Archive | January 2013

A New Challenge

It’s Monday, so it’s time for another challenge! Are you ready?


Whoa…so, like, swords and stuff right? Yep. But don’t worry…there’s a reason!

Beginner: Most teachers would (rightfully) balk at putting a sword or a candle tray on a beginner’s head. This is not the sort of skill a beginner needs to worry about. HOWEVER, in my experience, balancing helped me with my isolations more than anything else, including hours and hours of drilling. Why? Because balancing something on your head forces you to keep good posture as well as keep your movements crisp and isolated. If you are having trouble isolating those hips on the down, slapping a sword on your head certainly makes you think about how much you sway from side to side. So, while this challenge is about balancing, it’s also about isolations. Wow…two birds with one stone! My kind of practice! Now, your challenge is to pick one movement, just one, and practice it with something on your head. If you don’t have a sword or a tray, that’s okay. Try a book. It only needs to be something with a little bit of weight so that it sticks to your head a little bit better. Practice every day for one whole song.

Intermediate: We’re going to layer and balance! Scary! Remember that the object you are balancing is meant more to force your posture and improve your isolations than to be the focus of the exercise. So if you have a sword, great, but a book works too. Pick a move you are having trouble with, get that book on your head, and then walk with it. You can do it! If your move is hips on the down, you can certainly walk and balance at the same time. Keep those isolations crisp. If you aren’t, it will be obvious (your book will end up on the floor more than on your head!)

Advanced: If you’ve never balanced anything before, go back and try the intermediate exercise. Make sure that all your isolations can stand up to a sword on your head. There is NO EXCUSE for not being able to do just about any move in your repertoire with a sword on your head. Turns (except the really fast ones), isolations, drops, floor work, even traveling steps and back bends all work with swords. If your posture is good, and you have good isolations, you should be able to do it. The movement may have to be slower, but 95% of what you can do can be done with swords (the only moves I can think of that do not work are hair flips and other moves where the head is involved as the primary movement or where the head must change position). Your challenge is to try those movements, like back bends and turns, where you are most likely to drop your sword. Make sure you keep the movements crisp and isolated.

A word of caution: if you are working with a sword, give yourself a break once and awhile, especially if you have a heavy sword. The extra weight can be hard on your neck. Also be careful with the sword because of its weight. It can really hurt if you drop it on yourself, a kid, or your cat. If you are scared, practice on your bed until you feel more confident.

Happy dancing!

And…hey, did you know that I am now offering a sword workshop? If you are interested in hosting this workshop, drop me a line. This workshop is not for the faint of heart! Learn more than just balancing that sword; learn how to dance with your sword as a partner, with new and interesting moves. Learn two exciting combos to integrate these fiery new movements into your dance!

Weekly Challenge for MLK Day

As you may have noticed, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US.  Today is supposed to be not just a day off of work but a day of service.  I think that’s a great idea!  You can find more information here.  You can search by area to see what sort of activities there are for you to help out with.

But this is a belly dance blog, and so…we have this week’s challenge!

Making change happen

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision was one of equality for all.  However, as many of us know, that hasn’t happened yet.  And to get into a touchy subject…it really hasn’t happened for women in Arab countries at all.  “So what?” you are thinking (well, I hope not…), “How does this affect me and my dance?”  Well, considering that belly dance is a folk dance that originated in these countries, with these women, it affects ALL OF US.  Many dancers get dinged for not being culturally sensitive, or not knowing anything about the culture from which their dance comes from.  Tribal Fusion dancers get heat about this the most, because fusion is so, so different from its origins.  So it’s even more important for fusion dancers to know the origins of their “mother dance form.”

This week, let’s concentrate on changing that…and possibly changing the lot of women around the world.  Every day this week, learn a little bit about what life is like for women in Arabic countries.  It doesn’t have to turn into a huge research project to spend hours and hours on.  Just read a little bit about it, at least five minutes a day.  A news story one day, a Wikipedia entry the next.  Find out what these women are going through, and why that is.

How will this change something?  Well, it might not.  But educating ourselves about what other women are going through is the first step.  Most of us ignore the news because it’s unpleasant, or we just don’t want to take the time to follow a story.  We know, intellectually, that women are treated badly in other countries, but many of us either don’t care, don’t know why, or don’t want help or think we can’t.  We have our own lives to worry about: kids, work, practice, our own leisure… But taking 5 minutes, just 5 minutes, out of our schedules to learn about other people and other cultures just may make us more willing to reach out to people, to help those that we don’t know.  We can help others, in a way that is culturally sensitive, if we just take the time to learn about them!

Let’s all get to learning!

This Week’s Challenge

Another challenge for this week! Yay! So are you ready?

And hey…if you have an idea or want to see something turned into a challenge, drop me a line! I’d love to hear from you, and you’ll get a shout-out on the blog!

Arm patterns (and…gasp!…layering!)

Beginners: It’s hard to think about your arms while you are still learning how to drop a hip or do a maya, and that’s normal and okay. BUT, it’s never to early to start learning how to use those arms! And what better way than to drill an arm pattern? Yup, you can drill arm patterns just like you drill hip drops, mayas, or any other movement. It will help get the pattern into your muscle memory so that you don’t have to think about it so much. So, take an arm pattern from class (if you haven’t learned one, ask your teacher for one) and drill it for one song every day this week! Sound boring? It doesn’t have to be! If you have the pattern down pretty well, try varying it a little by slowing down during one part, and speeding up another. Slow it waaaaaaaaay down and see how hard it gets to make it look nice while still doing the movement. Have fun with it!

Intermediate: You are (gasp!) going to layer this! Pick an arm pattern, or make one up for an additional challenge, and drill it while you are doing mayas. Remember to keep your mayas even and full (don’t cut them off halfway because you are concentrating on your arms!) and keep the arms moving. You may find your brain overloading a bit and end up dropping one movement in order to get the other right. Keep trying! Just stop, pick up your mayas, and then get the arms going again. You can do it! Drill one whole song every day!

Advanced: Ever notice that some dancers have lovely arm patterns, but they basically stand still while doing them? While that is fine and there is nothing inherently wrong in doing that, let’s spice it up a bit! Pick one of your choreographies that has a lot of arms in it (if you don’t have one, come up with a good, long combo with lots of arms). If you find yourself standing still, start moving with it! And don’t just walk! Pick a traveling step, like grapevine, and stick a maya on it, then do your arm pattern. Remember that just because you are traveling and layering it doesn’t mean it has to look like you are going through a seizure. It should still look nice and work with the music (especially if you are using an established choreography). Keep your hip movements defined, relax, smile, and make sure your arms are strong.

Happy dancing!

Weekly Challenge for 1/7/13

It’s a new year! Time to make all those resolutions, right? That mostly get broken by February, right? So what’s the point, right?

Cardio dancing

We all try to lose weight at the New Year. We all have such good intentions, such motivation that this year will be the year that we get thin, or get fit, or go to the gym ALL THE DAYS. And it never happens, does it?

But you’re in luck, because you do belly dance. And belly dance can be a fantastic way to lose weight and still have fun. But you knew that right? Instead of dragging yourself to the gym, sitting in traffic just to ride a stationary bike, or dealing with the strutting weird guys or all the sweat on the machines, why not use belly dance to get in shape? (Can you tell I’ve had nothing but bad experiences at gyms?)

Okay, I know, I’m going to catch heat from people for suggesting that people quit going to the gym. And that’s not really what I’m trying to say. What I’m saying is that exercise is important, but if you’re not going to commit to going to the gym anyway, you’re not losing out on anything, are you? Except your monthly membership fee.

Seriously, there are few things more important than exercise, and you should talk with your doctor about how much, how often, and how long is appropriate for you. Once you find that out, instead of doing something boring like a treadmill, try belly dance instead!

For example, if your doctor has cleared you for serious exercise, make up a mix of fast paced, fun songs in a playlist that’s twenty to thirty minutes long. Then, just dance. So your challenge is get in cardio dance at least three times this week. Yeah, so it’s not every day. But it’s also not a good idea to kill yourself the first week.

Don’t worry too much about technique. Make sure you are doing your moves correctly and safely, and that you have warmed up properly, and that your posture is good. But otherwise, don’t think, just dance for twenty minutes. Or thirty. Or five. Whatever is safe for you to do. Don’t let your brain tell you how stupid you look, or that this move doesn’t go there, or gee, I’ve done this move for sixteen counts and can’t think of anything else… The point of this is to get moving, and have fun while doing it.

See how you feel after a week of cardio dancing. And think of how much more fun it was than going to the gym. And think about how much easier it is to stick to a routine that you actually enjoy.

Extra challenge: don’t stop at a week. Keep this up the ENTIRE YEAR. Dance your cardio three times a week (at least) for one year, and you will be surprised at what changes will happen in your body and in your life.

And please make sure you check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine! And also remember that this is cardio, and does not replace your strength training.

Happy dancing!

How to be a good audience member

Many bloggers (including me) write primarily about how to be a good dancer, how to improve yourself, how to stretch and reach for the stars. But not too many write on how to be a good audience member, especially if you are a dancer. We think, hey, I’m a dancer, and I know how I want an audience to behave. But what might be acceptable to you may not be to another dancer. Here are some tips for being a good audience member.

  • Never show up in costume to another performer’s gig. This is just about as rude as you can get. If you want to see another dancer perform, and you have a gig afterwards, show up in your street clothes (or dressy clothes, whatever is appropriate for the venue) and change once you get to your gig (and not in the dressing room of the other dancer)
  • Even if you are capable of this or this, DO NOT zill through another dancer’s set, unless she has specifically asked you to. It’s great that you know how to zill, and it’s wonderful that you want to participate in the show, but keep it to your own set. You may distract the dancer (and the audience) or cover up the accents she is trying to hit, or, horrors, not be playing the right rhythm! I’ve had this happen to me too much, ruining sets and video because someone was zilling through my set.
  • If you do not like the dancer, don’t bad mouth her before, during, or after her set, especially in the hearing of other audience members. When she is performing, it is her stage, her moment, no matter how much you don’t like her. Let her have her time on the stage. And, to be fair, if you don’t like a dancer, you shouldn’t bad mouth her ever. Keep it to yourself.
  • If you do not like a performer’s set, song, style, or skill level, also keep it to yourself. Clap politely (or not) at the end. Please do not loudly proclaim how you can do so much better, or wave your hands wildly in dismissal, or cluck unappreciatively. I’ve seen all three of those from other belly dancers, and it is so rude. This is childish behavior and will reflect more on you than on the dancer.
  • Please do help get a dead crowd going. Most Americans are taught to sit quietly and politely through a performance, and this can kill the energy of a belly dance show. Help a girl out and show the audience that it is okay to clap, make noise, and tip the dancer. The dancer should be the one to handle this, but there are some crowds that need more help than others.
  • And finally, the best thing you can do to be a good audience member is…show up! If you have no intention of going, don’t reply with a “yes” on Facebook (this can give the dancer higher expectations and when no one comes, be a big disappointment). Support other dancers in your community by going to their events, even if you are not performing.