Thursday, April 23, 2015

"How do you work this thing?! Eh, I'll just start dancing." *3 minutes elapse* "Oh. It wasn't recording." Adventures in dancing when you're clueless...

Yep, that would be ME. An enthusiastic dancer wanting to improve her performance skills, but clearly lacking in focus and technological abilities. What the heck am I talking about? Well, let's settle and allow the humorous anecdotes to fly.

*procures tea*

I have a bunch of dance performances coming up, including some in which I'll dance *gulps* solo. That has been the most intimidating part of performing more frequently for me; it's not dancing with my troupe, it's the solo thing. And the solo thing is totally voluntary, so I'm bringing this on myself. But I know that the only way to improve upon things that you truly care about is to challenge yourself. If I only did things that never take me out of my comfort zone, well, that wouldn't be any fun for blogging fodder, would it? ;-) But more importantly, I'd never improve upon where I'm at. I love dancing, it brings me joy. Why would I want to accept wallowing in the comfortable when I can expand into a much vaster universe of fabulousness? Well, hopefully. :0

And so every year, I dance solo at least twice. This year, it may be more, so I took stock of where I'm at with my solo dancing:  I'm comfortable improvising, I don't need to choreograph anymore, which allows me to be a bit more spontaneous. And for someone as uptight as I am, spontaneity is clutch. ;-) I also make a concerted effort to smile whenever I think of it, to make for a more inviting performance. Nobody likes to watch a dancer who appears to be tortured by the very fact that she is forced to dance in front of US FREAKING PEOPLE. She (or he!) is just nervous of course, but that's the way it appears, and I want to do my best to guard against that.

AND, that's pretty much the size of it. I do well, but could I do better? A million times, yes. :) So I used my little brain to think of ways that I could further improve upon my performance skills. Hark! I have a smartphone now. I can video myself! This way I can see the areas in which I could improve.

That is what I did, and I am here to tell you, dear reader, that watching yourself dance on video is FANTASTICALLY painful:

"Those arms *again*. Do I know no other arms?!"

"What is my face doing there? Oh dear, that isn't good. I look like some nefarious odor has just wafted in"

"My hands, good heavens. The infamous Stupid Hands! Mine could certainly be smarter!!"

I will say though, that it is HELPFUL. It's not pleasant, let's be clear, but in 7 years of Middle Eastern dance, this is the most powerful mechanism I've ever enlisted to improve my own dancing. Of course, this applies only when I use my smartphone video functionality *correctly*. I was halfway through my music yesterday when the screen went dark and I realized that I had never actually hit the Record button.


In tandem with this fun video project, I have been watching lots of YouTube videos of *other* professional dancers. This is also super helpful. I watch dancers that I really admire, and think: what are they doing that makes me enjoy their performance so much? And so I have determined that the thing I need to focus on more is...

*drum roll*

My face. :0 I do smile when I dance, but I need to smile MORE. Infinitely more! When the dancer looks confident, assured and joyful when she dances, THAT'S what I enjoy watching, and what all audiences enjoy watching. The actual movements, sure. I enjoy watching dancers who coordinate movements to perfectly compliment their music, yes. But again, that comes back to confidence. It's that *combination* of confidence and really beautifully interpreting your music that makes a performance so compelling.

And so, when you take your brain away from worrying about what your body is doing while you're dancing...

"Why did I just do that stupid hip drop, I already did about 10 of those in the past 30 seconds, what is wrong with me?! And, man! There went that accent and I was right in the middle of a travel step to nowhere. Blast!" can just focus on being in the moment and letting the music guide your movements. I *know* that I spend a lot of time in my own head when I'm performing: "Ok, I'm doing this, but what am I going to do NEXT? I don't want to look stupid!" Looking stupid is pretty much my worst fear in life. ;-) Sort of like when people list public speaking first on their list of fears, above DEATH. We all fear being up in front of others and making a fool of ourselves more than death. Yes, yes and yes.

So I've realized that I need to keep things simpler. My legs and hips will do *something* relevant and of interest even when I'm not obsessing over them. What I need to keep my mind on is:

"What is my face doing? Am I smiling? If the music is more serious, do I have my 'pleasant face' on?"

Because if I don't have my 'pleasant face' on, the default seems to be "I MAY TURN YOU INTO KUMQUATS WITH THE POWER OF MY GAZE!" face. :0 I look SO super serious. That's my 'thinking face' it seems. Alas, I have to live with it; it's the only face God gave me. :)

When I'm thinking too much about what I'm doing, that's when *the face* comes out, and that's what I have to eliminate. As I videoed myself, working more and more on only thinking about my emotional reaction to the music and how my face is responding, I could see a huge improvement in my performance persona.

And THAT led me to change my music. I dance to a lot to kicky, fast instrumentals and Arabic pop music, because it's busy and fun. But this time I'm dancing to "New Baladi" by Mario Kirlis, which has much slower instrumental sections than I'm used to. But it's a perfect song to try out my new goal of slowing things down and focusing more on how the music inspires me. Because it does. And I don't need to worry about what I'm going to do next, because when I listen to that song my body knows what to do. Thus I can focus on just being in the moment and letting my face remain relaxed and joyful.

Of course, this required that I go into the dreaded AUDACITY (appropriate name *glares*) and trim the music, because it was a hair too long to be hafla-friendly. The resulting inappropriate language I will not repeat here, but let's just say that after an hour of struggle, I have an edited song that is 4 minutes long and that I'm pretty happy with.

*round of applause*

So, the videoing continues:

"What's my face doing?! Man, it's not listening again!"

But each time I notice a small improvement. I'm essentially retraining my brain to focus on different things when I dance. We'll get there. At least I can watch the videos now without cringing. Much. :0

I've got rehearsals with the troupe both tonight and tomorrow, and the hafla is a week from Saturday. Zoinks! I'll report in. :)

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