Weekly Challenge for 4-29-13
Monday again (*sigh*), but that means it’s time for another belly dance challenge! Yay!
Hips on the down
This is often a challenging move for belly dancers, but it is also one of the signature belly dance movements! So let’s do some practice!
Beginner: This will be a tough movement, but don’t despair. It just takes practice, so that’s what we’re going to do this week! First, let’s talk about the difference between a hip drop and a hip on the down. Hip drops (in my dance vocabulary) are when the body is at an angle, showing off the hip that is being lifted and dropped in time to the beat of the drum. A kick is often added (as in our previous challenge, the hip drop kick!), and the weight is in the supporting leg. A hip on the down is when the hip goes downwards (and slightly outwards), like a hip bump, just down instead of up/out, with the weight even on both feet. Whew! It’s hard when there are so many similar things to do with your hips, but they really are different! If your teacher hasn’t shown you this, ask her/him about it! Your challenge is to practice this movement for TWO SONGS every day this week!
- Don’t shift your weight. You do not want to rock from side to side. Keep the feet planted, your weight even on both feet.
- Use your glutes! Help tone the glute muscles by clenching the glute on the opposite side (a hip going down to the right gets a glute clench on the left).
Intermediate: You probably know this movement well, but we’re going to up the difficulty! One fun movement is a hip on the down while walking. When I first learned this, I was told it is called the Sohair Zaki walk, since she is well known for doing this movement. The reason you must learn to do hips on the down without rocking from side to side is that it would be very difficult to walk gracefully while shifting the weight from foot to foot AND working the hips. For this movement, keep your weight lifted and centered over both feet, try to do it on releve (trust me), and really use those glutes! Practice for one song this week! One step = one hip down on the same side.
Advanced: We’re going to make this into a three-quarter hip on the down (not a shimmy!) And then take a walk AND layer! Make sure your hips are even, actually three-quarter (keep that pause in there!), pay attention to those feet (the walk should still look nice), and layer something smooth on top. A chest circle might be the best choice, but try out snake arms, chest figure 8s, or whatever your favorite smooth move is! Check yourself in the mirror to make sure this movement still looks good, and practice for one whole song every day this week! Change it up, too!
Weekly Challenge for 4-22-13
It’s Spring, so let’s do some Spring cleaning for this week’s challenge!
Cleaning up your dance
We all have moves that we know are a little sloppy. Last week we cleaned up our hip drop kicks, so let’s try some other moves!
This is an all level challenge! Pick a move that you know needs work. Beginners, don’t feel overwhelmed or get too down on yourself if you think all of your moves need work. That’s okay! Everyone starts out as a beginner, and you are just starting your belly dance journey. Don’t hurry it, but enjoy the process! Just pick one movement this week and work on that.
You’ll need a mirror for this challenge. Pick your move and do it in front if the mirror. Slow it down and watch exactly how you execute it. Now remember what your teacher has told you about the move. Where is your weight supposed to be? What leads the movement? What quality (poppy, juicy, slow) is this movement supposed to hold? Now watch again and ask yourself, does this movement fit what my teacher has told me?
Analyzing our movements this way is how we learn to do the movements correctly. Drilling helps, because we are not only strengthening the muscles necessary for the movement, but also gaining muscle memory. However, always drilling the movement incorrectly* will mean this movement will always be sloppy. So see what you can do to make the movement more in line with what your teacher wants. When you drill it this week (every day for one song), always make sure that the movement is correct every single time. If not, correct it and keep drilling!
Let me know what your movement was! Comment below and tell me how you improved this week!
*Before someone gets angry about “correct” versus “incorrect”: there are many ways to execute many belly dance movements, depending on the teacher, the style, and the movement. When I say correct, I mean correct in that the movement is safe and is done the way your teacher has taught. Incorrect means the movement is painful, unsafe, and not what your teacher wants. There is no judgement intended on which style or method of execution is more correct than another.
Weekly Challenge for 4-15-13
Tax day! I hope you got yours done!
Now that the stress of taxes is over and done with, let’s dance!
Hip Drop Kick
If there was a single belly dance movement that was absolutely a requirement to learn, it would be the hip drop and the hip drop kick. In my experience (your mileage may vary), if you get a beledi or saiidi beat and start in on hip drops, the crowd will go wild.
However, hip drops are also one of the movements that can get pretty sloppy. So let’s clean them up!
Beginner: This is a pretty fundamental movement, so hopefully your teacher has taught you this by now. If not, ask about it and see if you can’t learn it this week. If you already know it, great! Your challenge is to practice this movement for one whole song this week. If you feel pretty good about it, add the kick every other drop. Typically, the pattern is: hip drop, up, hip-drop-kick, up, hip drop, etc. Make sure you are not leaning backwards. While this is a stylization that is beautiful and traditional (especially in Turkish dance), it can play havoc on your low back if you do not have the proper abdominal strength and technique. So, chest up, head level, back straight! One more thing: keep those toes pointed, and don’t let the foot flop around! Keep the kick controlled. And practice on BOTH sides, even the Tribal ladies!
Intermediate: You probably know this movement really well, so let’s clean it up! Too many dancers bounce when they do this movement. Your head should stay level. In fact, it should stay level enough you can balance a sword on your head and still be able to do the movement! There are a few variations on this move, and it can either be driven by the knees and obliques or by the obliques and glutes. You will need to learn how to do this movement with the obliques and glutes. There is nothing wrong with the knee variation, but it will make it more difficult to keep your head level, and that is what this exercise is about. Belly dance is wonderful in that there are many ways to do one movement! So, find something to prop on your head (a book or something heavy will work if you don’t have a sword or don’t want to use one yet) and practice your hip drop kicks for one full song every day this week. Switch sides, keep the chest up and back straight!
Advanced: Let’s get into some variation! This week, when you practice your basic movements, try adding a lean back into your hip drop kicks. Make sure your abs are strong enough to support the lean (if you can’t do a layout, you probably don’t want to try this). Or, kick from the knee rather than the floor. It will work your balance (for extra points, try this on releve!). Can you kick from the knee and travel forward at the same time (basically inching forward while standing on one leg)? Think of something fun to do with this basic movement and practice it for one song every day this week.
What’s the Proper Etiquette for a Belly Dancer at Dinner?
Due to a recent blog post asking the question, “What is the proper etiquette for a belly dancer at dinner?”, I have written this post with the purpose of educating the general public on what to do if a belly dancer does appear at your restaurant at dinner (and a little bit about belly dance history and belly dance itself). This is an excellent question, and one that, as a professional belly dancer who has danced in restaurants, I am qualified to answer. What do you do when a belly dancer comes to dinner?
Don’t worry about the length, there’s a summary at the bottom for retention and for the TL;DR folk.
What is Belly Dance and Why Is She Coming to My Table?
Belly dance is a beautiful art form from the Middle East. Its exact origins are vague and beyond the scope of this post, but know that Egyptian, Lebanese, Turkish, and Greek dancers have been dancing a very long time. Belly dance was filmed at the World’s Fair way back in 1893, by Edison himself. It has changed a lot since then, with sparkly costumes, ballet movements, and some amount of standardization in techniques added to the more folk-style dancing seen in those films.
Middle Eastern restaurants like to hire belly dancers as part of the atmosphere of their establishments, and many famous dancers can draw large crowds of educated consumers to come and enjoy good food, good culture, and good dancing. Dancers may perform for the audience in general, if there is open space enough or a stage available, or will approach individual tables so that customers can admire the exquisitely decorated costume (usually from Egypt or Turkey) and the lovely movements up close. Some of these movements may be too subtle to be seen from a distant stage.
Belly dance is a part of Middle Eastern culture, and many dancers spend many years studying the movements, music, and culture in order to give you as an authentic performance as possible. Many dancers have B.A. degrees (or higher!) in dance or some aspect of Middle Eastern culture and language. Others may be movement specialists, with degrees in kinesiology or certifications in personal training, massage therapy, yoga, and/or Pilates. Some dancers may just enjoy experiencing a culture different from their own, and have other degrees or interests (shameless plug, I have a B.S. in microbiology and do cancer research, and I have obtained a certification in massage therapy).
Why is the Costume so…Sexy?
Belly dance, while it is somewhat misnamed because dancers use much more than their bellies, actually does use the belly! How else would you be able to see the fine muscle control that the dancer has developed over years of practice and study? Belly dance is not specifically meant to titillate, as with other performances such as burlesque, but the movements are beautiful and sensuous. There is nothing wrong, dirty, or scary about a woman’s body.
Americans tend to be nervous about women’s bodies because women are taught to hate their bodies unless they are perfect (which they never can be, because even the models have cellulite, blemishes, and rolls that are airbrushed and Photoshopped away). Belly dance is a beautiful art form that celebrates women’s bodies in a way that is powerful and empowering for women. The costume is part of that, though it is also part of the long history of belly dance (again, beyond the scope of this post).
But I’m Embarrassed to Watch!
That’s okay! Again, Americans are trained to find women’s bodies embarrassing or repulsive unless they are Photoshopped into “perfection,” and this is merely a symptom. What’s the cure? Try belly dance yourself!
But that doesn’t help the embarrassed patron of a Middle Eastern restaurant! Not to worry; if you are too embarrassed to watch, the dancer will not take it personally. Merely ignore the dancer as you would a waiter that is not your own, and likely she will get the message and not dance at your table, and more importantly, not be offended. If you are open minded enough to want to watch the dancer, smile, watch the movements she is doing, clap for her, and then go back to enjoying your food. If you find that you enjoyed watching the amazing things the dancer can do with her muscles, many dancers accept tips, so consider tipping the dancer for her hard work in entertaining you that evening. (Tipping etiquette is complex, so please see the following link here for more information; if in doubt, watch the other patrons. It’s all part of experiencing a different culture!)
If you find it too embarrassing to even have the dancer in the same room with you, don’t go to the restaurant when the dancer is present. Typically, restaurants will have general performance times posted quite visibly, and if it’s Friday or Saturday night, it is very likely a dancer will be present at a Middle Eastern restaurant. Most restaurants want the largest crowd possible for the dancer, so weekends during the peak hours will be when she performs. If it’s a slow night, the dancer may go on later, when there is a larger crowd, though this will depend on the restaurant, the management, and the dancer.
Isn’t Belly Dance the Same as Stripping?
No, it is not. The performer will never remove her costume. Costumes are expensive (anywhere from $200 to well over $1500, depending on designer, country of origin, and complexity; costumes are hand-beaded) and easily damaged; a dancer would not want to risk losing or damaging a costume that expensive by dropping it on the floor or leaving it somewhere in the restaurant.
While there is nothing wrong with stripping, belly dancing is not the same thing, and dancers risk confusion, anger, embarrassment, and bodily injury when the two are mistakenly interchanged. Uneducated restaurant customers may try to manhandle the dancer (the risk is more than it’s worth–you can be thrown out of the restaurant or, worse, touch a sweaty dancer), or a dancer may be hired with the expectation to remove her costume at a private party. This can be awkward, and possibly dangerous (due to an irate patron), to the dancer. Ballet dancers would never be asked to remove their costumes, and the same should be true for belly dance. It is not part of the dance. Let’s all try to educate ourselves so that cultural misunderstandings do not happen.
So What Do I Do?
Enjoy the performance! Your dancer is there to entertain you, to make the wait for your food more enjoyable, and to provide atmosphere for your Middle Eastern dining experience. You can ignore her or watch her as you please, as you would any performer at any other restaurant, whether it be a jazz singer, a band, or a dinner theater performance. Clap for her when she is done, tip her if you thought she was good (tip her well if you thought she was great!), and bask in the knowledge that you experienced something outside of your own culture.
If you want even more culturally relevant information on being a good audience member for belly dance, go here. Shira is a treasure-trove of belly dancing knowledge!
- Belly dance is a culturally appropriate entertainment for Middle Eastern restaurants.
- Dancers train for years in order to perform authentically and often have advanced degrees in Middle Eastern studies.
- Dancers will approach your table in order for you to admire her costume and see her movements, some of which are impossible to see from a stage, up close.
- If you are uncomfortable watching the dancer, she will not be offended if you merely ignore her.
- It is perfectly okay, and desirable, for audience members to watch the intricate movements of a dancer.
- Tipping the dancer is a complex process, but often appropriate and desirable. Watch other audience members or go here for more information.
- Belly dance is not stripping and is not meant to titillate. It is a cultural art form performed in the Middle East (and elsewhere) that takes years of study to perform.
- Education is better than ignorance.
- Being culturally sensitive is also desirable.
I hope this blog has helped to answer the question of what to do when a belly dancer comes to dinner. Please feel free to comment below, though I will say this: let’s all be adults and learn something from one another!
Weekly Challenge for 4-8-13
OMG, I can’t believe it’s April, and I can’t believe it’s already the second week! Yikes!
Before we get to the challenge, I just wanted to do a little bit of self-promotion. If you are a belly dancer in the Chicago area, you will want to take my new workshop! I’m offering a Lebanese-style workshop at Arabesque Dance Studio! If you are curious about Lebanese-style belly dance, please join us! It will be a fantastic workshop!
And now onto the challenge!
Slow it down
We’ve all been there: sweaty palms, nervous energy…rapid breathing. Gotta get this improv DOWN! You step out onto stage, blink in the bright lights, and then DANCEDANCEDANCEDANCEDANCEDANCE.
You leave the stage exhausted, wondering how you could possibly be so worn out after just a 3 minute song! Then you see the video and wondered if, rather than dancing…you’d had a fit. You’re exhausted just watching the video! I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve ALL done it. What happened? You over-danced your piece. It happens most often in improv, but it can also happen in choreographies. You find yourself ahead of the music, rushing through sections to get to the next, because you are so nervous/excited/about to throw up that you have to get through it to the end. In improv, you want to keep the piece interesting, so you do every single move you know, never repeating them, because that would be boring, right?!?! Wrong.
Let’s slow it down. Way down. Way, way, way down.
Dancing, especially belly dancing, shouldn’t be frantic (even up-beat, fast dancing should not be frantic). You exhaust your audience by never stopping, never pausing, and never seeming to enjoy the dance. If you frantic-dance, the audience can’t enjoy the music with you. And if you have a slow song, please, please, please don’t frantic-dance! It’s off-putting. I’ve seen dancers with beautiful technique beating a song to death with every move they know, done as fast as they can be done, but the song was slow, sultry, and intense. Yes, of course, music can be interpreted differently by each dancer, but a piece that is obviously slow tempo, with rich instruments like cello or with juicy rhythms like masmoudi or bolero, should not, in my opinion, be danced like someone set you on fire. Dancing is about the music. Sorry to disappoint you, but as belly dancers, it is our job to interpret the music for the audience, not show them every skill we know in as little time as we can manage.
So what’s the challenge?
Want a starting point? I’m going to shamelessly promote my friend Rosa Noreen’s “Delicious Pauses” DVD (I did a review of it here.) This is a MUST for dancers. It is more geared towards intermediate and advanced dancers, but a solid beginner with some moves under her coin scarf would also benefit from the instruction, and for future reference. I’m promoting it because it was partial inspiration for this challenge, and because it’s a fantastic DVD (and workshop!)
Beginner: You probably aren’t yet thinking about performing, but that’s okay. You still need to learn how to interpret music, whether it’s belly dance music or Tribal fusion music. Your challenge this week is to pick the slowest song you have. No, not that one. Go slower. Find something that absolutely plods, and then find something slower. Now take a combination you’ve learned, and slow it down to fit the song. Hopefully, your teacher has given you combos that are set out in nice, long sets of 8 counts (such as, hip drops for 8 counts, snake arms for 8 counts, then 8 more counts of snake arms as you walk in a tight circle…etc…) That’s what we want! Many dancers fall into the trap of thinking that doing 8, or 16, or even 32 counts of something is dull, and the audience will be like, “Uh, she’s been doing that forever now…can’t she do something else?” What feels like an eternity to dancer is rarely a long time in the song. A count of 8 is usually only a few seconds. So you’re only going to do a move for less than 30 seconds–maybe even less than 15 seconds–if you do it for 32 counts. Not very long!! Practice this every day. Find a slow song and practice a combo to it, even if it’s not the song you originally learned the combo for. Slow it down, be patient, and enjoy the movement.
Intermediate: Okay, you get to pick a nice slow song, too. Now pick a couple of juicy moves, like mayas or figure 8s, and dance them. Slowly. Slow it down even more. Are you doing a maya? Make the maya take 32 counts. This is hard stuff, so don’t get discouraged. It’s going to feel like you are standing still. It’s going to feel boring. But the point of this exercise is for you to understand that slow does NOT equal boring. It’s JUICY. And that’s lovely. That’s what we want. Your challenge is to pick a movement every day and see how slow you can get it. How juicy can you make it when it’s going to take all day to do it? Slow it down and enjoy it. Feel the move, feel how interesting it might be to an audience member who is now sitting on the edge of their seat wondering what you are going to do next! Take hints and tricks from Rosa’s DVD and make them yours!
Advanced: If you are improvising for audiences, you’ve probably made the mistake of over-dancing. This has been a particular challenge for me, especially since I love fast, up-beat songs. It’s horrifying to me to feel like I’m standing on stage doing nothing. But believe me, the power of standing on stage, with all eyes on you, watching you as you barely move an arm…it’s amazing (and how else are you going to get good pictures!!?!!). To have an audience waiting with baited breath for me to finish this juicy, lovely move before surprising them with something else fantastic…it’s super powerful. Dancing is emotion, and sometimes it’s not a happy one. Your challenge is to, this week, choreograph a slow song. Pick a few moves, and only a few, and do a whole song with them. Make those movements last, and find ways to make them interesting. Use your face, use emotion. What do you FEEL with this song, rather than what move can I do here? Again, I highly recommend taking cues from Rosa’s DVD to help you with this.
Let’s all slow it down, because dancing beautifully is our goal, not dancing frantically. And nothing else matters 😉
Weekly Challenge for April 1st!
Hello fellow dancers! It’s Monday, and it’s time for another weekly belly dance challenge! This week is going to be a little different.
Costuming in belly dance can be almost as important as your movements. Different styles of belly dance use different costuming, but it can be jarring to see practice wear on the stage. I’ve seen it. In fact, this post was inspired by a friend’s post on Facebook about “blinged out” practice gear being considered for performances. Yuck.
You see, professional belly dancers are trying very hard to get belly dance to be seen as a legitimate dance form. Belly dance is not easy to master, but a lot of people take a few classes, buy a $60 costume off eBay and start calling themselves professionals. Not cool.
Even if you have no intent of ever being a professional, it’s still a good idea to figure out what style of costuming is appropriate. Hence, this week’s challenge.
Beginner: You probably aren’t ready for performance yet, and that’s okay! But, you may at some point dance at a hafla with a student troupe. Student costuming, necessarily, is quite different from professional costuming. But it still should not be practice wear. A sports bra and a raggedy pair of Melodias is not appropriate for a student costume, even at a student hafla. So what’s the challenge? Don’t worry, it’s not going to break your bank! Think of this as a scavenger hunt! Watch some videos, browse costuming sites like Dahlal, or sites like Etsy. Take a look at what other student troupes in different styles are wearing. For Tribal, choli tops and colorful skirts work really well. For cabaret, previously owned costumes may still be too expensive. Try a half top and skirt from L. Rose instead. Don’t worry about buying them, just take a look at what others are wearing and what’s available. Every day this week spend a few minutes looking at sites, and see what’s out there. Stay away from bra tops that still look like bras (you shouldn’t be able to see the underwire, the thin lingerie straps, or the normal lingerie hooks), and from sports bras with necklaces pinned to them. Can you make a dream costume for under $80?
Intermediate: It’s definitely time for student haflas! If you are in a student troupe, you may already have a troupe costume. Take a look at it. Is it a bra with a necklace draped over it? Did you make it yourself? If you did, that’s great, but is the bra completely covered? Your challenge is going to be similar this week. Look at your own stuff, and look at what other troupes are wearing (remember that this is not a comparison challenge…you aren’t trying to find out if your costumes are better or worse than someone else’s; you are looking just to see what other people are wearing). Take a look at the sites listed above and see if maybe you can put together a good student costume for under $80. Again, don’t worry about buying it, just see what’s out there, and what you should be wearing. Again, stay away from uncovered bras and sets that look like craft-store projects.
Advanced: If you are a professional dancer, you should know better than to go on stage, representing belly dance as an art form, wearing an uncovered bra with some stuff slapped onto it and yoga pants. While not every costume has to be a Bella with half your yearly income worth of rhinestones on it, it should still be appropriate for the style and venue. I’ve seen professionals, at a show that I had to pay to get into, doing a traditional cabaret set in a choli tops and yoga pants. Not cool. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that your costume is as much a part of the show as your dancing. Why do you think cover-ups are such a big deal (oh, don’t get me started…you DO have a cover-up, right?). If your piece calls for a choli top and yoga pants, then go ahead and wear them. I’ve seen excellent performances in those items, but they fit the piece and the style. Your challenge is to go through your own closet and take a long, hard look at your costumes. Do you have any that are inappropriate (uncovered bras, plastic beading, etc.)? If so, don’t throw them out, just keep in mind that those are more appropriate for practice. If you don’t have any appropriate costumes, see what you can’t find on those websites. A good starter professional costume will only set you back about $150. Get one in silver or gold, and then buy a bunch of different colored skirts, and you have more than one costume that won’t send you into debt! Tribal ladies have the same challenge. Too many Tribal bras are plain black lingerie bras with some coins sewn on. See if you can’t find some that are covered instead.
Let’s all up the standards of belly dance costuming, okay? Believe me, if your costume is too distracting because it’s inappropriate, people will not remember you for your dancing, no matter how good it is. And for those just beginning, early education on appropriate costuming means you won’t be wasting your money later on if you do decide to perform!