Students learn to tell stories with help from professional

UAE University students are learning how to hone their storytelling skills by paying more attention to sound and actions.

Al Ain, United Arab Emirates --- March 29, 2010 --- Student Fatima Matar al-Nyadi gives her version of a bird during an exercise with author Margaret Wolfson who gave students tips on storytelling. ( Delores Johnson / The National )

AL AIN // Storytelling is deeply ingrained in Emirati culture. Students at the UAE University are spending a week learning to more fully appreciate the art form. Margaret Wolfson, a storyteller from New York, has been brought to the campus as part of the Humanities and Social Science department's monthly Seminars in Mastering the Arts.

In her sessions, she takes the young women through exercises showing the importance of sound and actions in telling a story. Ms Wolfson, who has performed in venues such as the Kennedy Centrein Washington, will use a mix of Middle Eastern and Asian stories this week, including Shamma's Tears, a UAE folk tale about a pearl diver and his daughter. Mai Hasan, 23, an English Literature graduate, said that Emiratis learn life lessons such as friendship and moral codes through stories passed down by elders.

"Storytelling is a connection to the past, it keeps the connection between the generations," she said. "Through storytelling you can understand the world." Shama Kuwaiti, 22, a linguistics student, said her grandparents told her many stories. "I've learnt everything in life this way, through stories about life in the past, how people can help each other, how people communicate, how to treat people. Moral stories."

The girls said that learning the skills of acting and the importance of sound in storytelling will make them better storytellers themselves, a tradition they say is vital to their heritage. Tonight, they will see Egyptian storytellers blending music and theatre with oral tradition.