Youtube Video of the Week: Yasmina Ramzy

My troupemate Stephanie posted this video on facebook, and immediately I knew I had to post this for y’all’s viewing pleasure. The past two videos I reviewed were solo performances. But hey, I think all of us at one point have danced in a group or troupe. Therefore, it makes sense to study videos where the group dynamic is powerful and effective in order to glean insights on how to be a better choreographer or troupe member. Without further ado, Yasmina Ramzy and Arabesque Dance Company:

— Costuming. In the “real world,” I work at a college theater department, sewing costumes. One of the golden rules I have heard in theater: Don’t put black costumes on dancers if you are performing in front of a black backdrop. However, as my boyfriend pointed out while watching the video, every time the dancers move, the light reflects off the sheen of the material. The result is a clean line that doesn’t blend in to the background. I feel the simplicity of the costuming helped accentuate the crisp choreography. Way to break the black on black rule and have an effective result!

— Staging. The staging of this piece almost reminded me of modern dance or some of Urban Tribal’s pieces. I think Yasmina Ramzy, the choreographer, used the space well and also used some really innovative formations and staging — level changes, dueling groups, circle formations, a weaving pattern. I also thought having one or two dancers represent different facets of the music was really visually interesting (I’m referencing the first minute or so). Yes, dancing perfectly in unison is impressive and powerful, but I also think highlighting each dancers’ strengths and personal stylization added a lot to this piece. The ONLY critique I had is that a few times, I was unclear what the formation was supposed to me — very few times it seemed like one dancer was standing in front of another, or someone wasn’t QUITE in the right window.

–Strong, graceful technique. The dancers poise and grace complimented their tight technique really well. It was like watching a troupe of Sonias from the Bellydance Superstars dancing. The arms were particularly lovely.

So what can we learn?

1) Be conscious costuming your dancers. Imagine not only what costumes would look like on dancers, but also in the venue you will be performing. After touring with the Bellydance Superstars, another tip I would give is that sheen, glitter, sparkle, etc. works exceptionally well onstage. You’d be amazed how much shimmery/glittery/sparkly elements go into their costuming — even the tribal dancers get glittery! I remember looking at one of Moria’s tribal outfits up close and being astounded by the amount of rhinestones and glittery bits on it. I remember having a revelation — tribal dancers can and do wear rhinestones!

2) Staging. Change up your formations! I get into the two-line formation rut ALL the time. If you watch these dancers, they’re not ALWAYS doing super-complicated belly dance technique. However, it stays visually interesting because they’re changing levels or formation frequently. Our eyes like to watch discernible patterns and big, visible movement — let your audience take a break occasionally from trying to analyze super-internal, complicated hip and torso work.

3) What pushed this piece into the “awesome” category was not the costumes or the staging. What I truly appreciate is that this troupe and choreographer did NOT sacrifice their technique and grace to take risks. We’re belly dancers, ladies and gentlemen. I feel like the most important part of our art is making sure we never sacrifice grace, good form, or solid technique (unless that’s the point of your piece — I once choreographed a dance for my senior project in college that was designed to be un-aesthetically pleasing).

Click here to learn more about Yasmina Ramzy and Arabesque Dance Company.

Youtube Clip of the Week: Aubre’s Fosse Fusion

Yeah, yeah… one or two posts before this I bemoan the over-use of youtube. But here, I am attempting to use youtube correctly — not as a way to waste three hours but as a chance to analyze talented dancers like I would analyze a beautiful painting, a great piece of literature, or any other art.

So here’s what I’m trying… every week or so I am going to post a video that I think is pretty rad that may not be as well known as say, a BDSS clip or a Tribal Fest clip. I am going to analyze it to hopefully glean insights and ideas that we can all take and try out in our own dance.

This week, check out the incredible Aubre (if you haven’t already) in her Fosse number to Beats Antique’s Break Me:

Highlights:

— First of all, this woman’s muscular control is jaw-dropping. What I like is that every movement, from her toes to her fingertips, has a muscular contraction behind it. For this piece, it works very well and brings a whole lot of energy. Since this music takes a minute or two to really hit its stride, the muscular control kept me interested even when the music was slow or when she wasn’t moving a whole lot or doing any super-complicated movements. It’s easy to forget that something as simple as a maya (or up-to-down figure 8 ) with a pretty framing arm can be just as powerful as a flurry of complicated movements. I know not everyone digs the super-muscular look, but there’s no denying it packs a whole lotta energy that can be read from an audience member in any seat in the theater.

— It’s belly dance first, fusion second. And fuse she does! I loved the mix of tribal-esque movements with cabaret patterns. I was happy that it was accurately labeled. Sometimes when you see a label like “Fosse,” all you get in the video is someone doing a normal tribal routine in a top hat. I think Aubre really did channel the Fosse element with her spins, fan kicks, leg placement, and general feel of the piece.

— The arms. Even though VERY few times the elbows/hands droop a bit, the arms throughout are active and flow organically from one position to the next. Often in dance (I see this in myself, too) the arms are either forgotten or jerk from one position to the next. One of my favorite things to do with youtube videos: try watching the video a second time, and just watch the arms.

— Variation. She listens to the music and allows for her movements to speed up and slow down with the music. I think it’s easy to get in a mode where you just stay in super-fast mode after you’ve gradually built up to it, but it’s nice to see that she builds it up and slows it down again where appropriate.

— The tricks. Obviously, this woman is capable of some pretty jaw-dropping tricks, and I have a feeling she only pulled out a fraction of her tricks in her tool bag. I feel that Aubre did an excellent job throwing in just the right amount of “spice,” so to speak. I, for one, feel this odd obligation (or maybe desperation) to squeeze a layback or Turkish Drop into every piece I dance. I worry that the audience is bored, so I feel this compulsion to throw in as many tricks as possible to get their attention. I’m trying to change this, and watching a master like Aubre helps me know how and when to use the tricks.

Click here to learn more about Aubre Hill.

Finding Your Voice in a Sea of Schtick

Recently I stumbled across the lovely Asharah’s blog, where she discusses dancers using schtick in place of solid belly dance technique:

http://bdpaladin.com/             <– Read “Schtick it out”

She lays out some pretty solid ground rules, including:

  • “You don’t need to imitate Vaudeville routines.  Frankly, you shouldn’t unless you’ve had some serious acting training.
  • You don’t need a gimmick.  If you think your dance alone isn’t memorable, maybe you should work on finding your voice as a dancer.
  • You don’t need a costume that cost you more than you spent on training in one year.  In fact, I highly recommend you spend more on your training than your costuming.  Otherwise you’re just a pretty girl on stage.
  • You don’t need to dance with the latest prop, and if you do use a prop, be a master at the prop.  Don’t bring a sword, veil, water pot, snake, basket, fire, or anything else on stage with you unless you really know how to use it.  Frankly, I’m not impressed by the mere presence of the prop on stage with the dancer.  I want to see that dancer really integrate that prop into her performance so that she is one with that prop, whatever it might be.”

I am seeing a lot of this as well as I round the tribal fusion circuit. Frankly, I think it’s rather fascinating that tribal fusion evolved as, in my opinion, a liberation from the labels of both American Tribal Style and also cabaret bellydance. When I first saw Rachel Brice dance tribal fusion, I saw it as a means to explore a more artistic side of belly dance without feeling confined to a set definition or culture. Now dancers (including myself, I have videos where I am just a little RB clone, when I first started dancing) are taking this incredibly liberating space… and reproducing the same three or four now tired schticks and gimmicks. Why?

You know what I see? I see a lot of dancers struggling to find their voice as an artist. So how do we find our voices without dwelling so long in what I see as a necessary stage — the “copying” stage? Asharah hit the nail on the head — I feel like a large portion of that is studying technique. Learn the history, learn the culture, learn the DANCE in as many ways as possible and from as many angles as possible — then branch out.

In the meantime, as I embark on this lifelong quest to “learn” the subtleties of this dance, here are some ways I am personally trying to learn and develop my voice:

  • Read books. If you take a look at Asharah’s blog, she has a very nice reading list of books on multiple subjects. I am trying to read books on Middle Eastern history and culture (I liked “Serpent of the Nile” by Wendy Buonaventura, a recommended reading book for Suhaila’s Level II class), books that focus on developing your voice as an artist like “The Artist’s Way”, and even books that are influences you could channel (I recently finished a biography on Mata Hari — fascinating). Read as much as you can that could even REMOTELY relate.
  • Train intensely and diversely. More and more (especially as I work with the lovely ladies of the Bellydance Superstars) I am seeing the importance of training. I think it is always important to have a teacher and a mentor whose skill surpasses your own. Not only will you be learning to your fullest, but constantly being around someone who has taken the time to develop and hone their art is inspiring and ego-balancing. I think too, especially with the whole fusion element, study as many different things that you can fuse with your dance. Try ballet, jazz, modern, acting classes, hip hop… I know personally I keep trying to fuse things, but I don’t have a clear sense of WHAT I’m fusing. Know the ins and outs of the two styles you’re learning before you fuse is a mantra I live by. This summer I’m studying yoga, pilates, Odissi dance, and modern dance while trying to train 4 hours a day of belly dance.
  • Don’t teach too early. Who here has made this mistake? *Raises hand* I started teaching tribal after only dancing a YEAR. I think it’s hard to focus on your journey and your artistic development if you’re trying to cater to others or worse, impress them. I feel like new teachers is where a lot of the recycling schtick makes its first appearance.
  • Use your internet time to search for new knowledge and information. As someone who has seen “Rachel Brice at Tribal Fest 6” more times than she cares to admit, I am now trying to focus on research NEW inspirations and new things. Tribe can be a great resource, but I kinda feel like it’s like a mini-high school — people are constantly talking, reviewing, asking for song names. Depending on the person, this can be a positive or negative resource. My word of advice is spend less time on tribe figuring out every song Zoe Jakes has danced to and instead google “Mata Hari” or “Odissi Dance” or “Martha Graham” and form your own inspirations as opposed to constantly watching another person’s interpretations of them.

Honestly and personally, a lot of this has led to my decision to break away from the tribal fusion label and try something new. I feel like this is really necessary in my quest to become an original artist, because I’ll be the first to tell you that I have not found my artistic voice completely yet. Building my website has kind of thrown that into perspective. Try writing a description for your dancing when you’re still figuring out what you like and how you move!

I hardly believe I have gotten this figured out — on the contrary. I’m right in the thick of this quest, figuring it out as I go along just like everyone else. So yeah, I might look at a badass Rachel Brice solo and be inclined to give in to that urge to imitate and pile on the schtick, but for now, I’m going to resist the urge to buy a crinoline and watch some more Martha Graham videos.