April 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
I don’t usually choreograph my solos. I “tried” many times over the years, but was unsuccessful. I tried choreographing by dancing through a song, but couldn’t remember what I’d done. Or I came up with a set of moves for one phrase, but couldn’t come up with anything for the rest. Or I listened to a song and imagined how I would dance, but these images didn’t translate easily to reality.
Honestly, I think I lacked patience and confidence in my choices. I wasn’t ready to choreograph. Creating something definite was too much pressure. If I improvised, I didn’t have to worry about forgetting my choreography. Sometimes I worried about not knowing what was next, but I had no choice but to commit and keep dancing. It seemed less stressful. I love the freedom of improvisation. It’s so honest and genuine. However, both improvisation and choreography are important skills and lend themselves well to different circumstances.
A couple months ago, I signed up for a 3-5 minute solo at Amaya’s Oriental Potpourri. I wanted to challenge myself with an Oriental belly dance choreography. I picked a piece of music that seemed like it would be challenging to improvise to. After working on it obsessively, I am pleased with how it turned out.
Here is the process I went through:
1) I listened to the song over and over and over again. I wrote notes about the sections. How are they different? What is their feel? Should that section be fast? Staccato? Melodic? Traveling? In place?
2) I broke down the song by section and count. I wrote things like “Intro-32 counts” and “Call and Answer-16 counts.” Then I wrote general notes about what I saw for each section, such as “traveling,” “undulations,” “layering,” “shimmies.”
3) I listened to one section at a time, and then one phrase at a time. I visualized dancing. I kept listening until I had an idea I really liked, then I wrote it down. If I couldn’t get an idea for something, I skipped it and came back to it later with the question, “what does the dance still need?” As the dance developed, I made sure there was enough variation in floor patterns, traveling, staying still, leveling, etc. I didn’t want my dance to look stagnant and I wanted it to reflect the changes in the music. I also made sure there was some repetition so the dance was cohesive.
4) Once I had a combo written down, I tried it. I sang each part to myself as I slowly went through the moves. Some things worked and some didn’t. Some phrases needed a little refinement while some had to be entirely reworked. It was a process. Once I had something solid, I tried it with the music.
5) When I finished choreographing, it was time for memorization. I kept my notes nearby and practiced transitioning from one section to the next. This took awhile. It was the same process as learning someone else’s choreography.
6) Once it was memorized, I focused on musical expression. I listened to the music very closely and adjusted moves to reflect the sound. I tried to really dance it.
7) Practice, practice, practice.
This is the process that worked for me. I put together my 3-and-a -half minute solo in about a week and a half. I worked on it everywhere I could; every free second I got. At home, at school, at work, at the laundry mat…Once I started, it was hard to stop. It was a labor of love.
Here is the finished product:
What is your choreography process? Do you have any tips to share?
March 14, 2012 § 3 Comments
I have re-immersed myself in dancing. It was really easy. I love how it seems no matter where I go, there is a flourishing and welcoming belly dance community. I went to a Farfesha student show and started taking classes at their studio shortly after. I signed up for an eight-week course with some American Tribal Style dancers who got their start at the same Santa Fe studio I did. I introduced myself after the first class and we talked a bit. After the second class, they invited me to join their troupe, The Desert Darlings! So how about that; I thought I would be stepping back from the tribal community, something I have thought before, yet it always seems to find a place for me. I guess it’s meant to be. And the Desert Darlings are, well, darling! I am still pursuing Oriental belly dance in my self-practice and will soon be seeking a weekly class.
Last month, I attended Oriental Potpourri, an annual event put on by Amaya. It was wonderful! The guest teacher was Karim Nagi of Turbo Tabla who is amazing! I took a Drum Solo and a Raks Assaya (cane) workshop. It was educational and inspiring! If you ever have the chance to take workshops with Karim, do it! If I had the means, I might travel all over the world taking his workshops. I would learn so much! He has published some DVDs and sells them at a discount to his workshop students. I haven’t gotten to watch mine yet, but I will post about them when I do.
Karim’s workshops got me thinking about some things. First of all, I now realize how important it is to call the traditional dances by their proper names to credit the Egyptians. Going forward, when doing these styles I will do my best to honor them with their true names. I will still call tribal style “belly dance” because it is so Americanized, and I will use “belly dance” as a catchall phrase since I don’t strictly do classical styles.
Second, I now know that I love Raks Assaya! I had never danced with a cane before, and it was so much fun! I already knew that the women’s style of dance came from playfully teasing the men who do Tahtib (an ancient martial art form using a large stick, an assaya), but hearing Karim’s description made it so much more fun! I want to buy a cane, but I have to do some research first because I don’t yet know what I’m looking for in this prop. If anyone has any pointers, they would be much appreciated!
I also learned some very valuable tips for drum solos, like separating the location of accents in the body to reflect different sounds on the drum, and I performed in a show for friends and family of Oriental Potpourri participants. I did my first ever, completely choreographed, non-Tribal solo. It was really fun and a great experience. I will post a video soon.
February 17, 2012 § 4 Comments
I dance constantly. My hips have a mind of their own. There are times I have found myself thinking about a song or a performance and come to a sudden realization (sometimes prompted by people giving me strange looks) that my hips are moving. Dancing out loud, if you will.
This happened to me once when I was working at a mall kiosk. I was casually pacing while thinking about a performance I had done and how it could be revamped when I noticed that some guys who worked at a nearby store were staring at me. I then realized that my hips were reacting to my thoughts of dancing. I proceeded to casually pace my way over to my cash wrap and start doing some paperwork. “Who me? Dancing? I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
A more recent incident occurred last month while I was visiting my family in Portland, OR. We decided to go to Jam, a popular brunch spot. There was a bit of a wait–45 minutes or so–and no sitting room in the waiting area. So we hung out on the rain drenched street, huddled under the awning, engaging in conversation in front of Jam’s window along with other waiting, rain-soaked people. I was standing with my back against the window, and my hips started doing an alternating hip lift with a double lift every third one. (My hips often start creating patterns when I am waiting for something, especially if I’m cold.) I did this for a few minutes without paying it much attention. I glanced back into the restaurant to realize there was a table right behind me, about eye level with my behind. There I was, shaking my butt in these people’s faces while they were trying to enjoy their blueberry pancakes! Oops.
Similarly, I often break into dance while I am brushing my teeth, cooking , trying to get ready for work… Sometimes, I just can’t hold it in any longer!
Sometimes, like the urge to dance, inspiration comes at inconvenient times. Ideas for blog posts often come to me in the middle of a hectic work deadline and I have to quickly find a pen and paper and frantically try to get it down on paper while it’s fresh. Or sometimes when I’m driving, I’ll suddenly have amazing visions of choreographies and have to frantically jot them down as soon as I stop somewhere. If I wait and try to recall it later when it’s stale and I’m tired, it just never blossoms the same as when the inspiration is fresh.
Belly dance, it’s an addiction.
*This post was inspired in part by Leyla Najma’s post, A Choreography State of Mind. If you’ve never been to her blog, you should check it out. Her posts are insightful, honest and thought-provoking.
February 2, 2012 § 2 Comments
I just watched my Combination Nation 3 DVD from Cheeky Girls. Like all the DVDs I’ve bought from them, I love it! Cheeky Girls always chooses very high quality instructors. Combination Nation 3 is the first of the Combination Nations I have purchased.
I read in Aleksie’s review of Combination Nation Volume 1 that the same music is repeated a lot, so while it is interesting to see how different people interpret the same music, it gets a little old by the end. Since I haven’t seen the first I can’t compare the two, but I think this volume uses a good variety of music with a great variety of dance styles to go with it. There is some Modern Egyptian, Turkish Oriental with zill option, Classical Egyptian, Jazz-inspired Modern Belly Dance, Flamenco, Indian, and Samba-flavored pieces. There’s every thing from fast to slow, lyrical to rhythmic, old school to modern. This DVD is very well-rounded. Several combinations are quite challenging (ahem, Ruby–whom I love!) and I will have to go back to them before I can really get them down, but to me that is a sign of money well spent. If I can already do everything on a DVD, it was a waste of money. I want to learn new things! I also really enjoy compilation DVDs like these that involve several dancers because you get introduced to people you may not have seen before (and their websites!) and if they have other instructional DVDs, it’s like a little preview. You can get an idea of their teaching style and whether or not it’s what you’re looking for before you commit to buying their DVD.
This DVD starts out, for the most part, with faster, more upbeat combinations and winds down to slower, simpler ones. This makes sense to me because if you choose to go through the whole thing in one practice session, you will probably be exhausted by the end. It’s also conveniently organized into chapters by instructor, breakdown and practice session, so if you choose to do it in bits and pieces, or integrate just parts into your regular practice, it’s easy to do. There are three performances at the end, which I enjoy watching while I cool down and stretch.
I highly recommend this DVD, especially for intermediate to advanced dancers. I think anyone can take away something from every combination, whether you dance in the instructor’s particular style or not. It is full of great ideas that can be adapted and personalized for your own dance.
As always, great job Cheeky Girls!
January 27, 2012 § 10 Comments
My life has become a bit hectic as of late, as I have recently moved and am taking a new direction. I have returned to college to study biology (with a dance minor), with my eye on a career in physical therapy. I am still working a day job and trying to figure out how I would like to enter my new dance community, all while maintaining a home life–the kinds of things we all must figure out how to balance. When faced with less time and money to do all the things I want to do, I have had to figure out what it is I really want. I would love to take multiple belly dance classes every week, a hoop class, join the local college juggling club to meet and practice with poi spinners, and maybe even play clarinet in some sort of band again. I even considered joining the college marching band, because, hey, it was fun the first time around! But alas, I have realized that accomplishing all those things in my daily life would simply be impossible. I have been faced with the decision of picking an artistic direction, which will really make a person realize what they love. I am most passionate about belly dance so, belly dance it is! I will continue indulging in my other hobbies here and there for fun, but I won’t be investing in classes at this time.
While figuring out what dance classes I can afford and fit in my schedule, I have also had to decide what direction to take within belly dance, being the large genre it is. I think I have settled on taking Oriental classes a couple times a week and focusing on daily self-practice. This means I will be stepping back from the Tribal Community for the time being. This was a tough decision, but there aren’t many, American Tribal Style classes in Albuquerque. There are some that are just Tribal, which I think are more along the lines of Improvised Tribal Style. ITS is like ATS, using the same improvisational structure, but with mostly different foundational moves. I can’t be sure if that’s true until I take some of their classes, but this semester, my school schedule conflicts with the classes I’ve found. For now, I will continue staying sharp in my ATS with self-practice, and make a return to Tribal in a community setting in the (hopefully not too far off) future.
I need to develop my Oriental side of belly dance more anyway. I long for it, the refined feminine movements, it’s grace and beauty, it’s expressiveness and freedom of movement. I should focus more on developing my skills as a soloist as well, and Oriental style is great for that.
One day I will return to teaching. It is definitely on my agenda, but I don’t have the time or energy to start up a new program. It takes a lot of self-promotion and a lot of patience to get steady student enrollment, and that is just not something I can invest in right now. I need to focus on my day job career goals first. Long-term, I hope to be a great physical therapist, dance teacher, solo performer and troupe dancer.
December 29, 2011 § 3 Comments
I am slowly working my way through playpoi.com‘s poi lessons. In the past, I have just randomly clicked through user-uploaded, how-to videos on homeofpoi.com (which are also awesome), but playpoi’s videos have continuity and progression. I have decided to start working my way through their series as I have time and poi urges. I am at the very beginning, just a few videos into Poi-fu, which covers poi fundamentals. It has already given me a lot to think about and some good exercises to work on. Some videos could even apply to other dance forms, or life in general. For example, one I watched recently not only teaches great arm pathways to add poi to later, it is great for general coordination. Give it a try! It’s fun!
December 6, 2011 § 2 Comments
This is a project I worked on with my roommate, a film student, a couple months ago. He was assigned to create short films in the styles of some of the first filmmakers. This project, he did in honor of Turkish Dance by Thomas Edison, shot in 1898. I tried to keep my free-style dancing on the folkloric side and create a similar feel as the dancer in the original video.
Here is my roommate’s completed project:
Here is the original short:
If you’ve never checked it out before, there is a lot of vintage, belly dance footage on youtube. It’s pretty interesting.
October 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s funny how hobbies work their way into your thoughts. The more hobbies I pick up, the more it affects my artistic visions. I’ve been belly dancing for quite some time, casually spinning poi, and am a rather baby beginner at hoop dancing. When I listen to music now, I often “see” the music in the form of one of these dance styles. Which I see changes from song to song depending on what the song is saying to me. In the matter of my poi and especially hoop, I am not really good enough to make these visions into reality yet, but I just need to work on that. At this point, I really need all three in order to fulfill my dancing daydreams and mental musical interpretations. This dancing stuff is an addiction!
My next creative project I am planning is a choreographed poi dance. I am getting to a point where I am having smoother transitions between movements and am adding in variations like lockouts and extensions and what not and need to start actually dancing with the poi instead of just drilling and trying new things. I think a choreography will lead to some good practicing. As soon as I pick a song, I will start making a poi vision or two come to life.
October 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
Some time ago, I participated in the most amazing, 3-day Ethics and Technique of Belly Dance Intensive with Mira Betz. I’d describe it as a movement, dance theory, life, history, culture, performance, self-examination and trust-building workshop. This woman has inspired me not only in dance, but in life. She is very honest and straight forward, and I really admire that. She works really hard and encourages her students to do the same.
In the dance section of the workshop, we learned some combos that Mira emphasized were not so much about the order of movements, but about the concepts we were learning. We explored stretching rhythms and altering the typical timing of combinations to create tension and variation of movement. We also explored how to present ourselves on stage in a way that makes our audience comfortable and relaxed.
There were many talking circles. We discussed our views and the way others view belly dance, things we’ve struggled with, and how our journey within the dance has been. We talked about East vs. West and Orientalism. We discussed pre-performance and post performance etiquette and how to elevate the dance form. We also ventured into how belly dance compares to other dance forms. This was one of my favorite areas of discussion. We compared it to Ballet and Burlesque and how they came to be respected and considered art and how belly dance could become an equally accepted art form.
I was surprised to learn that not everyone enjoyed the discussions as much as I did. A few subjects were addressed that some people took very personally such as performance etiquette, skill, religion, public presentation and other areas of ethics. I suppose that can be expected when such things come up.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was a homework assignment called a wish wall. We made “wish walls” that represented things we wished for or that represented our hopes and dreams or inspirations in some way. Mira said we could make it whatever we wanted, but most people did some sort of collage. I used to collage a lot in high school but hadn’t in years. I really enjoyed this assignment and wish I had more excuses to do arts and crafts projects.
When we brought them to class the next day, they were presented anonymously and were analyzed and discussed by the group before revealing who’s wish wall each was. This was interesting because we got to see how other people perceived what we had done and even gained some insight into what our art was saying about us.
I definitely recommend taking this workshop or any workshop with Mira Betz. She is authentic and inspiring. It was a weekend of exploration, learning and self discovery.