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Exercises for Improv Belly Dance

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.

Good Luck,


July is about Impovisation and Taqseems

This month is about Improvisation. This is a key skill for any professional or semi-professional belly dancer. Improvisation is used in all forms of belly dance and I have listed a few.

Improvisation in dance – Dancing to music with out a set choreography. The dancer will create the movement as he/she feels the music.

1. American Tribal Style Improvisation – This style of improv is done in a group and uses a leader/follow system. The leader is the creator and the followers are led by cues from the leader. All of the dancers have a set dance vocabulary which they have learned and follow. ATS (American Tribal Style) follows the dance vocabulary that was created by Carolena Nericcio for her company Fat Chance Belly Dance.

2. Tribal Group Improvisation- This style of improvisation follows the same basic lead and follow pattern as ATS, but has evolved to use different movement vocabulary depending on the troupe/company. Good examples of this style are Gypsy Caravan, Unmata and Hipnosis.

3. Oriental solo Improvisation- This style is performed by a solo dancer. It is an important quality of a trained dancer to be able to improvise. This is especially useful for long performances like restaurants gigs when a dancer is expected to have 30-45min of dance prepared. It is not always possible to have all 45 min choreographed (not enough time in the day). It is common for a dancer to go from choreographed elements to improv elements and back during a show. The skill involves making this transition seamless.

4. Taqseem Improvisation- A Taqseem in Oriental/Caberet music is a part of the music with very little or no set beat/rhythm. This is usually a musical solo performed by a particular instrument. In Oriental/Caberet dance the Taqseem is expected to be  improvisational. It is a strong emotional point in the music that is about expression.

A good example of a Taqseem-


Which styles of belly dance improvisation have you tried? Are there any more styles you can think of?

Week 3: Choreography Challenge

I hope everyone has been working hard on the challenge for week two. On to week 3:

Beginner Track:

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.

This week you will need to listen to your music and see if you can find sections that would work well with repetition. These are usually the refrains or melodies of your song. Do not be afraid to use repletion in your choreography. Audience usually find it comforting to the eye for a dancer to repeat a dance sequence when there is a repetitive part in the music. Not every minute of the dance needs to be brand new. This is also a time to think about body placement. Are you facing the audience the whole time? What would happen if you spin or turn on an angle. Experiment!

You will also want to work on your entrance and exit. For a new performer is it best to choreograph an entrance and not start on stage. It takes a great deal of confidence to walk onto a quiet stage (with everyone watching) and get into a starting position. If that seems like too much pressure, please choreograph an entrance. Usually an entrance can be a simple traveling move that will take you to your starting position (center of the stage). You can also use this move for your exit or choose a different one. It is also possible to choose to end on stage.  This should be that last thing you really need to put your dance together, so write it down and start practicing.

Note: Some dance performances expect bow music. This will usually be a short 15-30 sec replaying of your song after it finishes for a bow. In my experience this is not usually needed so please ask if it is required.


Advanced Track:

This week we have two challenges. You can choose one or both to try and complete.

1. No Music Challenge: This is one of my personal favorites. I find that often when I can’t figure out how to choreograph to a piece of music it helps to turn the music off. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but you will be surprised at the dancing you can create without the restraints of music. This challenge is to create a 1-2 min dance (keep it short) with out any music. Go for it.

2. Fun Prop Challenge: I love props and belly dancing has not shortage of them. This challenge is step outside your comfort zone and try a new a different prop. It may not be traditional, but it should be fun. No veils, canes, and swords! Please try and use something new like a chair or umbrella. I am interested to see what you come up with. Good luck.

Note: Some of these prop ideas may not be the best for balancing so please be careful.


Are you trying the challenge? I would love to hear how it is going.