How to Enjoy Dance Practice Part IV

HubMasterBrightIn this series, we look at how dance has turned from a pleasurable fun activity to one of perfectionism and hard work. The series began with the observations of a dance friend, Sarah, who noticed that practicing improvisation was seen as less valuable than drilling or fitting combos into other songs.

Our first strategy was making time for creative work. Read Part I here.

Our second strategy was Opting for the Most Pleasurable. Read Part II here.

Our third strategy was Share Your Joy. Read Part III here.

So we’ve looked at a lot of strategies.

Now let’s look at some caveats–things to watch out for. Sarah mentioned that she and her dance friends tended to dismiss “just improv” as not a quality practice session.

We must consider what a person means by “just improv.” If they mean put on music and hop around on autopilot, no, that is not going to make them a better dancer. It will maybe up their stamina, but otherwise it is just going to reinforce hopping around on autopilot. 

When a person really dances, they become more skilled at really dancing. The interoceptive (Sufi, Dancemeditation™) model puts us in questing, curious relationship with our body, the music, and the Divine. That is entirely different from hopping around. 

Sarah said,

I’ve had days where I’ve danced for 30-40 minutes; playing around with the music and what feels good … Then I beat myself up for not having “really” practiced.

Part of the shift is letting go of beating ourselves up. For anything. This is a destructive behavior. It is a symptom of old shame and trauma. When we feel it happening, we can take long exhales and let the impulse wash out of the body. Practicing self-love and acceptance is far more valuable–and genuinely subversive ; ).

To dance well, we need confidence. Drilling and technique practice encourages us to look at ourselves with narrow, critical eyes. Really dancing, using our time to enjoy and connect to the music, the guests, our bodies, and our joy–this develops our confidence. The affirmation in the picture, “I am a Master. I am great!” is worth a lot of repetition.

There’s a difference between drilling and improv. Drilling practice makes us more precise and stylized. Quality improv practice develops musicality and intuitive response. 

A classical musician trains through technique, plays scales. A folk musician plays music. That is his practice. The folk musician may be every bit the musician and every bit as skilled as the classical musician. It’s just a different system. 

Dave Brubeck went to Turkey and was flabbergasted that the folk musicians were so brilliant and improvised on odd meters better than trained Western musicians. That’s what inspired him to write Take 5 (or that’s the myth, anyway). Even in Arabic music, there is the maqamat, a classical learning system of modes and scales, and there is the nagamat system, that of melodies (nagam means melody in Arabic). 

What I suggest is a nagamat system: practicing dance–by dancing! (the raqsat system, if you will).

Wait, what about technique?! I roll technique into my practice. I often stop to explore a move, enjoying its path and texture in my body. I fit my movement to the music, listen for and express emotional timbres, respond intuitively, explore and enhance individual movements & vocabulary, develop grace (slow movement), strength (by using the floor), etc etc. 

I also practice stagecraft and connection. I roll all of this, too, right into my practice. I “dance like someone is watching.” I challenge myself to be as open as I am in the interoceptive mode while connecting to an “audience.” I dance with my eyes open, and pull out all the performance stops, right in my own room, flirting with the walls, mirror, and the guest who exist far past those physical walls. 

This practice style makes me more creative, innovative, and happy. I am always finding new ideas, new avenues, and new elements in my music. I have more freedom, better technique, and a lot more joy–both in dance and in life. Plus my musicality improves, too. This is a pretty significant win-win.

If you want to be a great dancer, it may take more than 20 minutes of practice a day. But if all you have is 20 minutes, you will become a better dancer by dancing–and developing a deep connection to your body and the music–than you ever will by drilling. It may not be the same in other dance forms. But that is how it is in this dance. 

The basics of our dance are not that hard. It’s not like ballet, or even Flamenco. It’s super organic, super comfortable on the body. I mean, it’s a folk dance. There’s a learning curve, but you can get most of it in a couple of months. Hell, you can get a lot of it in an couple of hours. 

–> The artistry is in the intuitive connection to complex, improvised music, in never doing it the same way twice, in the feeling, in the connection, in the joy. 

You can’t drill that. 

You have to dance it. 

That’s what we’re doing when we practice improv. 

Or at least, that’s our path.



PS Want to inspire, amaze and delight? 

You might enjoy How to Create Dance Art (CDA), an online composition intensive for improvisation & choreography, coming this spring.

“Alia took the time to read my postings and reply to every one, always with helpful information and insight. I felt that she really understood the different ways people learn and work. We weren’t all the same people. I felt that I was a part of the group but that I was also lucky enough to be taking a private course with Alia.”

“The work is spaced out over a long period of time which allows for a true thinking sift to happen. It’s a lifestyle change not a diet so to speak. I would recommend this course to people who are ready to have a paradigm shift and who have an open mind.”

“it was really amazing in the ways that it helped me to make my dancer richer. Even if it was only in my mind. Because every feeling I have is somehow translated to the audience, and having so much to work with made me feel that I would never be out of ideas. I could do a hip circle 20 times, but if I emoted differently with each one, it would seem different to the audience. Mind blowing.”


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