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Hi everyone! Heather here, to tell you about some workshops I recently attended.
This past weekend two local dancers, Leela of New York and Najmah Nour, co-sponsored a weekend with 2 workshops overviewing several Turkish folks dances (mostly line dances), as well as 2 workshops exploring the Turkish Oriental style through choreographies.
The folk dance workshops were taught by a wonderful local lady, Margaret Tolbert. One look at her website and you will know that she is definitely multi-talented. In addition to being a wealth of knowledge on folk dances from many regions, she is also an artist and an environmental activist. She recently released a book including her own art and writing, as well as that of other contributers, about Florida’s spring systems, their features, and the urgent need for their preservation. The book is AQUIFERious and you can learn about the book project, and find out where to purchase your own copy, here. (It’s available at several local venues, as well as on Amazon.)
Each day had one workshop focused on folk dances and one focused on an oriental choreography. This was nice to keep the brain from being overwhelmed with two much information on one subject. I loved both classes!
The first day’s folk dance was all line dances, and they were so much fun! Unlike the dance workshops I’m used to – this was not stressful. That was a nice change of pace, and it was great dancing together with everyone. This cooperative aspect is something I really like about tribal group dance, that is missing from a lot of other dance styles. I think I would like to learn more line dances and begin incorporating them into show and hafla activities for audience and member participation. (And to make sure I don’t forget what I have learned!)
Some of the dances we learned over the 2 folk dance workshops were:
- Kemane from Konya
- Militsa from the Black Sea area
- Delilo from Elazig
- Berde from Erzurum (one of my favorites!)
- Kechiko from Elazig (another favorite)
- Sepastia Bar
- Erzurum Bar
The first day’s oriental choreography was also a blast. Some of the moves were pretty tricky, but I really *loved* the music.
The second day’s choreography was more in my usual style and aesthetic, (and I really liked that music too) but I luuuurve the first day’s music. (Hadi Hadi, which is a pop song about a pre-destined love that is just meant to be. Everyone likes a good love song.)
Day 1 Group Photo!
I really enjoyed this intensive, Turkish culture and dance are major influences on American belly dance, and so I think it’s an important part of the picture that we should have a bit of familiarity with.
I found this site (it was being shared around on facebook a few weeks ago) and I really liked it and wanted to share it with you all:
While the video itself is pretty compelling, I was more impressed with the author’s (Karen’s) words in the entry right below the video.
This is the part I liked the best:
When you watch someone perform, you’re seeing them at the top of their game. When they score the winning point or sell their company for millions — you’re seeing them in their moment of glory. What you don’t see is the thousands of hours of preparation. You don’t see the self doubt, the lost sleep, the lonely nights spent working. You don’t see the moment they started. The moment they were just like you, wondering how they could ever be good.
I think the big thing to remember, for dance students in particular, is that every brilliant dancer you see was once a beginner at their craft, struggling to learn as they chased their own dream, but probably enjoying it. Many of those same brilliant dancers are even now still students – still struggling to learn more and more challenging things, digging deeper, and still enjoying it.
Though her genre isn’t belly dance, I believe that there are some common aspects of all dance study to which her comments apply. I agree that dedication and practice really make a big difference. I believe that you do get out what you put in, and a lot of work goes into those few minutes on the stage. It is undoubtedly incredible what a person can accomplish if they push themselves past the first hurdle (getting started) and then work hard at it.
I’m a bit torn on the idea of not needing to train for years to become a dancer. I think Karen is absolutely correct on the topic of being a dancer – and from the video, she’s an excellent dancer. However to become a full time professional dancer or a dance teacher, it is often necessary to train for a long time, simply due to the amount of knowledge and experience that must be acquired. One can speed up this process by focusing their efforts and putting a lot more hours into fewer years, but your mileage may vary.
But, you needn’t stress about the process, and whether or not you are doing this whole dance thing properly just because you practice more or less than someone else. After all, artistic pursuits, even as casual hobbies, are often about growth. The only person to compare yourself to is your past self. It’s the journey that counts for a lot of people, and if someone has the time to devote, they can definitely press the gas pedal to speed up – or they can take the scenic route and enjoy the view. There’s no need to rush, so it’s up to you.
There’s a lot more on the web site as Karen tells us her story, and I’m very excited to read it. Wonderful work Karen – you’re an inspiration!
Good news everyone! We have a Groupon special running. If you’ve been considering giving our classes a try, now is a great time, because you can get an awesome deal on a one month class pass that allows new students a TON of flexibility to check out all of our many classes to see what works best for you!
Check out the details here.
Nevermind what might seem like the overuse of the word ‘fitness’ in the ad copy (we didn’t write it). Belly dance is definitely exercise, so you don’t have to worry about that, but our primary focus in class is on dancing – classes are still structured and taught like dance classes. We hope this makes dance class more fun (and more educational) than hitting the treadmill at the gym. But, if you really want to take it to the next level, we also have conditioning classes that do focus more intensely on working your stamina, strength, and flexibility.
And, If you buy the Groupon deal, finish your month, and want to continue on the same program, we’re offering a special discount (1/3 off the normal price!) for Groupon members that buy another 1 month pass from the studio directly when the Groupon pass expires.
The mission of Shambling Shimmies Dance Company is to create an integrated belly dance school serving the Gainesville area. In addition to dance classes themselves, we focus on running classes that are directly supportive of dance by assisting students in building the skills, strength, and flexibility that they need to dance their best, as well as restorative exercises to avoid injury. The school is neutral, and everyone is welcome to participate in dance classes regardless of their beliefs, lifestyle, or views. Bodies are treated with respect, while dance is most definitely exercise, our top focus is learning and growing. As a dance school, we hope that our product is joy in music and movement.
In the past, though sadly not so much today, it was not uncommon to have a full belly dance show performed at a restaurant or nightclub. These shows generally followed a set progression that still influences how belly dance shows are laid out today. Today we’re going to talk briefly about that show structure, and about a new project we are about to start at the Shambling Shimmies School of Belly Dance.
The show structure commonly used in the 60s and 70s for restaurant dancing in the United States was a 7 part show. Shira has a good article on her site [link] for further reading, but I’ll very briefly list the 7 parts here:
1. Entrance, to greet the audience.
2. Slow, flowing music with veil (previously wrapped and tucked).
3. Fast or medium-speed song to keep the show moving.
4. Floorwork, sword/tray balancing, or standing taqsim (slow).
5. Fast or medium-speed song to bring the energy back up.
6. Drum solo.
In a 7 part show, each section is a full song. Currently, it’s less common for a dancer to be hired for such a long show, so she will often use a variation on the 7 part format, taking 3 or 5 of the parts, which still gives her the opportunity to present variety and an interesting progression, in the reduced amount of time more commonly available today.
While it’s rare, especially in Gainesville, to see a professional belly dancer hired for solo shows in a restaurant or nightclub, this totally still happens in larger cities. Today, it’s more common to see belly dance performed at a hafla (hafla means party, and is commonly used in the US to describe a party or similar event where there will be belly dancing).
At most haflas there will be multiple dancers, most likely with different skill levels and presenting different styles of belly dance. Haflas are huge fun because they provide a great opportunity for belly dancers to get together to support and enjoy each others’ dancing, and they also provide performance opportunities for students that are ready to begin getting practice performing for an audience. As an audience member, seeing belly dance performed in a club or restaurant show is different from seeing it at a hafla, and even more different from seeing it in a stage show.
When planning a hafla’s performance lineup, the organizer will often take into consideration the style of belly dance each dancer plans to perform, props they plan to use, or the music they plan to use, in order to lay out a pleasing and interesting progression for the audience. When possible, the classic 7 part show may influence the ordering of the acts.
Harkening back to this era in belly dance history, we’re about to start a new project at the studio. In our belly dance sampler class (currently on Mondays), we’re going to go through a 5 part show!
We’ll be including choreographies for:
3. Uptempo (with Zills)
4. Taqsim (with Optional Floorwork)
5. Drum Solo
We’ll actually be going through them in reverse order (so that the pieces which will require the most practice are learned earlier in the series). When all 5 pieces have been taught, the group that is ready to perform will get a full set at the monthly Student Showcase! (Dancers do not need to commit to learn and perform all 5 pieces, students who have learned at least one choreography to a performance level will be eligible to participate.)
We’ll also be going through much shorter and simpler ‘tastes’ of all 7 parts in the belly dance party jam class on Thursday nights!
The belly dance stylization we’ll be using for this project is something that is perhaps best described as American Vintage – heavily inspired by Jamila Salimpour, the style includes a variety of movements from multiple middle eastern dance genres. We still call the stylization American because it came about in the United States when immigrants from many cultures came to the U.S. and people began to share their own music and dance with one another. Jamila Salimpour is a pioneer in the field that codified many movements and preserved a format that is still in use today. Though she’s very well known for her Bal Anat performances at Renaissance fairs, which used a tribal stylization and presentation (including a chorus or backline and featured dancers, still used today in both ATS and ITS), it may be less known that at the time, those same dancers changed costumes and performed the same movements to different music in shows at nightclubs and restaurants in the evenings.
Hope to see you in class!
We teach fairly difficult choreographies in our beginner classes. We do this for a reason, so if you’re in one of these classes, I hope that you’ll stick it out, you can do it with practice, and the rewards are coming. It may seem harsh to some, to teach a ‘beginner’ choreography with complicated sequences and picky technique. Thinking back to high school and college, when I was learning choreographies for various extra-curriculars, and even some of the beginner belly dance choreographies I learned later in life, several of them had one thing in common: they were difficult (requiring me to really practice the moves), or they were cheesy (in a bad way) and I felt a little embarrassed to dance them, even after I had learned them well enough. When I learned that Jules had a similar experience in show choir and as a beginner in belly dance, I began theorizing that perhaps this is common in choreographies taught to beginners across multiple styles. I will note that I cannot speak for ballet, as I did not take ballet as a child (where a recital might have been a possibility) and the classes I took as an adult did not teach choreography.
In our mission at this school to help students develop a dance practice for themselves that they can enjoy and be proud of, we don’t want to spend your valuable time teaching you routines that we all think are cheesy. So, we teach choreographies that we like (and hope that you’ll like, even though you’ll have to practice more). I personally have always worked harder to learn choreography that I liked, found challenging, could see myself actually performing, and could be proud of having learned.
Since every school can define things differently, I’d like to share with you our thoughts on how we define what separates a ‘beginner’ choreography from others:
The movements are taught.
In a beginner class, students will receive a breakdown of the movements used in the choreography, usually in the warm up. This will not be as detailed a breakdown as they would get in a technique class due to time constraints. Students that believe they need more help to pick up the underlying technique should consider attending the technique class as well. In an intermediate or advanced class, students are expected to already know their belly dance technique, with the exception of any particularly specific or unique stylizations which get a brief breakdown. Choreography classes get less and less movement/technique breakdown as they get more advanced.
No requirements are imposed for range of motion or strength.
Choreographies with beginners in mind will not include dance movements that require particularly taxing or dangerous feats of flexibility or strength. No splits, no back bends, no drops, no requirement on how high a battement (kick) needs to be, etc. If there is floorwork being taught, which is rare, there will be modifications available for those that have joint issues or do not yet have sufficient strength to execute the movement safely (it is the student’s responsibility to mention these issues in order to make sure they are given a modification.) In more advanced choreographies, certain movements may be required and students will be expected to train up to the appropriate strength, speed, or flexibility level before they can perform (or in some cases before they can learn) the choreography.
Modifications are Available.
As mentioned before, modifications are available in the case of floorwork in all beginner classes.
Modifications are also available for more complicated movements, and it may be optional to drop a layer in class and practice it more at home. When preparing for performance, if there are layers that some students are still not able to execute, those layers may be dropped. (An example of a layered movement is a ¾ shimmy on top of a foot pattern with prescribed arm movements – in such a case the ¾ shimmy might be dropped.) The same concept applies to particular movements – if it just proves to be too difficult for the group after they’ve had enough time to practice on their own and ask clarifying questions in class, an easier move can be substituted for the group performance.
Choreographies in beginner classes generally will not have extensive or complex layering. This does not mean there will be no layering. Layering a shimmy with hip, arm, or chest movements is pretty common in our beginner choreographies. Because it’s such an essential part of belly dance, we feel it’s good to just practice that and get past it early on so that layering something on top of a shimmy won’t be a stumbling block later on. Layering can (and does) get much more complex as a student advances. Timings, foot patterns, arm patterns, finger cymbals, hip, chest, head, and abdominal movements can all be layered on top of one another (each having its own downbeat and direction options). Thankfully in beginner choreographies we usually stop at layering shimmies with one other thing.
Beginner doesn’t mean easy.
In order to have a choreography that you are proud of having learned, are excited to perform, and have put the work into in order to learn it well enough to perform it for others, odds are it wasn’t easy. The difficulty of the routine has little bearing on whether or not it can be appropriately taught to beginners (safety precautions regarding range of motion and strength still apply). You get out what you put in, and if you feel like a choreography is not exciting or not challenging, you are less likely to put much into it. So yes, many of the routines we teach in our ‘beginner’ class are difficult for a beginner. If you don’t have to learn something new and work for it, exactly how proud are you going to feel of your accomplishment? Not very proud at all, I figure, and I want you to be proud of yourself, so I hope that we challenge you to push yourself. The rewards have always been worth it to me, and I hope they’ll be worth it to you as well.
When it comes to belly dance choreography, particularly for beginners, it all comes down to one simple concept:
If it isn’t cheesy, it wasn’t easy.
Wow – what a great weekend! We were very honored to host Lacey Sanchez of Florida Tribal Dance and her lovely assistant Aivin for an intimate tribal fusion intensive this past weekend at our studio in Northwest Gainesville. All in all, we went through 10 hours of instruction ranging from key techniques used in tribal fusion to tips and tricks for layering, influences from industrial music, performance concepts, and more. Lacey is a talented and enthusiastic instructor, and such a joy to have around. Aivin is also a sweetheart and a very talented dancer. I hope we’ll be able to see them both again soon!
In addition to the workshops, this weekend was also Gainesville’s first ever Shimmy Mob on Saturday. One of our own students, Tara, was the team leader and coordinator for Gainesville. Our school was able to contribute by donating studio space for practices, which one of our instructors graciously volunteered to teach. The Shambling Shimmies School of Belly Dance also hosted a hafla and fundraiser on Saturday night, which was a blast! The funds raised by the party and the efforts of other Shimmy Mob sponsors that donated % of sales or raffle prizes went to Peaceful Paths.