I recently learned a pretty tricky drum solo by another dancer in 5 hours, over 3 days.
When I was cast in Jillina’s stage production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I learned 7 choreographies in about 6 weeks. So here are some of my main tips to learn choreography quickly!
1. I watch well
Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that fires both when we perform a specific action (like an arabesque) and when we observe someone else performing the same action.
That is to say, when we see another dancer perform an arabesque, the mirror neurons in our brains fire as if we were performing the movements ourselves.
This can help us understand and learn movements more effectively – so watch first, try second!
2. I don’t repeat mistakes
This one sounds really silly, but I’ll explain what I mean!
If I’m running through a choreography, and I keep making the same mistake, I don’t just keep going and hope it will get better.
I stop what I’m doing. I watch that section again. I practice it without the music. And then I do the run-through again. If I get it wrong again, I stop the music there immediately to break the pattern in my brain. I go from the top (or the top of that section again) and try to get it right.
3. I sing the timing
Especially with lyrical pieces or raqs sharqi pieces in general, steps are not usually on counts, but they follow the melody or other musical accents.
If I’m struggling with a step, I watch the piece again (there’s a theme here!) and I sing the steps. So if there’s a tricky arabesque combo with suspension, I sing along to the dancer performing it in whatever way makes sense for my brain. For example: “left, right, left, riiiiiiiiight, turn and….”
This helps me hear where it fits in the music.
4. I ask the silly questions!
If it’s an in-person or live-streamed choreography workshop, I’m not afraid to ask questions.
Don’t be afraid of looking silly. You’ll be more equipped to learn things independently if you ask questions about the technique or choreography while the expert is right there in front of you.
And chances are, there are other people in the room or the class who have the same questions as you, but are too shy to ask!
5. I prioritise practice frequency
Here for a good time, not for a long time! When trying to learn choreography quickly, I prioritise practice frequency over practice duration.
This increases the chances of me retaining the choreography in the long-term, compared to one or two super long practice blocks in a week.
6. I review right before bed
Sleep provides a lot of benefits to memory consolidation and learning (so getting enough sleep is also key to learn well).
Something I’ve done for a long time, is reviewing tricky things right before bed – even just once, perhaps even just watching instead of dancing.
So my brain can consolidate while I sleep!
These are just some of the ways that I learn choreography quickly!
I spoke to Aziza of Montreal, an internationally reknowned dancer and superstar – and a huge inspiration to me as both a person and a dancer. We chatted practice, consistency, stage presence, cycling and more!
For a long time, I didn’t publicly state this because it felt performative. But I’ve realised that being more vocal about what we believe in also helps ensure we attract the students and collaborators who also share the same core values.
To that end, I want to tell you what inclusivity looks like to us, and what we’ll be doing to do better as we go forward.
💚 Modifications are always offered in classes to accommodate injury or illness. You are always allowed to take a seat if you need a rest. On the rare occasion I don’t offer you a modification and you need one, you are always welcome to ask.
💚 There is no shame in leaving your camera off during online classes. I do often acknowledge it and invite you to give me feedback if you have a question (as I can’t see you and give feedback), but there is no shame here.
💚 There are no body type requirements and no body shaming in our classes.
💚 There is also no tolerance for whorephobia, fatphobia, racism, homophobia or sexism in our classes. I, Siobhan Camille, acknowledge that as a white female in our society, some of these things are ingrained and unconscious. I invite you to call me in if you hear me slip up.
💚 We make multiple donations per year to anti-racist organisations, and causes supporting dancers of MENAHT origin and MENAHT peoples in general.
✨ The important part – how will we continue to do better? ✨
💜 We will be more transparent in our donation processes. Currently we’ve been providing the donation overview amounts only to those who request it, for no real reason other than it felt “showy” to publicly post our donations. These will now be public. We hope this will also help highlight some awesome organisations and initiatives doing good in the Black and POC communities, MENAHT communities, dance communities and beyond.
💜 We will continue to teach on cultural relevance and significance in all dance classes; you cannot divorce this dance from its roots and context.
I also want to give a huge shout out to Eshe of Mahasti Creative Emporium who inspires me to stand up for what is right even when it’s uncomfortable. I truly appreciate you.
“Baladi” is a term used widely within the international belly dance community, but also within Egypt. It’s a word that can describe a person, a dance, a musical style, food, and so much more! So it can get a little confusing when trying to understand what exactlybaladiis.
In this blog post, I’ll touch on the multiple meanings of baladi, along with baladi dance stylisation and musical progressions.
I’ll be discussing:
The idealised archetype of a baladi person in Egypt
What we tend to mean when we’re talking about baladi stylised dance
What a baladi solo or baladi progression is
Ibn-il balad and bint il-balad: The Sons and Daughters of Egypt
The idealised archetype of a baladi person in Egypt
Baladi means “of the country,” and “ibn-il balad” and “bint-il balad” mean son and daughter of the country, respectively. Specifically in the lower-middle class in Egypt, there is a specific (positive) stereotype associated with these roles. It is important to note that other social classes may have negative stereotypes regarding the roles of “the sons and daughers of the country.” When it come to dance, however, we are generally trying to embody the style of the proud, clever, good-humoured, and honourable baladi woman.
The above quote is from Karin van Nieuwkerk’s 1995 book, “A Trade Like Any Other.” She also recently published “Manhood is Not Easy” (2019). I had the pleasure to speak to van Nieuwkerk last weekend during a book club meeting. I asked her whether the archetype of the baladi man and woman had changed over the years. She said that in the same social class, she has not seen the archetype change much. However, she did say that she has not interviewed many young Egyptians in the lower-middle class. Most of the Egyptians that she has interviewed over the years are the same people.
So, much the same way our grandparents might stick to beliefs from their childhood, it could be that she hasn’t seen much change as she is interviewing the same people over time. It would be interesting to know if younger Egyptians are changing their outlook on what the ideal Egyptian man or woman is.
You’ll notice that the description van Nieuwkerk provides above of the banât il-balad closely resembles the “costume” we see dancers don when performing milâya-laff dance (sometimes spelled melaya leff, and a multitude of other ways).
A little tangent: It’s worth knowing that the “melayadance” is a theatrical piece developed by Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy, not a traditional dance. Milâyat are worn as a general sort of cover up when leaving the house to do errands. So when performing dance with milâya, many advocate that you should try to embody the proud bint il-balad – that is, perhaps flirtatious or cheeky, but also good-humoured and honourable.
See Farida Fahmy below speaking about some of the misconceptions around dancing with the milâya.
So as you may be starting to see, baladi is a term that is used quite positively within the same class of Egyptian people who primarily engage in the entertainment and performing arts trade.
Baladi can be used to describe almost anything within Egypt: a person, food, music.
What we tend to mean when we’re talking about baladi stylised dance
I will preface this section by saying there is a lot of debate over this! I’ve seen many experience dancers passionately argue that baladi is not a dance style.
I sit somewhere in the middle. I wouldn’t say baladi is a style of its own, but I do think that there are more baladi ways to dance, and more raqs sharqi (professional belly dance, but I’m specifically referring to modern raqs sharqi, like that of Randa Kamel) ways to approach dance.
I see it this way:
Baladi stylisations tend to be a little bouncier, and more movements are generated from the floor than in modern raqs sharqi. Some movements, while still isolated, tend to be a little bigger or looser than in modern raqs sharqi. Baladi stylisation – to me – has a lot of crossover with sa’idi and even sha’abi and mahraganat stylisations, as it draws heavily on social dancing. However, when a professional dancer includes baladi stylisations in his or her set, he or she will likely still perform in a way that shows she is a trained/experienced dancer. They may embody the aforementioned movement qualities (bouncy, looser, driven from the ground), but they likely won’t just have a casual boogie on stage, as they are still providing a show!
This dance stylisation can be performed to a whole range of songs that we generally consider baladi – kind of like “popular” music. Current popular music may lean more towards the sha’abi or mahraganat styles, but as I say, there’s some crossover in the movement quality.
Here is a good example of Shems (USA) performing baladi stylised dance:
Here the confusion can sink in a little more – some people in the belly dance community are primarily referring to a baladi solo or baladi progression when they talk about baladi music.
As I’ve mentioned above, multiple types of music can be considered baladi. But a baladi progression is actually a specific musical form that originated on stage between a band and a dancer. So while a baladi solo could be performed with baladi dance stylisation, it is likely when performing to a baladi progression, you’ll perform in a way that shows you have at least some professional dance training (or experience working as a dancer) – and some dancers may not necessarily nod to this aforementioned baladi dance stylisation at all, they may perform in a very modern raqs sharqi styling.
I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with either approach: dancing in either stylisation. As I say, the baladi solo originated on stage, so we expect to see a professional dancer dancing their own stylisation.
You’ll see above that Shems doesperform to a baladi progression (the second song), but that’s not the only music she performs to. She also performs to a piece of music that is more popular, but still considered baladi in its stylisation.
Below is an example of Fifi Abdo (Egypt) performing to a baladi progression / baladi solo. The baladi solo usually follows the form of: melodic improvisation, drum accents, rhythm joining in; then some sections may be repeated, and then there is sometimes a drum solo to end, or just a hard ending.
Fifi’s white galaybeya has become so iconic that many people choose to wear this style of costume for baladi stylised performances!
Baladi means a lot of things – and it’s okay to keep learning!
One of the beautiful things about raqs sharqi and its related dance forms is that there is such a rich history and cultural context to this art form, and it’s a living, breathing art form that is still evolving and changing in the Middle East, North Africa, Hellenistic and Turkish countries!
I know it can feel overwhelming – “There’s so much to learn!” But I think it’s really important to remember that it’s okay to keep learning. It’s okay to not know everything. But we do want to continue to seek out knowledge to deepen our understanding of the dance form and its associated forms.
For a quick overview of some of the Arabic terms mentioned in this blog post, see below!
Do you have certain areas you’re struggling with in your dance? Have you ever turned up to practice and decided to work on the things you like the most (probably what you’re strongest at)? How about some accountability to turn those struggles into opportunities for growth in your dance (and mindset!) in 2021?
I’m so excited to be part of Struggle to Strength. Struggle to Strength is an online NON-competition for belly dancers, and you have a chance to join in for free!
There’s one free entry to the non-competition up for grabs, which is good for 5 months of motivation! If you win (or if you register to join us on this journey!), we start off with an anonymous and filtered peer review session of your dance, and then proceed into two separate feedback events where the wonderful guides of this (not) competition centre you and your journey to help you get where you want to go with your dance! Enter the giveaway to win your spot in Struggle to Strength here.
The giveaway closes on the 2nd at 11:59pm EST, so enter while you can, and share to increase your entries! You get extra entries for everyone who signs up through your link!Winner will be drawn on Instagram on Jan 3rd at 10am EST!