Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A case for improv

I am always reading discussion board threads on improv versus choreography. 

In my earlier dance days I preferred choreography and only choreography. Improv was a scary thing in which you were forced to think and dance at the same time and I was so sure that I was being judged as well. My fear came from thinking that I would do the same thing over and over or not be able to come up with a move that fit the music.

Now things are quite reversed. Choreography is still good. It is great for group performances and I have also learned some incredible choregraphies from master instructors that far surpass my own improvisational and choreographing abilities. It is very inspirational and challenging to dance these pieces and I do enjoy it. 

But when it comes to what I want to dance, the answer is improv. I don't mind improvising to live musicians, and I think that musicians and a dancer all improving is a particularly organic piece of composition. I prefer to improvise to music I am intimately familiar with because that is generally the music that moves me in an emotional way that I wish to translate into dance. I like to be moved and then do what moves me.

So, how did I develop this love of improv and how can you?

I had an instructor that really encouraged improv and would give us time at the end of class to just dance. She even turned the lights down so we wouldn't feel self conscious about seeing each other. I encourage my students to improv and do this same thing. I also use games to help build on their improvisational skills. Taaj's book 

Beyond Moves is a great resource for games and ideas to help introduce improv to your students (and yourself, even if you don't teach I recommend getting this book and working through it).

The other thing that helps you get comfortable with improv - Just do it! Below are a few ideas for when and where to improv, please feel free to add more in the comments.

1. If you perform at a community event, take the time to get the crowd to dance with you. You are still doing improv but there is less pressure when a 5 year old is shaking it with you.
2. Put on your music and dance around the house while you clean.
3. Set a time limit. Put music on and dance. For a surprise improv set, I like to set a kitchen timer then put my iPod on shuffle.
4. Dance for your friends and family.
5. Host a hafla with your dance friends. Just do a casual get together, no frills, no costumes, just fun and dancing.
6. Go to a venue with music and dancing and joining the crowd on the dance floor. I used to frequent a Hookah Bar where everyone danced between the performer's sets. Getting up with the crowd or a couple friends and dancing is really what made me comfortable with improv.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wardrobe Malfunctions

It is something we are all afraid of. Getting out there and something pops, snaps or falls.
Well, I have been victim of every wardrobe malfunction out there. So let's take a look at my disasters and what we can do to prevent them from happening.

1. Hip scarf falls down
Thanks to my apple shape, my hip scarf gets tied at the biggest part of my waist. This means it can easily slide down. How to stop it? Pin it with safety pins. I recommend one on each side of the tie and one in the center back.
At a recent show, even though my hip scarf was pinned, it was sagging on the side. Since I was doing improv I took a moment to untie it as I turned and made a big deal of tightening it to the music. At a previous performance when a scarf was falling and it wasn't pinned and I was over trying to keep it on, I stopped and shimmied it off making a show of using my "jedi" powers to make it fall. I then kicked it clear of the dance floor.
Moral: Pins are your friends

2. Other layers falling/riding up
I once heard that Jillina didn't allow BDSS to use any kind of pins and they all had to sew snaps into their costumes. I don't know if this is true but it is brilliant!
I have started buying the large size snaps - quarter size, and sewing them into my various costumes. I do them all the same direction, i.e. the male side always points out. I sew the on the 4 compass points of the top. If you wear pants, skirt and belt it does make for an extra inch all around but it is worth for peace of mind and a much faster costume change.
I performed a few weeks ago and even though my harem pants already had snaps, I was worried the delicate fabric of my dress would show the snaps. MISTAKE! Even though I wear those pants all the time, I was wearing a bike shorts style undergarment. My pants started to slide down during the dance. They didn't ever fall enough to be seen in the slits of my dress but I felt them and it broke my vibe and ruined my dance.
The moral, snaps or pins, attach every layer together.

3. Bra malfunction
Twice I have had bra hooks pop. Once there was a back-up and I kept dancing. The second time, I had to retreat and change. Luckily, most bras fit so that if the hook pops you realize before anything gets exposed.
Moral: Always used heavy duty thread to reinforced hooks. Make sure you have at least two hooks. Check all your hooks for signs of wear before every performance.

4. A missing piece
You can check as many times as you want but something usually gets left behind. I always try to pack back up pieces - a matching tie top in case the something wrong with my bra, extra harem pants or even dance pants in case it is cold or I have trouble with my skirt, and an emergency back up costume. I do a lot of performances out of town and if something gets forgotten then there is no going back. I have one of Hanan Saidi dresses that are so popular. It is soft and stretchy and packs easily. I can also wear it with my everyday undergarments. When traveling out of town I always through it in my bag so if something is wrong with my costume, that one piece can be my back-up.
Moral: Always have plan B

If you have a story of a wardrobe malfunction or a solution leave it in the comments.