Gilded Serpent presents...
Improvement Ideas for the Growing Dancer
we all reach points in our development where we are not sure
how to improve. We’ve taken so many classes and workshops,
and we perform regularly, but it seems that we cannot grab
that illusive thing called growth, at least at the rate at
which we desire. Most classes and workshops are geared for
beginner and intermediate students and most advanced training
is merely a shallow continuation of previous levels. This typically
leaves a dancer's development to time and experience, which
can be frustrating for those of us seeking to quickly become
well-rounded dancers. Often, finding avenues that cater to
our educational needs is difficult and is frequently an obstacle
to our professional growth.
is for those of us that would like to delve into areas of the
art form that may be beyond the usual class topics. This is not due to the failing
of instructors everywhere, because much of our growth as dancers
is very personal, and it is really up to us, as individual
dancers, to seek out knowledge applicable to our needs (when
we are ready to receive it), and to practice consistently to
foster growth over time, outside of the dance studio.
are some ideas on what dancers can do to increase their skills
as dancers, performers, and entertainers, as well
as increase their knowledge of dance related topics:
to the Basics…and Beyond
You can never be too good
technically! Dancers are just like athletes. To perform at high
levels, you must consistently drill the basics
and constantly increase your level of technical difficulty. Okay,
so you have a great hip drop, but can you do that hip drop with
various traveling foot patterns? Can you overlay that hip drop
over something else? Can you layer other movements over that
hip drop? Can you hip drop with precision at different trajectories
and heights? Is that hip drop just as precise when done fast
or slow? The possibilities are endless! There is always something
to improve, regarding technique. I would encourage you not to
be complacent with knowing how to do any move only one way. Definitely,
drilling and experimenting with movement should be a part of
your regular practice routine. There are many DVDs available
that focus on drilling, if you need some ideas on what to do.
we get so caught up in amassing knowledge that we stop physically
practicing. While imaginary dance practice has its place,
it is no substitute for real practice. Again–dancers
are athletes. “You must use it, or you will lose it!” It is a
cliché, because it is true. Take a class to stay in condition,
or try a new class to check out the approach of a different instructor.
Work on old choreographies, perfecting them or changing them.
Find DVDs that you can use on a daily or weekly basis to maintain
skill or to learn something new.
a Mentor or a Coach
If you don’t
have one already, a mentor or a coach can be an important
catalyst for change in a dancer’s career. They can help you identify
gaps in your skills and knowledge. Often, our own perception
of things can be “off”. Mentors can offer valuable insight
that would, otherwise, come the hard way. Remember: they have
been where you are now, and can provide advice that may help
you avoid common pitfalls. If you don’t have a mentor or coach
and are not sure how to find one, look for professional dancers
or instructors who are highly respected in your community. Find
someone whom you admire and is able to act as your role model.
Only a dancer who has “been there and done that” can better help
you get to that special place in your career. If your desire
is to be a good restaurant performer, find a mentor that has
effectively done that. Don’t choose someone who has never danced
in restaurants! If you want to try competitions, find
a coach that has placed in a competition, has a record of students
that have placed, or at least has trained intensively with ones
If you are
mainly an American Cabaret dancer, have you explored or honed
skills in classical or modern Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese, or
increased your knowledge of their origins? If you are
skilled in tribal or fusion styles, maybe going back to more
traditional styles or learning a different dance form, can give
you a fresh approach. Try something entirely new to get your
body and mind working in different ways. There are many regional
folk dances and styles in which you could learn more about and
increase your knowledge and skills. Choose something and spend
the time and effort to become proficient.
a New Prop or Improve Use
of an Old One
are not a prop, have you neglected to learn to use them well
or are your current skills stagnating.? New DVDs have
recently hit the market addressing advanced zil playing. Study
with a master zil player or start learning how to use them. Learn
more difficult veil moves. You can start studying an entirely
new prop (stage property): single or double veils, capes, cane,
different objects of fire, candles, balancing trays or swords,
voi (veiled poi), fans, almost anything goes in Belly dance these
days. Maybe your discovery will be the next big workshop topic!
perception of what think we are doing and what we are
actually doing in performance is not “in sync”. Have a friend
or family member video your performances occasionally, so you
can monitor what you are doing and immediately correct anything
that has become a bad habit in your dancing. It can also show
you what you are doing right in performance. Perhaps you are
not aware that your left hand flips incessantly, or that you
lick your lips too much, or that you really are doing too much
of one thing. Only video or a really observant and brutally honest
critic will clue you in to those details.
you decide to actually compete is your decision, but it never
hurts to train on this level. Many competitions post their judging
criteria online. This information is a guideline regarding the
qualities that are expected in a good Belly dance performer.
If you do decide to compete (for the learning experience), it
is a good idea to compete in a contest that offers feedback from
the judges. There are a few competitions that only provide a
numeric score with no written feedback. You can imagine how much
more valuable written feedback could be to the growing dancer
who is interested in what high quality dancers think of her performance.
Enroll in an
Extended Workshop from a Top Professional Instructor
instructors hold weeklong workshops around the world. Frequently,
it takes more than a 3-hour workshop to really soak in
the style and movements of others. “Week-longs” are a great way
to really get familiar with another style. Additionally, you
have the benefit of getting to know and learn from some of Belly
dances’ true master performers.
just watching other dancers is enough inspiration to get back
on track. You can learn so much about what to do and what not
to do simply by watching other dancers! Since I started
dancing, I have noticed certain qualities in other dancers that
I have hoped to acquire. I remember Saqra’s sense of humor and
freedom, Delilah’s confidence and strength, Tamallyn’s creative
expression, Nadira’s grace and fluidity, and Ansuya’s abandon.
There have been countless others who have inspired me to grow
beyond simply executing movement into becoming a true entertainer.
Better Acquainted with Your
taken the time to learn the names and time signatures of rhythms
commonly used in our dance form? Can you recognize them in your
dance music? Have you explored the more oddly metered rhythms?
Do you know about their origins or if they are tied to a specific
dance or region? Have you learned about the most common maqamat?
Do you even know what a maqam is?
music knowledge, you may also delve into you own musicality.
Mentally deconstruct your music. Learn to recognize the maqam,
base rhythm, common rhythmic accents, the melody, the different
instruments and what movements work well with the various
aspects of your music. Match your dance with the flavor or
mood of the song during your practice. Find a song’s lyrics
and practice expressing those lyrics in an authentic (or
or Update Your Image
all know that it’s what’s inside that counts, but to think that
you could go onstage with minimal hair and make-up is naïve.
Any one who has read the bestseller “Blink” or heard the adage: “You
only get one chance to make a first impression!” knows that looks
do count in our culture of perfection. This is especially true
for those of us in entertainment, as we Belly dancers are. I’m
not saying you should wear more make-up than Tammy Faye or diet
yourself into nothingness. You should, however, be made-up enough
that your audience can tell that you did not just roll out of
bed and thorough enough that your audience can distinguish your
facial features at a distance. That’s what stage make-up is!
Your hair should be clean and coiffed. What is the use of having
on a fabulous sparkly costume if everything else about you looks
some time into learning about hair and make-up for performers.
The Internet has many resources. There are also DVDs available
to assist you. Get some free makeovers at the MAC
counter and discuss your tresses with a good hair stylist.
Buy “hair”, if you must!
on Choreography or Improvisation
us are more naturally gifted at one or the other. To challenge
yourself, you should strive to be good at both, by pushing yourself
to do what doesn’t come naturally. You can focus on choreography
by creating your own choreography, working with choreography
on a DVD, taking a choreography-based workshop, or joining
a troupe. You can work on your improvisation technique by practicing
with unfamiliar songs , plan on performing improvisation, work
on techniques to “fake” choreography, or only choreograph certain
sections of a routine, leaving the rest to spontaneous dance
to the Lands of Dance
experiencing different places and cultures, especially those
related to your particular dance style, can be just the thing
to rediscover your muse. Make a point to study with instructors
who are not always available in the country where you
live. See what dancers are doing over there. Bring home some
new moves and a better understanding of the dance from its source!
Your Skills as a Performer
even more special when it aspires to inspire and entertain an
audience. Like a good TV show or movie, a great performer can
take an audience on a mental or emotional journey. Being able
to express emotion while you dance gives the audience an opportunity
to connect with you beyond simply witnessing you execute movements,
but instead, allows them to get inside your head and heart, where
dance moments may be shared between the dancer and the audience.
Being able to connect with an audience is the secret to being
a great entertainer!
an acting class can be helpful. Get some coaching from dancers
that are also great entertainers, even if that means instructors
outside of Belly dance. There are also DVDs available that
specifically address stage presence from dancers for example: Amaya’s “Star
Power” and Michelle Joyce’s “Secrets of the
Stage” series. You could also delve into learning
more about tailoring your performances for different types
of venues and audiences.
stamina, flexibility are important factors in developing and
maintaining good technique. Together they can help you gain greater
range of motion, better muscle control and help you dance for
longer periods of time without tiring. Properly fueling your
dance machine can have a big impact on your dance too.
is so much to this art form we call Belly dance, so many
areas of related study, and so many areas that have the potential
for your growth. I hope the above information has provided you
with some ideas of what you can do to improve both your skill
and your knowledge of this dance.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
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to Basics by Najia Marlyz
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Wasn’t About the Trophy: The North Valley Belly Dance
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audience at the grand old Colonial Theatre laughing out loud (and
scratching themselves subconsciously).
Dance is This, Anyway? Where Do Men Fit into the Belly
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soon as he was born, dancers of all stripes immediately started
in with "Oh, a new little drummer for the troupe!". Excuse
me? Why is there an instant assumption from birth that all little
boys will be drummers and all little girls will be dancers just
---Added Feature! See our Gallery of Men
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in a Name? Orientalizing Oriental by Paola
had already managed to use my definition of my dance form against
me, to paint me as marginal, politically incorrect, and strangely
enough, to “orientalize”me within the context of that
symposium in the ways that Said describes in Orientalism. I was
now, officially, “Other”.
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what makes everyone happy is a little like having a dinner party
with a person on a diet, a vegan, and meat & potato type guy.
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