1. What does the word Tarab mean to you personally?
Personally, I associate the word “Tarab” with a Flight, an Internal Journey (meditation) that reconnects me with my soul and, from there, to the soul of the world (a small slice of a big cake). The moment when we let our ego rest – if only for a while – and realize we´re all ONE: that´s “Tarab”.
Ecstazy, evasion, orgasm, the pure act of getting drunk (lost) with(in) a specific music, kiss, breath, moment.
“Tarab” starts with the willingness to forget our name, identity, nationality and other material attachments; it´s a jump into stillness, receptivity and, ultimately, meditation – as opposed to meaningless action and imposition of our will (not trusting life and believing it´s against us). This is the mode most of us operate on a daily basis.
“Tarab” doesn´t exist outside of that channel, a place of trust and absolute vulnerability: open & brave. Getting lost & forgetting about vanity, impressing others (what they think of us) is not for sissies. Rare are the people who are able to go there – into a “Tarab” state where their names vanish into thin air.
2. Do you use the word Tarab for any dancing purpose? Why/why not?
Not specifically for a “dancing purpose” but for ALL purposes connected with Egyptian Dances, may them be oriental or folkloric. “Tarab” and the attitude it expresses is the base for Egyptian music and dance – you cannot teach a good music/dance workshop in this area without introducing at least some aspects of “Tarab”. The problem is that most dancers/teachers have no idea about the true meaning of “tarab” – they think it´s a music or a dance style, some sort of dramatic overboard performanc that brings cliché movements, posed and faces to the table. It´s not.
When Egyptian audiences gathered, on the first Thursday of every month, to attend an Om Kolthoum concert, they went there to experience TARAB, a state of absolute immersion in the music and the moment. They needed – and still need – to be reminded they have a soul – that´s why they listened to her at the live concerts or on the radio and why they keep listening to her. It´s a life saver for Egyptians, in many ways. Those people didn´t need to move a finger to experience “Tarab” – they just listened, allowed the music (with its immense richness: composition, orchestration, interpretation) to take them back to their hearts and smiled. Simple as that: a moment of bliss & religion (from the latin word “religare” which means to reunite).
There are specific songs that invite, more than others, to a “Tarab” experience like, for exemple, trance or Sufi music which are composed to have a specific liberating effect on the listener. In that sense, I can choose particular themes that will help me to awaken that sensibility and openness in dancers but “Tarab” is not, in itself, a dance/music style. It´s the surrendering to each breath of LIFE enjoyed with 100% presence.
3. What are the current challenges with the teachings of Tarab today?
People´s way & rhythm of life (and, therefore, dance). We´re educated to move forward, achieve, produce like a machine (a super efficient and ever more demanding machine) – we´re not allowed to remain still for a second. If we do, someone will ask “what´s wrong with you? Are you lazy, sick or crazy?”
Egypt and countries that didn´t go through Industrial Revolution live slower and, probably, more intensely in the moment than Western countries. For several reasons – too varied and extensive for this article – Egyptians have time to stay still, do nothing, look at the sky, the river and people passing by. They have time to celebrate, for God´s sake (literally!). Doing nothing isn´t something they´re ashamed of and enjoying the NOW is a must in a country where only uncertainty is certain and people are struggling to survive. Egyptian music/dance and every concept associated with it have this cultural aspect in consideration – “Tarab” is the clear reflexion of a very particular attitude towards life.
When I teach Oriental Dance – independently of the dancers´nationality – I always find this challenge (or barrier, as you choose to put it): to bring people back to HUMAN MODE instead of dropping on their heads data, movements & choreographies they cannot understand, assimilate or feel. There´s a mention of that in my book “The Secrets of Egypt – Dance, Life & Beyond”: Human mode Versus Machine mode. It´s a central concept, present in everything I teach and do.
We´re mostly dismantled – like puppets with a head heading North and feet heading south. Body, mind, heart and soul have been separated for several reasons (religious, political, social, economical) and it´s my job, as a teacher, to bring those pieces back together – only then dancers can grasp and, eventually, experience TARAB.
Another problem is the teaching and practice of Oriental Dance I observe nowadays: totally removed from the true purpose of this art. People are taught to move like clones of their teachers (an indirect form of marketing I simply cannot respect) – no awareness of their body, heart, mind or soul; no creativity or individuality. Gimnastic is not dance & vice-versa. That difference should be clear.
In order to understand & practice “Tarab” we need a new consciousness and understanding of Oriental Dance. Less competitions; less concern about how we look to other while we´re dancing and more focus on how we feel while we dance; less glitter and superficiality; less diva attitudes and empty movements and more LIFE.
4. What are the positive effects of Tarab knowledge for dancers and the dance community?
More knowledge, awareness, joy & pleasure in their dance and life. Once you become aware of your soul through dance, you take that awareness to every aspect of your life and certainly become a much more interesting, fulfilled human being.
To understand and experience “TARAB” you already have to be inside the craft and the culture that gave birth to it – the regular dancer who just wants to shake her hips for fun or to lose weight with an exotic workout doesn´t care, in principle, about depth and the real meaning of what she´s doing. Dancers who want to learn the art in depth will find, consciously or unconsciously, a “Tarab” experience on the way. Most will not know how to call that experience – they just know dancing makes them feel good, alive, peaceful, free, complete. Although it´s nice to put a name on the experience, I think going through it and being able to enjoy it every time we dance is the most important.
5. Have you ever experienced Tarab in your own performances? If yes, when and how did it feel?
I´ m lucky, perhaps. I don´t remember a single performance when I didn´t experience “Tarab”, especially during the years I´ve performed with my own orchestra in Egypt (8 years of life and career in Egypt have offered me a clear understanding and feeling of TARAB). That probably comes from the fact that I take my time to LISTEN and FEEL before I move a finger – the same process I teach all my students. I call it the 3 Sacred Gates: EARS, HEART, BODY MOVEMENT – in this exact order. There´s no movement without heart and no heart without ears. I listen, first; then I let my heart decide if that music moves me and in which direction; only then I start to move externally, a pure reflexion of the first two gates.
It always feels natural – like breathing or making love. It´s our human nature working at its highest level – not something exotic, foreign or limited to a specific culture. “Tarab” feels like happiness – pure happiness and gratitude. Probably because those are natural states we´ve forgotten about. It´s always good to remember; a bliss to go back home.