Archive | March 2014

Weekly Challenge for 3-31-14

The last day of March! Let’s hope April feels more like Spring than March did! And it’s Monday, so it’s time for another challenge!

Reach for the Next Level

When we first start belly dance, we stand in awe of the marvelous things that our idols can do. The belly rolls, the sharp isolations, the ease of improvisation…

When we’ve done it awhile, we sometimes get frustrated at our (seeming) lack of progress, the difficulty we have in learning challenging movements or in fine tuning our skills.

And when we’ve been doing it a really long while, we wonder where our next inspiration is going to come from, what we can do to keep improving, and how we can reach even higher and deeper into our dance.

So how do we get to the next “level?” This is a difficult question to answer, because every dancer is different. And there are no set rules for students and their progression from beginner to intermediate to advanced. There is nothing to refer to for us teachers to let us know when a student is “intermediate,” and that can get frustrating for a dancer who thinks he/she is ready to move up.

So what’s the challenge?

Beginner: This is definitely a “get with your teacher” challenge. Take some time to sit down with your teacher and ask them what, in their mind, makes an intermediate dancer. Don’t judge what they are saying, and don’t take it personally when they list a bunch of movements or other techniques that you do not know (yet), and please don’t argue with them! If it’s too intangible (“I just know an intermediate dancer when I see one.”), try to see if you can get them to pin down what that means. Once you have a list, or at least an idea, brainstorm some ideas on how you can get to that next level. Is it that your zill technique isn’t up to snuff? Then this week, focus on practicing your zills. Can you just not nail down turns? Work on those this week.

Don’t get discouraged if the list is long and you feel overwhelmed by how much work you have to do to get into those intermediate classes. This is not a race. It’s a journey, and one we should enjoy every step of the way. Yeah, we all want to progress and feel good about our dancing, but there’s nothing wrong with being a beginner!

Intermediate: Your challenge is similar. Get with your teacher and ask him/her what they are looking for in an advanced dancer. These answers might very well be even more frustrating, because the knowledge advanced dancers need to know, depending on the teacher and style, might not be just techniques to know or choreographies to learn. Being comfortable with improv, knowing the difference between a beledi rhythm and a saiidi rhythm (and being able to play them on zills or drum), or working on expression in dance may be some of the things your teacher may ask you to master before being considered for advanced training. Once you have your list, work this week on improving one of those skills. This may be very challenging, and you should work with your teacher on how to improve those skills.

Advanced: I’m hoping that if you are reading this, you realize that being an advanced dancer does not mean you have nothing left to learn, no more “levels” to earn, as a dancer. This is far, far, far from the truth. You may be a teacher, or part of a troupe (or even directing your own), but that doesn’t mean that your dance couldn’t use some improving. I’ve seen advanced dancers that never learn new skills, never do anything different, and never seem to get any better. Stagnation is not a good place to be as a dancer. Your challenge this week is to go back to class. If you don’t already take classes, pick one, even if it’s a beginner class, and do it. Learning from other teachers, whether it’s what they are teaching or how they are teaching it, is a good way to improve your skills as both a dancer and a teacher. Learn a new prop, like fan veils or sword. Take lessons in Arabic, or ballet, or hip hop. Just start something this week that will improve your knowledge or skills in belly dance (or in dance in general), even if it’s something you would consider “basic” or “beginner.”

Happy dancing!

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Weekly Challenge for 3-24-14

How is your Spring going? It snowed yesterday here in ChiBeria. Not very Spring-like, is it?!

Let’s get onto the challenge for this last full week of March!

Cultural Knowledge

There’s been a lot going around lately about cultural appropriation, and whether or not is is okay for white (American/Western) women to belly dance. A lot has already been said, and there are others who have mirrored my opinions on it, so I am not going to go on about that here. Let’s just say that people do have the right to be angry over things that offend them. But I also believe that insulting people is the wrong way to handle that anger. There is no need to increase the wrong by being insulting, racist, or by thin-shaming. When you do this, you only alienate the object of your anger and completely invalidate your points (in their view). People will get defensive and then never listen to the completely valid points you do have. And I mean this about BOTH SIDES of the argument.

As belly dancers, and participants in a culture that is not our own, we are required to be respectful and knowledgeable about that culture. It is NOT up to others to educate you. It is up to you, and you alone.

It is unfortunate that my first teacher never taught me anything about any of the cultures she was borrowing from. When I “came out” onto the rest of the belly dance scene, I was way behind. I didn’t know any of the famous dancers of the Golden Age, didn’t know any of the “must know” songs or what they meant, and I certainly did not know the true roots of this dance. I was horrified at my lack of knowledge, and immediately began trying to find out everything I could.

This week, your challenge is to do the same. If you are unfamiliar with the history of belly dance, please use this week to educate yourself. Look up articles online. Talk to your teacher (maybe request a special class just on history?). If you don’t know anything about cultural appropriation, here is a good start (though it is not specifically about belly dance, and I find myself disagreeing with one point. Please see below for that point).

Use this week to go deeper into the meaning of your dance. Why do we wear bedlahs (what is a bedlah?!) or some dancers dance in heels and others don’t? Where did Tribal Fusion come from? Who, in your opinion, is the most important belly dancer of all time, or just of the modern age? What country (or countries) does your dance come from and why? What are the differences between the different styles of traditional belly dance?

All these questions are good starting points as a way to educate yourself about your dance. Even if you perform Tribal Fusion, you should know where the roots of your dance come from, and why you are using them.

If we join in the conversation about cultural appropriation and belly dance respectfully and knowledgeably, and help to politely and respectfully educate others, then maybe we can cut down on the number of hateful articles about belly dance, white belly dancers, and “this is not belly dance.”

Please keep in mind, too, that these challenges are only a week. A week is not enough time to fully educate yourself on any aspect of belly dance. The challenges are meant to be just that. A challenge. Can you do this in a week? Can you build a practice, one week at a time? They are meant to get you used to practicing (or researching) every day. So let’s do it! Every single day!

Happy researching!

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Here’s my comment about the cultural appropriation article I linked. It is true that when cultural appropriation is pointed out that it is not meant to be personal. However, there have been too many times where I have seen that it has gotten personal. That is not okay. It is okay to say, “It’s wrong when [this dominant culture] appropriates [this other culture] by wearing [this object from the other culture].” That is a statement of fact. However, it is NOT okay to say, “These ugly, stupid, evil, insensitive [racial group], they have no idea what harm they are personally causing me because they are [wearing this object from my culture] or [doing this activity from my culture.]” Even if it is true (which it might be), insulting an entire racial or ethnic group is not helpful. When people do this, they come off as whiny victims who are petty and overly sensitive. I’m not saying that they are, but that is how they appear to others. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to point out when others are harming you or your culture. It is okay to ask people to stop. It is not okay to insult. You are shooting yourself in the foot if the first thing you do is insult an entire group of people (“sins of our enemies,” and all that, you know…)

I have, previously, been accused of derailing arguments by calling for rational discussion of controversial subjects. Fine. But unless and until we can all peaceably sit down and talk about things rationally, without insults, yelling, or the constant need to blame others or be victims, then nothing will change. Yes, anger is what makes things change by rattling cages and shocking people. But anger can be used without causing harm to others, and that is what I am calling for. When has insulting someone EVER changed their mind? Anyone? Examples?

[Edit:] changed a few words for clarity in my point that were not caught in the initial editing.

Comment policy: I will not accept anonymous comments. The chance for abuse is too high. If you would like to make a comment, please read what I have written carefully. If it is obvious you have not read it, or have not understood it, then your comment will be deleted without notification.

Weekly Challenge for 3-17-14

Another week, another challenge!

But first, a shameless plug: it’s sometimes a challenge for me to keep up a weekly blog. If you like these challenges, please help me spread the word about them! Give me a “like” on Facebook, or a re-tweet on Twitter. Or share this blog on your social media of choice. At the end of every challenge, I’ve added a “click-to-tweet” where you can share that you are taking the challenge with me. It’s super easy! And, if you really like this blog a lot, consider making a donation. There’s a button to the right. All money will go to help keeping my website up and running (this is a free blog, btw, but it’s nice to get some money to defray the costs of hosting my website, which has links to the blog).

And a HUGE thank you to all who already do share, like, and otherwise help me promote my blog and dance. This is my dream, and you are helping it become a reality!

Okay, so onto the challenge!

Bad Habits

Oh, the flippy hands. Staring at the floor. Not breathing during drill. Chicken arms. Breaks in posture (otherwise known as “sad dancer”). Frozen smiles. “Tribal Fusion face.” Sword face…

Dancers get a lot of bad habits. This can either come from too much practice without a teacher’s guidance, a teacher who has her own bad habits that he/she passes on, our lack of body awareness, or just from nervousness or concentration when we perform. Personally (and this is a big admission to make to the public), if I’m super nervous, my left hand doesn’t hold still when I perform. It’s a super obvious tell, and now you know it! Yikes!

I shared that, though, because I want other dancers to know that I’m not shaming those who have those habits I listed. I have bad habits, too! It happens, and I try very hard not to pass them on to my students. I’ve done extreme things to train these habits out of my dance (like using electric tape on both hands and wrists to keep those silly hands still!) We all have our bad habits, our nervous tics, our tells. Here’s a chance to work on them!

This is an all level challenge. First of all, you need video of you either drilling or performing. If you don’t have video, just prop up your phone and film yourself doing your basic drills, your best choreography or class combo, or even just a song or two of improv (I highly recommend this if you are comfortable with it; improv is usually when we are most nervous and those tells rear their ugly heads!)

Don’t worry about the quality of the video or be nervous about filming yourself; you’re not going to post this anywhere! No one will see it but you!

Watch the video and try to see what bad habits you have. Don’t shame yourself for them! Just watch and list them, no judging allowed. Check your hands. Do they flip and flop around like fish? What about your arm posture? What about your body posture? Do you “melt” as you drill? Do you make funny faces, or stick your tongue out while you are concentrating? It can even be as nit-picky as “I’m not pointing my toes” to getting that “Oh-please-don’t-let-the-sword-fall-off-my-head” face.

This week, concentrate on removing one bad habit from your dance. Don’t panic if you have many, it happens to us all. Just pick the one that bothers you the most and work on that one. If you have floppy hands, make sure you concentrate on them while you are dancing this week. Get them to stop moving around so much. I had this problem awhile back and I wrapped electrical tape around my wrists, fingers, and hands to lock them in place, then practiced that way. It helped a lot, though my left hand has its own little mind when I get nervous. If you get sword face, practice just smiling when that sword goes on your head.

Brainstorm some ideas on how to fix those bad habits, and use this week to start training them out of your dance! It will take longer than a week, but this is a great start, and a chance to analyze your dance.

Happy dancing!

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Weekly Challenge for 3-10-14

Time for this week’s challenge! Are you ready?

Flexibility

I, personally, think that part of the appeal of belly dance is that you don’t need to be flexible to be good at it. You don’t see a lot of the famous dancers out of Egypt doing many splits or high kicks, though back bends are routine (for me back bends are more about ab strength than back flexibility, but that might just be me). I think it makes belly dance more approachable to the general public, and adults, then dance forms that demand flexibility, like ballet.

Being flexible in belly dance, while not required, is certainly desirable. Splits are impressive, and for floor work flexibility is mandatory. Flexibility is also good for back bends, for sideways leans, and for kicks (like in Turkish dance). But flexibility isn’t just about these over-the-top moves. Having flexibility in the torso means your isolations will be larger, and your range of motion will be greater. Any dancer can benefit from this!

My students know that I’m about as flexible as a dry stick. That doesn’t mean I don’t stretch! There are some of us who may never achieve the splits, due to hip socket anatomy (if bone gets in the way, there isn’t much hope for stretching into it!), but we can at least stretch for the health of our muscles and increasing our range of motion. Improving our flexibility is also a good way to improve our dance.

Naturally, in order for us to become properly flexible, we must also be strong. Being strong makes for good dance!

What’s the challenge?

First, a strongly worded note. DO NOT STRETCH COLD MUSCLES. Do not try to gain flexibility by tearing your ligaments and tendons. Remember, strength AND flexibility is the name of the game. Always do stretching AFTER your workout, so you are at your warmest. Stretching is never an acceptable warm up.

Beginner: Unless you have a strong background in another dance form or yoga, you are probably coming to belly dance as someone who is not flexible at all. There’s nothing wrong with that! As I said, belly dance can be done successfully without ever doing the splits. But flexibility is good for our muscles, and keeps our joints healthy (if we don’t overdo it), and, of course, increases our range of motion. This week, get with your teacher to help work on improving your flexibility. Concentrate on your torso this week, because this will probably be easiest. Side bends, chest slides and rotations, all will be improved by stretching the torso. Find some good stretches, get nice and warm, and then stretch!

Intermediate: Let’s talk about the splits. I have tried and tried and failed and failed to get into the splits. Not everyone has the hip socket anatomy for it, and it has nothing to do with how often they stretch or whether they are doing it right or not. As a massage therapist, I know how to increase flexibility. It just doesn’t work for me. But you can work this week on improving yours! Before starting work with a personal trainer or massage therapist, try researching some good stretches for the hips. There are a lot of hip muscles, so try to find stretches that work all of them. This week, incorporate those stretches into your daily routine. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO DO THE SPLITS AFTER A WEEK OF STRETCHING. This challenge is to get you used to stretching daily to improve your flexibility.

Advanced: Let’s talk backbends. Everyone wants to be able to do backbends. They are impressive, difficult, and unsafe. However, there are safe(r) ways to do them. This week, you will work, not on the flexibility of your back, but the strength of your abs. “But I’m a bellydancer!” you protest. “My abs are great!” Maybe. But backbends, and the associated movements, require ab and leg strength that you don’t get unless you train for it. This week, in addition to any regular stretches you do for your back, add in ab and hip flexor strength work. Crunches, Pilates, whatever works for you…This might be a challenge about flexibility, but for backbends you need both strength and flexibility in equal measures!

A note of caution: always listen to your body when it comes to stretching. It should never hurt. Always consult with a doctor first, and if you do not work with a teacher, a trainer, or a massage therapist, make absolutely sure you are following all guidelines and steps for the stretches accurately. And keep in mind that flexibility takes time. Don’t push it, just use this week as a building up of good stretching habits.

Happy stretching!

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Weekly Challenge 3-3-14

Another week, another challenge!

You know what’s funny? I wrote a whole challenge about spotting, and then when I went back to find a link to add to it, I realized I had done an identical challenge back in December! Where is my brain?

So this week, instead of talking about spotting, we’re going to talk about the turns themselves! (I’ve done challenges like this before, too, but this one is different!)

How many different turns do you know? There are so many different types of turns, all used for different looks! No matter what style of belly dance you do, you will need to know more than one turn!

What’s fun about belly dance is that we all have different names for similar turns. What names has your style given them?

This week, your challenge is to practice all your turns! Tell me how many different ones you know, and see if you can practice all of them this week! Be safe, spot, and give yourself a break if you get too dizzy! (Remember: throwing up on stage is not pretty, so don’t let yourself get to that point!)

Happy turning!

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