Saturday, March 31, 2007

Connecting with your audience

As our show nears closer and closer, my students are starting to perfect the steps of their dances. But there's more to a performance than just executing steps. Even a choreography that is done to perfection may be boring for an audience to watch if the dancer does not "connect with her audience."
What do I mean by "connecting with your audience?" Well, for one - you must look up! It seems so simple and obvious as you sit here and read this, but many dancers, once they are put in a situation where there is an audience watching them, find it difficult to unglue their gaze from the floor. So...look up! If you find it intimidating to catch the eye of an audience member, pick a spot right above the heads of the audience to focus you attention. The audience will not realize you are staring above them, and it keeps you from looking at the floor. And if you don't mind locking eyes with someone in the crowd, by all means, do it!!

Another tip for connecting with your audience is to enjoy what you are doing. In class, I always stress the importance of smiling, but I think true performing means more than just a smile. Don't get me wrong - if your options are "no smile" and "smile" - definitely smile! But why not try having a little more fun with it? Are you enjoying yourself? Let that show on your face. Expressions that are appropriate for the song and steps of your dance can go a long way in conveying to the audience that you love what you are doing, and they should love it too.

Finally, it's important to remember that, especially if you are performing on a stage, the audience will see everything much smaller than it actually is. For the same reason that stage makeup is so much heavier than real life makeup, so too your moves must be a bit bigger and more defined when you are on stage, versus when you are in class. I'm not advocating forgetting all your form and technique and going all-out crazy when you are on stage. What I'm saying is - make your hip drops sharper, your head snaps snappier, and your camels more undulate-y (what? You get what I mean...). You don't want to perform an entire drum solo of what you think are crazy shimmies, only to have your audience say "Why was that girl just standing still for most of her dance?" because your tiny shimmies got lost on their way to the audience.

So, those are my off-the-top-of-my-head suggestions for improving your "performance" skills. I know there are loads more out there, can you suggest any?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pledge your allegiance?

Do you have to? Choose a style, that is. Can you be a bellydancer and dance both tribal and cabaret styles? Some students of mine recently took a tribal workshop and expressed the fact that it seems difficult to learn both styles, since they are so similar yet have distinct ways of doing the same moves.

It sort of reminded me of trying to learn Italian in college, after taking four years of Spanish in high school. I had always wanted to learn Italian, and I thought that my background of Spanish would help me, since the two languages are so similar. What I learned, however, was that the similarities actually made it sooooo much harder. The two languages actually merged into one, completely incorrect, language in my head. I lost the ability to put a sentence together in Spanish, without throwing some Italian in there, and I could never have a conversation in Italian without it being part Spanish.

Is this similar to the the tribal and cabaret conundrum? I have to admit I have no experience with tribal, so I'd like to hear your thoughts. Ladies who have crossed over to the "other" side - what do you think? Can you do both?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Choreography 101

With the show quickly approaching, many of my students are putting the finishing touches on their solo choreographies. I realize that choreographing a dance is not an easy task, so if you are attempting to put together your first choreography, kudos to you!!

I've choreographed many dances in my life (bellydance and other) and I've watched many students perform their own choreographies for the first time. Here are some observations I've made, that may guide you as you put your dance together:

1) Listen to the music! Too many times, I see a student choreography that does not interpret the music the student is dancing too. You should keep in mind that you are dancing TO the music, not just dancing with music in the background. Don't just string together eight counts of one step, eight counts of another, eight counts of another, and so on, regardless of what the music is doing. If the music is changing rhythm, or tempo, change your steps to match. If there are accents in the song, hit the accents with your body. The whole point of dance (any type of dance) is to interpret music. Let that come through in your own choreographies.

2) Take up the whole stage! (Or dance studio, or living room...). Don't just stand in one place and do your steps. Especially if you are choreographing a solo! One person on a stage, standing in one place, will get lost. Use traveling steps, take up the whole stage, and make your presence felt!

3) Choose a song that works for you! Don't try to force yourself to choreograph to a classical Egyptian song, if you normally go the pop music route. You need to be inspired to choreograph; chosing a song that doesn't speak to you will make the process even more difficult. An uninspired choreography is no fun to watch!

So, now what? You have your song, you are inspired, you are ready to cover ground and interpret to your music. What do you do now? Well, listen to the music. Put the song on and just dance around your house to it. See what the song makes you want to do. Do this a few times, and try to remember some of the steps you feel most natural doing to this song. Then, listen to the first few counts of 8 (or 6, or whatever your song is). Choreograph that section only, really listening to the music and using it to your advantage. Do the rest of the dance the same way - a small section at a time. If you get stuck, go back to step one - just let the music play and start dancing. You will be inspired again, and can draw from that inspiration to add to your choreography.

Good luck!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

For the love of dance...

I just got back from a day of snowboarding, and I'm sore, tired - no, make that exhausted - and just want to sleep. I'd love to have a nice relaxing Sunday, like normal people, where I could sleep in, run some errands, and just rest and prepare for the work week ahead. But I haven't had a normal Sunday in years! I teach bellydance class Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, making Sundays possibly the busiest day of the week for me (because I do still need to do those errands, too!)

So, why do I do it? That's a question I often ask myself, as my normal 9 to 5 friends come home from their jobs and actually get to relax (as opposed to running out to teach a bellydance class, or changing into costume and running out to a performance). And it's a question I've been asking myself about quite a bit lately, since our Second Annual Student Showcase is coming up in a few weeks, meaning that classes are stretching into their second hours and extra practices are scheduled daily (more about the show another day!).

I've come back to the same answer to this question time and again - without bellydance, I would not be complete. I've been dancing my whole life; since I put my first pair of tap shoes on at the age of two and a half, I've done everything from tap, jazz, lyrical, ballet, modern and hip hop. I've never felt the euphoria with any of those dance styles, that I do with bellydance. A friend asked me a while ago if there was anything in this world I was passionate about, and I told him bellydance. I told him that, when I'm performing bellydance, I don't need to fake a smile. I don't need to pretend I'm enjoying myself for the sake of putting on a good show, for the sake of entertaining the audience. I AM enjoying myself. I am smiling for ME, not for the crowd. Heck, I smile when I'm dancing in my kitchen with no one but my cats to see me. I can't help it - it just comes out. I'm happy when I dance.

So, why do I do it? Why do I put a normal life on hold, in exchange for one with late nights and early mornings, back aches and blisters? Because I LOVE this dance, and without it, my life wouldn't be normal.

What about you? Why do you do it?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Welcome to my world!

As I sat down to write my very first post of my brand new blog, devoted entirely (well, almost entirely) to my love of the art of bellydance, I racked my brain as to what to write about. In fact, I racked my brain as to what my blog would be about. I knew I wanted to write about bellydancing - I mean, why wouldn't I?? It's what I do, what I AM. But why would people want to read about what I had to say? What could I write that would actually interest people?

And that's when I decided - this blog would not be about me, it would be about you. You - my fellow bellydance enthusiasts (ok, ok, let's just say it - bellydance ADDICTS!). I want you all to tell me what to write. I think that my experiences in bellydance have given me much to offer to you, the readers. As an instructor (and a former student!), I have lots of insight as to what goes on in the mind of a student from her first attempt at a hip drop to her first on-stage performance. As a performer, I know what it's like to try and put on a show that will dazzle your audience every time. What do you want to know? Ask me, and I'll do my best to answer you.

So, thats what this blog will be about. Bellydance - my world, your world, and everything in between. I'll answer your questions, I'll make up my own, and together we can share all that we know about this beautiful art - Bellydance.