To choreograph or not to choreograph…

One thing I’ve had to start learning since I started teaching is building choreography.

This is not something that has come naturally to me!

Over the years, I have danced other people’s choreographies – but as a young jazz ballet student.  My first belly dance teacher taught moves, not choreography, so my personal experience with dancing belly dance choreography before I started teaching was basically zilch (I do not count watching videoed performances as personal experience!)

By nature, I am an improviser.  Preferably a structured improviser: I know the music and I have a rough plan of what sort of moves to do when and what’s going to happen next.  I like to be able to ‘nail’ accents, but I also like to able to respond to the audience and to where my body is at (e.g. if I have cramps, there’ll be less belly rolls!)  I also really, really don’t like the feeling of being so worried about remembering what comes next that I don’t enjoy the dancing – all too familiar from those childhood jazz lessons.

However, while this approach is fine for soloing, it really does not work with a group – unless you all know ATS [yay, another reason to love ATS!].  I also do not expect my students to have the same level of confidence in their dance as I do.  The majority are newcomers to belly dance, and need help to build their confidence with dancing and performing.

This is where choreography comes in handy.  So I have had to learn to make it.

Thanks to a workshop I did last year [yay, Pip E-lysaah!], I learnt a way to record my choreography.  As someone who has been a musician, my choreographies tend to closely follow the structure of the song, which I have found works well with beginners (“do this in the verse and this in the chorus”).  I do my best to keep moves simple and repetitive both for ease of remembering – my memory is not the greatest, so I don’t expect miracles from others, especially if they’re on stage for the first time – and for ease of watching – there aren’t that many people round here used to watching belly dancing.

So my advice to wannabe choreographers:

  • Don’t be afraid to make a choreography – if I can do it, anyone can!
  • Keep it simple to start with, especially if you’re dancing with a group (you have my permission to go wilder in solos).  It’s amazing what you can do with just a few simple moves and some arm gestures.
  • Listen to your chosen music a lot  – until you know it so well, you can hum it in your sleep!  Listen to its structure, listen for accents (‘nail’ points), listen for emotion and feel, listen for its repetitions.  Be prepared to teach this to the rest of your group.
  • Choreograph for the lowest level of your group – that way everyone looks good.
  • Watch lots of videos [yay, YouTube!] and think about what you do and don’t like in what you see  – both moves and costuming.  Costuming has the power to enhance or destroy your beautiful dance, so be careful!
  • Use word tables (or similar) to record your choroegraphy – I use 3 or 4 columns:
    • one for overall part of music (for songs, verse/chorus/bridge – if you don’t know what those mean , please talk to some musos – for instrumentals, sections A/B/etc or dominant instrument violin/drum/etc)
    • one for beat/count (this is the column that sometimes gets left out)
    • one for body movement
    • one for arm movement
  • Keep at it!

Oh, and

  • Think twice about performing veil dances outdoors…

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