Improvements in Improv

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

I used to be so incredibly afraid of performing improvisational belly dance that I would all but refuse to do it. If there was a way to get out of it, I would.

In the past couple years, with much pushing from my dance troupe director, I’ve started doing it much more. At first, I was nervous and self-conscious and wondered if I was doing the correct thing to the music. Was I being impressive enough? Did I look like a good dancer?

My comfort level started to improve with open dances after hafla performances. Dancing improvisationally with a bunch of other dancers in an informal setting mixed with post-performance adrenaline helped me feel less self-conscious and be able to just have fun and dance.

At a benefit show we did a couple months ago, one of our musicians was unexpectedly unable to make it. This meant we couldn’t do each choreographed dance we had planned since she played a major role in the melody of certain pieces. To fill in the space, we, with members from our student troupe, took turns improvising to some music that we all knew well. It was in a Mexican restaurant, Banditos, at a benefit show for the local no-kill animal shelter. It was a laid back atmosphere with an energetic audience. As I danced, I really felt like I was able to get into the music. I felt confident. I lost myself in the music and the dance moves just developed in my body according to what I heard. I was a slave to the moment.

Since, I’ve realized the incredible joy that exists in improvisational belly dance and the abandon of letting the music take you. Now I can really appreciate the differences between improv and choreography.

When performing choreography, my mind is clear and focused (hopefully) and all that’s in my head is the move that’s coming next, listening for the music that coincides, and what I want to be projecting. When I dance improvisationally, all that’s in my head is the music, and the moves become the melody and the drum beat. They are no longer two things that exist next to each other. They are the same.

In the past, I have had a hard time producing solos because I always tried to choreograph them. Creating my own choreography is not the easiest thing. I can pick a piece of music, listen and visualize, but once I try to actually put a solidified order of moves together, I get stuck. It’s like I feel too much pressure to “make it good.” I have finally concluded that it would be less stressful to just pick a piece of music, get comfortable with it and then dance to it on stage, sans strict planning. I think this would relieve some of the pressure.

Recently, we had another benefit show, this time for Toys for Tots. We had special guests, Onca and August of the Mezmer Society, and some other incredible southeastern dancers, come into town for the show. At the end of the show, August played some lovely Balkan music with our in-house musicians and we had some open dancing. This was the most lost I have become in the music in front of an audience. Ever. I was an expression of the music. I felt free and euphoric. That was the moment I knew my love affair with improvisational belly dance had begun.

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