Archive for the ‘The Creative Process & Inspiration’ Category

Have You Failed Lately? Thoughts on Growth and Challenge in Belly Dance

February 12, 2013

FAILWhen was the last time you failed at one of your belly dance pursuits? You haven’t lately? That’s too bad. If you have, good for you. Last week I was listening to an episode of The Accidental Creative and this topic really hit home.

Failure is good – and it’s good for you. Not only does it keep your feet on the ground, failing means you are stretching the borders of what you are willing to try in expanding the range of your skills. If we take challenging new workshops, we can find ourselves struggling through unfamiliar drills or long choreography. A lot of experienced dancers shy away from this kind of situation because they’re afraid of being seen by their peers doing anything less than perfectly.

There is so much to learn in belly dance and the associated regional folkloric styles; we could live and dance a full lifetime and still have new ground to cover. One dancer who I’ve always admired in this area is Helena Vlahos. When she still lived here in Phoenix, she would regularly show up at the workshops of dancers who weren’t even born yet when she was already a star on the ethnic club circuit. Not only did she show up with a gracious attitude, she was never afraid to try things someone else’s way and say with good humor “that’s hard, I’ll have to practice that.” A great example for us all.

There’s another up side to this kind of failure – one that is especially  important for belly dance instructors. I firmly believe that it is essential for teachers to consistently challenge themselves. Not only does it grow your dance skills, it reminds you of how your students feel when they are learning new material from you. New skills may feel awkward or require new levels of coordination they haven’t yet mastered. As teachers, we should never lose touch with what that feels like.

Personally, I relish this kind of failure, which is only temporary if we persevere.I try to follow Helena’s excellent example and laugh at myself, then get back to work.  I find that things  just beyond my immediate reach don’t discourage me – they fire me up. It’s why I keep going back to aerial yoga and knitting, even though I’m not particularly good at them.

Some failures are a little harder to take. I’ve produced some truly innovative belly dance shows with quality dancers and musicians… that were all but ignored by my dance community. The financial hit is just as tough as the emotional hit, but hey – this isn’t a business for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. Do I regret these risks? Not at all. It was awesome – too bad you missed it!  I may have lost enough to buy a Bella, but I know that I pushed my creative and production experience to new ground and even more importantly I learned a ton along the way – that will never be lost.

When belly dance opportunities present themselves in the form of a visiting instructor, a new style or the inspiration for a show, maybe we shouldn’t ask ourselves “why should I?” but rather “why not?”.  No, it might not work. Or it might. Either way, there is a “win” in there somewhere if you’re willing to look for it. We need to step away from the idea that failure to fully reach the goal line is a badge of shame. It’s a badge of courage that you try with all you’ve got.

What belly dance challenge (large or small) have tried and failed? What good things did you learn from it? Tell us in the comments below…

Every Picture Tells A Story

November 16, 2012

This spring  I looked around my bedroom and decided that it had reached critical mass – something had to be done. I was getting ready for a gig. I pushed aside a pile of clothes on the floor and sat down on my pillow in front of the lighted makeup mirror perched on top of a foot locker and started my stage makeup. Yes, this had been my makeup setup since I moved into my tiny 1928 house four years ago.  One tiny closet built in an era when people likely had 2 work outfits and a set of church clothes just doesn’t cut it these days.  It’s even worse when a not-so-tiny costume collection crowds out the un-sparkly wardrobe.

For weeks I ruthlessly cleaned out boxes, getting rid of clothes and books and other what-nots that I could do without. I even decided to let go of some costumes. It felt good to downsize. My room feels SO much bigger, I can move around without picking my way between piles and I can even do my morning yoga  in there now!

I knew all along that a proper makeup space was going to be the reward. I set up two drawer stands and went to Home Depot for a finished board for the top. As I walked out to the car with a fresh looking white melamine shelf, I thought about hanging pictures… then I had another idea… and my dream of a makeup table got that much better.

My new makeup table is covered in a collage of fond dance memories and the fabulous women I’ve shared them with, surrounded by fallen costume coins and of course…. GLITTER!  I arranged them all on the board then covered it with a piece of glass for easy cleaning.

Here’s what it looks like. If we’ve ever met it person, you just might find yourself on my new makeup table 😉

A close look…

I know you’re a creative bunch! Have you done anything fun and creative with your belly dance mementos? Tell us about it in the comments below…

Making the Leap to Live Music!

September 10, 2012

Performing at Tagine in New York City with Rachid Halihal and Majdi Kurd.

A dancer’s first solo is an exciting and scary experience, but  the first live music performance can induce a whole new level of stage fright – even in dancers with plenty of performance experience under their belt. Dancing to live music can – and should –  be a thrilling experience for both the audience and the dancer, but as with most worthwhile things, there’s a hurdle to jump or a challenge to face first before you can claim the thrill.  Spontaneous creative collaboration is the height of performance to me – I’ll take live music over recorded any night! When I think back over the “golden moments” I’ve had so far, they have all been live music situations. There is an undeniable magic that can happen when you open yourself up to this possibility.

Preparing Yourself for Live Music Performance
You spent weeks, maybe months, rehearsing for your first solo performance. Stepping up to dancing with live music takes a broader preparation approach, because you don’t always know exactly what’s coming. There are things you can do to get yourself ready, however. Here are a few:
  • Know the standards and classics of Arabic, Turkish and Greek music. It will give you some peace of mind. It will also increase the odds that the band will play something that you are familiar with. Even if they don’t play a standard, by being acquainted with well-known and popular songs from these genres, you will get comfortable with the common features of belly dance music from different regions.
  • Work on your improvisational dance skills with an emphasis on channeling the melody and rhythm. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…”in the ears, out the hips!” Practice staying “present” in the music and dancing to the elements that come forward and to your attention. Part of the artistry in improvisational dance is that each dancers hears and feels the music a little differently. You may even hear and feel the same piece differently on different days. Today the deep underlying rhythm may draw you, tomorrow the flute melody may be calling your name. Practice following your intuition; this is not a right or wrong scenario.
  • Learn your rhythms so you can navigate your way through unfamiliar songs. Face it – you can ask for “Miserlou”, “Alf Leyla” and “Sawah” and the band leader may nod and smile, but don’t be surprised if they play whatever the #>%$ they want! Sorry to burst your bubble. In the case of long Egyptian belly dance classics like “Enta Omri”, they will likely play a few selected sections. They may not be the same sections in the 6 minute version you have on your CD! I’m not saying this to scare you, but rather to point out how important it is to be able to find your way through unknown music using skills and strategies. There are some bands that will give you exactly what you request and that’s fabulous – but hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Here’s an exercise to help prepare you for the “live” experience…
Ask a dancer friend to make you a CD of 10 danceable songs that are not “classics”  or things she knows you are familiar with. Do the same for her and trade CDs.
When you’re practicing, play 1 or 2 of those songs and dance through whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not – no excuses. Dance on the rhythm. Dance to reflect the melody lines of each instrument. Try to catch the accents and changes as they occur. Your instincts and reflexes will get sharper with practice – I promise!
When you’re on with a live band, you have to keep the show going no matter what so learn to dig deep and push yourself – it’s far better to get used to it in your living room than in front of an audience!
Let me tell you about the wedding gig where I had to dance to an Afghani accordion… really!

Once upon a time, before I learned the lesson of avoiding a “middle man” when booking a gig, I arrived at an Afghani wedding only to find that they had no CD player (this was before the dawn of the  iPod). They only had a cassette deck and I had already abandoned those. “That’s ok”, the host cheerfully told me, “Uncle Mo has his drum and Uncle Ali has his accordion. They’ll play for you!” And so I proceeded to do a 45 minute show(they wouldn’t stop!)  to Afghani accordion and drum music. I knew nothing about Afghani music, but I grooved into the drum line and opened myself up to playing off the accordion melody. Even though Uncle Ali didn’t speak a lick of English, we communicated plenty and it turned out to be a great show for an ecstatic audience.
Tell us about your first live music performance or your most “surprising” one in the comments below…

My Battle with the “B-Word”

February 3, 2012

Last week I was doing an informal talk on bellydance at a bookstore. A woman came in, not even knowing there was one scheduled. She heard the Pandora bellydance station playing on the store sound system and did a little dance to herself as she waited for the clerk. She dropped in to chat with me. It turns out that this woman, who was in her 60’s, used to dance with Anahid Sofian in New York City when she was in her 20’s. She shared many stories of the New York scene in its heyday when people like Morocco were headlining clubs, backed by fabulous bands.

When she first walked in, I didn’t know her background of course.  Thinking I was talking to a complete civilian, I told her we were going to talk about some popular ideas and misconceptions about belly dance. She replied, “like the word bellydance itself.” Oh yes! Myself, I’ve had a very ambivalent and reluctant relationship with the “B-word.”

When I started studying about 15 years ago, I didn’t think much about the word and accepted it on the face value of what I understood it to be in the general public at the time. For me, this was minus the stripper notions because I’d seen plenty of classy cabaret dancers growing up in the Philadelphia area. My parents loved live entertainment of all sorts and took us to tons of ethnic events and restaurants. It may have been a year or two into dancing that I even became aware of the unfortunate and uninformed association between the two.

After I’d been in the sparkly mix for about 5 years, I started to explore the folkloric roots and cultural information. At this point, I developed a distinct dislike for the world “bellydance” because even in its best general public definition, I felt it really didn’t convey the culture and tradition of this worthy dance style. At its worst, it did convey a lot of sexpot stereotypes.

When I began to teach and do more culturally oriented performances, I made a concerted effort to not use the word “bellydance” on my advertising, website or in conversations about what I personally was doing. I used terms like “Middle Eastern dance”, “raks sharqui” or “Egyptian dance” to try to get my message across. Face to face conversations usually went something like this:

Joe Public:  Oh, you perform! What do you do?

Me: I do Middle Eastern dance.

Joe Public: <blank stare>
(Maybe he’s not the brightest crayon in the box.. I wait for him to process this.)
<still staring>

Me:  You know, like bellydance. <grits teeth>

Joe Public: <lights up in recognition> Cool!

Me: <sigh>

I swam upstream with this for about 2 or 3 years. Yes, I am stubborn. Eventually I realized that right or wrong, this was really a losing battle – and one that was not very pragmatic from a business standpoint. So I reluctantly, and carefully began to include the word “bellydance” on my cards and in my conversations. There was definitely still some teeth gritting going on at first.

Perhaps I think too much, but for me I really needed a way to live and dance peacefully with the “B-word.”  In the bigger world at the time, Bellydance Superstars was becoming more visible on the pop culture scene.   I absolutely have some gripes with the project, but at least it wasn’t a stage full of scantily clad belly-bunnies.

My personal paradigm shift happened around year 12. I decided to accept the word “bellydance” and use it openly and with conviction. I decided that I would claim and wear the badge with integrity and be the best example I could be of the culture, grace and joy our dance has to share with the world. And if the masses want to call me a “bellydancer”…. well, I will do my part to help them redefine it.

Now the conversation goes more like this…

Joe Public: Oh, you perform? What do you do?

Me: I bellydance professionally. I teach and perform the dance styles of Egypt and around the Middle East – the ones you’ve probably seen as bellydance and the folkloric styles also.

Joe Public: <no blank stare!> Cool!

“BELLYDANCE” Do you love the word or loathe it? Have your feelings about being identified as a “bellydancer” changed over the years you have been involved?  

I know you’ve got opinions!  Tell us in the comments below…

Dance For Your Life

January 28, 2012

Belly dance class at East Prince Senior Initiative

Many women who shun the gym do belly dance as their main exercise and enjoy the fitness benefits along with the fun. Unlike some forms of dance, such as ballet, belly dance is more physically accessible to most women in the general population. It also remains an activity they can safely pursue as they mature. In fact, belly dance is very well suited as exercise for maturing women.

Studies tell us that by age 75, 66% of women report no physical activity whatsoever. A certain level of fitness and range of motion is needed to perform daily activities and live independently. This doesn’t happen suddenly at age 75, but creeps up on these women starting in their 40’s and 50’s when they could be dancing against the tide of aging to prevent this.  Let’s look at some ways that belly dance can benefit mature women.

  • Belly dance is a low or no-impact activity so it protects joints that have seen some wear and tear over the years.
  • Belly dance improves balance. 30% of women at 65 and 50% of women at 75 suffer one fall per year. Dancing strengthens the muscles we use for walking and standing up straight to improve stability while moving or standing still
  • Belly dance is a weight-bearing activity so it helps to preserve bone density in the hips and legs. Fragile bones combined with impaired balance often lead to hip fractures, which are devastating and sometimes fatal in older women.
  • Belly dance helps to strengthen core muscles, protecting the spine, improving posture and reinforcing balance.
  • Belly dance is a light to moderate activity. This fills the bill for recommendations of accumulating 30 minutes most or all days of the week. This kind of conditioning helps minimize daily fatigue and shortness of breath while climbing stairs or carrying groceries.
  • Belly dance is a group activity. Staying socially engaged improves mental outlook and feelings of well-being, especially important for seniors.
  • Done on a regular basis, belly dancing at a moderate level of acitivity can help prevent or reduce the age-related accumulation of fat in the abdomen. This not only makes you look better, but improves your insulin sensitivity, warding off Type II diabetes which develops in 1 in 4 of people over 65.
  • For the 29% of women over 45  that have osteoarthritis, belly dance (and gentle exercise in general)  helps to maintain joint function. It cannot reverse joint damage, but it will not hasten it or exacerbate pain either, according to research studies.
  • As a low to moderate level of regular exercise, belly dance can lower blood pressure 8-10 mm Hg in healthy women and in those with mild hypertension. That might be just enough to keep some borderline women off blood pressure medication.

If you already dance, as many of my blog readers do, then you already know that above all it is FUN! It can also be challenging, keeping you learning new things which is good for your brain too. The beauty of belly dance as a lifetime pursuit is that it can positively change the way we age – and face it, nobody gets to stay 25 forever! It is also a dance that can change along with our bodies. Most of us will give up splits, laybacks and Turkish drops at some point, but the dance remains full of the beauty, subtlety and grace that drew us to it in the first place.

So whether you are in your 20th year of dancing or just starting out at age 50, know that you are doing something good for yourself today, and for the health of the future, more mature you.

How has your experience with belly dance changed as you have gotten older? Did you come to belly dance later in life?  How has it affected your health? Tell us in the comments below…

Taking On Your Worst Critic

December 27, 2011

Most of us know we are our own worst critics. Never is this more apparent than when we watch our own performance videos. As tough as the experience can be at first, there is a lot that can be learned and it doesn’t have to be an entirely painful, cringing experience. The first thing I suggest you do is to make a promise to yourself that you will be fair and look for the things you did well along with the things that could use improvement.

I like to view videos a few times with a different objective for each one. Depending on what you are currently working on (specific goals are good) you may choose just a few of these or come up with ideas of your own. If you’re doing more than 2 or 3, try to do it in different sittings. You can use this to evaluate improvisation or choreography.

Here are a few ideas to start:

  • Watch solely for posture. Few things can upgrade a performance as wonderfully as great carriage. Are you starting out strong and staying that way? Are you fatiguing toward the end?
  • Turn off the sound. Watch for a good mix of body variety. Are you using hips, upper body and arms? Don’t get picky on the movement quality on this one, you are looking for mix and variety. Do you use both sides of the body fairly equally?
  • Again with the sound off, watch your floor patterns. Are you using your whole space, however small or large?  Are you coming toward your “center stage” for the impressive and impactful portions of the music? Do your floor patterns have some structure – circles, travelling side to side or front to back?  Did you use any strong diagonals from back toward front?  If you are performing in a round, did you give all parts of the audience some “face time”?
  • Turn on the sound and listen for the phrasing, instrumentation and accents in the music. Did you use them effectively or pass too many of them up? If you did a good job catching your accents, did you do so with variety – some on hips,shoulders, chest, arms?
  • With sound on or off, watch just the arms. Are you keeping them moving from one interesting place to another? Do their positions have purpose (framing, showing direction, etc.)  that enhances the body line or movement?
  • Watch for the technique of each movement. Are your shapes and directions distinct? For example, do your hip ups and outs clearly look different? Are you completing each shape or movement? How is the variety?
  • If you performed with zills (yay for you!!) did you stop and start your playing in places that make sense musically? Is your timing steady? Give your self a pat on the back if you embellished on any rhythms!
  • Watch your face.  Is your expression engaged and fitting to the mood of the music, whatever it is? You don’t need the super-happy face all the time. In fact subtle, introspective moments with soft music can really draw your audience in.  Do you look like you have to think about what’s next? Does your expression truly reach your eyes?
  • On your last run through, pick your favorite moment from the performance – don’t skip this! Did you flash a great smile over your shoulder at the perfect moment?  Did you have one really elegant backbend with great arm position? Whatever it is – OWN IT –  you did it and it’s yours! Ask a trusted fellow dancer to tell you their favorite moment – you may be surprised what they pick!

Performances get better a little bit at a time. We can cultivate that progress by taking an objective and fair look at ourselves.  If you’re feeling down and need some perspective, maybe check out a video of yourself a few years back and see how far you’re come! Maybe make a resolution to tape yourself this January – no one but you ever needs to see it. Give yourself a fair critique and decide one or two specific areas to work on. A few months from now it could look very different.

How do feel about watching your performance videos? How do you use them to progress? Tell us in the comments below…

CD Review: Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock The Tabla”

December 12, 2011

I recently received a copy of  Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock the Tabla” CD for review. It arrived in the mail as I was headed out to teach so I popped it in the car CD player for a first listen. From the title (and the artist) I expected a CD of hot drum solos but this CD was quite the surprise!  If I had read the notes first, I’d have know that this is a collaboration CD.  Ramzy has been a guest percussionist for many other artists and in this CD  “Egypt’s Ambassador of Rhythm” invited his favorite artists from other genres to swing on his playground.

“Rock the Tabla” has 11 tracks that run between 3:00 and 6:00 minutes each. The guest artists include A.R. Rahman, Billy Cobham, Manu Katche, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Jimmy Waldo, Chaz Kkashi, Phil Thornton and John Themis.

The opening track, “Arabatana” (5:07) set me straight with a Spanish guitar and a very “Santana-esque” electric lead guitar. The opening guitar melodies give way to a drum break and then back to the guitars. I think this could make a very interesting skirt fusion piece.

“Cairo to India” (5:51)  is the second track. This selection has a modern Middle Eastern feel with a kind of “India -meets-Jazz” vocal melody in parts.  This song has a good, steady pace and would make a better drill or combo practice song than performance piece, in my opinion.

Next up is “6 Teens” (4:31). This piece is lively and has great energy, drum breaks and accents.  It also has varying time signatures, primarily 7/8 and 9/8. This is a really interesting piece and I am drawn to listening (and dancing in my office) to  it over and over – I love unusual rhythms!

Track 4, “Ancient Love Affairs”  feels like cool water poured all over me on a hot day. It is soothing and relaxing, but won’t put you to sleep thanks to a light layer of interesting percussion. Now, I’m not a tribal gal, but I imagine this would be a perfect slow combo song for ATS – listen to it and tell me if that’s right.

Yes, there is a drum solo – “Shukran Arigato” (3:52) combines Egyptian tabla and Japanese taiko drums. The two drummers use a “call and response” format with  Karatchi and Malfouf rhythms as a backdrop. This doesn’t sound decidedly Japanese and could be a fun drum solo. This will definitely make it onto my “Shimmy Drill” playlist for class.

“Blusey Flusey” (5:05) is  another 7/8 track. The rhythm feels right up front with a melancholy violin in the back. That’s all cool with me, but when the mizmar jumped in I found the song much more appealing. For me, this is a piece to just enjoy listening to and dancing freestyle just for fun.

Yet another rhythmically adventurous track, “Billy Dancing” (4:32) (no, that’s not a typo) switches between a 9/8 and Saidi rhythms. For that reason, it doesn’t make a good drill song, but might make for a fun choreography if you dig accordion.

According to the liner notes, “Sawagy” (4:04) is a blend of rock, Latino and Egyptian Fellahi styles. This track has full vocals and I’d say it feels mostly modern Egyptian at the beginning till the rock guitar comes about two minutes in and dominates by the end.

“Dom and Doumbia” (3:03) is another drum duet, this time between Ramzy on Egyptian tabla joined by a Malian djembe player.  Personally, I like more distinct riffs and accents for my performance drum solos but the overall steady nature of this track makes it another good one for a “Shimmy Drill” class playlist.

The title track “Rock the Tabla” (5:33) features Omar Faruk Tekbilek on mizmar – but don’t be scared away if you’re not a mizmar-lover. It’s not the dominant instrument. This track has vocals and a lot of electric guitar. The liner notes say Ramzy was inspired by his work with Led Zepplin in creating this track and you can hear that in the last minute or so.  If you’re inclined to use fusion music in your class, this would be a good song for teaching or drilling combos.

I love the playful title of the closing track , “This Could Lead to Dancing”. This final track seems to be  a reprise of “Cairo to India” and it makes a fine send off to a varied and interesting CD.

What do you think of this CD? Tell us in the comments below…

Holiday Stress – A Balancing Act for Dancers

December 3, 2011

You can balance a sword or a tray of burning candles on your head – but can you balance your life for the next few weeks? The holiday season is upon us and that means good times, good  friends and good cheer, right? Yes, but if you’re a working dancer, it can be a time of overwork and extra stress too.  You can be torn between taking advantage of the party performance season and the needs and wishes of your family and friends who want you around.  If that wasn’t enough, the physical stress of keeping up with your classes – whether you teach or are taking them – your workouts to keep you fit, and late nights performing make this a good time to talk about the antidote… rest and recovery!

Every serious dancer should have a supplemental exercise plan to keep up stamina, balance muscle strength and help prevent injury – and I hope you do! That’s what the Saturday Strength & Stretch DBQ is all about!  The schedule disruptions of holiday work and play can really throw a monkey wrench into your routine. If you’re anything like me,  when that gets disrupted, not only do I feel it physically, but I also feel guilty for “falling off the wagon”. Take a few minutes to step back and look at the larger picture. If your performance schedule is heavy for a few days,  give yourself permission to skip a day or do half the volume – for example, 1 set of each exercise instead of 2 or 3 and less cardio time. This is usually my approach on days that are just a time-crunch, even if it’s not because of lots of dancing. Some exercise is always better than none.

If you work a day job, getting up early and performing late are not an ideal mix. In a perfect world we’d all take an afternoon nap! Look ahead at your week – if you can see that early/late scenario coming up, get some extra sleep in the 2 or 3 days preceding it and plan on catching up afterwards. Rest, both as sleep and as a refrain from exercise, lets the body make those small repairs to keep you going. Just like your house or car, if you let those “small repairs” go unattended, you can count on a big one down the road. Rest is as much a strategy for injury prevention as your supplemental exercise.

The other healthy habit that falls through the schedule cracks this time of year is good nutrition. I know I haven’t touched my stove all week and it’s not because I don’t love to cook! If you know you’re the type to make a frantic run for the golden arches when you’re pressed for time, think ahead. Pre-made hummus , pita and baby carrots in my fridge have saved me more than once from fast food! Keep fruit in a bowl in your living room, and grab one on the way out the door. (I learned this from my Mom – thanks Mom!)

Got back to back gigs? Yes, you need to fuel up in between. All that dancing depletes the stored glycogen in your muscles and it needs to be replaced before you hit the stage again. What happens if you don’t? You may find yourself passed out in your dressing room after your 1 am show.  Ask me how I know this….

My solution is to keep a ziplock bag of dried apricots and raw almonds in my gig bag – and of course always some water.  The apricots  (or any dried fruit)  are a compact source of carbohydrates for energy and the protein in the almonds (or other nuts)  helps slow down the sugar rush to keep you from spiking. Of course, diabetic dancers will need to pay special attention and follow their physician’s advice.

Balance your activity and plan ahead to keep your stresses from getting the best of you. I hope you are set up for a fantastic holiday with lots of bookings and fun shows as well as  plenty of fun with your loved ones!

What stresses you out during the holidays? How do you deal with it? Tell us in the comments below…

Jump in the Stream….About Musicality

November 7, 2011

We talk alot about musicality in bellydance, perhaps because improvisation is such a strong tradition right down to the roots of the style. Like the concept of “stage presence”, musicality can be difficult to define in practical terms. It is interesting to view it through the lens of another dance style, particularly one that is traditionally choreographed. A recent post by one of my new favorite dance bloggers got me thinking.

New dancers spend (or should spend) a considerable amount of time learning to hear and dance properly on the most common rhythms for their style. These will differ for bellydance students learning Egyptian, Greek or Turkish styles for example. Some beginners come to class and find their first challenge just keeping the basic beat, before they even attempt to work with a rhythm pattern.

With time and practice, body beats get steadier and rhythms speak more clearly to the dancer. The next pursuit is to move beyond a simple approach to rhythm and take the music in a more holistic sense… learning “musicality”. Every instructor’s definition of this would be unique in some way. It should be – it’s about personal impressions of the music and how you express them. So I’ll just speak for myself here.

When I am looking to help a student develop their musicality, I want them to be more aware of the larger structures in the music such as the phrasing, verse/chorus arrangements and the rise and fall of energy in the landscape of the piece. Whether improvisationally or through choreography, these can be reflected in floor patterns, scale of movement and repetition of movements for a sense of “theme”.

Musicality also includes attention to the details. The characteristics of the instruments heard up-front , whether they are smooth, vibratory or percussive, should be evident in the movements that occupy the music they make. The flourishes and sudden accents are like exclamations – they are important and interesting and deserve visual  representation.

These are just a few of the elements that we tap to develop a better physical connection with our music. It’s a subtle process and one that deepens with time and experience. It’s best learned with music that truly inspires you and that you really love. The best analogy I can give my students is this:

When you dance correctly “on” the music, you are riding in the boat and letting the stream take you at its pace. When you take note of and use the structure, energy, mood and details of the music along with the pace, you are dancing “in” your music and now you are swimming in the stream. It surrounds you and moves you and caresses all of your body.

Wouldn’t you rather swim?

How do you define “musicality”? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Another Zill Playalong!

August 25, 2011

Let’s do another zill playalong. We’ll play along with the main melody line from “Lylet Hob”. The underlying rhythm is Maqsoum, but by using a “bridge” and a variation at the end of the musical phrase we can make our playing much more musical.

Take these concepts – the bridging and phrase-ending variation – and try them out with the melodies of your favorite songs!

Lylet Hob Playalong