Archive | May 2012

Weekly Challenge for 5/28/12

Last week’s challenge had to do with one belly dance “prop,” zills.  This week’s challenge is also going to deal with another prop!

Veil

First of all, let me say this: too many dancers become prop queens.  They know how to use every prop in the book (and then some), but can’t ever seem to actually dance.  So, what I am NOT suggesting here is to learn props in order to “prop up” your dance.  Some props are just expected to be in the repertoire of a professional dancer, so there is almost no getting around learning some of them.  But still DANCE, just with the prop.

Beginner: Veil is not always the easiest prop for a beginner to learn.  But, there are still lovely things you can do with a veil without having to seemingly have 4 arms and no bones in them.  In a lot of traditional dance, the veil is only used as the “lovely piece of fabric” that is dropped about 30 seconds into the song.  Try this first.  Learn how to hold a veil (ask your teacher or find a video…there’s lots) and then just practice walking with it trailing behind you (arms up or down, both can be pretty), do a swish, and then drop it.  Then continue dancing to your song.  Get used to holding the veil, what the weight is, how it feels.  Every veil is different, whether it’s silk or chiffon, light or heavy, rectangular or half-circle.  All you are doing this week is getting used to idea of having a piece of fabric in your hands, and what you can do with it.

Intermediate:  Find a good veil video and start learning the “moves.”  There are tons of videos on the Internet and on DVD, so I’m not going to go over all the moves here.  But this is your chance to learn them and get good at them.  Right now, you aren’t yet “dancing” with the veil; you are merely getting the movements into your muscle memory.  This is an important step; without it, you cannot dance WITH the veil.  But, pick one veil move, and start thinking about what you can do with the veil while dancing.  Can you do a turn with the veil move?  Can you do an arabesque?  It might not work, or it might look weird, but try it out. Your challenge is two-fold: learn the “moves” and start figuring out what you can do to dance with just one of those moves.

Advanced: Admittedly, I did not start learning any prop until this level.  I’ve had to work extra hard to bring my prop skills up to par, so if you can start learning before this point, you should.  By this level, you should pretty much know the “moves” for veil and be comfortable with them.  But instead of dancing…and then doing a veil move…and then dancing…and then doing a veil move (or worse yet, standing in one place while only moving the veil around), try incorporating the veil with the dance.  Try an arabesque with a veil toss (either clap your hands together overhead or toss one side of the veil over your shoulder).  Try “doing the laundry” (a Delilah move) while turning.  Here’s a video for inspiration (yes, she’s actually using voi, but the same method applies).  Notice that there are some moves where she does stop dancing in order to do the lovely veil move, but it fits with the piece.  And then she dances with the veil, while also doing “moves.”  Your challenge is to learn to use the veil as a dance partner, not as a prop.

Also try out different veil types.  I hated veil until I bought my first silk one, because the chiffon was just too heavy for me to heave around and look graceful.  Others may hate silk because it’s too floaty and gets everywhere and would much prefer the control of chiffon.  Another important note: many veils have sequins or beading around the edges.  These are not suitable for anything other than “lovely pieces of fabric.”  Sequins and beads hurt when they hit you in the face.

Happy dancing!

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More Thoughts on Fusion

Tribal Fest 2012 is now over, and the videos are rolling in.  So, apparently, are the negative comments.  I’ve tried to keep myself out of it as much as possible, because 1) I don’t have the time, and 2) it’s infuriating and I don’t need my head to explode.

Why is there such a problem with tribal fusion belly dance?  Why do so many dancers either hate it or love it?

I’ve blogged about this before and seen some snarky comments about “oh, I’m an *artist* so I can do what I want” blah, blah, blah.  This is a really negative and childish attitude to take, and doesn’t help the already not-so-great image of belly dance.  Yes, ALL dancers are artists, and we can do whatever we want, within reason.  If I want to “I’ll wrap my small intestines ’round my neck/And set fire to myself on stage” because I “perform this way.*”  Dance is an art, and art is about creativity.  We aren’t going to stop dancing just because a few people can’t expand their horizons and appreciate the art, skill, and talent that goes into tribal fusion, even if they don’t particularly care for it.

I’m not going to retread my entire previous blog post, because you can just go read that.  But I will say this, and put it in bullets to make it clearer:

  • Belly Dance is already a fusion art.  Even “traditional” dance has movements from different cultures and art forms.  Modern belly dance wasn’t conceived of, fully formed, in a vacuum.  If you don’t believe me, watch this video and then ask yourself if this is how YOU belly dance (and gee…that certainly looks like an ommi to me…)  For comparison, here is a modern Egyptian belly dancer. Don’t much look the same, do they?
  • “Art isn’t safe” (a quote I heard from Rob Zombie).  If it makes you angry, I’ve done my job.  Art–including dancing–speaks to our emotions, and it doesn’t always have to be the happy, safe, glittery kind of emotions.  I’ve seen belly dance so beautiful, I’ve cried.  I’ve seen belly dance so powerful I was riveted to my seat and wouldn’t have noticed if I had started drooling.  Fusion dancers: when some narrow-minded person tells you that what you are doing isn’t belly dance, just keep the thought, “They felt something, so I did my job,” in mind.  At least they are watching your videos and commenting on them.
  • If you don’t like it, DON’T WATCH IT.  And don’t be a jerk and make negative comments.  It devalues all of us.  At least respect the skill and the time that went into learning and perfecting the movements, picking out the music, doing the choreography (yes, fusion dancers often choreograph), rehearsing, pulling together the costuming, putting on the makeup, getting over the stage fright, and opening our hearts and souls to the audience.  For many of us (introverts), sharing our art is giving you a peek into our souls.  Don’t devalue that by commenting, “That isn’t belly dance!  I hate fusion.”

I’m going to go take some deep breaths now to calm down.  In the meantime, don’t forget to go read my full blog on this subject.

*Lyrics from Weird Al’s “Perform This Way”

Weekly Challenge for 5/21/12

Happy Monday dancers!  You know what that means…another belly dancing challenge for the week!

A reminder that the challenges are meant to be tried EVERY DAY.  How can you challenge yourself if you don’t try this out at least once daily!  Of course, many things you will not master in one week, and that’s not the point.  The point of the challenges is to get you out of your comfort zone and get used to expanding your abilities.  So…onwards with this week’s challenge!

Zills!

Those of you who followed my previous blog will be familiar with this, but that’s okay.  You need to do it again!

Beginner: Zills are intimidating.  But beginner level is the perfect time to start with them.  There are lots of zill videos on YouTube and elsewhere online.  Pick the easiest pattern, which will be “3s” and try it out.  Get used to playing them, but don’t just stand around and play them.  If dancing and zilling is too scary, try just walking and zilling.  Everyone knows how to walk, so this shouldn’t be a problem!  Just make sure to walk on beat and get used to playing the 3 pattern with your fingers.  You’ll strengthen your hands and fingers as well as get used to playing them while moving.  Make sure to warm up your hands and forearms before playing and stretch them afterwards in order to build your muscles up.

Intermediate:  Here’s where it gets challenging!  You need to DANCE while zilling, so pick a good, long song (might I suggest 10 minute heavyweight Gana Al Hawa from the On Fire! CD) and dance while zilling.  It doesn’t have to be all the fancy patterns you might know, just the basics: 3s, galloping (also known as 3-3-7), and beledi.  If these are the only patterns you know, that’s good, because these are the zill workhorses and will usually be appropriate for any performance.  Just make sure your dancing doesn’t suffer while you are concentrating on the zill patterns.  Pick easy steps, ones you know really well, and dance to those while practicing your zills.

Advanced: Zilling skills might just be a requirement at this level!  If you haven’t learned to zill by now, you really should learn (yes, even fusion dancers might need to know a little something about zills…you never know!)  Practice zilling with the beat of the music, no matter what beat that might be.  You may need to branch out and learn the lesser known/used patterns like masmoudi, saiidi, ayuub, and chiftitelli (this is not an exhaustive list, by any means).  These patterns will not always be used in whatever piece you are dancing to, so make sure they fit the music before attempting in performance.  When practicing, make sure you DANCE while zilling, even if it’s easy steps at first.  But make sure you can do any movement in your repertoire with all of these rhythms.

Good luck…and happy zilling!

Weekly Challenge!

I hope you have been enjoying your belly dancing challenges!  Here’s your next one!

Stage presence

First of all, what is stage presence?  Basically, it’s how you act on stage.  Do you look at the floor or at the audience (or OVER the audience?)  Is your posture correct or are your shoulders hunched?  Do you look nervous, or are you smiling and having fun?  It’s not necessarily WHAT you are doing on stage, but HOW you are doing it.

Beginner: Before you rebel on me and run away screaming about not ever performing, think on this: I never wanted to perform either, and now look where I am!!  I wish I had started on stage presence at this stage of my dancing career, rather than later on.  When you FIRST start learning is the BEST time to learn stage presence.  Even if you think you will never, ever, ever, ever get on stage, try to cultivate stage presence.  How?  Smile.  When practicing your drilling, think of smiling.  Don’t frown, or stick your tongue out, or stare at yourself in the mirror like you’re trying to start a fire.  Relax and smile.  Check your posture.  Are your arms out or sagging down into T-Rex land?  Is your chin back and up or are you staring at the floor?  Your challenge is to try checking every 16 counts or so at first, just a check-in with your body to make sure everything is still where it’s supposed to be.  If it’s not, stop dancing, reset, and begin again.

Intermediate:  Now is when you will start to think about performing in front of friends and family, perhaps at a student hafla at your studio, or at a casual festival in front of a supportive audience.  And now is when you will really need to start to learn how to perform in front of people.  Your first performance will be terrifying.  But you can get through it!  You know your choreo (or your combinations), so now start to think about everything else.  When practicing, remember the most important parts of belly dancing stage presence: relax, smile, and make sure your posture is good.  Your chest should be up and lifted, and your knees bent.  That will also help you relax and make your shimmies and other hip movements bigger and stronger.  Don’t look down to your audience if you are on a raised stage.  Look out, keeping your chin up.  And practice that way!  That’s your challenge: make sure you check in every 16 counts or so for posture, where you are looking, and what your face is doing.

Advanced:  There’s nothing worse than a technically beautiful dancer with no stage presence.  You NEED to connect with your audience.  Smile at them.  Draw them into your performance.  Take their breath away.  This is a hard technique to learn (one that I still struggle with!), but there are things you can do to help.  If you are on a raised stage, you’ve been told never to look your audience in the eye, and that’s usually the case.  But once and awhile, look down at one of them.  Make eye contact and pour your performance into your eyes.  Even if only one audience member walks away thinking, “Wow, she really connected with me…” that’s perfect.  Some of the most intense performances I’ve ever seen was where the dancer stared me down, almost to the point where I was uncomfortable, and then seemingly danced JUST FOR ME.  Of course she really wasn’t dancing only for me…there were hundreds of others watching.  But the other audience members will also see that connection and be riveted to their seats, wondering if you will dance just for them next.  In your practice, always check the basics, of course–posture, facial expression, your character–but also pay attention to how you project yourself in your dance.  It’s still important to smile during practice so that you get in the habit of it, but also think about how you come out onto the stage, how you exit, and the personality you are trying to project.  Are you being silly, or sensual, or flirty?  Is the piece dark or sad or slow?  Learn to project those emotions so that anyone watching you feels those same emotions.  Your challenge: grab a friend or loved one, put on your headphones (so they can’t hear the music), and have them guess what emotion you are trying to portray (the music often gives it away).  Ask them if they felt it, too, or if they just saw you dancing to silence.  For an even greater challenge, have them try to guess the song!

Stage presence is a toughy, so keep going with it.  Try the exercises at least once a day, and always try to stay aware of HOW you a performing, not just WHAT you are performing.  Happy dancing!

Weekly Challenge for 5/7/12!

I hope you have enjoyed your first weekly challenge with the new Kamrah page!  Here’s your next one:

Assessing your dance

So…let’s be honest with ourselves today and this whole week (you really should be honest with yourself always, but let’s just try it for a week, shall we?).  Being honest with yourself is difficult.  Especially when we love something so much, we want to think that we are the absolute best at it, because NO ONE can be more passionate about it, right?  That’s not always the case, unfortunately.  I have seen a lot of dancers get moved ahead into advanced level classes they are not ready to take on.  I’ve seen dancers start teaching after only a few classes or, worse yet, after buying every DVD they can get their hands on.  I’ve seen excellent dancers cringe when they see themselves on video, criticizing every perceived flaw.  This isn’t healthy.  In order to grow in our dance, we need to assess where we are now, and whether we are truly meeting our goals and dancing to our true level, or if we are pulling the wool over our own eyes just to imagine ourselves at the point where we think we should be.  Being honest is hard, but it doesn’t have to be cruel.  Be honest, but be fair and kind to yourself.

What I am NOT going to do is have you compare yourself to other dancers and figure out whether you are better than they are or not.  That’s not a healthy attitude, either.  We should only challenge ourselves, not criticize ourselves, and comparing ourselves to other dancers, to me, is criticism.

Beginner: Your challenge is to determine if you are meeting the goals you and your teacher have set out for yourself.  Take a good long look in the mirror–make an assessment–while you practice.  Does your posture start to wilt half way through a drill?  Do your arms drift down into T-Rex territory?  Do you really have that hip drop down, or are you still bouncing?  Be honest.  Yes, we want to look at ourselves and go, “What!?  I’m doing this right!  I’ve got it and don’t need to do YET ANOTHER drill!!”  Well, do you really have it down?  Are you doing exactly what your teacher has asked?  Take a look in the mirror again, and be honest.  But that doesn’t mean critical!!  If you are still bouncing in your hip drops, don’t scold yourself and despair of ever getting it right!  Instead, ask your teacher what needs to change.  Or try doing it a slightly different way.  Do you get it at first, get tired (or bored), and then get sloppy?  How did your body feel when you were doing it right?  Try to reproduce that every time.  Keep yourself motivated to have perfect technique each and every time you do a movement.  You may not get it at first, but if you strive for it, you will get there.

Intermediate:  Intermediate can be dangerous territory.  We have a lot of the movements down, and now we are ready to refine them, make them look great, and show them to others.  But…that might not mean you are ready to teach others.  Be honest.  Do you know the mechanics of the movement?  Do you know what muscle groups are being used in order to perform the movement safely?  Check yourself in the mirror and see if you maintain posture during your entire drill or choreography.  Do you get tired half-way through and then get sloppy?  Your challenge is to delve deeper into your movements.  Pick a movement, and find out (from your teacher) what muscles you are supposed to be working (if they haven’t told you from the very beginning), and make sure those are the ones you are using.  Of course, always make sure your posture stays perfect through all of your movements, even six sweaty minutes into a shimmy drill.  Work on refining your technique so that you perform it 100% each and every time.  Remember: the way you practice is the way you perform.

Advanced: Your challenge is going to be the hardest.  By this point, you should know what you need to work on.  At this level, we all know what we are weak in, what we are strong in, and what just needs a kick in the pants.  Advanced dancers tend to stick to what we are good at, and drill that, because it’s easy and we know we can do it.  This is not the right attitude to take.  And if you do not think you have something to work on in your dance, you need to work on being more honest with yourself.  Again, don’t compare yourself to other dancers at your level, but take a good long look in the mirror and see what needs to be improved.  If you are honest, you will find something.  Is your face frozen while you dance because you are concentrating on getting 13 different movements into 8 counts?  Do you let your shimmies get sloppy because no one is actually going to count hips at this speed, right?  Right?  Being a great dancer is knowing what you need to work on, and WORKING ON IT.  No excuses.  I suck at certain types of layering, and I know that.  So what do I do?  It’s the first thing I work on when I practice.  Assessing your dance is how we improve.  The flip side of this, of course, is not being too critical.  Because we are advanced, we know what we are supposed to look like when we dance, and so therefore we know when we don’t look like that.  And when we watch ourselves, we often get horrified because one hand was too twitchy, or for some reason the floor seemed much more interesting than the audience for half the dance, or we messed up the choreography.  Don’t let this get to you!  Learn from it, then practice keeping your hands still, or keeping your chin up, or drilling the choreo a few more times before performing it again.  Mistakes and things-to-work-on should not eat you alive and keep you from enjoying your dance.  Your challenge: work on what you suck at, which of course means you need to be honest with yourself and find what it is that you need to work on.

This is a tough challenge, but we can only grow if we challenge ourselves.  This is what the weekly challenge is all about, and assessing your dance is how you know what level you are on, what level you can strive for, and what needs to be done to get there.  Happy dancing!