Konichiwa! I’m writing from the depths of Japan as I tour with Lebanese Master Percussionist Souhail Kaspar. We are currently halfway though a full itinerary of teaching and performing in 5 Japanese cities. While I know that the remaining 12 days of our tour will bring plenty of experiences and adventure, I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far as a traveling dance artist.
1. Nice Luggage is Worth the Investment!
I’m only halfway through our trip and I’ve taken six planes, four trains, and plenty of taxis. Durable, lightweight, east-to-transport, luggage is a must have! Don’t over pack your suitcase as you’ll want to be able to transfer it easily and may want to bring home a few souvenirs.
2. The Language of Human Movement.
When you travel to countries with a language barrier, knowing native words like “hello”, “thank you” and, in my case, “vegetarian” are vital. Beyond words, facial expressions and hand gestures will communicate a lot.
I realize that when I teach dance workshops in Japan, my playful words like “juicy” and “big mamma hips” may be lost in translation. Instead of worrying about students understanding the literal meaning of my diction, I dance out my words and use an expressive tone of voice.
One of my most comforting and magical experiences traveling in Japan has been witnessing the universal language of dance. The same shimmy that is recognized in Berkeley is recognized in Tokyo and Cairo and possibly worldwide. The fact that I have the opportunity as an American dancer to share my love for Middle Eastern dance with an Asian country shows the widespread passion and strength lying behind Raqs al Sharqui. Music and movement can truly unite cultures.
3. Be Prepared for Anything
The art of improvisation is a must have tool in dance and in life. Any teacher knows that his or her lesson plan may need to be instantly altered to adapt to the level of the current student. For this tour, I prepared 5 choreographies and a variety of theory exercises knowing that each city would have it’s own requests and needs.
I believe that a dance artist should consistently work on all elements of her craft. She should practice and study her art even when there may be no specific upcoming project. This will only help with easing into an on-the-spot situation and nailing a surprise opportunity.
4. Rest Up Buttercup!
Sleep when you can! It’s a great idea to rest up even before your trip. A dancer depends on her physical and mental energy so it’s important that she gets adequate down time. Often a busy tour schedule will permit limited windows for resting. Take advantage of them. You’re email or whatever is keeping you up late at night will be there in the morning. Get those Zzzz’s when you can! Also, taking multi-vitamins and eating nutritious meals along the way will keep you healthy and strong.
5. Give it Your All
This may go without saying, but it’s good to remember that one opportunity often leads to another. You never know who will be watching.
I was invited by Souhail Kaspar to do this tour because 4 years ago I gave it my all as a workshop student in one of his Rhythm and Movement classes. Since that workshop, I’ve taken every opportunity possible to learn from Souhail’s mastery as a teacher, entertainer, world traveler, and percussionist. I’m so grateful for each moment that I’ve been presented with to grow. Treat each opportunity as a gift; you never know when you’ll be presented with another one.
It’s never too early to start planning that perfect performance. Read on for helpful hints to snag your sizzling solo for this fabulous event.
1. Choose Your Music
Find a song that speaks to you and that naturally makes you move. (See last month’s blog for tips on how to find Arabic Dance Music.)
Once you’ve decided on a song, find out what type of song it is and what cultural significance it holds. For example, folkloric music, cabaret music, and fusion music are all very distinct from one another and should be interpreted differently. If you’re not sure what type of music you’re working with, ask your teacher.
2. Map Out and Memorize your Music
Once you’ve decided on a song, it’s time to map it out. You should know your music well enough that you could hum even it if it wasn’t playing. Understand what instruments are being used, and what rhythms are backing them up. What time signature is your song in? Does it have lyrics? If needed, translate and use the words to fuel your dance’s story. If you’re a visual learner, map out the song by drawing out the way the music sounds. Sketch the changes in the music and note at what time they happen during the song.
3. Create Movement
For the new performer, I suggest you choreograph your routine or at least create a strong outline for your performance. When starting to choreograph, try freestyle dancing to your song and see what comes naturally. When you perform a move that sticks out to you, keep it! Pay attention to what the music is doing. Does it slow down? Speed up? Change in tone? Is it a sad song or a joyful song? Match the music with your movement. Consider the emotion behind the song and what the intent of your piece is. What kind of impact do you want to have on your audience? When you get choreographically stuck, take a break or think of moves you’ve used in class recently. Youtube and Arabic Dance DVDs are great sources of inspiration. Incorporate contrasting moves to keep your piece visually interesting. Avoid standing in one spot, and make good use of your stage. Consider if you will start on-stage or need to choreograph an entrance. Don’t forget to enjoy the creative process instead of focusing on your end goal. J
4. Practice. Practice. Practice.
A well-prepared performer is a confident one. Set up a schedule for yourself as if you we’re training for a marathon. Video tape yourself practicing so you can see what you look like. Show your choreography to a friend and practice making eye contact with them while you’re performing. If it feels right, ask your friend for feedback. Remember to practice in the costume you are going to perform in. Costume malfunctions are much better performed at home than in the company of others. J
5. Go get ‘em tiger!
It’s game day. This is what you’ve been waiting for! Arrive early enough that you can polish off your make-up and get into costume without feeling rushed. Create your own personal mantra to pump yourself up. “I’m going to rock it!” You are your own cheerleader. Accept that things may not go quite as you have planned, and commit to enjoying the experience no matter what happens. Remember, we dance because we love it, and we perform so we can share this love with others. When the time comes to shine, take a deep breath and know that you are a star.
One of the most common questions I hear as a Shimmy Flow instructor is, “Where do you find your music?!” Being so far from its Middle East, it’s challenging for us Berkeley Beauties to know where we can access the tunes that inspire our shimmies. While I believe that the quest for music is part of the Arabic Dance learning experience, I have some helpful hints to get you started on your musical journey.
1. Ask your teacher
Pick your instructor’s brain. When dancing in class, notice what inspires you and ask your teacher about your favorite songs. Question why your instructor chooses to play what she does. Discover how she has built her musical collection. When new dancers ask me for help, I usually direct them to Arabic techno remixes for drilling, “Awzan” by Souhail Kaspar for rhythm instruction, Oum Kalsoum for Arabic classics, and Arabic pop like Nancy Ajram and Natasha Atlas for upbeat party music.
2. Music Stores
While this may seem like an obvious answer, sometimes it’s hard to know where to look. Ask for the Middle Eastern, Arab world, or World Music sections. Searc
h for music featured on Egyptian, Lebanese, or “Belly Dance” compositions. I will be the first to admit, that many times it take a whole album to get just a handful of good dancing songs. At any rate, the experience of learning what’s out there can be invaluable.
3. The Internet
We are so lucky to have the Internet! It offers a plethora of musical resources. As you get to know your artists, composers, and music labels, the search becomes easier. Try typing in any one of these components or a genre (Arabic, World, Belly Dance) into Itunes. Itunes is nice because it allows you to listen to a sample of the music before you buy it. You can also buy songs individually if you don’t want to buy the entire album. Itunes also features podcasts, or online radio, that can offer some new sounds to your collection.
Pandora is a fantastic online radio that allows you to discover new music based on what you already like. While Pandora’s search function is limited in the ways of Middle Eastern artists, “Belly Dance” and selected titles can offer insightful musical discoveries.
You can buy Arabic Dance CDs through online vendors. Google shopping, Amazon, eBay, Middle Eastern stores, and costume vendors are some good places to check.
Music can also be found through watching clips of dancers on YouTube. The musical composer and song name are often noted underneath the
video, in the comments, or in the video’s title. If not, try asking the person who uploaded the video directly. Shazam and Sound Hound are incredible smart phone apps that can identify a song upon it being played.
4. Public library
Your public library is a great local resource that is often overlooked. Ask the librarian for help finding Arabic or world music recordings. Some libraries even have instructional dance DVDs that you can check out.
A huge portion of my musical collection has come from my experiences in the Arabic Dance community. Dance Festivals feature music vendors and offer a networking hub where you can pick the fellow dancer’s brain on what she performs to. Middle Eastern music concerts offer the opportunity to meet musicians or buy their CDs. Music and dance camps, intensives, and workshops not only sell music, but also educate students about the roots, compositions, and lyrics of Middle Eastern sounds.
Middle Eastern markets also sell music. If they don’t, you can usually find someone there who will help direct you. Movies featuring Arab world themes have rich soundtracks and list songs within their credits. Last, but not least, your best option is to take that summer vacation you’ve been dreaming of and head to Cairo or Lebanon. Why not? ☺
Happy searching ladies! May your musical quest be filled with many victory dances.
Ziva Emtiyaz is an award winning International Dance Artist excited to share her knowledge and life experiences about the big world of dance!