The Water in a Dancer’s Veins – 002
Learn the story behind the classic debke Ya Ayn Mawlayiten, get ready to dance in the rain, and discover this simple trick for losing unwanted weight.
The theme of this show is water. The water in our veins, the water we seek, the water we drink while dancing around fire, the water that falls on us from above…
Danceable ritual: Sipping water
What is your go-to drink right now? What do you reach for without thinking? What drink do you crave? What do you love about it? What does it do for you? What do you drink when you dance?
Coffee and tea seem to be the most ritualistic drinks these days, especially in sleep-deprived America. When then we add cream and sugar to our overly-sweetened and heavy lives, water really stands out as the perfect drink to crave.
In the beginning of the free dance lessons I post on YouTube, I always take a sip of water. This is very intentional. I want the people watching to reach for water as well. I want you, my friends and fellow dancers, to keep reaching for water whatever you are doing.
Before we get into this Danceable Ritual, here’s a little back story. When I was studying Communication at Cornell, a woman from the American Psychological Association presented how her team attempted to change television audience behaviors in the 1980s. Apparently, baby’s eyes develop at the distance between a mother’s breast and her face. Their research showed that young mothers were watching daytime soap operas. So this team wanted mothers watching television to look at the children in their arms more often. This would help the baby’s eyes develop more than having the mother looking at the TV. When the actor in the soap opera looked at the baby in their arms on TV, so did the mothers watching the TV show. So this team negotiated with the soap opera writers to put baby gazing in the script. The show had a behavior change-purpose that positively impacted the viewers health and long-term happiness rather than just selling them something or entertaining them. This was the first time I realized that was happening in mainstream entertainment and not just Public Service Announcements.
So, when we take a sip of water together on this show and on youtube, know that I care about you and want you to drink water habitually, without even having to decide that’s what you want. Then your decision-making power is available for other things.
Thanks for sticking with me. Let’s get back to the danceable part.
Reaching for water can be so enjoyable and graceful and even artistic. Try this. Slowly reach for your glass or water bottle. If you don’t have any water with you, just imagine you do. As you reach for the water, make your hand position beautiful. Maybe your hand is in a soft C position like a ballet dancer’s hands. Maybe you are doing wrist circles like a flamenco dancer, or finger ripples like an Egyptian cabaret dancer. Your hand is beautifully traveling to the water and caressing it.
Get ready to take a sip. Inhale as you lift the glass or bottle, take a sip, exhale as you slowly and beautifully set it back down with a snake arm.
Try it again. Reach beautifully, lift, and drink, and this time thank the water. Set it down gracefully.
Right now somewhere in the dessert there’s a dancer walking miles with a jug on her head to get water. After carrying it home, she will have to make a fire to boil the water before she can drink it. Thank that water for being right here. This is a life of ease.
This is another danceable ritual you can incorporate into your day. It can help you clear your mind, enjoy your movement, take a mini-dance break and quench your thirst.
Danceable song: Ya Ein Moulayetin
Al Eyn Mulayitain (“Two Trips to the Water Spring”), is a song about a girl in the country who crosses a bridge multiple times a day collecting water for her family. That’s nice, but the song is magnetic because it’s also a love song. On her trips to gather water, she hopes to meet the man she loves.
(Spelled so English speakers can pronounce it) “Al eyen moo lay iten. Woht nash moo lay yah. Jis-rah ha-did en gahd-ah men, dohs rehj lay yah”
This song was made popular by a woman named Samira Tewfik. Her story involves a little geography lesson, which is always good. She was born in Syria to Armenian parents, and her voice was first discovered when she was a child in the 1940s. She would climb a tree in her home and sing, and local musician as impressed with her voice. What a charming image. A young girl in a tree singing to the birds. She moved to Jordan and learned Bedouin dialect to carve out her niche as a singer there.
The rhythm of the song is Baladi Lubnan. Maybe that’s a way to say Lebanon? It’s a unique rhythm because there’s no emphasis on the first note. It’s like you’re holding your breath, landing on each measure a beat later with more weight.
Rest – Doum -DoumDoum.
A big bassy davul drum, carried with shoulder straps like a big marching band drum in the West often drives the bass line. It often sounds like saidi because the double doum is closer to the center. A darbuka might play tek-a-Doum tek-a- Doum Doum tek-a-tek tek-a.
And like many songs similar to this one, there is often a mijwiz or mizmar, this loud reeded instrument that gets the party started.
My bandmate from Lebanon says that this song is old school now and gets played at village weddings, but not so much in urban areas. Good to know.
This song is actually a debka. I’ve heard it pronounced “deb-kee” as well. Maybe there are a lot of pronunciations and I’m not saying it correctly in any of them, but let’s keep talking about this big festive genre of stomping and dancing while holding the arms or hands of the people beside you. Debke can be a choreographed, rigid, or almost militant line dance or a wild frenzy with people doing different dance steps but still holding hands and traveling together in a line. The person on the leading end of the line can do deep knee bends, kicks, spins, wave their hands, all kinds of moves. There are videos where the lead dancer on the end is whirling a cane and occasionally hitting the floor with it. And they sometimes hold the cane in the middle, which I haven’t see much in saidi cane dances, where the women are usually holding the cane at the end.
It is a fun dance of unity. It’s farmers working together to repair a roof, or it’s danced to celebrate the return of a family member. It’s done in dance clubs. The first time I saw a live boisterous debke was at a hookah bar and restaurant in LA. The ladies in mini skirts and high heels doing deep knee bends (with their knees together) shocked me. The Iranian friend I was with thought they were from the gulf, maybe meaning Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar or Bahrain. I guess Iran isn’t considered a gulf country even though it has a huge coast on the Persian Gulf. I don’t know. People do dabke in many countries. This song is particularly famous in rural Lebanon, though, which is on the Mediterranean.
Anyway, featuring this as the danceable song inspires me to explore debke more and actually try it on myself.
To be honest, I’ve always danced to this song Ya Ayn as if it was a saidi piece.
I like to do folkloric hops and almost hold my hands as if I had a cane in them at times. In the future, I’ll hold my hands more like I’m holding other people’s hands instead of a cane and try more of a linedance feel. It would be really fun to improv to this as a solo and have people in the audience come up and do a debke line dance circling the soloist. Or just make it all a line dance, telling the audience before the song that they are welcome to join, and they just follow the path of the person leading the line but can do their own steps. It can be intimidating to join a line dance if it’s hard to follow the leader’s steps, so that announcement might help people feel more comfortable. And it’s so much fun. The energy in the whole room can get really good when a debke begins. One Armenian member of our band is so good at starting a debke and helping people feel welcome to join her. You should she the joy in her face when she does it. She lights up.
The song is in the mode (aka maqam) bayati. Once I find my reference that expands on the moods of each maqam I’ll be able to add that to these danceable song features as well.
Damn sexy dance move:
This debke inspired move to 8 counts will get you moving in the line with the other dancers or can be added to a solo dance as a traveling step. It’s a grapevine step where you only cross in front. Cross one foot in front, step side with the other foot, step front again, step side. You’re moving in a line facing your audience and parallel to your audience. Now lean forward and lift your back foot a little, and lean back and lift your front foot a little. Cross, side, cross side, lean forward, lean back.
Now add an undulation in place of the lean forward, lean back. Start at your hips, bringing your belly up and over, and let that movement travel up to your chest up and over until you are back to neutral.
In terms of moving sideways, your going travel travel, pause pause.
In a dabke the line is not always moving along. Sometimes the dancers are dancing in place. It’s up to the line leader. When you undulate up, you want your weight to shift from your front foot to your back foot. Then you can cross your front foot next. “A dabke is about slamming the floor at the right moment”, said my Lebanese friend Radwan.
Choreographed group dance with line dance moves to Ya Ein Moulayetin
Line dance practice video good for getting moves to Ya Ein Moulayetin
Featured Lighten-my-Body Food:
Fresh mint leaves. Throw a sprig in your water to add a different flavor with no extra sugar or calories. Add mint to spicy Thai minced tofu salad (aka Laap), or to sliced watermelon or cantaloupe. Mixing mint in with parsley for tabuoli can be so nice too.
I know where mint patches are throughout my town and I pick them as I walk. My son loves to chew on mint in his stroller. Mint also keeps well in the fridge so you can have it out of season as well.
For tasty low-calorie cocktails, mint is amazing. At festivals I’ll put a mint tea bag in my thermos half full room temperature water in the morning. At night I add tequila and ice it’s delicious. And then there’s room in my bag for a bottle of water as well. Beer takes up too much space in many ways.
There’s a recipe for Moroccan Mint Tea on my website aliciafree.com. It’s super easy to make, transportive, and can be made with no sweetener.
Sweeteners are great when they are used in moderation. Unfortunately much of what we buy prepared at restaurants and at stores contains much more sweetener than we would add ourselves. I remember the first time I was in Morocco, I watched a woman make mint tea. She had a rock of sugar almost the size of my fist for our 4 cup pot of tea. Our threshold for enjoying sweetener can be so much lower than the amount given to us. I never feel gross after eating too many cooked greens, but I sure do after eating too much sugar!
A friend of mine who struggles with her weight was talking about sugar shaming the other day. I was intrigued. She was tired of people dissing her white sugar cookies, etc. I asked her more about shaming. She said it was isolating. I want to very clearly state that I have no intention of isolating someone or making them feel bad for what they eat. I focus on all the amazing food that
Recipe with this fabulous ingredient on my website:
Make you shine costume tip:
Have a dance costume you can wear in the rain. A top and belt that won’t rust or bleed, a skirt that doesn’t drag on the ground and can be washed in a washing machine. And jewelry that can handle getting wet too. You just don’t want the rain to stand in the way of your dancing. You’re more powerful than that! But who wants to ruin their fancy costumes? Beads and coins and
There are festivals, and parades, outdoor drum circles waiting for us dancers. Be prepared. We can dance in the ocean, in lakes and streams. I have a white reinforced bikini top that I love to pair with a sarong and wear when I dance on the beach.
I have this huge rayon skirt I wore in a rainy parade once, and it grew 2 inches longer from the weight of the rain. And I whacked some poor kids in the face with the heavy muddy skirt hem when I danced by and they were sitting on the curb. I’ll always remember the looks on their faces. Oh man. I stopped wearing that skirt in the rain or even on wet grass. Big skirts take so long to hand wash and dry. Those are reserved for the indoor stage performances for me.
And lovely red cholis from India can bleed bleed bleed. Not pretty!
Don’t forget your waxed or synthetic fabric parasol. That can also be a game changer in the rain.
Your skin is the last organ to get the water you drink, and it’s made of cells that are mostly water. Drinking water makes us beautiful, helps the body flush out toxins, and elevates our mood. It wakes us up when our energy is low. Just plain water.
Carry a water bottle with you. Make it easy to drink water throughout the day. I carry a kids’ stainless steel water bottle in my purse at all times. All of my purses are big enough to fit a small water bottle that I keep refilling in bathrooms, etc. It’s a great habit. It saves money, and it makes me look good. I pull the nectar of the Gods out of my purse and sip whenever I like.
I’m a big proponent of tap water because there’s just too much plastic and fuel wasted in my life already. Tap water quality in the US definitely varies, and of course in some countries I drink bottled water because my stomach can’t handle the tap water. There is a spectrum of purity with regards to what we consume, and it can get pretty complicated considering we don’t know where a lot of our food came from let along the things we put on our skin.
That’s a bit of a rabbit hole, so I’ll leave you with something more straightforward that may help. I learned it at Burning Man. “If you’re thirsty, it’s too late.” So have a sip water even when you’re not thirsty and your body will thank you. Especially when you are dancing.
Saint of Truth
I drink a lot of water, but I doubt I drink 8 glasses a day. Water is in fruit and vegetables.