Sunday, February 16, 2014

A 10 Point Plan to Improving Your Dance. By Joharah of BellyUp

No matter what level a Bellydancer you are, we each have the power to improve our Bellydance abilities and get more out of the time we spend in Bellydance class.  We can control and change much of what holds us back from progressing or breaking through a plateau just by being aware of the things we do to ourselves that can hold us back from success. Things such as self-criticism, comparing ourselves to others, setting unrealistic expectations based on our level and not having a smart practice regimen. Here we take a look at some of things that we can alter when we are spending time in class and practicing at home that can make a huge difference to how we approach learning and improving. 

When in class do you compare
yourself with others around you?
We’ve all done it. The time in class when you see a fellow dancer that you can’t stop watching. You really like how she moves and you start to wish you could move the same way. Comparing yourself to someone else in class on a day when you’re feeling a little insecure or feel like you’re falling behind can of course make you feel a little down. We’ve all been there. There’s nothing wrong in comparing yourself just so long as you keep it positive and use it as a way to look at where you are in the dance and see where you still can go. All too often we’re way too hard on ourselves and this only results in us being overly negative and derailing all the great progress you are making. Again there’s nothing wrong with doing a bit of healthy comparison and by approaching your time at the studio a bit differently you can get a whole lot more out of your class time. Here are some things to keep in mind which we know will help:

Everyone learns and progresses differently.
Let’s face it. Bellydance is not an easy dance form to master. Your teacher might make it look easy, but we all know anything that looks easy, usually isn’t. What’s more, no two dancers learn the same way. Nor will they progress at the same rate. So take the pressure off yourself when in class and give yourself permission to learn at your own pace. You will enjoy the journey so much more when you feel less pressure to keep up with the person next to you and simply have fun with what you are being taught. So what if you don’t get it right this week or the next? If you practice and work at it, you’ll get it down the road. In the meantime there will be lots of things that you do get and do well at in class, so give yourself high marks for that and realize that the stuff you’re not getting will come in time and with more practice. Don’t expect overnight results because you will only get frustrated and give up. One thing is for sure, expecting perfection from the get-go will turn you off your goals.

“But I’m a perfectionist!”
As dancers, most of us possess traits of perfectionism to one degree or another. Knowing that you are is a good thing just so long as you’re able to channel this quality so that it doesn’t end up being self-destructive. The great thing about perfectionists is that we work hard and persevere in order to reach and surpass our goals. The downside is that we can self-criticize ourselves to death and apply unrealistic expectations and pressure on ourselves.

Does Teacher Correction Rattle You?
Don’t let negative thoughts take over if your teacher points out something that needs to be corrected. Realize that you are there to learn and be patient with yourself. Focus on applying the correction or make mental note of it so you can practice it at home. A good teacher is patient and feels responsible for pointing out corrections because they sincerely want you to learn and get what they are teaching. Don’t take it personally. Step out of the comfort zone and realize you will always have things to learn and areas to improve. Even the most advanced dancer is still learning and improving. Dance is an endless journey of learning. Wouldn’t life be boring if we knew how to do everything well and had nothing new to learn?

How and What to Practice.
For me this is the most eye-opening tip of all and one that the best professional athletes live by. It’s easy to practice all the moves you do well. Makes us feel good when we see how good we are at these moves as we practice them in front of the mirror. But those dancers who really, truly desire to improve are the ones who put in the extra time to overcome the moves they don’t do well. They focus their practice time on their weaknesses much more than on their strengths. You’ve got to be diligent. And you’ve got to put in the time and the effort but shift your focus from the ego boost moves to working on what you don’t do very well and this is where you will see vast improvement in your dance. It doesn’t mean neglect your strengths because you have to keep those skills sharp but stop avoiding what you don’t do well. It won’t get better without practice so just move the emphasis of your practice to what you don’t do well. Big “aha” moment here!

Now go one-step further and ask to sit down with your instructor and ask for an honest and thorough assessment about what you need to work on most. If you are serious about improving and if you are willing to put in the time and the work to improve, your teacher should be more than happy to give you this type of consultation and feedback.  This will give you an action plan of what to work on from your teacher’s perspective and will really help you take your dance to the next level.

Watch. Observe. Apply.
Studying other dancers whether watching them live or on You Tube is a great way to learn and find new things to add to your dance style. Of course watching You Tube is by no means a replacement to the work you should be doing in the studio by taking regular classes and workshops. By watching other dancers objectively you can look for things that make them really stand out and this can help you enormously. Don't just look just for things you don’t like. Look for the nuances and dynamics that make them particularly effective. Look deep into their technique to see how they do things that give them an extra special something. Turns, Arabesques, weight shifts, spotting techniques, accents etc. All students should know the classic Bellydancers of our time and there's a wealth of video on You Tube where you can see them all and study them but please train yourself to look at not only how they move in a certain way but why they move that way. What are some of the common threads that run through their performance that really appeal to you? What skills do they have that resonate with you? Write them down and then when start practicing and try to apply these aspects in your own way, into your own dance.

Embrace the Quirks
Building solid technique is important for many reasons. Helping you prevent injury is a 
major reason. And we have to commit to building our technique always. But sometimes 
we find ourselves doing something very unknowingly that’s kind of quirky and very 
possibly kind of cool! Someone may point it out to you and ask you how you do it because 
they want to learn it. You may have to ask them to show you what they mean because the
 quirk is so organic to you, you don’t even realize or know that you’re doing something 
endearing in your dance style. Master choreographers from virtually every dance form 
have probably brought something less than technically astute into their work that has 
become something that other dancers love to adopt. So at a certain point embrace who 
you are as a dancer because these little quirks are what help make you YOU and will make 
you unique from others around you.

What’s your dance plan?
Get beyond comparing yourself to others by working on intense improvement of the one 
person that matters most ... you. If you’ve got essential input from your instructor and 
you’ve observed and are ready to apply all that’s on your list ... there’s nothing holding
you back from reaching your dance goals. Don’t overwhelm yourself with having to 
tackle it all in one shot. Break it down into modules that you will practice one practice 
session at a time. Make it manageable for yourself and this way you will be able to see the
results because you’ll be more focused and more inspired by what you see. Check in with
you instructor for a private lesson every so often to review your plan and get some 
additional feedback and encouragement to continue moving forward.

The 10 Point Plan to Improving Your Dance! Let’s Summarize:

  1. We will refrain from comparing ourselves to others in the classroom.
  2. We will give ourselves permission to learn and grow at our own pace.
  3. We will channel our perfectionist tendencies in the most positive ways – no negative self-talk.
  4. We will not take our instructor’s feedback personally but will value it and use it to help improve our technique.
  5. We will spend time practicing what we don’t do well versus what we are great at already!
  6. We will ask our instructor to give us an open and honest critique of what we need to work on.
  7. We will spend time watching and observing other dancers and look for things that make them stand out.
  8. We will continue to build strong, clean technique though we will learn to embrace our stylistic quirks  because these are what make us unique.
  9. We will put together a dancer game plan of what we want to accomplish in the next year and will bite off manageable chunks of the plan to focus our practice.   
  10. We will check in with our instructor periodically for a check and balance on how we are doing with our game plan.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Year. New You. Time to Discover Bellydance!

New Year's Eve has always been a time for looking back to the past, and more importantly, looking forward to the coming year. It's a time to contemplate the changes we want to make and commit to improving ourselves over the next 12 months. If you're a bellydance student, it's a great time to think of ways to UP your dance level. Here are some suggestions to help you get dancing into 2014! 

Bellydance requires long, limber muscles. Take time to stretch out before class. Come in 15 minutes early and spend time while you wait for your class to do some stretching in the areas specific to your body that need a good stretch. Your muscles will love you for it and you'll find you get even more out of your class time. 

Work Your Core
All Bellydancers need to have a strong core. This strength allows you to move quicker, be more agile on the dance floor and protects you from injury. Incorporate push-ups and some ab crunches to your daily routine. You will strengthen your upper body, tummy and lower back which will help improve your posture and make you a stronger dancer. 

Challenge Yourself
Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and step out of the comfort zone. Perform a solo. Learn to improvise. Have a custom choreography made for you to a song you've always wanted to perform to. Buy your first costume or make your own costume. Experiment with new music. Try a new style ... Melaya, Saidi, Khaleegi for example. Learn to master a new skill....finger cymbals anyone?  You'll never know what you can achieve if you don't try. Make a list of 12 challenges and add one to each month of your calendar. Then spend time working on your monthly goal every month. Imagine looking back next year and reviewing all these achievements? Go for it! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bellydance at any age! By Liane Dozois

“You're taking what kind of classes? Aren't you a little old for that?”

This was the first thing my friend asked me when I told her I’d signed up for belly dance classes.
At 43, the question had crossed my mind. Afterall, aren't Belly Dancers young and shapely Raquel Welch types with long hair, exotic eyes and voluptuous hips? But I mustered thecourage to sign up for my first class and it wasn’t until later that night I’m thinking “What am I doing?” Having been an athlete most of my life, my body type just didn't seem to fit what I felt a bellydancer's body should be not to mention my age.

I decided I was not going to let other people's opinions or my pre-conceived notions deter me from doing what I really wanted to try and I viewed it as one more thing I could cross off my Bucket List.  I’ll take a few classes and then I can say I’ve belly danced!

So there I was in my first class and I couldn't have bee more surprised as I looked around the class and found myself surrounded by young women, mature women, thin women, plus sized women and everything in between. It made me realize that there really is no single 'type' of woman that represents belly dance We ALL represent belly dance! The common denominator among us all of us is how the dance makes us feel inside, which soon manifests itself into a variety of other changes that we experience in ourselves and our lives. It has now become my passion.    

The first time I heard the music I love it.  Arabic music is like no other music you have heard before. It speaks to you and you cannot help but want to move to it ... even if you don’t understand the words. The melodies are moving and emotional. The rhythms are soulful and sensuous. Then you try a few moves, and determine it's not easy as it looks. But as the music takes you on this journey it almost makes you forget about how your body is moving.  It is a challenging and difficult dance form to master. Why should we be able to master this art form after 12 weeks let alone 12 years? I can only urge students to stick with it because leaving the dance early is really robbing yourself of the many gifts it offers as you grow with it and come into your own int he dance.  Learning to belly dance takes time but it certainly is enjoyable time. And as mature women we all know too well that nothing in life that’s worthwhile comes easy. If you give yourself a chance, enjoy your time in class, let go of your pre-conceived ideas and simply surrender to the dance form you could fall in love with belly dance just like I have.
Class is a safe haven amongst other women who are encouraging, without judgment and no pressure. Physically I found my body felt less stiff, my lower back was not holding the tension it usually did plus I was finding belly dance was actually helping me in my other sports activities with increased flexibility.   

There is also something about reaching your 40s that makes you feel different as a Belly Dancer regardless of your physical capabilities.  The life experiences that you have had (some good some bad) create emotions that come through how you express your movement.  I can assure you I would not have had the emotion or confidence to dance in my 20s like I do today.   I may not be the most flexible or the most voluptuous dancer in the room, but what I do have is an equally matched passion, and many more years of life experiences that help me express myself in my dance. Remember age is only a barrier if you make it one. And I can't think of another dance form that allows women to celebrate, express and embrace their emotion and womanhood like belly dance does. I hope you all give it a try and I hope to see you on the dance floor. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Being a Soloist versus a Troupe Member.

By Laura 
Have you had the chance to perform in front of an audience yet?  If so, you've probably realized that there is much more happening behind the scenes than first thought.  Those few precious minutes we have on stage or on the dance floor are a tip-of-the-iceberg display of all the amassed effort we spent leading up to that moment; from countless hours of practice, to careful thought devoted to every detail of our appearance.  In the years I've spent performing, I have quickly learned that there are fundamental differences between performing as a soloist versus performing within a group. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and a good dancer should be aware of these characteristics so that he/she can dance beautifully and appropriately in either situation.

The greatest advantage to performing on your own is that no matter what happens, as long as you dance with conviction, the audience will accept it as part of the show. If you forget the choreography or didn't do a move quite right, no one would know.  And here's a secret; even your teacher likely wouldn't notice because she'd be too busy enjoying you!  Moreover, soloists get to shine and embellish choreography with their emotional interpretation; perhaps they feel like closing their eyes during a shimmy, or are inspired to look up at the heavens while the nay (flute) plays.  Or maybe they don't even want a choreography and wish to use their instincts by improvising!  For some dancers, this is a frightening thought, while for others, it is what they favor because it feels more natural and organic.  Either way, it can only be done when performing solo, so it's a great opportunity to test your skills and really focus on yourself. The only notable disadvantage to a solo performance is that if you are not yet fully comfortable performing, it can make one feel small, vulnerable and exposed.  Having all eyes on you is understandably a little nerve wracking!  But I know from experience that it does go away the more you do it, so it can only get better!

In contrast, performing alongside other dancers can ease the pressure of being under the spotlight.  There is strength in numbers, and the bigger size of a group adds an extra dimension to the performance.  You also get to bond with your dance sisters, relate to each other and encourage one another.  This camaraderie boosts self confidence and reinforces everyone's sense of support and togetherness. However, this comes at a small price: Group dancing is less forgiving of mistakes because they are more noticeable to spectators.  The biggest challenge is to match your peers in every way you can.  A soloist gets to be in control of how they look and what they dance, but performing with others means everyone must agree, or at least compromise on costuming, music, and choreography. Practices will be different, too, as drilling on your own will no longer suffice.  Group rehearsals are essential so that dancers can watch each other and conform to one another's styles.  We must remember that we are not trying to stand out alone, but as a united entity; still shining as individuals but also as a team. The goal is to be as accurate and in sync as possible, which requires exceptional peripheral vision and spatial awareness. I learned that very quickly when I joined BellyUp's Ala Nar Dance Ensemble! I was introduced to a whole new level of group performing and I came to appreciate just how difficult it is to be synchronized... right down to where you're gazing!  The amount of drilling and practice that goes into it is ongoing and endless, and I think I have grown tremendously as a dancer because of that.

Performing as a soloist and in a group has its challenges, and having danced many times in both scenarios has really opened my eyes to the benefits of each.  Either way, it's just so much fun!  Every live performance, whether it is one dancer or many, is a one-of-a-kind cocktail of both, planned and spur-of-the-moment elements, and this is what makes each show so unique, pleasing to watch, and very rewarding to be part of!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How to Learn and Perform Choreography.

By Joharah of BellyUp

I hear from students who tell me that they hesitate to learn choreography because they have difficulty remembering what is taught. This often hinders their willingness to perform because they feel they just can't recall what's next in a dance routine.  I find it challenging too especially since I will have multiple choreographies going on at any given time during a session at BellyUp. I create them, teach them and then have to remember them all and sometimes that is indeed challenging. But over the years I've had to find ways to better remember these works so I'd like to share some of these tips with  you. 

Break it Down! 
I typically choose music that is not repetitive. I tend not to like to repeat combinations in a choreography so working with a piece of music that is more complex in terms of rhythmic changes and musical phrasing I find easier to work with and remember. I break the song into components based on the rhythms and develop combinations and footwork patterns based on what I am hearing in each section. This also helps you develop your ear for the rhythms in Arabic music and you learn the choreography piece by piece, section by section. There might be a Malfouf entrance that segways into Masmoudi combinations which leads to Saidi combo which transitions to Fellahi and comes back to Malfouf for the finale as an example. The rhythm helps to trigger in my mind what's next. Which brings me to my next question: Do you know your Arabic rhythms? 

Know the Music
If you are learning a specific choreography you must spend time, and a lot of time, listening to the music and getting to know it. You need to get to a point with the music that you can sing it without actually playing the music. In my classes I often ask the students to sing the song with me while they are dancing to it. Simply humming to it will do but this makes you pay attention to the accents, and where and when you are required to step or pause, transition etc. So know the song you are working with inside and out ! This will help a great deal. 

Practice the Combinations
Once you've learned a combination in your class, now it's time to take it home and practice the heck out of it.  Let's face it... as much as we wish there were, there are just no shortcuts to this dance form. Every aspect takes practice and discipline. But in your own space at home, take the combos you've learned in class and begin to focus one step at a time until you have it down. Whether it's 10 minutes a day or an hour, all practice is good practice. I allow students to video tape themselves dancing the choreography at the end of each class so that they can refer to it for at home practice. 

Things to do when you're in class: 
When learning choreography in class there are some things that will really help your learning curve. Such as: 

It All Starts with the Feet
Pay a great deal of attention to your instructor's feet. Don't worry about taking in the rest of what she is doing initially. You've got to get the footwork down before the rest falls into place. You'll feel a lot less frustrated if you know the footwork believe me! 

Know the Weight Changes 
Part of working on the footwork is to also understand where the weight is to be distributed over the different steps. If you don't understand the weight changes you'll likely end up on the wrong foot more times than not. If this isn't clear to you, then just ask your teacher for clarification. Good teachers like questions! They want to see you succeed and this is an important question to ask. Don't be scared to ask otherwise it will effect your enjoyment level of what you're learning and you will fall behind. 

Body Alignment and Posture
So once you've got the foot work and the weight shifts organized in your mind, you must remember to assume the posture of a dancer ALL THE TIME! Garbage in, garbage out and if you're standing their slumped with rounded shoulders what you're learning is never going to look correct even if all your footwork and weight shifts are perfect. Lift the rib cage and keep it your chest and your heart, shoulders back, neck long, chin up. And feel the dancer inside of you emerge! 

Clear Hip Work ... Those Hips Don't Lie! 
Now it's time to make sure that the hip work you're being taught in the combination is visible, clear and precise. Pay attention to the intention of the movement that is required and understand the energy of the movement and where it's supposed to be.  Is it hard, soft, muscular, relaxed, sharp? Work at emulating the hip work of your teacher. Always commit to the move and see it through to the end. 

Hands and Arms 
I have heard many of my Egyptian teachers say that the hands are life! They express the dance and help to communicate the feeling and emotion of the music in so many ways. Look at any Egyptian dancer and you will see that her arms and hands continue to flow with the music. They are never static yet they are not annoying or distracting to watch either. The technique for developing this takes a commitment to practice but also understand that while the arms may look soft (and this does not mean lazy) they are strong ... and while the hands are soft (and this does not mean limp) they also have a large degree of energy running from the wrists to the finger tips. There is a great amount of energy used to keep arms lifted and engaged and it really comes from the upper torso and upper back in particular. By maintaining the lift of your rib cage  and openness of the chest and the heart your arms will look fluid and strong and not just as appendages to your upper body.  Start to sit in front of the mirror every day and create arms paths to develop your upper body strength, grace and fluidity. With choreography you will want to work on the timing of the arm movements with hip and footwork. Yes now things are getting more complex but since you are working step by step you should be ready for the focus on the upper body now. 

Dance with Purpose and Feeling
One common thing you will hear Egyptian dancers say about Western dancers is that they lack the feeling for the dance. They may be technically fantastic but Bellydance without the feeling and the energy is just plain flat and boring to watch. You have to feel the music ... strive to live it and breathe it as you dance. This can be harder if you aren't feeling the music that was chosen for the choreography. So wherever possible choose music you love! If it doesn't resonate with you it'll be harder to muster the feelings and emotions that will take you out of the robotic zone and put you into the emotional zone that will captivate your audience. Know what you are dancing to. I have all my music translated for my students so they know what they are dancing to. And I spend a lot of time when teaching choreography to explain the energy level and emotional feeling that is required for all aspects of the choreography. These are the subtle nuances that make a choreography special. These jewels are what make your dance appear less as a series of steps and moves and much more of a story to be told for your audience. 

Now it's time to perform the choreography. You must reach a point through your practice where you are not even thinking about what comes next. If your mind is still on what's next then you have built up the necessary muscle memory and you still need more practice. With BellyUp's Ala Nar dance ensemble, we spend countless and I mean countless hours in rehearsal practicing every section over and over again. We tweak it constantly. We rework it constantly until it is just how we want it. Even after we've performed it we'll tweak it some more based on what we see on video. Some people may go mad practicing this much but it is absolutely necessary for the best performance. As performers, we all owe our audience the best! 

Now let's talk about emotion and how to communicate it. When you really feel a piece of music some of us are lucky to project our inner feelings for what we are hearing and feeling so that it looks natural and not put on. Some of us aren't so lucky. And that's ok but what we all need to remember is that we have to work on the face and our stage project as much as we do the dance technique. Please don't for a moment think that you can rehearse the choreo robotically in class and just expect to turn a switch before you go on stage and have instant stage projection.  You must make it part of your time spent in class. If you treat every class as an opportunity to work on your stage face, I guarantee you will be more relaxed and look more beautiful and genuine when you get to the stage.  I really believe that your face is a reflection of what's in your heart as you dance. Bellydance is soulful and joyful and that's what your audience wants to see. When they see you are happy and enjoying yourself, they will be happy too. Our motto at BellyUp is "Bellydance that moves you" so why not make that your goal with every choreography and every opportunity you have to share the art of bellydance with others.   

Visit for more information about BellyUp BellyDance Studios. 

The Camila Lopez Bellydance Award

By Joharah 

This Summer we lost an amazing person at BellyUp. The sudden and very tragic death of our much loved student Camila Lopez  was simply heart breaking for all of us. She was beautiful, kind, happy and self-less. She was only 16 years of age and was incredibly passionate about Bellydance which is unique for someone so young. Camila had big dreams and hopes for her future as I did for her as her teacher.  

Honoring Camila
I felt it was so important to honor Camila's memory and keep her alive in our studio in the most positive of ways. She would love the thought of sharing the gift of dance with other students and to help them continue their journey into Bellydance. Which is why it seemed appropriate to create the Camila Lopez Bellydance Award so that Camila's legacy would be shared and remembered forever. This will be awarded to one or more students each year, in June which will be the anniversary of her death. If this happens to coincide at the time of our Student Recital then the Award will be presented at our show which is always a celebration of our students' growth and development in the art of Bellydance.  

Anyone who is a student of BellyUp for at least one year can be considered for the award. Nominations must be submitted with an application and a 500 word essay about why the person you are nominating deserves the award. You may nominate a fellow dance student, dance instructor or yourself. The Award will be Unlimited Bellydance Classes for one year along with select workshops, a Sharifwear outfit and special Trophy.

Students should be passionate about bellydance and interested in their dance development and be excellent ambassadors of the dance form and demonstrate a warm, positive spirit towards their fellow dancers.

Learn more: 
To learn more about the Camila Lopez Bellydance Award click here. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Performance Jitters and Why You Shouldn't Have Them!

By Leianne of BellyUp

Right before my aunt performed at her first student recital at BellyUp, I wished her luck. She thanked me but said she was nervous, and asked:

"Don't you get nervous?"

I'm not going to lie. I almost never get nervous about performing. It's not like I think I'm going to put on a perfect show or anything – far from it. It's just that I see every performance as yet another opportunity to dance – which is something that I love to do! To me, it's not about a big crowd having all their eyes on me. It's not about whether or not I'm as good as the act before me, or how I compare to other dancers. There is none of that pressure. To me, it's about "You mean I get to dance on a big stage with tons of room in a fabulous costume? Awesome!" When I'm up onstage, all I care about is having a great time… and that tends to show by the huge smile on my face while I'm up there.

What you need to know about the audience is that they are there because they want to see you shine. They're there to have fun and to see you having fun. They want to cheer you on. Nobody out there is waiting on the moment for you to mess up (at least I hope not). So relax! And enjoy yourself!

And bonus: the great thing about being relaxed onstage is that you're less likely to make mistakes. Your body starts executing by muscle memory, and if you're well-rehearsed (which you should be), you'll get through your routine effortlessly. It's when you start to second-guess yourself ("What's the next combo?" "Wait, was that a turn to the left or a turn to the right?") that mistakes tend to happen.

But if you do mess up, don't let it get to you. I have had my fair share of on-stage oopsies (see – and I'm front and centre nonetheless). But guess what? When I make a mistake, it really doesn't faze the audience, so it doesn't faze me. I just keep smiling and keep going. When you mess up onstage, you shouldn't worry about the audience judging you for it, because they're more likely worried for your sake ("I hope she's ok and keeps going!")

Mistakes do happen, just like they do during class or in rehearsal. As much as we love nailing choreos onstage perfectly from start to finish, it's more important that you know how to recover and not freeze in the middle of a routine. So just remember that performing is not about pressure – it's about dance, and dance means being care-free!

So get out there and see your performance for what it really is: an opportunity to show how dance has touched you emotionally, whether it fills you with sassiness, sultriness or flat-out joy!

…By the way, my aunt nailed it – and with a killer smile!

Leianne is one BellyUp's lead dancers in the Ala Nar dance ensemble. Known for her dazzling smile and incredible shimmy!