"Ask Yasmina" #17
by Yasmina Ramzy
All photos by Samira Hafezi
posted Decemnber 28, 2011
This column answers one comprehensive question: How can a serious student, solo dance artist, or ensemble, rehearse and practice with efficiency and progressive results?
The key point to solo study and practice is to remember that if you are enjoying yourself, you are most likely not growing or progressing!
When I say something of this nature to a student, I often get looks of horror, but when I say it to accomplished dance artists, they know exactly what I am talking about. The accomplished dancer will also tell you the hard work was well worth it, because rewards can be received in all kinds of areas of life, even beyond one’s dance performance.
- Seek out competant teachers, not the ones that make you feel warm and fuzzy, but the ones that challenge you and instill fear in you. Of course, you do not want an abusive teacher. An experienced and knowledgeable teacher will offer encouragement when it is truly earned, not given out like candy. A good teacher will challenge the student to be dissatisfied with the current level of adequacy, inspiring new horizons of growth.
- Practice alone as much as possible. If time is limited, at least try to go through everything you learned in class within 24 hours of the class. If you wait ‘til the night before the next class, you will have forgotten most of the more subtle details of what you have learned. This will waste your time in class and your money, as you will have to learn it all over again.
- When practicing, make sure that every time you repeat a technique or a sequence of steps, it is with a new goal or a new accomplishment in mind.
Repeating yourself over and over without discernible growth is a waste of your time.
- Practice 50% of the time with a mirror and 50% without. Remember to spend time exploring how movement makes you feel and how part of your body connects internally without the visual. When using a mirror, be sure to examine the entire body, every finger, every toe (even any tenseness in your face or mouth) and how it is reacting to any given movement.
- Seek out honest feedback. It is a good idea to receive feedback from your teachers, colleagues, friends, family, and strangers; all kinds of feedback are valuable. Sometimes, conflicting feedback can be the most valuable. It will give you a chance to examine an issue on a deeper level, looking beyond the conflicting opinions. Seek out feedback from your teacher(s) on a regular basis in one-to-one format. This may mean booking a private session so the teacher has time and space to really examine your capabilities and offer you meaningful and helpful feedback. Seek out feedback when you are having difficulty as well as when you believe you have made progress.
- Dance is an art, which means it is much more than physical execution. It is also much more than expressing oneself without full purpose. Note that study and practice of all aspects of your art form must be implemented to see substantial growth. Music, history, cultural context, muscle-strength training, performance skills and creative expression are just as important as physical practice. All of these subjects of study directly inform your movement.
- You are only cheating yourself when you look for shortcuts. It is through the details and thorough comprehension that makes your growth stand on solid and reliable ground. It is better to be an expert in the basics than half-baked at what you may perceive to be “advanced”. With a solid foundation, you have the tools to grow. Without it, you just fly around in the wind and eventually get blown away.
Note: I have been studying and practicing Belly dance as a full-time job for over 30 years, and I feel that I have not even begun to scratch the surface of even fundamental areas of growth that I want to explore in this beautiful art form. Even after performing over 10,000 performances, creating 100s of choreographed dances, teaching in more than 60 cities on five continents, I have always felt like a beginner (and even more so as time goes by). In my experience as a teacher, it is nearly always the student who is much more interested in hearing criticism than a compliment who becomes the accomplished and respected professional. The great dancers know that while compliments may be nice from time to time, it is with criticism, and acting on it, that she/he is able to grow.
L – R: Tatiana Kaptchinskaia, Melissa Gamal, Claudia Rios, Amy Leung, Karima, Yzza Hassna, Amy Leung, Mary Cabral, Shari, Shadia Saad, Nikki Gentles
The more members of an ensemble understand that each is accountable to every member of the group and that each performance is only as good as the least adept dancer in the group, then they will realize the importance of applying themselves 110%. Each member must be responsible for himself in doing what is necessary to make the artistic vision come to life.
- Learn the choreography. This is the first step, but it takes the least amount of effort and time. Work-shopping a choreography with an ensemble is a creative process and can take anywhere from a few minutes to years, depending upon length and creative process. Step #1 is referring to already established choreography that may still be tweaked during rehearsals.
- Repetition in executing the choreography is necessary to establish it in body memory. This can be done outside of group rehearsal, in each member’s own time. Blocking the movements, establishing position changes that can be done in group rehearsal and secured in memory in individual practice as well. The invention of the video camera and uploading to the various Internet venues has revolutionized the rehearsal process. So much time can be saved now by relying on video instead of notes and memory.
- Once the choreography is memorized and can be executed while asleep or carrying on a conversation (in other words, committed to body memory), then the real rehearsal work begins. This is where the choreographer, rehearsal coach, a dramaturg, and any outside-eyes are brought in to take notes every time the choreography (or parts thereof) are performed. The notes are used to give feedback so corrections can be made to address issues with timing, angles, directions, speed, quality and execution of movement, character portrayal, emotional expression etc.
- There is always room for improvement. Step # 3 can go on forever. It really depends upon the level of excellence your ensemble wants to attain. However, when several eyes have given notes and the list is getting smaller after each run, you are nearing a good level of quality. Time permitting, it is a great idea to have each member step out for a run- through and note-taking. Each time is another set of eyes with a new perspective, and it is very beneficial for the dancer stepping out who may then realize and note discrepancies in their own performance in comparison to the rest of the group that had not been spotted previously. The dancer will also be able to note some subtleties in the choreography they may have previously missed as well.
- Two more important kinds of rehearsal must take place before performance. One is dress rehearsal, in which all possible issues with costuming and movement are vetted. (Note: efficient and speedy costume changes need to be choreographed and rehearsed as well especially with dressers.) Another is working out the correct spacing for the upcoming venue. This may entail taping off the right dimensions or renting a larger space to accommodate the dimensions of your stage on which you will perform Issues such the existence of a crossover, how many legs there are in the wings, proximity to dressing rooms or space for quick costume changes in the wings can also be addressed at this time. Note that choreography may have to be adjusted to allow for different sizes of stages and the existence of wings or not, as well as lighting capabilities.
- When returning to an old choreography, the fastest way to remount, especially with different dancers, is to establish the position changes first, then dance through with the music – of course, assuming they have learned or re-acquainted themselves with the choreography from archival video first.
- Technical rehearsals are for the benefit of the stage manager to establish and learn cues and for the lighting designer. There is so much more to a ”tech”, depending up venue and the complexity of the performance. It is assumed the ensemble and/or soloist have worked out everything and are in performance shape in order to have a smooth “tech”. If there is a chance to actually make a complete run or a dress rehearsal in the venue, then it is a great opportunity to videotape so each member can watch themselves and how they conform within the rest of the ensemble.
Note to directors of ensembles: Always aspire to bring the all the members up to the level of excellence of your best* member; not to appease the least adept. It is better to have frustrated members leave the ensemble because they cannot keep up than it is to lose great dancers because they feel they are wasting their time by practicing so hard when others aren’t.
*”Best member” can refer to several people, i.e.: best in technique, best in stage presence, best in timing, best in nuance, best in character portrayal, etc.
In conclusion to part one, I recommend a comprehensive book that speaks to this issue. It is called “Talent Is Overrated – What REALLY Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else” by Geoff Colvin.
Arabesque Dance Company spacing choreography for NOOR March March 3-6, 2011 at National Ballet School of Canada
L – R: Anjelica Scannura, Tatiana Kaptchinskaia, Melissa Gamal, Shari, Claudia Rios, Yzza Hassna, Shadia Saad, Mary Cabral, Amy Leung, Nikki Gentles, Yasmina Ramzy
Lying on floor – Yzza Hassna, L – R: Nikki Gentles, Anjelica Scannura, Shaida Saad, Claudia Rios, Amy Leung, Valeria Scannura, Shari, Katrina Kukurs, Karima, Tatiana Kaptchinskaia, Yasmina Ramzy, Mary Cabral, Melissa Gamal,
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