Here are some things that may help with your solo improvisation. These are great to practice at home.
1. Relax – CALM DOWN! The biggest problem that I see with most dancers when they first start to improv is that they panic. It is amazing how much better you can dance when you stop over-thinking each step. Relax, breath and just dance.
2. Listen to the music – Of course you are listening to the music, but are you listening closely? Try practicing improv to just the drums or vocals. Pick a musical instrument and improv only to that. I am not saying that this is how you should perform a song, but it will give you a strong understanding of the various layers in the music. In turn, that will help you improv better to that music.
3. Focus on emotion – Tell a story with your dance. Make sure you know that tone/emotion of the music you are performing. Is the music sad, happy, subtle, strong or cute? Practice using the right emotion in your improv and don’t be afraid to over exaggerate.
4. Have a safety move – This works well for solo improv and improvisational Tribal Style. A safety move is a step that you know very well and don’t need to focus on to perform. It is the step that you do when your brain stops working. We have all had those moments when our mind goes blank and this is when I do my safety move. I use that time to think of the next thing to do. It is good to have a fast and slow safety move to make sure you are still dancing with the music.
5. Know the style – Please be true to the style that you are dancing. Do not put on an Egyptian song and do tribal fusion. The audience may notice that the movement does not quite fit. Practice the correct style for the performance that you are doing. I common mistake for a dancer with a tribal background is to start improving ITS syllabus moves when there mind goes blank. This is fine when you are hangout with friends and dancing, but it does not work as well for performance.
6. Focus on Arms and Face – When in doubt a good smile and strong arms will cover any flaws. It is a sad fact of dancing that more than half the people watching will only focus on your upper body. It is not because they don’t want to see your amazing undulations, it’s just where their eyes take them. Use this to your advantage. If you get stuck, just smile and have strong arms. It is surprising how much it helps.
7. Keep it simple – The biggest problem I notice with first time improv dancers. They try to do too much. You do not need to move every part of your body. I have seen dancers that have their arms, hips, head and feet all dancing at the same time. It is not that they are doing anything wrong, its more that they are doing too much for the audience to understand. Keep is simple! Don’t use 3 moves when one will do. Do not layer ever moment of your dance.
Take some of these home to practice, but don’t be scare to video your improv. Look back on the video without judgement, but just for aspects to make better.
The key with the belly flutter is to get relaxed and practice. It is a contraction of the muscles that control breathing and not actually the abdominal muscles. Usually these muscles are referred to as the diaphragm. Strictly speaking the diaphragm is actually a set of involuntary muscles (meaning you can not control them) and the muscles you are using are called the intercostal muscles. These muscles, just like any other group of muscles, needs to be stretched and exercised to be effectively used.
This is a simple E how article on how to do the basic belly flutter. Below that are two videos. The first is a short explanation on flutters and the second goes in a bit more depth.
If you are practicing the belly flutter I suggest you start laying down or sitting. Doing this will help you relax you abdominal muscles since you do not need to focus on posture or layering. Also laying down forces your intercostal muscles to work more effectively which can help in isolating and practicing this move. The most important thing about this step is to practice, which I plan on doing as much as possible.
Note: How to stretch you breathing muscles
I learn this one in Drum Corps years back. Stand up straight with you hands clasped over your head. Take a deep breath in and hold it. Take two to three more little sips of air. At this point you should feel full to the brim with air. Now hold the air in and slowly do a side bend stretch. You can do this to each side and if you have enough air, you will be able to stretch the muscles that are used for breathing. I find this is good to do beforehand after practicing the belly flutter. (Warning some times taking in that much air can make you dizzy. Its normal. Just resume breathing regularly and it should pass.)
This month we will be focusing on Choreography. This is a topic that some dancers love and others hate. Becoming a good choreographer is about practice. It’s about putting together dance after dance after dance. You realize after a while that some are not master pieces (and that’s ok), but you start to understand your craft and the way that you create your art. To help all us dancers with this process I will be having the March Choreography Challenge.
The March Choreography Challenge will be split into two levels. There is a beginner level and an advanced level. The first challenge or task is set to be completed by March 8th.
The beginner level is not for beginner dancers, but beginner choreographers. It is for the dancer out there that has studied and learned some technique and feels that they may be ready to start putting together their own solo piece. Often these dancers do not know where to start, so the beginner track is for you. At the end of the beginner track you should have successfully completed your own solo piece.
The Advanced track is for the teachers, professional and semi-professional dancers that have experience choreographing, but want to perfect their craft. I am going to be completing the Advanced track with you and hopefully getting the videos up in a timely manner.
The challenge will last for the next 4 weeks (about) and hopefully by the end we will all have a better understanding of how we like to create dance. The advanced track will be given weekly challenges and be asked to create dances. This is not a class or a test. I do not expect you to post you dances for the world to see (though you are more than welcome). The challenge is based on the honor system, no cheating please. So choose your track and begin:
Week One: 1. Get a choreography notebook. 2. Compose two 30 sec (about) combination routines (1 slow, 1 fast), each without music. 3. Write them down.
Note about week one: I find that a small notebook that I can carry around in my purse is very helpful. You never know when inspiration will hit. Also the two 30 sec sections can simply be 4 sets of 8 counts using your favorite fast or slow moves. We will experiment later. Write it down in your notebook in the way that makes the most sense to you. Writing my dances down helps a lot with the creativity processes and the remembering process.
Week Two: 1. Pick a song for your first piece and listen to it a lot. 2. Organize footwork. 3. Adjust the two combinations to fit the first 1-2 min of the song. 4. Write them down.
Week Three: 1. Work with repetition and body placement to adjust the 1-2 min of dance movement. 2.Add entrance and ending. 3. Write them down.
Week Four: 1. Work on practicing transitions between fast, slow, beginning and ending of dance. 2.Think about costume and stage presence to finish final package.
Week One: Get a Choreograph Notebook (which I hope you have by now). Go to YouTube and watch your favorite dancers. If you own a video that is even better. In your notebook record at least 10 different moves that you love and never usually use in your choreography. Your challenge this week is to do a dance with all of them in one dance. It may look weird especially if you are mixing multiple styles, but it will get you trying new things. It will also help you work on transitions from one move to another that you may not normally put together. It is time to stretch you choreography muscle.
Week Two: Pick a song that you love, but could not figure out how to create a dance to it. It could be that new rock song or a Japanese pop song. It is entirely up to you. Think outside of the belly dance box that we set for ourselves.
Week Three: Pick one or both
Challenge 1: Create a piece with no music. You would be surprised at what you can create when you do not feel like you have to follow a specific style or kind of music.
Challenge 2: This challenge is with music. Create a piece using a weird or different prop. Please think outside the box. I do not want to hear about you using a veil as a new exciting prop. Try using a chair, flag, mirror or maybe a piece of food.
Week Four: Almost done last two challenges. Pick one or both.
Challenge 1: Create a dance where you do not or almost never face the audience directly. You can face them at an angle or look at them from behind, but you shouldn’t stand facing front to the audience. This might help break you out of a place which is very quickly boring for the audience.
Challenge 2: Create a piece inspired by a poem or artwork. You can find a photo, painting, sculpture that you like and use it to inspire your dance. If that is too abstract and post-modern for you find a poem or passage in a book and really show the feeling of that work. This challenge is about improving your ability to connect to the audience on an emotionally level.
I will discuss each challenge more as the weeks move on. The first week challenge is set and you have until March 8th. So get working. For helpful tips you can check out http://bellydancestuff.com/howtochoreograph.html . This is an article from bellydancestuff.com on How to Choreograph. I wish you the best of luck and hope to hear from all of you soon.