Archive | April 2014

Weekly Challenge 4-28-14

Wow, what a weekend! But now it’s Monday, and it’s time for another weekly belly dance challenge!

Checking in

I’ve done a challenge before about proprioception, which is a sense of where our bodies are in space. This challenge is going to be kind of the opposite of that one!

I’ve said before that I don’t really practice much with a mirror, mainly because I do not have one that’s very useful for dance. But also because I’d rather feel what the movements are like in my body, since I (usually) will not have a mirror in front of me when I perform.

However, it can be challenging for beginners, or more advanced students when learning a new move or layer, to learn without one. In fact, I don’t really recommend students learn without one (if I’m struggling with something or if I’m doing basic drills, I pull out my mirror, even if it’s not all that great). Why?

Because in order for us to get new movements down, we have to make sure they are actually the movements the teacher is showing us. We must check in with ourselves in the mirror to make sure what we are doing is what the teacher is doing. Our teachers should work to help us correct, but our teachers can’t be with us 100% of the time. They have other students, or they aren’t there in your personal practice time. We must learn to self-correct in order to get the movements into our bodies.

This can be tough. But it’s super important. I’m a natural mimic, which makes it easy for me to pick up new movements (thank goodness), but not everyone can do that. And that’s okay. We’re going to work on that this week.

So what’s the challenge?

In class this week (and hey, if you are an advanced dancer, you should be taking some sort of regular class, whether it’s online to keep up your skills, or a new dance form to cross train or whatever), make doubly sure that what you are doing matches what the teacher is actually doing.

Be honest with yourself, but gentle. If your movement looks nothing like the teacher’s, don’t hate yourself for it. You’re still learning. Instead, try to figure out what it is you are doing (or not doing) that is preventing your movement from looking like your teacher’s. Check in with all her body parts and all of your own. Are your feet moving the same way? Where are her hands? Which hip is doing the work? Are her knees bent or straight? If you can’t tell, ask! Teachers love getting questions, so ask away! Be pro-active in your dance practice and self-correct. Use that mirror to not only watch what your teacher is doing, but what YOU are doing.

Do this every day this week, whenever you are in class. In your own practice, you can do the same! Pick a video and do the same thing, or if you can remember what the movement should look like, try that!

Happy dancing!

Weekly Challenge for 4-21-14

It’s Monday again! Time for this week’s belly dance challenge.

Combos to the Rhythm

Do you remember that challenge we did two weeks ago? And how about last week? (Tough challenge…how did that one go for you? My day job interfered in a big way and I didn’t have much time for even just regular practice, so I didn’t do so great. I may have to revisit that challenge!)

We’re going to combine those two challenges for this week!

If you didn’t try either of those challenges, not to worry. If you know at least one Middle Eastern rhythm, you can do this challenge. (Here’s a good resource; I also used this page’s notation below.)

So what’s this week’s challenge? Let’s make combos to one of the rhythms you learned!

Especially in “traditional” belly dance, it is important to move with the rhythm, whether it be traveling or hip movements or other accents. And by rhythm, I mean the rhythm pattern of the drum, not just the beat. We can dance to beledi (or any other Middle Eastern rhythm). For fusion dancers, this can also help with dancing to complex synthesized drum patterns, whether or not they are actually Middle Eastern.

Here’s an example: if I learned the beledi rhythm two weeks ago, I’m going to make a short combo, using that rhythm as the basis for my steps and movements. Beledi has a pattern like this:


The D notations are the “doums,” the heavy hit on the drum that can be clearly heard in most rhythms, and, at least for me, makes it easy to identify. I want to make a combo to that, so maybe for the first two doums, which are close together, I will do two heavy hip drops, then move through the silence (or the filled rhythm, which would be the tkT portion, depending on what song you are using or what drummer you have) and hit the third doum with a hip push to one side. Or maybe I can do two quick steps on the first two doums, a dramatic pause, and then a hip pop on the third.

Play with the rhythm (or one of the rhythms) you learned in the previous challenge and see what fun combos you can come up with. This is a fantastic way to start building drum solos, or to start getting ready to dance to live music. If you have a bunch of combos under your (coin) belt, then you can easily dance to music you don’t know well, as long as you can identify the rhythm. Don’t worry if you’re not ready to dance to live music, or even in front of people, yet. Getting practice in dancing to the rhythm (and not just the beat) will help you in the long run!

How many combos can you come up with? Let me know!


Weekly Challenge for 4-14-14

It’s another Monday, time for a weekly belly dance challenge! Are you ready?

Making Choreographies

*GASP* some of you may say! “I don’t know how to choreograph!” And that’s okay. Making choreographies is a skill, just like learning how to shimmy. It’s something that needs to be practiced, just like hip drops. Sure, there will be gifted choreographers, just like there are gifted dancers, but they still must work on their techniques as well. Choreography skill usually doesn’t just fall from the sky!

So here we go!

(For dedicated improvisers, I highly recommend trying your hand at choreography, even if you never will perform it. What you learn from how to put movements together can be invaluable in your skill at smooth improvisation.)

Beginner: When I first started belly dancing, I would just repeat the same combos I had learned in class during my own practice time. That’s great, because a) I needed to know them for class and b) it helped me learn how to move from one step to another. But eventually, once I got better at remembering them, I felt I didn’t need to practice them as often. So I tried my hand at doing my own choreo just for fun. Sure, my first ones were probably not stage ready, and that’s okay! For this week, pick a section of a song, or a short song (no more than 1 minute) and try your hand at choreography. Keep it simple, and keep it under 1 minute. Don’t try to fit every single move you have in your repertoire into it. Pick a few moves you like and are good at, and string them together in a way that seems to go to the music. Then, try it out and see how it goes! Film it, or have a trusted friend watch, and then get together and see what looked good. Be honest, but also be nice to yourself. Did it work? Did it look good? What could be improved? Did it match the music? Have fun with it, and don’t stress too hard if it doesn’t go all that well. Remember, this is a skill to learn and work on!

Intermediate: You may be more used to learning whole songs, either for class or for student performances. This week, pick apart one of the choreographies you know. How was it put together? When did you travel, and when did you stand still and dance? What types of movements are used when certain instruments are playing? Once you have some idea of how your teacher puts together a choreo, see if you can’t try a hand at your own, keeping in mind some of what you have learned. Keep the song short, no more than 2 minutes, and then film it (or have a trusted friend watch) and see how you did! Again, keep the critique positive but useful and honest. Did you follow what you had learned?

Advanced: Here’s a special challenge for you! This is one I’m not sure I can do, but I’m going to try it! First of all, if you are a dedicated improvisor, please read the parenthetical statement above! Learning how to choreograph at this level is something you should definitely learn. It’s how you come up with combos for your students, or new combos for your improv troupe (if you can do that). But the challenge is this: choreograph an entire song every day this week. Yikes! Keep the songs short, and keep the movements simple. You can always, always, always add to and embellish a dance once you have the basic movements down (adding shimmies, arm movements, expression, etc.) True, these may not be stage ready dances, but I think this might help those of us (me) that tend to agonize over choreographies and take forever to finish just one. This will also keep the choreographies from being too “busy,” which is also a problem I sometimes struggle with. Keep the techniques simple, relaxed, and at a minimum, then add all the fancy stuff!

Happy creating!

Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!



Photo courtesy of The Dancer’s Eye.

Weekly Challenge for 4-7-14

Another Monday, which means it’s time for another challenge! Are you ready?

Drum Rhythms

When I was a baby dancer, my teacher told us that the drum was the most important instrument for belly dancers. We dance to the drum. Of course, we can always dance to the most prominent instrument in a piece, but the drum is where the heart of the dance lies.

Middle Eastern music is rather different than Western music, not only in sound but in structure as well. Drum rhythms are important, and are usually named. Some drum rhythms are found in certain areas or types of music, and knowing these rhythms is mandatory for all belly dancers. And I do mean mandatory, and I do mean all belly dancers. If you are doing belly dance (in my opinion…and in many others’), you must dance to the beat, to the rhythm (mostly, depending on style and piece). This can be challenging to Westerners, because we hear the melody the most, and the drums are just the “pace car.”

If you dance “traditional” belly dance, you need to know these rhythms, why they are important, and how to dance to them (and thus be able to identify songs of certain types). If you are a Tribal performer, you still need to know the roots of your dancing, and many ATS® and ITS troupes use traditional songs and rhythms. It’s also helpful for fusion, because many of the popular fusion musicians still use Middle Eastern stylings and rhythms. While most Western bands do not use these drum rhythms, it is important to know the history of your dance.

So what’s the challenge? This week, learn your drum rhythms!

Find a drum or a pair of zills (or even just use clapping!) and learn at least one new drum rhythm this week. There are lots of resources out there, DVDs, websites, your teacher, workshops, etc. for learning these rhythms. I particularly like this one, but there are many others out there. DVDs are great, because many of them feature dancers who can show you movements and short combos that go well with those drum rhythms.

Extra challenge: How many drum rhythms can you learn (well) in one week? Let me know in the comments, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Happy drumming (or zilling!)


Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!


Photo credit: montuno via photopin cc