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.
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.
October 18, 2010 § 1 Comment
I did my very first completely improvised veil solo the other day. I performed it at a diversity convention for realtors. It was in a large conference room with tables set up with food and goods from various cultures, free henna hand painting, and diverse door prizes that were donated from shops around town.
A few of us dancers were going to perform. We were doing American Tribal Style, a couple drum solos, a sword piece and a skirt dance. My troupe director asked if I wanted to do a solo, and I said sure! I looked at the set list and thought a veil dance would round out the lineup nicely.
I have had some veil experience. I have performed veil a few times with a choreographed group of dancers. I have taken multiple veil workshops and classes and I have played around with veils a bit. This was my first time performing a veil solo. More importantly, it was my first time performing an improvised veil solo to live music. I watched some youtube videos the night before to get some ideas and get a refresher on veil options. I didn’t know what song I would be dancing to until I showed up to the run-through, so I couldn’t do a lot of practicing.
I knew I wanted to dance with the veil wrapped around the arms some to add variety and keep the veil out of the way for part of the dance. I decided to start the dance that way so I wouldn’t forget to do it. I also planned to use the veil from the end for some long veil work. But that was as much planning as I did. I danced through the song once during our run-through. Before I started, my troupe director said, “you don’t have to do all classic veil.” I said, “I don’t know what I’ll do, I have no idea what my veil style is.”
I think the piece turned out well. I love the song the musician played on the accordion, Imate Li Vino. The version he played is slow, pretty and expressive. It’s one of my favorites, even though I’ve only heard it a few times before, but that really helped. I was “in the zone.”
My entrance felt a little rough. I wasn’t flowing with the music yet, but after the first half a minute or so, I was only really aware of the veil and the music. Total flow. Especially after I completely unraveled the veil and went into full veil work. I twirled and spun and tossed and moved the veil with the rises and falls in the melody. I was just feeling the music and danced until I felt done. I’m not sure what all I did, I just danced.
After, I asked my fellow dancers how long I had danced for and they said about 3 minutes which is, in my opinion, a perfect length for a solo. I was lucky that the song is very cyclical so the musician could add however many verses I needed him to. I entered after the song started and left before it finished. I had pictured myself as a figment of the imagination, as if the musician dreamed me. An apparition. A consequence of the melody.
A Sword Short
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.