A fun collaboration with a St. Louis banjo player, Brian Lee Bauer, from the incredible band Strawfoot. The song is “Independence Day” off the album “How We Prospered.”
I’ve been talking to a lot of dancers recently that have hit a plateau: They know all the bellydance movements, have been drilling them for awhile, but don’t know how to take all that technique and translate it into a dance piece that represents them and their style.
Choreographing dance pieces and even improvising to a song and making your art your own are subjects that are often neglected in dance classes. It’s hard — everyone has a slightly different process for how they create. Even books designed to help figure OUT your process — The Artist’s Way, for example — are not a panacea for all artists. Moreover, I’ve noticed books like the Artist’s Way usually are geared toward those whose art involves written word.
Finding a particular style and practicing it is an issue that I have been working on myself. I’ve been spending the past few months training a lot on my own, which is new to me. Through taking workshops with people like Amy Sigil, who incorporated “dance games” to get people thinking outside the choreography dance box, I’ve noticed that I respond well to small challenges that I can surmount on a daily basis. Giving myself structure and small tasks to complete keeps me focused more than dragging my lazy but to the studio to drill.
There are some general guidelines that have helped me structure my practice, at least:
1) Get good music. Get a playlist started of songs that make you want to move, whether that be Middle Eastern Music, Ace of Base, Elvis, Snoop Dogg, whatever. Think outside the box — I recently have been dancing to a lot of banjo music, and it’s been quite interesting. Something as simple as putting on a playlist of four or five songs you love and dancing 15 minutes a day could turn into “oh my god, that combo was awesome…” And viola! You’re starting a choreography. It has for me, at least.
2) Use video to your advantage. A really useful tool I use in my training is a practice video log. I try to record one video a practice and study it when I go home to see what works and what doesn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with a combination I love only to forget it hours later — please, just save yourself some grief and video tape it.
3) Listen to a song you’re interested in dancing to a billion times. Your body is telling a story. You are physically interpreting the drum beats, the melody, the bass — sometimes even a banjo. Make sure that you are well educated on the story your body’s going to tell — I have to listen to my songs on repeat at least 50 times before I dance to them.
With these ideas in mind, I give you: DANCE HOMEWORK!
Oh yes, ladies and gents… I’m that nerdy.
I thought I would post “assignments” that I have been working on in my own practice. If you would like to participate, film yourself and post a comment linking us to your own videos. Or if you’d like to keep your work private, just post your insights.
Or say, “Screw this!” and don’t post anything. Your choice 🙂
This assignment originated from a Strawfoot song. I love the song “Independence Day,” but the whole song has an underlying hella-fast banjo part. I was thinking about how I could move to the song, and I thought, “Man, I wonder if I could do an entire piece over a shimmy.” Now, this isn’t the most original concept in belly dance, but I’ve never tried to actually shimmy for an entire song and it not just be for drilling. I wanted the dance to highlight that two different parts of my body were translating two different sounds in the song.
I tried it, and here’s what I came up with:
— The arms still need work, as usual. One of my hands moves a lot more than the other. Straight arms seem to look more powerful on video.
— Shimmy got smaller the more I was focusing, and I could tell where I straightened my knees since they got smaller then, too.
— My face looks really, really bored. Way too bored.
ASSIGNMENT 1: Make a video in which you continue one movement throughout the entire video. Shimmies are easiest, but you can pick any movement. Journal about what you liked/didn’t like/observe. If you feel zealous, record a SECOND video that uses the same continuous move but with a different feel/emotion to it.
After recording this videos, I felt inspired to make another, with no theme or rules whatsoever.