Last week we worked on journaling a character for our belly dancing. We talked about the deepest parts of our personalities, those emotions that are our core. For the advanced dancers, we also talked about creating a character for our dance persona to project–a character on top of a character. Let’s expand on that!
Dancing your character
This week’s challenge is going to be a lot like the one we did on expressing emotion back in May (this one). In that challenge, we worked on smiling, or expressing an emotion or two, while we danced, not just with our faces, but with our movements. This will be similar, but different.
Beginner: Find a few of those emotions your journaled about last week. Maybe you brainstormed a move or two that went with that emotion. If not, that’s fine. Try it now. Many of these emotions aren’t pretty–remember that we tried to dive deep into our core selves. That’s okay, you can start with the easy emotions, the less-complex parts of yourself, for this exercise. So, what movement says happy to you? But beyond that, think about if that movement makes you happy. Do you love doing mayas? Can you express that when you dance them? Of course, the emotion doesn’t have to be happy–that just might be easiest because (at least for me) belly dance movements tend to be “happy.” What does this have to do with your character? You are building a repertoire of movements that you can pull out when you are trying to express an emotion, and in order to genuinely emote, you need to know how to access that emotion through your movement, not just your face. Translating emotion into movement is the core of creating your dance character. Don’t worry if your core character isn’t happy. If you dance angry (and there’s definitely room for that, depending on your piece), then go with that. There are no wrong answers. Every day this week, work on those core emotions, and what movements you can do with them. Dance them and see if they work. Save the deeper, stronger, more difficult emotions for later. But do keep them in mind.
Intermediate: You are pretty much going to do the same thing this week as the Beginner students. But think outside the box a little more, and think more about personality, not just emotions. Don’t just think shimmy = happy. Think about what your character is thinking and feeling when she shimmies. Is there a way you can make each movement you do fit your character? Still translate, still think about how you can express your emotions, your character, through your movements, but think about ALL of your movements. How can you make your shimmies angry or sad? This may be a little tough, but give it a try every day this week. Play with it. Journal it.
Advanced: Last week we thought about having your dance character–whether it was you or your mask dancer–actually express, or become, another character. In other words, if your normal dance persona is flirty, cute, bubbly, and playful, how would that other person create a piece that was, say, angry? Can your bubbly dance self dance angrily? Is there a need? Maybe. Think about all the music we dance to. Many of us fall into the trap of not really caring what the lyrics are saying (because there aren’t any, they are in Arabic, or maybe we just aren’t taking them into account). But, especially if the song is in Arabic, there may be parts of the song that do get angry, or sad, or longing. Many of these songs may not be suitable for dance, but many of them are. Do you really want to be smiling, perky, and happy when the singer suddenly starts singing about how happy she’d be if her beau hadn’t left her? Usually the music will clue you in, but not always. Instead of suddenly becoming a whole different person for that section, try having your bubbly self express that sadness or anger. There is a difference! People have more than one emotion, and so dance personas can have more than one as well. Don’t just think of your dance persona as a bag of emotions, where one at a time gets pulled out for each song and then put back when you’re done. A fully realized persona will be more complex than that. So this week, work on that. Journal, choreograph, whatever you need to do, in order to stretch and deepen that dance persona.
Whew! These past few weeks have been really tough, and my blogging has suffered. But here is your weekly challenge! I made it!
And no, we’re not talking about your moral fiber, here, but your belly dance character. Do you have one? Do you think you need one? Have no idea what I’m talking about?
Like all dance forms, belly dance is an art. It happens to be a traditional folk art, but it is also a growing, evolving dance. Many dancers know the value of having a “dance character,” a person they become when they dance. They are no longer themselves, but the beautiful, elegant dancer. Some take stage names and use acting techniques to get into character.
In belly dance, in my opinion, we don’t always *need* a character for our dance. Our own personalities are usually enough. Have fun, smile, relax, and the audience will see who you are naturally. But in the more artistic pieces, in the more theatrical pieces, this may not be enough. And people like me–shy, reserved introverts–may need the extra help of a character–almost a second “personality”–in order to be more comfortable dancing. Kamrah is my belly dance character, and I become her when I dance. I am no longer myself, but her. Kamrah gives me the freedom to be someone else, to put up a mask between my true inner self and the audience; she is an extra layer of protection between the scary world and my tender heart. It sounds fake, but it really isn’t. If Kamrah wasn’t real, was completely fake and not a part of my personality at all, she would not be believable, and no one would enjoy watching me dance. She is part of me; she is my wildness, my freedom, my creativity–all the emotions and parts of me that I would otherwise find hard to share–all coiled up together into my performance self. She’s the one who gets to dance and express herself, while my inner self stays nice and safe while still experiencing the thrill of dancing for an audience.
So what’s this week’s challenge? Let’s find your inner dancer, your inner wild, free, beautiful, unrestrained dancer.
Beginner: Every day this week, write a little bit in a journal–your personal journal, your dance journal, a file on your computer, whatever–about those emotions, those parts of you, that you find hard to access. Don’t worry about expressing yourself, your inner self. No one will see this. If you fear someone finding it, delete the file afterwards, or tear up and/or burn up the paper once you are finished (but try to remember what you wrote, because we’ll be using this later!). This is getting into some deep stuff, and it can be very, very hard to share. Write about your fears, your strengths, what makes you…you. Don’t be critical, don’t judge, just write. We’re not going to do much with this yet, but hold onto it for next week. This will be challenge enough: write about yourself every day this week, even if it’s only a sentence.
Intermediate: You are also going to journal this week (so go back and read the Beginner section if you skipped right to it). As an intermediate dancer, you may already be somewhat comfortable with showing yourself on stage. It may be the I’m-smiling-only-because-I-might-cry-or-run-away self, but at least that’s a start (and it’s okay!). This week, in addition to your journaling, you are going to work on thinking about how these personality traits, fears, weirdness, etc., can be translated into a character. Who is this person? Does she love to dance, but fears the spotlight? Or maybe she’s a beautiful, demure lady with a wild side that comes out when she hears that song, that rhythm, that singer? How could that be translated on stage? After you write your entries, brainstorm some ideas (and remember the rules of brainstorming: no idea is stupid).
Advanced: Your regular dancer character is probably set pretty well by know. You slip into your performance self–whether she is really you or the mask you wear in order to perform–quite easily and are comfortable. Great! But that’s no fun for a challenge! Let’s get theatrical! This week, we’re also going to journal, but in a much different way. If your dancer personality is you–meaning you don’t need a mask, you just get out there and dance (we’ll call this the “you dancer”)–this week, journal about how you would make a dancer character. Someone who is NOT you, NOT the “you dancer.” If you want, try the journaling exercises in the previous levels and see if you can’t come up with a character (and maybe even a choreography piece?) that is completely NOT YOU. Remember, this is theatre now, not just dance. If you have a dance personality or character–we’ll call it the “mask dancer”–that isn’t you, how would that character dance to something that made her uncomfortable? This is deep–how would your dancer character, your “mask dancer,” put on a different character? How would a new character be expressed through the old? Would it work? Too confusing? Try it and find out. Brainstorm some ideas, maybe pick a piece of unusual-to-you music and see what you can come up with. And hey, tell me about it! I love getting feedback!
I’m also going to shamelessly plug myself this week: please sign up for my newsletter (it’s only biomonthly–the next issue comes out in July!–no spam, and get access to FREE stuff that NO ONE else will EVER see), and “Like” me on Facebook! All my fans mean so much to me, and I’d be super happy to connect on Facebook!
Hello there again! I hope you had a good break. I’ve been very busy, and this weekly challenge almost didn’t happen. I’m deep in preparations for Tribal Revolution (I perform Friday night!), which means I’m practicing every night and frantically sewing my costume. I hope, if you are in Chicago and want to see me dance, that you come and watch me!
Anyway, on to the challenge!
If you are podophobic, you may want to skip this challenge! Otherwise, we’re going to work on our footwork this week!
I’ve talked about traveling in other posts, but in this one we are specifically going to talk about feet, not necessarily about traveling.
Beginner: You are probably working on basic footwork – traveling, stepping from one place to another. But have you thought not about what your feet are doing, but how they look while doing it? It’s not always about pointing your toes (this isn’t ballet after all), though that is definitely appropriate for many of our movements, and that is what we are going to work on this week. Pointing the foot makes the leg look longer, more graceful. This week, while you are doing your normal practice, pay attention to your feet. Are your toes pointed? While you are doing your hip drop kicks, your grapevine steps, saiidi steps, or whatever it is that you are practicing, make sure those toes are pointed! Check in every 8 counts or so and correct your feet. Don’t over-point or you might get a foot cramp. Stretch the feet our afterwards and don’t work too hard if you are just starting out. Build up your arch strength gently and slowly.
Intermediate: Depending on your style, you may not ever dance in releve. But there are movements in almost every style of belly dance that do require us to go on our toes. It takes time and practice to not only develop balance, but the ankle and calf strength necessary for dancing in releve. If you want to eventually start dancing in restaurants (should that be your eventual goal) you will definitely have to work on dancing in heels! So this week, work on your releve! Whatever it is you are practicing this week, try it on releve. Working on layering hips and chest? Try it in releve! Working on turns? Get on those toes, make sure your weight is on the first two toes, and get to spinning! Be sure to stretch out your calves afterwards and be careful when in releve. Keep the weight straight over the ankles, keep the ankles in line with the toes, and don’t let your ankles collapse to the side.
Advanced: It is interesting to watch video of other dancers at this level and only watch their feet. Do they point their toes? I was watching a video of a famous dancer the other day and noticed that in many of her movements, her feet were not pointed. While this might be a stylistic choice (again, this isn’t ballet, though many of our movements do look best with pointed toes), and is perfectly okay, it definitely was jarring (to me) to see. This week, review videos of your own footwork. Are your feet doing what you think they were supposed to be doing? If your toes were supposed to be pointed, were they? Did they flap around during movement, or were they strong and graceful? Don’t judge yourself! Accept whatever conclusion you come to and work to improve it this week. If your feet were supposed to be pointed and weren’t, try drilling that movement and check in with your feet once every 8 counts or so and see what they are doing. Correct any mistakes and keep drilling.
Happy feet! (And dancing!)