As much as I learned to hate the smug-ish word 'successful' as an adult, I have also grown to redefine the term 'failure'. It's a thing, and I strive to do it early and often. Not like burning a grilled cheese sandwich or letting my family down kind of 'failure'...but just taking those small-to-medium risks that feel fairly enormous. And let me say I put off this blog post for several months because I couldn't quite articulate my feelings. But then the theme is so *in my face* these days...it just has to be written right now, on Tuesday at 12:50am. I've still been thinking about technique, and remembering all the other important aspects that revolve around an overemphasized 'right vs wrong'.
It's been a busy spring/summer of performances, and teaching different students in new settings. My students, troupe mates, and I have been scrutinizing ourselves on video and in pictures...trying to relax some muscles while engaging other ones...along with the smiling thing. "Ugh, why am I doing that floppy thing with my hand?" We go back, promise ourselves we'll prepare more next time...and then say it again and again. I ponder why a class was so hard to teach, even though I teach the move all the time - shimmying in my dark garage to test the theories...single bumping in the shadow of my armoire while reading an old tribe.net post. More panic after it's *over* ... it's done, it's fine if the class cool down portion wasn't perfectly Namaste-ish, and it's ok if I didn't turn at the right exact moment or start that move On The 1...because probably no one was watching all three of us at the same exact time OR counting, "and-a-one, and-a-two!" while the song played. But...I want it to be *really good*. I want that timeless, sepia-toned picture where it looks like I'm flying and every muscle is defined...not that I can do that - I drink whole milk, people. And it's back to that crappy 'successful' non-story we measure ourselves against.
I encourage the dancer discipline where practice is dedication. It's part of dancer satisfaction. But I worry when I (and my students) slip into "I should not have tried that, so I will stick to x and y moves that I know...or try this only when alone for 4 years before it gets re-debuted" No. I will not be Asian like that. Then there's the flip side where we want to try something complex a bit too soon, because maybe we 'should' be doing more 'by now'. I will not be Asian/immigrant child like that, either. I will look at the pictures or video footage and say THANK YOU...because now I know that it was boring, messy, or actually quite nice. *gasp*
It's dancing - it's expression - not every conversation is meant to be a concise haiku. I will maintain the freestyle dance exercise in class where we improv non-belly dance moves on the fly...where some moves totally flop...and we have a blast. But I don't know this song, I don't know what to do...wait for it, I *will* catch this beat and step-touch my way out of this rhythmic black hole! We all get to play Zumba instructor for a moment. Sometimes we do it before technique drills, sometimes at the end of a series of drills. This simple thing has encouraged more smiling and less thinking while dancing. Let me note that I took a huge risk in introducing this concept to my students...but it works really well for intermediate-advanced level students. And now they request it. "success!"
Freestyle failure. Yes. That balance of knowing what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. Taking risks and learning from mistakes over and over again (there are real studies on this) develop us much further than staying within our boundaries.
It's time to expand the realm and consider that it might be ok to not have it all figured out before we begin a project, a class, or a career. After all, I tell my new students that it took me a year to be fairly bad at belly dancing. Many of my lesson plans are based on things I wished I figured out earlier. And I like learning from people who share those stories, too - why do we forget this approachable-accommodating thing about humans? Accomplished dancers, artists, people of any profession...are often interviewed about how they made lots of mistakes, learned from them...and keep going back for more.
Here's a picture of me starting /risking a 'zipper' layback - onstage at an arts festival. Totally stepped on my skirt getting up...there were maybe 30 people in the audience, mostly complete strangers, one student friend, and my troupe mate's family. Somehow, it was super fun to lay backwards towards the floor, turn my head to smile at Rita in the audience...while completely unsure of which 'getting up' method would be used. I have been practicing this since January (my 30 day challenge!) where I knew I was strong enough to get down and up again - a few times in a row. I just hadn't done it in public, aside from the dance studio entrance. After that lesson, I've got a pretty good idea on how try it again. <3
Did I really say that? Oh, yes, I did.
In class, we discuss a lot about posture, body angle, hands, center of gravity, line of sight, etc. Technique is important, as is flexibility and strength...musicality, selflessness and presentation.
None of that matters without this one *other* thing, above all. The foundation of our movement...is what we feel in our hearts. We sometimes see performers with technical perfection, yet something seems empty and unfulfilled. And we also observe dancers who look frightened, bored, or distracted in performance. It always shows. That's SO not why we picked this hobby. Particularly refreshing are the moments where we see less experienced dancers performing to a favorite song, with friends, with enthusiasm, or all of the above.
(I'm not saying that one should toss aside all their practice to just say, "¡screw it, I'm gonna wing this shit with gusto!")
What I am discussing here, and revisiting in my classes is...
"Why did you pick this dance?" For its costumes, curiosity of the dance form, a fitness challenge, or as a recommendation?
"What did you want to accomplish from it?" Weight loss, dancing with friends, learning a new skill? Adjusting your self-image? A new form of expression?
"Who motivates you to dance?" Friends, family, dancers who inspire you, or yourself?
"Where and when do you dance?" When you're happy, sad, confused, at weddings...in the kitchen, or just in class?
How do you plan to sustain your practice Meaning, how do you want this to fit in with your lifestyle? As a supplement to other classes, as the main study, or as a short term adventure?
That last question is interesting because, regardless of the level of commitment, most people say, "I'm gonna keep doing this as long as it's fun!" Agreed! Yet, why is it so hard to see the happy faces in class, and even less when it's hafla or student showcase time? Such a shame to let nerves, distractions...and a tightly-gripped focus on technique...overshadow the experience. Of course I'm harping on it because it's the same dialogue I have *with myself*.
I get distracted with visions about quitting my job via PowerPoint presentation, the chores waiting at home, and what I want for dinner. And then I'm frustrated by my dance mediocrity. Shocker - I'm not really engaged, and it's showing!
Let us come back to this every time, too:
It's not about what is supposed to happen in what order or how something 'should' go, or what we have to prove. We chose an improv style, so that's a bonus lesson in surrendering what we *think* we can control. It's not about how decent I SHOULD look after X years of dance, or where I should be performing or how often...or if anyone even knows my name or my not-in-the-slightest-bit unique dance bio.
I dance all the days of the week to enjoy dancing, because I love music, and expressing myself through the dance - and being around other people who share these sentiments. I am that person who waltzes while using a Swiffer at home and in the the studios. It's also normal to wiggle in the car, prance while cooking in the kitchen - and it's not limited to any style.
Every time I start cringing at my technical practice, I set it aside and just move with music. It's my realignment to get my heart back into the dance, and to let go enough to make the technical progress naturally. Those posture/isolation/balance breakthroughs often occur in the moments where we weren't overthinking it, or wondering who was watching.
Make no mistake - I'll still be drilling technique and emphasizing the basics. But, it's going to be one catchy song after another...where there's no time to think before we move...leaving no time for our inner critic.
Monday night...after a snowy 2 hour commute home, I am back in my living room, thinking of random dance stuff:
(Topic for a completely different blog - working in the trucking industry...it's like Mad Men - but without the fashion, cigarettes, or handsomeness...or maybe it's like Office Space, except it isn't as funny nor does it have a satisfying outcome. I seriously *do* talk to the customers so the engineers don't have to...)
Only one performance this month, and I'm feeling like a slacker without BD 30/30 breathing down my neck. Better check to see if I can still do that zipper move...
For now, I'm scrounging for workshop cash, new costuming ideas, promotional ideas, and three levels of lesson plans.
My hot topics:
1) practicing slow moves to fast music so there is less hesitation in the muscle memory, I've picked Spanish language songs to emphasize the timing. Speed it up to know how to slow it down.
I figured this out during a duet's (straight-up slow choreo) practice, when the song changed to some (seemingly) inappropriate indie pop tune. The duet's flow became very natural while the movement wasn't rushed, either. They looked at me with open-mouthed grins, in a "hey, check *that* out" kind of way.
Some kind of 'click' occurred. Maybe it was because the lyrics supported the movements, maybe it was because they could actually understand the lyrics. Then a fast instrumental, proper tribal belly dance song followed. Same wonderful gooey effect, they found the sultry layers beneath the drums. Blessed by the alphabetical iTunes list.
2) Student performances - how often to do it? We raise the bar after each performance, in troupe, class, or solo. But it has to stay FUN and the focus can't be 'the next hafla'. I just don't believe in living that way. So I'm figuring out how to work on the next thing without calling it A Thing.
Right now I'm going to focus on combinations, transitions and feeling 8 counts (or not, for slow moves). I'd prefer to emphasize efficient improvisation, rather than drilling repetitively for performance...
We'll see how the month goes. Feeling vs thinking is a very abstract concept to teach.
1/28: I'm in no mood to dance. Not flowing with the music, so I practiced slow moves in silence. Got better angles/control with my sahra turn.
1/29: L2 class - ASWAT combo introduction and a taxeem posture drill. Wouldn't you know, they still wanted to dance one more song after I was thinking they were over it...
1/30: TINY CONCERT DANCING. Sold out 'standing room only' concert, I'm trying to stand in dance posture to relieve my back. Luckily, I was by the few people who wanted to dance. Small moves...but we made it count.
1/31: Rogue practice, trying out two newer concepts in trios. Finally. This Month. Is Done.
Let's go back to what I said I wanted to do:
Strategic - that core strength improvement business, as it has everything to do with refining my movements.
Measurable - you bet it was measured in those performance videos, to start. Lost a few pounds. I was able to get down to that zipper (and back up again), people remarked about my posture, and my mom said my stomach was nice and flat. That last 'mom comment' warrants a blog in itself. Let's not go there. .
Attainable - I did it (see above).
Relevant - when is core strength *ever* irrelevant...? Sheesh.
Time-bound - the cold, miserable, sickness-ridden month of January, which also happened to have 5 performances. :)
Closing comments: It is healthy to have non-dance days, since much time is also dedicated to explore the dance things that don't involve actual dancing. But, it was also healthy to push myself every day to reach some aggressive goals. I had told myself that I would legitimately set aside time to dance every day...and it certainly created a very in-my-face focus. My next dance break is scheduled for Monday-Tuesday.
1/20: rehearsing the unusual phrases of music for 2 performances. Wet dog at an unusual count to fit the accents...tried it the *right* and *modified* ways. Sometimes one has to get over 'rules' and let the music dictate the movement. Actually, I'm glad we don't just pick traditional 8 count songs.
Finally picked my costuming for tomorrow. I quit thinking about the solo and I'm just gonna feel the music to keep the speed 'juicy'. My students are probably not breathing much right now - they're enjoying 'test drives' with makeup and hair.
1/21: danced my fringed booty off at the event. It always feels like a smizey blur.
Students looked gorgeous. I was shaking in my ruffly pants. Hit the right speed at the end of my solo. Then I danced again at the end with my troupe, what a way to close a show. Reminded me why I wanted to teach. Dance is a big deal...I could feel all their emotions from where I was standing.
1/22: L2 class (celebrating Tuesday's triumph) and experimenting with Bollywood instrumentals in class.
1/23: Around midnight: dancing more to the new music from Wednesday class. Then in the evening, working on the timing of my solo/the end of the Amaranth piece. Can I throw a spin or two in there?
1/24: Rogue practice, hafla prep! We had to search for moves we haven't done in a while - as this song is more Indian than our recent picks.
Trying to turn my head properly and stay centered with the water pot move. Critiquing myself in the performance videos...it looks better than I expect. Tweaks to think about for Sunday...
1/25: L1 class - back to the Bollywood, explaining the various interpretations possible through one song's many layers. At home, my sister and I watched a bunch of Bollywood dance sequences. Oooh.
1/26: Rogue fundraiser hafla! Much dancing and improv-ing occurred. This was the last performance until March, and I had a nagging headache all day...no time for that! So much to celebrate with our students and family members in attendance.
1/27: I've rewarded myself with a lot of carbohydrates today. Updating the websites and will do a lot of stretching and posing to that Bollywood sound.
I'm so proud of my L1 and L2 student duets. Actually, they all just made it to L2 class...so there will be more collaborating. This was also my first solo. I could feel all their emotions while I was standing in chorus. Truly overwhelming, in a beautiful, misty-eyed way.
1/13: practicing solo moves for the 1/21 student showcase. It looked terrible in pajamas. Nothing feels quite right yet, but getting there as I slow it down significantly.
1/14: after hot gluing myself to silk flowers (making the girls some hair flowers for their debut)...it was time to work on that 30 second solo.
Focused more on my center, fewer moves and slowing the dancing down (again). Finally got that barrel turn rotated, locked and loaded. 30 minutes became 40.
Need to remember to get floor cleaner and mood lighting for tomorrow's studio redux.
1/15: L2 class (new room/restyled with a giant lantern lamp I got at Ikea - for a dim club lighting experience). We drilled floreos, spins, and worked on checking in with our center of gravity, and broke down taxeem again. Making sure I stick to my focus! Everyone loved their 'hafla starter kit' of eyelashes and hair flowers.
At this point, I am halfway through BD 30/30: it's exhausting to not have a day off. And I'm 49% crabby and 51% encouraged. With the 5 performances in the next 2 weeks, however, it's put to good use. I'm not necessarily practicing 'for' the haflas with all the songs - I'm just rebuilding steps with mindful nuances.
Back to it.
1/16: supplemental Rogue practice for The Glint (in my living room with the puppy crawling on people during their floorwork)
1/17: Rogue troupe practice/henna party!
1/18: L1 class, quick filming of a class demo for website, and The Glint performance!
1/19: Amaranth troupe practice, prepping for 2 haflas. I was tired since there are always non dance things that need to be done between dancing. I truly woke up maybe an hour after we were done.
10 more days and 4 performances to go this month! My sister took a few pictures at The Glint - I am smiling and looking 'centered'.
1/7: floreos, breaking down sahra turn, reverse turn, minding dance angles (dog crate as my audience)
1/8: L2 Class, my biggest class with three levels of students combined, splitting arms dramatically during slow turn (we all hit the same exact speed!)
1/9: worked out my 30 seconds of solo for a student performance at Grace's Belly Dance Tuesday 1/21. I was really tired, and yet I went over 30 minutes.
1/10: Rogue troupe practice, prepping for 2 haflas.
1/11: L1 class/student showcase rehearsal. They hated my solo because it was 'not fancy enough' - so I'll change it up. To amuse them, I showed them my training efforts for the zipper. I was able to get down and back up! Still won't be doing that in public anytime soon.
(I saw our practice on video. it was indeed blah for me blow through my part so plainly...I have been overly focused on the students and their comfort levels...I best *look* like a teacher.)
1/12: Amaranth troupe practice (2 hours), going through 2 songs for 2 upcoming haflas.
After that - a choreo workshop with Sabah (3 hours). For the workshop (hosted at Mahira's), it was a nervous challenge to learn choreo in another style, and then change it to my own. Also tougher to isolate my left hip movements and do a different 3/4 shimmy. It's a good weird.
Pretty sore after 5 hours of dancing, and thinking about 5 separate performances to occur this month. But I still marked music and worked out some Amaranth/Rogue plans. Lots of scheming and plotting! Can't have it any other way.
Many of you are aware of the Belly Dance 30/30 Challenge this month. Here's my summary of week one:
1/1: barrel turn obsessing, spins, sahra turn refinements (ugh!), Egyptian form with emphasis on hand/arm positioning, YouTube search for flamenco-ish music (nothing)
1/2: YouTube search for string instruments (Adam Hurst), general drilling to non-traditional rhythms, slow drills at faster and slower speeds, glute exercises (leg extensions), zipper prep
1/3: breaking down the reverse turn in writing (for student), Rogue practice and hafla planning meeting, practice to Adam Hurst (ASWAT, more Arabic family moves), shoulder shimmies until I didn't know how to do them anymore
1/4: L1 class for 1 hour - reviewing eye contact levels and confidence with slow moves. At home: Egyptian flip
1/5: Cancelled Amaranth practice, pouting - followed by fun 3-hour troupe discussion via Facebook (we enjoy spending the time, either way), troupe brand exercise, general practice in fast and slow (spins, too), Turkish drop drills on kitchen floor (going very slow and watching a few YouTube tutorials. See the very helpful videos below, plus true vintage 1980s dancewear - love it, her dance is timeless.)
1/6: barrel turn, floreos, circle step over AND over again, adapting moves for solo variations (this is challenging because it has to still feel ATS-like with some extra solo pizzazz.) Wow, is that how one spells PIZZAZZ?!
In order to actually accomplish something, I must focus *instead* of sprinkling general activity. (Which is what I usually do. It's not exactly wrong, but it isn't super measurable for results.) Let's apply boring SMART marketing goal logic to dance: Strategic, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.) After assessing this first week, it will be floreos, spins, and general core strength to maintain my center of gravity. I mean, how does my center of gravity not help everything? Practice videos and hafla performance responses will serve as my sketchy Asian perfectionist metrics. For the zipper and Turkish drop deal...either I can get down and up gain, or I can't...