There has always been music in my life.
I grew up playing musical instruments, and I fell in love with drums when I was ten. I took dance classes off and on, but none of them inspired me to continue until I found belly dance.
My first belly dance teacher didn’t play zills.
She didn’t perform in public. She focused on listening, and feeling the music, and taught us beautiful arm and hand movements. She made me fall in love with the dance, giving me an expressive range I had never experienced before.
When my second teacher made us play zills, I hated them.
They interfered with all the beautiful things I had just learned to do with my hands! But she was a performer, and often took us to perform in the street. She taught us to drum, so we made our own music, sometimes with melody musicians. I learned that with my zills I could interact with everyone: dancers, audience and musicians.
It was so much fun that I learned to love my zills.
When she asked me to take over her classes, two weeks before her baby was due, I said yes. I taught dance and drumming for several years, and developed a desire to help my students be more eloquent and free in their dancing.
I wanted to be a better teacher.
I began looking for ways to learn more about our bodies and energy and how they work. I took Tai Chi classes, and then went to massage school. All during my training as a massage therapist, I was exposed to a wealth of different body-centered therapies and movement systems, and met my Sufi teacher, whose work transformed every part of my life. I eventually trained as an Aston-Patterning® movement coach and bodyworker.
Everything I learned, I brought back to my students.
I began to see them blossom. The finest compliment I ever received was after student night at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Denver. A man who was from that culture came up to me and said, “Your students don’t look like beginners!”
My Sufi teacher told me, “It will ruin your dance.”
He was right; I burnt out doing bodywork, and lost my connection to my dance. It became hollow. During my long recovery, I had to choose between drumming and dance because I lacked the energy to practice both. I chose dancing, and put my drum energy into zills, since I could practice while I danced.
I formed a goal: to play any rhythm, at any speed, with any combination of zill sounds, with any combination of movements – while having fun!
In my practice, I started noticing little things: my left hand was slower than my right, and didn’t sound the same. With complex movements, I lost control of my zills, stumbling in the rhythm or falling out of time. Then, I started noticing something else:
“I can play zills just fine, until I start moving!”
I heard variations of this so often, from so many other dancers, that I was inspired to focus on learning how to improve skill and coordination together. I started teaching what I learned, and was thrilled to see the lights come on in my students. I was onto something.
Finally, there was too much to keep in my head.
Writing The Dancing Cymbalist was an eight-year journey with unexpected twists and turns. The material expanded, pulling in contributions from others, and drawing things out of me that I didn’t even know I knew.
When my Sufi teacher played zills for meditation, it changed my world.
He played many different zill sounds in a unique, unpredictable lyrical flow that inspired me. Amina Salah was also inspired, and for five years we collaborated in a series of meditative duet zill concerts following that magical flow of subtle sound. Our work together culminated in our cd, The Sound of One. I also had the joy and privilege of playing in regular music meditations with a diverse group of masterful musicians for over ten years, until it was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For all of us, it was our favorite gig. We never knew where the music would take us, and it was always deeply satisfying.
Sound healing with zills was completely unexpected.
A few years ago, I was tired and frustrated from being in physical pain for several days. I picked up my zills and played intensively, working out my frustration. When I stopped, the pain was gone. I was amazed! It inspired me to immediately begin exploring this new healing modality. I played in a number of private sessions; the results for clients were exciting, and in some cases profound.
Now, I’m delighted to be finally starting to bring all this out in video for you to enjoy.
As for myself, I’m ready to rock again – and see what all this playing with zill sounds will give to my rhythms!
Join my zill circle to be notified of new online video courses and zill events – and get started with my free guide, “5 Steps to Growing Zill Skills with Joy”!
“Jenna and Amina's music induces such a deep state of reflection that I found myself noticing many subtle responses in my body. I felt awash in a profound sense of connectedness, even with the parts of myself that feel the most disconnected. All of the audience sat immersed and held, long after the music was over.”Dana HardenMusician
“I love these meditations. It is a wonderful experience just to take that one hour and enjoy what wonderful musical gifts you all have to offer.”Cynthia WingfieldDancer & music meditator
“You're such an artist. The cymbal subtleties are such a joy.”Jesse MannoMusician
“I so loved those precious hours, medicine for my soul.”Mimi BergenDancer & music meditator
“The vibrations seem to be as effective and maybe even stronger than the singing bowls. It is a significant energetic.”Marlene WolcottSound healing client
“I feel like your work helped to shift my energetic field by breaking up some of the heaviness I came here with. At the end of the session, I could very clearly hear the sound current, one of the aspects of the Divine I work with and already have an inner relationship with. It is clear that, for me, the zills opened up the inner channels of connection to the Divine, allowed me to let go and be brought once more into an awareness of the infinite potential of the present moment. Thank you, Jenna!”Christine TulisMusician & sound healer