Tag Archive | weekly challenge

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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Weekly Challenge for 2-24-14

Can you believe we are already in the last week of February? I’m just hoping we don’t get a fourth polar vortex here in Chicago!

But it’s Monday, and that means it’s time for a challenge!

Chest Circles

We have another drill challenge! How many can you do in a row? How fast can you go? Can you last a whole song? How about two whole songs, one for each direction?

If you don’t know how to do a chest circle, ask your teacher to show you how to correctly do this movement!

This week, try it each day and see how much you improve! (Just keep in mind that this is only a week, which is not a lot of time for learning/improving a move!)

Let us know how you do!

Here’s some tips:

  • Faster, smaller is the name of the game. Don’t try to do huge chest circles when you go fast.
  • It’s extremely important to keep your technique perfect. If you can’t do a good chest circle fast, slow it down and build up the speed slowly. Check yourself in the mirror to make sure you don’t get sloppy.
  • There are many ways to do chest circles, so don’t fret too much about which one is “right.” Each has a different look and emphasis, so pick one you like, but make sure the movement is safe. If you are not sure, check with your teacher to ensure you are doing safe movements.

    Happy circling!

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Weekly Challenge for 2-17-14

It’s Monday, time for the weekly belly dance challenge!

Proprioception

What a fun word! What is it? Proprioception is actually a sense, like hearing or vision, and it is how we know where our body parts are in relationship to the rest of our body and in space.

Here’s a fun exercise (and no, it’s not the challenge!): Close your eyes and reach your arms out to the sides, fully extended. Now try to touch the end of your nose with one finger of your right hand without moving your head. Extend the arm back out and try it with your left.

Proprioception is how we can touch our own noses with our eyes closed. How did you do?

Our brain has a map of our body and a kind of “map” of the space around us. “Clumsy” people actually usually have low proprioception and bang into things because their brain either isn’t paying attention or doesn’t have an accurate map of either the body or the space. In dance, if our proprioception isn’t great, our movements tend to be less of what the teacher wants, we can’t practice without mirrors, and learning new movements is extremely difficult.

If you didn’t do so well touching your nose, don’t despair! Proprioception can be trained!

Here’s the challenge, for all levels this week.

Practice without a mirror.

BUT, while you are practicing, be aware of what your body is doing. How does a maya FEEL in your body?

For this week, maybe you can stick to movements you know pretty well, and instead of concentrating on how they LOOK (in the mirror), concentrate on how they feel. If you ever want to perform, there will be no mirror for you to check and make sure your maya is correct. Your body has to know how it feels to know whether the hip is actually making it out to where it is supposed to go.

If you are learning new movements, a mirror is essential in making sure that you are doing it correctly by how it looks. Once you have that down, take the mirror away and again concentrate on the feeling.

For more advanced dancers, if you practice choreographies or layering or even facial expressions normally with a mirror, try it without one this week. Same thing – new techniques should be blocked out in the mirror, then take it away and see how it feels.

I actually do not practice with a mirror AT ALL. That’s primarily due to the fact that I only have a small mirror, but I still wouldn’t want to practice in front of one regularly. Of course, when I’m trying out new techniques, or if I’m trying to check to make sure something looks right, I will drag out my mirror and make sure it’s right before practicing without it.

Happy dancing!

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Weekly Challenge for 2-10-14

Monday! Time for this week’s challenge!

Creativity

Belly dance is an art form. That means it taps into our creativity. Yes, belly dance is also a folk dance, which means it is traditional and creativity has less of a place (though there is still a place for creativity even in the traditional!)

And being creative is not something that you are just born with. Yes, many people are born with certain aptitudes for certain creative skills. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have to work on their creativity just like they need to work on their dance skills. And people who claim to not be very creative can increase their creativity; they don’t have to be “born with it.”

Even if you never want to perform professionally or in a troupe, being creative is a life skill. It helps in almost every job, helping you to think outside the box, or at least help you last through your shift without wanting to harm yourself or others.

So how do you increase your creativity? Easy, do something creative.

Many people think that creativity is like a well. Once you use it up, it’s gone, and you may have to wait awhile for it to fill up again. In some cases, this may be true, especially if you have strong demands on your creativity and do nothing to replenish it. For most people, though, creativity is like a muscle. Use it, and it only gets stronger, bigger, more useful. If you take care of it, it will never burn out or get torn or crap out on you. Build it carefully, and it supports you, muscles you through difficult times, and can be quite impressive.

How do you build creativity?

Just like building muscle. Dancers should cross train; they should take strength training classes, or do yoga, or do some other sport that can build leg and core strength or help with balance, speed, and fluidity. Cross training helps avoid injury due to repetitive movement, giving your body and muscles something else to do besides hundreds of mayas.

Your creativity needs cross training too! Even if you have no skill whatsoever in anything creative other than dance, try to do something else! Learn to draw, or play an instrument (I HIGHLY recommend dancers learn music…it will make you a better dancer!). Spend time coloring in your kid’s coloring book. Get dirty in some clay.

Your challenge this week to, in addition to your regular movement practice, spend some time building your creative muscles. Try not to choreograph anything this week, or do anything else creative with dance. Instead, spend that time drawing, or playing, or sculpting, or making jewelry! Replenish your creative well, or build your creative muscle, by doing things that are fun, even if you aren’t that great at it. Building skill in another art form is not the goal this week (this is a belly dance blog!) But building creativity is, and you can only do that by doing more creative things!

Happy creating!

And hey, share with me what you’ve done this week! Post photos or videos to share with me and other dancers what you did this week to build those creative muscles!

 

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Weekly Challenge for 2-3-14

A whole new month! A whole new week! Time for another challenge!

Stage Presence

I’ve blogged about this before, but I thought this would make another good topic for the weekly challenge. What is stage presence? It’s the command you have of your audience as a performer. It’s not about just getting up on stage and dancing. Stage presence is your character, how you present yourself, how you interact with the audience, and then…way down the list…what techniques you are doing and how you are doing them.

I hear it a lot — and I agree with it — that many professional dancers would much rather watch other dancers having fun (even if the technique is so-so) than a mechanically perfect dancer whose head could be screwed off and replaced with another and there would be no difference. To put it a little harshly, if you are dead from the neck up, then you might as well not even be there.  If you aren’t having fun, the audience isn’t having fun. If you aren’t feeling the emotion or character you are trying to convey, then the audience won’t get it.

Dance isn’t just about what awesome techniques you can do.  It’s about the performance.  That’s what we do, we perform. I’ve blogged a lot about creating characters and challenges for adding drama to your performances. If you are new to the weekly challenge, try out one of those maybe this week.  Or, take a peek at this one:

Beginner: Again you may be telling yourself (or shouting it at the screen) that you have no interest in performing, and that is totally, totally fine.  However, this is the perfect time to start learning how to perform, not just do movements. Don’t wait until your technique is solid and you are chomping at the bit to perform to try to learn these skills (if you do decide you want to perform). These skills are like any other: they take time and practice to master. Starting now will only help you in the long run, and they are fun anyway. This week, while you are drilling or practicing your combos, try imagining yourself on a stage. Don’t get nervous, because you really aren’t on stage! But think about what it would be like: the lights shining in your eyes, you in that beautiful costume, performing to your favorite song. What sort of character are you? It doesn’t have to be anything complex, just think about who you want to be on stage. Do you want to be Dina or Randa? Pretend you are Zoe or Rachel! (a caution here: don’t compare yourself to these dancers, for that way lies frustration and disappointment. Instead, just imagine you are them, and project what you think of as essentially Dina or essentially Rachel onto your own skin*). Do this every day you practice, and maybe mix it up a little!

Intermediate: Whether you perform with a student troupe or not, this really is the time to make sure you are starting to get performance skills practice in your regular practice.  It’s more than just smiling on stage. Smile while you practice, or project whatever other emotion your teacher has told you to try for that performance (fusion troupes often have other emotions, but it’s perfectly okay to just be happy). And we’ll take it a step further. If you are supposed to be happy while you are performing, start thinking about things that make you happy. Yes, you are trying to remember choreography, but hopefully you have practiced it enough your body could do it while you were sleeping. And being too nervous before a performance can sabotage your memory. Relax and think of something happy while you practice. It will make your smile genuine instead of the plastered on, “I’m-really-nervous-and-would-rather-be-somewhere-else-but-I’m-here-so-SMILE!” smile. If happy isn’t your emotion, then use whatever it is while you practice. If sad, think of something sad (but don’t make yourself cry! You don’t want to smear makeup on stage!). If angry, get angry.

Advanced: I watch a lot of belly dance because I enjoy it. But too often the piece I enjoy the most is the one that is off-the-wall, silly, or just plain fun, not the technically perfect one. Or maybe it’s the truly imaginative one, or the different, unusual (maybe even avant-garde) one, regardless of technique. Yes, technique is important. But so is stage presence. You should be practicing stage presence just as much as your technique. Imagine how wonderful it would be to see an engaging, fun, AND technically perfect dance! Use the previous exercises to improve your stage presence this week. But the most important challenge for you this week is this: make a commitment to working on stage presence not just for this week, but for the rest of your career. Every day this week, look in the mirror when you practice–drills or choreo–and try to find that character, that spark, that bit of silliness or fun or scary, and work it into the stage persona. Will it to come out and make a home in your dance practice. Nurture it this week, and make a promise to it that you will continue to do so, forever and ever.

Happy dancing!

*There has been some discussion about copy-catting and finding your own style recently. I wanted to add here that I do not think it is okay to copy other dancers’ styles. However, this is a perfectly valid exercise for new dancers. It’s not about copying their style, but about learning how to perform a character, and most dancers, even new dancers, will know these famous dancers only as “characters” not as someone to “copy” or “steal” from. There is a caution here, too, though for newer dancers: while it is okay, in the beginning, to try on new styles and characters, it is important to remember that you are not Rachel Brice or Dina. Use them as inspiration for your own style, when you get to that point.

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Weekly Challenge for 1-27-14

This January has been especially brutal. Bitter cold, lots of snow, and now back to bitter cold here in Chicago. This type of weather can be challenging for dancers, especially if we have to be out in it before we get to class or a gig!

Staying Warm

It is super important that dancers take care of their bodies, especially in cold weather. We are more susceptible to injury due to cold muscles and improper warm-ups (especially at gigs, where we often don’t have the time!), and also illness if we don’t take care of ourselves.

So this week’s challenge is all about staying warm (which believe me, with these wind chills, will be difficult!). But not just staying warm. Your challenge this week is to take care of your body and warm up PROPERLY in order to prevent injury.  Try it for a week, and see how it feels!

If you are a student, work with your teacher to find a movement-based warm-up that focuses on gentle and expansive movements that get the blood flowing to all parts of the body.  If you are a teacher and/or performer, you owe it to yourself and your students to warm-up properly before class and before gigs. Even a five minute movement warm-up is better than nothing, though 15 minutes is considered ideal (especially if it’s cold!)

Tips:

  • Stretching is NEVER a warm-up, but it is especially dangerous in the cold. You can do harm to your muscles if you immediately start an intense yoga session or stretching “warm-up” straight out of the cold weather. Keep yoga at the end of your practice, especially if you are not used to doing yoga all the time. Many yogin forget that not all of us are super-bendy straight out of bed (or out of the cold…or at all…) and lead us through challenging moves and positions which can be dangerous for muscles. Talk to your teacher (in private) if you are concerned that their stretching warm-ups might be harmful. Always be your own advocate; it’s YOUR body, YOU must take steps to take care of it!
  • Warm up even before a gig. I’ve seen a lot of dancers get ready, get dressed, and then hop on stage without even so much as a thought to warming up. Wouldn’t it be especially embarrassing to hurt yourself during a performance? Don’t tempt fate; warm up before you perform.
  • Use movement exercises that are gentle and build up in intensity instead of stretches (e.g. start with small shoulder rotations, then as your muscles warm, move up to larger shoulder rotations, then full arm rotations).
  • While waiting for class to begin, start your own warm-up, so that you start warm even before your teacher warms you up.
  • Wear layers! I usually start with socks and a close-fitting long-sleeved shirt over my normal dance wear. They can be removed once I’m a little warm. If the room you are in is cold, though, don’t take the layers off until you feel warm enough to do so.
  • Find a studio that’s heated! It’s not worth the injury risk to dance in an unheated studio! Bring space heaters if it’s really bad or just cancel class.  It’s not right to put your students (or put yourself, as a student) through a freezing cold session!
  • Listen to your body. If you start to hurt while dancing, you might need to back off, or warm up some more before going into your dance. Muscle cramping can be common in the cold, because we all sort of shrivel up and knot instinctively to keep our core warm. Leg, back, and shoulder muscles tend to suffer in the winter, so pay special attention to them in your warm-up.

Have any other ideas for warming up in the cold? Share ’em! Let’s all keep warm, and keep our bodies safe this winter!

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Weekly Challenge for 1-20-14

I hope you are having a wonderful and meaningful Martin Luther King day. I previously did a challenge, for last year on this important day, and would like to put that one out there again as a way to do something good for your community.

As an alternate choice, we have a drill challenge this week!

Drills, drills, drills

One of the hardest things about belly dance for many beginners is that we don’t “get it” right away. Belly dance takes intense muscle control, which takes muscle strength and muscle memory. To get that, you have to, have to, have to drill. And drill. And drill some more.

It’s boring, and it’s hard, and it’s not so fun. I agree…I got into belly dance to have fun and get fit without having to slog to the gym or do boring and “stupid” exercises. Drilling isn’t my favorite either. But I make it a game sometimes, or I try some other way to make it more fun. So, this week, we’re going to try to make drilling fun!

Every day this week, try something new for your drilling. Pick a move you need to work on, something that needs improvement, not something you already do well (although, every dancer should know to drill the basics in order to keep up the skills), and drill, drill, drill!!

Then try some of these ideas to make them fun: (just make sure to remember that the drill is still what’s important here, not the game!)

    • Get a drill partner and drill together
    • Put on your favorite song–no matter what it is–and drill something to it
    • If you have a drill partner, have a contest. See who can shimmy longest, or can do the most of your chosen move in a minute (just make sure you don’t sacrifice technique for speed; keep each other honest about whether technique is getting sloppy)
    • Start layering, even if it’s just arms, over whatever movement you are drilling
    • If you are up for it, try a marathon drill session. Drill 100 of each of the movements you are working on (just be careful with yourself and your body, and don’t overwork it and risk injury…start with 25 or 50 if 100 is too hard)
    • Smile while you drill (yes! This will make it more fun!)
    • Film yourself drilling and see what your improvement is like over the week (or longer!)

This is just the start. Come up with other ideas and see what you can do to make drilling a little bit more fun! It doesn’t have to be a slog of boring moves. Inattention is just as bad as not drilling at all, so anything to keep you drilling, keep yourself interested, is going to help in the long haul. And remember…belly dance is tough, but the rewards are well worth it!

Happy drilling!

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Weekly Challenge for 1-13-14

Shouldn’t Monday the 13th be scarier than Friday the 13th? But it *is* Monday, and that means it’s time for the Weekly Challenge!

Making Shapes

Dancing is many things, and one of those things is making pleasing shapes with the body. We’re going to make that our challenge for this week!

Beginner: What shapes can you make? Has your teacher started you on chest circles? Hip circles? What about boxes? What other shapes can you make with the movements you know now? Maybe suggest to your teacher this week that you work on making interesting shapes with body movements. Figure 8s, circles, boxes…hearts? Stars? Have fun and play around! Practice making different shapes every day this week, and see what you can come up with.

Intermediate: A shape doesn’t necessarily have to mean a closed object, like a box or a circle.  It can be a line, or a series of lines, too. This week, find a mirror and make shapes with your body, using every part of your body. Legs, arms, head, chest, hips…what shapes can you make with them? This is your silhouette, and something you should start paying attention to in your dance.  Dancing, especially belly dancing, is difficult to capture on camera well.  Having a good silhouette and pauses in your dance will make this easier.  Pay attention to the little things, like your wrists and feet. If you are making a long, beautiful line from your toes to your fingers, it doesn’t do to have your wrist flopping in the breeze! So “vogue” in the mirror every day this week and see what lovely lines and shapes you can make with your whole body!

Advanced: Making shapes on the stage is another way to make your performances more interesting.  Many of us make circles on stage–they are easy, and seem to be crowd-pleasers.  But what about other shapes? Vs, loops, figure 8s…all of these shapes may make your traveling steps more interesting.  It’s boring to watch a dancer stand in one place on the stage for too long.  Move around, but don’t just do a circle! This week, work on traveling steps that could get you around in different shapes.  Turns in a figure 8? Chonks in a V? If you do group improvisation, maybe try different types of formation changes or configurations rather than just clocking or fading lines and staggers. Does it work? Get creative and try out new shapes!

Happy dancing!

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Weekly Challenge for 1-6-14

It’s a New Year! A whole new year for more Weekly Challenges! I hope you are up for it, because I know I am. First, let’s get to some business.  If you have liked any of my weekly challenges, I need you to help me out.  Please use the links at the bottom to tweet about it, or share this post on Facebook.  It gets harder and harder to keep this a FREE blog, because social media is making it harder and harder to reach people. If I can’t reach people, why do it? I love writing these challenges, but I need to reach more people! So this is a call to all the fans of the Weekly Challenge! Let’s get it out there!

Dancing through Adversity

Okay, so not all of us were sick or injured over this past holiday, but I know I sure was (very ill!) Dancing while sick is a difficult challenge, and one that I kind of failed at.  I was a couch potato for nearly a week, and I think even that short of a time impacted my practice.

We all have things that keep us from dancing, whether it be illness, injury, time, other commitments… There are a myriad reasons that prevent us from dancing.  But dancing is something that we should prioritize.  It should be on the list of “I must get this done today.” Why? The benefits of dancing are many.  Not only do we hone our craft, but dancing is good for the body, mind, and spirit.  We should make taking care of ourselves a priority.  If we have nothing to give, how can we expect to help others?

This week, think about what your biggest challenge is towards dancing every day (or at least most days of the week). Write it down. Don’t be judgmental about it, just write it down as a simple fact. “I work a full day and I’m too tired to dance when I get home” is what you want, not, “I work, and I’m tired, and then I feel bad about not dancing, so I eat a pint of ice cream and watch Once Upon a Time instead.” The first one is a fact, the second one shows judgment (and guilt).

Every day this week, see if that statements holds true.  Did you really not have time for dance, or are you just using it as an excuse? Were you really tired, or did you really just want to sit and watch a movie? Of course, many of us do have real, valid excuses for not getting up and dancing, and that’s okay.  Having priorities and commitments and illnesses doesn’t make us bad people when they prevent us from dancing. What we are doing here is sorting out what is truly an adverse situation and what is an excuse.

If you find you just have excuses, why? If you really love dancing, why avoid it?  Maybe it’s time to sit down and re-think a few things.

But if you find you really do have problems that prevent you from dancing, is there anything you can do to change them? Being ill is a tough one, but many times, if we get up and do a little bit – even just one little shimmy drill – it will actually make us feel better. This week, try to change those situations. Steal five minutes to warm up and move your hips a bit. Get off of the couch, stick a tissue in your nose, and work on arms. Child who can’t sleep? Try rocking them while doing figure 8 hips. Brainstorm and try out some of these ideas every day this week.

We can dance, even through adversity.  The benefits of dance are many, and we should reap those benefits, even when we are feeling bad, or are too busy, sick, or injured to want to do it.

One thing: always check with your doctor first, if you have serious medical conditions, before dancing or doing any other activity!

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