Cinematheque Screens Zanzibar Dance, Trance, and Devotion From Miami Director

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They know how to dance in Zanzibar (that's off the coast of Africa!).
Good luck finding Miami-based belly dancer Tamalyn Dallal standing still. The performer, teacher, and choreographer also writes books, produces CDs, and now directs films. Catch her latest creation, Zanzibar Dance, Trance, and Devotion, at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Thursday, with a Q&A session with Dallal following the documentary screening.

Zanzibar Dance presents 26 indigenous practices, including religious devotionals, wedding and harvest dances, and trance-inducing spirituals. "Until now, there has been very little film, writing or any type of study of any East African dance in the U.S.," Dallal wrote in an email. In July, she will make her fourth trip to the semi-autonomous Tanzanian state, where she plans to screen her film, distribute DVDs to the artists, and give a workshop.

Traveling the world exploring cultures and teaching belly dance, Dallal is fascinated by the history and context of the various local dance forms she encounters. Her book, 40 Days and 1001 Nights, tracks her journey through five Muslim-majority locations: Indonesia, Egypt, Zanzibar, Jordan, and China's westernmost, predominantly Muslim province of Xinjiang.

Dallal says she had a musical epiphany while writing 40 Days. She was living in Egypt's Siwa Oasis, in the middle of the Sahara Desert, when a friendly CD bootlegger asked if she would like to hear the music of Zanzibar. He played her an enchanting piece but did not know its source. Dallal found her way to Zanzibar and asked a young man for help.

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Tamalyn Dallal's documentary, Zanzibar Dance, Trance, and Devotion, gets to the heart of East African dance.
"I told him I wanted to find this style of music that was played with Arabic instruments, with a bit of old Havana sound, sung in Swahili," she writes. The young man sourced it to the Ikhwan Safaa band, founded in 1905 (and now with new members). He led her directly to them, forming a fruitful connection.  Knowing she was a dancer, he also informed her that many dances of Zanzibar were in danger of being lost, and suggested she capture them on film. Her documentary Zanzibar Dances was born.

"It is a maze of stone streets. The rhythm of life is social. People sit on stone benches built onto houses for hours sipping coffee," Dallal writes of the archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Her time in Zanzibar was not without challenges, however. "When I performed with Ikhwan Safaa at the Busara African Music Festival in 2010, there had not been electricity on the island for three months."

Zanzibar Dances comprises one part of a trilogy of dance films seeking to preserve endangered dances. The second will take place in tsunami-ravaged Banda Aceh, Indonesia; the third, according to Dallal, will be "a surprise -- someplace no one would expect."

"An evening with dancer/author/filmmaker Tamalyn Dallal: Zanzibar Dance, Trance and Devotion" takes place June 16 at 8 p.m. at Miami Beach Cinematheque, Historic City Hall, 1130 Washington Av.e, Miami Beac). Tickets cost $12 for adults, $9 for MBC members, $10 for students or seniors. Visit mbcinema.com or call 305-695-8720.

-- Emily Hite, artburstmiami.com

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

Location Info

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Miami Beach Cinematheque

1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, FL

Category: Film


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