Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

When It All Goes Too Fast

December 11, 2012
But it feels SOO fast!

How will I EVER learn this? It’s  SOO fast!

A few years ago, I was teaching my student troupe a new drum solo. Their heads were spinning – it was definitely challenging – and they said it felt “so fast.”  As a teacher and choreographer, it’s pretty common to hear a comment like that when students first encounter new choreography. Why is that? What makes it feel so fast when it’s on time with the music, and the music itself doesn’t seem that fast?

In my experience, it all comes down to everything being relative. The music isn’t fast – it’s just going faster than the student can execute the movements. It can also be that the music is moving along faster than the student can recall the next step. Usually, it is a bit of both in the early stages of learning new belly dance choreography.  This is especially true with drum solos because they are often full of rapid-fire isolations and accents.

The solution isn’t new or obscure – slow down the music to match the students’ current speed of recall and movement execution.  Aside from easing frustration which interferes with learning, it gives the dancers time to fully complete each movement. This is HUGE. Along with posture,improving movement follow-through has one of the biggest payoffs in terms of performance quality.  Big dance studios have had the ability to slow down music for rehearsal for years. They had expensive and bulky  CD  or cassette (remember those?) players that allowed them to run the music at whatever speed they needed.

Now that technology has taken major leaps and bounds forward, we now have this ability right on our own computers and maybe even on your phone or iPod! Let’s look at a few ways to take control of your music that you might not know about:

How To Slow Down Your Belly Dance Music in Windows Media Player

  1. Open your music file with Windows Media Player
  2. Right click anywhere in the window.
  3. Select “Enhancements” then “Play Speed Settings”.
  4. A slide bar will appear that will let you adjust the music speed.

Thank you to my resourceful and clever private student, Pam for figuring this out and sharing it with me!

Using Audacity on Windows or Mac Computers

Audacity is a free music editor program that does oh-so-much more than just slow down music. In this program you can actually record and keep several speed versions to burn on a CD or load onto your iPod. This is especially handy if, like me, you use an iPod Mini that doesn’t run apps. While we’re on the topic of Audacity, I can’t stress enough how handy this free and easy-to-use program is for bellydancers! You can shorten songs that are too long. You can edit together, fade in and out or blend pieces for a smooth show. I recorded, edited and compiled all of the In the Ears, Out the Hips Podcasts entirely in this one program!

On Your Android Phone

If you carry your belly dance music on your Android phone, you can try the free Audio Speed Changer app. This will let you select mp3 files you’ve stored on your device and play them back at your selected speed. Connect your phone to your stereo’s audio input line with a cable and you’re ready for rehearsal!

On Your iPhone

According to this blog, playback speed control is built right into the iPhone’s iPod app!  The linked blog does have instructions on how to access that setting, although they only mention going faster. I don’t own an iPhone, so I couldn’t tell you for sure if a slower setting is available – you’d think it would be. If you do have one, check it out and let us know in the comments below.

There is also a free iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app available called Anytune.

As familiarity with the movements, muscle memory and actual memory improve, you can gradually increase the speed to 100%. By using this practice technique, you are sure to see better end results on the stage. So next time you’re staring down a choreography challenge – as a student or as an instructor – check out some of these options. Take a breath…… and slow down!


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…

Belly Dance Anatomy: 8 Facts About the Trendiest Muscle in Belly Dance

October 13, 2012

Psoas muscleThe psoas seems to have become the trendiest muscle in belly dance over the past few years.  Now, I’m not saying that dancers are only now using it – but they sure do talk about it a lot more in the past 5 years. If you asked Souhair Zaki where the “psoas” was, she may well have pointed in the direction of a shipping canal, even though she used it extensively for all those juicy, deep pelvic movements so characteristic of  Egyptian style raqs sharqi. No less than four times in the past two years, I’ve been in” big-name” workshops where there the location and/or the action of the psoas was incorrectly identified.  If we’re going to share anatomical information in a class or workshop, we better be getting it right – especially if the workshop is filled with local instructors who will be eager to pass on what they learned to their own classes.  So, let’s cover some basic psoas facts….

  1. The psoas major originates from the side of the lumbar vertebrae #1-5 and runs down through the pelvis to attach to the interior of the upper thigh bone. (See the illustration above). You can get a nifty interactive version of this here.
  2. The iliacus muscle runs from the inside of the crest of the hip and joins the psoas major at its attachment on the thigh. Together these are referred to as the iliopsoas, but they are two separate muscles.
  3. There is a psoas minor, but 40-60% of people do not have one – surprise! In those that do, it also begins at the first lumbar vertebrae but attaches near the pubic bone on the pelvis, not the thigh. You can check out its location here.
  4. One action of the psoas is lateral flexion of the trunk (side bending), assisted by the larger oblique muscles.
  5. Another action is flexion of the hip, whether the torso moves toward the leg (bending forward at the hip), or the leg toward the torso (raising leg in front). Again, it has an assisting role, with several other larger muscles involved. It also rotates the thigh externally – think of the “turned out” position of ballet.
  6. Tightness in the psoas can cause lower back pain because it can contribute to compression on the lumbar vertebrae and intervertebral discs. Chances are if the psoas is tight, its neighbor muscles are too. It’s best to let a doctor or physical therapist sort that out for you.
  7. Now that you know where it is and what it does, I bet you can think of several belly dance moves that call on the psoas; for starters, our basic posture with the pelvis in a neutral position. We also engage the psoas for any movement that tucks the pelvis for accents or shapes such as interior hip circles (aka “ummies”) or undulations. It also gets to work on leg accents that brush forward or sweep to the side, like you might use leading into a turn.
  8. This last one is more of an “anatomy grammar” point. Now that you know the whats, wheres and hows of the psoas, you’ll want to speak correctly when discussing this good stuff with your students and fellow dancers. “Pelvis” is a noun and “pelvic” is an adjective. Example #1: “The psoas helps tilt our pelvis upward.”  Example #2: “Pelvic tilt is one important part of good belly dance posture.”

Now you and your psoas can go party like the smart raq star you are! 🙂

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…

CD Review: “Belly Dance Mirage” by Ya Salam Orchestra

July 30, 2012

Belly Dance Mirage by Ya Salam Orchestra

“Belly Dance Mirage” by Ya Salam Orchestra has 13 tracks with a nice variety for any cabaret dancer looking for performance music. Among them, there are four drum solos ranging from straight-forward to complex. I would consider 5 of the songs to be “classics”.  Ya Salam’s renditions bring something fresh making them worth adding to your library even if you already have a few versions of these standards. For the dancer who is just building their classics library – as every new belly dancer should – this CD has lots to offer.

Nagwa (4:42) This CD opens appropriately with an entrance piece. Nagwa has a very modern sound, heavy on the keyboard. This track is full of tempo changes with plenty of fun hooks, accents and pauses which make it a wonderful performance piece in the “under 5 minute” category.

Bahlam Beek (4:27) Whenever I hear this song, I am immediately transported back to Morocco’s New York City studio and her weeklong intensive. We spent two days learning a choreography to this in her distinctive “water torture” method of repeating practice. And yes, I DO still remember parts of it over 7 years later! Ya Salam’s rendition is true to the classic with a more “vintage” feel that the opening track. The drum line is clean and crisp behind a nice mix of ney and qanoon.

Nile Cabaret (3:14) The CD’s first drum solo has a short modern keyboard into. A drum machine provides a back beat through most of the track. The drum riffs are clear, varied and fun. However, I think this track feels like it comes to an “unexpected” end. It doesn’t build to a finish but rather the keyboard comes in with a closing flourish. This could work nicely in the context of a full show if it was followed up with a song that continued the modern keyboard feel.

Ashk Al Sabaya (4:36) Another track with a more “vintage” attitude, this one features lots of vocals from male and female choruses and a male lead vocalist. The inital upbeat intro slips into a mawal backed by keyboard and violin. When the singer wraps that up, it drops into a satisfying and folksy tempo. A quick online search didn’t turn up any lyrics for this song and none are provided on the CD. I really like this song, but as always, I recommend getting a translation before performing to music with vocals, especially if you are performing for an Arab audience – better safe than sorry!

Ya Moustafa (4:08) Yes, it’s the old classic – but this version opens with a kickin’ little drum solo. The lively drum line sticks around in the background and then comes back mid-song for another mini drum solo before slowing down – just a little – for a violin solo. If you’re looking for a lively version of this classic with some “fire in the belly” , this may be just the thing.

Bardawi Drum Solo (3:00) Another drum solo, this time without the keyboards. This one fires off fast, interesting and what I think of as “assymetrical” riffs – ones that don’t repeat the patterns- so it’s not easy to “follow” for improvisation.  It gets hot and heavy at the end and has a strong finish. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with this track’s patterns, it would make an excellent and captivating performance piece for an experienced dancer.

Fein Ghazali (4:49) “Fein Ghazali” alternates between even, mid-tempo melodic sections and taqsims with short drum transitions. The melody line is quirky, but appealing.  I would not personally choose this track as show music, but its back-and-forth pacing give me ideas  to use it as a teaching tool for improvisation and musicality in class.

Manafsaji (3:42) Although it doesn’t say so on the CD cover, this song feels like it could have been plucked right out of a Samia Gamal movie. It starts out in a moderately fast Maqsoum then slows way down for a violin solo with a slow chiftitelli backdrop. An abrupt 2/4 drum transition leads in to a short drum solo. The track wraps up with a reprise of the opening melody. I can almost see her sashaying around between the marble columns as I listen…

Zambulla Drum Solo (3:31) Drum solo #3 has repeating and more predictable riffs than “Bardawi” and would be a good choice for a new performer, but don’t take that to mean it’s boring. It has plenty of interest to hold the dancer’s and the audience’s attention. I think this would be a good “shimmy drill” track for a mixed-level class too. More experienced students could practice “catching” some of the drum patterns for a little improv practice while working on their shimmy smoothness and endurance.

Zay al Hawa (5:15) Another classic – and this is one of my favorite versions of this particular song. The accents are crisp and the pace is perfect for a lively yet laid-back feel. There’s so much going on musically in this track to play with as a dancer – the tabla is full of fun flourishes even in the background, the melody has fun twists and there moments of soft sustain to add contrast. Great features like these are why classics have such enduring power in our dance. Good music is just good music.

Tabla Zein (2:04) Short and sweet, Tabla Zein comes in fast and high-pitched then slows down, shedding layers of percussion one at a time till it’s just one tabla winding down to brief second of silence. Then POW! The whole percussion section hits back for a fast ending. Much could be done with a structure like that – have fun!

Tamra Henna (4:20) This is another version of the classic, opening with a brief qanoon solo. Unlike the original arrangement, it leaves the well-known melody early for a meandering keyboard solo with lots of “drummy bits” in the background. It does eventually come back to the melody in the last minute to close.

Moallem Tabla (2:08) Yet another drum solo! This one is also a manageable 2:00 length – just right for a class choreography or slipping into a short showcase performance. This one has some cute and funky rhythm patterns and plenty of fun energy. I especially like it “roll and pop” ending –  Ta-DAH!

Belly Dance Anatomy: The Erector Spinae Muscles

June 30, 2012

Erector spinaeYour mother told you to stand up straight. Your dance instructor reminds you to check your posture.  Thanks to your erector spinae muscles you can do these things! The erector spinae is actually a muscle group made up of many smaller muscles and tendons that attach them to your bones. The erector spinae group begins at your sacrum, the back portion of your illiac crest (hip bone) and your lumbar vertebrae at the lower back. It runs in two bundles up along both sides of your spinal column. Along the way different portions attach to vertebrae and your ribs from the mid-back up to the neck. These many attachment sites allow it to effectively support the entire length of the spinal column, and in cooperation with the rectus abdominus muscle on the front of our torso, keeps us standing tall and stable.

Any time you bend over at the waist, it is the erector spinae muscles that contract to bring your spine to an upright position – this is called spinal extension. They are also responsible for maintaining a “flat back”  position when we are bent at the hip.  This group  works to bend the spine to the side and to rotate it, with assistance from the oblique muscles. Think of those graceful reaching lunges that extend the arm and ribs  to the side or posing with your lower body on a diagonal and your ribs facing forward. (It’s a very body flattering position, try it!) If you are fond of those big, bent-over hip circles (think Dina) these muscles are very important because they keep your upper body from flopping over uncontrolled, which makes this movement look sloppy rather than big and emphatic as it should be.

The variety of attachment sites also helps us articulate smaller movements of parts of the spine, as we do in undulations or rib slides. Ask a dance friend if you can put your fingers on either side of their spine while they do an undulation or a rib circle and you’ll be able to feel the erector spinae in action.

Warming Up The Erector Spinae for Belly Dance

It is important to include some dynamic warm up of this muscle group at the beginning of your dance class or personal practice. This is easy to do with a few simple movements such as cat/cow pose or rolling the spine down slowly bringing the hands down toward the toes and rolling slowly back up “vertebrae by vertebrae” as we instructors are so fond of saying! Remember to drop the chin as your roll down to include the upper portions of the muscle in the warm up. Gentle overhead reaches  that bend the spine to alternate sides and reaches across the body that twist the spine will round out the warm up for the erector spinae group.

Strengthening the Erector Spinae for Belly Dance

Paying careful attention to our posture as we sit,  move through our day and our dance will naturally help strengthen the erector spinae, as well as the abdomen in general. If you feel that you need a more direct approach, the “superman” exercise or the Swan Dive or Swimming exercises from Pilates are good choices. As always, if you have any known spinal issues or pain, you should follow your physician or physical therapist’s recommendations for exercise.

Stand tall and dance proud… Team Erector Spinae is on the job!

CD Review: “The Essence of Bellydance”

May 14, 2012

Essence of BellydanceAl-Ahram Orchestra’s “The Essence of Bellydance” was released in 2008. In the years that I’ve had it, I have returned to its tracks over and over for both performing and teaching, so I thought I’d let you get to know it if you aren’t familiar with this versatile CD already. Overall, the album has a modern Egyptian sound with lots of keyboard, complex melodies and well-placed accents. Several of these songs really are staples on my bellydance show playlists!

Lylet Al Naseeb (7:28)  This classy entrance piece gets off to a traditional Malfouf start then drops into a moderate Saidi rhythm. The melody alternates between phrases of keyboard and ney for the main theme of the piece. It slows down midway in with a Chiftitelli, then picks up for an upbeat section with a Khaliji feel then drifts off to a waltz that is lovely for travelling around the floor. If you are doing a performance where you can only do one song, this one gives you lots of opportunities to show off different elements of your dancing. The song closes with a reprise of the main melodic theme and a Malfouf exit.

Tamr Henna (4:55) This is the “other” Tamr Henna. This piece has a melancholy melody and a steady pace. It works well for running slow, smooth combos or veil combos in class.

Nagham al Hob (3:33) Another good teaching track, this one has a steady Maqsoum rhythm at a nice moderate pace. The drum is rather “up front” in the sound which makes it a good choice for practicing combos with zills in the Maqsoum rhythm.

Sahran Alayya (6:36) This dramatic entrance piece always suggests whirling to me. It starts off with a qanoon taqsim,  then transitions with a fast gallopy section. It moves on to a slow Saidi with a sultry keyboard line interspersed with fast segments. It really invites you to show lots of personality through the changes of tempo.

Ikhlasik Fen (4:36)  This track also starts out with a qanoon intro then progresses to a moderately fast Saidi rhythm accompanied by a qanoon and keyboard melody line.  This song has some nice “stop accents” to play with. It feels vaguely like a traditional beladi, but not quite. The melody line in the last section is where you hear that most clearly.

Sahrawi Ya Wad (4:30) I am tempted to call this song “a meditation on the saxophone.” That is the melodic instrument at the forefront of the sound. It’s joined by a keyboard in some parts and has a very spare Maqsoum in the background. It is steady and subtle and makes a better teaching track than performance track, in my opinion.

Habayibna Gayyin (3:36)  This is a moderately paced Saidi track that presents the rhythm straight up and with heavier variations for phrase emphasis. It takes a few Malfouf  side trips along the way. This one is steady enough for teaching  but interesting enough for a show thanks to a nice melody and the rhythm changes.

Soublil Alashra (3:53) This track is a bouncy 2/4  with some scattered vocals. The melody is carried on keyboard and keyboard-synthesized mizmar.  I like to use this track for drilling and teaching small travelling “flat/ball” steps.

Mizamir Arabaa (3:47) With a keyboard mizmar, this track has the heavy feel of a Saidi but with an electronic modern sound. At 1:15 it changes to a drum break then features a call and response section between the “mizmar” and the keyboard. I’d use this for a Saidi performance if I was looking for a decidedly modern feel. I’d also use it for cane drills.

Altablalal Ghallab (2:14) This drum solo has a crisp, clear sound, nice changes and good flow. My crazy dance partner and I used it for a duet a few years back. It has nice tempo changes and some unusual riffs that are fun (if challenging to choreograph). The piece wraps with a heavy wind up and a clean end.

Ala Baladi Il Mahboob (3:24) This is one of my favorite  performance songs because you can play really interesting, musical zills to it. It also has a qanoon opening and then sets the mood with a  heavy Masmoudi variation. It progresses to a slow Maqsoum that breaks pattern to occasionally merge with whats going on in the melody line – which is where the zill fun is. There is a nice call and response between the qanoon and keyboard. The track moves into a fast section with plucky little surprise accents that I love – then straight into a 6/8 section. It closes with the same Masmoudi melody theme that it opened with.

Ouilli Ya Baboor (5:13) This track begins with an almost painfully slow and moody atmosphere from strings and ney. At 2:15 it turns up the intensity and pace but keeps its serious mood. This could make a good sword performance piece.  The melody line leaves a lot of room to work within it for sword tricks. It has another nice transition around 4:15 that reverts primarily to drum till the close.

Ana Hashik (3:53) This is a true gem with a coy attitude and fun moments! Its very playful opening develops into a sassy walking pace with great vocals to play off of. I have always found this song to be real crowd pleaser and especially great for parties where you are right among your audience. Try it, you’ll like it!

If you have this CD, what are you favorite tracks and how do you like to use them? Tell us about it in the comments below…

Sign On The Dotted Line – Contracts for Belly Dancers

May 11, 2012

Belly dance contractLast week I got an email from a local dancer asking about performance contracts and what to include in one. I’ll admit I was uncomfortable with contracts when I first started to do private gigs. Some part of me felt it was a gesture of distrust toward my client, but twelve years and a several hundred parties later, I wouldn’t do a private gig without one.  I’ve come to realize that it’s just a document of clarity and commitment that makes sure we are in agreement on the details, and most people aren’t put off by them. I call mine a “Performance Agreement”; I think it accurately describes its purpose and sounds less intimidating to the sensitive client.

Before I venture on a word further, I will say that I am not a legal professional and my contract has not been written by a legal professional. It also has never been “tested” in court – thank goodness! If you want a legally water-tight contract, I suggest you go straight to a lawyer.If you would like to draw up a document that will help you and your client  get all your gig facts straight for a smooth booking experience, the information to come should be helpful for you.

The Five W’s of a Belly Dance Contract

Like a good reporter, you’ve got to cover Who, What, Where, When and Why.

  • Who is the person hiring you and responsible for paying you? If they are representing a company, the company name should be included too. Get their full name, an address, email and a phone number. Ask if that is the number where you can reach them at the time of the event. Be sure to get an on-site phone number in case you have to call on your way there for more directions, help getting into the venue or anything else.
  • What type of performance is it?  I have several types of performance services that I provide. Include a specific description of what you will be doing. How many dancers? How long is the show? What props are to be used? Does the client want audience interaction for a party or will it be contained on a stage for a cultural festival?
  • Where will it take place? You will need the physical address of the venue, including the specific room or hall if it’s in a hotel. Be sure to ask if it will be inside or outside. I always ask about the flooring or outside surface as well.
  • When does the show start? Be clear about this. I always ask “What time do you want the show to start?”. I do not ask “What time should I get there?” I list the “Performance Time” and the “Arrival/Set-Up Time” as two separate items with the arrival usually 15 minutes before the start, unless I feel I need more than that for some reason. Everyone has different tolerances for show delays. If you will be on a tight schedule, make it clear in both your conversation and in your contract. You can do this by including something like this…”A waiting fee of $XX per 15 minutes will be incurred if the show is delayed.”  In my experience, this alone is enough to keep people on time.
  • Why? Find out the reason for the occasion and if there is a guest of honor that they would like you to pay special attention to.

But There’s More…

  • Your Fee Details Specify the total price, any deposit amount and when and how each of these can be paid. Do you want cash?  Can you take a credit card on site?  Put it in writing.
  • Changing Area Some dancers arrive fully dressed. If you will be dressing there, you may want to include your needs. For example, I will not dress for a show in a public restroom and my contract has a nicely worded line to let them know that.
  • Cancellation Policy This is very important! Be sure that it is very specific and includes what happens if either you or the client cancel.  Of course we would never cancel on a client outside of an emergency, but the fact that it is in your contract is a matter of equality and protection for both parties. This should include a date beyond which any deposit is forfeited. In my contract, I agree to “provide a suitable substitute dancer at the same fee” if I cancel. I’ve never cancelled, but I am letting my client know that I cannot and will not leave them high and dry for any reason.
  • The Sound System Does the sound system play CDs or iPod? Do they have an iPod dock or cord or do you need to provide one?
  • Special Instructions Include in the contract any special requests such as theme colors, keeping your arrival a “surprise”, leading a dabke line  or dancing out the birthday cake.
  • Additional Services If you are including live music or any other professionals, I recommend having them draw up their own separate contracts rather than adding their services to yours.

Sealing The Deal

When you have filled in the contract and it’s been approved and signed by your client, be sure to sign it yourself and return a copy to them promptly.

A Contract of Your Very Own…

If you would like a sample contract to customize to your needs, you can download a Sample Belly Dance Performance Contract. From this starter document, you can add or edit any items that are specific to your needs. I hope you find it useful!

Teaching Zills in a Multi-Level Belly Dance Class

April 26, 2012

Multi-level classes have a lot of advantages for students, and present a few challenges for instructors, but personally, I   love teaching  this way!  For the student at any level, it allows them to move forward with new material on the skills they have mastered and take their time to improve those they are still working on. As we move from one movement or combo to the next, there are always options – provided the instructor is prepared.

A good multi-level class instructor will have 2 ( I prefer 3) variations ready for each class exercise they’ll be presenting. There’s a lot more class prep, but that’s not all. The instructor has to be able to keep an eye on each individual student as she moves through the room to see how everyone is doing. When I see that a movement is going well,  it’s time to add the next thing. If a student is struggling, I drop it back to where it’s a manageable challenge.

The key is to keep every student working in their personal “challenge zone” That means that they are not bored because it’s too easy and not frustrated because it’s too hard. I have heard from many students that their prior instructors taught by demonstrating at the front of the room and never came around to look at any individual or problem solve their movement issues. This is a shame. This is not teaching in my book – it’s demonstrating. I don’t even instruct this way when I travel and teach a workshop for 30. If a dancer invests their time and money to come to my class,  they deserve to be paid attention to and helped.

Hey, Mahin… I thought this was about teaching zills?

It is. Zills are one of those skills that a class can have a particularly wide skill range on. Some dancers come to class with pretty good foundation skills and no experience with zills. Others are musically inclined from outside of dance and take to them easily even as a beginner with basic movements. So here are a few suggestions for having a whole class drill zills at the same time, with different challenge levels.

Easiest: Have your students walk, stepping on the down beat of the music and just play a single “dum” with each step. I have them use their dominant hand

Step 2: Have them play a single “dum” on the down beat while doing one repeating basic movement, such as a drop kick.

Step 3: Have students walk on the down beat while playing a full rhythm pattern.

Step 4: Have students play a full rhythm pattern while doing a repeating basic or intermediate movement.

Step 5: Have students play a full rhythm while dancing a combination.

This is  just an example of how I build skill progressions, you could easily modify them to fit your own material or teaching style. They are also not a hard and fast linear presentation either. A good, experienced teacher has strong instincts and observation skills. Really LOOK at your student and decide whether to suggest moving a notch up or down in either the movement or the playing. The more you exercise the instinct as an instructor, the better you get at it.

As the instructor, if you take some time to think through these options in advance, you’ll be able to pull them out for each student as needed when you go around the room and lead zill drills.  At first it does feel like you’re running a 3-ring circus (to you, not the students) , but once you’ve got the hang of it, it feels like a fun juggling act. The great part is that is serves your students with exactly what they need when they need it  to become better dancers.

When Your Wrists Say “No”

April 5, 2012

playing zills with a wrist injuryA few weeks ago I got an email from a dancer who used to enjoy playing zills but no longer could due to carpal tunnel issues. Following surgery she has limited hand mobility to play finger cymbals. She was looking for ideas on how she might still be able to use her zills in her dance given these new limitations. I thought this was an interesting question and one that certainly other dancers have had to deal with, so I thought I’d share a few alternative ideas  with everyone here.

Switch instruments

If the issue is only in one hand, consider using a small, light tambourine to participate in your music. A tambourine makes a wonderful, playful and exciting prop that really works with your movement. You can watch a nice example of this here. In this video, Amani is using a larger tambourine, but you get the idea of how versatile it can be, whether the music is slow or lively.

Think “2 Hands”

Striking your zills together in the usual way involves flexion and extension of the ring finger and thumb. The muscles that do this are actually in the forearm, but their tendons that connect to the finger bones run through the wrist, Instead of producing your sound by bringing together the 2 zills on one hand, use both hands. Here are a few examples of ways to make different sounds and accents without aggravating your wrists.

  • Clap Accents: Bring your hands together and clap all 4 zills at one.  Just as with a one-handed sound, you will get a lower, duller sound if you bring them together and keep them closed than if you strike them and open immediately so that they ring. Using these two tones together creatively you can have some fun. Try it!
  • Open Ring: Position your zills as if they made a little box with one pair resting on the top and bottom, the other pair on two opposite side. Check out the picture at the top of this post to illustrate . Wag the hand with the “sides” so that they ring against the stable “top and bottom” zills. This can be done softly or exuberantly, depending on your music.
  • Tap It Out: Holding your hands as you did for a regular clap, you can play many of the same rhythmic pattern you normally would on one hand without the stress of finger flexion and extension if those movements now cause you difficulty or pain. Instead of “right” and left”, substitute “ring fingers” and “thumbs”.   If you use the old trick of having one zill in a different metal, you can have more than one pitch too.

The need to have your hands together to make sound will probably mean that playing will be more of an accent than a continual sonic layer in your dance.  Explore different ways to position your arms that allow your movement to be seen and your body line to be balanced. For example, play overhead while doing larger hip or travelling movements. Position yourself with arms forward on a diagonal to the audience while doing movements that are best viewed in profile. Hold your hands coyly in front of one shoulder while doing movement on the opposite hip – then switch! Yes, there will be some adjustments, but with some effort and flexible thinking, a dancer does not have to mourn the loss of her zills if she’s willing to try some new approaches.

Have you stopped playing zills due to a wrist injury? Have you found ways to play with reduced mobility in your hands and wrists? Tell us about it in the comments below…