2014 Review of DDLC/Groove Merchant Showcase


Multi – Cultural Fusion of Arts

Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble Celebrates 10 Years with performance at Open Arts Stage in Bordentown.

By Zach Lichtmann  Nov. 15, 2014

Author of Dynamo


The deep-rooted inclination of our species to harmonize our collective foot-tapping and head-bobbing to the rhythms of the music around us, especially when that music is accompanied by the vibrant theatrical elements of dance, transcends cultural differences and unifies us. In an era where students sit next to one another and silently text instead of looking into each other's eyes, a powerful live performance can focus our collective vision in a way few other experiences can. This is beyond the typical all-eyes-front-and-center daze that we find ourselves in at the movie theater; this is an awakening of our... (READ MORE) 2014GrooveMerchantReview.pdf

Is Your Dance Troupe or Solo Performance Game Stronger?

Is Your Dance Troupe or Solo Performance Game Stronger?

Belly Dance troupe directors and performers, have you ever felt off your solo performance game while working intensively with a group?  The struggle is real.  I used to beat myself up about it until I realized group work and solos require two different sets of skills. This seems like a no brainer but where you spend most of your energy at any given time is going to be where you feel your strength in performance.

Belly Dance Troupe and Ensemble Performers

Here’s a short list of skills to develop for solo and ensemble work.

Skills for Performing in a Dance Ensemble:

  • Remember choreographic sequences and staging.
  • Create interesting staging and musical arrangements for a group.
  • Navigate space with multiple dancers.
  • Develop an on stage chemistry between ensemble members.
  • Lock in musically as ensemble members.

Skills for Performing as a Belly Dance Soloist:

  • Being able to improv or remember choreography.
  • Emotionally connect to the music and audience while improving.
  • Choose movement in an improv situation that is dynamic and reflects the music.
  • Navigate the space on the stage for impact as a soloist.
  • Choose when to be internal with emotional focus or connect with the audience (breaking the fourth wall).

All of these skills are distinct and take time to develop and maintain.

The Struggle

My introduction into the world of belly dance was that of a soloist. The standard 5-7 song set of improvisational dance to recorded and/or live music was the norm for seven years before I started performing with and creating for a dance ensemble.  I felt strong as a solo performer.

As co-director of The Drum & Dance Learning Center (DDLC) and its performance groups, Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble and DDLC Student Ensemble, in 2004 my focus shifted to creating and performing as an ensemble member. There is lots of time is spent weekly, training in classes, developing new work, rehearsing and performing as an ensemble.

In our full production shows, there was no question that the program would include solos as well as our group dance and music pieces.  We did many shows and they went well, but I was continuously dissatisfied with how I felt about my solo. In the past I could readily get on stage and improv and connect to the music and audience, that is not how I felt on stage with my solos at this point.  I was a little perplexed because with the ensemble there was an undeniable energy and feeling of being plugged in with the group and the audience.  Why did I all of a sudden suck as a soloist?


Its Possible to Keep Your Sanity

Again, this seems like a no brainer but all of my time was directed at building and honing the specific skill set of ensemble work.  It was a realization for me that prompted me to put a project together for myself to also work on my skill set as a soloist.  In 2008, Dave Merritt and I created the drum solo “Alexia” (available on Groove Merchant’s debut CD, “Dansa”. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/groovemerchantdrumdance).  

Here is a video of the solo project that arose out of this realization: 

During this process of working on this project I re-discovered and uncovered some really great tools for working with transitions in drum solos. There’s a lot I can share about that and it may be overkill for this post.  I’ll be writing another blog post to address those skills and tools.  Stay tuned for that.

The reverse of this situation also happened.  I was directing the ensemble for a period of time without being a performing member.  Jumping back in took some time.  My solo game was strong and it took time for me to get my ensemble mojo on track. I no longer beat myself up or take for granted the time and energy required to be strong in various dance scenarios.  There is only so much time in the day and it’s ok to bring your focus to one specific skill set for a period of time.  I have to remind myself of that often.

Some examples of Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble’s work:

Get to Work by 9 (Process) Turkish 9/8



Kim Leary

Kim Leary is a dance educator passionate about creating methods, tools and curriculum to help all levels of dancers achieve their goals physically and creatively.  She is the co-director of The Drum & Dance Learning Center in NJ and the highly acclaimed Groove Merchant Drum and Dance Ensemble.  Kim has been actively involved in world dance and music since 1989 and has earned Certificates in Multiple Intelligences and the Arts and Training and Development from Kean University.

Follow Kim’s Blog or find her at www.DrumDanceCenter.com



Donna Manalo Speaks about Bedouin Funk and Groove Merchant


Bedouin Funk....does that term describe Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble?  Check out assistant director, Donna Manalo's response to that.


Interview Dave Merritt World Music

Check out this short interview with Dave Merritt on how he became involved in the music genre of world music.

Reda's Drum: A top 3 Pick

Here is a live version of Track 3, Reda's Drum on our 2015 debut CD "Dansa".  The original composition is by Reda Darwish.  Lots of layered finger cymbal patterns and layered EVERYTHING in this arrangement.  We're playing both Suhaila and Jamila Salimour finger cymbals for a multi-tonal effect.  We highly recommend these finger cymbals for everything form training, practice, performing and recording.  Check them out at www.SalimpourStore.com.

This performance was at the 2014 Art of the Belly Festival in Ocean City, Maryland.  We'll be performing there again Saturday, March 19, 2016.  Hope to see you there!


Behind the Scenes TRACK 8 Avalon from Groove Merchant's Debut CD "Dansa"

Check out this interview with Groove Merchant members, Donna Sullivan and Ed Ashton about why they enjoy performing "Avalon" from our debut CD 'Dansa".  

Here is a video glimpse of powerhouse Track 8 - Avalon composed and choreographed in 2010. This performance at the Austin Belly Dance Convention was part of our 2011 tour.  

Avalon was the beginning of Groove Merchant integrating overlaying finger cymbal patterns and the call and response element between drummers and dancers playing.  People always say it looks like you guys are having so much fun when you perform.  The truth is, we really are!



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About Groove Merchant Drum & Dance ensemble

Our earthy roots music has been described as Bedouin Funk. The New Jersey based group’s repertoire includes original compositions that dig deeply into ethnic roots music as well as offering a tasteful blend of traditional music.  Groove Merchant’s nomadic inspirations are... READ MORE

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Nov 16, 2019
Open Arts PAC
Bordentown NJ

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