While it may be true that you never forget how to ride a bicycle,
good dance technique is something that you have to work at on a regular
basis. Professional ballet dancers who are paid to perform on pointe
still take regular classes to work on their turn-out in first position.
Dancers who perform in musicals on Broadway in New York take regular
classes in modern and jazz. Even though he is a superstar, Tiger Woods
still works with "swing coaches" to further perfect his game. So, why is
it that many belly dancers, after getting paid to perform once, decide
that they don't need anymore training?
Good technique will not only improve your performing ability, it will
also help prevent injuries. Regular drills in the basics are important!
I find that taking even a few weeks off will decrease my control. It's
subtle at first, a twist shimmy and the hands turn rigid, a figure eight
with the hips and the shoulders can't seem to keep still. If I continue
to let myself slide, 3/4 shimmies turn shaky to stay in time and chest
pops include a head movement (isolation/good, chicken-neck/bad).
No master dancer is so good that taking classes from other teachers
is a waste of her time! The next time you are in a dance class that
feels too slow for you, use the time to ask yourself a few questions,
"How slowly can I do this movement and still look graceful?"
"How would this look with my feet closer together/farther apart?"
"Should my hips be more tucked under or more pushed back?"
"How far can I push my hip out with this step and still keep my
"How would this move look if I tilted my head and/or shoulder down to
If you are standing at the back of the class, try layering a body
roll or shoulder shimmy on top of the step the instructor is teaching.
Can you do that hip shimmy double time and still keep your shoulders
Analyzing videos of yourself is the best way to improve your dancing.
I know it's painful (it is for me at least), but it's way cheaper than
hiring a personal "hip swing coach!" You will see many things that the
mirror can't tell you. There have been times when I thought my hips were
swinging in a huge lovely arc, when video footage told me that they were
barely moving, or when I was sure that my arm was in a graceful line,
high up in the air, when actually my hand was hanging limply near my
When you are practicing, try everything, but when you are performing,
only do what you do very well. A common mistake of beginning dancers is
to perform someone else's choreography without adapting it to your own
ability/style/music/stage. You'll do more credit to the choreographer if
you do a good job than if you try to do the choreography exactly as
taught to you, including movements that you can't do well. How can you
know what you do well? Get a friend to video you doing a practice
performance - in FULL costume!
Costumes have a life of their own and they can surprise you in
unwelcome ways. Sleeves can stick to your lipstick, belt tassels can get
caught in your veil, skirts can twirl up or open to reveal your
underwear. Only a full performance, sweat and all, will prove that your
bra hooks are sewn in well enough and that your false eyelashes have
enough glue on them.
Quote from a noted local dancer at a student performance: "Hmm, the
top of her head is great, but it'd be SO MUCH BETTER if she would look
up and smile!" Was that dancer you? Did your body move beautifully, but
your expression look more like you were concentrating on a difficult
chemistry equation? How will you know if you don't watch videos of
The best performances happen when you are so well drilled in your
technique, steps and transitions, that you don't have to think about the
movements at all. In this way, you can focus your attention on music
interpretation and on audience interaction. To quote my sister, Melina,
"Be industrious in practice so we can be Dionysian in performance!"