Thursday, November 19, 2009

Technique tips for the frustrated student

Be patient - this dance like any other takes time to learn. A lot of students expect to be a highly proficient dancer at the end of one or two or three terms. This isn’t an expectation that people seem to have with other dance forms like ballet. To get a movement into muscle memory you need to do it about 600 times.

I know without seeing you that you are a beautiful dancer. Why? Because every dancer is beautiful - we each have something unique and wonderful to express. Technique is the tool that allows us to express that beauty freely. Some people learn to use this tool more easily than others. Learning dance is an acquired skill - most of the rest of us actually need to learn how to learn as part of the process. Good technique takes patience and loving kindness with ourselves. Many students sabotage themselves with negative self talk. Sometimes we lose the beauty in mere mechanics. Mechanics can be learned.

EVERY dancer hits a point where she/he feels like they will never get it. I’ve been there a few times - and I’ve been dancing for almost 15 years and teaching for 10.

Here are some tips that may help you learn:

Watch your teachers feet. The feet are the foundation of every movement, stationary or traveling. Get the feet right, the rest will follow.

99% of the time when a student can’t get a move it is because her posture is not quite right or because her weight transfer is not quite right. Get your teacher to check your posture. Ask her to demonstrate the weight transfer SLOWLY multiple times.
Every move in MED has the energy flow out through the body and return to it’s origin. Work out the flow of energy for the move.

Identify the pattern that the movement makes - what shape are you drawing with the body part?
Describe the movement for yourself - draw it, make a flow chart, sing it, write it down, make a sequence of silly sounds as you do it, try to teach it to someone else - what ever works. Sometimes our brain needs to analyze it and turn it into terms that it understands. Visualize the movement.

Identify which muscles are driving the movement. Where should you be feeling it? With things like a maya - get the teacher to stand in front of you and put your hands on her hips as she moves them. Then swap. Sometimes we need to learn moves kinesthetically. Ask her to explain the move at the same time as you both do it. Eg. “Stand in good dance posture, pelvis neutral, weight even. Navel to spine. Bend your L knee, keeping the R leg straight. Shift your weight to the outer edge of your R foot, allowing the hip to move up and to the right. Bend the R leg, straighten the L leg, allow the R hip to move down and the L hip to move up, weight in the heels. Shift your weight to the outer edge of your L foot, allowing the hip to move up and to the left. Bend the L leg, straighten the R leg, allow the L hip to move down and the R hip to move up, weight in the heels. You are tilting the hips like a seesaw and then drawing a crescent down wards with one hip and then repeating on the other side to make an infinity symbol… You feel this move in your obliques, quadratus lumborum, and quadriceps during different phases of the movement.” Get the teacher to give you a way to visualize the movement. Eg. “It is like cake dough overflowing a pan while being baked” or it is “like a grain elevator dumping grain into a silo” etc.

If you get stuck try to articulate what the problem is. Eg. “I don’t understand the sequence of movements; I don’t understand the weight transfers; I’m overwhelmed trying to do everything at once; I don’t know which muscles I need to use; I don’t understand the floor pattern; I get dizzy; I don’t understand the arm sequence etc.” Once you identify why you are getting lost it becomes much easier to work on the problem. 90% of the time students get the movement a few minutes after they conceptualize the issue. Don’t ever be afraid to ask the teacher for more help - that is what you are paying them for!

Drill the movement immediately after you get home from class.

Make a time to meet up with another student to go over the new moves.

Drill 5 minutes every day - you will have it in no time.

Invest in a good teaching video and USE it. I like Belly Dance Basics and Beyond and Beautiful Technique from Step One.

Q: "In dance, it seems that I have to keep my weight over my toes (and stay light on my feet) in order to be able to move around. I can’t seem to do this!!"

Where most students have problems with this is usually postural.

Depending on the style the weight is usually in the heels when flat footed (that is, the pelvis remains in alignment over the heels). When you are on demi point this usually translates to the weight being the back of the ball of the foot. The lower body stays grounded - the upper body is lifted and a tiny tiny bit forward of the pelvis. The column of the body stays over the feet, the spine is in alignment, the column of the body is angled very very subtly forward to allow for easy movement. The pelvis stays neutral, not thrown forward. Often students have problems moving when they lean too far back or hyper extend.

I highly recommend Shareen El Safy’s DVDs for learning posture and movement. They are advanced, but they have the best info on posture I’ve ever seen.

Some tricks that will help: Ensure you are high enough up on demi pointe. Low demi pointe makes it much harder to keep your balance. Ensure that your pelvic floor and transversus abdominus (deep core muscles ) are switched on - navel to spine. Pelvis is neutral and your chest is lifted from the front and the back. The chest is kept open with a very slight sternum lift with the shoulder blades dropped gently down. This posture makes moving forward and turns really easy!

Strength exercises can really improve your ability to go up on demi pointe.

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