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.
January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
Late last year, my troupe performed at the Alabama Renaissance Faire. One of our pieces was a choreographed sword dance.
Many people in our troupe have the same Turkish scimitar style dance swords. They are purchased from the same distributor and therefore balance the same and have the same weight. Some people even have two so they can do double sword. We like to have matching swords for performances so we share the surplus within the troupe when we do a group piece. The sword I own is a different style, so I’m one of the dancers who borrows.
Before the Renaissance Faire, we did not communicate well enough about who was bringing whose sword for the first, less formal day of performing, and we ended up a sword short. In retrospect, we should have talked our way through a reset of the choreography and just did the piece with one fewer dancer. Instead, we borrowed a sword from another dance troupe. It was a little larger, but had a similar shape and the look we wanted. I was going to use that sword. This was only minutes before we went on. I put the sword on my head to make sure I could find the balancing point, took it off again and went to the stage area.
The performance started off really well. When it was time for our sword piece, we began with the swords in our hands and did some lyrical work, creating interesting shapes and lines. I was a little worried because the borrowed sword felt strange. Even just moving it around with my hands, it felt…different.
About a third of the way into the dance, we balance the swords on our heads. As we find the balancing points, we do some hip work and undulation type moves so we continue dancing even as we are placing the swords. Then we all remove our hands at once for dramatic effect.
Up until this point, everything had gone really smoothly. No forgotten choreography. No spacing issues. No costume malfunctions. No wind blowing (wind makes balancing harder because it can actually blow the sword around on your head). All swords were in place.
Then we began moving. First the back line, then the front. After just a couple seconds, my sword slipped. I calmly put it back in place. Within 30 seconds, it slipped again. I replaced it once more. When it slipped a third time, I started to get frustrated.
I have dealt with having to reposition a sword before. It’s usually no big deal, it’s just part of dancing with a sword. But I had never dealt with a sword that I couldn’t get to balance at all. This was quite embarrassing. Part of what is impressive about sword is that a dancer can seem to move effortlessly with this dangerous object on her head. If a dancer can’t get it to stay, it ruins the effect.
I hate watching other dancers struggle with things on stage and I’m sure it was painful to watch me fight with that sword. What I wanted to do was stab the sword into the ground, declare that it was not mine and stomp off the stage. I didn’t, of course.
I managed to finish the rest of the choreography as gracefully as possible while mostly holding the sword in place. In retrospect, I could have removed the sword and improvised around the dancers who were still doing the choreography. This option did occur to me during the mishap, but I was afraid it might throw off another dancer, so I just finished the piece the best I could.
One thing I learned is that it is best to be responsible for your own prop. In the future, if I’m borrowing something I will try to borrow it beforehand so I can personally bring it to the performance space. It is a lot easier for each individual dancer to keep track only of what they will need for the show.
After this rather embarrassing performance, I went home and played with my own sword, which has a thinner blade and is much more light weight. I could not do the troupe choreography with this sword either. The choreography is at a medium tempo. With my own sword, I dance at very slow tempos. This got me thinking about how one sword may lend itself to different styles of dancing better than others.
The heavier, scimitar swords we use in the troupe stay on the head more securely during turns and faster moving steps. You can move more suddenly and the weight and shape help keep the sword from responding as much. When you finish a turn, the sword tends to slow down and stop just after. Its own weight seems to have more influence on it than the momentum of dancing.
With lighter swords, you have to move slower. For turns, you have to start out slow and build speed so you don’t leave the sword behind, and you usually need some way to stop it at the end so it does not keep going without you. For example, you can artistically put your arm up in the path of the sword.
While this does not mean one sword is better than another, it does mean that you should be cautious if borrowing a sword that you’ve never danced with at the last minute pre-perfomance, especially if you plan on adhering to a strict choreography that may or may not work with that particular sword. I know, this should probably be sword-balancing common sense, but sometimes you need to make last minute decisions to fix a problem. Sometimes they work well and sometimes they don’t. This time, it didn’t work out so well for me. It’s okay, though. It’s all part of that live-in-the-moment performance experience.
December 3, 2008 § 2 Comments
Most of my performance experiences have been positive, but I think we’ve all had that embarrassing on-stage mishap, such as a runny nose (a huge fear of mine! Seriously, there are no good options!), costume malfunctions or having your show rudely interrupted by some cheek-sucking greyhound talking on her cell phone in the front row.
I don’t really get stage fright anymore. Not much at all. I used to really bad, so bad smiling was actually painful. I’ve gotten over it through the years though. Performing forces you to grow a thick skin at some point. There’s really no other choice.
The worst performance experience I’ve had was with my first dance troupe. We were invited to entertain at an auction for some good feminine cause like breast cancer awareness or something like that. It was held in an absolutely gorgeous auditorium in a Masonic Temple with beautiful stain glass creations lining the walls, a feigned starry sky for a ceiling and an antique, multi-layered, forest-themed backdrop behind the stage. All the seats were filled.
The auction was being held in the form of a fashion show with many wearable pieces donated by local artists. We waited for over an hour in the dressing room watching the models prepare and come and go as the show went on. The audience was loud with excitement. We were in for a good show. Audience energy can give a huge boost.
Finally, the bidding stopped and we were going on to dance, which I believe was to be followed by some refreshments. We were introduced and our music started. As we glided onto the stage, the crowd was rowdy. We began dancing, they began walking around and in huge droves, exiting the theater! There must have been at least a hundred and fifty women there, all leaving! After a few minutes the only sound in the theater was our music. There was only four audience members left. If there’s ever a good time to run off stage and cry into your tassel belt, this was it.
We stayed of course. We had agreed to do a twenty-minute set, and the four people who were watching actually did seem to enjoy themselves.
Looking back, I’m sure all the bidding just got the ladies riled up and they were ready to get their merchandise and have a drink. But it feels pretty awful to have a whole theater walk out on you like that.