The Blog

Skill, Challenge & Creative Flow in Belly Dance

Let’s begin at the end this time. Have you ever set to working on a bellydance choreography and found that you competely lost track of time? Ideas are coming, you’re jumping forward and backward in the music as you find the movement that is the perfect fit of musicality and style. Ahhh… flow is a wondrous thing. The “flow” state, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his TED talk,  is that lost-in-the-work feeling you get when it’s all coming together easily, or at least steadily. You face the sticker moments head on without inadequacy and drill right through them. Those are amazing and energizing moments, but for most of us, they don’t come nearly often as we’d like.

Creativity requires your full attention.

Researchers say that flow can only happen when we work alone and without distractions because to pay attention to another person uses over 50% of our brain capacity. To get into creative flow, we have to source our ideas from within the contents of our brain, or what we can synthesize using our existing skills and knowledge. We can’t stop to look things up or gather ideas from outside sources or other people – that breaks our flow. Therefore having s solid bank of skill is key to getting and staying in this golden creative state. We need to have it at the ready and fully integrated into our skill set, not as a passing bit of information we once heard, saw or tried, but an adaptable understanding of how that information can apply to the work at hand.

So… what does this have to do with bellydance?

Does it sounds like I’m talking far away from the topic of bellydance? Not really. Let’s look at the example of going to a workshop. During the workshop you may learn several new moves and combination that you really enjoy  and would like to incorporate in your improvisational dancing or choreography projects. However, if those moves and combos only live in your notebook and a dusty corner of your dance memory, they are very unlikely to come out in your work. To get this information embedded into your dance brain and muscle patterns, you need to drill it consciously so it can come out spontaneously when you are deeply embroiled in writing new dances.

Taking a huge load of workshops at a bellydance convention is fun and mentally stimulating, but ask yourself how much of the information that you paid for and took in do you really, truly actually apply in your dancing? If we’re honest with ourselves, the percentage is probably fairly low.  I observed this about my own workshop experiences going to conferences and I changed my objective. I still may take a lot of workshops for the variety, opportunity and experience of new material and teachers, but my goal is to pluck a few nuggets that I will really, truly use and get them into easy reach of my working movement vocabulary by engaging with the material consistently in my personal practice during the weeks following.

Filling your bellydance “well”

As creative artists, bellydancers should be looking to “fill their well” every day with a variety of images, music, dances and inspiring thoughts. Sometimes we seek it out, sometimes we just have to be open to what is around us..  These all converge and align in the moment when we need them…. if we’ve provided ourselves a steady diet of thoughtful material of all types.  This is a practice recommended in both  The Accidental Creative and The Artist’s Way – two books and authors I have personally  found invaluable and highly recommend.

Recently, I shared an article in the “Daily Bellydance Quickies” regarding creativity as a skill  that can be acquired rather than a “gift” one is born with – or not. One of the “skill builders” for creativity the article described is being an “explainer” to yourself.  Talk out loud to yourself, or write down an explanation of new information you want to truly learn. Share it with someone else; the questions and comments in these interactions can be quite illuminating and will enrich your own understanding and synthesis of the information. The goal here is to get those skills on board so they can go with you down the river of creative flow.

The goal here is to get those skills on board so they can go with you down the river of creative flow.

True flow also needs something for us to leverage our skills against. Mr. Csikszentmihalyi  and Julie Bernstein each explained aspects of this idea in their TED talks.  The challenge presented needs to be high and met by a high skill set. If our challenge is high but our skills are low, we are anxious and unsure. If both are low we are bored. If our skills are only slighty below what is needed to meet the challenge, then we are in an “arousal” state where curiosity and interest are piqued and the atmosphere for learning is optimal. If you’ve been in a bellydance workshop with just the right amount of challenge – a reach but not a frustrating overreach for you technical skills – then you know the kind of exhilarating learning experience this can be!

So what does it all mean for us as bellydance artists?

If our end goal is to experience flow in our dance creations often and turn out quality, inspired work, then we have to seek out and be receptive to new ideas and inspiration that “fills our well”. We have to let ourselves move toward and with the ideas that  draw our interest and engage with them deliberately. This sets them in our brain s Continue Reading →

May 21, 2015 4 Comments

The Guest List: Belly Dance Drill Music Recommendations from Anasma

Have you ever wished you could peek into the iPods of famous bellydancers? I have – so I thought I’d ask a few…

Anasma belly dancer

Anasma is the co-founder and co-director of the New York Theatrical Bellydance Conference, director of World Citizen Dance and an incredibly versatile all-around artist! Her performances tap into her background in ethnic dances, yoga, martial arts and acting, often creating a clear character and storyline told through dance. Her wild creativity, free spirit and adventurous nature really makes me want to know what’s on her practice and teaching playlist!

Anasma says:  Here are some of the songs I love to drill to. I use them for fusion and experimental purposes. I work not only with popping, bellydance, modern, theater fusion, but also on well-being.  Have fun! Choose inspiring music to make you move and enter a trancey state – simply dance where your soul and body take you.

“Just The Way You Are” by Boyce Avenue  I just love the lyrics. It carries people in a realm of self acceptance and pleasure of dancing as they are, without self judgement.

“Aquarium” by Nozaj Thing  A watery, liquid, floaty atmosphere that inspired waving techniques.

“Tumbling Backwards” by Young Wonder – I love its beats, the female voice. It simply carries me.

“Frankincense” by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble  This is a super cool band composed of brass only.  It has 4/4 rhythms, very convenient for teaching.

“Sun Models” by Odesza For fiery upbeat energy!

Anasma is also a music artist. Here’s her video for “Ocean Elevation”

Did you find a new song you like? What does it inspire you to do with it? Share in the comments below…

April 5, 2015 0 Comments

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

Let’s Get Specific: The Training Principle of Specificity and Belly Dance

As serious dancers, we should always be looking to grow, expand and improve on our skills. Sometimes this means taking on new physical challenges in strength, balance, flexibility and maybe even endurance.  The key to success in training for these kinds of belly dance achievements is to define a clear path of how to get there. In situations like this, some thought to the specificity of your approach will make your efforts more effective and less frustrating.

What is specificity in training?

Specificity is the relevance and appropriateness of training to a particular activity or skill. Usually, in academic publications this is discussed in terms of sports, but as dancers, we know that belly dance can be a seriously athletic endeavor! By relevant we mean it prepares the body for all the various demands of the activity. By appropriate, we mean that the volume and intensity of the training is sufficient to prompt the body to respond with gains in strength, flexibility or whatever effect we are after.

How does specificity in training apply to belly dance?

When you decide to tackle a new belly dance skill that will tax your body more than it is accustomed to, it is smart to start preparing yourself before even diving into the actual practice. Let’s take floorwork for example – this is one of the most physically demanding aspects of Middle Eastern dance. Floorwork requires core strength, shoulder strength, and for some moves, significant spinal flexibility.

Before beginning the learning and practice phase of taking on floorwork it would be very helpful to work on strength in the quadriceps muscles, shoulders and core especially. You would want to incorporate flexibility work for the spine, hip flexors and ankles (those kneeling crawls are tough!) Different skills require other attributes – that is exactly why specificity in training is so important. By preparing yourself to take on the task, you will make the learning process and your practice more comfortable and successful – and most importantly, reduce your chance of injury.

Specificity is also important in your pre-practice warm up once you have begun to dive into your new skill. Let’s look at the example of fan veils this time. Your warm up should include mobilizing the hands and wrists in all directions to lubricate the many small joints there. It should also include a full warm up of the upper body and shoulders to prepare for the large movements it takes to maneuver the fans.

Your pre-practice warm up can also be followed by more strengthening exercises to maintain and continue your progress in getting stronger, but they shouldn’t be so intense that you will fatigue the muscles you need to practice effectively. That just leads to sloppy form, a poor quality practice and potential injury.  Keep the more intense strengthening routines separate from your practice, or perhaps following it if that’s the only way it fits in your schedule.

Of course, warm ups aren’t only for class and practice! It is imperative that you warm up thoroughly before your show as well, both for performance quality and for your safety. This can be tricky, as your space may be limited and you will almost certainly be in your costume. Think ahead and figure out a warm up sequence that will serve your purposes while being able to be done in a small space without getting on the floor.

Step up to the challenge!

Does this sound like a lot of work and preparation? Well, it is. But if all skills were easy to achieve, they wouldn’t be so amazing to watch! Putting in the time to analyze the skill you are after and figure out your best and safest route there will give you the most satisfying results in the end. And once achieved, your gains in strength, balance and flexibility will make the next skill that much more accessible.

If you are unsure of how to break down the physical needs of a new skill or select the exercises to prepare yourself, consider getting some qualified help from a certified trainer or fitness instructor that has experience working with dancers. This is a teaching service I offer both in person and through online lessons too.

 

Here’s to your dance progress!

What new skill did you find physically challenging to learn? What’s on your wish list to step up your belly dance in the coming year? Tell us in the comments below….

November 29, 2014 1 Comment

What Beginners Should Practice & Study Outside of Belly Dance Class

This is the latest installment in the occasional series, “Raks Me A Question” where I answer bellydancers’ questions about learning, teaching, performing or doing business in Bellydance Land. If you’ve got a dilemma, an obstacle you haven’t found your way around or a sticky situation and you’d like some advice – just send it in ! You may find your answer in the next installment of “Raks Me A Question”!

 

You’re new to belly dance and totally hooked! The jingly coins, the pretty silk … the fun haflas! One hour of class just isn’t enough and you want to learn it ALL. What’s a baby belly dancer to do? I’ve actually had several enthusiastic new students who are DBQ subscribers write in with variations of this same topic. Today I’ll  share some ideas and ways to structure your dance education outside of class  – without getting overwhelmed.

Get ready to take some notes, students!

 

 How have you organized your out-of-class practice at any level? Share your ideas in the comments below….

November 13, 2014 0 Comments
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