We have a different sort of challenge this week. Are you ready?
As dancers, we have a intimate relationship with the floor. It’s what we dance on. We worry about it when we perform. Is the stage flat? Is there water or glass or somebody’s popped beads on it? Is it clean? What type of floor is it: wood or stone or asphalt? It gives us our support and literally IS our stage.
As belly dancers, we have a complex relationship with the floor. Some of the most impressive and entertaining parts of belly dance are done on the floor. Sword work, back bends, Turkish drops… But some dancers will never go to the floor, because it is illegal for them to dance there, or because of the costume they are wearing, or because it’s a hookah bar and who knows what’s been spilled down there… !
And then there is the floor, our security blanket. When we concentrate, we stare at the floor. When we are shy, we stare at the floor. When we are not confident, we stare at the floor.
Dancers, when we are performing, the floor should NEVER be more interesting than our audience.
Yes, there are times when it is okay to look down, at the floor. Character pieces, or a particularly inwardly focused taxim, or as an accent, or a hundred other reasons. But you need to acknowledge your audience at some point. The floor should not be more interesting.
So what’s the challenge?
Beginners: It’s hard not to look at the floor when you are concentrating, but this week, you are going to try. When you are drilling, or when you are practicing a new or difficult move, don’t look at the floor. Instead, find a particularly interesting painting on your wall, or look out your window at something across the street, anything to get the chin off your chest and your gaze out towards your imaginary audience. Do this everyday, every time you drill. Check in once and awhile and see if you are keeping that chin up!
Intermediate: When is a good time to look at the floor? And how do you do it right? It’s time to ask your teacher! Find ways to look at the floor without seeming to stare at it. BUT, always remember to look up again. Looking at the floor conveys certain emotions (sadness, contemplation….think of any others?) but not if you look at it throughout your whole piece. That conveys only this: fear and lack of confidence. Not what we’re going for (well, yes, there might be some pieces, but there are other ways to convey fear than staring at the floor your whole dance). And keep this in mind: it’s not just your chin that needs to stay off your chest. Your eyes need to look up too.
Advanced: If you are performing at this level, you really should know to keep your eyes and your chin up. No audience wants to watch a professional dancer staring at the floor. Watch videos of yourself this week. Are you looking at the floor? Are you meaning to look at the floor? If so, try the previous exercises to help. Also, build your confidence. As apes, we find it difficult to stare at people’s faces–especially people we don’t know–for very long. It’s rude, and it’s also a dominance game. As women, we may have been trained to never stare at people, especially men, as it’s an invitation, pleasant or otherwise. While we don’t want to stare people down in a performance (okay, maybe sometimes!) we do want to be able to make eye contact, look at our audience, and feel confident. Go to your trusty mirror and try looking at yourself. Do you make weird faces? Does it get hard to gaze into your own eyes? This week, concentrate on building your confidence and making sure you are comfortable looking at your audience and making eye contact.
Another weekly challenge! Are you ready? We’re going to continue our arm challenge this week.
Emoting through arm movement
In my last post, I mentioned that a belly dancer should have strong, beautiful arms. A lot of that is using the elbow to lead the motion. But the arms don’t always have to be strong and lifted, always leading with the elbow (though leading with the elbow ensures that the arm is lifted, which does look nicer).
We can also express emotion through our arms alone, in many different positions.
Your challenge this week is this: pick an emotion every day. Happy, sad, pained, loss, excitement, whatever tickles your fancy. Then express it through your arms alone, no other body movement. Can you do it? What would it look like? Brainstorm some ideas, get a mirror, and try them out. If you have a friend (whom you trust), ask them to guess what emotion you are portraying. It’s okay to get the face in on this, too (because that’s what we want eventually) but remember it’s all about the arms this week.
Keep in mind that the arms don’t always have to be at your sides. Raise them overhead, put them on the floor, reach out to the front. Think in a sphere, not a circle. Again, leading with the elbow makes the arms strong and lifted, but, depending on your emotion, you may not want to do that.
Okay, I’ve had a different kind of challenge the past few weeks, and that’s sitting down long enough to do work, including blogging! There was no weekly challenge last week, sorry!
So once again, let’s get back to those challenges!
Ah, arms, those appendages that always seem to feel awkward no matter what we do. As teenagers, we never knew what to do with our arms. Was it cooler to stick our hands in our pockets, or fold our arms across our stomachs, or just leave them hanging? In belly dance, we forget our arms and let them droop (cluck, cluck!) or we forget we have hands and fingers and the movement doesn’t get finished through them.
So let’s work on arms!
Beginner: Keep those elbows up! Your challenge this week is only about watching those arms. Whenever you practice, when you are in class, keep your arms in mind. Keep them up, keep them open. Depending on your style, your teacher may allow a slight dip in the elbow or she may want those babies rotated back and raised to the ceiling! Either way, make sure your arms are out. I’ve heard many teachers of all different styles tell students to imagine a grapefruit (or a really ripe peach!) is hovering under each armpit. If your arms fall, you squish the grapefruit! Sticky! Of course, you still want to keep your other movements in mind, but check in especially with your arms this week.
Intermediate: The secret to pretty belly dance arms is leading with the elbow. Really. Even if the movement is initiated by the shoulder (as in many snake arm techniques), the elbow is the leader and the focus of the movement. If you can get great rotation of the arm, at the elbow, you can get great arms. Here’s the deal: your elbow doesn’t actually rotate, it’s the shoulder. BUT, you don’t want your shoulder to move, so you have to separate the movement of the shoulder upwards and its rotation in order to give the appearance of your elbow rotating. Your challenge is to find arm rotation exercises (internal and external rotation of the shoulder) and practice those until those elbows can pop up without the shoulder also popping. Good luck! Work on it, and your snake arms will be killer!
Advanced: If your elbows (shoulders!) have a weak rotation, go back to the intermediate challenge and work on getting that elbow rotation down. Otherwise, let’s add nice arms to our movements. One of the hallmarks of a great dancer is being able to move all parts of your body fluidly and easily, whenever you need them to. So when you are standing still, doing a series of hits, or something really awesome with your abs, make sure your arms look nice. Don’t just let them hang out. Frame, or do a movement that complements the primary movement. Go back through your choreographies and see if there’s a spot when your arms are just down or just out. Can you do something else with them there? Also, keep in mind that emotion can be portrayed through arm movements ALONE (but that will be another challenge!)
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!
I try to keep it positive here on the blog. But I’ve been noticing–thankfully not experiencing (at least, as far as I can tell)–some worrying problems in the belly dance community.
One of the best things about being a belly dancer is being able to work with wonderful, talented ladies. The problem is that women tend to be vicious to one another. This is sad. Egos get over-inflated, dancers get defensive and easily insulted. Back-biting happens over gigs and professional ethics. Body shaming happens (luckily not as often in our community as in the rest of the country), friendships end, whole communities get split apart. People vaguebook.
Consider this a friendly reminder that there is such a thing as libel and slander. For those who don’t know, these are legal terms that apply to attacking a person in speech or print (falsely) and making it difficult, or impossible, for the victim to get work (in other words, some damage to their finances occurs) due to the attack on their character. Libel and slander are illegal, and you can get sued for them.
While it’s difficult to prove in court (libel and slander must be believable, untrue, and have caused harm), do you really want to risk having your name dragged through the mud for a libel or slander suit? Do you really want to put your community into that situation?
Keep the old adage in mind: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. And keep your nose in your own business.
Working in the “real world” (feel free to eye roll), when giving recommendations to potential employers, supervisors have to be very careful what they say. If they did not like the employee applicant in question, they can tell the truth, but they must be careful not to put personal judgements in their answers. If the employee applicant was lazy and never did their job, they cannot say that. What they can say is more like, “This employee did not meet the goals set for them.” While some will scream “political correctness,” this is the reality. To do otherwise opens the supervisor and the company to slander and libel suits. Any amount of exaggeration or personal opinion can be construed as slander or libel, and therefore subject to a suit.
Likewise in the dance community. If you did not like working with a dancer, then instead of slamming her (even on Facebook!), don’t say anything*. If someone, say a potential employer or director, asks you about that dancer, be honest, but keep your judgements and personal feelings to yourself. Stick to the facts. If you found her to be rude and irresponsible, or felt she had insulted you in some way, you can’t (or, rather, shouldn’t) say that. If you must say something, then politely state that you found her to be difficult to work with. Period. If the potential employer presses, again, stick to the facts. Say…because you did not get her music when requested, she did not show up to rehearsals, and was late to the show. Don’t say, “She’s so rude! I can’t stand her. She does this to get back at me for the time I didn’t go to her show because I was sick!”
(Note: I have a lot to say about professionalism in dance, and separating our professional lives from our personal ones…watch out for another blog post once I edit it and decide I won’t immediately get flamed for it).
And if you hear that a dancer is a rhymes-with-witch, and that’s it, keep this in mind. It might be gossip. It might be true. But don’t let slander or libel crush a dancer’s chances at a gig. It’s not legal…and you could find yourself entangled in something you don’t want any part of. If you hear something like this from another dancer, ask them why. Get facts, not opinions or personal feelings.
If it gets out that someone was not hired because of something another dancer said or heard, then you are vulnerable to a suit. People gossip, and someone may tell the wrong person and suddenly you find yourself in hot water for what you thought was just gossip.
Everyone gossips (yes, even me…). But let’s just be aware that gossip is not always innocuous. Let’s all support each other, and keep our negative opinions to ourselves.
And let’s not even get into the “She doesn’t deserve gigs!” territory, okay? That, too, is a judgement that none of us are qualified to make.
*I realize that many situations we dancers find ourselves dealing with require the opinions and support of other professional dancers, and many of us have turned to Facebook groups for help. That is fine, but I have seen many of those pleas for help turn into nothing more than the bashing of some dancer that did something to another dancer. This isn’t helpful (though I do understand it is therapeutic). Let’s still stick to the facts when searching for help in thorny ethical dilemmas.
I’m taking this Monday off in honor of Labor Day. Have a great day, and keep up with your dancing! Read through my other challenges and see if there’s one that strikes your fancy for this week!