Notes from Combinography With Bahaia.
“Bridging the gap between choreography and improvisation.”
Some people may see this as an odd departure. What does talk of producing a better audience presentation for belly dance have to do with social dancing Argentine tango? Everything!
I hear friends who say, “I am what I am. What you see is what you get, and I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not.” Wow. What I see is someone who doesn’t care if people see a person slouching through life. How will we ever get to our higher aspirations if we don’t start acting in accord with them. “I want to look elegant, powerful, refined, interesting, sensuous, musical.” Well guess what? If you don’t act as if you already own those qualities — as well as putting in the hard work to learn and practice the foundations of them — then they will never become a part of you.
Well, okay, but stage! and belly dance!! The first is easy to handle. Shakespeare said it, “All the world’s a stage.” And we are all actors upon it. When you wait for cabeceo do you slouch back into your seat with arms crossed, signaling I’m not happy, I’m not engaged, I may be unpleasant? Or do you look alert, bright, upright, and attentive? When you cross the room to collect your partner, so you slouch over, with a haphazard walk and a wandering gaze? Or do you project that proud, powerful, elegant, and engaged look that you want to bring to the dance about to unfold?
Okay, okay, but belly dance! It’s a poor imagination that overlooks the wonderful things we can learn about performance, creativity, learning, practice, and drive from any form of dance, sports, music, art. Paraphrasing good old Will, “All the world’s a classroom.” And we are all students in it.
These, then, are my notes from watching Combinography With Bahaia
“Bridging the gap between choreography and improvisation.”
Cheeky Girls Productions
We cover such topics as:
Pacing your performance
Entering and exiting the stage (la pista)
Pace yourself. First and last impressions are key. The ones remembered.
Fear can freeze the brain. Try reversing the move you just did. Gives the body a reset and gives the mind a pause to collect itself.
Relaxing your face
Sometimes we wear our day on our face.
Say each of the vowels in an exaggerated fashion.
Say an affirmation like “I am bee-yoo-tee-full” in an exaggerated fashion.
Do a mugging face just before going on.
[Look up at the sky (even if indoors), Laugh, Breathe.]
No matter how the audience is seated, you want to control what they see and how they see it.
Use diagonals. [The audience sees a larger image than with a straight-on front/side/back view.]
Not just standing on a diagonal line on the stage, but change little elements throughout the body so that you don’t give a flat appearance to any viewer. [Think dissociation.]
Think about extended legs, arms, head, hands.
Where the head is looking?
[!] When looking down I direct my gaze as if I was looking “up and over” rather than directly down – which produces a lot of shadow and double-chin.
Straight view of the side can be a dramatic and introspective view. Make it big with extensions.
When you direct your gaze away from the audience it will automatically be seen as “inward”.
When you direct your gaze to a body part you draw attention to it.
Looking straight on at your audience is an intense, joyous, or confrontational gaze.
Turning your back to the audience can be engaging and feel somewhat voyeuristic for them.
Always keep good posture and awareness of the image you are creating in space with your body lines.
Preparing for transitions
Give yourself something to do at the end of movements to punctuate them.
Instead of dancing-dancing-dancing, give conscious thought to the moves you want to do and that there is a transition between them, where you stop or sink into your movement. [We won’t stop altogether, of course, but rather rein in and contain a building energy until it releases into the next movement.]
Use basic movement, like walking, and punctuate it with your dance moves.
You don’t want to dance full out the whole time.
[We run the risk of looking (and feeling to our partner) “flat” in our dancing if the energy is at the same level, even a high level, throughout.]
Prepare yourself mentally and physically for transitions to happen.
In that way you’re not rushed into the next movement.
[This puts me in mind that even “atomic” movements that are part of a sequence have their own life and must be given their own attention. Take a series of linked sacadas, for example, if we don’t complete the first one, letting the weight move to and settle into the new location, then the following movement is rushed and everything starts getting blurred. Try this metaphor. Do you know about sound envelopes, how any sound has an attack, sustain, and decay. http://britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/189111/envelope Does that inform the way you move? The gathering energy, the release, the balance and settling.]
Making it art
Dance is a way to express yourself. Do you want your dance to be more like poem or like an encyclopedia? [!] A poem takes only a few words yet expresses so much. A few steps of your dance can express more about you than all of your encyclopedic collection of steps.
Your WOW step
Your movement that makes the audience (partner) go “Wow!” It could be something requiring a great deal of technical skill or strength or flexibility. [Or be unusual, or unexpected – in a pleasant way, or a perfect accompaniment to the music.] Don’t do them too much or it becomes like the magician giving away the secrets to their trick. Save them for just the right moment. Ration them out in small portions so that they maintain their magnetism.
Increasing your repetoire
Begin by making a list of all the dance steps you know. You’ll probably be surprised at how long it is. Categorize them by: stationary, traveling, filler, and embellishment. Filler is something like walking and turns. Embellishments are things you can do with your [legs and feet].
Again, make a list of all the steps you know, but now categorize by geometric shapes. Movements forward, backward, diagonal, to the side. Movements linear and circular. Box, zig-zag, triangle. Bigger and smaller versions of a pattern. Qualities a pattern can have: Aggressive (straight to audience), Introspective (away from audience), Energetic (on the diagonal).
Exercise: intensity can vary from no or low to high. [And, as noted earlier, any intensity level maintained without variety with look flat and become boring.] Imagine yourself moving in the dance through different substances:
Clouds = no intensity
Water = low intensity, requiring more muscle
Honey = medium intensity, requiring even more muscle to push through
A pool of sand = high intensity, requiring great effort to move through
Using your imagination can help engage your muscles in your movement. [Mind games, such as this one and The Storyteller, where you make up a story that goes with the music, then dance to express that story; these mind games are not only a great way to enrich your dance, but also, and just as good, as a way to distract the chattering, judgmental Monkey Mind. http://buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=274 http://find-happiness.com/monkey-mind.html.
For an exercise, have a guide call out different intensity levels that they group shifts to in their dance. For personal practice, play a song and intentionally attach different intensity levels to your interpretation of the music. Dance that!]
Keep them quiet. They’re often too busy. But you do want energy in the arms. [You want them toned but not tense. Think of soft skin.] Imagine a [bungee] cord from your sternum to each wrist. [Is this a useful image for the legs? Maybe an elastic cord between the knees? And perhaps from the sternum to the knees for backward movements, from the mid-back to the knees for forward movement?] [Even though we don’t use arms freely in the way that a belly dancer does, this image of an elastic cord from sternum to each wrist has the useful mind-body imagery of “packing” the shoulders with the muscles of the latissimus dorsi muscles. http://dancemagazine.com/issues/February-2010/Break-Your-Bad-Habits-The-Shoulders http://helenavlahos.com/tips_detail.html?id=6]
Awareness in movement
Transitions and fluidity: it comes from knowing exactly where you are at every point in your step. Exercise: for any particular low level movement, such as shifting weight from one foot to another, or rotating the torso in dissociation preparatory to a pivot, imagine you are on a ruler, with zero being the neutral point, and +12 (and possibly -12) being the extents of the movement. Now move from one limit to the other in increments of one. Focus. Experience the sensations of where your legs, hips, torso are in space. Move from one end of the scale to the other and back again. Repeat. Then repeat again at slightly faster speed. Then repeat again even faster, and continue until you get to full performance speed [and beyond, in practice]. You will develop a greater understanding of where your weight is and how your body parts are arranged, and this will give you greater fluidity in moving between steps.
The art of walking
You need different walks that you can use over the course of your performance. A basic walk, a walk with an accent, and a different kind of walk. [I mostly see people practicing long, slow walking and their “normal” walking. What about long-quick, short-slow, long-short-long, short-long-short, staccato, legato, mixtures, lopsided, funny. Not all the things you can possibly think of to try will be directly usable, but they will surely all be useful.] Step, step, some rather simple accent move, such as contracting your core and elevating your body. A fundamental change to the walk, such as walking in plié or relevé [or apilado].
When you strike a pose do you think of something static? Let’s make it more organic, such as by sinking into a pose and growing out of it. Poses should take time and preparation to get into and out of. [Akin to the sound envelop attack, sustain, decay energy contour that we mentioned earlier.]
Do you sometimes find yourself glued to the stage, weighed down, not knowing where to go? Try this weight transfer exercise. Roll your weight around on your feel moving it all around the edges of each foot and transferring from foot to foot. Rock side to side, rock front to back, roll in a circle around the edges, switch directions, half circles to the front, half circles to the back, ankle rolls.
Your signature step
Ever feel yourself stuck in a move that you repeat over and over? Sometimes called a “safety step”, it can be a default move that you tend to go to when you don’t have a better idea. That can be positive, giving you that safety, or it can be negative if it locks you into something that gets repeated to the point of boredom. Try putting another spin on it by calling it your “Signature Step”. It’s one you know you can confidently pull off anywhere and anytime, and it is one that you can do a million things with. You want it to be something that has weight change and movement. Take that movement and explore how you can change its character: change direction, timing, level, expression, size, linear, circular, pauses, layering of variations.
Repetitions and sequenced movement
Repetition can be a good thing, and it can be frustrating. Maybe you’re boring the audience or your partner or yourself. But be aware that your audience’s perception of time is different that your own. Your audience may not be even be aware of what the repetition is the first few times it comes around. Listen to the music and you will find repetitions and patterns. [The ABA’CA” and various alternative phrasings of tango music, for example.] Use that. It makes sense for your steps to have a similar pattern.
It’s all about movement through space. [This article http://tejastango.com/dance_improvis.html does a nice job talking about and cataloging elements to combine.]
Combinations, patterns, sequences, whatever you call them — like ideas — are a dime a dozen. See YouTube, for example. What matters is how well a combination fits you, your partner, the music, and the room, and how well it’s performed. When you can put together all the elements, from the most elemental, like, pause, weight change, step, pivot, and combinations of steps, and embellishments, and phrases. Then you will really be creating your own dance.