Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fun times with flame-bearing headdresses, swords and other weapons

So, my belly dancing life has been very interesting of late. To me, at least. :) And hopefully you all enjoy at least reading about it...

Where to begin, the possibilities are oh so intriguing... Well, my balancing. My 6 week session comes to an end this Thursday, and I have to say, I'm sad and I will miss it very much. I loved taking this class and I've gotten so much out of it. We've learned a short choreography and we all have to add a short improvisational section for a solo piece. The fact that this doesn't totally terrify me and send me home sobbing demonstrates how much I've grown as a dancer since I started taking belly dance 4 years ago. *puffs up chest* This makes me happy, albeit with no guarantee that what I improvise will look good or remotely interesting. But I'll give it the old college try.

So for this balancing choreography, myself and my classmate Amy are balancing swords, while our friend Lauren has thrown her hat into the ring to balance a shemadan (candleabra). When we practiced last week, we speculated on interesting strategies we could add to our number. You know, cool things that would look awesome but wouldn't risk setting fire to the drapery. Like maybe we could swoop our swords over her head and/or blow out her candles?

Yeah, we nixed that idea pretty quickly. The possibilities for disaster are rife here, especially since this hafla is going to be right in our adorable-but-not-so-large studio. I joked with Lauren that even our choo choo step is risking a trail of wax drippings on the floor. Famous last words for belly dancers and a shemadan:

"Before we light the candles, should we pull your hair back?"

Hopefully, this is going to go well.

Then there is our other group number, involving the entire performance group. For some reason, we always come up with a cane choreography for the haflas in which we'll be smashed into a small space. And canes actually make me even more nervous than swords. Granted, I'm still afraid that my sword will grow a mind of its own and on hafla night decide not to stay on my head. But for the most part, I'm comfortable with my sword. I can get it on my head while dancing, and it really does stay put. Usually. If it swivels, I can adjust it without even having to touch it due to the excellent tutelage and advice of my wise instructor. But canes? We *swing* them. At high speeds and velocity. And there's glass in the studio. And people. With eyes that can be poked out. It's not a good combination. So I'm actually a bit nervous for that choreography, and I'm not normally anxious about group numbers anymore. *sweats*

And then there is my solo. I know that I can do it, but I can't help it, I'm still always, always nervous about dancing solo. And I'm going to improvise, which is more frightening still. But I've been preparing. Yes, it is possible to PREPARE exactly how you're going to make shit up on the spot. You knew I'd find a way, didn't you?

I've been putting the song I chose on a lot and just dancing to it. This reassures me that I do know movements that coordinate with the different beats and tempos within the music. And I've been working on increasing my memory of my entire movement vocabulary. Because in the past it seemed like whenever I'd try to improvise, I could only remember a handful of moves. What I did is make a list of every single movement I could think of, that I've ever learned in my 4 years of belly dancing. To spur my memory I tried to divide them into different groups: slow/rolling hip movements, rapid, staccato hip movements, torso movements, head, neck and shoulder movements, and traveling steps. Then I transferred them all to index cards, one movement per card. Below each movement, I listed some variations on it. Ideas for layering, other arms, or other positions. I also added cards for arm movements I don't often think to do. I mixed all the cards up and look through them often. I also will select 3 and put on a random song. Then I'll improvise and make sure to add those 3 movements in in several different ways throughout the song. What I'm hoping is that my body will start to remember movements other than my fall-back favorites, which total about 5. I love hip drops and chest circles. I also do a lot of what I call "bicycle hips" a rolling hip movement, and hip circles. But obviously, it gets pretty boring if I just do those things again and again. :) I mean, there's nothing wrong with repeating some movements. I've learned that you shouldn't just toss out every move you can think of, because it looks erratic and sloppy. You should allow the music to "tell" you what type of movement to place at that spot. And that may involve doing the same movement multiple times. But you don't want your overall dance to feel repetitive. Anyway, this is all crazy, isn't it? A belly dancer with index cards? But hey, it's working for me.

And I've come up with what I hope is a winning psychological strategy. What I fear most when dancing solo is audience boredom, no question. I'm constantly battling my own brain:

"They're bored, aren't they?! Look at them, they're bored! That kid in the back is texting!"

They're not bored. Well, at least they're *probably* not bored. And even if they are, I'm going to lie to myself and say that they're not. The power of positive thinking, sister! As I walk in, I think to myself "They're going to love me!" No, I'm not joking, I really do do this. Otherwise, I may dissolve into a puddle of tears and run off the stage. And that would just ruin the ambiance. So we have: "They love me, they really love me!" As well, I've been thinking about The Beatles a lot lately. I haven't gone off the deep end, stay with me. I promise that it's relevant. Mike and I have been watching The Beatles Anthology in the evenings this week and I'm really enjoying it. And the early footage just kills me, it's so cute. Them with their mop tops, performing their happy early songs. They look so peppy. And I had an epiphany.

What would The Beatles do?

That's a loaded question, if ever there was one. But just thinking about those early years, when they still performed live, it gave me inspiration. When I'm dancing by myself, and I'm feeling nervous, I should think to myself: "What would The Beatles do?" They'd smile winningly, despite their apprehensions. Look happy, no matter what. And put on a good show. And that's what I aim to do too.

So, as I dance, I'm assuring myself that the audience loves me and I'm channeling The Beatles mop top years. If it works, I'm not complaining.

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