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.
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!
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.)