Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I'm Just Not Creative!

Chorus Girls, 192-; New South Wales Collection

Ever think you're one of those people who just can't be creative? Do you listen to a song and think you could come up with the best moves to do with it, but when you try dancing to it, you can't remember any of it? Do you see other dancers' beautifully handmade costumes and wonder if you could ever make those costumes yourself? Or have you ever seen a really great stage show and thought to yourself "Where did they learn to do that? I could never be that creative!"

While just getting on a stage and dancing in public is difficult enough, really getting good at putting on a show might seem like an impossible skill. And it is hard: there's the music you have to pick, the costumes you have to put together, the choreography to come up with, your makeup and hair to do. Doesn't it ever feel like some of this stuff just comes naturally to other dancers? Don't you ever wonder if there's a secret to being creative?

Well, there is, and it's very simple: Practice.

Just do it!
The secret to getting better at being creative is to practice at being creative. You've going to have to work at it. Dance every chance you get, perform every chance you get. Put on music and try to make up something to go with it, even if it's just a 24-count section. If you're worried about someone seeing your attempts, lock yourself in your room or studio. You might feel uncoordinated or silly, but do it anyway.

If it's costuming you're having trouble with, just start pulling all your bellydance costuming out of the closet. Or, pick another dancer's costume and try to put together something similar using just the items in your closet. Just because you're not going to wear it on stage doesn't mean it's wasted time. You can even put the costume on and parade around the house in it, maybe film yourself dancing it a few times.

But I've tried to and I'm just not any good!
Have you really, though? Have you tried making up choreography or improv to a song? Have you done more than one performance? Have you tried dancing for your friends to see what they think? Have you gone out in public in that costume? You're better than you realize, but when you look at yourself through your own eyes, it's hard to see yourself as a great dancer.

Another thing that will help is to practice with friends. Put together a choreography workshop where you and your friends can work on individual pieces. It really helps to get feedback on your work sometimes, and you'll find that you're not as bad as you think you are. With your costume, get your friends together and do a costume swap. Throw everyone's things in the middle and start pulling pieces out and put costumes together.

Keep it simple
If you're still having trouble coming up with choreography or costumes, just narrow it down. Find a piece of music you like, and challenge yourself to use the same three moves. See what you can do with it. Record yourself if you can, and see what you can come up with during that time. Or, if you already know a choreography from class, just do the same choreo to the same music, and change the emotion. Do it sad, or romantic, or angry, and watch how the emotion completely changes the pieces.

With a costume, put together a 'dance uniform' and just add one or two things to it to make it different each time. Start with a basic skirt and bra, then change up the jewelry or belt, or do something different with your hair. Play around with your accessories.

Record, record, record
While you're playing around with choreography and costuming, make sure you keep a record of all the things you do. Pick up a cheap video camera, or record yourself on your phone. Take pictures of your costumes, either while you're wearing them or laid out somewhere. Keep them somewhere on your computer, and date them, so you can go back and watch yourself progress.

Before you know it, you'll have become much better at being a creative dancer, and you'll wonder how on earth you ever thought you couldn't do it!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Goal-setting you dance career

Corean Beauty, Cornell University Library
We all want to become better dancers, but for every dancer, 'better' is different. Some dancers just want to be able to perform every once in awhile. Some dancers want a fun way to get fit. And some dancers want to make a career out of it. We all have our dance dreams, the little fantasies we indulge ourselves with when our teachers compliment us or we have a good performance, but do you know how to make those dreams a reality?

What Do you Want?
To start, you need to know what you want. What do you imagine when you picture your ideal dance career? Do you want to make a living from dancing or teaching? Do you just want to be able to do a backbend? Do you want to perform a set number of times a year?  Write it down, and don't worry if it sounds stupid or you're afraid you'll never accomplish it. Just seeing it, written out in front of you, will make the dream that much more real to you.

However, just writing down your fantasy doesn't mean you'll end up accomplishing it. In fact, the best way to motivate yourself is by imagining your fantasy, then imagining the consequences of not pursuing your goal. By knowing exactly what it'll cost you to not move ahead, you'll be more likely to accomplish your dreams.

Making it Real
Now, give yourself a specific deliverable. If you want to quit your job and dance full time, how do you want to accomplish that? High-end shows, teaching workshops, making and selling costumes? How much do you want to make from this? If it's a physical goal, such as mastering swordwork, what does that mean to you? Maybe you want to perform a sword piece at a big bellydance show.

Whatever your deliverable is, make it as specific as possible, so you know exactly what you're shooting for.

Now that you have that down, you need a timeframe to shoot for you, and for this, you need to make sure that it's actually possible. If you want to do Rachel Brice-like backbends but are at the chiropractor's every other day, you might be shooting for the impossible--not that you shouldn't try, but you've got to work within your own constraints. On the other side of the coin, if you want to make two grand a night performing by the end of the year and you've only been dancing for 6 months, you may have to reconsider your deliverable for the short term. If you know you want to go for the gold but aren't sure how long it's going to take, try making your short-term goal smaller. For instance, instead of living off the money you make teaching in 6 months, set a goal to make up half your regular income from teaching and start there. Whatever your goal is, make sure it's manageable, and isn't so large that you feel like it's not worth it and give up.

The Last Step
Now that you know what you want, though, isn't that enough?

Not really, no. You now need to decide how you're going to achieve that goal. If you want to be able to perform a backbend without breaking your back, write out an exercise plan to improve your back flexibility and strengthen your core muscles. Look for a yoga class to take once a week, or try strength training with plank and pushups. How much time a week are you going to have to spend on working on your backbends? Figure out when you can practice and put it in your calender. Let your friends and family know that you are practicing and can't be bothered.

If you want to get paid to perform, start looking up places to dance at. Talk to other dancers who gig for money, and find out if they can put in a good word for you. Start working on sets, research how much you should ask for, and practice, practice, practice!

Now What?
Now that you know what you want and how you're going to get it, comes the hard part: the long, slow slog to accomplishing your goal. Here, it helps to have a partner in crime. If you've got a dance friend who is trying to accomplish their own goal, buddy up with them and help each other stay on track. Check in with one another and help each other get your work done.

Another thing you can do is talk to someone who does what you want to do. If it's a teacher you admire, ask them to give you some tips and help you work out your plan. If it's a professional dancer, contact them and ask a few questions on how they do it. Or if there's just another dancer in your community who can do something physically incredible, ask them how they did it.

And whatever you do, track your progress. Just mentally looking back on all you've done will not show you results. It's better to have tangible evidence of your progress. Start a dance journal, fire up Excel, videotape your practices. Even if it's just jotting down what you did that week to accomplish your goal and reporting on your progress so far, when you read back on it it, you'll be impressed. And there's no better cure for feeling down then revisiting your progress.

So, now you know how to accomplish your dance goals. Time to get started!