No weekly challenge this week! Enjoy your Memorial Day holiday. Thank you to all who have served over the years. We remember and honor you today.
It’s Monday! This month has gone by so fast! Tribal Revolution is just around the corner and I have so much to do! Yikes! But now it’s time for another weekly challenge!
Okay, so this is a tough move. Beginners, you may not get introduced to this move at all until you advance a little more, but that will totally depend on your teacher. I personally think that it should be introduced early, primarily because it takes so long to master.
So what is a three-quarter shimmy? Well, first of all, we need to understand why it’s called three-quarters. Most music (oversimplification) is in 4/4 time, meaning there are four beats or notes to a measure, which is kind of like a musical sentence. It’s why dancers count in 8s (we could also count in fours, but it’s easier to count in 8s); we’re counting out two measures. So a three-quarter shimmy means that only three of those counts are “used” and there’s a rest on the fourth count. However, we don’t actually have to take a full measure to do a three-quarter shimmy. It’s a shimmy after all, and we can speed it up. We can also get really technical with the counting, but that’s beyond the scope of this particular challenge.
So let’s get to the challenge!
Beginner: This move just might give you nightmares. This was, hands down, the hardest move for me to learn, but everyone’s experience is different. Even though I can do this movement, I still sweat a little when I hear the words “three-quarter shimmy.” We’re going to start with three-quarter shimmies on the up. Pick a nice, slow song with a steady even beat. Make sure you can count out the song, then start moving the hips. On each beat, move your hips. On the right side, the movement will be up down up hold. Switch to the left, up down up hold. Don’t move during the hold, keep that hip up, in place, and still. The movement can be sharp or soft, your choice (and according to your skill). Don’t try to speed it up right now; it’s more important to keep the hips crisp (clear) and to keep that hold in there, so the movement doesn’t get muddy. Practice this for the whole song every day this week!
Intermediate: If you haven’t got the three-quarter on the up yet, don’t despair! Some teachers may not get to this movement until this level. Just go try out the previous challenge first. If you do have it, we’re going to move with it! Yay layers! The easiest by far is going to be a three-quarter shimmy on the up. So we’re going to do it on the down! Ha! The hips are going to go down up down hold. In order to walk with this, step on the first down and use those glutes for the rest of the hip movements. Same foot, same hip (step on the right, hip down on the right). But keep the hold. Three-quarter shimmies tend to get sloppy while doing them fast or while walking, so make sure that hold stays while you walk. Keep it nice and slow, but practice for a whole song every day this week.
Advanced: *wicked laugh* This week, we’re going to do some crazy layers. Try a three-quarter shimmy (up or down, your choice, but whatever is HARDER for you) while walking. Make sure your walk is not weird or awkward, that the hips are crisp and clear, and your hold is…well, holding. Then layer chest circles on top…but at half the speed of the hips. If you can do that, try chest figure 8s. Make sure that the arms still look nice (hey, for an additional challenge, is there anything you can do with your arms besides just being out in regular dance posture?), and don’t let your eyes roll back into your head. Smile (remember last week’s challenge?). And if that is easy-peasy for you (congrats!), try noodling around with other layers and timings. What crazy things can you do while three-quarter shimmying? I’d love to know! Post a comment, or even better, post a link to a video of you and the craziest layer you can come up with. One rule: it still has to look good.
I hope all the mothers out there had a lovely Mother’s Day! But now it’s Monday, and that means it’s time for another weekly belly dance challenge!
Let’s add the drama!
Dance is an art, and art calls to our emotions. Our left brains (the logical, analytical side) don’t always get art and don’t always understand emotion. Our right brains (the creative, emotional side) do understand both. Most of us spend all of our time, in regular life, in our left brains and very little time in our right, so when we dance, we tend to only think of the analytical, left brain portions of the dance. What count are we on? What step comes after this one? Where am I on the stage? How many minutes of dancing do I have left? All of those are left brain questions, because they are questions about numbers, space, time, and logical progression. Have you ever seen a performance that looks like a drills class? I have. It means they aren’t using their right brains enough. So let’s work on fixing that this week!
Beginner: At this level, the emotion behind your dance is probably the very last thing on your mind. For now, that’s okay. BUT, and this is a big but, are you having any fun? If your dancing is nothing but drills, memorization, and squats, what fun is that? Of course, if you are just starting, you need those drills, the endless repetition of movements and choreography (or combinations), and leg strengthening exercises. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun! And starting NOW, here, at this level, by making your dance fun, you will carry it through as you progress, and it won’t become just a bunch of drill exercises on stage.
What’s the challenge? It’s going to seem so totally easy you just might yell at me. But I bet you that this will be harder than it sounds.
When you are drilling this week, smile. When you are struggling through learning those mayas, smile. In your combos class, smile as you dance, even if your eyes are rolling back trying to remember the next step.
This will make a HUGE difference. Just by smiling, you are telling your brain (both halves) that this is fun, and that you enjoy it. Later on, this will come through in your dancing. You won’t look like a deer caught in headlights, frantically trying to remember your choreography. By merely smiling while you drill, you are telling your body and brain, “This is fun, I like this, and I can relax and be happy because this is not stressful, awful, or painful.” And when we are relaxed, we learn better, we retain better, and we perform belly dance better (remember that post on slowing your dance down and being relaxed when we perform?)
Intermediate: Smiles aren’t the only emotion we can put into dance. Sure, belly dance is (usually) happy and fun (depending on your style). But it doesn’t always have to be, and it’s not always appropriate to have a slap-happy smile plastered on your face while you perform. You can convey other emotions, too.
For your challenge this week, pick an emotion…any emotion. Or, if that’s too hard to choose, pick a song you like and figure out what emotion that song is conveying (and it can be easy…pick death metal for anger or a blues song for longing or sadness…whatever speaks to you, and there is no “wrong” answer). If this is hard, this week, go back to this challenge from last year and try it first.
Now, add that emotion to your dance. Overexpress. If you are dancing sadness, cover your face with your hands, shove those brows together, and PROJECT that emotion. Feel it every time you practice this week, every day. Figure out what you need to do with your movements. Should they slow down or speed up? Soften them or sharpen them? Should the movements be weak or strong? Play around, videotape yourself if you have to, and see what you can express this week.
Advanced: We’re going to work on some acting skill this week. When we are on stage, even with makeup, expression and emotion can be lost due to the distance between performer and audience. Unless you are right on top of the audience (which is not unheard of in belly dance), it may be difficult to express only with your face the emotion you are trying to convey. So, this week, work on expressing the emotion through your movements.
How do you make mayas sad? Or confused? Can you make mayas confused? I don’t know, why don’t you try it and find out. What happens when you tilt your shoulders forward and to one side? Can you look down without tilting your head all the way down? (hint: yes) How would you express anger without using sharp movements? And don’t just think of how to make movements express emotion. How can you show–with your whole body–the emotion you are expressing? What are your arms doing, what is your face doing, what position is your head in?
Really stretch your right brain this week. Video yourself and see if you are really expressing those emotions. Overwhelmed? Take acting classes, or watch stage actors (not TV actors…their methods are a bit different because the camera is right in their faces). Project those emotions to the very back of the room, so that someone sitting in the nose-bleed section can see what you are expressing without resorting to opera glasses. This can be tough, but your weekly practice is the time to sort these sort of things out. Play with expression and see what you can’t do.
Happy (or sad, or angry, or confused) dancing!
This week got the best of me, and this challenge almost didn’t happen. But here it is!
For some, this might be an easy challenge, but I bet there will be some dancers out there that will find this extremely difficult. What is it? Adding more time to your practice.
It’s hard to find time to cram dance into your schedule as it is, isn’t it? Between work, kids (if you have them), chores, blah, blah, blah…it’s hard to get dance in there. Many of us, by the time we get to dance, are exhausted and the last thing on our minds is working out, or dancing, or doing anything other than sitting on the sofa with a cookie or some ice cream. Right? I’ve been there too. There are days I really, really don’t want to dance, even though I love it dearly and always feel better afterwards.
It’s hard to feel motivated day after day, week after week. I feel ya, I really do. But consistent daily practice is the only way to improve. It’s the only way to keep up all the drills and practice necessary to both improve and maintain your skills. Without consistent daily practice, you will find it exceptionally difficult to learn new moves or master difficult ones.
So let’s not think about how tired you are after a long day at work. Or that you don’t have time. Make time. If dance is important enough to you, you will make time for it. Set a schedule. If you normally practice 30 minutes three times a week, make it four times this week. If you have to, skip watching a TV show this week and record it instead…boom! Extra half hour (or hour!) right there! If that doesn’t work, then increase your practice to 40 minutes three times a week. Those extra ten minutes can be used for practicing those difficult drills or for learning a new move. Even 10 extra minutes can be beneficial. And it’s only 10 minutes…spend 10 less minutes on Facebook this week.
The point is, you can always find time to carve out of your schedule for more dance, if that is what is important to you. So no excuses, increase the time you dance this week, even if it’s only ten little minutes extra each time. And then…see if you can keep it up beyond this week!