Choreography, Improvisation & The Coffee Pot Theory

September 8, 2010 4 Comments

I watch a lot of bellydance. Whether I’m on the hunt for the next clip to include in the Daily Bellydance Quickie, at a live show, supervising rehearsal or just wasting time – uh, I mean doing reasearch – on YouTube, the total adds up to a good chunk of time every week. Of course, I never get tired of it, but I have noticed what captures and keeps my attention and what makes my mouse finger itch and my mind wander.

A well done group choreography will hold my attention for a while if it is neat and  together- even longer if it has interesting formations and changes. Solos, however, have a higher attention bar for me. No matter how well executed the technique, if I can tell it’s a set choreography it leaves me a little cold. On the flip side, if I feel like the dancer is truly “in the moment” with her music and giving me (or the videotape) her honest expression of the music through her movement, she will have my undivided attention for as long as she can keep it up.

Often an audience member will ask if I choreograph all those songs. It always makes me laugh – and my playful response is, “I’m far too lazy for that, it’s all improvisation.”  In truth, I don’t have a lazy attitude about my dancing, but I do always improvise solo performances. Why? Because dancing improvisationally is like making coffee, and I don’t serve my guests  powdered instant.

My  “Coffee Pot Theory” first emerged when I was interviewed by Ramsey McGee in her film, “The Bellydancer Project”  in 2008.  I was attempting to put into words what fascinates me about improvisation both as a dancer and an audience member. When we make coffee, we start with ground coffee and water. As dancers we are the coffee. Some days we are a bitter dark espresso grind, some days we have the sunny disposition of a French breakfast blend. We may leave our particular concerns in the dressing room, but we bring our attitude and energy level on stage with us. The water is the music. It can be tap or filtered or something fancy from a far away tropical spring. The combination of the two creates a performance that is unique to that dancer and that moment. Even if it is a favorite song we have danced to many, many times, if we are emotionally open to it, we can hear it with new ears and bring the happy accents or melancholy violin to life with our bodies.

It’s our job to let that music flow through us, to percolate through who we are at that very moment in time and send it out through hips, arms, eyes and stage presence. In the best of circumstances, when we let that honest brew happen, the audience gets to see something very personal from us. That, in my opinion, is what makes it so satisfying to create and so riveting to watch.

And that is why my personal dance credo is “In the ears, through the heart, out the hips!”


Do you prefer choreography or improvisation? Let me know in a comment below…

Mahin (121 Posts)

Professional instructor and performer of Middle Eastern belly dance, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and author or the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”. Belly Dance Artrepreneur, Workshop instructor, performer, event producer, and bellydance writer.

  1. Leslie Bruner Bradford/Kessa
    September 8, 2010 at 6:51 am

    I much prefer improvisation. I prefer teaching improvisation. Even with the kids, if you can get them to feel the music and love their bodies and what they can do with body and music together it’s magical. It’s one of the reasons I like tribal as well, because it is all about the improvisation. When you’re choreographed it’s all about sticking to the piece. Live it’s all about the DANCE. Thanks for the blog post.

  2. rita williamson
    September 8, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I LOVE your ananology regarding coffee. It makes so much sense. Recently I’ve liked to think that my dance has become more improvisational (the truth is I’m getting too old and cranky to start learning and remebering things!) and I am beginning to appreciate dancers and dances that are more ‘in the moment’. Complicated choreos and 17 different moves crammed into an 8-count phrase, leave me cold (actually, they leave me jangled and exhausted). Some people just try too hard and this dance really is meant to be much more laid back: a Sunday morning brew for chillin’ with the papers, content on a comfy sofa while you wait for the day to unfold.

  3. Fayza
    September 16, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    I prefer to improvise solo dances (particularly for Raks Shargi and Beledi Taqsim), sometimes with maybe a bit of a loose choreography if there are a few movements I know go really well with a particular part of the music. That’s not to say I can’t and haven’t learned choreography before, but I definitely prefer to not use it as I feel the emotion is lost when you’re trying to remember what you’re “supposed” to do next. Better to just dance it how you feel and what you hear in the music in that moment!!

  4. marion cerrato
    July 21, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    I feel exactly the way you do. In order to be a good dancer you must feel the music. You can always tell when a solo is choreographed. Not that it’s a bad thing, but the fire isn’t there. . Improve is more exciting. And I too am too lazy for all of that other stuff.


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