Jal the Wanderer
The Short of it
Jal made his debut performance at Karida’s Workshop in 2003. He went from being Banat Casablanca’s drummer to their first male performer. Jal has derived his dancing style from Hahbi Ru’s John “The Sheik” Compton. Jal is accomplished in the Sword, Tray, and Cane dance.
Picture of Jal and Inanna at Oasis Workshop
The Long of it
I actually started dancing in the winter of 2002 because I saw how much fun my wife, Aysu, was having with the troupe. I also thought it would be a good source of exercise for those long winter days when I didn’t feel like doing anything else. I liked the whole Middle Eastern culture from my experiences in ‘92. I liked their music and especially the food. When I was over in the desert, the food reminded me of home, Biloxi, Ms, because of the spiciness. After my wife and I came back from the desert we both tried to recreate aspects of the culture but didn't get very far until we met Inanna.
I have actually been with Banat Casablanca since the beginning. I started out as the “cabana boy” who did all the odd and end things like safety-pins and photos - kind of like a banat Roadie :) , then I started drumming. After learning to drum I found myself wanting to get up and dance.
My first formal dance was at a small gig the troupe did for WIU’s Rec. Center to promote Inanna’s Bellydance for fitness class. I danced a Duet with Aysu. Then we were suppose to do this same number at the Kokomo workshop - where John Compton from Hahbi Ru was teaching - but I got activated the Friday night before the workshop and by the time I got back from the desert, we had no desire to do the routine again. Since then I have been doing solo dances, but I am never up on stage alone. I always include the troupe in my numbers because that is a part of who Jal is. I would actually prefer to just do the troupe numbers but because I am a novelty everyone wants to see the guy dance. When in all actuality, most of the girls are better dancers than me. It is kind of like the thought that there is safety in numbers :) That way if I mess up, hopefully the audience will be looking at the girls who are not messing up.
I have been receiving a lot of publicity because I am a male dancer but the truth is that I would not even be here with out the troupe. They are inspirational, patient, and caring. It’s like they are my family and one person doesn’t make a family - it’s the same with us, Jal does not make Banat Casablanca work
I have not been able to actually take a workshop or study under any male instructors but that is okay. I watch the videos of John Compton and Bert Balladine and with the help of Inanna and Aysu, I break down the moves. John Compton is really the one who showed me that this dance wasn’t just for girls. He made it look masculine and fun. I just sit and watch John and Bert’s videos over and over and each time I pick up on something I hadn’t caught before. But I also watch the females and just adapt their moves to me. I am not picky - if I see a move I like, I steal it whether it came from a girl or a guy. Inanna is the one who has taught me the most - she is so patient and understanding and really helps me adapt the troupe moves to my body. I was once asked if there were specific guy moves and I would have to say, “Not really”. I do the same moves as the women it’s just that I perform them differently because of the way I am built. I don’t try to impersonate a female - I just do the moves and they come off as Jal moves. It is that way with each dancer whether they are male or female - no two females do the same move exactly the same way. That is why our dancing is an interpretive dance. One should dance for the spirit of the dance and their inner-self and no one should feel intimidated because they are not doing a move right or like others.
I know I am a novelty and most of the time this makes me really uncomfortable but once the music starts playing that uncomfortableness goes away. I keep doing it in spite of the uncomfortableness because I want other guys to see that this is a dance for them too. I want to break the stereotype that Middle Eastern dancers are a bunch of scantily dressed women out there shaking their thing. I would like to see more guys dancing in the troupe - then I wouldn’t feel the pressure so much ;). Really though, it would be nice for young men to see that this is truly a dance for everyone. It is kind of like male ballet dancers, our culture has placed males and females in certain roles and mixing those roles are taboo. I want to show them, young men especially, that there is nothing wrong with expressing yourself through dance or through any type of media for that matter. I hope that I can promote the dance to the public in a way that they see the dance for what it really is and not what their stereotyped minds have been trained to see. I would like to get more male dancers and drummers involved in the dance because I really believe that the dance needs both men and women dancing because that is how life is. It is when we start excluding one gender from an activity that inequality in life happens. The dance is like life and all types and genders need to be included in the dance of life..
Props - This changes depending on how I am feeling. I love the sword when we do the Phoronic stuff - it looks really impressive with 9 swords up in the air. But when I am soloing it, I would have to say the Tray - but I still have a long ways to go to be really good at balancing the tray. I like the tray because it is fun doing the floor work that goes along with it. The floor work is always a time when I interact with the audience.
Music - I appreciate all the music but my favorites are the earthy tribal stuff and the new techno music. When I dance to the earthy music it is more like I am dancing for myself and the dance becomes very self expressive.
Jal's Tray Dance at Oasis Workshop
Picture taken by Steve Hobson