An Introduction to Tarab
This last weekend Najia (of Media, PA) and I dedicated a 20 hour workshop intensive to “Finding Tarab in Post-Modern Orientale Dance.”¹ We first had to introduce the concept of Tarab and try to relate it to our own sensory experience. Since Tarab is an event experience that is culturally specific in Arabic music, we, as American dancers, needed a way to relate to it and a way to begin to approach it.
Sahra C Kent, raw footage of video clips of introduction to “Finding Tarab in Post-Modern Orientale Dance” Philadelphia, May 2014
Our Tarab workshop: After a lecture introduction, and a guided visualization, we discussed similar experiences to those described as Tarab. These experiences usually involved live music and a group experience, described by one American critic as “group hypnosis.”² After two days of guided improvisation to taksim and Um Kulthum instrumentals “Ba’ed Annak” and “An Sac” we participated in a performance with live music.
The small audience of 30 were instructed on our intent to explore our own Saltanah, William Tayoun, our drummer, described it well to the audience by saying each of us were working towards getting into “The Zone.”³
The evening was magical, I have been following some of these ladies’ progress yearly for at least 10 years, and they went places that I have never seen them go before (with plenty of tears and breakthroughs). Sunday we continued the class including discussion of personal experience of the night before. To finish we danced in our own space for two hours of Oud Taksim, live.
Roger Mgrdichian plays an oud taksim as we dance the final moments of our 20-hour dance intensive focusing on Tarab and Sultinah.
My search for information on Tarab
I have been trying to understand and explore Tarab since 1980’s when I first learned about it. My Middle Eastern friends would tell me about Um Kulthum and her abilities to bring Tarab to full concerts of hundreds of people. After much research, my understanding is that for an artist to be able to bring Tarab to a group is considered a gift from God, but it is an artist’s duty to their art/or/craft to work on their own ability to go into Saltanah. One is not able to bring Tarab to a group unless he/she is not already in their own Sultinah which encompasis both confidence and release.
Tarab; usually translated as either “Ecstasy”4 or “Enchantment”, also described as “group hypnosis”. Saltanah; has been described as an artist in the “Zone”.
Tarab; usually translated as either “Ecstasy”4 or “Enchantment”, also described as “group hypnosis”.
Saltanah; has been described as an artist in the “Zone”.
I am still in process in trying to articulate what Tarab is, I always feel like I am talking around it. I am sure to the ear of an Arabic musician or scholar, my awkward explanations and examples for dancers foreign to this specific Middle Eastern concept will be less than adequate. But I continue to strive to present this important aspect of our Orientale dance.
At one point in our American Belly Dance history this experience happened many times in each of our careers, still vibrantly remembered by many of us. We danced with live Middle Eastern musicians, for audiences of immigrants where the experience of Tarab was sought after, the bittersweet longing for homeland and family. Now things have changed, both in the Middle East, where musical tastes are changing, and in America where after a trend of striving to bring technique and stagecraft up to the standards of other performance dance in the west, we are looking for meaning again.
For some of us we can find meaning in exploring the depths of this art in the homeland roots of this dance, while for others we overlay the Eastern movement and costume on music from the shared culture of our homeland to find meaning in ourselves and audiences here. This is a living art and it will continue to change, not to be frozen in a museum, but to be enriching to our souls.
1. “Finding Tarab in Post-Modern Orientale Dance” Part 9 in the “Cairo” series by Sahra C Kent, presented in Philadelphia, PA by Najia. May 2-4, 2014.
2. Mentioned in class discussion, citation was not given. May 2, 2014.
3. Described by William Tayoun. Show Musicians: Roger Mgrdichian on oud , Joseph Tayoun on dumbek, William J Tayoun on keyboard. May 3, 2014.
4 Dr. A.J. Racy; “Making Music in the Arab World; The Culture and Artistry of Tarab*,” 2003 Cambridge University Press.
* Affiliate link