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.
So talking about arms …
A dancer has choices when it comes to moving her arms and where the initiation starts for that movement.
1. Arm Muscles: The biceps and the triceps are often the first muscles that beginning dancers use to lift their arms. They also tend to use many of the muscles in the shoulders (deltoids). The problem is these muscles are weak compared to other muscles of the body (especially on most women). Using these muscles to hold the arms up leads to quickly becoming tired and have the arms sink into those ugly dead bird arms (we see too often). For more experienced dancers these muscles are use often used for the more subtle movements completed by the arms.
2. The upper back muscles: This is one of the best ways to lift the arms, because the back tends to be much stronger then the shoulder or arm muscles. The arms can be held by a combination of the large trapezius and the smaller infraspinatus, teres minor and teres major(also called rotator cuff). The three smaller muscles work as a group to control the movement of the arm, shoulder and shoulder blade. Using these muscles also gives a stronger base to the hold of the arms.
How do you use your back to hold your arms? Things to try:
1. You can start by holding both arms out to the side (for a while) and seeing which muscles become sore first. If it is your arms and shoulders, than you need to work on engaging your back.
2. Bring your arms slightly forward. To properly engage your back muscles the arms can not be straight out to the side. The arms should be forward enough the if you wiggle your fingers they are visible in your peripheral vision, but not so far front that they can be seen straight on. It takes a bit of practice to find the right angle. Once you are here you can start using your back muscles.
3. If you have the flexibility then put your hand on your opposite shoulder blade and feel it move. Lift the other arm and see if you can feel the back muscles engaging. You want to feel your shoulder blade moving down and in towards the body. At the same time the arm should lift up and out.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice! Once you find how to engage from the back practice it until you develop the muscle memory and don’t need top think about it any more. Keep working and you will get there.
1. Aubre has control: I am referring to muscle control. Aubre Hill can use her muscles like a piano player uses keys (may not be an ideal metaphor). If she wants she can use one muscle, two or five. She can layer in a way the truly isolates and separates that way the muscles work. The other great thing is that she teaching this method (I still need a lot of practice).
2. She is a Master: I don’t mean that just to complement, I mean it because she displays the traits that a Master in the field would have. She is a very talented dancer, but above all she very well-informed about the style of dance. Aubre is well versed in the music, culture and performance aspects of this belly dance, which takes her above actually being a talented dancer. She is also an educated teacher, which I admire. Throughout the workshop, I was constantly surprised by the information she would share. Up until this point I always knew I have more to learn, but now I have an understand of just how much more.
3. Music knowledge: Aubre has a strong understanding of musicality.The dance is about the music. She stresses they idea that it is important to use the body as an instrument. This understanding of music helps with choreography as much as it helps with technique. I find this to be one of the aspects of the dance that is most overlooked. My favorite lesson was on layering. Aubre mentioned that layering is not about being impressive (though it can be), it is about expressing multiple parts of the music using different parts of the body. A dancer may be able to layer five different moves, but if they are not following the music, than they are not dancing. Enlightening!
Overall, I found the workshop series to be extremely informative. I highly suggest that you take her workshops/classes if given the chance. Now I know I have so much more I can improve. The only problem is finding the time to do it.
Special thanks to Kelli Li for setting this up and of course Aubre for all of her hard work.
Have you ever studied with Aubre or another Master of dance? Any suggestions? Please Comment!