Choreography, Improvisation & The Coffee Pot Theory
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…