I’ve finally got myself sorted out after Tribal Fest, so it’s back to the Weekly Challenges! Did you miss me?
First of all, I hope everyone is having a memorable Memorial Day. Let us all take a moment to thank those who have died in service to our country, whether we agree with how or why or not. They gave their lives for something they believed in, and deserve respect for that. Thank you.
I’ve done zill challenges before, but I wanted to stress them again. This might just be me, but I’ve noticed that the use of zills has declined among dancers in general, but in cabaret dancers in particular. I see a lot of belly dance, and the only performers I’ve seen in months who use zills are the Tribal and Tribal fusion dancers! That’s awesome, because fusion dancers should always be aware of our roots in cabaret dance, and to be interested in those roots, and to keep up those skills.
But it’s so sad that no fewer than two zill workshops in my area alone in the past few months were canceled due to lack of interest. And that I almost never see cabaret dancers use zills anymore.
Yeah, they’re loud, they’re not fun to practice (especially if you live in apartments or have pets), and can be difficult to learn. But they are important to the art of belly dance – in ALL styles.
So here’s your challenge this week, and it’s simple.
No matter what style you do, no matter what level you are or how many years of experience you have or don’t have with zills…this week, practice every single day.
Find a teacher, a website, or a video, and get to learning those zills!
P.S. There are many items to help with zill practice these days. Wooden zills are a little quieter, or there are the Practizills. Many vendors also sell crochet zill covers to mute the sound, and I’ve even heard of some dancers using baby socks! There are no more excuses!
You may have noticed that there was no Weekly Challenge this week. It’s because I’ve lost my mind due to Tribal Fest. I’ve been panicking over music, over practice, and getting all the details down (where I’m staying, how I’m getting there, etc.) I’m almost overwhelmed!
I’m looking forward to it, but I’m so, so busy!
That means, there won’t be a Weekly Challenge this week, and not next week, either. My flight comes back home late Monday, so I likely won’t have the time (or energy) to write a blog post.
In the mean time, please check out the Weekly Challenge tag and see if there are any you want to try out for this week and next! There are PLENTY to chose from, so pick a subject (hey, time to work on shimmies?) and make a search!
Thanks for your patience and understanding.
Happy dancing! And see you at Tribal Fest 14!
Monday! For me, this means another day closer to Tribal Fest! Eek! I’m looking forward to it, but at the same time, I’m a little scared! I can’t wait to perform! But it also means that it’s time for another weekly belly dance challenge!
Layering with Traveling
Yikes, another layering challenge! But not to worry. Layering isn’t just doing the crazy hits with two different parts of the body. It’s also about dancing while moving.
What does that mean? It means just not standing still with the arms out to the sides and busting out some cool hits. Let’s do something more with that!
Beginner: Don’t worry about the fact that layering can be scary. If you can walk and do shoulder shimmies, you are layering. This week, work on doing just that! Take a upper body movement, like shoulder shimmies, and take a walk! The challenge will be to keep the walk looking nice (keep it on beat and don’t stomp) and keeping the shoulders going at the same time. Practice this every day this week for at least one song!
Intermediate: We’re going try hip movements and walking. Hip locks (hip bumps, hips on the up, whatever you happen to call them) are relatively easy to pair with walking (and I mean relatively easy…it won’t be easy easy, so don’t give up or get too frustrated!) Some teachers get their students walking with hip locks early, so if you already know this, great! Turn it into a three-quarter shimmy, but keep them sharp! Practice walking with hip locks for a whole song every day this week. If you got this, layer the locks over dance steps, like a grapevine or a salsa step.
Advanced: It’s great to see a dancer that can do layering bust it out when the song calls for it. But sometimes the locks get sloppy, or it’s boring to watch a dancer suddenly stand still and do a bunch of layering locks (if it’s done too much). We should be moving, at least some of the time. This week, practice dancing while you layer. Do arm movements when you shimmy or do a series of body locks. Do a grapevine with those ummis. Walk with your chest locks. Make a foot pattern while doing mayas or three-quarter shimmies. Do something weird while shimmying. Just make it interesting and keep the layers separate and precise. Don’t let the locks get sloppy just because you are walking! Practice every day this week, and let me know what you come up with!
Wow, what a weekend! But now it’s Monday, and it’s time for another weekly belly dance challenge!
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!
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!
It’s another Monday, time for a weekly belly dance challenge! Are you ready?
*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!
Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!
Photo courtesy of The Dancer’s Eye.
Another Monday, which means it’s time for another challenge! Are you ready?
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.
Happy drumming (or zilling!)
Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!
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.”
Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!
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!
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!
Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!
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.
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!
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.
Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!