Combination Nation 3

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!

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Hobbies: Having to Make Choices

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.

My Year in Belly Dance: Reflecting and Looking Forward

January 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

I feel like the past year has been a productive one for me on the dance front.  I attended some great workshops and events.  I moved forward in technique and experience.  I had a few breakthroughs that were quite amazing to me.

I had some major breakthroughs in the area of flexibility and usability of my muscles.  Throughout the year, I identified several problem areas in my body where the muscles were locked up and permanently engaged.  I was able to concentrate on and learn how to stretch and release my trapezius muscle (at the top of the shoulder), my hip flexors (at the top, front of the thighs), and my psoas muscles (in the hips).  These muscle groups were causing me some pain and minimizing movement.  After releasing them, I have less back pain, less neck pain and less hip pain.  My undulations have become bigger, my shoulder shimmies have become less tense, and my hip movements have gained depth and range of motion.

I also decided that this would be the year I would really solidify my continuous shimmies. Due in part to an old knee injury, continuous hip shimmies (that move alternately and repetitively between right and left hips) have been very challenging for me.  My left leg has been weaker and less consistent.  This year, I was putting that behind me.  For several months at the beginning of the year, I woke up early every morning to do shimmy drills.  It felt great.  And practicing every day made a world of difference.  I focused on my weaker side and built up the stamina.  After just a few weeks, I had a consistent, even shimmy.  After a few more weeks, I could vary size and intensity.  I eventually got to a point where the muscle memory was so ingrained in me, I would start my shimmying and I felt like my legs had a mind of their own.  The shimmy was automatic, almost like there was no stopping it.  I sometimes felt like the shimmy was in control and I was along for the ride.  It was amazing and I’m pretty sure it’s what everyone is talking about when they say “if you have to think about your shimmy, you haven’t done it enough.”

The most recent thing I discovered that made a huge difference for my body is a yoga technique called inner thigh spiraling.  One of my belly dance teachers brought it to her dance class after it was really helping her with her posture.  Essentially it’s where you stand in good posture and good alignment (keep those knees facing forward!), and engage your inner thighs and gently rotate them backward.  We did an exercise where you hold the yoga block with your thigh spiral and layered some belly dance drills on top of it (shoulder shimmies, chest circles, hip lifts, etc.)  I could feel my lower back and hips opening up.  I have been including this technique in my regular dance practice and it has greatly improved my alignment, posture, strength and is even keeping pressure off my injured knee.

I broke into performing solos.  I have always been more of a troupe dancer than a soloist.  I’m to a point where I actually want to do solos and feel like I need to in order to take my dancing to the next level.  This year, I did solos without props and with veil and sword, some to live music, some to recorded music.  It was great, actually.  I get more nervous before solos and the adrenaline rush is a bit more intense, but it is very rewarding and freeing.  Me and improv have started to get buddy, buddy as well and it has set my dancing free in so many ways.  I have learned to really trust my instincts and go with what the music tells me to do.  I mean, what’s so complicated about it really?  It’s just dancing.

I began playing clarinet again.  I was classically trained for 8 years, but had given it up for several years to focus more on dancing.  I am a little rusty, but the music reading, the embouchure, the technique all came back to me pretty quickly. I have actually joined the Lumani band, so I will be playing a lot more.

I attended TribalCon and Spirit of the Tribes which were both a ton of fun.  I took workshops with Mira Betz, Artemis Mourat, Myra Krien, Devyani, Asharah, Ariellah, Jahara Phoenix, Dalia Carella, Unmata, Kaya, Shadhavar, GypsyVille and even took a few hooping workshops.

As a teacher, I feel like my ATS students progressed so much this year.  I have a group of consistent students who have gotten the basics down quite well and are starting to move on to more challenging and more fun ATS moves and concepts.  I love that the class is picking up momentum!

Last year was a very good year, indeed!

Looking forward, joining the Lumani band is very exciting!  I’m enjoying exploring clarinet with Middle Eastern music and love being part of a musical ensemble again!  I have begun taking a Middle Eastern drumming classes, mostly to learn more about Middle Eastern rhythms to enhance my dancing, but  wouldn’t mind becoming a proficient drummer.  I am also taking a zill class and hope to become decent at more complex zilling.  I want to continue exploring solos and perhaps create some choreographies.  I’m going to TribalCon again and am trying to decided on another major event I’d like to attend.  I’ve never been to a convention for Oriental Style Belly Dance.  That might be fun.

Merry Christmas to Me!

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

I just ordered these DVDs with a Christmas gift card and I’m so excited about it, I can’t stop watching the trailers! USPS, please deliver faster!

I already have Michelle Joyce’s “Pops, Locks, and Shimmies” and “The Heartbeat of Bellydance” with Jenna, both for drum solo technique, and love them!  So I figured these would be great choices.

You have to be incredibly picky with DVD selection these days.  The first time I ordered belly dance DVDs, I ordered them based on whether or not I liked the performer featured in the video, and did not do enough research about content.  I was very disappointed.  I don’t really use any of those DVDs from that first batch.  I think it can be hard to find quality DVDs geared toward a more advanced level of dancing.  There is a ton of fluffy DVDs out there geared toward beginners and/or DVDs that don’t have great content, but are banking on a well-known dancer’s name to sell.  Now when I buy instructional DVDs, I look at subject matter and decide if it’s something I really want to work on, read reviews, and watch previews.  No preview, no sale.  So far, I have been very satisfied with my DVDs from both Cheeky Girls Productions and World Dance New York.

Mirror, Mirror…

April 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve had an interesting journey with the way dancing feels versus the way it looks.

When I first began dancing away from a mirror (in performance, for example), belly dance was still very new to me. When I didn’t have a mirror to look at, I could still tell I was doing a move because I had to put a fair amount of effort and concentration into it.

Later, around my third or fourth year of dancing, I went through a strange transition. Many moves had started feeling more natural, and I could no longer tell how much I was doing with my hips.  When looking in a mirror, I could see the moves were bold and defined, but they didn’t feel big any more.

This went on for the next couple years. When I took workshops without a mirror, sometimes I was told I was trying to make a move too big. Sometimes I put my hands on my hip bones to make sure they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Perhaps I had developed some sort of mirror dependency, but mostly I think I had reached a point in my dancing where some moves felt effortless, and that was new to me.

There is one instance that the opposite thing occurred: learning continuous hip shimmies (vibrational shimmies, piston hip shimmies, freeze shimmies, etc.).  These are very challenging and I had greater success if I focused only on feeling each hip moving up and down alternately and not on how the shimmy looked.  When I would look at myself, my shimmies would freeze up or stutter.  The mirrors were working against me. Looking back, it may have been a self-conscious, mental block.  Because these shimmies are so challenging,  seeing myself try to execute the move probably just pulled my focus to my not being that good at them and away from concentrating on getting the move to happen.

It’s only in the last couple years all this has resolved itself.  Now, unless I’m doing something that’s really new to me, I can usually tell what my hips are doing and how big, with or without a mirror.

I think a major aspect of learning to dance is a shifting of focus between how a move looks and how it feels, until eventually the two become aligned.  Perhaps that’s one way to define mastering a move.

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