Recently I’ve had quite a few students come to me with sighs and distressed looks, wondering how they were supposed to practice all the dance technique/combos/choreographies we do in class when they’re at home by themselves. It’s all too much to remember and they’d love some guidance on how to improve their dancing in the comfort of their own home. So here are some ideas to help you out when you’re feeling flustered about your ability to get your practice on at home:
1. TAKE NOTES IN CLASS: This is so important for all student dancers and will help you to get the most out of your class time and your practice time later on. Writing down a combo you did in class or a new movement that you learned and want to practice more is a great way to jog your memory later on when you decide to practice. Get a funky notepad that you can keep in your handbag or even use your phone as a notepad!
Here’s an example: I currently take 2 to 3 jazz classes per week and after every class, I pull out my iPhone, open up my notepad app and type in the new movements, combos, or choreography notes from a song we danced to in class. I’m not necessarily going home to practice my jazz jumps right away, but those notes are secure in my notepad, waiting to be used when I’m ready to practice.
2. PRACTICE THE FUNDAMENTALS: Okay, so that new funky undulation-reverse-maya-layered-with-a-hip-shimmy-into-really-complex-traveling-combo didn’t really sink in after tonight’s class and you can’t remember all of it to practice (you’re thinking you probably should have taken notes, see #1 above). However, if you’ve been dancing for a bit, you’re certainly an expert on your bellydance fundamentals. These are the movements that you started out your bellydance career with and the ones that continue to drive every single Intermediate/Advanced technique concept that you’ve encountered and will encounter in the future. Practice those!
I like to start from my head and work my way down my body with isolations. For example:
Head slides/Shoulder accents Forward & Back/ Shoulder Accents Up & Down/ Chest Lifts/ Chest Slides/ Stomach Accents/ Hip accents/ Hip Drops/ Hip Slides/ Pelvic Tilts
3. FOCUS ON SHAPES: If you think about it, bellydance is all about creating shapes with our bodies, so focus your practice on a particular group of shapes.
Some major shape groups to practice are:
- Diamonds (Head, Chest, Hips)
- Circles (Head, Chest, Hips)
- Figure Eights (Chest, Vertical Hip, Horizontal Hip)
- Undulations (Torso, Arms, Hands)
4. FOCUS ON TRAVELING STEPS: When we think of bellydance, we don’t necessarily consider the traveling steps that make a lot of our dancing possible. Traveling steps are near and dear to my heart because we don’t focus enough on them, yet they are so vital to the dance form. To practice traveling, make a list of some common patterns and practice those. Additionally, try layering some of your fundamentals and your basic shapes (see above) with traveling steps.
Here are some of my commonly used traveling steps to get you inspired:
- Triple Step
- Rocking Step
- Turns (3-step Turns, Double Turns, Crossover Turns)
5. ¾ SHIMMIES: ¾ shimmies are a bellydance staple and as such, you need to practice them all the time. I like to practice my ¾ shimmies alone, then layer them with additional movements.
Some ideas include:
- Drill your ¾ shimmies for a full 3/4/5 minutes or for the duration of your favourite song
- Layering your 3/4 shimmies with movements from some of your shape groups above (#3)
- Layering your 3/4 shimmies with traveling steps from above (#4)
6. SHIMMIES AND DRUM SOLOS: In every class (or almost every class), I do a drum solo drill in which we practice developing strong shimmies and layering shimmies with some of our fundamental movements and groups of shapes. This is a great way to practice as well. Put on your favourite drum solo and start shimmying! Add some layers and see what happens.
Additionally, practice by improvising to a drum solo. Pick a drum solo that you know really well and just dance. Another challenging option is to pick a drum solo that you don’t know very well (or you’ve never heard before) and try to dance to it. You can also use YouTube to find drum solos that you’ve never heard/danced to before (see #10).
7. PROPS: Playing with props is a great way to practice and gain additional skills that are so important for bellydance performers. Try some basic movements with your veil or just toss it around a bit! I know that doesn’t sound like the best advice, but especially when a prop is still new to you, it helps to just play with it in order to understand the way it feels and moves in your hands. When I first started practicing with veils, I spent a lot of time with the veil tangled around me, trying to figure out how to to simply get it to move properly.
Have a cane? Hold it, move with it, try your fundamentals, shape groups, and traveling steps while holding/moving the cane. In addition, practice twirling the cane in both your right and left hands.
8. USE DVDS: Practicing with a bellydance DVD is like having your very own bellydance instructor in the comfort of your home. The best part is that bellydance DVDs are widely available and easy to access. One of my favourite websites for purchasing DVDs is www.amazon.ca as they have great DVDs, a wide selection, and it gets to my door in just over 24 hours.
Some great production companies making bellydance DVDs that you should definitely check out are:
Don’t have too much extra cash to splurge on a bellydance DVD collection? No problem! Check out your local library for bellydance finds. When I started dancing at age 16, I was a teenager working part-time and spending all my money on bellydance classes, so purchasing DVDs was not a luxury I could afford. Instead, I went to the library, found a whole collection of DVDs and used those to practice on my own. I actually first learned undulations from one such library DVD. Typically, you’ll find mostly Beginner level DVDs at the library, but they’re a good way to review your fundamentals and it’s always useful to have a new perspective on how to do a particular movement.
9. IMPROV: A lot of my students get nervous when they hear the word “improv,” but learning how to improvise is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a bellydance student.
Improvising is easy! Just throw on a song from your bellydance music collection and start moving. It doesn’t matter if you do something strange or spectacular! I always tell students to keep moving regardless of whether they feel silly, stuck, or have no idea what’s happening in the music (or will be happening in 10 seconds). The more you keep practicing and moving through those tough and awkward moments, the more comfortable you will become at improvising.
There’s also no rule that you have to practice to bellydance music. Choosing a song you love, in any genre, will make your improv practice that much more relaxing and fun! Love that new top 40, soca, or Bollywood song? You’d be surprised how conducive bellydance movements are to other dance forms. Even as I write this, I’m trying chest circles and undulations to Britney Spears’ new song…it’s going rather successfully, I must admit.
Here are some additional suggestions to begin the process of full-blown improv:
- Pick one or two movements and do those for the entire song (Add variation with arm patterns, level changes, layering, dynamics, and speed)
- Pick one part of your body and only perform movements with that part of your body for the entire song (i.e. Focus on arms, upper body, hips, traveling steps). This is also a great practice tip if you’re known for neglecting one part of your body in dancing. For me, I think I need to try this with my upper body only since I’m definitely a hip-centric dancer!
- Pick a particular shape group and only perform movements from that group (i.e. Figure eights, circles, undulations)
10. YOUTUBE: YouTube is amazing for bellydancers! It’s a great way to see what other dancers are up to and get inspired by all the amazing talent found all over the world. When I’m feeling a bit uninspired, I usually take a trip onto YouTube and search for some of my favourite dancers and see what they’re up to. Don’t have a favourite? Just search for “belly dance” or “belly dance Toronto” for example and you’re sure to find some dancing. Be warned that not all dancing is great dancing on YouTube. Because of its user-friendly format, anyone and everyone can post videos of themselves as a “professional” bellydancer, so use your bellydance discretion as you check out videos!
To help you out, here are some names of just a few of my favourites:
Older Egyptian Dancers
- Samia Gamal
- Tahia Carioca
- Suheir Zaki
- Fifi Abdo
- Randa Kamel (Egypt)
- Tito (Egypt)
- Orit Maftsir (Israel)
- Aziza (North America)
- Sahra Saeeda (USA)
- Mahmoud Reda & the Reda Troupe (Egypt)
- Arabesque Dance Company (Toronto)
- Bellydance Superstars (USA)
Another great way to use YouTube (which also relates to #9 above), is to put on a performance of a dancer and use the music she/he dances to as another way to improv. This is a great way to practice if you haven’t built up an extensive music collection as yet and allows you to sample some of the music that the greats are using!
There you have it, 10 ideas to help you practice when you’re not in class! Now it’s time to get practicing!