Dance From Within and Create a Style of Your Own
A Belly Dance curriculum comes from a variety of reasons, experiences and frustrations that grow within each dancer. There seems to be a breaking point that leads us in search of our own identity not only in dance but in the way we bring in the interpretation of our individual soul expression. Identity is like our personal stamp or creative preferences but our soul interpretation is what moves people when we dance.
After about 15 years of dancing I was at a point where I felt I was in a no woman’s land that seemed as desolate as I was feeling about my dancing. I was dancing so much that I somehow became lost in the dance. I wasn’t in control and I felt like I was a dry reservoir of emptiness. It was in this place of consternation that I was able to take a good look at my dancing and finally see myself as a dancer.
By this time I already did an about face and changed my dance style but I was still stumbling along trying to keep up appearances, or be something I wasn’t. I had taken private classes and workshops from so many dancers to the point that my reflection was blurry and I was lost in choreography that wasn’t my own. I was a mixture of combinations and movements that had no organization and real meaning for me. I think the competitive environment that I was in didn’t help matters. On one hand I had dance friends who became adversaries because we were constantly up for the same gigs, nightclubs or restaurants. On the other I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to dance and perform everywhere I could. It was to the point that I was getting burned out trying to out dance, out dress or out smart other dancers. Big cities aren’t for the faint of heart and I found that I had to pounce on each opportunity as it came or it was gone before a blink of an eye.
This wasn’t how I imagined belly dance especially in the beginning but it was at this point in my life a realistic every day experience that made me re-think what I wanted from my dancing. I ended up moving back to New Mexico from Texas around 1998 and I took a break from belly dancing for about 3 months. It was great because I felt like I could breath again and I felt my old self coming back. I looked at what my goals were with my dancing instead of what I felt I “had” to do. That one word “had” was an albatross around my neck. I realized I had to break free from my former life and take my dancing to a new direction that allowed me to feel inspired and creative again. The foundation of Hip Phylosophy as a Belly Dance Curriculum originated under a one premise, creative freedom.
It wasn’t until I opened up my studio and started to work at Pars Cuisine in Albuquerque that Hip Phylosophy as a Belly Dance curriculum started to materialize. The connection between how I was dancing and what I was teaching started to make sense but it was almost like I was in a creative parallel universe. I was starting to understand what was lacking not only in my dancing but in my classes. The best way to explain it was like my dancing and teaching merged into one. I understood how to teach students and at the same time I was implementing everything from the restaurants and past experiences into a written text. It was my way of understanding dance. I finally looked at belly dance in a way that made sense but was easy to understand. So Hip Phylosophy as a Belly Dance curriculum was really about connecting dots and making belly dance easy to learn.
I wasn’t born into belly dance through lineage and I didn’t start belly dancing at an early age so I realized that for dancers like me, there had to be a different kind of connection. I could get on a horse and ride like the wind but belly dancing took awhile for me to learn. When I started to look back at my early years, I realized the reason why belly dance took me so long to learn was because I didn’t know how to connect the dance form to how I moved, naturally. It felt foreign to me because I had decided that it was foreign to begin with. Once I was able to see that women instinctively know the fundamentals of movement then I was able to correlate Hip Phylosophy as a Belly Dance curriculum in a way that made sense and wasn’t foreign to my body. Connecting the dots from the unknown to the known was a key element in my studio success. Eventually students could see improvement within weeks.
So what exactly did I do? First I realized that in my early years of dancing in restaurants the dance rules needed to be expanded and changed. Since we are in an environment that puts us in close proximity to customers, the dance needed to be less intimidating and more in place short performances. This meant a different style had to be brought in so I had to rethink the box of in the box choreography. Spontaneous and in the box merged together to create Hip Phylosophy.
I looked at old black and white videos of Naima Akef, Samia Gamaal and Tahiyya Karioka and I realized that their ability to do so much in a small space was lost in today’s nightclub and restaurant dancing. It was really about the quality of dancing they did in small spaces versus using a lot of space while dancing. I was awe struck by their hip work, body language and layering. I worked the hips into different categories so that students could work on specific areas separately.
- Sharp Hips
- Soft Hips
- Sharp and Soft
- Continual Soft
- Opposition Hips working speed
- Hip shimmy
- Shimmies with sharp
- Shimmies with soft
It was obvious that layering played a huge role in making movement interesting.
- Chest and Pelvic opposition
- Sharp hips and chest
- Soft hips and chest
- Soft hips and soft chest movements
- Pops and locks with hips
- Shoulders and head with chest and pelvic
- Opposition sharp and soft upper and lower body layering
- Shimmies with hips and upper body locks and pops
Ab Sways and Stomach rolls were placed in their own category because they played an intrical part in layering and opposition hip work.
- Stomach pulls in and out
- Add in chest with stomach pulls in and out
- Ab sway, working only the front abs with no back
- Backward stomach roll
- Forward stomach roll
- Half forward
- Half back
- Double time forward and back stomach rolls
It was evident that traveling steps, turns and leg extensions were an integral part of telling a story as much as they are about taking you from point A to point B.
- Egyptian walk in place or moving
- Crescent moon walk in place or moving
- Combination walks
- Three step turn
- Leg extension alternating right to left
- Leg extension half turn
- Leg extension full turn
- Traveling steps with turns
- Leg extensions with turns and traveling steps
- Exaggerated turns
The pauses and accents make movement mean more to the audience because they are the exclamation points, questions marks and commas of our dance. The subtle gestures of movement or the dramatic outburst of emotion are as individual as the interpretive dancer. Belly dance isn’t about one way of learning because everyone comes in from a different view point of experience. It’s about enjoying something that can be done in common that is shared through dance.
Hip Phylososphy as a Belly Dance curriculum allows this commonality to take place so that women can feel like they are accomplishing a life long dream. I organized combinations in a way that allows for continual improvement that makes sense especially when a dancer is adding more combinations to the mix of learned moves. The extension of the hips, the pops and locks of chests and turns all work together once the movement is memorized in the muscle. In another way the body takes over and the creative process begins.
Movement is another way of answering and questioning life. So I felt because of this that I had to create a curriculum that helped women express life on a day to day basis. As the moves become natural in the body, Hip Phylosophy then becomes each dancers own stylized curriculum. Each dancer molds Hip Phylosophy to her own interpretation of dance. It’s a community curriculum that women can use, take and create from. I have always felt that since this dance is a gift, there should be a curriculum that each dancer can take home and eventually feel like it’s hers. Hip Phylosophy is creative expression, your way, my way and in a way that harmoniously works together.