Wednesday, 16 April 2014

How can I get good at bellydance?

Part 1, Three things an aspiring bellydancer should know.

I decided I needed to write this blog when I was putting together this page about dance levels for my website.

One of the most common queries I get from dance students is about what they need to do to "get good at it". Similarly, the natural reaction from any dancer who has their level assessed is "OK, but how to I get to the next one" - that's OK, I do that too.

Where your goal lies is up to you. You may want to simply learn enough to be able to easily improvise in a group of dancers and enjoy dancing rather than having to think about your moves. You may want to be the next Bellydance Superstar. Either way, the basic principles are much the same.

I'd like to start by looking at 3 things, I think new dancers, or those wanting to push to the next level, will benefit from considering.

1) You need to enjoy the journey.

If all you are looking to do is to achieve a certain level, or attain professional standard as fast as possible, you are going to miss out. I understand, really I do. When you fall in love with bellydance, or any art form, that discrepancy between the result you want and what you are capable of achieving feels like a daily slap in the face. There are no short cuts, so you might as well make sure the road feels good to travel on.

This is an immense artform, learning technique is great, but perfectly executing a triple layered move while travelling doesn't necessarily make you an interesting performer. Musicality is at the heart of bellydance, to my eyes the best dancers are those who become a living embodiment of the music. That means knowing your music, understanding it from rhythm to instrumentation to lyrics, you have to get into the soul of it. Studying that as theory is dry. Listening to all the Arabic music you can get your hands on, dancing to it, feeling it, is a wonderfully rich experience.

Watch performances. Live if you can, filmed if you need to. Watch old Egyptian films. We learn to dance with our eyes too.

You will always be a student. There is no end point for you. The learning never stops, and that is brilliant, because discovering new things keeps us vital. Embrace the knowledge that every goal will only be a brief stopping point before the itch to learn more resumes, you will always have the joy of new discoveries.

It might sound like bellydance is going to take over your life. Well, yes, if you love it, it probably will. Have you met me?

2) It's going to be hard work.

Of course we love dancing and everything about it, but to really improve we have to make the commitment to spend time doing the stuff we find hard. We have to keep drilling through the muscle fatigue if we are going to get stronger, and we have to make sacrifices. There are times when you have to make the decision to be a better dancer rather than having that comfy evening on the sofa. To go out in the rain to get to tonight's class. Fitting the work in isn't always easy. It's all part of the process.

3) It's not about raw talent.

When we watch our dance idols perform, it seems effortless to them. Their bodies seem to respond to the music instinctively, and naturally move in ways that we struggle to replicate. The truth is though, they did not start like that.

I was once in a workshop with the awesome Ava Fleming, who explained that she often shows her students one of her early performance videos, where she has chicken arms and is nothing like the graceful performer she is today. Galit Mersand demonstrates in this comedy skit, that we all start the same way.

Of course some individuals are more "blessed", with natural musicality, co-ordination, flexibility or a cultural background that makes understanding the roots of the dance more natural to them. These dancers may progress rapidly initially, but unless they put in the work, they will reach their own limit. It is is pushing through those limits that makes us, whether you find your first hurdle in lesson 1 or a couple of years in. The greatest dancers are those who refused to rest on their natural talent (however much or little they had) kept working at their dance.

So how do you go about that work? How can you get the best out of your dance opportunities? We'll come to that later.

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