photo by York Wilson Photography

Thursday, January 08, 2009



I'm working on something relatively new for me: choreography.
I've spent the majority of my time as a bellydance student and performer (and teacher for that matter) focused on what most of us call "technique": core isolations, shimmies, foot placement patterns, posture, et cetera. I've learned how to string my movements together without weird little hiccups or stops, and I've learned how to keep dancing (and do MANY DIFFERENT moves! wowee!) on the spot, just making it all up, for performance. To some degree, I make up stuff that fits with the music, and it all seems like a good idea to me in the moment. The results, in my opinion, are variable.
Choreographing dances for myself has always been a daunting task. I have only done it twice in the six years I have been performing. Well, two and a half times- once I did a very successful (for me) mix of improv and choreography. That's it. I find that when I sit down to choreograph a song, I get anxious about making each phrase THE BEST IT CAN BE (read: pack as many cool things into it as possible), get analysis paralysis, and usually give up after the first few bars. I know this is not a good way to work- I mean, after all, it's clearly not working. So I'm trying to change my approach.
One thing that I have noticed about nearly all of my favorite dancers is that they must be aware of how their body looks at any given moment since they virtually always are in some sort of lovely position. I'm not just talking about correct posture; I'm referring to an artful placement of the limbs, head and torso that frames and amplifies each movement. This is a quality that, to put it kindly, I am just now trying to cultivate. My goal right now is to create a simple choreography (or two, or more) that takes me from pose to pose without looking forced or artificial and without looking like I'm Vogueing. I'm a big fan of multitasking, and I'd like to try to address my hangups about choreography while hopefully giving myself a better awareness of how I appear to my audience that might also bleed over into improv some time in the future. I hope.
I don't have a digital video camera as such (too poor), but I do have a still camera that takes Youtube-quality video. I set it up in my practice space yesterday (it took me a lot of futzing around to figure out how to angle the camera to capture much of anything in such a small space!) and camerataped myself doing improv and trying out different poses. I made some interesting discoveries.
I noticed some things that I had pretty much anticipated. My posture is not as good as I think it is. My hands do some very unattractive things sometimes. Some of my poses were completely lame and I hope to never do them again. Some were nice but needed work. More importantly than all of that, though, watching the video tweaked my brain in an odd way I hadn't expected.
As soon as I started watching my own sub-optimal, seat-of-the-pants interpretation of the music I was using, I immediately started getting ideas for how I might want to choreograph a dance to the same music. I think watching the video and thinking "Oh, but at this moment I could have done THIS instead!" turned a switch in my brain that made it possible for me to think like a choreographer. Suddenly I wasn't at a loss for ideas, nor was I overwrought with too many options, all excessively complicated and spastic. I came up with some good, solid, simple phrases to begin the choreography.
ALSO. My camera takes AVI "video" files, which are apparently just sequential images with an audio track attached. I can flip through them frame by frame to pick out the best and worst moments in time. It's very compelling!
I'm going to keep working with the camera for poses, but I think I might have found the solution to my choreography problem as well!

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