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Use It Or Lose It

by Piper

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, such as:

"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 balance?"

"How would this move look if I tilted my head and/or shoulder down to the side?"

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 still?

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 ear.

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 yourself?

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!"