Archive | July 2013

Weekly Challenge for July 29th

It’s almost August.  As I am typing this, it almost feels like Fall in Chicago.  Really, Summer?  WTH?  Where did you go?

Anyway, it’s Monday again, and it’s time for another challenge!  Are you ready?

Have fun

Wait, what?  Have fun?  Really, in dance class?

Uh, yeah, actually.  Isn’t having fun why we started dancing in the first place?  Isn’t it because we wanted to join a group of women (and men!) to be ourselves, to love our bodies, to learn something new, and to have a little fun while getting in some exercise?

In all the drilling, body aches, injuries, makeup sessions, late nights, and fake eyelashes we forget that this is supposed to be fun!  And it is!  Really!

Even beginners can lose sight of the fun they are supposed to be having in all the frustration of getting their bodies to move in ways that have our muscles going, “Are you kidding me?”  I remember once getting so frustrated I nearly stopped belly dance all together.

So this week, let’s get back to having some FUN in our dancing.  Consider asking your teacher to ease up a little bit in class for this week and do something silly, or play some games (here’s a Bhuz topic if you are lacking ideas).  If you are a teacher, check out the suggestions, or make up your own, and help bring the fun back for your students.  In your own practice, maybe make up games for yourself.  Or dance to a silly song.  This is not wasted time.  Your students will love you, you’ll start to enjoy dancing again, and everyone wins!

Having fun helps us learn better.  It helps us enjoy what we are doing, associating positive emotions with dance.  Why do you think kids play?  Or baby animals?  It hones their instincts, and it’s fun!  As adults, we tend to think of ourselves as too serious for play, for being silly, and this is such a totally wrong attitude to take.  Yeah, if we are professional dancers we must remember to, well…be professional…but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have fun.  Cut loose once in awhile and have fun when you dance, when you practice, when you teach, and when you are in class.

Let me know what you did this week to have some fun!  Tweet it (I’ll retweet it if you mention @kamrahdancer or use #weeklychallenge), post it on Facebook, or leave a comment below!

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Weekly Challenge for 7-22-13

Busy weekend for this belly dancer! What about you? Now it’s Monday, though, and it’s time for another challenge!

Warm-Up

Have you ever been in a class where intense stretching was part of the “warm-up” and felt pain? Or as though you could never get into that effortless stretch the teacher seems to do? Do you always seem to be injured or getting injured during performances?

It means you are not warming up properly. Warming up is a way to get blood moving to our muscles, and synovial fluid into our joints. Without it, we are more prone to tearing the muscle in an injurious way rather than a building-muscle way. Yes, we make tiny tears in our muscles when we exercise, but that is normal, and helps us build more muscle. But if we are not warmed up, then we are at risk for tearing the muscle in a bad way, preventing us from dancing. Not cool.

Let’s get is out of the way: if you are trying to do splits or other stretches for your warmup, you are doing it WRONG. Yes, I am actually saying that. Warmup should be about movement, not about holding a stretch. Once you are warm (and I do mean warm, as in, the first signs of sweat are starting to show), then yes, light stretching can be a part of your warm up, but it should never be the first thing you do.

So what’s the challenge this week?

For all levels, all students, professionals, teachers…any dancer of any kind…PLEASE try actually warming up before your practice or perform this week. Every time you practice or perform this week.

For at least five minutes (ten to fifteen is best and recommended), do easy movement exercises for your warmup. Don’t go straight into dancing, just do some body movements to get the blood going. Rotate the shoulders and neck gently, do easy chest slides (meaning don’t make it about the isolation or hits but about easily moving the spine from side to side) and hip slides and circles. Rotate the knees and ankles. Maybe do a few jumping jacks where you go slow and don’t actually jump (raising and lowering the arms while squatting). Once you get moving, THEN get into some safe stretches, like forward bends, easy lunges, standing yoga poses, etc. Even better than that would be more movement, as in some types of yoga in which holding the stretch is not the focus, but the movement between poses, or some light dancing.

Intense stretches like splits, pigeon pose (and it’s variants), lunges that go to the floor, back bends (or poses like upward dog), or anything of that nature should be reserved for when you are completely warm, preferably AFTER your practice.

This is important before you perform, too, and yes, you CAN do these in costume. I’ve seen a lot of dancers just get dressed and get on stage, and that’s a great way to hurt yourself, especially if you do strong techniques likes hits, or extreme techniques like back bends and Turkish drops.

Teachers: it is especially important to remember that while you may think pigeon pose isn’t that intense of a stretch, your students may think otherwise. You could be doing them serious injury by leading them into a stretch that their bodies are not ready for yet.

Never ever skip your warm up, and happy dancing!

Weekly Challenge for 7-15-13

Once again it’s Monday (can you tell I hate Mondays?) and it’s time for another challenge (which I don’t hate!)

Layering

Oh, here it is. The dreaded word of belly dance: layering. Layering classes tend to sell out, but most people leave them frustrated, annoyed, and sometimes, discouraged. Layering is the most impressive and possibly the most difficult aspect of belly dance. And yes, layering is for ALL belly dancers, not just Tribal Fusion dancers.

Layering is not just about moving the hips and chest at different times, with different moves. Layering includes walking and arm movements too, so shimmying with an arm pattern counts as layering. The trick is to make sure your shimmy doesn’t suffer when you move your arms.

The other problem I have seen is that layering doesn’t always look good. In practice, sure, it’s awesome to be able to bust out some crazy layering, some brain/body challenging moves. But does it look good? Or does it look like you are having some sort of fit on stage? Do your hips stay at the same speed or do they speed up when you layer? Do your arms drift inwards?

So let’s work on some layering!

Beginner: If this is the first time you are trying layering, don’t panic! Yes it is hard. Yes it will take you awhile to get good at it. Such is the case with anything worth doing. So let’s start with a basic layer. Pick a hip movement you know well and walk with it. That’s it, just walk. You can walk with mayas, you can walk with hip bumps, you can walk with ummis. It’s all possible. Pick a nice slow speed and, at first, step each time you do the movement, linking both movements to the same speed. If you’ve done this before in class or this is easy, try stepping more slowly. In other words, play with the timing of the two movements. But keep them linked together and to the beat! Practice for one song every day this week.

Intermediate: We’re going to try soft and hard layers! Pick one chest movement and one hip movement, one soft, one hard. For example, hip bumps and chest circles. Or ummis and chest squares. Or a hard shimmy with belly rolls. But here’s the challenge: make them look good. Don’t just plant yourself in one spot and struggle through it. Relax, smile, make it appear as though you do this all the time. And the most important thing: keep your timing. Belly dance is about the drum, the beat, so make sure your hips are on the beat, and that your chest matches it. You can play with the timing of the two movements (one half time, one quarter time, for example), but make sure there IS timing in your movements and you are not just flailing around. Practice for one song every day this week.

Advanced: Your challenge is a bit different. You can probably layer pretty well. But if you are like me, you don’t use it much in actual performance. Why? Because it looks awkward. You are dancing, and then you plant yourself somewhere and then bust out your most awesome layering. For some songs, that might work. But in many it looks like you are just showing off (nothing wrong with that, but if that’s not a part of your piece then it can look out of place). But let’s work to make this more organic. Can you fit a layer into a choreography? Can you layer and move at the same time? Make it look natural, not like you are cramming it into the piece in order to show off what you can do. Give it a try and see what you can come up with!

Happy dancing!

Weekly Challenge for July 8th

Monday again! Time for this week’s challenge!

Glute contractions

I don’t know about you, but the first time I was told to do these weird little exercises, I didn’t know what to think. It felt strange to do them, and it took a long time to get my glutes to do anything!

If you don’t know it, your glutes are your…well…the muscles in your rear end. “Glutes” is the short term for the three muscles that make up your…rear end…the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.

Suhaila Salimpour was the first to introduce these exercises to the belly dance community (at least, that’s what I’ve been told…and she’s done them on broadcast TV) and now many teachers use them to strengthen the glutes.

Why?

The glutes drive a lot of our hip movements. Specifically, they keep hip movements sharp. If you want sharp hips, challenge those glutes! But glutes can be hard to find, hard to control, and then hard to coordinate! You are going to have to work with your teacher on this one to find the best way to find those glutes.

Beginner: Please keep in mind that these exercises can be super frustrating. One week isn’t going to be enough time to strengthen and coordinate those glutes. BUT (pun intended?) this will get you started. If your teacher has shown you these exercises, great. If not, ask her/him about them. Many teachers don’t use the glutes that much, and that’s okay. There are plenty of DVDs that use them (specifically, Suhaila’s buns DVD). Your challenge this week is to practice those glute contractions for one whole song. Do them sitting down, or however your teacher has told you to do them, and keep it slow. Make sure both glutes are contracting strongly and evenly, and that each one releases fully.

Intermediate: The hardest time I had with these exercises was taking them from the floor to standing. It was a nightmare that involved a lot of stomping and growling (just ask my poor husband). Your results may vary, and that’s okay, because every body is different. Your challenge this week is to get off those buns and onto your feet. Still maintain a slow pace, make sure your dance posture is perfect (no sticking out that rear end!), and, again, make sure each glute releases fully before contracting again. Having loose glutes for this is VITAL. Practice for one whole song each day this week.

Advanced: What fun things can you do with your glutes? Can you shimmy with just your glutes? Do you use them when layering? Can you still do hip movements while standing on one foot with a sword on your head? This week find something interesting to do with those glutes and practice it for one whole song each day this week. Let me know how you do!

Happy dancing!

Weekly Challenge for July 1st

It’s July!  Obviously, last week there was no challenge.  I had just returned from Tribal Revolution, and had some other things to deal with, so I didn’t have a chance to get anything down.  I hope you had fun with creating your dance character!  That challenge was on my mind a lot, because at Tribal Revolution, I took a fantastic workshop with Mira Betz that was all about expressing emotion through our bodies!  Perfect timing!

So what’s up with this week’s challenge?  Well, after all that drama, let’s shake things up a bit and loosen up!

Shimmy Drill!!

It’s time for a shimmy drill.  This is a true challenge–how long can you keep your shimmy going without losing the timing?

Pick a song (or three or four!), pick a shimmy, and get to it!

Tips:

  • Make sure your shimmy stays even on both hips/legs, no matter what shimmy you have chosen.
  • It doesn’t matter what shimmy you practice, but try to pick one you aren’t so good at in order to improve it.
  • Maintain posture, even after you get tired.  If you only shimmy through one song, spot check your posture every 16 counts or so, or if you use multiple songs, do a posture check in between each.
  • Arms – no chicken arms, T-rex arms, whatever you want to call them.  If you want more of a challenge, layer arm patterns over your shimmy.
  • Only go as fast as you can maintain the beat.  Marry your hips to the count!!  If the beat changes, change with it!

Lastly, remember to have fun, and give your quads and glutes a good stretch afterwards!

Happy dancing!  And let me know how long you can keep your shimmy up!  Comment, or give me a shout-out on Facebook or Twitter!