Monday, October 31, 2011

Practicing Effectively, or "Why Aren't I Getting Better?"

So, not everyone practices their bellydance at home. Things get in the way, you're doing so much, and if you've got a family, it's probably impossible to find the time. However, sometimes you get a few minutes to shimmy--maybe while cooking or waiting for the shower to heat up. It's enough, right?

That depends. If you're working on trying to memorize choreo or getting a new move down, sure. But if you're trying to get better, then it's not enough. But you only have snatches of time throughout the day to practice, so how are you supposed to get better?

Every time you practice, you want to concentrate on improving. If you can only shimmy for a minute or two straight before exhaustion try adding on another 15, 20, or even 30 seconds. Each time, add on another few seconds as you build up. Or, if you don't have enough time to shimmy for five minutes straight, try making it more difficult. Use a fast song, go up on releve, or do circles around yourself. Every time you practice, make it more difficult for yourself.

The same is true for the more muscular moves, like taxeem or body waves. While it's harder to measure, you can still push yourself past your maximum. Every time you drop your hip for a taxeem, try to push it a little bit further. When you do chest lifts, strain a bit more to get that little bit of extra height. Even if you can't see it in the mirror, you'll be making slow and steady progress.

The most effective method for getting the most out of your practice, however, is tracking. You may not be able to track measurements such as repetitions, weights, or distances like you would with strength training, but you can track what you do. Every time you practice, write down what you did. Did you do shimmies? Hip circles? Go over choreo? Write it down, write what music you used if you're drilling, and mention how you felt. Did you use a faster song this time and felt like your hips were all over the place? Write it down.

Eventually, you can go back through your notebook or document and view your practices, and see how you get better with each one. Tracking also helps you figure out what you need to improve. Maybe you tried drilling to a faster song one week and couldn't keep up. If you write down the song and the drills, you'll be able to look back through your notes and figure out what to practice next.

So, next time you practice, try a few of these things, and watch yourself, slowly but surely, get better.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thought Supression in Belly Dance

Have you ever had trouble with a dance move, and noticed that the more you think about it, the less likely you're able to do it? Or have you ever been practicing something you've been trying all week to get down, but all the practice in the world doesn't seem to be helping? You'll even see this happen just before a performance, or sometimes even when everyone else in the class seems to have mastered a move and you're still trying to figure it out.

This is called 'thought suppression', or the 'white bear' effect. It's named so because of a study where a group of participants were asked not to think of a white bear for 5 minutes, and had to ring a bell every time they thought of one. Members of the group ended up ringing the bell twice as often as the control group, who were asked to try to think of a white bear. So how does this relate to your dance practice? Well, if you're trying to master a move and keep thinking things like "I'll never get this choreography"), you'll have a harder time trying to master it.

Thought suppression can affect your dance practice negatively by producing negative thoughts. All of us can have negative thoughts, and it's easy to see the rest of your class move on without you and think that you're a terrible dancer, or to tell yourself you'll never be ready in time for the show. However, if you're still trying to practice, and banish those negative thoughts from your head, they can keep coming up, making it harder for you to practice, or to even want to practice. If you aren't careful, they might make you quit dancing all together.

Don't despair, though, if you've had trouble suppressing negative thoughts about your dancing. There are some things you can do to help you ignore or replace those thoughts:

  • Tell yourself to think about those negative thoughts--much like trying to make yourself hiccup when you have the hiccups. By trying to think of something negative, you'll find it harder to come up with something, and soon you'll forget what it was you were thinking about. 
  • Distract yourself. Rather than work on something you're having trouble with, work on something you excel at, and try to make it better. When you return the original dance move or choreography, you'll be less likely to think of those negative thoughts. 
  • Learn to meditate. Now, meditation won't banish negative thoughts immediately, but as you learn to empty your mind and dismiss thoughts as they come to you, you'll have an easier time ignoring negative thoughts during dance practice--definitely something you want to hold on to for the future!

Why Thought Suppression is Counter-Productive
Thought Suppression

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Dancer's Safety

As bellydancers, we're often driving to and from different venues. Because of this, it is inevitable that we will find ourselves leaving a venue alone at night, and facing a long walk to whatever parking lot our cars are located in, while wearing several pounds of fabric, makeup, and jewelery, and carrying dance bags, props, swag, and a number of other things. And, as much as we hate to admit it, this situation does put us at some risk. So how do we minimize that risk?

To start with, you don't need to strap on a muumuu and become a black belt in your martial art of choice. However, here's where your bellydance training can come in handy, and help you keep yourself safe in any situation.

Posture: It's not just for bellydancing! There's a reason we bellydancers use the 'head up, shoulders back, chest lifted' posture to dance. It gives the impression of a strong, confident woman, and the last thing a potential mugger wants to do is attack a strong, confident woman. If you're faced with walking alone, this posture will give anyone in your area the idea that you are not someone to be easily trifled with.

Props: Keep your hands free. Easier said than done, I know, but if you know you have a lot to carry and a long way to walk, don't be afraid to ask for help. It doesn't make you weak, and you're not imposing on anyone--and if you do get another dancer, musician, or friendly audience member to give you a hand, remember to pay it forward. However, you do want to have your car or house keys in your hand, and if you have to carry something that can double as weapon, keep it accessible. I like to thread my keys through my fingers when I'm walking through a parking lot.

Rehearsal: No one wants to think about getting assaulted, but combat psychologists have been studying the military and police officers for years, and the ones who rehearsed their actions prior to a gunfight or physical fight came out better than the ones who didn't. If you get assaulted, you're going to be scared, adrenaline will be shooting through your veins, and you'll lose your fine motor control skills. This is where taking a self-defense course is handy, so you can learn defensive moves and have the chance to practice them, and if you ever find yourself assaulted, you'll have an easier time defending yourself and getting away.

Attitude: Be aware of your surroundings. Now, that doesn't mean that you have to walk around looking like a scared bunny rabbit, but know where the people are around you, where the cars are, where the lighting is. Above all, don't live in fear of being attacked. Paranoia can do funny things to you, including preventing you from taking gigs where you might have to travel alone or far away to. Don't think like a victim, and you won't be a victim.

Just a few changes to your behavior can help you walk without fear, and keep you and your dance sisters and brothers safe. There's always safety in numbers, but every dancer should know how to keep herself safe when she's alone--and if you follow the above tips, you'll be that much safer.

Monday, October 3, 2011

To the beginning bellydancer...

Congratulations! You've just discovered bellydancing, and with it, a lifelong passion filled with fun, creativity, and great friends.

If you're just looking around at what bellydance has to offer, and haven't taken your first class yet, get yourself to one! There are many resources online that can point you to a teacher near you. Don't be afraid of sampling teachers and styles until you find one that's just right for you.

If you've started taking classes, fantastic! You've already experienced some of the wonderful aspects of bellydancing, and have hopefully met some great sisters and brothers, as well as a great teacher who can guide you through your training and help you develop your love for dance.

If you're still a little curious, here are few things bellydance is:

-A fun hobby
-A career
-Aerobic exercise
-Social interaction
-Costume design
-Musical training
-Production training

And here are a few things bellydance is not:

-A quick way to slim down
-Fast track to making money

Of course, if you want any of the things that bellydance isn't, there's a whole host of other hobbies and activities that can provide those things for you. However, if you've read the list and find you want more of the things bellydance is, then put on your hip scarf and get ready to shimmy!