More Ideas for Improvising When Performing Belly Dance

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Zaghareet! Magazine (Nov/Dec 2012)
by Anthea (Kawakib) Poole

A Well-Rounded Approach to Improvisation

Summing up the last several articles, our journey into Improvisation covered:
We’re continuing with foot patterns because they’re at the root of our dancing, and are just as important as the other basic building blocks of clean, deliberate movements, and shapes or patterns on the body or the floor.

The previous article explored two- and three-step patterns; my next two favorites patterns are what I call the four-step and the five-step. We constantly use these in my classes, drilling them during our warmup, and in many choreographed dances - yet when my students begin to improvise I still have to remind them to “use foot patterns”! Then I’ll see the light of understanding dawning on their face. Dancing begins with your feet!  

Famous Footsteps

This pattern should be recognizable to any belly dancer: the four-step. I originally learned it as the “Kash Step” - a nickname that makes many dancers roll their eyes, and understandably so! Named after the Turkish folk dance Karslima, it’s the pattern wherein one foot steps in front and in back while the other foot steps in place, in an alternating sequence.

This particular pattern is absolutely ubiquitous across the board in Middle Eastern dancing, from Turkish though Lebanese, Egyptian, and North African. I’ve seen some “big stars” do practically nothing else during their dancing! One four-step after another, and the audience ate it up.

Do I really have to tell you that the four-step can travel sideways, and then becomes known as the “Grapevine”? I hope not! All I’ll say further is that please keep in mind you can start this step at any point in the pattern: the front, in place, the back, etc. It does NOT only have to start by stepping to the front.

Step, Step, Cha-Cha-Cha

The five-step is the most complicated pattern we’ll cover. I prefer belly dancing to be easily reducible to simple basics, and not unnecessarily complex in terms of structure and time frame. Meaning we’re not going further than five steps in a row. To me, stringing steps and movements together into long patterns make the dance too “rote” and infringes on the “solo improvisational” basis of belly dancing.

I really only remember learning this particular step pattern when creating Tribal Odyssey Bellydance™ combinations with Miramar (Winchester VA). She based one of her combinations on the five-step; prior to that I don’t remember using it myself. This pattern is similar to the three-step in that it is inherently rhythmic, in that some of the steps will be faster or slower than others because we’re fitting five steps into four counts. It also alternates starting feet when repeated. The usual way we use this in my classes is in this rhythm: slow, slow, fast fast fast, and often incorporating a cross-over front or back during the slower steps. In the TOBD format, sometimes we do a turn or spin during the three faster steps.

I think I’ve explained the step patterns well, but learning dance through words isn’t so easy. I’m thinking of doing a short video on this topic - foot patterns are a neglected treasure trove for belly dancers; and I think a video would be much easier to follow! I'll be sure to link it here when I do.

I think you’ll notice more foot patterns now when you watch dancers. It can be very educational to see how dancers use their feet.

Remember that foot patterns can be done simply, as patterns in themselves; or can be the basis of beautiful combos involving hip work, torso moves, shoulders isolations, etc.

In your own dancing, start with only two or three patterns and practice them when you are doing “free dance”. You’ll find some new favorites waiting to be discovered!

Watch the foot patterns I use in the improvised performances on my YouTube channel.

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