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How To Tame Your Backstage Nerves and Find Your Inner Bellydancing Superhero

3 more dancers and you’re on. Your stomach is churning and sweat is running down the inside of your arms before you have even started dancing.

Not feeling like thisTamin?

WonderWoman

Backstage nerves are no fun and I’m pretty sure every dancer has experienced them at some time. Even if you are an experienced dancer and are used to being calm, cool and collected in front your audience, if you find yourself in a new situation where the stakes are higher or it is a “tougher room” (we all know an audience full of bellydancers is the toughest) you may still develop a case of newbie-nerves all over again.

The most straight-forward way to prevent a case of the backstage jitters is to be prepared. If you know that you are well-rehearsed and come to the gig rested and fueled in a healthful way (skip the Monster drinks) you have set yourself up for success. But that’s not always enough.

Your body and your mind are both in on the scheme, linked by your hormonal chemistry. There has been some very interesting research done recently that has turned up some really useful information for dancers waiting for their turn backstage.

You can read the whole study here, but this is the short and practical version…

First, let’s consider the connection between our brain and our chemistry. The hormone testosterone has the effect of boosting confidence. Levels of the hormone cortisol rise with stress and anxiety. Now the relationship between our body and our mind – we read confidence in body language when people stand up straight and look “open”. When we see someone slumping or crossing their arms protectively, we read shyness, fear, hesitation and the like.

In the study by Amy Cuddy at Harvard University, they found that assuming a powerful, open posture for 2 minutes positively and significantly impacts the body’s chemistry for more confidence and less anxiety. Wow. Quick, free and all natural too!

So what does this mean for you backstage?

Try standing in the “superwoman stance” as you wait, feet wide, hands on your hips and chest and head up. Maybe add some deep breathing to boost the calming effect – it certainly can’t hurt.

Now channel your bellydancing superhero self and go raq their world!

What techniques do you use to mentally prepare before you take the stage? Tell us in the comments below…

January 22, 2015 3 Comments

Making the Most of Your Belly Dance Music

Around this time of year, I get the urge to clean out things and get rid of what I no longer have use for. I literally spent 8 straight hours ripping my bedroom apart this week.  I even vacuumed under that bed – take that dust bunnies!  Not only did I clear my room of useless clutter that just got in the way, I found things I had long forgotten I owned or that I had thought were lost – like my favorite tweezers!  The big payoff for me is waking up in my refreshed and organized space in the morning. My first sight is a pleasant accomplishment that sets the tone for a good day.

One thing I never get rid of however, is music, especially since these days it’s digital and takes up no space. But I DO take some time to go through it once or twice a year – the payoff is just as real!

These tips are based on using iTunes, but most music library programs have similar characteristics.

An example of ratings and comments from my iTunes library.

An example of ratings and comments from my iTunes library.

Categorize your music by how you USE it.

Do you have all your belly dance music in one category? I used to years ago. 80% of my catalog was one category! That didn’t help to narrow things down at all. Now I categorize my music by how I use it. I have categories for entrance and exit music for shows, drum solos, Saidi, Khaleegy, drill music for teaching, etc.  This makes finding what I need a snap.

Use the “last played” sorting option.

I truly believe the 80/20 rule applies to belly dance music. Without intervention, I would use 20% of my music collection 80% of the time simply because they are my favorites for performance or are really effective for class drills. While that gets the job done, it doesn’t keep things fresh.

Try sorting your collection by play history with the most recently played at the bottom of the list. When you are reading email,  cleaning or otherwise putzing about the house, play it from the top. You’ll unearth songs you didn’t even know you had – and may be perfect for a show, class or your next choreography!

Use the music rating system.

When I’m listening to my least played music, I give it a rating. The rating system helps me find those standbys I love very quickly, but also reminds me of the good stuff I’ve turned up when I go looking for new combo music for DBQ video segments or the next student piece I’m writing.

Be a Comment Queen!

If your program has a comments or notes entry like iTunes does, use it to your advantage. I add info like the predominant rhythm, the “feel” of the music or even the general idea of the song lyrics so I don’t use a song about heartbreak at a wedding reception! For example, if I’m doing Chiftitelli zill drills in class, I look in my Drill Music category, then scan the comments for Chiftitelli – there it is! Another example – I have a TON of Saidi music. Some of it is very modern and some is very heavy and folksy, I keep notes on the “feel” of the music so I can find what I need quickly and easily.

Use playlists creatively.

Of course I keep playlists of party shows, holiday-themed shows, shows that include props and all the workshop topics I teach. Sometimes I use them as is, sometimes I swap out a song or two to keep things fresh. They are in a constant state of musical evolution.  I also use playlists as reminders and personal study guides. I have a playlist of interesting songs I’ve found and want to get to know better.

I usually turn these up during my “excavation” of the least played items or when I buy a new CD and a track  piques my interest.  Another handy playlist is the “I’d like to choreograph this someday” list. Sometimes I find a song I think I’d like to write choreography to – for myself or my belly dance students – but I don’t have an upcoming project at the time. One the list it goes. When the time comes, I have some pre-screened ideas ready to check out.

 

What tips and tricks do you use to organize your digital music collection? Share them in the comments below…

December 29, 2014 3 Comments
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6 Things To Know About Stretching & Belly Dance

Flexibility is essential in belly dance. It gives us the range of motion to complete our movements with ease and grace. The field of exercise science has done quite a few flip-flops over the years in its recommendations on safe and effective stretching.  As new research emerges, these change and improve . If your main experience with flexibility exercises came from your high school P.E. class, or someone who isn’t up to date on the most current knowledge,  it may be time to re-think when and how you stretch. Continue Reading →

January 19, 2013 5 Comments

The Science Behind Learning Shimmies

Learning how to shimmy is a huge challenge for many new belly dance students. Even if they come to Middle Eastern dance with several years of other dance training, most likely none of it prepared them for that small, repetitive movement that is so integral to belly dance styles.  When they sigh “HOW do you do that so fast?”, we usually tell them “Practice, LOTS of practice!”. It’s true, practice makes perfect – or at least a lot better – but what exactly is happening in our bodies in that early shimmy learning stage?

The Engine That Stalls

Remember back to your early days, instructors! New students, yes, we’ve all been where you are. You get your shimmy going and a few seconds later your knees mysteriously stop by no will of your conscious brain, You pause, then you start it back up again like an old car that stalled at a stop light. What is happening and how do you “fix” it?

Getting Under The Hood

There are a few components to learning a new movement pattern. First, you brain needs to understand what you mean to do. Second, your brain needs to get your body to cooperate – at first in a  slow and rudimentary way. In class, I ask my students if “their heads have it” meaning, they understand the movement. After all, your body doesn’t stand much of a chance if your brain doesn’t get it first. From that understanding, the body will learn it with enough perseverance. Princess Farhana cracked me up in a workshop once expressing the same idea. She said “your brain is writing checks your hips can’t cash” –  so true!

Now that your brain understands and your body can carry out the motion at a moderate speed for a short amount of time, how do we get that to grow into a sustained, smooth shimmy? This is where the body works the behind the scenes magic of neural adaptation.

Bring In The Wiring Crew

Whether it’s a shimmy or strength training, much of the early progress we see with practice is due to neural adaptation rather than actual changes in the strength or size of our muscles.  For an Egyptian knee shimmy, the quadriceps and hamstrings are the primary muscle groups we are talking about. Each of these large groups in made up of several smaller muscles and each of these has bundles of muscle fibers that work together. Each of these bundles is controlled by one nerve and that work group of muscle fibers and it’s nerve is called a motor unit. Check out the picture at the top of this post for an illustration of a motor unit.

When the neural adaptation process starts, the brain and motor units improve the speed and efficiency of their communication. We experience this as our body “cooperating” with us. On a larger scale, the motor units learn to work together in a more synchronized way. Just like a rowing crew that has all its members in perfect timing to achieve maximum speed, your muscles work best when all the motor units needed contract in unison. As the movement pattern become more familiar to our brain, our bodies also begin to recruit more motor units to do the same movement which really adds more shimmy-power.  We experience this golden moment as the “smooth, sustained shimmy”.

So is your instructor conning you when she says “Practice, LOTS of practice!”? No, absolutely not. Neural adaptation is the outcome of all that practice. It doesn’t happen from thinking about your shimmy, or wishing your shimmy would get better. The more often you practice the more positively your neural network will adapt to comply with your dreams of amazing shimmies for hours on end.

“Often” is the important key word here. Shorter daily shimmy practice will get the beginner better neural adaptation results that wrestling with it for an hour once a week. All of these things are also true for experienced dancers who are working to master a new and different shimmy than the one they’ve been doing for years.

So whether it’s your first shimmy or learning shimmy style #10, give yourself 5 minutes every day to let your body work that neural adaptation magic! Remember… “Practice, LOTS of practice!”

April 24, 2012 18 Comments

An “Interesting” Experience

Last weekend my student troupe and I performed our newest choreography, a multi-part Saidi, at our MECDA chapter’s annual festival. They were very excited about it and deserved to be – they worked on it diligently for months, aligning cane angles and synchronizing their spins. Their post-show glow took a rude hit in the dressing room unfortunately when another dancer approached them and said, “Your piece was…. interesting.”  When she told me later my student did a look-down-the-nose, raised eyebrow imitation of the person who delivered the comment. Wow.

As much as I’d like to believe the best of people, I doubt this was meant as a compliment. “Interesting”? I did my homework and the piece was traditional from the music selections, to the costuming, to the movement vocabulary. We used some ingenuity in the multi -person cane tricks but even those were inspired by formations done by the Reda folkloric troupe in their choreographies. Even our addition of a Raks Balas segment didn’t venture too far out there.

Keeping that in mind, what do I think about that comment? I think the problem here is not only a shortage of politeness but narrow knowledge base. Before I go on, let me say that I wasn’t able to identify the speaker from what my students told me – and I’m glad I can’t.  Really, I don’t want to know. I probably know the person and I’d rather just skip the whole forgive and forget thing.

We had a similar experience last year at the same festival, but thankfully it was handled a lot better. My dance partner (yes, the crazy one) and I did a traditional Khaleegy piece. We did not include any cultural information in the introduction. Later a good friend of ours, a tribal dancer, told us she didn’t “get” what we were doing with the dresses or our hair so we explained the basic Khaleegy facts. With this cultural frame of reference she “got” it and recommended we include an introduction next time we perform it so the audience could better appreciate it.

We took her advice when we next performed it. In speaking to the show organizer, a very well-known dancer with a lifetime of experience, I requested it be introduced with some background information. I told her about our friend’s reaction and she agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, she told me years ago she saw a dancer wearing a short trashy dress, doing sloppy veil work and chewing gum on stage! She couldn’t believe it and thought she was a hot mess. Years later, she learned it was  – you guessed it – a Melaya Leff. I’m certain she was far too gracious to ever walk up to that dancer and tell her it was…. interesting.

I felt really bad that my students had to weather this little rain cloud on their parade. Being relatively new to performing, they haven’t yet developed the necessary thick skin and selective hearing we sometimes need in the bellydance world. If they wanted a comeback for an uninformed – and unsolicited – comment like that in the future, I suggested they reply with “You’re not familiar with that style?” and fill them in on the background.

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If a dancer keeps her world small by studying one style with one teacher and not exposing herself to other styles, regional dances and folkloric elements, she’s bound to think odd things when something new comes into view. If  we choose to specialize in one style, we should keep our minds open to being familiar with other styles – even if we choose never to dance them. At the very least, a dancer should be willing to consider that she may be looking at something she knows nothing about.  If all else fails, remember what your Mom told you… if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.  Then go home and Google it.

If you’re on Facebook, you can see our “interesting” performance.

 

 

 

November 10, 2010 6 Comments
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