Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ten things that will improve your dancing

1. Keep the beat with your feet
Step the rhythm with your feet. You primarily feel the rhythm with your feet and lower body - legs and hips. When your feet 'feel' the rhythm and pulse or step on the 'doms' and lift for the 'taks' your body understands the rhythm.

2. Relax relax your hands, release your jaw.
Relax your jaw, relax your hands. Dancing with a soft jaw will relax your whole body. Also relax your hands, let them feel and flow with the music. To test this, try to shimmy with clenched fists and jaw, then relax them.

3. Dance in the music
Dance to music you love and that moves you. Know your music. Feel the music. Breath the music. Be the music. Be present, and totally immerse yourself in the music. The secrets here are a) listening, b) breathing, c) focusing, d) feeling, e) flowing. These are the great ways to centre yourself and engage wholly with the music and movement. Listen! Does the music come in 4s? Reflect the patterns the musicians are making!

4. Engage with the instruments
Simplify. In dance, less is more. Keep your moves simple, clear and clean. Your dance is the music made visible. Follow the beat and accent the beats that asked to be accented. Don't throw in accents where there are none. Let the body respond to the instrument in the way it is being played, held and felt by the musician – for example arms to flutes, shoulders to violins and req, chest to accordian, belly to oud, lower belly to qanoon, hips to guitar, hips to tabla, feet to base tabla or bigger drums. Show the quality of the music eg shimmer to vibrato.

5. Vary your movements with space, level, timing
Vary your movements with space, level changes, light and shade, timing. Soheir Zaki and Fifi Abdo have mastered the art of using only several simple moves, but making them look like many. Use your dance space when you dance – use travel variations and learn to turn well. The same move keeps its hypnotic momentum when the level is changed, ie: the knees bend to make it appear lower or the dancer raises herself on the balls of her foot to lift the move. The move can be quicker when the tempo increases or the beats occur in more rapid frequency. It can be halved and slowed down to create accented beats.

6. Let the energy ebb and flow
Bombarding your audience non stop by throwing all your energy at them is exhausting for everyone. In Egyptian style movement the dancer sends energy out of the body but she also draws it back in. Its like the ebb and flow of the waves on the seashore. This is a fundamental aspect of the luscious visceral moves. You can see this clearly in moves like an undulation.

7. Use your eyes to direct the audience’s focus.
Use your eyes to direct the audience’s focus. Draw them in and show them what you want them to look at. Don’t leer at them or stare them down. Arabic dancers use their eyes in a very relaxed yet powerful way. They see the music. Do the same when you dance. When the melodies get high and light, look upwards. For dynamic earthy drums, look down at your hips and enjoy the movement. In a taxim allow your gaze to become more inward. Avoid looking down at the floor all the time.

8. Always practice choreography WITHOUT a mirror as much as possible before performance. Particularly if dancing in a troupe!
Do I REALLY need to tell you why? It’s so easy to cue off a reflection.

9. Smile. Let your love of dance shine. Engage your audience. Let a spark of mischief delight them. Make sure you smile at women and children, and avoid the appearance of giving men in the audience ‘the eye’. Smile! Avoid "Deer in the Headlights' or the "Mummified Zombie Dancer" at all costs by making sure that the smile extends to your eyes. A rigid staring straight ahead dancer will scare the audience. Allow a little relaxed twinkle. Pick an area of the audience to smile at. Vaseline will stop your lips sticking to your teeth. If you make a mistake a chuckle and a grin will make the audience relax, and keep you in control. Smile!

10. Know your music. If improvising to a live band make sure you know your rhythms and can communicate what you want with the band and in particular the drummer. Get familiar with popular dance songs that the band is likely to play. If dancing to recorded music practice to it frequently, learn the subtleties and changes and take the time to listen and visualize your performance.

Monday, May 29, 2006

MED Videos

A question came up today in my beginner class. What are your favourite dance videos? This is a topic worth devoting a bit of time to, but I might start with a flow of conciousness response. I'll look at videos specifically for beginners in another post.

Suzanna Del Vecchio's 'Precision Motion Workout' is great. A belly dance hall of fame video. I got it when it first came out and I've been using it fairly regularly ever since. You will certainly see some improvement if you use it regularly. The other two in her set are also very good. I found 'Dynamic Combinations' quite challenging when I first got it. Modern American with a Greek/Lebanese influence.

Another one that I really like is Baraka's video 'Dancer's Toolkit'. I belive that this is currently out of print, but have heard that it might be rereleased. This one is great because it talks about posture, dance space and turns. American - influenced by folk like J. Salimpour.

Katia's 'Oriental Arms' is excellent for using your arms well. Mahisha's 'This is your hip 101' also has a good reputation.

I also like the Fat Chance Bellydance instrucional videos. They also have a mainstream media set - it's a nice cheap starter kit with a DVD, CD, Book and Zills - better than all the other cheap ones that I've seen. The zills are reasonable beginner zills unlike most cheap sets that one sees. The DVD has extracts from the FCBD instructional series, and Carolena is an inspiration! Her beginner video was the first one that I ever bought. It has now been re-released. Great if you like tribal style. The posture is rather different to modern egyptian, the musical interpretation is very different.

I like Jillina's Instrucional Belldance 3 DVD set too - very good value for money, and much better content than some of the mainstream videos. Modern American with a strong modern egyptian influence. Very heavily influenced by jazz. It's good for people who have a few moves and want to learn how to link them together... I quite like her drum choreo dvd too - nice teaching even though I'm not a huge fan of the style.

For serious intermediate++ dancers (those making the transition to advanced) I recommend Shareen El Safy's videos. Modern Egyptian - Shareen studied and performed with many of the greats like Souhair Zaki. These are advanced - the choreo may take a while for an intermediate+ to get but Shareen teaches a lot of subtle stuff about modern Egyptian posture that really makes a difference for most dancers. Bear in mind that you have to work hard with these - you are not spoonfed like many of the more commercial videos. The production values are rather home made but the content is fantastic. The dance history and explaination of how the greats did the steps that they became famous for are worth every penny! Not really suitable for beginners - may prove too frustrating because of the complexity and subtlty of the moves.

Raqia Hassan is another favourite - Modern Egyptian all the way. Suitable for advanced as choreography/technique is not broken down in the typical western way. You need to be able to "follow the bouncing butt"! She is Egypt's most famous female choreographer. Yowza! Again rather homemade production but priceless if you like modern Cairo style.

Another teacher who I really like is Zahra Zuhair. Her beginner tape is excellent for serious students-"Middle Eastern Dance Basics"- one of my friends has it. I love love love her "Advanced Oriental Dance class". Nice Combos. Fantastic shimmy drill!!! You WILL sweat! You'll grow as a dancer with this one!

Sahra Kents's "Sahra's Signature Series: Volume 1 - Arms and Torso" is another favourite - excellent technique work for real Egyptian style dance. I like her postural work. This builds real core (including back) strength for dance. Wonderful. Great for fixing sloppy arms. Her performance vids are nice too. I really really wish she would put out more videos!


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Leaving the oasis

A new blog that will document my current creative activities including middle eastern dance teaching, music and video reviews and the formation of a new raqs sharqi group in Canberra Australia.