Bellydance Improvisation

The best improvisation is a well-prepared improvisation!

Hi everyone! 

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I have a question for you today!                                                                                                         .

What do you like more: to improvise or to perform a well-prepared choreography?

Surely, there are many factors that may affect the preference: the occasion, the audience, the venue dancing to live music or recorded audio and many more. I personally prefer to perform choreography that I am confident at least I need to know the music. Especially, if it’s a large stage with professional lighting, large audience and I am wearing that new 3 kg costume. To top that off  dancers also have a privilege  to connect the audience to the music.

Being a professional belly dance performing artist implies you are good at both improvising and performing choreography. Today I would like to share with you some quick tips that work best for me when I improvise.

  • Breath

I find that focusing on breath during dance is one of the most helpful techniques for a successful performance, whether it’s a choreographed piece or improvisation. Not only it grounds you but it keeps you going for longer, even if it’s a high energy tabla solo.

I use a simple breath technique learned from my dance mentor Irina Daliya (Russia) where we take a breath before we make a move. We inhale through the nose and exhale through the slightly open mouth, by keeping the corners of the lips slightly lifted in a “mysterious smile” while exhaling ( Please, make sure you practice it in front of the mirror first if you like to use it. We want to look natural, relaxed and  seductive).

  • Connection

It might sound trivial but connection is our everything, whether it’s connection with the music, the live band or the audience. The most powerful points of connection are your eyes and your chest (That’s why it’s so important to keep your chest open and have a strong posture alignment, but it’s a separate blog post). You need to stay present throughout the whole performance. If you are present you can consciously choose whether to make an eye-contact with the audience/band/drummer, or to take a moment to go inwards and sort of let the audience into your world. The balance of these two definitely enriches your performance.

When you connect to the music that contains melody put on a rhythm (ex. Baladi progression after a taxim part when the drum rhythm kicks in) you have two choices: to follow the melody or the drum rhythm. The best way is to alternate. By doing this you demonstrate your musical literacy, that you know where is the melody and where is the rhythm.

Be captivating from the beginning to the end

The vital role in keeping your crowd engaged is your 100% presence wrapped in your dance skills. Your energy has to flow over the top and your dance moves have to be practiced to the automatic level (like walking) so  when you improvise your body politely gives you the right move in the right time. As the saying goes “the best improvisation is a well-prepared improvisation” meaning that it takes a lot of work to build up your improvisational skills and the only way to do it is to turn your favorite music on and improvise! And of course, it’s great if you have a dance mentor, who can give you constructive feedback so you could grow faster.

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There are many different ways to enrich your improvisation, it’s good to play with it to find out what suits you more:

  • 1. Speed. This is about how you deal with the 4/4 rhythm, the basic rhythm you find in most Arabic music. You can break it down to 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &. By counting out the “&” you effectively create double-time, which you can switch to for a while then back to the slower 4/4. Varying speed is another way to add texture.
  • 2. Big vs small moves (ex large hip circles vs pelvic circles). When it comes to a size of the move fast moves are best small and neat, slower flowing moves are opposite, we normally take our time and show off the amplitude (especially if it’s a deep hip circle).

  • 3. Rule of 3 & pause (3/1). We would commonly apply this rule on to 4/4 beat (3 and pause is a breakdown of  the 4/4 rhythm) when we repeat a move three times and pause instead of making it  the fourth time.

3. Levels. Depending on what music calls you to do, you might want to be lifted on your toes or opposite, go into a floor work.

4. Travel steps. You can use all different shapes for your travel steps such as circle, square, diamond and more. Professionals suggest to keep you travel symmetric (if you go left, balance it out with going right afterwards). With the travel pattern we keep in mind the whole variety of travel steps we can utilise: camel with flat-toe-toe-toe step, small hip circles,  flat-toe steps with layered  hip moves (classical or reversal maya, up/ down hip accents), jewels, 3-point turns etc.

5.  Change of directions. It’s great to show the audience all your profiles, as well as work facing backstage. By the way, hip drops/pops look more amplitudinous and overall winning when you right/left profile to the audience.

6. Arm work. Is always twice slower than your hip work. If you speed up your hips (ex shimmy) your arms don’t follow, they slow down. Our emotions in dance  are mainly expressed through the arms. Arms can beautifully frame the body work, but can also be the main tool (ex: during taxim, accompanied by a ney or a violin)

  • 7. Shimmies. There is a huge choice of shimmi techniques you can use depending on the music (vibrations, ¾, large shimmies, choo choo shimmies with or without layering). The more of it your body feels conformable with the better for you!

Needless to say that the subject of improvisation in belly dance is way broader and includes many different aspects. But these small on-the-go tips have helped me to build up my improvisation  and, the most important, get more connected to my audience and other industry professionals I work with day by day in Australia and abroad!

Please comment below if you have any suggestions, if there is any topics you would like to discuss. We dearly appreciate your feedback!