Wow, okay, so there was so much to do this weekend that the challenge didn’t get written OR scheduled! So…now that it’s Tuesday, let’s try this week’s challenge!
If there was sin in dance, one of the big ones would be not knowing how to count your music. Of course, if you read the last challenge, you also know that not expressing emotion in dance could be considered another. Counting in dance is fundamental, the basis of 90% of your dance (or more). Of course, it is possible and appropriate to approach music without counting (as in lyrical dance or during a taxim), but in belly dance the beat and the rhythm are of paramount importance. Egyptian dancers especially focus on the rhythm of the music. If you aren’t counting, you aren’t doing it right. Dancers should also have a basic understanding of musical theory, since music is so important to dance. So, on to the challenge!
Beginner: Your teacher should be teaching you, perhaps not specifically but through osmosis, how to count. Listen to her (or him!) as she counts out your steps. Normally she gets to 8 and starts over, right? Maybe 4, but usually 8. There’s a reason for that. Your challenge is to find out why. Ask your teacher (or look it up on the Internet) why dancers count to 8. What is the significance of time signature? What does it mean to a dancer? Once you know why, start learning how. Try to pay attention to how your teacher counts the music. Ever wonder why she’ll wait through a piece of music and then suddenly start dancing? Why did she start there? Remember that it is of utmost importance to learn how to count your music. Once you know how, start practicing counting, just not out loud. That’s a bad habit to get into (nothing worse than watching a dancer count on stage!!)
Intermediate: Hopefully you know how to count your music. If you do not, you need to do the previous challenge until counting is second nature. At this level, you should work on making count so much a part of your dance that you do it automatically and unconsciously. You should be able to identify the downbeat in a piece of unfamiliar music just by how the music feels, not by having to count from the beginning of the song. This can be an extremely difficult thing to learn if you are not a musician or have not had dance training throughout your life. Your challenge this week (if counting is no big deal) is to make that count second nature. Instead of counting out loud, or thinking too hard about it, put it in the back of your mind. It’s almost like getting a piece of music stuck in your head, but instead it’s 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 stuck on an endless loop in your brain. For now, stick to music you know that has easy time signatures, like 4/4 or 2/4, and try a brief improv dance while counting. If you have a mirror, make sure you don’t have “counting face” (in other words, the audience should not see the gears grinding in your head).
Advanced: Try different time signatures! There are so many interesting time signatures out there, so learn how to count them. Start with something relatively easy, like the kashlama rhythm (a 9/8 time signature). Learn how to identify the downbeat, and how to count it out (hint: it’s not always easiest, or appropriate, to count unusual rhythms straight out, like 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9). If you know that one, try others, like Sami’i, or 6/4 and 6/8. I have a song on my iTunes list that is in 12/8 time!! Have fun and explore the different rhythms. Extra challenge: learn how to dance to these rhythms! Can you move in 9/8 time (it’s easier than it sounds!)?