Performing Taqsim

In my recent newsletter (which you can sign up for each month at the bottom of our homepage) I chose a beautiful Taqsim piece for the ‘Song of the Month’ section. I added a brief description of what a Taqsim is but I wanted to into more depth about the instruments, when it is performed and a few tips for students who find the this genre difficult to dance to.


What is a Taqsim?

A Taqsim (which can also be spelt ‘Taksim’, ‘Taqasim’ or ‘Taxeem’) is a section of Arabic or Turkish music that is improvised by a solo instrument such as the Violin, Oud, Accordion, Ney or Qanun. Sometimes this section may have a slight beat underneath or another underlying instrument but the focus is on the main instrument.

Each instrument gives off a different feel such as the Ney which has a mysterious and exotic sound, the violin flows like water, the Oud has a shimmy, earthquake feel and the Qanun is full of magic. Choosing the right instrument in a Taqsim can help with portraying a particular feeling or emotion that you wish to show. Other instruments can be used for a Taqsim but these are the ones that are more popular.


When is a Taqsim performed?

The word Taqsim is often used when describing the ‘slow part’ of a piece of music that you will sometimes hear in the middle of an Oriental song when the music wants to change pace.

The Taqsim in the true sense is either performed after an entrance piece to draw the audience in after the explosion of entering or as an intro for the Baladi style. The Taqsim allows the connection between one dancer and one instrument to happen so that later in the Baladi the dancer can begin to open out to the audience as other instruments enter.

In Egypt where the audience will watch one hour shows the Taqsim can last up to 15 minutes. In the West you are more likely to see dancers perform this genre from 1 – 3 minutes so that audiences don’t loose interest.


Why is Taqsim so scary?

When students first hear a Taqsim they are often quite terrified at how on earth they can move to it. I know when I first started dipping my toes into the art of Taqsim dancing I thought I would never be able to dance to it, let alone feel comfortable and express emotion.

Why do we feel so nervous when we try learning this genre for the first time? Well for starters often there is no beat which means there is no structure to the music. Often students use the beat as something to fall back on when the overlying instrument is presenting too much of a challenge. With a Taqsim there is often no ‘safety net’.

Secondly, the Taqsim is all about improvisation which most students are already fearful of. The ability to let go and move to the music without thinking too much takes practise, a lot of practise. But the reason why you will hardly ever see a choreographed Taqsim is because it is about feeling in the moment. If you were to perform the same Taqsim on different nights then you might do something completely different in a certain section because of how you are feeling or how the audience are responding. This breathes life into the dance rather than too much structure (which Westerners are big fans of) and less technical thinking in your head.

Lastly there is sometimes an awful lot going on for just one instrument and often you can feel overwhelmed for trying to fill all the music with movements



How do I dance to a Taqsim?

The first thing new dancers to Taqsim want to do is move to every bit of music. As I said above sometimes there is a lot going on so trying to catch every bit is going to make your dance look messy and make you exhausted. When listening to a Taqsim piece get a feel for where the overall sound is going.

Ranya Renee in her DVD ‘The Baladi: Bellydance Egyptian Style’ uses a technique with just a pen and a mirror (although you could use a big piece of paper). She closes her eyes and with her pen she draws the overall high and low sounds of the instrument so that afterwards she is left with curvy lines going up and down. It’s not so much about what is left on the mirror or paper but rather thinking about the music and putting a physical action with it.

When the instrument is playing high notes you can represent that in your body by moving your upper body or lifting your arms up above your head. If it has a low sound then use that to connect with the ground more by shifting your weight or adding a plea as well as those hip movements.

Smooth moves work best for the Taqsim as they often have a smooth and sensual sound to them which you can show in your body. Any circles, figure 8’s undulations in many different speeds and sizes will be more than enough to entertain your audience as long as you have that sense of freeing your mind and getting lost in the music.

Professional dancers will often dance a Taqsim to live music so this means that they have no idea what is coming and nor does the person playing the instrument. There is often a strong connection between the two people at a live show and the dancer will often turn their attention to the instrument player because they are bouncing off each other by watching.

Of course as a new dancer you probably wouldn’t even dream of trying to dance impro to a live band who is also improvising which is where CD’s and mp3’s come in use. Because the instrument has been recorded you know it isn’t going to change whether you listen to it twice or 50 times so you can become familiar with piece and know where it is going even if you are not putting moves to certain parts like a choreography.

Relax into the music and let it take you away. Once I became confident at dancing to a Taqsim I loved the way it allowed me to just dance and not think about connecting with the audience or putting on a personality. You can think of it like a spotlight on a dancer. All you can hear is the music and all you can see is the dancer lit up. Everything else is in darkness and for the time being nothing else exists. That’s how I see it in my mind and it actually takes away that worry of people watching you and allows you to just dance.


How to begin?

• Listen to as many Taqsims as you can and try watching a few dancers online or live to see how they use their body to show what the music is doing.

• Pick a short piece that speaks to you (so try different instruments as you might find you connect well more with one).

• Choose a few smooth movements that you feel confident with and just play around at home with different sizes and speeds as well as using the upper body for high note sections and the lower body for low note sections.

• Check out the following DVD’s or ask other dancers their recommended DVD.

Sarah Skinner Opulent Motion Ranya Renee - Bellydance Taqasim

The Art of Taqsim: A Students Guide to the Music and Technique