Another Monday, another challenge!
We’re getting back to our by-the-level challenges this week. Don’t worry, the motivational challenges will always continue! Don’t ever give up on your dancing!
Like our hands, we all have arm problems when it comes to dancing. Many of us still remember being an awkward teenager when we weren’t quite sure what to do with our arms. Cross them? Let them dangle by our sides? Many of us never really get over this, and it shows up in our dancing. What do we do with our arms?!
Beginner: You have no doubt seen many dancers with lovely arms and feel you’ll never make it there. Do not despair! Even more important than having lovely, flowing arms is to have strong arms that go nowhere. Why? Because too many dancers get nervous and their arms and hands never stop moving. This is distracting to an audience, when what they should be looking at is your hips, not your hands waving nervously around. Practice strong, “silent” arms and hands first. If you are practicing a new move, keep those arms up and out. And KEEP THEM THERE. No chicken wings, “tandoori chicken arms,” or “T-rex” arms (to name a few nicknames I’ve heard throughout my belly dance career). As you are trying to master new moves, you’ll tend to forget about your arms and they’ll drift inwards until you look like you’re trying to imitate a plucked chicken. Not the look we’re going for in belly dance. So, your challenge is to, when practicing moves, check in with your arms every 8 counts. Drill for 7 counts, check the arms, and then keep drilling. If you drill with those arms up, you’ll be able to keep them there when you are actually doing the movement in dance. Don’t worry right now about how to move them around. Just get them to sit still!
Intermediate: Now we’ll work on moving those arms around. If you tend to flip your hands, or wave your arms around while you dance, you may want to go back to the beginner level challenge and work on improving those silent arms. But if you think your arms look pretty good while you drill and you aren’t in danger of clucking any time soon, go ahead and continue with this challenge. In dance, of course, we don’t want to just keep our arms out and to the sides while we move. That’s boring. Therefore, we tend to frame movements. Again, belly dance is about the body, not about the hands. I see too much hand waving (and I’m guilty of it too) and that distracts from the hips and chest, especially with small, delicate movements. So frame the movement. Doing a hip drop? See what lovely things you can do with your arms to frame that hip. One arm up and one down? One up and one out? Both down? What looks good? Your challenge is to pick two movements and find ways to frame them with your arms. Then move between the two, back and forth. Make sure you don’t get into this problem. Keep the movements smooth between, and it’s okay if your arms trail behind the hip movements as you transition. It will look a bit more natural than heaving them quickly into place.
Advanced: While more traditional belly dance tends to frame the movement done with the hips, we, as artists, of course want to be able to do more interesting things with our arms. Yet, I still see too much arm waving. Arms should enhance what you are doing, not distract from it. If you are doing really awesome hip locks, don’t go into a flurry of fleureos over your head. Your audience will watch your hands, not your hips. So, do the fleureos by the hip. Your challenge is to get your arms to work with your dance, not against it. Find ways to use the arms to enhance your movements and become part of the dance, not a distraction. And don’t forget that moving your arms in a lovely pattern while, say, doing mayas, is much lovelier than just mayas with your arms stuck out to the sides. Your arms can be layered on top of body movements to enhance and bring the entire dance together as a whole. But also don’t forget that it’s okay, when doing a complicated set of locks, if your arms can just stay still and let the hips speak for themselves.
I’m back! Vegas was wonderful, as always, though it didn’t go quite the way I wanted. Oh, well. That kind of stuff happens, and that’s what this week’s challenge is all about.
What do I mean by excuses? Well, we all have them, right? We want to do something, and we can’t, because we either don’t have enough money, or enough time, or any number of other things. Sometimes these are just excuses, but sometimes they are genuine obstacles that we can’t (at the moment) do much about.
How do we tell the difference? That’s not easy, and that’s where the challenge comes in. For inspiration, check out this article. In it, the author describes a troupe that gets together enough funds to rent a van to make it to the Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive…from Montana. How inspiring is that? The old cliche, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” comes to mind. If you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen, no matter what stands in your way.
If you want something bad enough, everything keeping you from it is just an excuse.
So what’s the challenge? First, you need to sit down and figure out what it is you want, and what it is that’s preventing you from doing it. Want to become a professional dancer? What’s stopping you? Write out a list, and brainstorm anything and everything you think is preventing you from being a professional dancer, even if it’s silly, petty, or stupid (to your mind). Be honest with yourself, and don’t judge (too harshly). Want to master layering? What’s stopping you? Do you not practice every day, or is it that you just can’t wrap your head around how one part of the body can move at a different pace than another?
Then go down your list and take a good, long, hard look at it. Again, be honest. There will be some things that are genuine obstacles, things you cannot change no matter what. Having small children soaking up much of your time is probably an obstacle, not an excuse. Circle those. Then take a look at what’s left, and those will likely be your excuses. What are they? What can you do to remedy them? I cannot repeat often enough how important it is to honest with yourself. Lying to ourselves about what we can or cannot change in our lives is one of the worst things we can do as human beings.
Don’t have enough money? Try a bake sale, or a Kickstarter campaign, or even ask your parents. Don’t have enough time? How much TV (or YouTube or Hulu…) do you watch a week? Carve out just one hour a day away from the tube and see what you can do with that time. Can’t seem to master a move? Practice it every day, no matter what.
Every day this week, try to eliminate one of those excuses. If it’s one that’s particularly difficult or insidious (addicted to Facebook?) then give yourself the entire week to work on it. But see if you can’t get rid of one a day. Once you get rid of your excuses, all you’ll have left are your obstacles. We’ll work on those later. Right now we’re just eliminating the ideas that hold us back, prevent us from doing what we want. Excuses hold us back, limit ourselves, and make us feel like we’ll never achieve our goals. But they are just that…excuses.
No more excuses!
Hold on to that list and use it often this week. Refer to it and see if you’ve been eliminating those excuses. And who knows, maybe one or two obstacles will pop over into the excuse category and you can get rid of that, too!
Want even more inspiration? Grab some tissues and check this out. What’s holding YOU back?
This week is a special week for me, and this will be a special challenge. It’s going to be the last one until I get back from Vegas.
I challenge you to challenge yourself.
Want to know why I go to Las Vegas every year to the Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive? Simple: I want to be a better dancer. I want to stretch my horizons, learn from new teachers, and be challenged. I don’t want a pat on the head, a cookie, and someone to tell me what a good little dancer I am. That gets me nowhere. The workshops I remember the most fondly are the ones I walked out of frustrated and close to tears. Why? Because it gave me something to work on all year. At my first Intensive, I took Aubre’s layering workshop and nearly quit right then and there. I thought I’d never get it right. But then I realized that I had to get it, that I had been challenged, and that I would do it even if it killed me (not literally, but you know what I mean). By the second Intensive, I could layer, and when I took my next layering workshop, I didn’t feel like such a uncoordinated loser. I had grown. And every year, I grow more. There are things I can do now that are easy–because I worked on them–that two years ago I never even dreamed I could possibly do.
Over the past five months or so, I have given you a lot of tools and challenges. Maybe you have done them, maybe you have not. This week, I challenge you to challenge yourself. If you haven’t yet actually tried one of my challenges, do it. If you don’t do it NOW, you never will. If you’ve been consistently doing the challenges, fantastic! But don’t stop there. Take a workshop with someone you’ve never heard of before, or take a class from a teacher that scares you a little, or practice that move that you just absolutely CANNOT do.
Dance is one of those wonderful things, like many things in life, in which you never stop growing. There is always more to learn, more to practice, more to perfect. No one EVER “arrives” in dance. There isn’t a point where you go, “Here I am, this is the best you’ll ever see, this is the best I will ever get.” Hogwash. Even the dancers we look up to the most practice every day, drill every day, get frustrated every day, and grow every day.
Will you take up this challenge?