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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?

How to Hold Your Arms Like a Dancer

Collage of several of Gray's muscle pictures, ...

Collage of several of Gray’s muscle pictures, by Mikael Häggström (User:Mikael Häggström) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Good Luck!


My Reflections on the Aubre Hill Week of Workshops

I wanted to post my thoughts on the week I spent learning from Aubre Hill in Taiwan. Here are some of my overall impressions.

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!