Members of the TCBBA, how do you get ready for a new show? Do you set a firm schedule for your choreography and practice, or do you just wing it? Where does your inspiration come from? What advice would you give fellow dancers?
I have to practice until I am sick of practicing and listen to the music nonstop. I get bad anxiety and stage fright so I have to know it without thinking about it so my body will go on autopilot. I was just talking to Alyssa (my step daughter) about this. I am choreographing a piece for her to do at their spring show and she has never done anything like this and is scared.
Definitely set a deadline for completion of choreography at least 6 weeks before performance. You may miss it but at least you have a skeleton dance to work with and can build on at that point. Costumes should be set on by that point also.
The music is what inspires me initially and all grows from there. My only advice for soloists is to practice improv dancing to songs so if you forget the choreography you have the music in your muscle memory and you can still complete your story with confidence.
For duets and groups its different since you are always on the same paragraph throughout the story. So, practicing a lot together is very important.
If I really feel a song, I can visualize a choreography when I listen to it. Planning choreography, I'd start as soon as I know which song I'm using because (w/o fail) I always think of a cooler move to replace an original. For that reason, I start mine early. Which reminds me that I need to get my ish together...lol.
I usually have a song in mind. One that moves me no matter how many times I hear it. Or, I have three or four songs in mind and then I play them and dance to them and that will typically give me an idea as to which one to choose. Also, the venue and audience effect my final decision. I try to pick songs that have a big intro and a big, clear cut ending. I try to stay away from songs that trail off. Those are harder to pull off if the venue has no curtain to exit behind. Then I break down the song. I used to actually map it out on paper, but I usually don’t need to do that anymore. Once I have listened to it enough times, it’s in my head and I can go with that, but most songs have an intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus and ending. The intro and ending are most important. They need to be big or meaningful. Memorable. At least twice, I try to bring the chorus back to the audience with repetition of those dance phrases. Typically, I will repeat the first and last chorus. I think the audience likes to see that dance phrase again and I also feel like it provides some continuity to the piece. The verses are where I really pick the song apart. Listening to each instrument and deciding which one I want to emphasize and follow. If it is a group choreography, then it’s easier to follow two or more instruments and their phrases.
When it’s a solo, it is more limiting, although if a belly dancer is very experienced - advanced - she/he should be able to get a drum beat going in say her hips and follow the violin in her arms, etc. etc. Like a one-man band. If what she is following isn’t clear cut and clean though, there is a risk of that three-dimensional interpretation of the song looking messy and vague. In my mind, belly dance is very much a three-dimensional interpretation of the music. Going back to song choice, I have learned how very important it is to research a song. Especially if it’s Middle Eastern music. I have heard very upbeat Middle Eastern music with lyrics that were incredibly sad. Sometimes it takes a while to find those lyrics or to learn much about the song, but at least I have given it my best shot. And if the song is Shaabi, then it’s even more important to know just what you are dancing to because some of those lyrics are political. Actually, I love to watch Shaabi, but have shied away from it because I am afraid I will accidentally misinterpret the song.
Once I have choreographed the piece, which is another subject in itself, involving taking all of the moves you know and maybe some you make up, or pull from other dance forms, and stringing them together to make dance phrases, I too, like Erica noted, rehearse the piece until I am thinking if I hear this song again, I am going to kill myself. That is, I try to rehearse it so much that the music is in my body and I don’t have to think a whole lot about it when performing. At that point you can just focus on feeling and delivering. You can let go and that’s when the magic happens. Of course, a dancer must begin this entire process early enough to be ready for a given performance and that time commitment is different for every dancer. I have seen Bethany and Cindy pull off a great performance/ choreography in a much shorter time than I would have ever been comfortable with.
Regarding costuming, I think it’s a good idea to let that decision happen as you choreograph the piece and of course you want your costume to be stylistically appropriate for the music, the audience, the venue and the dancer, but in general...I feel like, it’s really not about the costume. It’s about the dance, connecting with your audience, laying yourself bare so that your audience can feel the music and get a glimpse into who you are, not only as a dancer, but as a person and when that happens, it’s a beautiful thing to see!