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More Tips and Tricks for Improvising or Creating Choreography

"For Beginners" (reprinted from ZAGHAREET! May/June 2002)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole 

 In the last issue we outlined some Forms you can use when composing dances, among them Pattern/Change, and Theme & Variation. Movements per se aren't the only concept these forms apply to, but we'll use it today as we explore Motif & Development: taking a movement ("motif") and executing it different ways. As you'll see if you try the examples below, these concepts are also very useful when improvising. (If you have any questions about any of this, let me know and I'll try to cover it in a later article.)

What's your favorite movement? Put on some music and play with only that movement for a while. Use music that really fits the movement too. That is, if you like snaky moves, then put on sensuous, smooth music, not a drum solo.

While you play with the movement, consider HOW it is changing: stretch it out to take a long time (duration) - or the opposite: do it as quickly as you can. 

Often it's easier to do fast movements smaller (size) than slow movements, but also try a large, fast movement, or a small, slow movement.

Of course we all know that almost any movement in our dance can be done in reverse (direction) - that's one of the first concepts we learn.

How to Change the Focus, Level, Stage Position, and more

Change your focus (staging): do your movement while looking up into your imaginary audience's eyes, then look away and see how that changes the feeling. Try your movement with a plie or even on the floor (level-change, also staging); change your arm, leg or body position, or travel with the move (again, staging).

Do parts of the movement faster than the rest, if possible - see if you can build a rhythm within the move itself, or accent one part of it (tempo). Try alternating that with the movement done at a regular, even tempo. If you do the even-tempo'd move for a while and then do the accented or rhythmic variation (or vice versa), you've just done "Pattern/Change". 

Use any of the above "development" concepts in a "Theme & Variation" of your movement. For instance, here's a simple 3-part Theme of:

  1. even-tempo
  2. slow
  3. fast

Seems very simple, but consider this: when you repeat your "theme", every time you do "1", your move is even-tempo'd but you can change anything else about it: how many you do, whether it's in-place or traveling, with different body positions, turning, etc. The same goes for "2 (slow)" and "3 (fast)".

So, what seems simple can really be complex; and we've only been using "simple movements"! Add a movement of another body part while you do your movement (layering): for instance, if you're using your hips, add an arm pattern; if you're using your arms, add a head movement, etc. You can also overlay another type of movement using the same body part you're already using in your movement (embellishment) - for example, if the move you're exploring is a hip roll, add a hip shimmy; or if you're exploring shoulder shimmies, add a shoulder lift into it.

There are so many ways to vary a movement - even more than we've talked of here, but this will give you enough to think about for now. Don't think you've "got it" after the first minute or so! Take each concept above (in parentheses) and work with it until you thoroughly understand how it applies to your movement. Some of the concepts are more complex than others so spend more time on them - in particular, duration, staging, and tempo. You may discover that you typically do a certain movement a certain way, at a certain tempo, or with a particular body or arm position; and now you've opened up new horizons for that movement.

I hope so - I hope this conceptual exercise triggers a deeper enjoyment and appreciation for our wonder-full dance.Next, find the inner structure of Oriental Belly Dance.

*Like these ideas? Read more in my booklet, Kawakib's Dance Tips

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