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Muscle Memory aka Layering

So one of the most difficult things about belly dance is layering. You need to do the grapevine, while doing snake arms and shimmy (don’t forget to smile). The key to good layering is the dreaded word “practice” and its true. You need to practice, practice, practice. You need to build up muscle memory.

What is muscle memory? When you learning to dance you are teaching your muscles what to do and where to go. Think about the snake arm. The snake arm is a basic belly dance move which is taught in all forms of belly dance. It is a wonderful example for me because it uses so much muscle memory. The basic snake arm is broken down into many parts and when a beginner dancer learns the move, they learn them all. Slowly they speed them up and put them together. The body learns where to move and put the muscles. Over time the student no longer needs to tell the muscles where to go. The muscles have practiced enough that without thinking the body can just put the arm in the right place. Instead of thinking of all the different places to put the arm instead the dancer thinks snake arm. The dancer has acquired the muscle memory for this step.

All dancers use muscle memory when learning steps. It helps to simplify the basic steps so the dancer can focus on learning more difficult techniques. Belly dancers use this ability in a special way when they layer. To layer well a dancer needs to acquire the muscle memory for all the steps separately before they are performed together. It is important that dancer has the full understanding of each step (snake arm, grapevine, shimmy …etc) and can perform them with out much thought. This way the dancer will have the mental space in their head to focus and putting all the steps together.

What should take home from this?
1. Practicing the individual steps (drills) is useful for layering.
2. Do not try to do too much at once or your brain can’t able to handle it and it will show on your body.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice.

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February is the Month for Zills

This is Nara from Tiger Claw Dance. My New Years resolution this year is to focus on a different skill each month. I want to focus on something that I feel like I really need work on. This is a great thing to do as a dancer (any kind of dancer). We all have things we can work on. So I am going to spend the month of Febuary annoying my neighbors and definitely the people in the apartment below me so that I can work on zills. For anyone following me on twitter last month I focused on shimmies.

Zills are great for all forms of belly dance and they are strongly used in tribal improvisational style. I feel that every belly dancer needs to work on zills. So grab a pair and start practicing.

For the Beginner: Start with the basic triplet alternating hands. This is usually done starting on the right.

1 (right), 2(left), 3(right)

1 (right), 2(left), 3(right)

1 (right), 2(left), 3(right)

1 (right), 2(left), 3(right)

– then switch hands

A little more Advanced: Work on the military and baladi rhythms.

Military – triplet, triplet, 7 alternating singles

Baladi – 1, 2, triplet  5, triplet

The Hard Stuff: Layer, Layer, Layer

Try zills with all of your favorite steps. Than try adding a shimmy.

Let me know if you have questions or comments.