Dance Homework #1

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 πŸ™‚

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:

Self-critiques:

— 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.

Workshop in Kirksville!

April 10, 2010: Contemporary Belly Dance Fusion
Truman State University
Pershing Building 225
Kirksville, MO 63501
$25 for one class/$40 for both.

12:30-2:30 PM: The Building Blocks of Contemporary Fusion
This two-hour workshop begins with a challenging stretching and conditioning/toning warm-up designed to target key muscles used in many styles of dance. Students then will participate in drills to refine and hone popping and locking technique and smooth and snaky movement. Modern dance, burlesque, and Odissi Indian dance technique will be introduced to give students more building blocks to pair with belly dance.

3:00-5:00 PM: Contemporary Fusion Games and Combinations
This two-hour workshop opens with several β€œdance games” designed to get students to think creatively and to explore their own style of movement. Several dance combinations will follow that focus on each dance style from the previous workshop – a modern/belly dance combo, a burlesque/belly dance combo, popping/locking/belly dance combo, etc. Combinations be taught in a cardio-dance style workout.

Hope to see you there!

The Happy and Humpy Traveling Medicine Show!

This Saturday’s 9:45 AM Jeff City is canceled!

Also, you don’t want to miss the Happy & Humpy’s Traveling Medicine Show this weekend, and there are two chances to see it! We’ll be in St. Louis Friday night and in Kansas City on Saturday!

The Happy and Humpy Traveling Medicine Show

Hey You…with the Face!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and neighbors alike.

If you are ailing, yer kidneys are failing, listen close, now don’t be shy…

We’ve got yer tonic, we’ve got yer fixer.

Try Happy & Humpy’s miracle elixir.

It’s good fer the shivers, it’s good fer the bends, it’s good fer yer family and good fer yer friends. It’s good fer arthritis, it turns back yer clocks, it battles the plague, the fever and pox

THE HAPPY & HUMPY TRAVELING MEDICINE SHOW has been around the world delighting royalty and healing noblemen, performing to princes and prognosticating for peasants.

We’ve seen the world, and we’ve been around, from Paris, France to this small town…We’ve done the math and tried the rest, and can assure you, it’s the best.

It ain’t too sweet, and it ain’t too bitter, try Happy & Humpy’s miracle elixir.

Come experience the wonder and oddity, the thrills and spills, the temptation and salvation of the THE HAPPY & HUMPY TRAVELING MEDICINE SHOW for one night only.

Featuring some of yer favorite harlots, jezebels, sinners, saints, hobos and snake oil salesmen…
Happy von Speaknspell
Humpy
Lola the Lowfat Vanilla Girl
Greta Torn Garters
Gigi McGregor
Sammich the Tramp
Whiskey Gulch
Calamity Flair and her bayou black magic
Princess Sumfaroff
and the musical salvation and stylings of
The Hayfoot Strawfoot Gospel Ensemble

Only ten dollars, the one-half part of a twenty-dollar bill.

Music, hoochie coochie, soothsayin’, flea circus, magic, healin’, burlesque and enough Happy and Humpy Miracle Elixir for all.

For those that want to insure they don’t miss a moment, tickets can be purchased in advance.

FRIDAY NIGHT:

Off Broadway
3511 Lemp Ave
Historic Cherokee Lemp District
St. Louis MO 63118

314.773.3363

Tickets: $10, $3 cover for minors

Time: 9PM
Facebook invitation
Preorder

*** Buy tickets early, looks like it WILL sell out!***

SATURDAY NIGHT:

The Loft
1331 Union Ave.
Kansas City, MO 64101

Tickets: $10
Time: 9PM, 8:30 doors
Facebook invitation

 

Naughti Gras/Workshop Weekend!

Oh my, oh my… another crazy weekend has come and gone.

I have been really, really fortunate lately. Just this year alone I’ve already hit Sacramento, New York, and now attended a really badass event in St. Louis. I’m extremely grateful, don’t get me wrong… but I’m a little tired πŸ™‚ Traveling nonstop is exhausting, and I’m more than ready to take a few weeks just to get my affairs in order back home.

But I am SO glad I went this weekend to Naughti Gras. And as usual, I learned so much from this experience.

Lesson 1: I absolutely cannot use last-minute panic to get stuff done anymore, period.

This weekend started off a little hectic. Taking the lessons from EPL Month 2, I have been trying all week to develop good training habits that force me to work — I’e been figuring out what dance classes I can take, applying for a gym pass, working in the dance studio every single day for at least an hour, eating right, trying to plan ahead. But it was odd — every single time I tried to sit down and choreograph the piece I would be teaching this weekend, I had dancer’s block (a close relative of writer’s block). So come Friday, the choreography is still not 100% where I want it. I’m a bit stressed.

15 minutes before we leave, I sit down and crank out the whole choreography. And while I’m definitely happy I came up with something,Β  it really drove home the point that I have literally conditioned myself to only be productve when I’m being motivated by last-minute panic. I’m making improvements — ordinarily I would have found ANYTHING else to do than even go into the dance studio (“I should go to the dance studio… but first I need to alphabetize my magazines…”). I’m feeling optimistic that this time around I have made some positive strides toward not procrastinating, but I’ve been a procrastinator so long that I feel like a junkie kicking the habit.

(I also became convinced 15 minutes before I left that I HAD to make business cards. Thank God for Sharpie markers, pretty paper, and Kinkos).

Lesson 2: Always add MUCH more time than I think I’ll need when planning long trips.

I planned on getting to Naughti Gras an hour before I had to perform. Between the snow, bad traffic, and trying to find the place, I ended up running in on Friday 10 minutes before I was due onstage. I figured I would be ok because I thought Naughti Gras would be one of those events where everything was running a bit late, but no, Murphy’s Law: the Naughti Gras coordinator was one of those great coordinators that strives to keep everyone on schedule. As a performer who’s had to wait several hours to get onstage because of delays, I can’t begin to say how much I admire someone who wants to keep things running on track.

Lesson 3: Stretch. Always.

I run in, throw on my costume, and am headed downstairs 10 minutes later. I paid the price for running late — about 2 minutes into my 25 minute set, I go into the splits and pull my hamstring. It’s definitely the worst pulled muscle I have had, and I am hoping it will heal quickly. Dancers: ALWAYS STRETCH. Especially when it’s cold, you’ve been driving for two hours, and you’re going to dancing for a longer set.

Lesson 4: Shit happens onstage. Roll with it.

My iPod had conveniently froze in the car about ten minutes away from Naughti Gras. No worries, I had brought a backup CD just in case. When my music starts, I realize a few things: 1) Something is a little off with the sound — it sounded mono. As a result, you could not hear a lot of the beats in the songs I was dancing too — my drum solo was just dums, no teks or kas. A few of my songs don’t play at all. Just roll with it, just roll with it, I keep reminding myself.

Shortly after I pulled my hamstring but was riding on pure adrenaline to dance through it, the things I’m hearing finally start registering in my brain: “Why do they keep saying, ‘take it off?'” I look down, and there it is: my skirt is falling off my hips, and you can clearly see the red thong I am wearing under the fabulous sheer harem pants that Suzanne VanSickle whipped up for me (In a perfect world, I was going to wear black boy shorts under the pants JUST IN CASE something like this happened… see Lesson 2).

Great.

However, if your skirt is going to fall off in the middle of a performance, the best place you can do it is at an erotic arts festival. I readjust my skirt, pantomime acting scandalized, and continue dancing.

Lesson 5: I think I’m finally figuring out my style and what I want to say.

The workshop was so much fun. We did two hours of stregnthing drills, stretching, and then breaking down and drilling all of the main muscles used in bellydance, sometimes put into some more interesting combinations. I went to lunch with Tricia and Sierra, two of the participants, at an amazing Vietnamese resteraunt for lunch, and then I taught two hours of choreography. As usual, there are definitely things I would have done differently, but overall I had a great time and I hope the students enjoyed it.

But after teaching this workshop, I really got some more insight into what I might be able to offer students that is different from other teachers. I’m really looking forward to getting into the dance studio and start really investigating my dancing and teaching style.

Lesson 6: The Universe rewards you if you learn from your mistakes.

Saturday night dancing at Naughti Gras went SO much better. I got there an hour early, got dressed, put on my makeup and did my hair, and mentally and physically prepared to perform. I made sure my iPod was charged and all my songs were on a playlist.

It went SO much better than Friday.

My skirt stayed on, and even though I had one music glitch (my iPod was still set to “Repeat song” from the workshop), I felt like my dancing was stronger, I connected better with the audience, and I got some good pictures and video (THANK you, Jessica Barnett and Hannah Radcliffe!) I had my business cards ready to hand out and I had a really fabulous time. My hamstring didn’t bother me, and I just HAD FUN.

I am constantly amazed by the burlesque community in St. Louis. Lola van Ella, as always, was an amazing hostess and did a FABULOUS job organizing all the entertainment for Naughti Gras. I hope to work with them again soon… (stay tuned, I’m hoping to have more to report soon on that end πŸ˜‰ )

All right, I am going back to bed to sleep for another billion hours πŸ™‚