Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Do I Have Time to Practice?

George Eastman House
Dance class is great, but the only way you're really going to get good is if you practice. Sounds easy, but if you're like most dancers, you've got a day job, family, other hobbies, errands, bills to pay, and a whole slew of other things until you're facing the end of a very long day and you realize you haven't practiced yet.

So how's a busy dancer supposed to fit in the time to dance? Well, how much time have you got?

Most people don't realize that they can usually free up to an hour a day. For instance, I'm sure you all know how much time we spend on the computer and watching television. But look at your media consumption. Do you really need to watch that half hour comedy? Do you really have to check Facebook again? If you're reading this and thinking to yourself, "Hey, I don't spend that much time watching TV or on the computer!" just try tracking yourself for a week. Carry around a little notebook, and write down your activities. Make sure you're honest, too, or it won't work.

You'll be pretty surprise at how much time you spend doing nothing at all. This is all time you can use to spend dancing! You may not free up an hour, but you can at least give yourself a little bit of time here and there to do some drills or go over a new choreography.

What if you have commitments that leave no free time a couple nights a week? Well, you can do things like get up earlier. Even getting up fifteen minutes earlier can give you some time to devote to dance practice. I used to do this when I was taking three dance classes a week, and it really helped improve my dancing that year. If you can't get up early, though, you don't need to practice every day.

Instead, look at your weekly schedule, and figure out where you have blocks of time. Maybe you're busy three nights a week, but the other two nights are pretty empty. Set aside a chunk of time both nights and use that for your dance practice. What if you don't have any weeknights free, but weekends are wide open? Then schedule out an hour or two on those days, and dance.

Okay, what if you have no time at all?


Take a good, hard look at your schedule. There is always something that you can drop, shift, or stop doing. If you're still having a hard time, sit down by yourself, no distractions, and write done what's really important to you. Belly dance should be on that list, but you'll also find that a lot of stuff you waste time on is not. Once you write down all the things that are important to you, look at the things you do every day that have nothing to do with your list.

Then, instead of stopping them all at once, pick one to replace with dance practice. Maybe you feel like you have to watch a television show every week. Try recording it (or ask someone to record it for you), and use that time instead to practice dance. Even if it's just half an hour a week, do that first. Small changes make a big difference, and I'll bet you'll find after awhile that you don't even miss that thing you used to do before you replaced it with bellydancing.

Above all, finding time for bellydance practice really boils down to deciding how important it is to you. If it's important to you, you'll find time to do it. Ask yourself what you want to remember doing when you're too old to dance (hopefully never!): bellydance, or some inconsequential thing you'll forget next week?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Dance, In 1000 People or Less

State Library of New South Wales
I spent this last weekend at an amazing conference in Portland, Oregon. At the end of the weekend was a closing party with a Bollywood DJ in a ballroom with a spring floor. When that DJ started playing music (and after a glass of courage), I got up on a stage with a couple of other people and started belly dancing.

In front of more than 1000 other people.

And it was awesome. It was definitely the largest crowd I'd ever danced in front of, and while they definitely weren't there to watch me, and most of them probably didn't even notice me on stage, the fact that I got up there at all makes me proud.

You see, I always doubt my ability to dance and look good at the same time. I've performed so many times now, and been up on several stages, by myself and with people, but I always feel like I'm just killing time until the next performer. Or I experience dancer's remorse, where I get off stage after spending three minutes trying desperately to come up with my next move, and suddenly, while I'm standing in the wings, a thousand different ideas hit me at once.

But this time, not only did I feel like I actually had it and could move with the music without looking like a vaguely rhythmic zombie, I also found American Tribal Style dancers in a crowd of strangers in Portland. I was also able to dance with them on stage, which, to me, is the core and beauty of ATS: the ability to dance with strangers to music you've never heard of and instantly connect.

If you've been having doubts about your dance, your ability to find a beat, improvise, even move to music, try just losing yourself in the crowd and the music. Get a group of friends together and hit the dance clubs. If you need a shot of courage, try to limit it just enough to slightly lower your inhibitions, but not enough that you risk hurting yourself.

Then get on that dance floor or that stage and move. Shimmy in ways you've been trying to master in class, sway your hips and let go. Forget isolations and performing, and feel the music.

Just dance. You're better than you think you are when you're in the middle of the crowd. Then, next time you perform, go back to that night you were an amazing dancer, and get up on that stage.