Interview with Belly Dance Quickies Queen Mahin – ALLAF 016
Find out why chatting in the dressing room is a good habit to quit, get yourself a gold or silver bra and belt, and discover what’s so confusing about Foq Elna Khel.
In show #15 we featured a Damn Sexy Dance Move and Costume tip from fabulous dancer Elisheva. This show #16 is taking it up a notch, with a full interview with another fantastic performer and producer, Mahin!
Mahin of Phoenix Arizona is honestly one of the most knowledgeable and easy to understand belly dance teachers on planet earth. AND she’s a lovely and highly-skilled performer with her own band that composes music specifically for dancers. That’s right. The dancers tell the musicians what they would like, and the musicians create songs for the dancers.
Mahin is an Artrepreneur. An artist who also loves to do business. My kind of lady! She owns One World Dance and Music Studio where she teaches and films. Mahin has on-demand classes available online and offers private online lessons, she collaborates with other dancers and together they reach a big audience, and she tours the US teaching and performing to both recorded music and live bands. That’s actually how we met. Mahin danced with a guitarist named Don Baragiano that I play with in a band occasionally, and he introduced us.
And she gives so much valuable information away for free to her subscribers and followers social media. Mahin has created and posted over 500 videos on youtube, she has 8,400 subscribers, and she sends out multiple emails a week to her list with helpful dance ideas, thoughtful questions about dance, and fantastic dance videos we can learn from and enjoy. Her blog is rich with info on rhythms, costume tips, tips for dancing with props, and dance combos often paired with popular Danceable Songs. Mahin is inspiring.
Mahin has a B.S. in Exercise Science that informs her teaching style with lots of muscular explanations and body mechanics. Mahin, do you have anything to add?
Mahin: Well, I actually went back to college to get my exercise science degree after I had been teaching for awhile after going through college and learning more about body movement and things like that, I really rearranged my entire approach to teaching beginners movement and I feel like it has given me a better way to kind of read bodies and kind of decode what may be going wrong with movement when students are having trouble with something. It definitely has been beneficial from my dance
Alicia: Mahin you always pick great music for your youtube video series, belly dance quickies where you teach people combos and give them different dance ideas. What danceable song would you like to feature in this episode?
Mahin: You already featured one of my favorite songs in a prior episode, which is Lamma Bada Yatathanna. Probably one of my other favorite songs is Foq El Nakhel. It’s a Syrian song, a Syrian folk song, but it just has such a wonderful melody and I think it’s not heard very often.
(Mahin cont’d:) 10 years ago when I was dancing at a Lebanese family restaurant, I had a Setrack recording. It was just a full set from Setrack, which a lot of us used back then. I sat down at the table between the sets and one of the family friends said, oh I love that song. And I’m like, well which song? And he started to hum the song that was listed as “Setrack 1” or something like that. That was my favorite part of the set. And that’s when Jimmy told me the name of the song and told me the whole thing about the title. It’s spelled two different ways people have disagreements about what the song title actually is. It depends on how you break the words and how will you write the sounds down. And I guess there was a misunderstanding about the title and people liked the misunderstood title better. One of them is “Above the Palm Trees” and the other one is “I’ve Got a Friend up There”. I don’t remember which one was the original title without looking it up, but they said people seem to like the mistaken title better. So it’s a funny story about the tunnel, but that’s not really what I love about the song. I love the melody.
Alicia: I wish we had known that last night! We would’ve played it for you.
Mahin: I wish you would’ve known that last night too. Now that I know that you guys play that, I was like, why didn’t I know this?
Alicia: That was our band Taksim at the playing Fowg Alna Khel.
A side note. I was researching this song after this wonderful interview, and I just want to add that many folk songs are claimed and shared by different countries. Political borders cannot restrict the actual movement of music. After tv reached the Middle East, this song was made famous by Iraqi singer Nazem al-Ghazali and the border between Iraq and Syria was drawn in the 1920s so the song could be older than that. Who knows.
According to the post about Foq Elna Khel on arabicmusictranslation.com, The title “I’ve got a friend up there” makes sense because “The story behind the song is that there is a poor young man in love with a girl that belongs to a rich family, after seeing her on their big house’s balcony and exchanging glances.” So this lovely girl could also be above the palm trees in a balcony. One anonymous comment on the article said “The first verse’s image is this man staring at the sky and remembering the face of his love with the help of the moon. More: in arabic literature and poetry (pop and non pop) the perfect feminine beauty is always compared with the moon!” And of course the torture of seeing a beautiful woman and not receiving her love is expressed.
And another comment on arabicmusictranslation.com said the song was composed by Saleh and Daud El Kuwaiti who were Jewish Iraqi composers whose names were erased from history by Sadam Hussein in the 1980s and then this song and many others were claimed as folk songs. Interesting possibility.
I had the honor of performing with Iraqi-born Jewish musician Yaer Dalal in 2016. Before that I mistakenly didn’t realize the contributions so many Jews have made to Arabic music. Arabic music means it’s written in Arabic or from an area where people of any religion speak Arabic right? I also had the honor of performing with another Iraqi musician names Imad Al Taha in 2018, and he was a violinist in Sadam Hussein’s orchestra, where he was kind of a prisoner until he fled.
There are a LOT of ways to spell this Arabic song in English. Foq al-Nakhel, Foq el-nakhel, Fog elna khel, fouq annakhl. I put at least 4 versions on the Belly Dance Body and Soul playlist on Spotify, so that will help you become familiar with the song and some of the spellings.
That’s a recording of our band Taksim Ithaca playing Foq el Nakhel.
Just in case listeners are curious, the rhythm of the song is Beledi. Beledi begins with a double doum. DD tD t. and it is in the maqam or mode hijaz which western years often identify with the call to prayer coming from a minaret. Let’s get back to the interview.
Alicia: You’ve had so much experience performing with live musicians and working together with the band and with groups of dancers with a band, even doing choreography with groups to live music, which is really amazing. I know that takes a lot of work. What do you wish someone told you before you started performing with live musicians?
Mahin: The audience values genuineness more than they value stunning technique and they want connection and I think that there’s two ways to go out and perform and some people may not agree with this and that’s okay. You can go out and be ready to show off or you can be out there ready to give something. Over the years I’ve learned to see the difference between those two things and for me personally, I so much more enjoy watching the dancer who comes out and genuinely opens up and works with the music and connects with the musicians and just goes out and truly enjoys themselves and the crowd enjoys it more. I feel like when you go out there with the thought that you’re going to impress, then you’re so focused on what you’re doing and you shut off the channels that help you connect with the musicians and to help you connect with the audience. Something feels less about that to me. You know, I enjoy the other one more and I like to bring that kind of a attitude when I go on stage with a band and I want to be in that moment and I want to really soak up that music and just be there with the people and do my best job that way rather than being so concentrated on, oh, I have to get every technical fancy move that I know in. So that’s something I wish I knew earlier.
DAMN SEXY DANCE MOVE
Let’s do some dancing.
Alicia: What Damn sexy dance move would you like to share?
I think a Clock Maya is a really good one. Maya is a vertical eight downward and Maya is actually named after Maya Medwar. Maya Medwar was the dancer in Los Angeles back in the 70s and eighties she must’ve done it a lot because the movement got attached to her name. Anyway, so this is a vertical, a downward from a basic posture position.
You’re going to start, let’s say with your right hip up and your right hip comes up straight up towards your ribs and then start to reach out to the side and then from there cycles down and then as the right hip goes down, the left hip goes up and over.
So it’s as if you’re drawing a figure eight on the wall in front of you. I call this a clock maya because once you to think about looking at yourself from the top of your head down as if you were looking down onto the top of your head, one of these would follow the horizontal line. That is the line of your hips facing forward. Now if you rotate that 45 degrees on the center so that your right hip is 45 degrees forward or even just maybe 30 to face forward and then you come back to flat and then you take your left hip forward and you do there and then you come back, you can see you’re rotating, you’re rotating on a horizontal plane there.
So if you can play with these, Maya’s like that where you go over on the right, over on the left and then you start to twist in your right hip goes forward and you left it in back and then yeah, come back to flat and then you twist the other way and then you really can start to have fun with that when you play with the music because you can change a timing. You can do three, like a slow, quick, quick before you switch over and then you can play even more with that because then you can start to level change with it and then you can kind of start this thing can come up and do some things like that and it really is no beautiful way to follow a melody line or a vocal life. I think it’s behind me. I was enjoying doing some of those while you guys were playing Texans last night, so when he and I did a show together last night to get the goat, it was really fun. Yeah, so nice. [inaudible] when you were describing the move just now, I was trying to do it, my chair, I was actually having to do it in my chair to describe it because it’s describing you without actually moving is really hard.
FEATURED LIGHTEN MY BODY FOOD
Alicia: What is one vegan whole food ingredient that you love?
Mahin: I love bulgur. I use it quite a bit. I make to believe, I know that traditional tabouli is a lot more parsley than bulgur. However, my personal way of making it is to have a lot more bulgur than parsley because I like it to be a grain dish. In my house it is a grain dish. I realize that’s completely not traditional. I also make one that I learned from one of my Lebanese girlfriends. It’s bulgur and tomatoes and it has cooked onions in it and it has tomatoes and it has cloves and allspice in it which gives his really amazing flavor. I love it and I also use it when I make my stuffed peppers, so I love bulgur and sometimes just cook it up plain and throw it in my salad.
MAKE YOU SHINE COSTUME TIP
Alicia: What is one costume tip you would like to share?
Mahin: A costume tip, especially for people who are just starting out building their costume wardrobe. And this is advice that I got from my teacher when I was starting out is to have a gold or silver brown belt or even better a brown belt that as a mix of gold and silver on it because that will get you very far. You add straight skirts, you add circle skirt to I’d layered skirts with two different colors and you know all kinds of things that you can do with it. And a golden silver bra and belt is something you can’t go wrong with as a great first investment. Cause bedla is expensive and browse and belts with lots of beating are hundreds and hundreds of dollars. She can’t afford to get a lot of them. And sometimes people go for these, you know, newer, less expensive Egyptians now costumes with the pull on skirts and things like that. And they’re pretty and they’re nice and they’re comfortable and easy to put on. But you have one outfit and it’ll always be worn exactly the same way. Whereas if you have a silver or gold or mixed bra and belt, you have as many costumes as you have. Skirts are cheap.
Alicia: What do you think about right before you go on stage?
Mahin: I like to clear my mind in the years out the hips. It’s not just a title of a workshop or something. That is my philosophy for dance in a nutshell. And so I’m the person in the dressing room who’s not getting all chatty with everyone because Jessica, my energy’s kind of frantic and you get people who are like, they’re listening to their music and they’re all chatting and they’re all excited and I find it really distracting. So I try and find a quiet corner for myself because I just like to clear my head and right before I go on, that’s what I want to do. Should I just want to clear my head and I want it to be empty so it can get filled up with music and I can just have nothing else in the way. I just want to look at clear channel. I think in my brain kind of gets a channel, the holds water and I just want nothing in the way. I just want to take the music and that’s all.
SAINT OF TRUTH
Alicia: What do you think about when you’re dancing choreography. Is it different than what you’re thinking about when you’re dancing improv?
Mahin: Okay. I’ll tell my moment of a realness here. I do choreography all the time. I do it with my troupe and honestly, whenever I am doing choreography, moment of total honesty here, there is always something in my head. If I messed something up, I’m going to let people down and I have to learn to get out of my head, you know? I mean, we rehearse a lot and we pretty much always get it right. You know, something’s happened occasionally, but yeah, that’s something that I have to work very hard to keep out of my head because I value so much what we put on the stage as a group for dreams of Arabia. And it’s actually the exact opposite of improvisation. It’s concentration.
It’s being super aware of everyone else on the stage in a really technical way of exact movements at exact times. And spacing has to be right for everything to go right and is the exact opposite of improvisation where my thoughts are not disciplined at all. And I don’t want them to be disciplined when I’m doing improvisation, but when I’m doing choreography, they have to definitely be disciplined. And I as a person, as artists, definitely lean towards the improvisation side and that is my happy place. But I’m also super happy when I’m up on this stage with my dreams of Arabia ladies doing something that later I’m going to look at and go, wow, we nailed it. So yeah, it’s worth it. It’s the less comfortable process to me, but it’s still one that’s worth it. The Times when you’re doing choreography with your troop dreams of Arabia and you don’t nail it or they don’t nail it and y’all get off stage, how do you as the director, as the head of the troop, how do you take the next step after that?
I’m really fortunate to have an awesome group of women. I just chose these ladies so deliberately and I’m so glad that when I ask them they say yes because we’re all really drama free and when we go back and we look at it, no one blames anyone else. We look at it and we go, okay, that didn’t work out. Why? We’re all very analytical people who it’s really works. Then we’re like, you know what? That spacing is just too small or we’re too far away from each other to make that line where we’d always about problem solving and I think that’s one of the really wonderful things about this crew of women. We are all focused on the end product and we’re not focused on what is making one person look better. I, it’s not a competition where are unit and when we look at it at the end we just go back and we was like, what worked?
What didn’t, why didn’t it work? We’ll figure it out. Fix it. That’s it. So like I said, anywhere, no drama troupe and I purposely grown the truth very slowly because I don’t want to be large at the expense of having exactly the right people for the artistic environment. Cause we’re very collaborative. Everyone we bring in has proven that they have a work ethic already has already proven that they’re contributors, that they have a collaborative personality and we’ve chosen really well so far. And I love those ladies. I miss them, haven’t seen them in a week. I miss them.
TELL US ABOUT SOMETHING EXCITING YOU ARE CREATING
Mahin: One big exciting thing that happened this here in particular was that the ability to is quickest got its own website, which was so awesome. I can’t thank Kinsey enough or we’re making that happen.
All of the videos I’ve been putting out for years and you know, they’re not all migrated there yet, but all the new ones that are coming out all have a permanent home on the website with more information about them. And it’s also the hub for the blog. So the blog is now in the same places. The videos used to be scattered off into another site and also all the information for the lecture series and for the online classes, everything’s all in one place, which is really nice because it makes it easier for people to find other things that may be useful for them. You know, the purpose of the quickies really is to be a community service, to to give people things to practice at home when their classes are on break or as extra things and short practices, starter ideas. Hopefully it sparks an idea for someone and to give them more well rounded aspect to the education, which is exactly how it started because it started as a something that I wanted to do for my students so that I didn’t have to spend class time showing them a classic video of a dancer that I was mentioning are referencing in a combination.
You know, you don’t want to take the time to give them a lot of history on what [inaudible] style is in class. I’d rather teach them this stuff and say, hey, go read this article and that’s how it all started nine years ago. And then it just grew and spread and it was like, you know this, make this available to everyone. Why not just people are asking to share it with their friends who are across the country and just kind of happened. This kind of happened and it grew into all of this and it’s been wonderful. It’s belly dance, quickies.com we only have very direct and easy, so it’s super easy to find and like you’re saying, it’s not written in blogs so people can go there and type in words that they’re looking for something they’re researching and find it that easily. Yes, it’s going to be quite a process to move all of the full youtube videos over there.
So they’re indexable over there by category and by level and by theme for things like these are Zillow videos, these are prop videos, but that’s a long process and we’re definitely working on it. So right now the new videos are over there and the blog still needs some sprucing up too because when he got migrated over, some links are broken and things, but you know, everything’s a work in progress. But again, just like it just like live performance, you know what? It’s better to have it out there then have it be perfect. It’s all there and it’s accessible and better to be out there and be real than to wait till everything is perfect.
Alicia: My favorite boss used to say, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Yes, exactly. Exactly. Well, he, it has been so wonderful to have you on a little lighter and honestly, when I get to hang out with you, I feel a little lighter because you have such a great attitude about dance and about life and travel and it’s just really wonderful to hang out with you, so thank you so much for sharing your expertise, your wisdom with our listeners and we hope to have you on the show again sometime.
Mahin: Oh, thank you so much. I really enjoy your podcast. I’ve known you since before your podcasts and I love hanging out with you. I’m so happy we got a chance to meet less fear and to work together again because yeah, yeah. I just feel a little lighter around you too.