The hardest part about belly dancing is knowing where to start on a daily regimen for training and practice. There are different areas to focus on and most women don’t know that each area should be worked on equally. I wasn’t taught this methodology of practicing on specific areas separately in the beginning of my dance career, and to this day I wish I would have. I think that practicing everything together can muddy up movements and the completion of moves. It can also keep a dancer from seeing that she really doesn’t have the moves down. This happened to me because when I look back at my first performance videos many years ago, all I see is a bird that’s totally floundering, getting ready to fly out of the nest.
Another case in point: Remember not to over-practice a choreography. I have a student who just recently lost her rhythm because she over practiced. She could not hear the beat of the music anymore because she forgot to listen to the music. I had to ask her not to practice for a week so I could get her back on track with the movements to the music. What was surprising to me was the fact that she said she felt off in certain areas but she did not do anything about it. So if there is robotic repetition in practice, the danger can be that a dancer won’t notice the difference or if she does, will do nothing about it.
This doesn’t mean students don’t care about the quality of their dance; it is human nature to stick with what we know even if it’s wrong. There definitely seems to be a need to put in a work schedule so that a dancer’s weekly drilling and practicing stays fresh, graceful and relaxed. Ultimately, we want these elements with us up on stage so how we practice at home is not only showcased, but definitely makes a difference on the outcome of a performance. Remember that how you practice says a lot about what type of dancer you are. Since we are artists using our bodies as an art form, it’s important to complete the work of art that is representing
you before you get on stage or the dance floor. How we do this is by a specific type of preparation and drilling at home or in the studio.
First, choose a day that will be hips only and focus on sharp, soft, sharp and soft combined. Work in your opposition hips, and make sure to keep both hips equally strong and precise. You can include shimmies with sharp and soft, but focus on your execution of the moves and follow through with each movement. On another day, do layering with hips, chest and pelvic area. This may seem easy but you really have to work on your timing with the layering to music. Next, work on your arms with combinations and movements so that you have
that natural flow with them. With the arms, you can actually work them in with each practice day, but have one day where you really focus in on them. One important aspect of training is working in your traveling steps with different hip combinations and turns. Subsequently, include different body angles and positions with traveling steps and combinations within the week. The audience needs to see you from all angles, so your back is just as important as your front.
Remember to add in stage presence and use your space. I will work with in place movements and alternate them with traveling steps. To be more specific, work in your hip combinations with your traveling steps. It’s important to incorporate a day for shimmies of all kinds; in place, traveling and shimmies with sharp and soft moves can really tell the audience how skilled and professional you are. Props are important, so keep one to two days for your sword, cane and veil etc. If you are working on a choreography, make sure the props don’t showcase what you are lacking in body movement. Remember your body is your greatest prop! Practice your finger cymbals more than one day a week because this is the only way you will get “good” with them. Also, your props can be included more than one day a week. For those dancers who are just starting out and have a lot to work on, this schedule will help you get the results you are looking for.
One thing that a lot of dancers forget to do in the beginning, because they are so focused on their dance drills and combinations, is study up on music theory. Look up important Middle Eastern musicians, composers and singers of days past
and present. Learn about the instruments mUSICIans use and the different beats and melodies that are put into music. TIlls is important for your finger cymbal playing or any other instrument you might want to learn. Listen to music so you can understand how Middle Eastern music is composed and put together. There are certain beats that we
dance to, so start listening to as much classical and traditional music as possible in addition to the modern pop of today.
I can’t tell all of you how important our Belly Dance History is. Do you know about the many legendary dancers who kept this dance form alive? This includes many diverse cultures that brought different styles, customs and traditions to the belly dance round table. Learn what each dancer contributed to the belly dance world and also learn how dance has changed throughout our history. Learn about why we have coins on our hip scarves or why we dance with veils. Remember that as belly dancers we represent a multitude of cultures, so telling people the history of belly dance is just as important as dancing it. The only way to educate people about our dance form is to educate ourselves.
This may seem like a lot of work and it is at first, but the benefits outweigh any of the hardships. Not only do I feel the need to look the part of a belly dancer, but I have to continually research and learn everything I can about the dance field I represent. Knowledge is power and when we combine dance training and excellence to this power, we not only become role models, but also leaders for women to follow. The difference here is that every woman eventually becomes a leader. This is why belly dancing is different! But I have to say there is another reason for wanting to know as much as possible about this dance. It’s simple – I love being a woman!
‘It isn’t what I do, but how I do it. It isn’t what I say, but how I say it and how I look when I do it and say it. “ ~ Mae liVest
There is a woman in each of us who craves attention and loves to be up on stage. Just remember that future generations of women will be looking at you wishing they were you. In knowing this, understand that how we keep this dance form alive is by passing on our knowledge and skill to future generations and they, in turn, pass it on. So if I’m going to pass on any Belly Dancing tips to future generations, the one big one is this:
“When life gives you lemons make orange juice and make them wonder how the hell you did it!”
For me, this is the best part of being a woman, belly dancer and teacher. What seems impossible becomes possible, because teaching future generations the how of belly dance helps them understand that they can become the Frida Kahlos of their own masterpieces over and over again. All it takes is a mindset and focus that starts at home.