What kind of student are you? Are you a fast learner or it takes some time for the information to sink in? If you do a class, do you go over the things learned afterwards? Do you like to perform choreographies taught you with military precision or you stylize it your way? Do you prefer online classes over face-to-face sessions? Do you learn the most during group or private training? Do you like to be challenged or prefer to stay within the comfort zone? Today I am sharing my take on dance education (which is applicable to any other kind of education) as well as a couple of great online resources to brush up your dancing.
How exciting is to live in the time of limitless educational opportunities, when the whole world is at your fingertips. Nowadays, you can learn anything online and very often the resources are free. This is incredible how fast the world changes. When I started my career as a fitness instructor in 2002 back in Russia I had only two professional audio CDs. I was using them so often they were skipping and all my clients knew the lyrics! Now if I like some songs and I want to use it at my class, I create a playlist on Spotify in 5 minutes.
When it comes to belly dance - I am a complete self starter. I took to belly dancing in 2010 when I worked at my mother’s dance studio in Thailand. There were no belly dance classes or festivals around so Youtube was the only way to learn as I couldn’t afford overseas travels,competitions and expensive costumes. I was researching all the possible information online and creating my own choreographies, recording myself instantly (which is an amazing way to learn and see your progress). Soon we started teaching belly dance classes, our students were the best motivation! At about same time we started getting invitations to perform at private functions and charity balls. We had to quickly sew our costumes and started performing. Now my mum’s International Dance Company in Thailand has 4-5 group belly dance classes a week plus multiple private sessions and I teach multiple classes across Melbourne and give minimum 4 shows per week.
Personally, I like online classes as much as face-to-face training. The most valuable for me, however, are private sessions with teachers that inspire me, that I feel connected to, I learn the most from them. As many other dancers I seek rather inspiration from classes. If I learn a new choreography from someone, I always stylize it my way. I would never be able to copy it 100%, simply because my body is different, and I will dance the choreography in the unique way. I might use some certain moves I liked from the class, but mostly in context of my own routine.
Being a dance instructor, performer and entrepreneur I see non-stop learning as the only way to be successful and realise your full potential. I feel it’s an absolute must to invest time and funds in education on all levels (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual).The online resources have helped me tremendously along my dance journey and I would like to share some of them with you:
“Powhow is the leading global platform for live webcam classes. Powhow's vStudio™ Platform enables fitness, dance, music, and arts professionals to connect with their students in multiple ways. Instructors can train and interact directly with students via webcam, broadcast and stream their in-studio classes live to a global audience, or upload recorded videos for their students to train on their own time.”
It was my absolute happiness when Sadie Marquardt started teaching classes there. I learned a lot from her in a matter of months. However, as we know, she doesn't teach there any more as she set out to create her own online platform where she will continue to share her knowledge. But powhaw has hundreds of beautiful teahcers to offer!
Is everything you wanted from belly dance training online. Hundreds of educational videos featuring variety of styles plus belly dance library available to you 24/7. So no excuses!
“Datura Online was born out of a radical idea: to make dance classes accessible anywhere while supporting a global dance culture that nurtures inclusivity, sustainability, and excellence. We are a group of self-determining dancers, with no investors or advertisers, who are pioneering the website that we want to use. Datura Online was founded in 2011. In a small café in the heart of Portland, OR, Sol Crawford and Rachel Brice set about to create a website that would provide dance classes to those who didn't have local access to teachers and for those who wanted a focused practice at home.”
- We can’t underestimate the value of ree social media platforms such as www.youtube.com, www.facebook.com, www.vk.com (Russian network) that have enormous variety of free resources, articles, movies on the subject, live streams and so much more!
However if someone is just at the beginning of their belly dancing journey and has no dance background, I would absolutely suggest to take face-to-face classes first or at least live online classes where your instructor can give a feedback. Learning any discipline is a lifelong process that never stops. It’s also very important to understand what your final goals are. If you want to become a professional then energy/time input will be completely different as if you would just do it as a hobby. Research shows that if you want to master a skill on a professional level you should be willing to put 10000 hours during 10 years (it’s quite an intense learning). The rule the more you give - the more you get is applicable everywhere. The more time and effort you invest in your education the faster you’ll flourish!
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.
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).
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.
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!
- Martin and Lubna
- On 29/04/2017
Thank you for your great performance, it was a fantastic show and was even better when our guests joined ...
- Lynne C
- On 12/03/2017
I first met Alisa through a short workshop in 2015 and enjoyed learning the basics of bellydance so much ...
- On 09/10/2016
Alisa is an amazing performer and teacher. I've been dancing with her for just under a year, but have ...
- Natalie Volyanska
- On 09/10/2016
the best bellydancer and teacher in Australia! love being your student, learnt a lot and keep learning ...
- Tatiana Nikitina
- On 09/10/2016
Thank you, Alisa Bellydancer for unforgettable performances in Thailand and really professional workshops ...
- Ingrid de Bree
- On 04/10/2016
I absolutely love the energy and passion of your classes! A fantastic work out that challenges the brain ...
- Sarah Benn
- On 27/09/2016
Thank you for lighting up our night with your stunning performance! Even our 70-year old parents weren't ...