Weekly Challenge for 4-14-14
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.
Weekly Challenge for August 19
I totally dropped the ball last week! I had a lazy Sunday (for the first time in months)…and guess what?! I was lazy! So I didn’t get my blogging done or scheduled. Bad belly dancer, bad! No cookie for me!
Anyway, I was inspired this week by a couple of blogs that got passed around Facebook this past week. I thought I’d put my two cents in and make a challenge out of it! (Thanks, ladies, for the inspiration!)
Not every belly dancer does choreography. But every belly dancer has to, at some point, remember movements that are put together, whether it’s a combo from a workshop or as part of your tribe’s vocabulary, or full choreographies if you are in a troupe or as a soloist. It’s hard to remember choreographies! It’s especially challenging in a group, because if a soloist misses a movement, it can easily be covered up by an experienced dancer and the audience will never know. But if one dancer messes up in a group, it’s easy to spot, and embarrassing!
The blogs above give great tips, but I’m going to add my own, and give it to you as part of your challenge. First off, you should be practicing your choreos every day anyway if you are part of a troupe. You owe the group your time and effort.
Here’s the twist and the challenge: practice your choreos without the music. Try it every day this week, all the choreos or combinations you know (if you have a lot in your repertoire, just do this with the ones you will be using in the near future). But do it without your music.
Why? Well, of course, the choreography is meant to go with a particular piece of music, so it seems silly to practice without it. But, the music sometimes acts as a crutch. Instead of our bodies (or our brains) remembering what comes next, we wait just that split second to see what the next phrase in the music is. It’s easy to remember what we are supposed to be doing at certain points in the music; the music cues us in as to what the movements are. But that teeny split second of hesitation between phrases can cost a troupe their timing. Hands won’t go up at the same time, or someone will be just a tiny bit late starting a weight change. These sorts of things can get noticed by an experienced watcher (say, in a competition) or trip a dancer up just enough to get flustered and make even more mistakes.
By practicing without the music, you are forcing your brain to remember the movements in your body, without the need to listen for the change in the music and then remember what it is you are supposed to be doing. It takes out one step of processing in the brain, and invokes “muscle memory” instead of the active remembering of the movement by your brain at that moment in the choreography. This way, you can focus on listening to the music and expressing yourself rather than, “What comes next?!” Choreographies then look effortless!
And let me know how this worked for you! Comment below, or give me a ring on Facebook or Twitter.