09
Mar
10

so…do you dance?

So…today as I’m on the train after two doctor appointments; I plug into my iTouch and listen to what I call my commuter favorites (below I give a listing so you get an idea of what flows through my mind as I hear the songs). What came to mind was our dancing lessons (my husband and I) through out the years- as I was exposed to Yemeni music and he to my very eclectic collection.

It all really started at our wedding (seems eons ago but so fresh in my mind)- and like most Muslim weddings- segregated events and bantering to the laughs of guests but to the discomfort of bride and groom (sometimes bawdy in nature)! Well, you may know that many foreign-born Muslims here in the USA have a tendency of saying how ‘haram’ music is, dancing in public, and all that- but in their home countries they have rich collections of music of all genre and for all events- go figure! So, of course, you come in baffling contact with this almost schizophrenic mentality of a convert- not sure of what to make of your life surrounded by such pious people, only to encounter, when you travel to their home countries, what a load of crap some pronouncements really are!

My wedding was an eye opener into Yemeni culture. I found that there were special songs, poems, and a very Yemeni version of stanza ‘out doing’ that can only be described as sword play with words- cutting even- depending on who the recipients are. Steven C. Caton has a book called ‘Peaks of Yemen I Summon’ that is a literary journey through ‘Poetry as Cultural practice’ describing the balah and zamil, as well as other forms. My husband, as Americanized as he is, is still considered by his tribe as a sha’ir (poet) who can create verse “min ras-ah” (off the top of his head) and a great mediator for his tribe, albeit from afar (can’t tell you how many midnights calls have come in from home needing his intervention) because he is sharaf (honorable)wa gabili (and a man of his word) and because ‘kull(a) had yishti yi’tamid kala nafs-ah (everyone wants to rely on himself). You can take the Yemeni out of Yemen, but you can’t take Yemen out of the Yemeni!

women dancing

The women at my wedding sang the traditional songs of the bride that leaves her home, of the anguish of being in a new household, of that first night, etc., in the same balah and zamil format. Many of these songs are accompanied by dances that look very familiar to the song and dances of India during the pre-wedding parties traditional Sangits that my husband would enjoy so much when colleagues would invite us to join in celebration with Banghra music that husband and son both enjoy tremendously. I some times think they must have been Punjabi in a previous life!!!

Some songs were accompanied by drums; and other make shift instruments from gourd, empty containers of plastic and cans (very inventive)- and most every woman participated especially the married ones. My mother-in-law danced a song of welcome to her new daughter similar to the male balah version of father with his son. As is tradition I was asked to join her mid song and dance to represent my acceptance of my duties within the household. The steps were simple enough for me to follow, so I had blast! LOL

Then came the zamil- verbal sword play stanzas, where one would “make a statement”, in this case about the bride, though it can be, and is used for debates and political encounters; and around the room the participants would try to out do the previous stanza. They had me in tears of laughter, since I was not the ‘virginal’ bride (I had been briefly married before) and they could “let it rip”! From great-grandmother down the line, everyone that was married got a stab at it. Then came the younger set to dance and sing songs to remind the bride what she would be missing as she stepped away from girlhood. My sister-in-laws are great dancers, so they showed their stuff,  but no hair tossing like in the Khaleeji area or Saudi. They actually brought tears of sadness because indeed I was putting my independence aside and being cuddled by maternal and paternal family.

The same was happening in another area for the men- with their sword dances, poems and verbal sword play. I got to see the pictures and movies- but of course there were no pictures or videos from the women’s side. That is all written in my journals for later recollection and reminiscing.

So during the 30 day honeymoon- I was not allowed to do anything that would fade the henna and nakash (black henna that in Yemen is mixed with a particular salt that with repeated use can become permanent or close enough) with intricate designs on my hands, arms, back, and legs. Shower was the only thing I could do. It was like in many cultures that use bridal henna, to prolong the deep colors that meant how much and for how long my husband would love me and how much my new family wanted to or did accept me.

It was during this time that the question came up between my husband and I – ‘so…do you dance?’

I learned with my husband some traditional dances, I taught my husband dances from Jordan and most of the Levant region, but what would cause the most hilarious moments were when I started teaching my husband how to dance merengue, salsa, cumbia, boleros, tango, and samba! He was a quick study for sure- I had with me tape recordings (at that time it was vinyl and tape for you youngins) to accompany our steps. He would swoon at the boleros, sort of hyperventilate on the samba and cumbia; and see the beautiful dance lines of the traditional Trujillo-Military style ‘merengue’ (Dominicans know your social status by how little your upper body moves while dancing merengue- the less the better), salsa, and tango. The latter would thrill my husband when we saw ‘Forever Tango’ on Broadway.

The songs we danced to, were etched in our minds forever. In later years they would become the ring tones on our mobile phones. And the food for conversation, debate topics, and teaching opportunities for our kids.

Thank God my husband was not double left footed- or as they say in Spanish, ‘no lo saltaron cuando chico’ meaning you weren’t shook to the beat of music when you were little. Me, I was taught to dance just about everything from both parents while they were still married and by the countless aunts and uncles as they traveled back and forth. So I had a good handle on rhythm and steps. My son to this day says ‘I’m tinkle toes’ because it seems my feet don’t touch the floor as I dance. And he is always proud to say that I can dance salsa with sari and stiletto heels! Picture that!

So today these were the favorites I heard: Ricardo Arjona the very interesting writer/singer who has metaphors down pat- ‘Si el Norte fuera Sur’, ‘El y Ella’ (which my husband has as my ring tone)- singing from social protest to ballads and danceable music (got himself in a heap of trouble right after 911 for one of his songs- but he’s made out of Teflon). Tito Rodriguez and his ‘Inolvidable’ voice and my husband’s favorite -don’t know if its because I can sing it acapella or because of the words of shared sorrow in ‘A mi me pasa lo mismo que a usted’- the voice that would be the cause of Tito’s death. The ever popular Juan Luis Guerra with his ‘440’ band. His equally metaphorical use of ideas in his ballads, boleros, bachatas, and merengues: like his very international ‘Guavaberry’, ‘La Bilirubina’, ‘Burbujas de Amor, ‘Que Llueva Cafe’, and ‘Como Aveja al Panal’ about old fashion courtship in Dominican villages.

Bachata would be something my son would introduce into our repertoire in the last few years- contagious enough that even my boss has an enviable collection (courtesy of my son) that he blasts when he is working with intensity or driving. The man is Jewish!

There’s Brazil 66 with Sergio Mendes’ ‘Mais Que Nada’ and ‘Usted Abuso’ all in Portuguese- plus the now ever popular ‘Capeira Do Brasil’ (don’t know who sings it)that you’d have to be dead to not want to dance to it! The english songs of Michael Buble with his rendition of ‘Sway’, ‘I’m your man’, ‘Home’ -and my ring tone for my husband: ‘Everything’.

The oldies but goodies – Marvin Gaye (the first go around), the Supremes, the Fifth Dimension with the popular ‘One less…’ and ‘Last Night- I didn’t get to sleep’, Motown favorites like ‘Tears of a Clown’, ‘Love on a Two way Street’, and ‘Uptight, Out of sight’; Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac and who can forget Robert Flack with ‘Killing me Softly’? Finished off with the newer pop songs of Shakira, Cristina Aguilera with ‘Hurt’ that when my daughter and her friend Nadia sing it- it brings tears to my eyes- those girls have some set of pipes! Boyz 2 men, Faith Evans, U be 40 (if you like jazz), Alejandro Sanz, Savage Garden, Paul Simon, John Mayer, my two favorite Italians -Eros Ramazotti and Andrea Bocelli.

Plus my arab favorites- Abu Bakr Salem with ‘Ya Dunya’ in his deep voice using a mixture of Yemeni and Khaleeji rhythms, Mohammed Abdu, Fairouz, Najwa Karam, and Fares Karam. The classical music -that would fill another three pages! But you get the idea. Its Vivaldi and his ‘Four Seasons’ when I’m on a dead line; and the Brandenburg Conciertos and Yo-Yo Ma with his special cello (uses real gut not synthetics) when on a good pace or mood.

All of these songs and music fill my mind as I travel or work; creating a shock absorbing barrier to New York life on the run. Its a reminder of the universality of music and the memories of shared and hilarious moments with my husband and kids. My son still can’t dance salsa even if his life depended on it!!!

Some muslims out there will say ‘Haram, Haram’- but you know what?… I could care two hoots. Allah will judge me- not ‘nas’. I wouldn’t trade one moment of laughter, of synchronized movements, demonstrations of ability or lack thereof, lovely boleros enunciating a love only songs can sing, nor family parties consisting of son, daughters, husband and yours truly, nor those cultural moments shared with in-laws and women I would otherwise never have known- for anything. A taste of my version of paradise with the ones I love.

Muslims will quote hadith and just about anything to prove their point- but even the Prophet (SAW) had his moments shared with others- music or otherwise accompanied. And for those that know- Music is Math in melody. For the first years of my children’s lives they were ‘Bach Babies’. Mother’s pride- they’re brilliant! LOL

So.. my friends…do you dance? Love to hear your stories!

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3 Responses to “so…do you dance?”


  1. March 9, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I dance–though not as well as you do! And listen to some of the same music, and will check the others. However, your post reminded me that I attended part of a hispanoamerican mass, and wow! the music for the communion and the recessional was very dance-inspiring, a little mariachi, a little more generic and very holy I am sure… 🙂

    • 2 INAL
      March 10, 2010 at 12:29 am

      Hahaha- oh I’m sure!!!

      There was the Jehova’ Witness temple right next to one my aunt’s in Dominican Republic that made that good use of the tambourines, timbales, and the ever present electric guitar resounding against acoustically impaired concrete walls …you’d swear you could here them for miles. Oh those prayers most certainly got to heaven…

      I have to find out why my link to My Space where I have up loaded some of these songs has broken or something- I don’t know. I’ll try to put it back and add the songs from my commuter favorites playlist.

      The one thing that did not load right were the pictures! I got a tad fed up and published without them- but I want for you guys to ‘see’ some of this- I have pictures that I found on the internet that match the descriptions- but the personal ones don’t contain people. Its this very strict the tribe has that I have always tried to follow as closely as I can. Boat-rocking at high seas is not appropriate in Yemen!

      So in the next few days check back to see the photos either within the article it self or in the photo section.


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