap into.  It’s this power that I think is threatening to some people.  It’s morally repulsive to imagine a 12 year old girl performing a strip-tease for a male audience, but learning to isolate and control the movements of her hips, ribs, shoulders etc. and showing that off in a performance?  More power to her for learning to work with and appreciate her body.

The Zaar ritual is a healing rite conducted (typically) by women for women in parts of East Africa and the Arabian peninsula.  It tends to involve, among other things, ritual purification, music and dance.  There is a mythology and history behind it that I intend to write about in another post, later.

I first experienced the musical and dancing aspect of the Zaar in a focus class that was run by Hilary Thacker, with Adam Reid drumming for us.  We spent the whole hour listening to this one rhythm that we called the Ayoub. Here’s a clip of this rhythm being demonstrated:

We practised movements very unlike our normal bellydance movements – much looser with no real concern for how they looked.  There was a lot of turning and twisting, throwing our hair around and throwing out our arms.  It was tiring, but the rhythm drove me on.  We kept at it for pretty much the whole hour and afterwards I felt amazing!  I’ve often experienced a ‘high’ after exercise, but this felt more profound than a straightforward exercise high.

That’s the reason that I took to researching the Zaar, and it’s the reason that I now share my knowledge by facilitating workshops focused on this combination of music and movement.  It’s the reason I call the workshops “Wellness and Energy Through Ancient Rhythm and Movements”, because it does energise and contribute to a sense of well-being in my experience.

If you’re interested in trying this out, my next workshops are on Saturday February 27th, as part of the Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace festival pre-events.  You can book online here.

Yesterday I had the extreme pleasure of taking the Yin Yoga and Shimmy workshop facilitated by lovely Lauryn Elise Peterson Higgins of Zanzibar studio.  As well as teaching bellydance Lauryn and leading her own troupe, Mirabai, is a certified yoga instructor and also, in conjunction with her mother (who was at the workshops) is a constructive living instructor.  Read the rest of this entry »

So it seems today has been my motivated day (which I’m sure has nothing at all to do with distracting myself from my boy’s absence…).

I did a bunch of domestic chores earlier, visited family and then came home and fixed my website (some of my paypal buttons and my links weren’t working properly!), added in info about & the ability to book the workshops I’m running as part of the MESP festival.  I’m also working on the facebook event pages for the 3 workshops.  The Zaar one is up already!

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