Okay, I know it’s not Halloween today, but it’s the week of this fun holiday, so I thought it would be good to have a sort-of Halloween inspired challenge for this week.
Art is not created in a vacuum. While belly dance is a traditional dance, well deserving of preservation and respect, it is also an art form. Art grows, mutates, expands, and changes. This should not be suppressed or frowned-upon (thus lies the treachery of censorship).
In order to charge up our creative batteries we need input, and for that, we need to watch other dancers. We need to see what they do, and how they do it. Not to steal, but to inspire. To become better dancers, better artists, we must grow and change and be inspired.
So what’s the challenge?
This week, be inspired. Go to a belly dance show you are NOT in. Or, go to a ballet, or a dance recital at your nearest studio (for real inspiration, go to a children’s recital and be amazed). Halloween is the best time for this, because everyone is at their most creative. Fun costumes, different music, a taste for the “other,” the “different.” We are already, culturally (if you live in the US, anyway), programmed to expect unusual things at Halloween, and, while it might be scary, we are more open to the weird and uncomfortable.
BUT . . . and this is a big but . . . don’t go there to critique the other dancers (in your head or out loud, which, btw, is usually not welcomed). Go there to watch the story. What song did they pick? Imagine why. Do you think they just liked it, or are they telling a story with it? What was their costume choice (no judgements!)? Does it fit the music? Does it fit the story? Why do you think they chose that costume? And then overall, is there something in the piece, even if it’s only one thing, that you like? Is it something you think you might be able to use (again, not stealing, but being inspired by)?
If you can’t make it to a show, hit YouTube and do the same thing. In fact, try a new video each day this week, and see if you can’t become inspired.
And another thing: this isn’t just about fusion performances. Traditional belly dancers should still go to shows with Tribal dancers (even if there are no cabaret performances) AND still go to other dancers’ traditional shows. Why? Sure, it may not be your cup of tea, but otherwise you will go stale. Your creativity will run out, and all of your performances will look the same. We need creative input in order to grow, and if we never reach outwards, that will never happen. So yes, traditional belly dancers can take inspiration even from fusion performances. So open up your mind and take it all in!
Happy dancing! (And watching!)
Time for another weekly challenge!
We’ve been working on arms over the past few challenges or so, so let’s change it up a bit!
Dancers need strong legs. Why? Well, there are almost so many reasons I almost could think of what to write! We use them to, well, DANCE. They carry us around the stage, they support us while we do hip movements, we use them for level changes… And for each of these, we need good strong legs.
So this week, we’re going to work on all-important leg strength!
Beginner: Hopefully your teacher has stressed the importance of posture. In belly dance, we need a deeper posture than other dance forms. If we have no give in the knees, our hips have nowhere to go! This week, work with your teacher on deepening your posture. Watch her and see how much she bends her knees (this will, of course, vary slightly depending on her/his style). Ask your teacher if there are any leg strengthening exercises she can show you, or go to a trainer instead. Let’s all strengthen up our legs!
Intermediate: One of the more challenging bits in belly dance is keeping the knees bent and legs strong during an entire performance. This week, work on endurance! Find a wall (or the back of another dancer!) and sit against it. Put your back to the wall, bend the knees, and stay there (it’s like sitting in a chair, and make sure your knees don’t go past your toes). This will be tough, but it will help to increase your endurance, allowing you to last through an entire show (if you perform in your student troupe). See how much you improve over the week, and make sure to do this every day. If you or your teacher knows of any other endurance techniques, try those too (and share!)
Advanced: This week, pay special attention to your leg strength. Do your knees creak a little when you do a level change? While this usually can’t be avoided due to age, you can lessen the stress on your joints by strengthening the legs, namely, the quads. How long can you dance in releve? If the answer is not very long, then work on strengthening your calves. Find a trainer or use your own knowledge to build up the leg strength in order to improve posture, make level changes easier, stay on releve, and carry yourself through an entire set.
A new week, a new challenge!
If you’ve been following the blog recently, you know we’ve been doing a lot of arm challenges lately. Here’s another one, but one for your shoulders!
As modern people with access to computers, we spend a lot of time slumped over our keyboards, our shoulders thrust forward, stretching out our upper backs. This is not a healthy posture. It can also impact our dance. So let’s work on our shoulders!
Beginner: Unless you are a massage therapist, yoga enthusiast, or work hard to have amazing posture, it’s likely that you spend most of your time slumped. While you are not alone, it is important to begin working on shoulders at this level of your dance. Strong shoulders = strong posture. Strong posture not only makes you look more confident as a dancer (no more apology dances!), it will lengthen the time you are capable of dancing (by preventing injury, strengthening muscles, etc.). This week, while practicing, concentrate on your shoulder posture. It will be only a small part of your overall posture, but this week concentrate on those shoulders! Keep them out of your ears, keep them back and down. Check in once and awhile and make sure those shoulders stay put! If you struggle, talk to your teacher or a trainer and see if there are some exercises they can give you to strengthen that upper back and your deltoids.
Intermediate: Depending on how your teacher teaches moves like snake arms and shoulder locks, you may use your shoulders a lot. This week, rein it in a little. While it’s not “wrong” to use your shoulders in snake arms (they move because they are attached…remember there are few “wrong” ways to do belly dance!), many dancers use their shoulders too much. This may be an aesthetic choice, but keep in mind that your rotator cuff may not take the abuse well. Take care of your shoulders this week. Get a massage, see if your snake arms improve with a little less shoulder, make your locks small, sharp, and precise. Also check in with your posture, and keep those shoulders down and back.
Advanced: At this level, your posture should be perfect, with strong shoulders and controlled movements (like snake arms and locks). What I want to talk about this week is how you teach shoulder work. First of all, if you have ever stretched out your students’ upper backs, please stop. You may be doing more harm than you know. Because of our slumped postures, most of us have over-stretched upper backs. Stretching them more is asking for injury. Instead, strengthen the upper back (then stretch it). If you have no anatomy training as a teacher, I strongly suggest you get it, or stop teaching before you injure your students. This week, work on learning strengthening techniques, the anatomy and workings of the shoulder, and share these with your students. If you don’t teach, learn them anyway, and apply them to your practice this week. Then, when you teach shoulder work, check your students to make sure they aren’t over-extending or popping out the shoulder in a way that could injure them. Don’t exaggerate snake arms or your students will copy that. Lead with the elbow, and the shoulder will follow!
Wow! It’s October already, and fall is here! And since it’s Monday, it’s time for another weekly challenge!
Drilling should be nothing new to any dancer. And no, we’re not talking about making holes in walls! Drilling is what helps build that “muscle memory” so that we can execute technique without having to look in a mirror and concentrate on it. Belly dance requires a lot of drilling because of the difficult nature of the movements; we ask our bodies to do things it’s never considered before!
Of course, drilling is not a lot of fun. Drilling can take up a good portion of a workshop or class and your own practice time. It’s way more fun to dance, or learn a new combo, than to drill. But even though it’s not very exciting, drilling is necessary for improving your technique. If you do not drill, it’s now time to start.
Every day this week, no matter what level of dancer you are, drill. Pick a new move every day, or, if you are having difficulty with one move, do that one all week. Pick a song, pick a move, and drill it. But don’t just stand there and move. A good driller never lets her mind wander during a drill.
Drilling is not effective if you are not doing the movement correctly. Watch yourself in the mirror and see if there isn’t something you can improve about the movement. Yes, even in a movement you feel comfortable or confident with. Are you executing the movement the same every single time, or do you get sloppy? Make sure you tighten up the move and do it right. Every. Single. Time.