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Dance On The Beat with Belly Dance Foot Patterns

Zaghareet! Magazine (Sep/Oct 2012)
by Anthea (Kawakib)

More Ideas to Get You Improvising

If you’ve been reading my column over the summer you’ve got more than a handful of tips and tricks for solo improvisation, but we’re not done yet! I want to share a couple of my very favorite strategies for improvising now.

We talked about connecting to the beat while dancing - that’s your base, your foundation - everything else comes from that. We connect to the beat on the floor with our feet, doing what I call “stepping on the beat”, and everything builds on those steps. To match the music, we arrange our steps into patterns, the shorter the better - if your step pattern can fit into 4 counts, that’s perfect.

I know many beginning dancers have no musical training, and don’t know what measures are or even how to hear and count the beat. That’s a separate subject we won’t go into here (I do offer a learning path on that in my Dance Tips booklet, or you can find someone to help you in real time). For now let’s assume you CAN hear the beat well enough to count it and “stay in time” with it. If so, you can play with some of my favorite Step or Foot Patterns.

Two-Beat Pattern

The two-beat pattern is obviously the simplest! It uses alternating feet (that is, first one then the other). The “two step” is the basis for belly dance moves like the Step - Hip Lift, the Cross - Step, or the Cross - Touch.

The nice thing about these simple foot patterns is that they can go in any direction! I believe that is different from other dance forms - not that I know any, but I have seen illustrations of foot patterns for ballroom dances like the rumba, waltz, or foxtrot, and the foot steps always go a certain way. Not so with these belly dance foot patterns - at least not in my method of teaching. So let’s say you’re dancing improvisationally, and you use the two-step examples above. You can do your Step - Hip Lift forward, backward, or while turning! You can do your Cross - Step by crossing to the front or to the back (traveling sideways), or use the Cross - Touch going forward or backward.

Three-Step Pattern

Just like all drum rhythms come from a two-beat pattern, all the other foot patterns develop from this two-step. Take the “three-step” for example. It uses a cross and two steps in place, in any order and in any direction. That is, you can cross in back or front; and the cross step can be first, in the middle, or last. In other words, you could go Cross - Step (in place) - Step (in place); or you could go Step (in place) - Cross (front or back) - Step (in place); or you could go Step - Step - Cross. Note that since we only have THREE weight changes, and you are probably dancing to a rhythm with an even count, you must have a PAUSE on one of your weight changes. That’s another way you can vary the pattern, by changing where the pause occurs.

We’ve only done two of my foot patterns so far yet you can see there’s ample food for thought here. Keep in mind that these are only foot patterns too - and when you think of the body movements you could be putting on top of them (arm - shoulders - hips) the mind boggles at all the possibilities!

So you see, by breaking concepts down into the simplest components, it allows us to put them together in various ways, only limited by our imagination. How much more valuable that is than learning specific, “named” steps like the “Gardenia” or the “Maraschino Cherry” (I’m just making those names up, but I have heard dancers use terms like that).

This subject would make a nice video wouldn’t it? We’ll continue with more Foot Patterns in the next article...

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