Friday, 5 December 2014

Your Body: The Relationship With Your Reflection

By Kathleen McGuire
How to use the mirror to improve—without getting lost in a cycle of self-criticism

Julia Erickson

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson in the studio. Photo by Aimee DiAndrea, Courtesy PBT.

Every day, the dancer looking back at you in the mirror looks different. Often she’s disappointing. Her neck seems too short, or her bust too big. She has floppy wrists and an ironing board where her arabesque should be. Nonetheless, you are captivated by her, and on the hardest days it can feel like it is your reflection and not you who is really living and dancing.

Dancers need the mirror—it provides immediate feedback about line and movement quality in a way that nothing else can. But our reflections can be hard to face as they bend and curve with the distortions of our self-confidence. In a visual art form that prizes physical excellence, your demon can be your own likeness inside a polished surface. A healthy relationship with the mirror negotiates an appreciation of this vital tool with an awareness of the emotional fragility that can come with a life of constant self-examination.

Look at the Whole Line
Part of what makes our relationship with the mirror so difficult is how much importance we place in it. “The mirror is often the lens through which dancers have a relationship with their body,” says American Psychological Association president Dr. Nadine Kaslow, who has worked with Atlanta Ballet dancers. But is this healthy? Kaslow points out that there is rarely such a thing as an accurate reflection. Almost all mirrors are distorted by the walls on which they are mounted (hence “good mirrors” and “bad mirrors”), but also by our own perceptions and insecurities. “Dancers often end up having relationships with parts of themselves rather than their whole body,” she says. When looking in the mirror, our eyes tend to gravitate to what we don’t like: a thick torso, bowed legs, less-than-perfect feet. “Our bodies are whole and we need to get a sense of them as whole,” says Kaslow. Train yourself to see your entire body—focus on the big picture of your line or the shape you are making. Of course, droopy elbows or other technical problems may catch your attention; fix them, then let your eyes pan out. “Honestly, sometimes I would blur my vision so that I wouldn’t go crazy on myself in the mirror,” says Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson of her days as a hyper–self-critical student.

Focus on What the Mirror Offers
How you think of the mirror can influence how it affects you. Finis Jhung, famous for his thoughtful training of teachers and dancers alike, teaches his students to approach the mirror as an instrument for their own empowerment. “I want you to learn to teach yourself,” he says. “We all think we’re doing something, but we’re doing something else—unless you look in the mirror you’re not going to see that.” By viewing the mirror as a tool for your independence, your relationship with it can become more professional, less personal.

Only Look Deliberately
Teachers will often turn students toward a wall so they avoid getting lost in their reflections. “Certain steps are impossible to execute well while looking in the mirror,” Erickson says. “How many times has a dancer tried to look at themselves doing penché and then fell over?” The same can be applied to the maintenance of your mental state. We’ve all had classes where we can’t escape the disappointing image of our reflection. And yet we continue to look back at it compulsively, as if it might change between combinations. Cut yourself a break and attempt to look only while you are dancing and not to mentally measure your thigh gap.

Erickson points out that you’ll often find girls preening in their reflections even between rehearsals. “We’ve all been in a studio talking to another dancer and they’re looking at themselves in the mirror while they’re having a conversation with you,” she says. “It’s not that they’re vain; they just can’t get out of the cycle of self-examining. If you can, brush that little devil off your shoulder.” Try to make sure that when you are looking in the mirror it is deliberate—and only for the purpose of bettering your dancing.

Kaslow says you may benefit from taking a break from mirrors in the outside world. Dancers can become so reliant on their reflection that they seek it out without realizing it. The next time you pass a dark shop window, acknowledge that you want to sneak a peek of yourself walking by, then deliberately choose not to.

Find the Positive
Ultimately a negative relationship with your reflection is a result of depleted confidence. Some of this is up to you; Kaslow advises that you point out something positive about yourself when you are struggling with the image looking back at you. Instead of mentally whittling away at every single thing that makes your feet look less than perfect, take the time to compliment yourself on your high arabesque or nicely toned arms. But both Kaslow and Jhung agree that teachers need to be involved with establishing this habit, too. Kaslow believes dancers should be taught how distorted a reflection can be early in their training. Jhung feels strongly that throughout a dancer’s career, it is the business of the teacher to ensure his dancers feel confident by using positive reinforcement as well as corrections to shape them. “Find a giving person to be your teacher,” advises Jhung.

Know You’re Not Alone
The complexity of a dancer’s relationship with the mirror is nuanced. At its worst it can feel like a private struggle in an effort to really see yourself. But no one is immune. Even Erickson, whose striking image is often plastered on buses and billboards all over Pittsburgh, admits that when she moves to center floor in company class, she still looks for the “good” mirror.

Source: Dance Magazine 

Words of Wisdom From an Older Dancer

by Keesha Beckford (mother, dance teacher, blogger,
Posted: 04/22/2014 5:16 pm

1. Treat class, and your every opportunity to dance, as a gift, as a special time for you.

2. Leave your emotional baggage outside. Let class be your chance to think only about you. Let it be your therapy. Let it heal.

3. Listen to every correction given. Try to implement it, even if it wasn't given to you.

4. Take a correction to the nth degree. Your teacher can always pull you back.

5. If you don't understand the correction, ask.

6. A dance class is a lab. Experiment continually. Never do it the same way twice.

7. Even if doing so is outside your comfort zone, stand in the front sometimes. Your teacher is only human. She or he may move students around, but if it seems that you don't want to be seen, you just might not be.

8. Don't worry about her feet, her extension, how many turns he does or her natural alignment. Work with what you have. Celebrate your gifts, while working your damn-est to overcome any shortcomings.

9. There is only one you. You can't work to your fullest potential trying to be someone else.

10. Competition and knowing the strengths of other dancers is healthy, as long it is a motivating force, not a defeating one.

11. Know your history, and learn from the past. Don't dismiss the choreographers and techniques of the past as "old school." That movement was visionary for a reason, and it serves as a foundation for what interests us now.

12. While there may be a few exceptions out there, every teacher has something to offer. Never write anyone off because you don't like her build, style, attire, body decoration or manner.

13. The dance world is maybe two degrees of separation. Always be diligent and respectful. Word about bad behavior moves faster than a Balanchine petit allegro.

14. While your teacher should be respectful, she or he is not there to be your friend, but to make you a better dancer.

15. If you can find teachers whose class speaks to you, and where you are both complimented and thoughtfully corrected, you are very lucky indeed.

16. Believe that pushing through and learning something in that weird, boring or super-challenging class will pay off. In the New Dance Order of America these days, the versatile dancer -- the one with a solid understanding of several techniques -- gets the prize.

17. There will always be bad days. Do not be defined by them.

18. Push yourself. Hard. But acknowledge when you have done all you can, at least for the time being. Sometimes the epiphany, the breakthrough, comes later.

19. Immediate gratification is rare. When it happens it is the result of years of training. The fun and the joy are in the struggle.

20. Keep dance in perspective. Know that you can still be a smart, loving, fantastic person with a great life even if one day you can't buy a decent pirouette.

21. It is never too early to gain a firm grasp on somatic concepts. If you wait too long to develop this beautiful mind, your body might be an unwilling partner.

22. Feats of nature, contortion-esque flexibility, oodles of pirouettes and sky-high jumps are dazzling. But remember that dance is communication. Dance is artistry. Keep in mind the power and potential of small and simple movement.

23. Did I say to treat every chance to dance as a gift?

Source: Huffington Post

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Region: Egypt - Move to teach art in state institute triggers controversy

A plan to create a government institute to qualify belly dancers has raised eyebrows and drawn criticism in this predominantly Muslim country, where this art once thrived and enthralled the world.

By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent
Published: 22:52 July 16, 2009

Cairo: A plan to create a government institute to qualify belly dancers has raised eyebrows and drawn criticism in this predominantly Muslim country, where this art once thrived and enthralled the world.

This plan "seriously challenges the Egyptian society's traditions and glaringly violates the constitution", which states that Islam is the official religion of the country and that the sharia is the main source of legislation, said Farid Esmail, a member of parliament.

Creating such institutes threatens the society with the spread of depravity, he said. "What we need are vocational training institutes, not belly dance schools."

Esmail predicted that the parliament would not endorse any plan to establish such "immorality dens".

Officials contacted by Gulf News declined to comment or elaborate on the plan.

A wave of Islamisation has recently swept Egypt, manifesting itself in the majority of Muslim women in this country of 80 million wearing the hijab or the niqab.

Official television no longer broadcasts belly dancing, which is frowned upon as unIslamic.

In recent years, fewer Egyptian girls have taken up dancing as a profession, a matter that has cleared the way for nightclubs especially in Egypt's tourist spots to recruit performers from other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine.

"I see no problem in setting up an institute to train belly dancers," said Dr Mohammad Abul Ghar, a medical professor.

This would cause no harm to society. On the contrary, this move would keep this traditional art alive and stop intruders from damaging its reputation, he told Gulf News.

Abul Ghar is a member of the March 9 Movement, a protest group pushing for the independence of Egypt's universities from the government control.

Pharaonic temples are inscribed with images of dancers, he said. So dancing is part of our tradition, which we should protect from extinction.

He blamed interlopers for making belly dancing synonymous with debauchery. The suggested institute is likely to help groom local dancers to revive the refined face of this genre and stop invasion by foreign performers of this native art.

Until a few years ago, belly dancers were usually recruited to perform at Egyptian wedding parties in fashionable and working-class areas alike.

Source: Gulf News

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

With Willing Spirit, a Reprise for Ailey Dancers

Published: December 24, 2013

The voice on the phone belonged to Masazumi Chaya, the associate artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and he had a startling proposition. Would she — Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish, 55 years old, former Ailey superstar and current artificial-hip owner — come out of retirement to dance at a special performance on New Year’s Eve?

“Are you kidding me?” she responded.

No, he was not kidding, and eventually the answer was yes, she would do it. And it was yes, too, for a handful of other Ailey alumni who received similar calls, among them Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, 43, who teaches dance in Maryland; Dudley Williams, 75, who joined the company in 1964 and remained for 31 years; and Donna Wood Sanders, 59, who has spent the last 20 years raising a family in the Westchester suburbs.

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
It could almost be a plot from one of those movies in which legendarily gifted jewel thieves or grizzled special-forces assassins are lured out of retirement for one last impossible heist or against-the-odds mission. But this is different, more of a reckoning, a coming to grips with the passage of time. “Revelations,” a classic of American modern dance set to gospel music and spirituals, is Ailey’s best-known and most-performed dance, a thread through the history of the company and a work every Ailey dancer knows intimately. “It’s in my DNA,” Ms. Fisher-Harrell said by telephone. “Even if I wanted to forget it, I couldn’t.”

But knowing how to do something doesn’t mean being able to do it the same way you did it before. The dancers spoke of thinking one thing in their heads but having something else, perhaps, happen in their limbs. “Does the body do what it did when it was 20?” Ms. Fisher-Harrell said. “Maybe not.”

Ms. Roxas-Dobrish, who left the company 15 years ago, was assigned a particularly difficult portion of the piece, a pas de deux set to the music of the spiritual hymn “Fix Me, Jesus.” She was suffused by doubt. Her hip-replacement surgery had taken place at the end of 2012. “I also don’t have any A.C.L. in both of my knees,” she blurted suddenly about the state of her ligaments, almost as an aside, in a post-rehearsal interview. The veterans’ one-time performance Tuesday at New York City Center (where the company is in residence through Jan. 5) begins at 7 p.m.

So she got to work. She enlisted the help of a physical therapist, a massage therapist and an acupuncturist; she tweaked her diet; she stepped up her Pilates; and she started going to class again. She began to see the dance from a new perspective, not just as a showcase for technique but as an expression of “all the things that life has put into you.”

And no, she said, she cannot do it exactly the same way she did when she was young: when she arches her back toward the floor while balancing on one leg and extending the other high into the air in one especially hard movement, for instance, she cannot bend back as far as she once did. “Alvin always said, ‘Ponytail to the floor,’ ” she said. “That’s not going to happen.”

She added: “When you’re younger, you have everything — you have the flexibility, you have no fear. But you don’t savor every step, every movement of every fingertip, every beat of the music. I feel like I’m tasting food for the first time.”

Ms. Roxas-Dobrish, who after retirement worked briefly as a real-estate agent (“It was the most horrible feeling I ever felt”), now teaches at the Ailey School. By contrast, Ms. Wood, who uses her maiden name professionally, has truly been away. Retiring in 1985 after 13 years at Ailey, she moved to New Rochelle, married, had children. She was lured back, she said, because Mr. Chaya pointed out that her two sons had never seen her dance.

“For years I’ve focused on family, children and community,” she said. “I thought this would be a one-time thing, a chance for my children to see me perform.”

She went on a diet and increased her exercise regimen, and then took a big gulp and showed up for classes with members of the current company. She wore gym clothes and socks. “I am not putting on a leotard,” she said. (She has been cast in a section of the dance known as the “yellow” section, for the flowing dresses the dancers wear.) Still, she said, being in the building took her breath away.

Ms. Fisher-Harrell, who teaches at Towson University, has returned several times to the Ailey company since she retired, and still performs. She stays in great shape, and said that age — for a dancer, 43 counts as old — had its benefits.

“At a young age, you look at it physically: how can I do these steps, how can I bend back further, how my leg can go up higher?” she said. “But the older you get, the more you’re comfortable with yourself. I know where I stand and how I feel.”

Robert Battle, Ailey’s artistic director, said the dancers were of course being held to a high standard, but the spirit was just as important as relative perfection. “Maybe they might feel that they can’t do it exactly the way they did, but maybe that’s not the point,” he said. “The point is to be where they are.”

At the rehearsal the other day, the petite Ms. Roxas-Dobrish danced with her partner — Jamar Roberts, 6 feet 4 ¼ inches tall and 31 years old — for the first time. The “Fix Me, Jesus” portion is intimate and grueling, requiring the woman to push her body to extremes and put absolute trust in her partner.

Afterward she said she felt an immediate connection — “The dance just kind of flowed,” she said — but she worried that Mr. Roberts would feel he was “dancing with his grandma.”

Not at all, he said in a telephone interview. “I felt like I needed to be delicate, but not because I thought she was old, but because she really is a jewel,” he said. “She’s legendary. I didn’t want to do anything or say anything that would make it a bad experience for her.”

He said that before Ms. Roxas-Dobrish, he had never danced this piece with a partner who looked him directly in the eye.

“It wasn’t flirtatious, it felt a bit” — he paused — “wild, and it opened up a new dimension of the work to me that I want to explore. I was a little taken aback.”

The dancers said it was hard not to be wistful about the past when you are reminded of the person you once were. But while you give up some things as you grow older, so you gain others.

“Do I admire those bodies?” asked Ms. Wood, speaking of the young dancers in the current company. “Absolutely. But I know who I am.”

A version of this article appears in print on December 25, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: With Willing Spirit, a Reprise for Ailey Dancers.

Source: The New York Times

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Be a Smart Dancer: 10 Qualities of Smart Dancers

In workshops and at your classes, you often hear, “Be a smart dancer!”
Being a smart dancer will help you, your fellow dancers, the choreographer and the performance piece much stronger. Let’s break down what being a smart dancer includes.
Photo: Greta Hodgkinson gets ready backstage before performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Source: The Ballet Blog Tumblr

Being Spatially Aware

Being spatially aware means that you understand you’re dancing in a 3-dimensional world. Smart dancers know about body directions and how they relate to the space around you. Being spatially aware means you know not to stand too close to other dancers, how to use your space, how to travel upstage, downstage, stage right and stage left. It means you understand how a combination will travel so that you can properly set up, thus not running out of room before being able to finish the combination. Being spatially aware means you won’t run into other dancers while going across the floor, and it means you understand how to not be in the way of other dancers. Being spatially aware helps everyone.
Body Directions:
Croisé devant: Crossed and in front.
Croisé derrière: Crossed and in back.
Effacé devant: Open and in front.
Effacé derrière: Open and in back.
Ecarté devant: Separated and in front.
Ecarté derrière: Separated and in back.
À la quatrième devant/En face devant: To the fourth front.
À la quatrième derrière/En face derrière: To the fourth back.
À la seconde: To second.

Staying Focused

Smart dancers know how to make themselves focus and find their centers even on bad days. Through exhaustion and frustration, smart dancers can pull it together under pressure. They are ready for anything at any moment. If a choreographer needs you to perform a role because someone is injured, you have to be ready. You have to be able to push the chaos away and focus on the current space and time. Smart dancers know how to override stresses in order to get the job done.

Understanding Patterns

Smart dancers know the importance of identifying patterns in combinations, in phrasing and in choreography. The faster you pick up on patterns, the easier it is to comprehend and memorize. Once your mind has absorbed the pattern, your body can embody the movement making it easier to mentally reverse the patterns or combinations. Understanding patterns helps with speed, coordination and reversing. It also helps with communicating and notating movement to other dancers. If you can identify which part of the pattern you’re discussing, it will help other dancers know where in time and space you are.

Understanding Music Theory

Smart dancers learn music theory. They understand the difference between rhythm, tempo, melody and timing. They understand different time signatures (or meters), and how that will effect the dance. They know how to count using numbers and letters to signify different accents and movements. (For example: 1-e-&-a, 2, 3-e-&-a, 4). Being able to read music helps a dancer understand and flesh out what a composer is trying to get across. The more you understand music and can hear rhythms inside of rhythms the more detailed your dancing will become.
Musical Terms to Know:
Rhythm: Regular re-occurrence of the accented beat.
Tempo: The rate of speed of the music.
Melody: A succession of notes forming a distinctive sequence; the tune.
Timing: Ability to put movements to the tempo of the music; counting.

Observation: Picking Up On Details

What makes a smart dancer is being able to pick up on details without being told. A smart dancer knows what to look for and how to transfer the knowledge into their memory all at once. For example, being able to pick up what the arms, head, hands, body, legs, feet are all doing at what tempos in what directions and not missing a detail is a learned skill. Smart dancers watch with the intention to digest the information and commit it to memory.

Anticipation: Thinking Ahead

The ability to anticipate is an extremely useful tool for dancers. For example, in ballet class if you want to hold your arabesque a little longer, than you have to anticipate speeding up the transition move following it in order to stay within the phrasing of the music. Or perhaps there is a surprising shift of weight, you have to anticipate this happening so you are not late on the timing. The same goes with anticipating how a combination will travel. You have to think ahead so that you are not in the way. Anticipation also becomes useful when preparing for auditions and rehearsals. You never know what is going to happen or what you will be asked to do, so you have to prepare for everything.

Making Connections

Smart dancers know how to make connections. This can include making connections from class to class to cross-training, rehearsals and observing others. Smart dancers are always learning and they are always keeping an open mind about how to approach movement and training their bodies. Smart dancers also know the dance world is small, and they know how to interact with different people in order to stay successful. Making connections and understanding how their bodies work and how their field works is what keeps them on their toes.
A ballet teacher instructs her students at the Iraqi Music and Ballet School in downtown Baghdad. Photo by: David Furst. Source

Self-awareness: Knowing Your Body & Emotions

Understanding your body and your mental and emotional status is not always easy, but smart dancers know themselves and their weaknesses. They know what muscle imbalances or structural challenges they are working with, and they know when they are having days where they are fighting muscle fatigue. Knowing how to take care of yourself is important. Understanding how to prevent injuries or care for injuries when they occur will get you back dancing faster. Understanding your emotions and how you deal with stress, long rehearsals or certain types of people will help you evaluate situations and how you function within them. Smart dancers listen to their bodies and they take the feedback seriously.

Understanding Different Techniques

Smart dancers are open to learning different techniques, and they also educate themselves on the different techniques. For example, Martha Graham’s technique offers different focuses and skills than Cunningham’s technique, and vice versa. Learning how to fuse the benefits of different techniques will make you a well-rounded dancer, and you’ll be more prepared for whatever choreographers or teachers throw at you.

Showing Respect

Smart dancers show respect without questioning. They take it upon themselves to learn their dance history and know the people who have shaped dance. They understand the responsibility that falls on their shoulders to dance and dance well; to train and train hard. Smart dancers learn where they’ve come from in order to anticipate where they’re going. Smart dancers respect the art, the studio space, their teachers, their fellow dancers and the creative process. They know how to provide constructive criticism without hurting someone or killing an idea. Smart dancers place their hope in each class and every day in order to protect the art we love so much.

Source:  Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins

Monday, 4 November 2013

Going Through the Motions Improves Dance Performance

July 23, 2013 — Expert ballet dancers seem to glide effortlessly across the stage, but learning the steps is both physically and mentally demanding. New research suggests that dance marking -- loosely practicing a routine by "going through the motions" -- may improve the quality of dance performance by reducing the mental strain needed to perfect the movements.

The new findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggest that marking may alleviate the conflict between the cognitive and physical aspects of dance practice, allowing dancers to memorize and repeat steps more fluidly.

Researcher Edward Warburton, a former professional ballet dancer, and colleagues were interested in exploring the "thinking behind the doing of dance."

"It is widely assumed that the purpose of marking is to conserve energy," explains Warburton, professor of dance at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "But elite-level dance is not only physically demanding, it's cognitively demanding as well:

Learning and rehearsing a dance piece requires concentration on many aspects of the desired performance."

Marking essentially involves a run-through of the dance routine, but with a focus on the routine itself, rather than making the perfect movements.

"When marking, the dancer often does not leave the floor, and may even substitute hand gestures for movements," Warburton explains. "One common example is using a finger rotation to represent a turn while not actually turning the whole body."

To investigate how marking influences performance, the researchers asked a group of talented dance students to learn two routines: they were asked to practice one routine at performance speed and to practice the other one by marking.

The routines were relatively simple, designed to be learned quickly and to minimize mistakes. Yet differences emerged when the judges looked for quality of performance.

Across many of the different techniques and steps, the dancers were judged more highly on the routine that they had practiced with marking -- their movements on the marked routine appeared to be more seamless, their sequences more fluid.

The researchers surmise that practicing at performance speed didn't allow the dancers to memorize and consolidate the steps as a sequence, thus encumbering their performance.

"By reducing the demands on complex control of the body, marking may reduce the multi-layered cognitive load used when learning choreography," Warburton explains.

While marking is often thought of as a necessary evil -- allowing dancers a "break" from dancing full out -- the large effect sizes observed in the study suggest that it could make a noticeable difference in a dancer's performance:

"Marking could be strategically used by teachers and choreographers to enhance memory and integration of multiple aspects of a piece precisely at those times when dancers are working to master the most demanding material," says Warburton.

It's unclear whether these performance improvements would be seen for other types of dance, Warburton cautions, but it is possible that this area of research could extend to other kinds of activities, perhaps even language acquisition.

"Smaller scale movement systems with low energetic costs such as speech, sign language, and gestures may likewise accrue cognitive benefits, as might be the case in learning new multisyllabic vocabulary or working on one's accent in a foreign language."

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:
  1. E. C. Warburton, M. Wilson, M. Lynch, S. Cuykendall. The Cognitive Benefits of Movement Reduction: Evidence From Dance Marking. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797613478824

Source: Science Daily

Sunday, 20 October 2013

'Silver Swans' taking to the barre later in life for ballet lessons

By Emma Ailes, BBC Scotland

More pensioners are taking up ballet in a bid to stay fit and lead a healthier, longer life

More and more pensioners are taking up ballet, according to the Royal Academy of Dance. It is putting the phenomenon down to the popularity of TV programmes like Strictly Come Dancing.

In a locker room at Scottish Ballet, a group of dancers are lacing up their ballet shoes. Only one thing marks them out from the other dancers here.

These dancers are all in their 60s and 70s.

Today, they are rehearsing Swan Lake.

Among them is Alicia Steele. She danced when she was young. Now, nearly 80, she's back.

"I went to keep fit classes, but I found them a bit boring," she says.

"And I love the music with the piano. I just love it and it makes you feel a bit young again. It doesn't make you look young, but it makes you feel young inside."

There's been a 70% jump in the number of adult dancers signing up for classes in recent years, according to the Royal Academy of Dance.

Some, like Alicia, danced when they were young. Others are complete beginners.

Their oldest ballerina is 102.

'Amazing thing'

Preston Clare, teacher of the Scottish Ballet's Regenerate group, says he has been astonished by the change he has seen in his older pupils.

"The amazing thing with these ladies is they've grown," he says.

"They've stopped slouching now and it's just fantastic to see the difference in them.
"They're opening up completely and able to feel more confident in themselves."

The lessons at Scottish Ballet have proved so popular, they have added extra classes, and they still have a waiting list.

Ballet is good for muscles, balance and memory, but 68-year-old Alison Templeton says it is not just the physical challenge she comes for.

"A number of the ladies have lost husbands this year, including myself, and the support of the other ladies is just remarkable," she says.

"It does help, and it gives you a focus to go out in the week and do something."

Marlene Gillespie, 71, says she absolutely loves the experience. "I can't wait to come," she says. "I love the music. I love the exercise.

"We have good days, bad days, we've all been through different things. And I just think it's a wonderful way to exercise, especially for elderly people."

Renee Gillespie, 75, adds: "You know you can't really do what you're asked to do but you have great fun trying. And so it's good exercise, it's great fun and it's wonderfully sociable."

While some senior citizens are taking on the classics, Dr Anne Hogan, from the Royal Academy of Dance, says for others there is the more gentle option of armchair ballet.

"Dance is something that can be modified to all ages and all levels of experience," she says.

"In the programme recently, when we trained people to work with older learners, they went into situations in some of the care homes where you had people who had to be seated the entire class, but had a great dance class.

"There's lots of movement that can be adapted to people's needs."

Following the Genee, the world's biggest dance competition, held in Glasgow last month, the Royal Academy of Dance is holding a week of free ballet lessons across Scotland in January.
They hope it will get even more people spend their twilight years at the barre.

Source: BBC News

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Belly Dancers in Egypt Worry About Possible Islamist Takeover

Prohibiting Women’s Dancing Ends a Once-Sacred Art

By: Kamel Saleh posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Translator: Naria Tanoukhi

Fears of an Islamist takeover in Egypt are not only limited to the secularists, leftists and moderates. They have now extended to a large segment of intellectuals and artists, notably dancers.

Katya, a belly dancer, performs at an oriental dance festival in Cairo June 27, 2006. (photo by REUTERS/Tara Todras-Whitehill )
There are clear indications that some are terrified at the prospect of a rise of Islamist fundamentalists to power. One Egyptian dancer called Sophia expresses her concerns, saying it would not only affect her, but the tradition of belly-dancing as a whole.

Another dancer named Sama al-Masri discusses the issue more equivocally. She defends the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that the Brotherhood will support her art career. She says she “knows a group of Salafists and Brothers personally, and they treat her with utmost kindness, tenderness and humanitarian compassion without displaying any worldly desires,” as she put it.

The contradictory positions of Sofia and Sama are reflective of the concerns of large segments of Egyptians. Some have grown worried as the Islamists and Salafists have made their positions increasingly clear through a number of actions, including the prosecution of actor Adel Imam for some of his movies. Some of them have also demanded that dance and kissing scenes be cut out of all Egyptian films.

This has resulted in some ambiguity surrounding the future of arts in Egypt should the Muslim Brotherhood take the presidency. One observer raises the question: “How can a revolution be on the right track if women are prevented from dancing?”

Some link dancing to the concept of ​Eve’s ​seduction of Adam in paradise. Others liken it to the old game of snake charming, where a magician plays the flute and a snake emerges out of his basket, swaying. Others refer to the original snake, which sowed the seed of disobedience against the divine directive forbidding the picking of fruit from the tree of life.

Dance — which, according to mythology and cultural heritage, has played a dynamic role in  human societies — took on divine characteristics through its exercise in rituals at temples and holy places to please the gods. However, in our present era, dance has become an art in and of itself, with diverse schools and special garments. Let us not forget the dancer that seduced Enkidu in the myth of Gilgamesh, and the high price paid by John the Baptist after Salome asked Herod, King of the Jews, to behead him after having danced for him. Here in particular, it cannot be said that “a dancer has never won over a Prophet.”

Thus, along this path, dance gradually moved from being a sacred ritual to a human ritual. It is to a large extent similar to what happened to the art of poetry, which broke away from the literature of priests and the sacred texts to take a separate, human path.

Is it possible to separate the tenets of utilitarian philosophy — which dictates that humans are constantly seeking pleasure and the avoidance of  pain — from that  pleasure brought about by dance? The female body must sway to a rhythm, which leads to pleasure — including the pleasures of sight, hearing, smell and, sometimes, touch.

The Islamists have no right to ban the arts produced by humanity. They also have no right to empty religion from worldly aesthetics. Like other arts, there are both sublime and lowly forms of dance. It is the same with religions, which, throughout history, have entailed interpretations, readings and behaviors that were sublime and served higher purposes, while at other times serving as justification for lowliness, bawdiness and murders for despicable purposes.

Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that dance is an original human act. It is a legacy of the civilizations that have accompanied man in all times and places, especially in Egypt, whose forefathers, the Pharaohs, were as keen to draw dancers on the walls of temples as the gods and kings.

Source: Al-Monitor
Original article in Arabic: As-Safir (Lebanon)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

TIPS: Making the Most of Your Classroom Experience (by Mirah Ammal )

Good tips, with the bellydance student in mind...

Maybe you've just started taking dance, or maybe you've been studying for years, but in any case, you've decided to brave the exciting world of group dance classes. How can you make the most of your classes and see improvement in your dancing? A few important tips:

1) Pay attention what your instructor says to the whole class. Treat corrections or clarifications directed at the group as though they could be directed at you personally, and look for ways to adjust your own body/dancing. Generally, in a group class if an instructor makes a broad comment, it means that many or all of the people in the room can use hearing it (some to a greater extent, but most everyone can get something out of it.)

2) Develop a thick skin. When your instructor corrects you, she’s not picking on you. She’s trying to help you get better! Sometimes she may be trying to help you correct a critical flaw, but sometimes, she may see you’re very close to getting something well and she’s trying to help push you to the next plane. It’s hard to take correction or criticism, but it’s the only way we can get better. Avoid making excuses, and ask for clarification if you're not sure what she's telling you.

3) Seek out feedback. Ok, so now you’ve worked on thickening that skin…now ask for the tough feedback. Don’t just fish for compliments, actually ask to know how something is going and (if you’re ready for it) let the instructor know you’d appreciate her honest assessment. (Remember, not everyone takes feedback well, so your instructor may be a little nervous about hurting students' feelings or angering people. Letting her know you *want* honest feedback lets her know she can give it to you, and that helps you get better.)

4) Avoid moving up a level for social or ego reasons. Be sure your technique development matches your class level. When in doubt, ask your instructor’s opinion. Also, when moving up, consider taking two classes simultaneously for a session or two—one at the lower level (where you feel confident and can continue to really master techniques)—and one at the higher level where you will feel challenged. This is good for your technique, and it can help for you emotionally. When you move up to the next level—to a class populated at least in part with people who’ve taken that level before—you may feel clumsy, awkward all over again. But in your old class, you’re the old pro.

5) Try not to compare yourself with others. Everyone comes to the dance with a different set of experiences, different strengths, and a different biology. Every dancer had her movements she struggled to get, and some that came to her easily. Be patient, give yourself permission to not be perfect right away, and remember, it's not a contest.

6) Train your eye for detailed observation. Train your eye to watch movement carefully. Notice where your instructor places her weight. Which muscles are working and which are relaxed? What are her hands, feet, arms and hips doing? And how is what you're doing similar or different? Being able to observe the details and observe specifically what you need to correct in your movement is the first step toward being able to do the movement properly.

7) Recognize that the darkest hour is often right before dawn. Sometimes you’ll hit plateaus where you feel like you’re not moving forward quickly or at all. That’s ok. We all go through periods of this. Also, recognizing what you’re doing wrong is a huge step toward being able to do it right. So, when you see what you’re doing wrong but your body won’t correct it just yet, don’t despair and don’t give up—change is coming!

8) Practice ALWAYS! Practice in the shower, the office, the grocery store, or anywhere you go. Not all practice needs to be a serious 60 minute concentration session. The shower is an excellent place to practice your undulations. Pumping gas? You can get several minutes of shimmy practice! Waiting on line at the grocery story? Dainty hip-drops! Alone in the bathroom at work? Three-quarter shimmy and Tunisians! Look for little moments throughout the day when you can practice the moves you're working on. A few seconds here and there (tummy flutters on a conference call….) can help you get better, and can give you a lift during the day. (Note: if you're too weirded out to dance at your own local grocery store, go to the Chicago Ave. Kowalski's in Minneapolis. They're used to it by now.)

9) If you don’t know what the most important parts of a movement are, ask. I once substituted for a Level 1 class that was working on a choreography. They were doing very well, but at one point in the dance, the ladies did something I can only describe as "the chicken walk". I watched, baffled, for several moments. Then it hit me. Their instructor had shown them a walking movement…but they'd focused on her kicked-up foot (a particular stylization of hers), not the "core" of the movement (which was in the core of the body). They were so focused on this stylization that they had missed the actual movement entirely! It was an understandable error (and easily fixed), but it serves to illustrate the point—recognize what the important parts of a movement are, and what is just optional stylization. You'll never be worse off for asking, and one question might prevent hours of public chicken-walking.

10) Take classes from more than one instructor. Of course you'll develop a taste for your favorite instructor and it's good to have a primary relationship, but if there's more than one instructor in your area, take advantage of your good fortune! Different teachers have different styles and methods, and you can learn from them all. Plus, sometimes you can hear the same comment 500 times from one instructor, but simply hearing it in a different voice makes it hit home. So challenge yourself to try out someone in addition to your regular instructor (and be wary of instructors who don't want you to go to anyone else!)

(c) Mirah Ammal, 2006

Source: Mirah Ammal's website

Friday, 29 June 2012

Adina Gamal Shimmies Her Way Out of Belly Dancer Stereotypes

June 27, 2012
By Bonnie Caprara

Belly dancing. Cabaret dancing. Burlesque dancing. They all evoke visions slim, seductive and exotic women whose movements glide through a room, stirring the visions and souls of wanting men in a seductive, teasing way.

They’re the fantasies of many women, too. Housewives. Students. Even teachers like Jeanine Wilson.
They’re fantasies of the women they want to be.

“When I went through my second divorce, I was looking for things to do to make myself happy,” Wilson says.

However, Wilson put off her exploration into belly dancing for a month “I thought I’d be the only African-American and the only big girl in the class,” Wilson says. “But I’m not a quitter. I believe in seeing things through. After my first time, I thought, ‘Wow! I did this. I did this as well as anyone else.’”

Not only did Wilson see things through, but as her alter ego, Adina Gamal, she and business partner, Zaniah Amairah are tantalizing audiences as teachers and performers of Detroit Shimmy.

After several years of learning, Wilson brings a philosophy to primarily belly dancing that speaks to non-Middle Eastern women or women with perfectly proportional bodies.

“I am constantly trying to help the girls because I know what they’re going through,” Wilson says. “You strive to be the best dancer that you can be with belly dancing. You are too beautiful no matter what size you are.”

Since taking up belly dancing, Wilson has dropped from 280 pounds to 226 pounds in a regimen that also includes dieting and water aerobics. And since she and Amairah have taught and encouraged women of every size, shape and color to embrace, accept and express themselves through belly dancing and other forms of dance, what had once been a hobby is now a busy performance schedule, which has included performances at Ferndale Pride and River Days.

As for breaking down the myths that professional belly dancing is only for slim Middle Eastern women, Wilson says, “The people in the Middle Eastern community really love me because I can really dance … I’m not doing it to get anyone hot and bothered, I’m doing it for me.”

Source: The Urbane Life