Despite my hectic week, I did indeed manage to sift through all my dance music (over 1000 songs) and pick something suitable. I was initially going to pick something very slow, but I found a mix of “Move Your Belly” on the “Belly Dancer’s Odyssey” CD. If you are unfamiliar with the song, here’s a YouTube clip with it.

I’m thinking about light choreography. I haven’t choreographed much lately, and although I think of myself as more of an improv dancer, I’d like a back up plan should my mind blank. I haven’t done any performance-y stuff in about 3 years, and I haven’t done any solo work in 4 years. That’s what grad school and trying to stay afloat did to me; I had no time to really plan out a performance or seek gigs.

Despite the hafla being so soon, I’m very excited now that I have a song.

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For those not in the know, a hafla in the US is a smallish, informal party where there is a combination of open floor dancing and performances. I signed up to perform.

I’ve been crazy busy lately (three jobs is rough), but I figure that I can either make excuses or just freakin’ do it. I chose the latter, despite

  • My perfectionist tendencies. One of the reasons I hesitate to perform often is because I want to be perfect.
  • I’m struggling to pick music. I decided against drum solo-y stuff, because that’s my default.
  • I have nothing to wear. I have one pair of LRose glitter velvet pants and some random Melodia tops. Nothing really looks that amazing together. Being broke most of the time meant I could buy costumes or pay for lessons. Lessons won out. I don’t regret it, but I’m having trouble matching stuff. LRose Designs takes about 3 weeks or so; I imagine that it may be longer, since Rakassah is coming up. Troupes often rely on LRose Designs for costumes, since they are ridiculously good quality and custom-made.

I’ve made the following decisions: no veil (if I’m wearing velvet, the silk will cling), no zills (out of practice), not “pure” Egyptian (costuming isn’t really appropriate), and slowish music.

Any suggestions? Good wishes?

Although it would’ve made more sense to start with Secrets of the Stage: Vol 1, I foundĀ  Secrets of the Stage Volume 3: A Performance Course for Belly Dancers by Michelle Joyce on the Bhuz Swap. The deal was good and it helped a lady out.

The Secrets of the Stage series is produced by Michelle Joyce, a dancer in the Bay-area. She has a very good company, dedicated to making quality DVDs for primarily Middle Eastern Dance. They’re a steal at about $20/DVD. She produced last week’s video, Fabulous 4 Yard Veils.

Secrets of the Stage is different from other DVDs or even classes, because the DVD is dedicated to performance, not dance technique. If you are a student of Middle Eastern dance and want to go professional, classes may not offer all the behind the scenes information it takes to be a professional dancer. Michelle uses real working dancers to help present topics that working dancers should know about. Most of the DVD is like watching a movie with the commentary turn on; there’s video in the background but a voiceover, discussing a topic. The topics for Vol 3 are “Dancing to Live Music,” “Inspiration and Creativity”, “Your Professional Image”, and an extra section on some Arabic that’s useful to know. Rather than discuss the DVD in bulk, I thought I’d go section by section.

  • Dancing to Live Music. Like many dancers, I haven’t had the opportunity to work with live musicians. The dancers and the musician in this section gave hints and overall, encouragement, in dancing to live music. They all made very good points about how handle the situation so that everyone (musician, dancer, and audience) is happy. The only thing that would’ve made this section better is if the comments were more about what was going on on screen, rather than simply general comments about working with live music.
  • Inspiration and Creativity. I liked this section a lot, since this is one of the many places I get stuck. I thought the tips were excellent, some new, some not new. Again, I would’ve really liked more comments on the actual performances of the dancers, rather than just general tips. I was hoping this would be more “Behind the Dance” type thing, where each dancer would explain her specific motivations and inspirations. I think my favorite part was when someone (I forget who) said that it’s important to create, even if it isn’t perfect. Being the kind of person who wants something perfect, I appreciate reminders that I should create, rather than wait and worry to make something perfect.
  • Your Professional Image. This section contained info on makeup and photo shoots. The dancers narrated how she applies her stage makeup. The makeup section I thought I would be more helpful if they were more broad tips, like the difference between stage makeup and more up close work, like restaurants or how lights can affect how your makeup looks. The photo shoot advice was helpful for someone like me, who has never had a photo shoot. Michael Baxter (a photographer) provided information how to get the most out of your photo shoot, from setting the background to creating good poses. My only other comment on this section is I wish there had been more about creating a professional image. I thought the start was strong, but I would have liked to have seen some information on other professional aspects, like websites, business cards, ads, etc. Perhaps another DVD?
  • Survival Arabic. Leyla Lanty is too cute! The survival Arabic is just a small taste of Arabic, to help dancers know a few words. I like languages and I like knowing what the lyrics are, so I wish that this section had been longer. Evidently, Leyla Lany teaches a longer survival Arabic workshop for dancers, so if you’re like me, strapped for cash and time, that may be a good supplement to this section. I found the section a little helpful; I know a few Arabic words, from teachers giving me a little crash course in words that frequently appear in lyrics. I didn’t know, however, the word structures or about the lyrics in general. Leyla Lanty seems to know a lot about it.

This DVD offers quite a bit. If you have no one around to help you with your budding professional career as a dancer, there is a great deal of information that is important and helpful. If you are more like me and have spent ample time on the Internet and learning these things via class and workshops, I don’t think it is as necessary but still has information to offer. I found the DVD very enjoyable to watch and liked hearing different dancers’ takes on their topics.

I decided wherever I end up during fall 2009, I’m going to make a very big effort to dance more. I want to do something professional soon (in a few years or so) with dance, and I’ve been thinking about what I need to do this summer.

  • I need to come up with some solid choreography. That will entail picking music, “mapping” it, and then dancing to it.
  • I think I should be able to play zills. I’m getting better just doing walking steps and learning a few new rhythms, but I really want to dance with it. I think it’s important to have a strong grasp of a few typical props. I feel like my veil is pretty decent, my cane is okay, but I know zills is bit lacking with me. This is going to involve learning the rhythms as well.
  • I definitely think my technique is stronger, significantly stronger, but I want to really add floorwork to it. I’m not a huge floorwork fan (I lose a lot of height if I’m kneeling), but again, I think floorwork can be dynamic and beautiful when used appropriately
  • Style is something that I’m always working on. I don’t want to be a cookie-cutter dancer, ie. I don’t want to be a lesser version of someone famous. I want people to see me and feel like they’re seeing someone original, not “Hey, she moves just like ____!” I’m not saying I want to do crazy fusions or be sloppy, but I definitely think you can take several of the top dancers in any style and they will be distinct.

I was regretful my veil class was canceled this summer, but I think the extra 3 hours will be good for me to start really executing things. Does anyone have any experience or advice in how they took themselves to the proverbial next level?

Last week I went to a workshop about improvisation dance. My first dalliance with improv was in NZ, when we had 5 minutes of “play time”, where the teacher would put on music for the last 5 minutes of class to let us jam. It was so difficult. My mind would freeze, and I would default to doing almost nothing. However, despite how terrifying this is, improv is so important. You can forget choreography, the song you want to play doesn’t play, or if you’re dancing to live music, anything can happen.

The improv workshop that Sonya ran at Arabesque helped make things better. I still obviously have work to do with improv to get my game up, but it’s was quite helpful. Firstly, I must say I love these workshops, because they’re intimate groups of about 10-15 people. Sonya has us introduce ourselves and tell the group why we’re interested in the workshop. Since I see some of these people weekly, it’s nice to know their names.

After learning about our hopes with the workshops and other issues with improv, Sonya went over a lot of information. She created workshops for us to fill out in our spare time. They were about writing down moves we know, favorite moves, building combos, etc. Very useful stuff so that you’re not creating a dance out of nothing. This weekend or over the holiday, I plan on working on this. I think it’s going to help me remember and feel like I know something. For me, the hardest things about dance are remembering I know moves and combos; I usually default to a down figure eight or maya or make pretty shapes with my arms.

Sonya also went over popular rhythms in Middle Eastern music and explained how important it is to count or know the “1” in rhythms, so you know where you are in the music. Understanding and knowing the rhythms is important, because you know what it’s going to sound like. She also discussed moves that she liked to do with different instruments that are found in Middle Eastern music.

She ended the workshop with having us play with different music she selected and then discuss the issues that we found when we tried improv. That was surprisingly hard but got progressively easier. The key seemed to be some kind of familiarity. That little bit of practice helped get my mind working on improv and wanting to do it more.

I think this workshop was a great tool to help me grow as an improv dancer. Although I walked out of there having learned something, I still need to practice. One of the greatest points Sonya drives home is the idea of practice. I know I tend to see people and think they’re just born with some special talent and don’t practice. It seems like everyone believes strongly that the only way to truly develop yourself is through practice. I definitely will start including improv as part of my practice from now on.

Someone located my blog by the search term “I don’t know how to dance but I want to.” Without knowing what kind of dance that person wanted to learn, I can’t give specific advice, but I hope it is helpful for someone.

I think if you didn’t grow up with dance lessons, you feel hesitant to start. I did a little, since I live very much inside my head and don’t have a gigantic connection with my body. For most people, I thoroughly recommend finding a good teacher and not going with an instructional DVD. Why? A good teacher (note: the teacher must be good) will correct bad body habits ASAP and prevent damage to your body. It is very hard to unlearn bad habits in the body. DVDs can be a great supplement to your education, particularly when you get familiar with the proper posture, but they can’t correct you and you can’t ask it questions.

If you’re nervous about being too old/overweight/out of shape/etc., I would not. Particularly with every Middle Eastern dance class I’ve taken, most of the women are at least 40s and were not athletically inclined. I know that most dance forms offer an adult class, and from what I understand, the students range from absolute beginners to former dancers.

Once you find the teacher and commit to the class, make a point of regularly going. Also, practice outside of your class. These two older women in my veil class wanted to see my shimmy and were impressed. I have a good shimmy (the up and down hip variety), because I practiced that thing like crazy until I got it. I told them it comes with practice, but I think they were still left a little dazzled. Although there may be some people in the class with innate abilities, probably a lot of the better students practice or attend classes more frequently or have some prior background. Don’t be discouraged by them. It takes time to get good at anything.

Finally (and this is advice I am now taking), take time to enjoy the music. It’s so easy to drill technique and get stuck in that, but truly dancing to the music is more important, in my opinion. Even if you let loose only for a short song, let yourself do that at the end of every practice you have for yourself.

Good luck!

One of the most difficult parts of studying a dance from a country not your own is familiarizing yourself with your music. I wrote an entry a while back aboutĀ  how to build a good music collection. This entry is more about how to get yourself adjusted to the music, since understanding the music is very important for dancing to it.

The best way to get used to it is to listen to the music as much as possible. If you drive or take public transit, play your music in your car or through your headphones. Play it while you clean. And certainly play your music while you dance.

Also, when you’re buying new music, try to pick up different artists and types. Not all artists in the same category are the same sounding and there is definitely variation among region to region. Buying online is usually a good way to pick your music, since you can hear a little sample before actually purchasing. Another good way to find leads on who you like is buying a sampler or compilation. You’ll probably determine what you like and dislike quickly.

For some people, they love the music and dance simultaneously. Others- they take a little while to warm up to the music. I’d be patient and try to really absorb the music. It’ll make dancing easier, and you’ll have a deeper understanding of the dance you’re studying. Even if you intend on not using the traditional music and are going for more of an ethnic styling, you should really familiarize yourself with the originals. You don’t know what you like until you try it, and it’s almost always better to break the rules once you know them instead of wantonly breaking out of tradition.