Saturday, 25 October 2014

Getting even better at bellydance

Part 4 - Steepening the learning curve.

So far we have looked at how your regular practice can help make you a better dancer, but what happens when that isn't hitting the spot?

Every dancer finds that they learn in fits and starts. It seems to be really hard for a bit, then you get it, then it feels easy, then it feels like you are coasting. You can sit in that happy place where the dance feels easy and you are learning few new elements. It's a good thing to do so sometimes, consolidate, let things stew, put some polish on it. After a while though, you will get the itch, the dissatisfaction that says you could do more, or just a touch of boredom because you want to do something new.

Breaking out of those plateaus means a change of approach, so lets look at what you could do.

1. Inspirational education

Plateau or no plateau, I think every dancer needs to have their dance training peppered with different experiences to keep things fresh.

Take a workshop. Lots of dance teachers regularly invite other dancers to come and teach workshops, often as a precursor to a hafla or show. Last year I invited Gwen Booth over for a workshop and hafla, this year we hosted Michelle Manx. I do this because I recognise that even though I am a scintillating teacher, something different, a different style, a different teaching approach, can really inspire student dancers. That builds strength and enthusiasm in the dance community and it is great for everyone.

Keep your ear to the ground, get on mailing lists, find out who is coming to your area, or travel to another area and make new dance friends.

If you are really up for a kick in the dance motivation place, then book into a festival. Do it anyway, I always go to at least one a year, more if I can. Majma is one of my regular favourites, I attended my 6th Majma this year, but they happen all over the country. Some are mixed styles, some focus on particular styles, some are like a little holiday with dancing. Whatever you choose, I can guarantee that you will come away brimming with new ideas, new things to practice and loving the dance more. At some point soon I will write a whole blog on making the most of festivals.

Speaking of holidays, there are also dancers who run overseas dance excursions, often to the Middle East where you can learn from the greats on their home soil. If you are stuck for inspiration, that has to be a way to find it.

So there it is, whether it's a £15 workshop or a £500 holiday, learning from a new source is a great way to get out of a dance rut.

2. Get focussed feedback

Feedback from teachers and other dancers can be an invaluable way to add a new perspective on your dance training.

You could take a private lesson with your regular teacher, or any other teacher. A private lesson means that you can concentrate on exactly what you need to be working on, and you get 100% of your teachers' attention. This can feel a little daunting, but a good teacher will put you at ease and soon you will just be focussing on working hard. In my experience a private lesson will leave me with enough material to keep me busy practising for several months.

If you are going to a workshop and would like to get some extra mileage and personalised training, you can ask if the teacher is available for privates while you are there. Some teachers even offer tuition via Skype, meaning you can train with teachers from all around the world.

Another option for getting feedback is to ask other dancers to appraise your dancing, usually in video form. There are a variety of online forums such as Bhuz, or specific groups on Facebook where many knowledgeable dancers are prepared to cast an eye over videos and give you pointers.

3. Set yourself challenges

I find that I work harder when I have something to work towards. You could book yourself in to perform at a hafla, or if you are feeling brave, a competition. If that feels like a big step, then how about preparing a piece just to show your teacher or class?

Sometimes it's fun to set a creative challenge, perhaps just a minute of dance a week, on a series of themes, video them and watch them back. Try doing short samples of different styles, different moods, try things you wouldn't usually dance, take yourself out of your comfort zone. You might surprise yourself.

Smaller challenges you could try might be mastering a new step every week or completing a set of drills on a regular basis. Give yourself a target and work hard at it.

4. Try something new

Sometimes taking yourself out of the pressure cooker is just what you need to relax into yourself and find your inspiration.

Recently I started attending a new dance class. I initially trained in Egyptian Classical Oriental style, and I have done quite a lot of Tribal Fusion, I teach both, but I had never trained in ATS, apart from a couple of workshops which I really enjoyed. ATS is at the roots of Tribal Fusion, and I like to know about roots. I came across my nearest Fat Chance Belly Dance Sister Studio, Kalash Tribal, at a hafla in Somerset, so I took the plunge and decided to go to class.

I know that I am not going to be performing this style anytime soon, much less teach it, and as a result I feel freed up to be a beginner. I am really enjoying the challenge of a sudden, steep learning curve, and the freedom to make mistakes, or to not get something straight away, because I am the newbie here.

As a result going to this class has given me a new drive and a new sense of joy in my dance, I really can dance like no one is watching. But I am still dancing, I am still keeping fit, the movements will creep into my Tribal Fusion, and will make it better, deeper. I am also being forced to play zills while I dance, which is great, because I always find excuses not to drill with zills when I am on my own!

So why not take some folkloric classes to inform your Orientale? Or adult ballet? Or Streetdance for the fusionistas? Put yourself back in beginner's shoes and fall in love with dancing all over again, with no pressure.

I hope this has given you some ideas for when you feel ready to launch your dance up another level. Remember this is all about inspiration and fun, it's the exciting new discoveries that keep the fire in your belly and the passion in your dance.

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