Me: What motivated you to start the Baladi Camp in 2015?
Guy: It was Maikki’s idea. We met in Oslo while I was teaching at the 1001 nights bellydance festival, organized by Siri Ydstie. Maikki proposed me to come back to Oslo to teach Baladi with live music. There is a need for training with live music in Norway and more generally in Scandinavia.
We put together a programme. The first edition was launched three years ago. At that time, it lasted a week-end. Due to its success, we decided to continue the project. We extended the duration to nearly four days the following year, and now we have reached almost five full days. We have also slightly modified the programme (i.e. adding the Tarab element).
Me: Why is it essential to train to live music?
Guy: When you listen to a CD, you’re not hearing the actual music. Rather, you get a “representation” of the music. Sound levels are normalized. On the contrary, when you are in the same room as the instruments, you can feel the vibration of these instruments and experience the music more deeply. You feel the rhythm better, it’s more dynamic. It will help you to dance in time.
You will also understand the essence of Egyptian music better. Egyptian musicians are intuitive. They never play a tune in the same way. The melody and the structure will remain the same, but, the rest will change. Live music forces you to be spontaneous, to dance in the moment – in other words to improvise.
Egyptian dance is one of the most interactive forms of dance I know. The interaction between dancer and musicians, and between dancer and audience is immense. If the musicians are good, they will be sensitive. Not only will they listen to one another, but they will also watch the dancer carefully to support her/him to produce the best performance. The dancer will then give cues to the musicians, so they can follow her/him. It becomes a very positive, empowering experience for the dancer.
Me: Are dancers not “true dancers” if they do not learn to improvise to live music?
Guy: I do not believe you need to dance to live music to be a good dancer. However, dancing to live music will make you improve and develop much quicker. This applies especially for Western dancers who did not grew up listening to Egyptian music. I advise every dancer to train and perform to live music as early and as often as possible in their training/career.
Me: What are the key learnings you want your students to remember from this latest camp?
Guy: We learnt how to deal with entrances and exits for Mejance, how to interpret the voice and lyrics with Tarab, and how to deal with the improvisatory element and the interplay between the different instruments in Baladi… all these skills will improve with lots of practice. If you approach the music in the right way, you’ re on the right path.
The key element to remember is that with live music, you need to set the choreography aside. It’s fine to decide on a structure and have an idea of your stage craft, but, you cannot have it all fixed for the reasons mentioned earlier. The musicians can’t play the music exactly as per your CD. Based on the acoustic in the room and the environment, they might want to play a bit quieter, louder, slower, faster, or maybe with shorter or longer notes… Be open and listen to what you actually hear.
Me: Is there a thread between the Baladi Camp and your other projects?
Guy: My main aim, in all my work, is that dancers and musicians communicate better both on and off stage. Dancers need to understand the musicians’ language, so they can interpret it in a visual form and share it with passion with the audience.
Dance should be an authentic expression of the individual, not something they have copied from other dancers. Although every dancer repeats some technique and moves, the real personality of each dancer should always be visible. A performance should not be an affectation of what the dancer thinks she/he should be in order to please the audience.
It is important that the dancer enjoys her/his own performance, so the audience can also appreciate it. Only then, will the dancer become a true ambassador of this art form we all love.